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Basic information on Auschwitz

A set of basic, although not always universally known facts regarding Auschwitz. They may help to prepare information materials.

Auschwitz, the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, is the most recognizable symbol of the Holocaust and place of genocide in the world. Never, and in no other camp or extermination center did the SS murder such a great number of Jews from nearly all the Nazi occupied Europe. However, many people do not know that Poles constituted nearly 40% of the prisoners registered in the camp and that those incarcerated and murdered there included also: the Roma, Soviet POWs and prisoners of over twenty nationalities. And only experts will know the role Auschwitz was to play in the Nazi German settlement plans of Eastern Europe, which – aside from exterminating the Jews – posited also the destruction of the majority of the Slavic population.

This information package includes also a mini dictionary of terms from the history of Auschwitz.

Historical information Present-day information
Nazi German racist premises and plans of political dominance and demographic changes in Eastern Europe Mission statement
Concepts of the depopulation of Eastern Europe and their realization after the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-1945) Meaning of Auschwitz for the history of Europe
Concentration camps vs. extermination centers Unique nature of the Auschwitz Museum and Memorial
Role of Auschwitz in the realization of the Nazi extermination policy Museum or Memorial Site?
Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Auschwitz III-Monowitz “A Polish concentration camp” or “a Nazi German concentration camp”?
Liberation of Auschwitz Visitors to the Auschwitz Site
Ethnic origins and number of victims of Auschwitz Sources of  financing
Overall losses in Poland's population during the Second World War (1939-1945)1945)  

Mini dictionary of terms from the history of Auschwitz


Nazi German racist premises and plans of political dominance and demographic changes in Eastern Europe

Among 50 million dead during the Second World War, more than 12 million constitute the civilian victims of the Third Reich’s extermination policy, including more than a million deaths in the Nazi German Auschwitz concentration camp and extermination center. Never before in the history of civilization had a crime on such a scale been planned and carried out and industrial killing methods used to meet that end.

The basics of the Nazi expansion and extermination policy were not only to strive towards political dominance in Europe and, eventually, the world, but also plans of deep demographic changes in the areas deemed to be German “living space”. This was according to the Nazi racist doctrine proclaiming biological inequality of nations and the right of dominance of the “superior” German peoples over “inferior” peoples like Jews, Roma or Slavs.

The idea of German “living space” (Lebensraum) as well as the nature of the demographic changes in the relevant areas were described in detail in many documents of the Nazi movement. Adolf Hitler said in Mein Kampf:

We finally put a stop to the colonial and trade policy of pre-war times and pass over to the territorial policy of the future. But when we speak of new territory in Europe today we must principally think of Russia and the border states subject to her.

To raise no doubts concerning those intentions, in November 1937, on a secret conference attended by the military commanders and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hitler farther stated:

It is not a matter of acquiring population but of gaining space for agricultural use.

This idea was explained and complemented by Heinrich Himmler in July 1942:

It is not our task to Germanise the East in the old sense, that is to teach the people there the German language and the German law, but to see to it that only people of purely Germanic blood live in the East.

The liquidation of the “Eastern people” was supposed to have various forms: from Germanisation of some “racially fit” people through various forms of actions aimed at decrease in reproduction, mortality increase to, finally, physical extermination.

Concepts of the depopulation of Eastern Europe and their realization after the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-1945)

Plans for massive deportations of Jews and Slavs

Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, the German Nazis started removing Jews and Roma from Germany through deportations to occupied Poland. Due to the fact, however, that those areas were deemed to become German “living space”, different ideas regarding the resettlement of the population of Eastern Europe were considered, including the deportation of Jews outside Europe to the French island of Madagascar, and of the Slavs to Siberia.

The so-called Generalplan Ost or Master Plan East, a Nazi settlement and Germanisation plan for Eastern Europe, was developed on the request of the Third Reich’s authorities. To depopulate this German “living space” a small part of the population that was deemed “racially valuable” according to German eugenics theory was supposed to be Germanised. Most of the Slavic population was to be exterminated or resettled.

The plan also included approximately six million Jews living in Eastern Europe.

Plans for the sterilization of Slavs

In 1941 the topic of secret conferences in Himmler’s headquarters was the issue of mass sterilization. Those in attendance considered the best method for sterilizing an unlimited number of people in the shortest period and easiest manner possible. It may be presumed that this was to be an alternative solution of “clearing” German “living space” beside extermination and deportations.

