The project to create a concentration camp in Oświęcim was born in the Office of the SS and Police Senior Commander in Wrocław, headed by Gruppenfuehrer SS Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski. At the end of 1939, the project was submitted by the Oberfuehrer SS police inspector Arpad Wigand, subordinate to him.
The Nazis were worried by the growing reports on the overcrowding of prisons in Upper Silesia and the Dąbrowa Basin. There was a growing resistance movement that could only be quenched by mass arrests. Existing concentration camps were not enough to detain all detainees.
Oberfuehrer SS Arpad Wigand pointed to the peripheral district of Oświęcim – Zasole as the best place to set up a new camp. He emphasized that prisoners could be imprisoned almost immediately in existing barracks after the Polish army. The area, located at the fork of the Soła and Vistula rivers, enabled the future expansion of the camp and its isolation from the outside world. Wigand also pointed to convenient rail connections. Nearby there was a line connecting Oświęcim with Silesia and the General Government.
The location did not convince all representatives of the Nazi authorities. In the first days of January 1940, the Oberfuehrer SS inspector Richard Gluecks sent a commission to Oświęcim, which ruled that the barracks were not suitable for setting up a camp there. However, representatives of the SS and Police Higher Commander’s Office in Wrocław were of a different opinion. On January 25, 1940, Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler received a report that the Auschwitz concentration camp would soon be established.
On February 1, 1940, in order to make the final location decision, Himmler ordered the inspection of several sites. Three weeks later, Oberfuehrer SS Gluecks reported that the former Polish artillery barracks after a minor reconstruction would be suitable for quarantine camp. If the Wehrmacht, who took over the barracks, communicates with the SS and hands them over to them, then the camp will be opened immediately. On April 8, 1940, Aviation General Halm leased the area and buildings to the SS. He also ordered that a barracks transfer agreement be drawn up.
After finalizing negotiations with the Wehrmacht, another SS commission came to Oświęcim, headed by Hauptsturmfuehrer Rudolf Hoes, head of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. During his trip to Oświęcim, Hoess met Wigand in Wrocław and learned about plans to set up a camp. The project assumed that about 10,000 would be imprisoned in it. prisoners.
After the inspection, on April 27, 1940, Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler gave the order to set up the camp. Its expansion was to rest on the shoulders of prisoners. Rudolf Hoess took care of the organization. On May 4, 1940, he was appointed a commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp (Konzentrationslager Auschwitz, KL Auschwitz).
Preparatory work lasted from May to mid-June. They were initiated by the decision to resettle approximately 1,200 people living in the vicinity of the emerging camp. The area was tidied up by 300 Jews from Oświęcim. Hoess also employed a dozen or so Polish workers during the renovation works.
The date of starting the camp is considered to be June 14, 1940. On that day, the first transport of 728 Polish political prisoners, directed here by the commander of the security police and security service in Krakow, reached KL Auschwitz from the prison in Tarnów. Among them were the soldiers of the September campaign who tried to break through to Hungary, members of underground independence organizations, junior high school students and students, as well as several people of Jewish origin.
On May 20, 1940, Rapportfuehrer Gerhard Palitzsch brought 30 prisoners to Auschwitz, German criminals imprisoned in Sachsenhausen. On their hands, numbers from 1 to 30 were tattooed. The first elder of the camp (Lageraelteste) was notorious, sadistic Bruno Brodniewitsch (camp number 1). These prisoners created the beginning of functional staff.
The date of starting the camp is considered to be June 14, 1940. On that day, the first transport of 728 Polish political prisoners, directed here by the commander of the security police and security service in Krakow, reached KL Auschwitz from the prison in Tarnów. Among them were the soldiers of the September campaign who tried to break through to Hungary, members of underground independence organizations, junior high school students and students, as well as several people of Jewish origin. The train consisted of second class passenger cars.
Upon arrival in Auschwitz, prisoners were tattooed with numbers from 31 to 758 and placed for quarantine in the buildings of the former Polish Tobacco Monopoly, near the area of today’s Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. The lowest number – 31, was tattooed on Stanisław Ryniak. The head of the SS camp Obersturmfuehrer Karl Fritzsch greeted the prisoners with the words: “Healthy and young have the right to live here three months. Exit from here leads through the chimney.”
