Auschwitz was a network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps built and operated in the annexed Polish land during World War II. Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners who first arrived in May 1940.
Plans for the total eradication of the Jewish population of Europe, eleven million people, were formalized at the Wannasse Conference on January 20, 1942. Initially, the victims were killed by the Einsatzgruppen death squads but this method proved to be impractical for such large-scale murder.
The first extermination took place in September 1941 and Auschwitz II—Birkenau became a major extermination site for Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet POWs. By the summer of 1944, the capacity of the crematoria and outdoor incineration pits for disposing the murdered bodies, was 20,000 per day.
Despite the thick concrete walls, screaming and crying could be heard from outside the gas chambers. In one failed attempt to muffle the noise, two motorcycle engines were revved up to full throttle outside the chambers. The cries could still be heard over the engines.
The prisoners’ day began at 4:30 in the morning with roll call, which lasted for hours. Even those who had died in the night had to be present at roll call, standing supported by fellow inmates until attendance had been recorded.
Kommando, work details, would then go to their respective places of work. A prisoner’s orchestra was forced to play cheerful music as the workers left the camp. The workday lasted 12 hours during the summer and a little bit less in the winter. Inmates often worked at construction sites, gravel pits, and lumberyards. They received no breaks.
On Sundays, the inmates did not work. They were required to clean the barracks and take their weekly shower. 800-1000 people were crammed into a single barrack. The camps were infested with disease-carrying lice. Typhus and other diseases and bacterial infections were rampant and took the lives of many.
Prisoners received a hot drink in the morning, but no breakfast, a thin, meatless vegetable soup for lunch, and a small ration of bread in the evening. The daily caloric intake did not exceed 700 calories.
In the evenings there was a second roll call. If a prisoner was missing, the others were forced to remain standing in place until they were found or the reason for their absence was discovered.
An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz. At least 1.1 million inmates were murdered, 90% of whom were Jewish.