A new perspective of Museum historians on the beginnings of the Auschwitz camp
The origins of Auschwitz in the light of source materials, the new Polish-English publication of the Museum, tells us—through an analysis of almost 100 archival documents, most of which have not yet been published—about the origins of the Auschwitz camp and the early stages of its operation. The authors of the publication are historians of the Museum Research Centre: Igor Bartosik, Łukasz Martyniak and Piotr Setkiewicz.
The authors present some previously unexplored aspects of the history of the camp, including the decision to establish it, its planned size, and the chronology of the expansion progress.
“While the subject of the beginnings of Auschwitz was discussed more extensively by Polish historians, it was treated rather slightly, in foreign publications, as a kind of a short prologue for consideration on the fundamental subject—the history of the "final solution”. Some of them noticed that Auschwitz existed before 1942, but their knowledge of this subject was derived from secondary or outdated studies. Consequently, the popular, abbreviated perspectives of the genesis of the camp contain numerous errors and misrepresentations," the authors write in the introduction.
The presented documents, accompanied by a historical commentary, confirm that from the very beginning Auschwitz was designed to accommodate 30,000 prisoners. However, the implementation of such a massive undertaking by the Germans still encountered technical and logistical problems, which were mainly due to the constantly changing orders and lack of qualifications of the SS men responsible for their execution. It is not true, therefore, that the expansion of Auschwitz was carried out from the very beginning according to a pre-established plan, and all the work implemented in relation to the omnipotence of the SS apparatus was of absolute priority.
Going by the presented materials, it can also be established that although in the years 1940-1941 the SS men intended in some degree to build a typical state concentration camp near Oświęcim; it was, however, meant to be the largest of the previously established camps for the accommodation of several transports of Polish political prisoners. It was also assumed that a high mortality rate would prevail at the camp. Already at the initial stage of design works, a decision was taken to build the first stationary crematorium in the history of German camps directly next to the prisoners' blocks. Subsequently, further furnaces were installed in the camp, so that their combined capacity would permit incineration of the bodies of all prisoners in the camp within about 2-3 months.
Many of the discussed documents testify to the significant role of several German companies involved in the construction of the camp complex. IG Farbenindustrie played a vital role in this respect, and its directors agreed in 1941 to provide the SS with approximately half of the quota allocations from its own pool for the construction of further blocks of bricks, cement and reinforcement iron.
"If the successive decisions determining the development of Auschwitz at certain stages resulted from the SS administration's willingness to effect budget and material savings (in 1940 by taking over ready-made Polish barracks and in 1941 through support from IG Farben), then the plans from 1942 indicate a desire to achieve another goal regardless of the cost—the creation of an "ideal" camp that would have operated for many more decades to come. It would perhaps have been the only remaining, and certainly the largest, Nazi concentration camp if Germany had won the war”, we read.
The final project for the expansion of Auschwitz was created in April 1942. It has 31 blocks within the former Polish army barracks, 45 blocks and five workshops on the so-called Schutzhaftlagererweiterung, a hospital and prison building (with functions similar to those of block 11), a new crematorium—and behind them, in the direction of the railway station—one can see another 27 new blocks. In total, therefore, this "Auschwitz of the future" was to have more than 100 solid multi-storey brick-buildings, capable of housing at least 40,000 prisoners.
The book The origins of Auschwitz in the light of source materials can be bought in the online bookstore of the Auschwitz Memorial. Two other books were published in this series: The beginnings of the extermination of Jews in KL Auschwitz in the light of the source materials and The Origins of the Birkenau Camp in the Light of the Sources.