During the July 1941 conference attended by Heinrich Himmler and Richard Glücks, Inspector of the Concentration Camps, the task to find the best sterilization method was vested upon professor Carl Clauberg, an authority figure within the treatment of female infertility.

Direct extermination of Jews and Roma

After great military successes in 1941, when the final conquest of Europe and the world seemed to be just a matter of time away, the Third Reich authorities decided to apply the most radical solution to the “Jewish Question” and to exterminate the entire Jewish population. All Jews, irrespective of their age, sex and their attitude towards the Nazi ideology and authority were to be murdered. The means of extermination policy included starvation in ghettos, executions and finally murder on an industrial scale in gas chambers.

As in the case of the Jews, the Nazis also intended to completely exterminate the Roma (Gypsies). Mobile killing units called Einsatzgruppen shot dead Roma in areas of the Soviet Union, while in Poland they were executed on the spot or killed with the Jews in the extermination centers. Roma from Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Moravia were also brought to those centers and ghettos. Most of them, however, were imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Murder of the Jews in direct extermination centers

In 1941, when the Nazis decided to annihilate millions of European Jews, the main places where the murder was to be carried out were the extermination centers equipped with gas chambers. This way of killing had already been tried out in 1939-1941 in Germany, where, within the euthanasia program, more than 70 thousand mentally disabled German citizens were murdered.

The key function in those extermination plans was held by Auschwitz (900 thousand Jews murdered), followed by: Treblinka (800 thousand), Belzec (435 thousand),  Sobibor (200 thousand), Kulmhof (150 thousand) and, to a lesser degree, Majdanek (59 thousand).

Both Auschwitz and Majdanek were “atypical” extermination centers in the sense that they were organizationally and spatially combined with concentration camps under the same names:

    • In Auschwitz, aside from 900 thousand Jews murdered in gas chambers, 200 thousand people died in the camp;
    • In Majdanek, aside from 59 thousand Jews murdered in gas chambers, mass executions or in the camp, nearly 19 thousand non-Jewish prisoners also met their death in the camp.

Direct extermination centers were almost exclusively meant for Jews. They differed from concentration camps primarily in that aside from a small number of prisoners needed to handle the mass murder installations (operating the gas chambers and crematoria, burning bodies in the open air) and sort out the property plundered from the murdered, no other people were kept there and therefore no large numbers of barracks or other living quarters were necessary. The Jews brought to those centers were driven directly from the unloading ramp to the gas chambers and killed.

Nazi terror against Poles

Aside from murdering the Jews in extermination centers, annihilating the Roma and implementing long-term extermination plans concerning Slavs, the Germans theoretically killed only those Poles who actively fought the occupant or violated German laws. In practice, however, the occupation authorities obviously extended the repression goals farther than simply fighting the resistance, to include those merely suspected, or potentially dangerous, due to their social status. On that basis people classified as belonging to the so-called leading social class, mainly members of the Intelligentsia, were killed in Poland.

Those actions, having a form of pre-planned extermination campaigns, met all the prerequisites of genocide. Although sometimes attempts were made to invest them with a preventive and repressive significance, they were actually based, as suggested by the words of Nazi leaders, on deeper foundations, namely those of the cultural and intellectual degradation of the Polish nation through the removal of its Intelligentsia. Also of genocidal nature were all kinds of terrorist and repressive actions within the frame of collective responsibility such as pacifications, street arrests and executions of hostages. The aim was not only to incapacitate psychologically but also to physically decimate the whole population.

Concentration camps vs. extermination centers

Nazi German concentration camps, the biggest of which was Auschwitz, were one of many measures serving the practical realization of the extermination policy (beside, among others, executions and annihilation in prisons and various penal camps and ghettos).

The main difference between concentration camps, where prisoners of various nationalities were incarcerated, and extermination centers (Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Kulmhof, Majdanek), where nearly all the victims were Jewish, was in the first place the annihilation method, while the final goal – the physical elimination of the victims – remained the same (both Auschwitz and Majdanek were “atypical” extermination centers since they were organizationally and spatially combined with concentration camps under the same names). Concentration camps used as the main annihilation method hunger combined with physical exhaustion. The death of prisoners was also accelerated by other conditions of existence in the camps: the lack of proper clothes, rest and medical care, poor sanitary conditions, as well as insufficient living conditions. Unlike the victims of the extermination centers killed immediately upon their arrival in the gas chambers, the prisoners of concentration camps stayed there for shorter or longer periods (some of them managed to survive the war).

