“Arbeit macht frei”, work makes you free: this was the writing, which later became a symbol of Nazi barbarism, which welcomed the prisoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest and most infamous concentration and extermination camp of the Third Reich, where, in less than five years, from 1940 to 1945, over a million people died. Built by the Germans during the Second World War in Southern Poland to achieve the “final solution” against the Jews, the concentration camp is now a place of remembrance, visited every year by thousands of people and schoolchildren, who can thus see the horrors firsthand. of Nazism.
The choice of Auschwitz
After the invasion of Poland in September 1939, the city of Oświęcim (Auschwitz in German) was chosen by the Third Reich as the most “suitable” location for logistical reasons. In fact, the area had a well-developed railway network connected with other countries. For this reason, already at the end of 1939 the captain of the SS Arpad Wigand proposed to the commander Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, head of the German forces in Wroclaw, to exploit the structure of an old barracks in a district of Auschwitz to open the first camp of concentration and thus solving what he presented as the “crowding problem” of prisons in Silesia.
Opened in April 1940, in an area of about 200 hectares, the camp saw the first detainees arrive – some Polish political prisoners – on June 14. In 1941, the camp was then enlarged with the construction of Birkenau to become definitively in 1943 a “factory of death”. Inside, more than one million and one hundred thousand people were exterminated in total, 90% of whom were Jews deported from Poland and various other European countries.
From Italy, the first transport of Jews to Auschwitz took place on October 23, 1943, a few days after the roundup of the Jewish ghetto in Rome, which took place on October 16. Overall, about 8 thousand Italians lost their lives in the concentration camp symbol of the Shoah. The liberation of the camp took place on January 27, 1945 by the units of the Red Army led by Marshal Ivan Konev who, after breaking through on the Ukrainian Front, were now marching victorious in the direction of Berlin.
Place of memory
A memorial museum was therefore founded on the territory of the concentration camp in 1947 and in 1979 Auschwitz-Birkenau was registered as a “place of remembrance” in the list of sites protected as World Heritage by Unesco. In November 2005, the UN General Assembly chose the anniversary of the liberation of the horror camp to establish a World Day of Remembrance for all victims of the Holocaust.