Extermination camps

5.2e YV 951 construction of crematorium 4 in AB.jpg
The construction of Crematorium IV at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
© 2012 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.

During the German invasion of the Soviet Union the Nazis began the first mass killings of Jews. Between June and September 1941, the Einsatzgruppen supported by local collaborators murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews across Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Soviet Union. Having observed the killings, Adolf Eichmann ordered a more efficient method of killing the Jews of Europe be developed. 

During the autumn of 1941, the Nazis began to plan and 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).

Chelmno, in eastern Poland, contained three gas vans in which victims were murdered. Only two Jews survived the camp.

  • Killing centres

    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.