Concentration camps, being an alternative to mass executions, were a tool for the physical elimination and served at the same time the cause of disguising the crimes committed there. Since they formally, by name and organizational structure, referred to pre-war camps, where Hitler’s opponents were isolated, their denomination related, as it were, to a concept to some extent familiar to the public in Germany and other countries.

Role of Auschwitz in the realization of the Nazi extermination policy

The Nazi German Auschwitz concentration camp was set up in 1940 for Polish political prisoners and began to function also as an extermination center of the Jews in 1942. Due to these two roles and the predominant number of Jews and Poles in the general number of victims of the camp its history may be divided into two periods:

    • 1940 – mid 1942, when most of those deported and killed there were Poles. The concentration camp in Auschwitz opened 10 months after the outbreak of the war and, together with the Stutthof camp set up in 1939 and the Majdanek camp set up in 1941, was one of the main sites of deportation and murder of Poles. They were brought to and imprisoned in Auschwitz throughout its entire time of operation.
    • mid 1942 – 1944, when most of those deported and killed there were Jews. Auschwitz had the function of the primary Nazi extermination center for Jews from European countries occupied by Third Reich or dominated by its allies. The intensity of the extermination campaign in the second period was several times higher. Throughout the whole operation of the camp's existence Jews constituted almost 85% of the deportees and approximately 90% of the victims.

Those incarcerated and murdered in the camp included also the Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and prisoners of more than 20 nationalities.

Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Auschwitz III-Monowitz

Konzentrationslager (KL) Auschwitz or the Auschwitz concentration camp was established by German Nazis on the outskirts of the town of Oświęcim, renamed Auschwitz after its incorporation into the Third Reich, and providing the name for the camp.

    • Initially there was one camp, Auschwitz, established in June 1940;
    • In March 1942 a subsidiary of the Auschwitz camp was established – Birkenau (from the German name of the village of Brzezinka where it was located);
    • In October 1942  Monowitz, an Auschwitz sub-camp was established (named after the German name of the village of Monowice where it was located). In total almost 50 sub-camps of Auschwitz were established between 1942-1945.

  The first administrative division of Auschwitz, 1943-1944

In November 1943, due to growing difficulties in managing the growing complex and more and the increasingly distinct functions of each part of it, the Auschwitz camps were divided into:

    • KL Auschwitz I (Stammlager, German for the main camp),
    • KL Auschwitz II-Birkenau (included all camps, the so-called building sections in Birkenau as well as sub-camps at agricultural and livestock farms),
    • KL Auschwitz III (Aussenlager, German for a sub-camp or external camp. It included Monowitz as well as sub-camps that did not fall under the Birkenau camp, mainly those located near the industrial centers).

The Auschwitz I camp housed mainly the central employment office, the political department or the camp Gestapo, the garrison administration, central supply warehouses, workshops and SS enterprises – most of the camp prisoners were employed there.

The Auschwitz II camp combined two functions:

    • center of the direct extermination of the Jews. The largest mass murder installations in occupied Europe – in the form of gas chambers – were created in Birkenau, where the Nazis murdered most of the Jewish deportees. The sick prisoners selected for death from the entire camp complex were also gathered and regularly murdered there;
    • concentration complex, consisting of camps of various nature and destination (e.g. the so-called Gypsy Camp, the so-called family camp for Jews from the Theresienstadt ghetto and warehouses for plundered goods). In the last period of operation it also became a concentration site and labor distribution point for the German industry in the depths of the Third Reich.

The tasks of the Auschwitz III camp mainly consisted of renting the slave labor of prisoners to German companies, therefore it included sub-camps established at the nearby industrial enterprises.
  The second administrative division of Auschwitz, 1944-1945

In November 1944, two months before the liberation, another administrative division was carried out, and this division of the camps lasted until the liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945:

    • KL Auschwitz I and KL Auschwitz II were combined into one complex and their former name, KL Auschwitz, was reinstated;
    • KL Auschwitz III was renamed KL Monowitz and included all the subcamps.

