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The construction of the camp

Original plans called for the POWs who would be imprisoned there to build the camp themselves. Ten thousand Soviet POWs were brought from the Neuhammer am Quais (now Świętoszów) POW camp, and probably also from Lamsdorf (now Łambinowice) for this purpose in October 1941. At first, they were housed in separate, fenced-off blocks in the Auschwitz main camp. In that same month, they began being marched every day to the construction site in the village of Brzezinka.

All the Poles who lived in the village had been expelled in April 1941, and their homes demolished. Brzezinka lay within the 40 sq. km. of the so-called camp interest zone (Interessengebiet), administered by the camp. The residents of other villages in the zone shared the same fate, as had the people living in the Oświęcim suburb of Zasole at the time of the founding of the Auschwitz camp.

BI, the first of the four planned Birkenau segments, was built in the village of Brzezinka over the winter of 1941/1942 and during the rest of 1942, and divided into two sectors, BIa and BIb. Including buildings added later, this segment contained 62 residential barracks in the final phase of its existence (30 brick and 32 wooden), along with 10 barracks containing washrooms and toilets, 2 kitchens, 2 bathhouses, and 2 storage barracks. Work on the second construction segment (BII) began in 1942 and was finished near the end of 1943. This segment was divided into 7 sectors of wooden barracks. Sector BIIa contained 16 residential barracks, 3 barracks containing washrooms and toilets, and a kitchen barracks. Sectors BII b, c, d, and e each contained 32 residential barracks, 6 barracks containing washrooms and toilets, and 2 kitchens. In sector BIIf there were 17 residential barracks and 1 bathhouse barracks. Thirty barracks used mainly as warehouses were built in sector BIIg, along with 1 brick bathhouse (sauna). That same year, work began on the third construction segment (BIII). The approach of the front lines in 1944 brought construction to a halt. Work on the fourth construction segment never got underway.

The construction segments were divided into sectors (“camps”) separated by electrified barbed-wire fences. Guard towers surrounded the entire camp. A three-track railroad spur and unloading ramp went into operation in May 1944.

The Germans managed to build a total of approximately 300 housing, administrative, and infrastructure barracks and buildings, 13 km. of drainage ditches, 16 km. of barbed-wire fencing, and more than 10 km. of roads within an area of about 140 hectares at Birkenau.

Two provisional gas chambers, known as bunkers 1 and 2, went into operation next to the Birkenau construction site in 1942, when Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss was entrusted with carrying out part of the campaign to exterminate the Jews. They were adapted farmhouses that previously belonged to expelled Poles. The first began operating in early 1942, probably in March, and the second in mid-year.

The construction of a complex of four gigantic gas chambers and crematoria began in mid-1942. The Germans estimated that 1.6 million people a year could be killed and burned there.