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1. Map of major Nazi extermination camps liberated in 1944 and 1945


The largest Nazi concentration camps (located mainly on the Polish lands) were liberated by the Red Army already in summer 1944 and later during the winter offensive in 1945. The information about mass murder carried out in this part of Europe by Nazi-Germans had already been passed to England and the USA. Russians were gaining concrete evidence of these crimes by liberating successive extermination camps. But the politicians and public opinion of the West (which were not the victims of such cruel repression from Nazis) did not believe in the message coming from the areas occupied by the Russians. Only camps liberated in spring of 1945 by the Allies in Germany provided Englishmen and Americans with evidences of the enormity of Hitler crimes. International public opinion realized that the Nazis in death camps made the greatest mass murder in human history. It showed the crime that world remained blind to for many years.

Concentration camp – designed to keep large numbers of people subjected to repression because of a variety of reasons (political, racial), characterized by devastating life conditions and heavy use of terror against prisoners that were held often without a trial.

Labour camp – a concentration camp, characterised by the use of slave labour of prisoners for the local economy.

Extermination camp (death camp) – a camp organized for the purpose of extermination of a particular ethnic group in a mass and planned manner.


  1. On what territories were the largest Nazi concentration and extermination camps grouped?
  2. When were the camps in Eastern Europe and those in Germany liberated?
  3. What political significance could have had the liberation of the Nazi camps?

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Description and Analysis

  1. On what territories were the largest Nazi concentration and extermination camps grouped?
    The majority of the largest concentration camps were located in the Polish territories and in Germany. The letter ones, however, were more often of labour than extermination character. The Nazi terror reached its greatest extent in Poland. Polish population was too frightened to oppose the crimes of the Germans in any way. There were also strong Polish-Jewish antagonisms which in some cases facilitated the extermination of Jews by Germans. Any information on actions of Nazis leaked to the West with difficulties from the area of East-Central Europe.
  2. When were the camps in Eastern Europe and those in Germany liberated?
    The Camps on Polish territory were liberated by the Red Army in the summer of 1944 and during the next offensive launched in January 1945 (when Auschwitz was liberated for example). The Allied Army was moving a bit slower on the western front and reached German territory in the spring of 1944, when liberation of local concentration camps began.
  3. What political significance could have had the liberation of the Nazi camps?
    The librated camps provided the Allies with evidences of the crimes of Hitler, which previously they did not know about (or at least which they did not want to believe in). The shock resulting from the facts that were revealed this way might have decided about more firm struggle against German fascists. It might have also emphasised the need to punish all the Nazi crimes committed during the war.

Geographical/Historical Context

When in June 1944 the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy, the Russians entered the Polish territories on the eastern front. As it is a well-known fact, in these territories Nazis located the largest concentration and extermination camps. These camps were utilized to murder Jews in particular, but also Poles and representatives of almost all nations, which during the World War II were under the German occupation.

Since 1943, Germans regularly suffered defeats in combat against the Red Army. They were considering the necessity of withdrawing from the eastern Polish territories. Already at that time they took steps to cover the traces of their criminal activities in concentration camps. Therefore, the centres of extermination located furthest to the east as Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were evacuated in late 1943 and early 1944. Prisoners who were not starved to death there were conveyed in so-called "death marches" to other camps that were still functioning. Most of the prisoners died during those marches carried out in difficult conditions and under the terror of Nazis. Abandoned buildings of the camps were usually burned. So, the Russians did not find prisoners in the liberated camps in Belzec, Sobibor, or Treblinka. During the summer offensive in 1944, only in Majdanek they managed to save last few hundred prisoners left there by the Nazis.

The situation was quite different during the winter offensive in 1945. Rapid march of the Red Army often prevented the Germans from carrying out the evacuation of camps on the left bank of the Vistula River. At that time, all of them were still operating. Thus, the Russians saved approximately 9,000 prisoners kept in the largest death camp (Auschwitz-Birkenau, liberated on 27 January 1945).

Information about the extermination carried out in Nazi concentration camps penetrated to Western Europe. However, in many cases they were regarded only as an element of anti-German propaganda. Also the Russians, since mid-1944, reported evidence of horrible crimes that they discovered in the Nazi death camps. Western public opinion, however, treated this information with scepticism.

It is hard to believe that only in April 1945, the world noticed the fact that Nazis committed the greatest genocide in the history of civilization. This fact was revealed when the Allies on the Western Front reached the border of the Reich and liberated the concentration and labour camps located there. The whole operation was documented on the photographs and movies made by journalists accompanying the army. Unlike the camps in the east (which were usually evacuated by Nazis), the German camps revealed completely new evidence of the brutal crimes.

Liberation of Nazi camps did not only have a humanitarian meaning which lies in physical rescuing the survivors. The evidences of murders committed by the Nazis convinced the world about the true face of fascism. The revealed facts also showed the necessity not only to punish all the guilty of extermination, but also to take action to avoid the situation when ideologies based on racial, ethnic, cultural, or religious hatred could ever again develop and possibly threaten the peace among nations.


http://www.auschwitz.org.pl – website of Auschwitz-Birkenau – the largest Nazi extermination camp.

http://www.deathcamps.org – English-language site about the Nazi concentration camps.

http://isurvived.org – website dedicated to survivors of Nazi camps.

http://jtajchert.w.interia.pl/zdjecia_po_wyzwoleniu_obozu_berg.htm – website dedicated to relations and photographs from liberation of Belsen camp.