Oświęcim is a town in the Lesser Poland province of southern Poland, situated 50 kilometres (31 mi) west of Kraków, near the confluence of the Vistula (Wisła) and Soła rivers. The town is commonly known for being the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp (the camp is also known as KL or KZ Auschwitz Birkenau) during World War II when Poland was under the control of Nazi Germany.
There were approximately 8,000 Jews in the city on the eve of World War II, comprising more than half the population. The Nazis annexed the area to Germany in October 1939 in the Gau of Upper Silesia, which became part of the “second Ruhr” by 1944.
In 1940, Nazi Germany used forced labor to build a new subdivision to house Auschwitz guards and staff, and they decided to build a large chemical plant of IG Farben in 1941 in the eastern outskirts of the town. Polish residents of several districts were forced to abandon their houses, as the Germans wanted to keep the area empty around Auschwitz concentration camp. They planned a 40 square kilometres (15 sq mi) buffer zone around the camp, and they expelled Polish residents in two stages in 1940 and 1941. All the residents of the Zasole district were forced to abandon their homes. In the Plawy and Harmeze districts, more than 90-percent of the buildings were destroyed and the residents of Plawy were transported to Gorlice to fend for themselves. Altogether, some 17,000 people in Oświęcim itself and surrounding villages were forced to leave their homes, and eight villages were wiped off the map, and the population of Oświęcim shrank to 7,600 by April 1941.
The Red Army liberated the town and the camp on 27 January 1945, and they opened two temporary camps for German POWs in the complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Auschwitz Soviet camp existed until autumn 1945, and the Birkenau camp lasted until spring 1946. Some 15,000 Germans were interned there. Furthermore, there was a camp of Communist secret police near the rail station in the complex of former “Gemeinschaftslager”. Its prisoners were members of the NSDAP, Hitlerjugend, and BDM, as well as German civilians, the Volksdeutsche, and Upper Silesians who were suspected of being disloyal to Poland.