Extermination camps

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The Nazis established six extermination camps on Polish soil. These were Chelmno (December 1941-January 1945), Belzec (March-December 1942), Sobibor (May-July 1942 and October 1942-October 1943), Treblinka (July 1942-August 1943), Majdanek (September 1941-July 1944) and Auschwitz-Birkenau (March 1942-January 1945).

The first of these camps, Chelmno, was established to exterminate the Jews of the Lodz ghetto and the surrounding area, and 5,000 Roma. The facility contained three gas vans in which victims were murdered. Only two Jews survived the camp.

After the Wannsee Conference of 1942, the Germans established death camps at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Their sole purpose was murder. They were set up near railway lines to make transportation of the victims easy. As they were purely killing centres, there were no selections. The victims were sent directly to the gas chambers.

A concentration camp to house Soviet prisoners of war and Poles had been established at Majdanek, close to the Polish city of Lublin, during 1941. In the spring of 1942 gas chambers and crematoria were added, turning Majdanek into an extermination camp that would murder 78,000 people.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most infamous of the Nazi death camps, was a massive concentration, forced labour and extermination camp at the centre of a network of more than 40 satellite camps. Upwards of 80 per cent of those Jews transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau were selected for immediate death.

Those who were selected for work were set on a whole range of tasks. These included sorting and processing the possessions of everyone who arrived at the camp and heavy manual work.

Some Jewish prisoners were put into units called Sonderkommandos, whose role was to work in the gas chambers and crematorium. They were kept apart from the rest of the camp prisoners, but were also sent to their deaths in the gas chambers after a few weeks or months of work.

The majority of those selected for any kind of work would die within weeks or months of their arrival from lack of food, disease or overwork.