Photos show the horrors of Auschwitz, 75 years after its liberation

ncolarossi@businessinsider.com (Natalie Colarossi)
view of auschwitz II

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

  • January 27, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Army's liberation of Auschwitz, the largest and deadliest Nazi concentration complex.
  • First established in 1940 in German-occupied Poland, Auschwitz had a concentration camp, a labor camp, large gas chambers, and crematoria.
  • More than 1.1 million people were murdered at Auschwitz, including nearly one million Jews. On the day of liberation, only 7,000 were saved.
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It was the greatest tragedy of the Holocaust. In just five years, over one million people were murdered at Auschwitz, the largest and deadliest Nazi concentration camp.

Auschwitz was established in 1940 and located in the suburbs of Oswiecim, a Polish city the Germans annexed. Between 1940 and 1945, it grew to include three main camp centers and a slew of subcamps — each of which were used for forced labor, torture, and mass killing.

An estimated 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz during its five-year operation, and approximately 1.1 million were killed.

The terror of Auschwitz finally subsided on January 27, 1945, when the Soviet Army liberated the remaining 7,000 prisoners from the camps.

On the 75th anniversary of this liberation, these photos exhibit the horror and history of Auschwitz.

Auschwitz was established in 1940 in the suburbs of Oswiecim, Poland. During its first year, authorities cleared 15 square miles for the camp.

Ariel view of Auschwitz, 2019 (Christopher Furlong:Getty Images)

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Source: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Auschwitz I, the first camp to undergo construction, was initially created for three reasons: to imprison enemies, to use forced labor, and to kill certain groups of people.

barracks photo updated size

Markus Schreiber/AP

Sources: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Auschwitz‑Birkenau Memorial and State Museum 

Construction of the largest camp, Auschwitz II, also called Auschwitz-Birkenau, began in October 1941. Electrified barbed wire divided it into 10 different sections.

Remains of prison barracks (AP Markus Schreiber) size updated

Markus Schreiber/AP

Sources: Jewish Virtual Library, The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Auschwitz-Birkenau's different sections were for "women; men; a family camp for Roma (Gypsies) deported from Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia; and a family camp for Jewish families deported from the Theresienstadt ghetto," according to the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Women in the barracks

Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images

Sources: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Inmates were put into poorly structured wooden barracks with 36 bunks each. Five to six prisoners were packed in so over 500 prisoners were in each unit.

Inmates lying on bunks after liberation (Reuters Pictures Archive).JPG

Reuters Pictures Archive

Source: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Incoming prisoners who were selected for forced labor received tattoos and had a serial number sewn into their uniforms. Auschwitz was the only concentration camp to do this.

Prisoner tattoo

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Source: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Shortly after construction, Auschwitz-Birkenau became the largest killing center and central location for the extermination of Jews in Europe.

bodies of prisoners shortly after camp was liberated

Reuters

Source: Museum of Jewish Heritage

In 1942, two farmhouses just outside the camp were turned into gas chambers.

Ariel view of gas chambers 2019 (Christopher Furlong:Getty Images)

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

But as Auschwitz-Birkenau became a central location for mass killing, these gas chambers were too small. Four new chambers were built between March and June 1943, each containing a disrobing area, gas chamber, and crematory ovens.

shoes of the victims of Aushwitz

Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images

Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

As millions of people were murdered, mounds of eye glasses, razors, shoes, and other belongings were left behind.

remains of glasses that belonged to people who were murdered (REUTERS:Pawel Ulatowski).JPG

Pawel Ulatowski/ReutersIn 1942, Auschwitz III, also known as Buna or Monowitz, opened near the town of Monowice to house more forced laborers.

barracks Auschwitz II

Pablo GONZALEZ / AFP via Getty Images

Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Forty-four subcamps with different specializations were established at Auschwitz between 1942 and 1944. The Nazis made prisoners work on large farms, in coal mines, in weapons production — basically anything the German military needed for war.

Women deemed fit to work in Auschwitz

AFP via Getty Images

Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Between 1940 and 1945, an estimated 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz. Approximately 1.1 million were killed.

Cadaveres of women and dead children found after liberation resize

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Source: Museum of Jewish Heritage

In January 1945, before Soviet forces could reach the camps for liberation, nearly 60,000 people were forced to march west, and thousands more were killed.

soviet soldiers with liberated prisons in 1945 (REUTERS:HO AUSCHWITZ MUSEUM).JPG

REUTERS:HO AUSCHWITZ MUSEUM

Source: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The terror finally subsided on January 27, 1945, when the Soviet Army reached the gates of Auschwitz.

Soviet soldiers arriving at main gate of Auschwitz during liberation (REUTERS:HO AUSCHWITZ MUSEUM REUTERS).JPG

REUTERS:HO AUSCHWITZ MUSEUM REUTERS

Source: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

When Soviet soldiers arrived, only between 6,000 and 7,000 prisoners remained. The majority of them faced starvation, death, and illness.

15 year old boy being rescued at Auschwitz

Sovfoto/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Source: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Available records indicate that when the soldiers arrived, at least 700 youth prisoners were still at the camp, half of whom were Jewish.

Children who survived

TASS via Getty Images

Source: Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum

In many cases, the liberated children were malnourished, severely weak, vitamin deficient, and diseased. Of 180 children examined after liberation, 40% had tuberculosis.

Jewish children at Auschwitz

Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images

Source: Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum

Immediately after liberation, many of the children were sent to hospitals organized by the Soviet army and the Polish Red Cross.

photo of survivor after liberation (Julian Stratenschulte:picture alliance via Getty Images

Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty ImagesIn 2016, a group of children who survived the horrors of Auschwitz met to take their photo together.

Aushwitz children image with survivors

Ian Gavan/Getty ImagesIn total, 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. One-sixth of these exterminations happened at Auschwitz alone.

Photos of survivors (Scott Barbour:Getty Images)

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

To commemorate this grave tragedy, world leaders met in Israel this week to mark 75 years since the camp's liberation.

Putin attends 75th anniversary ceremony in Israel (Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)

Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

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