A haunting view of Auschwitz, 75 years after liberation
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A haunting view of Auschwitz, 75 years after liberation

Associated Press photographer Markus Schreiber captures black and white photos of the remains of notorious death camp where a million of Europe’s Jews were murdered

  • The remains of brick stone chimneys of prisoner barracks can be seen inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II. in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    The remains of brick stone chimneys of prisoner barracks can be seen inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II. in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • A view inside a prisoner barracks in the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    A view inside a prisoner barracks in the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • A wagon stands on the railway tracks from where hundreds of thousands of people were directed to the gas chambers to be murdered inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau or Auschwitz II, in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    A wagon stands on the railway tracks from where hundreds of thousands of people were directed to the gas chambers to be murdered inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau or Auschwitz II, in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • View of a wall inside gas chamber one at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    View of a wall inside gas chamber one at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • A view inside gas chamber one at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    A view inside gas chamber one at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • The remains of a gas chamber and crematorium at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    The remains of a gas chamber and crematorium at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • The remains of a gas chamber and crematorium at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    The remains of a gas chamber and crematorium at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • The remains of a gas chamber and crematorium at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    The remains of a gas chamber and crematorium at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • A wooden sign with the word STOP stands in front of what was an electric barbed wire fence inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I, in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    A wooden sign with the word STOP stands in front of what was an electric barbed wire fence inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I, in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • The railway tracks from where hundreds of thousands of people were directed to the gas chambers to be murdered, inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II, in Oswiecim, Poland, December 7, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    The railway tracks from where hundreds of thousands of people were directed to the gas chambers to be murdered, inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II, in Oswiecim, Poland, December 7, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • The main entrance at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, with the inscription, 'Arbeit Macht Frei', which translates into English as 'Work will set you Free,' December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    The main entrance at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, with the inscription, 'Arbeit Macht Frei', which translates into English as 'Work will set you Free,' December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • A view of a sleeping area inside a prisoner barracks in the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    A view of a sleeping area inside a prisoner barracks in the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • A pathway leading to an observation and security tower between what were electric barbed wire fences inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    A pathway leading to an observation and security tower between what were electric barbed wire fences inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • An observation tower stands inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    An observation tower stands inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • The remains of the brick stone chimneys of prisoner barracks can be seen inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    The remains of the brick stone chimneys of prisoner barracks can be seen inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • The crematorium near gas chamber one at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019.  (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    The crematorium near gas chamber one at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
  • The remains of brick stone chimneys of prisoners barracks inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II. in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
    The remains of brick stone chimneys of prisoners barracks inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II. in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

OSWIECIM, Poland — On January 27, 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated the Auschwitz death camp in German-occupied Poland. The Germans had already fled westward, leaving behind the bodies of prisoners who had been shot and thousands of sick and starving survivors.

The Soviet troops also found gas chambers and crematoria that the Germans had blown up before fleeing in an attempt to hide evidence of their mass killings of 1.1 million people, among them a million Jews.

But the genocide was too massive to hide. Today, the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau endures as the leading symbol of the terror of the Holocaust. Its iconic status is such that every year it registers a record number of visitors — 2.3 million last year alone.

On Monday — 75 years after its liberation — hundreds of survivors from across the world will travel to Auschwitz for official anniversary commemorations. In advance of that, Associated Press photographer Markus Schreiber visited the site. Using a panoramic film camera, he documented the remains of the camp in a series of haunting black and white photos.

A view inside gas chamber one at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Auschwitz today is many things at once: an emblem of evil, a site of historical remembrance and a vast cemetery. It is a place where Jews make pilgrimages to pay tribute to ancestors whose ashes and bones remain part of the earth.

Auschwitz is in fact not one camp, but two: Auschwitz I, built in an abandoned Polish military base, and Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, a much bigger complex that went up later about two miles (three kilometers) away to expedite the Nazis’ Final Solution.

Early on, Auschwitz I operated as a camp for Polish prisoners, including Catholic priests and members of the nation’s underground resistance again the German occupation. Later in the war Birkenau was created for the mass killing of Jews and others who were transported there from across Europe.

Prisoners arrived in cramped, windowless cattle trains. At the infamous ramp at Auschwitz, the Nazis selected those they could use as forced laborers. The others — old people, many women and especially children and babies, were gassed to death soon after their arrival.

It is Birkenau that shocks more profoundly, a flat, vast space still ringed by the silver birch trees (Birken in German) that gave the place its name. Crematoria lie in rubble but still intact are the rail tracks and watchtowers and some of the barracks where prisoners slept in cold, cramped conditions.

Schreiber’s photos show the notorious main gate with the cynical Nazi slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” — a German phrase meaning “work will set you free.”

The main entrance at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, with the inscription, ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, which translates into English as ‘Work will set you Free,’ December 8, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Today, visitors can also see the suitcases, eyeglasses and other items prisoners brought on their journeys.

Especially haunting are the prosthetic limbs: Many of the Jews who were murdered had fought for their homelands, including Germany, in World War I.

At some parts of Auschwitz-Birkenau only dozens of brick chimneys remain on a vast field where once the barracks for detainees stood.

More than 1.1 million people were murdered by the Nazis and their henchmen in Auschwitz. Most who were killed were Jews, but the victims also included Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, and others. In all, about 6 million European Jews were killed during the Holocaust. When the Soviets liberated the camp, they found about 7,000 survivors.

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