The Nazis began constructing special extermination
camps in Poland in 1941. Chelmno was the first to
be completed and began functioning in December of
that year. By 1942 extermination facilities had been
installed at the existing camps of Belzec, Sobibor,
Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
These six death camps became the Germans’ industrialised
killing centres, where they murdered close to 3 million
Photo staged at Dachau as evidence
of Nazi                   atrocities,
Upon arrival at an extermination camp there was virtually
no Selektion. Almost everyone was sent directly
to the gas chambers. Often, in order to prevent unrest
and therefore a disruption to the killing process,
people were told that they had to be deloused in a
special steam bath. They were taken to huge rooms
or sheds where they were stripped naked and their
hair cut or shaved. They were then herded into gas
chambers or vans, which were sealed before poison
gas was released. Eventually everybody died a horrific
death. Afterwards the bodies were removed and either
buried in mass graves or burned.
This awful work was performed by Jewish and other slave labourers called
Occasionally members of the Sonderkommando recognised, knew or were
even related to those people whose bodies they had to process after death.
Their tasks included extracting any gold teeth or fillings from the corpses,
retrieving any valuables hidden inside the body cavities, burning the corpses
in the ovens or burying them in mass pits. The Sonderkommandos’ duty
was only temporary, as the Nazis killed them within a few months so they would
not ‘know too much’.
- Situated in the Polish
village of Chelmno, 70km from Lodz. Functioned from
December 7 1941 until March 1943 and again from
April 1944 until January 17 1945.
- The first camp in which
mass executions were carried out using gas, in mobile
vans. The vans’ exhaust pipes fed straight into
their interiors, killing the 50-70 people inside
by poisoning and asphixiation.
- 150 000 Jews and 5000
Gypsies were murdered there.
- Situated in a suburb
of Lublin, Poland. Functioned from 1941 to June
- Murder there took
many forms, from mass shootings to hanging and gassing
in its seven chambers, which used either carbon
monoxide or Zyklon B.
- About 120 000 people
from 28 countries and representing 54 ethnic groups
died at Majdanek. 60% died as a result of conditions
in the camp and 40% were gassed or shot.
- Situated near the
village of Sobibor in the Lublin district of Poland.
- Purpose-built as an
extermination centre in March 1942.
- Functioned until a
prisoner revolt on October 14 1943 in which 300
managed to escape. Sobibor’s carbon monoxide gas
chambers exterminated 1200 people at a time.
- About 200 000 Jews
were murdered there; less than 50 Sobibor inmates
survived the war. (See
- Situated in the town
of Belzec, also in the Lublin district. Its carbon
monoxide gas chambers functioned from February to
- During this short period
approximately 600 000 Jews and several thousand
Gypsies were murdered.
- In 1943 Belzec was
dismantled and all visible traces of its victims
removed; the mass graves were dug up and all the
bodies exhumed and burnt. Only a handful of people
- Situated outside the
village of Treblinka, staffed by 30 SS and 120 Ukranians.
- In only 14 months from
June 1942, these 150 staff managed to kill about
700 000 people. After that, as at Belzec, the mass
graves were opened and the bodies of victims exhumed
(by hand) and burnt.
- In July 1943 Treblinka
was shut down completely. There were fewer than
- Situated 60km west
of Krakow, Poland, the largest and deadliest of
all the Nazi extermination camps. It was actually
an industrialised killing complex, with three major
camps, as well as numerous sub-camps.
- Auschwitz I was a concentration
camp established in 1940; Auschwitz II, also known
as Birkenau, was built in 1941; and Auschwitz III
was built in 1942. The Zyklon B gas chambers of
Auschwitz II/Birkenau had the potential to kill
6000 persons daily and this potential was usually
- Approximately one
million people were slaughtered there, over 90%
of whom were Jews. Tens of thousands of Poles were
killed, plus 19 000 Gypsies and 12 000 Soviet Prisoners
was liberated by the Soviet army on January 27 1945.
Primo Levi, a writer and survivor of Auschwitz wrote
of it: “This is Hell. Today, in our times, Hell
must be like this.”