Auschwitz (Konzentrationslager Auschwitz) was the largest of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camps. Located in southern Poland, it took its name from the nearby town of Oświęcim (Auschwitz in German), situated about 50 kilometers west of Kraków and 286 kilometers from Warsaw. Following the German occupation of Poland in September 1939, Oświęcim was incorporated into Germany and renamed Auschwitz.
The complex consisted of three main camps:
1. Auschwitz I, the administrative center;
2. Auschwitz II (Birkenau), an extermination camp or Vernichtungslager; and
3. Auschwitz III (Monowitz), a work camp.
The first two of them have been on the World Heritage List since 1979. There were also around 40 satellite camps, some of them tens of kilometers from the main camps, with prisoner populations ranging from several dozen to several thousand.
The camp commandant, Rudolf Höss, testifed at the Nuremberg Trials that 3 million people had died at Auschwitz during his stay as a commandant. Later he decreased his estimate to about 1.1 million. The death toll given by the Soviets and accepted by many was 4,000,000 people. This number was written on the plaques in the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. The Museum revised this figure in 1990, and new calculations by Dr. Franciszek Piper now place the figure at 1.1 million about 90 percent of them Jews from almost every country in Europe. Most of the dead were killed in gas chambers using Zyklon B; other deaths were caused by systematic starvation, forced labor, lack of disease control, individual executions, and so-called medical experiments.
Beginning in 1940, Nazi Germany built several concentration camps and an extermination camp in the area, which at the time was under German occupation. The Auschwitz camps were a major element in the perpetration of the Holocaust; about 1.1 million people were killed there, of whom over 90% were Jews.