  Reporting line

Irrespective of the administrative divisions, commanders of all Auschwitz camps and sub-camps always reported to the main camp commander in Auschwitz I being, at the same time, the garrison commander and having the right to solve any disputes with respect to the remaining commanders.

Liberation of Auschwitz

Initial camp evacuation and eliminating the traces of the crimes

From August 1944 through mid-January 1945 the Germans transferred approximately 65 thousand male and female prisoners out of Auschwitz to be employed as a slave labor force for various enterprises in the depths of the Third Reich. They also started the initial elimination and destruction of the evidence of their crimes – among others, the prisoners’ registers and records of the Jews murdered in gas chambers were burnt. Movable property of the camp was transported away, mainly large amounts of construction materials as well as goods plundered from the victims of mass murder. The technical elements of all gas chambers and crematoria but one were dismantled or disassembled by the end of the year.

Camp liquidation

In mid-January 1945, when the front line was broken by the Red Army and its troops were approaching Cracow, 70 km away from the camp, the final evacuation of prisoners started. From 17 to 21 January 1945 approximately 56 thousand male and female prisoners were taken out of Auschwitz and its sub-camps in marching columns. Having reached the indicated railway station they were transported farther to the west in freight cars. Both evacuation routes, by rail or on foot, were littered with the bodies of prisoners who had either been shot or had died due to exhaustion or cold. An estimated 9 thousand prisoners of Auschwitz died during that operation.

On 20 January 1945 the SS blew up the gas chambers and crematoria that had already been put out of service some time earlier while the last one, still fully operational, was blown up on 26 January. On 23 January the warehouses, where the goods belonging to the victims of the extermination were stored, were set on fire.


After the final evacuation almost 9 thousand prisoners, mostly the ill and exhausted left behind in the camp by Germans, found themselves in an uncertain situation. Approximately 700 Jewish prisoners were murdered in the period between the forced departure of the last evacuation columns and the arrival of the Soviet soldiers. It was only a matter of coincidence that the most of the remaining prisoners survived.

On 27 January 1945 the Red Army entered the area of the town of Oświęcim, facing the resistance of the retreating German troops. More than 230 Soviet soldiers died while liberating the area. Approximately 7 thousand prisoners lived to see the liberation of the Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau and Auschwitz III-Monowitz camps. Approximately 500 other prisoners were liberated in the sub-camps before 27 January and shortly after that date.

The ill were taken care of by several Soviet field hospitals and the so-called Camp Hospital of the Polish Red Cross which was set up by Polish volunteers, mainly residents of Cracow and nearby towns. 4.5 thousand mostly Jewish survivors, including more than 400 children, citizens of more than twenty countries, were treated there.

Those prisoners who were in a relatively good physical condition left Auschwitz immediately after the liberation, going home on their own or in organized transports. Most patients admitted to hospitals did the same three or four months later.

Ethnic origins and number of victims of Auschwitz

1.3 million deportees

The German Nazis deported to Auschwitz at least 1.3 million people of more than 20 nationalities. Of that amount, 400 thousand were registered and incarcerated in the concentration camp as prisoners while 900 thousand were murdered in the gas chambers on arrival. Jews constituted 85% of all deportees and 90% of those who were murdered.

1.1 million murdered

From among 1.3 million Auschwitz deportees, at least 1.1 million were murdered:

    • 900 thousand Jews murdered in the gas chambers immediately on arrival at the camp;
    • Of the 400 thousand prisoners registered in the camp, 200 thousand people died there. They included almost 100 thousand Jews, 70 thousand Poles, 21 thousand Roma, 14 thousand Soviet prisoners of war and more than 10 thousand prisoners of other nationalities.

