MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

The organizational structure

From March 1, 1942 to November 22, 1943, Birkenau was under the command of the commandant of the whole Auschwitz complex, Rudolf Höss. When Himmler ordered that Auschwitz be reorganized and divided into three separate camps, Birkenau was renamed Auschwitz II Concentration Camp, with Fritz Hartjenstein (replaced by Josef Kramer on May 8, 1944) as its commandant. This state of things continued until November 25, 1944, when Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II were again merged as a single entity under the name Konzentrationslager Auchwitz, headed by the Auschwitz I commandant, Richard Baer.

Several separate organizational units, also referred to as “camps,” along with the mass extermination facilities, came into being in Birkenau between 1942 and 1945. Each of these internal divisions of Birkenau was run by a camp director (Lagerführer), with a non-commissioned report officer (Rapportführer) and block  supervisors (Blockführer) reporting to him.

The commandant of Auschwitz II Concentration Camp was also in charge of the sub-camps and farms within the camp interest zone (Interessengebiet).

The first of the camps to be founded inside Birkenau, in March 1942, was the men’s camp for prisoners of various nationalities. Until July 1943, it was located in sector BIb.

The women’s camp opened in August 1942. Located in sector BIa, it expanded to take in BIb in July 1943. Over 10 thousand women of various ethnic origins (the majority of them Jews, but also including Poles, Germans, and others) were transferred to Birkenau from Auschwitz I, where they had been held temporarily since March 26, 1942. 

 Seven new administrative units were opened in segment BII in 1943.

The first, in February 1943, was the Gypsy Family Camp (sector BIIe). Throughout its existence, a total of 23 thousand Gypsies from Germany, Austria, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and the lands annexed to the Third Reich were sent there. The camp was liquidated on August 2, 1944, when the approximately 3 thousand Gypsies still there were killed in the gas chambers.

men’s camp (sector BIId) was created in July 1943; the men from sector BIb were moved there.

That same month, a hospital camp for men of various nationalities opened in sector BIIf.

quarantine camp for men prisoners of various nationalities opened in sector BIIa in August.

family camp for Jews from Theresienstadt (sector BIIb) opened on September 8. About 18 thousand Jews from the ghetto in Terezin were placed there in 1943 and 1944. This was the second camp, after the Gypsy camp, where men stayed together with women and children.

Both these family camps were probably set up for propaganda purposes. In what was known as the Briefaktion (letter campaign), prisoners in the BIIb family camp were required to write censored correspondence with predetermined contents, in an effort to mislead public opinion and potential victims as to the purpose of the Third Reich’s deportation of Jews. 

A warehouse complex known as “Kanada II,” where baggage confiscated from the mass transports of Jews was stored and sorted, opened in December in the last sector of this segment (BIIg). 

Three transit camps opened in 1944. Two of them (BIIc and BIII) were for Jewish women, while the one for Jewish men (BIIe) used the vacant barracks where the Gypsy camp had been.

The mass extermination facilities—the gas chambers used to kill people and the crematoria used to burn the corpses—constituted a separate complex under the overall direction of the camp commandant, and supervised directly by the Politische Abteilung. After the division of the camp into three parts, the garrison commander used order no. 53/43 to entrust supervision of the extermination operation and installations to the commandant of Auschwitz II Concentration Camp as head of the Auschwitz Command Post (for Special Assignments) [Befehlstelle Auschwitz (für besondere Aufsätze)].

Both during the time when the complex of camps in Birkenau was subject to orders from the commandant of Auschwitz Concentration Camp and later when it became an autonomous concentration camp, it was closely connected with Auschwitz I (the main camp) and Auschwitz III (the sub-camps). An order from the commander of the Auschwitz garrison on November 22, 1943 required them to cooperate closely. The Auschwitz I commandant was the garrison commander. Since he was designated as senior in service terms (dienstältester) in relation to the other commandants, he had the authority to resolve disputes among them. The garrison administrative offices, the central employment bureau, the political department, and the office of the garrison physician, who was the head of the medical service in all the camps, continued to be located in the Auschwitz I camp.