Auschwitz was the Nazis' largest concentration and extermination camp. It was founded on Himmler's orders on the 27th of April 1940, close to the small Polish town of Oświęcim. The first inmates - mostly Polish political prisoners - were brought there in June 1940 and were used for slave labour. By March 1941, more than 10 000 prisoners were registered here.
Auschwitz became one of the camps used for the mass extermination of Jews. In summer 1941, Heinrich Himmler gave orders to Auschwitz commander Rudolf Höß to build a centre at Auschwitz for the mass murder of Jews.
The prisoners put up various forms of resistance to the tyranny of the camp. Resistance organisations helped inmates to obtain medicine and food, documented Nazi crimes, supported attempts to escape and sabotage, tried to put political prisoners into positions of responsibility, and prepared for an uprising. A total of 667 prisoners escaped from Auschwitz, but 270 of them were caught in the vicinity of the camp and immediately executed.
Soon afterwards, the gas chambers and crematoria were destroyed on Himmler's orders, since the regime wanted to hide the traces of its murdering machine ahead of the advancing Red Army.
After the war, many of those who had committed crimes at Auschwitz were put on trial in Poland and West Germany. In 1947, Auschwitz commander Rudolf Höß, was sentenced to death and executed. A further 22 Germans were sentenced in Frankfurt between 1963 and 1966 for crimes committed in Auschwitz.