Total number of deportees and murdered in Auschwitz


Number of deportees

Percentage of the total number of deportees

Number of victims

Percentage of murdered within the category/nationality

Percentage of all victims


1.1 million


~1 million




140 thousand


~70 thousand



Other groups

25 thousand


~12 thousand



Roma (Gypsies)

23 thousand


~21 thousand



Soviet POWs

15 thousand


~14 thousand




~1.3 million


~1.1 million




Jews deported to Auschwitz according to their country of origin

(according to the pre-1939 borders)

Country of origin


Hungary (according to the borders during the war)

430 thousand


300 thousand


69 thousand

The Netherlands

60 thousand


55 thousand

The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Theresienstadt)

46 thousand

Concentration camps and other centers

34 thousand

Slovakia (according to the borders during the war)

26 thousand


25 thousand

Germany and Austria

23 thousand


10 thousand


7.5 thousand




~ 1.1 mln


Prisoners of the Auschwitz concentration camp

The Germans imprisoned approximately 400 thousand people in the Auschwitz concentration camp:

    • 200 thousand Jews (50% of the total number)
    • 140 thousand Poles (35%)
    • 25 thousand peoples of other nationalities (6%)
    • 21 thousand Roma (5%)
    • 12 thousand Soviet captives (4%)

Among the 25 thousand people of different nationalities the most numerous were the Czech (9 thousand), followed by: Belarussians (6 thousand), Germans (4 thousand), French (4 thousand), Russians (1.5 thousand), Yugoslavians (mostly Slovenians but also Croatians and Serbs) and Ukrainians.

Small numbers (several to several dozen persons) of people of the following nationalities were also imprisoned in the camp: Albanian, Belgium, Danish, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Luxembourg, Dutch, Norwegian, Romanian, Slovakian, Spanish and Swiss (alphabetical order not reflecting the actual numbers).

Prisoners of Auschwitz concentration camp




200 thousand


140 thousand


21 thousand

Soviet captives

12 thousand


9 thousand


6 thousand


4 thousand


4 thousand


1.5 thousand








~ 400 thousand


Overall losses in Poland's population during the Second World War (1939-1945)

During the Second World War as a result of the German aggression and its consequences approximately six million Polish citizens died:

    • approximately 3 million Polish Jews;
    • approximately 2 million Poles: 1.3 million in the General Government, 0.2 million in the territories incorporated into the Reich and 0.5 million in the territories east of the Bug River (this number also includes the victims of Soviet crimes committed on POWs and civilians as well as the victims of Ukrainian, Belarussian and Lithuanian nationalists);
    • approximately 1 million Polish citizens of other nationalities: Ukrainians, Belarusians, Roma, and Lithuanians amongst others.

Mission statement

Auschwitz is the most recognizable symbol and place of genocide in the world

From the moment when the Polish State established the Auschwitz Memorial on the site of the former camp, it committed itself to preserve the memory of the crimes committed in that Nazi German Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp.

Common words do not describe this site properly. Nowadays it is called a graveyard, a monument, a memorial site, a museum. But those words cannot express the full meaning of Auschwitz which is so hard to grasp and express. It is the best preserved evidence of the greatest fall of mankind and an enormous tragedy in the history of Europe. This is a symbol of the whole Shoah history, the system of concentration camps and an unrecorded crisis of evil.

Protection of Camp Relics

Our main goal is to protect and conserve camp relics or in other words to keep the authenticity and the thrust of the biggest concentration camp and the only extermination center that the SS did not manage to raze to the ground.

To support the efforts the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation was established in 2009. It created the Perpetual Fund to provide means for the planned and systematic realization of the conservation works at the Memorial Site.


Education, understood in a broader sense, is an equally important task. One can teach about Auschwitz and the Holocaust anywhere. Only at the Auschwitz Memorial, however, is it possible not only to get to know the history of the camp operation and gain direct access to the first-hand accounts of witnesses, but also to see the evidence of the Extermination with our own eyes: the ruins of the gas chambers, crematoria and other leftover camp remains.

Meaning of Auschwitz

Auschwitz lies at the very heart of the European experience. It is the biggest Extermination site, a symbol of its monstrous entirety. It is a constant point of reference in the post-war history of the Old Continent, fully justifying all the efforts aimed at creating a unified, different, new, more humane and sensitive Europe.

Taking care of the site is not only an obligation towards the past generations, victims and survivors; to a great extent, it is also an obligation towards the generations to come. It will be their responsibility to carry on our post-war endeavors for a better, united, sensible, supporting and safe world. It is our children and grandchildren who will build the future of our civilization. We owe them the truth about Auschwitz.

Meaning of Auschwitz in the history of Europe

Auschwitz is the most recognizable symbol and place of genocide in the world. The 20th century showed there are no borders a human will not cross.

