Special Report

20 Horrifying Images of Auschwitz

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On Jan. 20, 1942, Nazi officials led by SS general Reinhard Heydrich met at a villa in Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, to decide on a ”permanent solution” to what they called the “Jewish problem.” Out of that conference emerged the creation of a network of extermination camps intended to wipe out the 11 million Jews in Europe.

The largest complex of its kind was Auschwitz, in German-occupied Poland – which was not a single camp but a grouping of more than 40, dedicated to the imprisonment and often the murder of Jews and other “undesirables.” (These are 30 symbols used by the Nazis to mark their victims.)

Most of the prisoners were sent straight to the gas chambers upon arrival, being told to leave their luggage behind once they disembarked from the trains and get undressed for disinfection in a shower. Instead of being gassed, some were literally worked to death. Auschwitz would become the largest of the Nazis’ six extermination centers and the deadliest, accounting for the deaths of a million people. 

24/7 Tempo has compiled a collection of photos of the death camp, where the “Endlösung der Judenfrage,” or final solution to the Jewish question, was realized so horrifyingly.

Auschwitz operated for more than four years. By the summer of 1944, however, the German war machine was collapsing on both the Eastern and Western fronts, and the Allies began liberating the camps. The first major one to be liberated – by the Red Army – was Majdanek, in Lublin, Poland, in July 1944. By then, the Nazis had evacuated most of that camp’s prisoners and sent them to concentration camps further west, including Auschwitz.

Click here to see 20 horrifying images of Auschwitz

Prisoners at Auschwitz would not be liberated until Jan. 27, 1945 – again by the Soviets. They freed 6,000 survivors and discovered evidence of the mass murder that had taken place at the camp – as well as warehouses containing the personal belongings of hundreds of thousands of victims. (Unfortunately, anti-Semitism and other potentially deadly prejudices are still very much alive, even in our own country. These are the states with the most hate groups.)

The road to recovery for the survivors of the Nazi horror would be long and difficult. Out of this catastrophe would emerge the nation of Israel, its very existence a defiant rejection of the Nazi attempt to eliminate the Jewish people.

Source: Hulton Archive / Archive Photos via Getty Images

1. Personal items

Personal belongings of Auschwitz prisoners are strewn along the train tracks in the snow outside the camp entrance.

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Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

2. Concentration camp

A sign warning people to stay away from the camp.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

3. Fences

The perimeter fence of Auschwitz.

Source: Three Lions / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

4. Death camp beds

Sometimes four or five inmates were forced to sleep on a single bunk.

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Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

5. Deportees at Auschwitz

Jewish prisoners arrive at Auschwitz.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

6. Auschwitz arrivals

Deportees exit the trains that took them to Auschwitz.

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Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

7. Deportees

Deportees, with yellow stars sewn to their coats – a sign that they’re Jewish – arrive at Auschwitz.

Source: Three Lions / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

8. Arriving at Auschwitz

Women and children carry their belongings into Auschwitz.

9. Auschwitz sign

The words on the gate of Auschwitz: “Arbeit macht frei,” German for “Work sets you free.”

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Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

10. Auschwitz prisoners

Behind barbed wire at the camp. The caption reads “Hitler’s Germany – a prison. 200,000 political prisoners in concentration camps, jails, and prisons.”

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

11. Child survivors of Auschwitz

A group of children who survived the camp are photographed upon its liberation by the Red Army in 1945.

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Source: Three Lions / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

12. Enclosing fence

Taken a decade after the camp was liberated, this photo still shows the double-layered barbed-wire fence that kept prisoners trapped.

Source: Hulton Archive / Archive Photos via Getty Images

13. Jewish arrivals

Deportees, wearing the Star of David patch that identified them as Jewish, outside Auschwitz.

Source: Hulton Archive / Archive Photos via Getty Images

14. Mark of Auschwitz

A former Auschwitz prisoner shows the serial number tattooed on his arm.

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Source: Hulton Archive / Archive Photos via Getty Images

15. Auschwitz prisoners

Mugshots of some boys who were prisoners at the camp.

16. The crematorium

This crematorium has been restored by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

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Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

17. Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II surrounded by a huge crowd as he walks through the gates of Auschwitz in 1979.

18. Auschwitz tower

A preserved guard tower near the fence of the camp.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

19. Auschwitz remembered

Mourners lay flowers at the site of a crematorium, circa 1950.

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Source: Scott Barbour / Getty Images News via Getty Images

20. The main gates

This photo, from 2004, shows the railway tracks leading to the main gates of Auschwitz.

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