Prisoners from the first transport at the beginning of July 1940 were successively transferred to blocks number 1 to 3 already in the Auschwitz camp, and the sick and medical staff to block 21.
According to an employee of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Irena Strzelecka, who studied the stories of prisoners from the first transport, 239 of them survived the war. Stanisław Ryniak was among the survivors. He died in 2004 in Wrocław.
Five days after reaching the first transport to KL Auschwitz, the Nazis began to evict the population living in the immediate vicinity of the camp, and later also the entire region. Poles were deprived of all their possessions. Finally, an area of approximately 40 square kilometers was created, which the Germans called “the zone of interest of the camp”.
At the time of its establishment, KL Auschwitz had 20 stone buildings. Until March 1, 1941, i.e. until the day of the first visit to Heinrich Himmler’s camp, nearly 11,000 were imprisoned in it. prisoners, mainly Poles.
During his stay in Auschwitz in March 1941, Himmler ordered Commandant Hoess to extend the so-called Stammlager – mother camp so that it could accommodate 30 thousand. prisoners, and build a camp in Auschwitz II for 100,000 in the village of Brzezinka (Birkenau) prisoners of war. He also ordered the development of the entire area in terms of agriculture, providing prisoners to work on the construction of the IG Farbenindustrie factory in Oświęcim and expanding the craft workshop.
The expansion of Stammlager was undertaken in 1941 by forces of prisoners. The building material came from demolished houses in Zasole. The late historian of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Danuta Czech emphasized that both plans for the expansion of the camp and their partial implementation indicated that Auschwitz was built as a permanent object, “which was to serve in prison in the future for many years and to destroy the opponents of the Nazi Reich” .
The construction of the Birkenau camp began in October 1941. It was to become a place of mass extermination of Jews. Camp Commandant Rudolf Hoess decided this after Himmler pointed out KL Auschwitz this summer as the “final solution to the Jewish question.”
Construction of KL Auschwitz II – Birkenau, three kilometers away from Stammlager, proceeded quickly. It was mainly due to the overcrowding of the main camp. The work was managed by Sturmbannfuehrer Karl Bischoff. The plan was to erect 174 brick barracks. During the creation of Birkenau between March 1941 and February 1942, many thousands of Polish prisoners and Soviet prisoners of war lost their lives.
The first prisoners were sent to Birkenau at the beginning of 1942. On March 1, among others, 945 still-living Soviet prisoners of war, out of a total of about 10,000, were sent to KL Auschwitz in autumn 1941. In total, several thousand prisoners were placed there in March.
At that time, a women’s ward was created in KL Auschwitz I. On March 26, 999 German prisoners from KL Ravensbrueck and 999 Jewish women brought to Poprad, Slovakia, came to him. On April 27, 1942, the first Polish prisoners were detained there – 127 women from Tarnów and the Montelupich prison in Kraków.
In early 1942, the Nazis began killing thousands of Jews in Birkenau. In mid-July 1942, during the second visit to KL Auschwitz, Heinrich Himmler observed the selection and gassing of Jews in a special bunker. After this visit, the original Birkenau construction plans were verified. This was due to the search for a technical solution to mass murders and the rapid destruction of corpses.
The project amended in August 1942 assumed the creation of a complex for 200,000 prisoners and devices for mass extermination of Jews. Work progressed very quickly.
From March to June 1943, four giant gas chambers with crematoria were created, which immediately began to function. Hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over Europe were killed there. Prisoners of other nationalities, including Roma, were also killed here.
As part of the KL Auschwitz complex, there was also Auschwitz III, consisting of sub-camps (Aussenlager). Of these, the largest was in Monowice (Monowitz). The first prisoners were sent there at the end of October 1942. In total, the KL Auschwitz commandant founded about 40 affiliate camps. Most of the prisoners worked slave among others in factories, mines, smelters, forestry and agricultural and breeding farms.
By November 1943, KL Auschwitz had become a giant combine in which tens of thousands were imprisoned and hundreds of thousands, mainly Jews, were murdered.