Without the European experience of the Second World War, of which the former  Nazi German Auschwitz concentration camp is the clearest symbol and at the same time tangible evidence, there would not be such a deep will to reorganize the coexistence of countries in the free, democratic regions of the Old Continent after 1945.

If it had not been for what Auschwitz symbolizes, the fathers of the united Europe – Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schumann and Alcide De Gasperi among others – would not have strived that hard to change the general coexistence principles, underlining cooperation instead of internal competition. Instead of creating great and unsupported ideals, they decided to make use of an economy which requires cooperation and the elimination of borders.

Paradoxically, Auschwitz is the corner stone of the postwar, unified Europe.

Unique nature of the Auschwitz Museum and Memorial

The former Nazi German Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp is the most recognizable symbol and place of genocide in the world. The Memorial Site covers two preserved parts of the camp: Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, in a total area of 191 hectares (472 acres), including 20 hectares (49 acres) of the Auschwitz I camp and 171 hectares of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp.

Its uniqueness is proved by the original terrain and objects, ruins and traces of the Holocaust and genocide committed there. At the site, one will find: areas with human ashes, ruins of gas chambers and crematoria, places where SS doctors carried out selections, roads along which people were driven to the gas chambers, places where families awaited their death, places where prisoners rebelled and were executed. One of the most terrifying pieces of evidence of the crimes is also exhibited in the former Auschwitz I concentration camp: almost two tons of female hair cut from the victims.

The Auschwitz Memorial is more than extensive grounds and original camp blocks, barracks, and guard towers. It is also tens of thousands of objects of a special nature, special meaning, and special symbolism. Above all, it is the personal possessions brought by deportees and found at the site after liberation. They make up a unique collection of items connected with the suffering of the people deported to Auschwitz to be killed immediately, and with those forced into slave labor by the Germans. It is also the objects connected with the life of prisoners inthe camp, which bear testimony not only to the primitive living and hygienic conditions and starvation, but also with attempts to preserve humanity behind the barbed wire of Auschwitz.


More than 100 thousand objects and archival items, 150 preserved buildings, and approximately 300 ruins, including the remains of four gas chambers and crematoria in Birkenau, over 13 km of fence with 3.6 thousand concrete posts and many other elements are under the care of highly-qualified conservators having one of the most modern specialist laboratories in the world at their disposal.

The International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust

One can teach about Auschwitz and the Holocaust anywhere. Only at the Auschwitz Memorial is it possible, however, not only to get to know the history of the camp operation and gain direct access to the first-hand accounts of witnesses, but also to see the evidence of the Extermination with our own eyes: the ruins of the gas chambers, crematoria and other leftover camp remains.

The Museum’s educational mission is realized by the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust set up by the Polish government on the initiative of the survivors. The Memorial is visited annually by more than a million people from all over the world. Most of them are accompanied by qualified guides-educators trained at the Centre.

ICEAH  also organizes post-graduate studies, seminars, conferences, stays and study trips, and workshops for teachers and students from all over the world.

Art collection

The Museum’s collection of art connected with the Auschwitz camp is unique and the largest of its kind in the world. Its great historical and emotional value makes the camp art exceptionally valuable, with a universal message that everyone who sees it can understand.


The archive collection includes tens of thousands of camp documents, approximately 39 thousand negatives of photographs of newly registered prisoners as well as almost 2.5 thousand family photos of Jews deported to Auschwitz for extermination.

Museum or Memorial Site?

Establishment of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

The Nazi German Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by Red Army soldiers on 27 January 1945.

Just a few months after the end of the war a group of Polish survivors started publicly propagating the concept of commemorating the victims of Auschwitz. As soon as it was possible, some of them came to the former camp to protect its buildings and ruins. Their efforts resulted in setting up the so-called Permanent Former Auschwitz Camp Security and took care of thousands of people who started arriving in large numbers to search for traces of their relatives and to pay tribute to the victims.

Even before the Museum was officially established, former prisoners prepared the first exhibition on the camp site, opened on 14 June 1947. The opening ceremony was attended by approximately 50 thousand people, including survivors, relatives of the murdered, people from all over Poland and delegated Polish state authorities, as well as representatives from the Central Commission for Investigation of German Crimes, the Central Jewish History Commission, and delegates of the British, Czechoslovakian and French embassies.

In July 1947 the Polish Parliament called into being the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

Museum or Memorial Site?

