Auschwitz Birkenau history is traced back to 1940, when the camp was established by the Germans in the Polish city of Oswiecim. Annexed to the Third Reich by the Nazis, the city name was changed to Auschwitz.

The camp was initially established due to the mass arrest of Poles, which meant there was not enough capacity at local prisons. The plan for Auschwitz was to become just another concentration camp similar to the many the Nazis had been constructing since the early 1930s. It went on to become the largest of the death camps.

The main camp known as Auschwitz I housed 15,000 people, rising to 20,000 at times. Birkenau, or Auschwitz II as it was known, was established just a couple of kilometres down the road from the main camp. Considerably larger, it held 90,000 prisoners in 1944. Whilst building this complex in 1941, the local Polish population were evicted, their houses confiscated and demolished. The mass extermination apparatus was built at Birkenau and the majority of victims died there.

It is estimated that approximately 1.3 million people lost their lives at these camps. Jews accounted for 1.1 million; 150k Polish; 23k Gypsies/Roma; 15k Soviets; 25k other nationalities. One thing that really struck me was the broad range of nationalities who ended up at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Almost every European country was represented.