Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest concentration and extermination camp under German control during the reign of the Nazi regime. The main entrance to Auschwitz featured train tracks, as the prisoners were brought by train, herded and packed into cars like cattle rather than people. The complex was huge, sprawled across a large landmass, and included an area for SS barracks as well as a specific location for throwing out the ashes of bodies burned in the cremation furnaces. This camp had three different main camps as well as 45 satellite camps. The main camps were known as:
-Auschwitz I (base camp)
-Auschwitz II- Birkenau (extermination camp)
-Auschwitz III- Monowitz (labor camp)
Located in Poland, Auschwitz was actually the German name for a town called Oswiecim, which is where the camps were located. Birkenau referred to a small village that was destroyed to make room for the camp. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was referred to as the location for the "final solution of the Jewish question in Europe" by Heinrich Himmler. Between 1942 and 1944, millions of Jews were transported to this camp from every corner of Europe, where they were shuttled into gas chambers and killed upon arrival.
While Rudolf Hoss testified at the Nuremburg Trials that more than 3 million were killed there, historical fact accepts that it was closer to 1.3 million. About 90% of those killed at Auschwitz were Jews and the few that managed to escape or survive until the liberation still remember the horrors that happened here. They have spoken, written memoirs, and provided insight to historians about Auschwitz to help shed light on this place that the Nazis initially tried to cover up.
In 2009, the sign that topped the gate to Auschwitz was stolen. The sign read "Arbeit Macht Frei", or "work sets you free", ironically enough. It was found just a short time after it was removed, in Northern Poland. Five men were arrested for questioning in relation to the crime. The sign had been cut into three pieces, but was welded together and restored to its rightful place above the main gate to Auschwitz, which is now a museum and historical site.
Poland created the museum to remind people of the horror of World War II, and it sees around 1.3 million visitors annually. The museum offers insight as to how a concentration camp worked, but it is a far cry from what the camp actually looked like when it was in use during Hitler's reign and Germany's control over Poland.