The first task of the museum was to safeguard the former camp, its building and environs, to gather evidence and materials concerning German atrocities committed at Auschwitz, to subject them to scientific scrutiny and to make them publicly available. Despite this, there is still debate amongst former prisoners, museum experts, conservationists, historians, teachers and the mass media on how to organize, manage and develop the Museum.

As early as 1947 the management of the Museum initiated a press discussion by inviting journalists, former prisoners, and visitors to present their opinions about the institution. The functions of the new Museum and the message it should convey dominated the discussion. There were suggestions that it should be both a Museum and a place for the commemoration of the victims simultaneously.

Not everyone accepts the name “museum”. Some believe that the former camp is, in the first instance, a cemetery; others that it is a place of memory, a monument; others still regard it as a memorial institute, a research and education center with respect to those who were killed. The site – formally referred to as a museum – in fact fulfills all of these functions, as they do not cancel out, but rather complement one another.

The status of a Museum also allows for using a wide range of legal grounds and so-called good practice in the protection of collections and archives, among other things in the loan procedures all over the world.

The everyday work of conservationists, educators, museum specialists, archivists and many other people helps preserve the memory at the authentic site of an unbelievable crime.

“A Polish concentration camp” or “a Nazi German concentration camp”?

    • Auschwitz, a Nazi German concentration camp – historically correct term, adopted in such a form by UNESCO
    • Auschwitz, a Polish concentration camp – misinforming and untrue term, suggesting an entirely false idea as for who is responsible for the crimes of German Nazis, and being an offensive form of revisionism for the victims.

   Auschwitz concentration camp – definition

“Konzentrationslager Auschwitz” (KL Auschwitz, German for "Auschwitz Concentration Camp") was the name of a state run German concentration camp established by the German Nazis in 1940 during the Second World War on the outskirts of the town of Oświęcim. The town was incorporated into the Third Reich along with this part of the German-occupied Poland.

   “Polish concentration camps” – misinformation

"Polish concentration camps" is a misinforming, untrue definition, giving rise to suspicions of revisionism, and a historically deceiving name used by some media, publications and historical documents with respect to the Nazi German concentration camps, including KL Auschwitz, which were located within Poland's borders.

   German concentration camps

Concentration camps and extermination centers were established and administered by the German state. At the time when those camps were being established, the state of Poland did not exist. The area of Auschwitz was not only occupied by Germany but also incorporated geographically into the German state. During the German occupation of Poland (1939-1945) the legally operating center of Polish authorities was the Government of the Republic of Poland in exile situated in London, who neither made decisions concerning the establishing of those concentration camps nor participated in any manner in their administration. The structures of the Polish underground state, which were subordinated to the Polish Government in exile, did not participate in any manner in operating those camps, either, and undertook actions aimed against their German initiators and managers.

Despite the semantic ambiguity of the term “Polish concentration camps”, its solely acceptable geographic connotation is only obvious for a relatively small number of people who are familiar with the history of Europe and the Second World War.


Using the term “Polish concentration camps” in publications leads many people who are not familiar with this history to believe that the concentration camps were established by the Poles and that Poles, together with the German occupants, were co-responsible for the extermination of the Jews and for other crimes committed in those camps.

   Auschwitz on the UNESCO World Heritage List

Following the recurrent use of the term “Polish concentration camps”, upon the request filed by Poland, the reading of the entry for the remains of the Auschwitz concentration camp was changed in 2007 from “Auschwitz Concentration Camp” to: “Nazi German Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945)”.

   "Japanese nuclear bomb"

It is worth noting that, although during the Second World War concentration camps were established by the German Nazis not only in occupied Poland, but also among others in Lithuania, Latvia, France and the Netherlands, the media do not use the terms like “French concentration camps” or “Dutch concentration camps”. There are also no texts mentioning “Japanese nuclear bombs” dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the “geographical logic” would suggest.

Visitors to the Auschwitz Site

Auschwitz is the most recognizable symbol and place of genocide in the world.

More than 44 million people from all over the world have visited Auschwitz since 1945.

   Visitors to Auschwitz in 1945-1957

The Nazi German Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by the Red Army troops on 27 January 1945. The camp grounds could be visited already in 1945, although visits were relatively limited at that time. After the beginning of organizational work to establish the Museum, the visits became more popular and in 1946 the number of visitors reached 100 thousand. The following year, in 1947, the number reached 170 thousand. During the first ten years of its existence, the Memorial was visited by two million people.

