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August 27, 2011

What’s in a name? Auschwitz and Birkenau

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 8:08 am

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

    —William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Today, I read this in a travel blog:

Auschwitz and Birkenau had lovey Polish names originally as they were rural villages, when the Germans came they sent most of the Polish inhabitants to work camps away from here or they interred them as they didn’t want word to leak out about what they were doing. They changed the village names to the similar sounding but German language place names of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

The town of Auschwitz, which was more than just a “rural village,” was originally founded by Germans in 1270, according to historian Robert Jan van Pelt; it is now known by its Polish name, Oswiecim. The original name of the town was Auschwitz and it was known by this name when the three Auschwitz camps were in operation; the Germans did not change the name of the town and they did not keep it a secret that they were turning the brick barracks, in a suburb of the town, into a concentration camp for political prisoners.  More than half of the inhabitants of the town of Auschwitz were Jews and the second most prevalent population in the town was the Gypsies.  The Polish inhabitants were not sent away by the Germans and they were not interred, a word which means to bury in a grave.

The town of Auschwitz in 1940

In the photo above, you can see the Duke’s castle on the left and the 17th century Catholic church on the right.  The bridge in the foreground goes over the Sola river. The town was separated from the main Auschwitz camp by this river.

When I visited the Birkenau camp in 2005, a display sign outside the gatehouse said that the villages of Brzezinka, Babice, Broszkowice, Rajsk, Plawy, Harmeze, and Brzeszcze-Budy were torn down to provide space for the Birkenau camp.  Google Translate gives the German translation of Brzezinka as Birkenau but I am not sure if these two words have the same meaning in German and English.

The Germans came up with the name Birkenau, as the name for the camp that they built on the grounds of the seven Polish villages, because of the birch trees at the western end of the camp.

Birch trees at the western end of Birkenau camp

In June 2007, the United Nations officially changed the collective name of the three Auschwitz camps to Auschwitz-Birkenau, German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945). This change was made at the request of the government of Poland so that people will know that Poland had nothing to do with setting up the camps or running them.  Now the town, formerly known as Auschwitz, is making a big push to have the town known only by its Polish name.

The Birkenau camp was opened on October 7, 1941 when the first transport of Soviet Prisoners of War, captured during the German invasion of the Soviet Union, arrived. Between October 1941 to February 1942, there were 13,775 POWs brought to Birkenau.

Beginning in February 1942, the Birkenau camp became a death camp for Jews. The camp covers 425 acres and it had 300 buildings before it was abandoned in January 1945. Today there are 45 brick buildings and 22 wooden buildings still standing at Birkenau.

A view of the vast 425-acre site of the former Birkenau camp

One might ask: ” Why so many barracks at Birkenau when it was a death camp where Jews were gassed immediately upon arrival?”  Good question!  I don’t know the answer.

A light on a fence post at the former Birkenau camp

Interior fence around the men’s camp at Birkenau

When the Birkenau camp was liberated by Soviet troops in January 1945, the camp was being expanded with a new section called “Mexico.”  The photo below shows where a building was being built in the Mexico section.

The Mexico section of Birkenau which was never completed

Strangely, the Germans were building additional barracks at Birkenau.  Shouldn’t they have been building more gas chambers?  Birkenau was a death camp, which had no factories in which the prisoners could have worked. Was there such a long wait for the gas chambers that they needed more barracks at Birkenau?


  1. I’ve yet to see any actual evidence that bodies were actually incinerated… Any thoughts on this?

    Comment by John N Wilson — June 3, 2015 @ 12:32 am

  2. “The town of Auschwitz, which was more than just a “rural village,” was originally founded by Germans in 1270, according to historian Robert Jan van Pelt”. I’m sorry but this is not correct. That information was quoted by Van Pelt, that’s all. In fact, the origin of that information comes from a statement produced by a german commission in 1939 and every proemninent scholar will tell now that it was a mystification.

