During the Holocaust, the concentration camp Auschwitz, remained the largest and most inhumane Nazi death camp ever recorded in history. It is estimated that almost one-quarter of the Jews killed during World War II were murdered in Auschwitz alone (Museum). For those who survived the camp it will forever remain a living, breathing nightmare. However if mankind is to learn from the past we must fully understand what it is that transpired in such a place.
The concentration camp system began even before World War II. Early camps began as torture chambers for the Nazi party's political enemies and were controlled by the Gestapo (Friendlander 1). World War II intensified the concentration camp system, bringing forth more organized and permanent camps. Heinrich Himmler, head of the German police, ordered the establishment of Auschwitz on April 27, 1940 (Museum 1). Auschwitz began in the suburbs of the city Oswiecim, Poland as a concentration camp built for the forced labor of Polish political prisoners (Dwork 181). The Nazi leaders chose Oswiecim as a building site due in part to the fact that there was already an old army barracks there, it was surrounded by swamp, and was easily accessible by railway (Lawton 11). .
Over the years Auschwitz began to expand into three separate parts. The original part was designated the main camp and called Auschwitz I, with construction beginning in May of 1940. Auschwitz I or "Stammager" was meant for 7,000 prisoners but its average occupancy was around 18,000. The original buildings contained 28 two-story brick buildings with wooden side-barracks (Auschwitz). On March 1941, Himmler ordered the construction of Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, which was a larger section of the camp, 1.9 miles from Auschwitz I (Museum 1). Birkenau held up to 100,000 prisoners (Auschwitz) and was known as the most cruel and heartless section of Auschwitz.