   The highest number of visitors

For several decades the former camp was visited annually by approximately 500-600 thousand people; from the beginning of the 21st century that number began to grow. More than a million people from all over the world visit the Museum annually since 2007.

   The highest number of visitors was registered in 2018, when 2,15 million people visited Auschwitz.

The top ten visiting countries include: Poland (405,000), Great Britain (281,000), USA (136,000), Italy (116,000), Spain (95,000), Germany (76,000), France (69,000), Israel (65,000), the Czech Republic (45,000) and Sweden (42,000).

   Guides to the Memorial

Over 300 licensed guides-educators, specially trained for this purpose by the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust, and speaking a total of 20 languages, help visitors to get to know the history of Auschwitz. No other museum in the world offers this kind of service.

   Who visits Auschwitz Site?

Most of the visitors are young people, many of them come within various educational programmes. It is evident that over the last decade Auschwitz has become the fundamental Memorial Site for the entire continent of Europe. This fact reflects the actual significance of the history of the Holocaust and the trauma of concentration camp prisoners for the understanding of the history of Europe and its present face.

The growing educational dimension of the site indirectly reveals the challenges the contemporary world still faces. Therefore, many politicians and state leaders come to pay tribute to the victims of the Nazis in Auschwitz. They deem it to be their moral responsibility to visit this place – one of the greatest warnings for humanity.

   Virtual contact with Auschwitz

Although personal visits to the Memorial Site and direct contact with its history and authenticity cannot be substituted, many people benefit from the Museum’s presence online. In 2014, the number of unique visits to the official Museum website at was 12 million. Additionally, each day, thanks to social media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram i Pinterest – the Auschwitz Memorial reaches almost 200 thousand people on every continent. The Memorial can be also visited virtually at:

Sources of the Memorial's financing

Admission to the Museum is free of charge.

The physical existence of the Memorial makes it possible to acquire direct knowledge of Auschwitz with our own eyes. It is the best preserved evidence of the greatest fall of mankind and an enormous tragedy in the history of Europe. This is a symbol of the whole Shoah history, the system of concentration camps and an unrecorded crisis of evil.

Original camp objects and relics tell the story in a way that could never be expressed in a printed or visual manner. We need to be sure that they will continue to exist, so that it will be possible to come here also in the future, to see the place and pay tribute to the murdered, so that Auschwitz will be a lesson for anybody willing to hear it.


The Museum is subject to the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and is financed by Poland, which from the very beginning committed itself to preserve the memory of the crimes committed in that Nazi German Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp.

   Foreign Aid

Maintaining the memory requires funding. The burden of safeguarding the authenticity of the site, conserving it and making available those most expressive and authentic traces of Holocaust and genocide is a task beyond the financial capabilities of the Museum itself. Therefore, obtaining foreign funding is of major importance.

The first international funds started flowing to the Museum only in the 1990s.

Thanks to the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation professional conservation studios were created in the Museum in 2003.

Financial help from Germany and other countries and associations, including the French Shoah Memory Foundation, as well as from individuals made selected preservation works and projects to commemorate the victims possible.

Currently the Museum budget includes its own revenues and subventions of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, but also, among others, funds from the European Union and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.

   The Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation was established in 2009. Its aim is to secure funds to finance long-term conservation works. More than thirty countries have joined the Foundation’s Perpetual Capital. After reaching its goal – gathering 120 million Euros – the revenue from the unalterable and safely invested capital will allow for annual financing of necessary works aimed at the preservation of the camp remains for future generations. It will be also possible to implement the Preservation Master Plan in order to preserve the camp remains: 155 objects (including barracks and watch towers amongst others) situated in the original area of 191 hectares (472 acres), as well as 300 ruins (including the ruins of the gas chambers), many kilometers of roads and fences, and other elements of the camp infrastructure, as well as archive documents and collections.


We all share an obligation to make people aware that the world should learn from history.

It is the responsibility of every conscious and mature person. The Memorial is also supported by people of good will, helping with individual donations. The donations obtained in this manner are allocated for conserving the camp remains, historical research, education, publications and exhibitions, documenting and informing the world about the Nazi crime of Holocaust and genocide committed in Auschwitz.