    Comment by paulo pires — April 12, 2015 @ 3:53 pm

    • I purchased the book entitled Auschwitz, 1270 to Present many years ago. I used the information in this book when I first started writing the text on my website. It would be difficult for me to go back and change my whole website now.

      I know that there is now a big campaign to tell the world that the town, formerly known as Auschwitz, was really a Polish town, right from the beginning. When British students are taken to Auschwitz for their one-day whirlwind tour of Auschwitz, they start by visiting the town, where they are told that the town was originally a Polish town.

      This is all part of a plan to demonize the German people, which has been very successful.

      The Germans did take over the town in 1939 at the time that they took back this territory, which they had lost after World War I. However, Robert Jan van Pelt is a historian who got his information from many sources. He did not get the information for his book from a statement produced by a German commission in 1939.

      How do you explain the old German castle in this Polish town?

      Comment by furtherglory — April 12, 2015 @ 4:48 pm

      • Oh, ok, so it was many years ago, that explains your confusion, I guess. In fact, Van Pelt quotes a german architect, that is the only source he presents. And he doesn’t take it seriously. Today that is not even an issue among scholars. So I recomend you to change the whole thing, yes. You talk about the castle, is that right? So what? What the hell do you want to prove with that? Is it that it confirms the origin of town’s name? Sorry man, but your quod erat demonstrandum is fucked up. And, please, don’t insist on that crap of demonizing the german people. If you want to defend your point try to use credible sources in the first place. It would be a good start.

        Comment by paulo pires — April 18, 2015 @ 5:48 pm

  3. This is a holocaust denier site.

    Comment by Gina Tripodi — February 15, 2015 @ 5:15 am

    • Then why are you reading it at 5:15 in the morning? Do you need some help in finding a kosher website to read? BTW, this is a blog, not a website.

      Comment by furtherglory — February 15, 2015 @ 9:01 am

  4. Garbage

    Comment by Antonia heayns — February 2, 2015 @ 3:18 am

  5. is it possible to get a digitzed version of the birch trees photo?

    Comment by David — September 2, 2012 @ 7:33 am

  6. Jean Claude Pressac informs us that the evil Germans in June 1943 approved the construction of a “Prison Hospital and Quarantine Section” with a “Capacity for housing 16,596 prisoners” on the Mexico section of Birkenau, this of course would have been mere yards from Krema V, a “gas chamber.”
    There was planned:
    A fully-equipped medical section, X-ray machinery was to be installed in two buildings, the section was also to have surgeries and operating rooms, a medical supply centre, quarters for thousands of seriously ill internees, an extensive quarantine area, laundry facilities, and its own delousing facilities.
    The evil Germans liked to spend serious Reichmarks making the Untermenschen healthy and clean before they gassed them.

    Comment by Black Rabbit — August 30, 2011 @ 9:16 am

    • Thanks for the links. You are correct that the Mexico section is very close to the ruins of Krema V, which had a gas chamber disguised as a shower room. Krema V was on the same side of the road as the Mexico section, and Krema IV was on the other side of the road. There is no evidence of gassing left because the Krema IV and V buildings were blown up and there is nothing left but ruins. For all we know, the Krema V gas chamber could have been a fully-functioning shower room that was also used for gassing, like the gas chamber at Mauthausen. The Mexico section would have been a convenient “holding pen” for the Krema IV and Krema V gas chambers since it is located on the road that goes from east to west on the north side of the camp. This road is not far from the location of the original Judenrampe; the Jews who were not selected to work were sent on trucks to Krema IV and Krema V. They could have been gassed, or they could have taken a shower in the gas chamber disguised as a shower room. Why would anyone put a shower room in the same building as the incinerators that were used to burn the bodies? Maybe because the heat of the ovens was used go heat the shower water, as was done at the Natzweiler camp in Alsace.

      Comment by furtherglory — August 30, 2011 @ 12:27 pm

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