Oświęcim has the history of almost 800 years, it is considered to be one of the oldest settlements in Poland. For the first time it was mentioned in the records dating back to 1179 as the remote settlement from Kraków. In 1241 Oświęcim was completely destroyed during the Mongol invasion of Poland, it was restored in 31 years, in 1272. Then it received the status of a borough. In 1655 the town was ruined for the second time by Swedish. As a result of so-called "Swedish Deluge" the settlement completely lost its significance in Poland and in 1772 it joined Austria. In 1918 after World War I the town has become Polish again.

During World War II the town has become ill-famed in the whole world. On September 4, 1939 Oświęcim was occupied by troops of the German Wehrmacht and later by the order of A. Hitler attached to the territory of the Third Reich. Concentration camp "Auschwitz-Birkenau", also regarded as a symbol of Holocaust, was established here on the order of Reichsführer-SS (Reich SS Leader) H. Himmler dating from May 20, 1940. The concentration camp consisted of three parts and has become the place of the largest number of mass murders for the whole history of mankind. Auschwitz occupied the territory of 4675 hectares and consisted of 40 buildings where 180,000-250,000 prisoners were constantly exiled in 620 huts. According to the calculations of scientists during the entire period of the camp's existence, 1400,000 people were murdered here, 90% of them were Jewish.

The concentration camp consisted of three main blocks:

  • Auschwitz I, the first camp that served as an administrative centre. Here 70,000 prisoners were killed, these were mostly Polish and Soviet prisoners of war.
  • Auschwitz II (Birkenau), the extermination camp. Here nearly 1,000 Jewish, 75,000 Polish and 19,000 Gypsies were killed.
  • Auschwitz ІІІ (Monowitz), labor camp. The prisoners kept there were used as a labor force in a factory producing oils called Buna-Werke I. G. Farben concern.

In 1940 the first imprisoned appeared in Auschwitz. Out of 728 Kraków residents brought here, no one survived. On September 3, 1941 600 Soviet prisoners of war were brought here, who together with Polish prisoners (250 persons) were killed in the underground chambers of the block #11 (also called block of "Death") by means of gas from a pesticide "Zyclon B". It was the first Nazi experiment of mass extermination of people in gas chambers. The most terrifying things were happening to people in Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau) where 4 gas chambers and 4 crematories functioned.

Allocation of prisoners in the concentration camp:

Auschwitz was partially serviced by prisoners whom they killed and replaced by new ones from time to time. A special role was played by "Sonderkommando". These were the prisoners, who took out corpses from gas chambers and brought them to crematories. Around 6,000 of SS officers were watching the mass killings. By 1943 a resistance group was formed that helped some captives to escape. In October 1944 a group of captives from "Sonderkommando" destroyed the crematory IV. Due to the approach of Soviet troops, the administration of Auschwitz launched the evacuation of prisoners into camps located across Germany. On January 25, 1954 the members of the German SS set fire to 35 huts, these were warehouses filled with the stuffs confiscated from Jews. They were destroyed as evidence of crime, as there was no time for them to be taken away from Poland.

When on January 27, 1945 Soviet troops occupied Auschwitz, they found 7.500 prisoners who were not killed or taken away due to the lack of time, and in partially not destructed huts there were 1 185 345 men's and women's dressings, 43.255 pairs of men's and women's shoes, 13 694 carpets, a huge number of toothbrushes and shaving brushes and also other small household items. Several Jews, the prisoners of "Sonderkommando", including the leader of the resistance group Zalman Gradowski, wrote messages, hidden in the wells where the ashes from crematory were buried. Nine of these messages were later found and published. The world found out about the life inside Auschwitz on their basis. In 1947 in commemoration of the camp's victims the museum "Auschwitz-Birkenau" was built in Oświęcim.

Worth seeing:

Sacred architecture

  • Chapel of St. James (XIVth century)
  • Church of the Virgin Mary Ascension (XIVth, XVIth centuries)
  • Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians church (XIVth century)
  • Oświęcim Synagogue-Association of Those Who Study Mishna (Chewra Lomdei Misznajot, 1913-1918)


  • Jewish cemetery (1757)
  • Parish cemetery (XIXth century)

Fortifications and palaces

  • Oświęcim castle (XIIIth, XVIth centuries)
  • Marriage Palace (XIXth century)

Other architectural sights

  • Concentration camp "Auschwitz-Birkenau" (1940-1945)
  • Town Hall (1872-1875)
  • System of underground tunnels (1914)


  • Memorial and Museum "Auschwitz-Birkenau", Więźniów Oświęcimia St. 20