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New online lesson: Poles at Auschwitz


„Poles at Auschwitz” is a new online lesson prepared by the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. Its author is Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz, head of the Research Center of the Auschwitz Museum.


The lesson begins with an outline of the nature of the German occupation of Poland: „Striving to physically eliminate all the potential "hostile elements" through, executions by shooting on the one hand, and terrorizing the remaining Polish population through mass arrests and deportations to concentration camps on the other, were at the core of the German policy in occupied Poland. In part, these methods complemented each other.”


Next, the author presents the origins of the Auschwitz camp: „At the end of November or early December 1939, in the office of the Higher SS and Police Leader in Breslau (Wrocław), it was proposed that a "quarantine camp" (Quarantänelager) be created in the former Polish military barracks in Oświęcim (at that time the name was used alternately with its new Germanized version—Auschwitz). The camp was to be organized on the model of the state concentration camps (staatliche Konzentrationslager) and was to temporarily hold prisoners, political for the most part, from the Kattowitz District before they were transferred to the camps in Dachau, Sachsenhausen, or Buchenwald,” writes Piotr Setkiewicz.

The decision that Auschwitz will become a new concentration camp was taken most probably in early March. In early April, the negotiations between the SS and the Wehrmacht regarding the lease of former barracks were concluded. A formal agreement was signed on April 15 and the SS Main Construction and Budget Office allocated two million Reichsmarks for the renovation and adaptation works at the future camp.

The subsequent chapters focus on the reasons for arresting and imprisoning Poles in Auschwitz and plans to expand Auschwitz as the main camp for prisoners from occupied Poland. It also presents statistics of transports and the number of Polish prisoners in the camp.

„The available materials show that in the first two years of the camp's existence, Poles were deported to the camp at irregular intervals: there were months when the number of prisoners exceeded 2,000 (as already mentioned the maximum number, of 4,000 in April 1941), but there were also months when only a few hundred prisoners were brought to the camp. However, statistics for 1942 and then 1943 in particular, show a steady and clearly upward trend, which presumably indicates that the German police authorities organized an increasingly efficient system of emptying prisons and systematic deportation of detainees to Auschwitz,” writes Dr. Setkiewicz.

A separate chapter presents the social structure of Polish prisoners: „The statistics show quite clearly that fewer people belonging to the intelligentsia were deported to Auschwitz than had previously been assumed. They also show that the arrests and deportations in both sociological and professional terms concerned the whole of Polish society,” we read.

The lesson also presents the fate of two separate groups of Polish prisoners, the so-called reeducation prisoners and police prisoners.
Next chapters discuss the place of Auschwitz in the history of Polish martyrdom during the Second World War and the awareness of the existence of Auschwitz during the occupation: „Ludwik Landau, the chronicler of occupied Warsaw, mentioned Auschwitz for the first time already on September 21, 1940, adding subsequent news as it was received six times within a little over a month. In the Biuletyn Informacyjny (Information Bulletin) of the Union of Armed Struggle, the first article about the Auschwitz camp appeared on October 4, 1940, similarly as in Głos Polski, Szaniec and other underground magazines. Thanks to the underground activity of Witold Pilecki, more detailed reports soon reached Warsaw, in which Pilecki reported on the living conditions of prisoners, the brutal behavior of the SS-men, and the increasing mortality.”

Piotr Setkiewicz also writes about the perception of the image of Polish prisoners, the history of functionary prisoners, and the number of Polish victims of Auschwitz.

The online lesson „Poles at Auschwitz” is available in English and Polish.