MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

Jews

Mass transports of Jews to Auschwitz began in 1942. On the basis of a 1941 decree from Himmler and after a preparatory period, Auschwitz was included in the plans for the destruction of 11 million European Jews. Presented at the conference in Berlin-Wannsee on January 20, 1942, the plan called for Europe to be “swept” from west to east, in order to detain all Jews from infants to the elderly, and to deport them to killing places. The main sites for the killing would be extermination centers equipped with gas chambers, as used already in the euthanasia centers in Germany where over 70 thousand mentally ill German citizens and thousands of concentration camp prisoners had been killed.

Under Himmler’s decree, Auschwitz was to play a key role in these extermination plans (along with the extermination centers in Chełmno on the Ner, Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka, and also, to a lesser degree, at the concentration camp in Majdanek). In making his decision, Himmler took into account the “favorable location in terms of transport” and the fact that “this area can easily be isolated and camouflaged.” The exact date for the start of the mass extermination of Jews in Auschwitz Concentration Camp is not known. It probably took place shortly after the Wannsee conference. Relatively small groups of Jews were killed at this time in crematorium I in the main camp.