International Monument at Birkenau

International Monument at Auschwitz-Birkenau, 2005

The photograph above shows the International Monument, which was erected in 1967 in the Auschwitz II camp, known as Birkenau. The Monument is located at the western end of the main camp road, between the ruins of Krema II and Krema III, the crematoria buildings where the two largest gas chambers at Birkenau were located.

The photo below shows the ruins of the Krema III gas chamber in the background on the right. The ruins of Krema II are behind the camera in this photo.

Monument on the left, ruins of Krema III gas chamber on the right

Railroad tracks end in front of the International Monument

The photo above shows the railroad tracks which were built in April 1944 to bring the Jews to the western end of the Birkenau camp where they disembarked near the gas chambers. Those who were selected for immediate death walked directly to the Krema II and Krema III gas chambers that were on either side of the tracks. Those who were selected to work walked down the road behind the Monument to the Sauna where they took a shower and were given striped uniforms to wear. The prisoners, in the cars at the far end of the train, walked down a road that bisected the camp and entered the gas chambers in Krema IV and Krema V which were on the north side of the Birkenau camp, near the Sauna.

The main camp road is on the right in the photo below; it ends where the cobblestones of the Monument begin. Before the monument was built, the main camp road continued on until it intersected another road which went north to Krema IV and Krema V where two more gas chambers were located. The Monument was built on top of the main camp road, which used to continue on, past this intersection, to the fields outside the camp.

Railroad tracks go one mile into the camp

International Monument at Birkenau

The Monument has a large area of wide steps where a great number of people can gather. It is here that ceremonies are held for visiting heads of state and large groups, such as the high school students from all over the world who are participating in the bi-annual March of the Living. The steps are within a few feet of the ruins of Krema II and Krema III where the Jews were gassed. The photo below shows the ruins of Krema III with the steps of the monument in the foreground on the right.

Ruins of Krema III on the left, monument steps on the right

An international competition was held to select the best design for the proposed Birkenau monument. There were around 400 artists who entered a design.

The monument itself is quite large with a jumble of dark stones that looked like grave stones or coffins to me, but my 1998 tour guide said these stones were meant to resemble the victims.

Stones at the monument in honor of the victims

Pope Benedict at the International Monument

On the steps of the Monument, there is a row of granite slabs, each with a metal plate on top which has an inscription in a different language, including Yiddish, English, and every major language of Europe. The granite slab with a metal plate inscribed with English words stands alone at the far right of the Monument, as you are facing it.

As shown in the photo below, the English inscription reads:

FOR EVER LET THIS PLACE BE A CRY OF DESPAIR AND A WARNING TO HUMANITY, WHERE THE NAZIS MURDERED ABOUT ONE AND A HALF MILLION MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN MAINLY JEWS FROM VARIOUS COUNTRIES OF EUROPE. AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU 1940-1945

Plaque with English words at International Monument, October 2005

From 1986 to April 3, 1990, the words on the English plaque read:

FOUR MILLION PEOPLE SUFFERED AND DIED HERE AT THE HANDS OF THE NAZI MURDERERS BETWEEN THE YEARS 1940 AND 1945.

Four million was the number of Auschwitz-Birkenau victims that the Soviet Union had included in their charges against the Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, which began in November 1945. After the fall of Communism in 1989, the Soviet Union released the 46 death register books (Sterbebücher) which they had captured when they liberated the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps on Jan. 27, 1945. The books, which were turned over to the International Red Cross, contained the names of 69,000 prisoners who had died in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps from July 27, 1941 to December 31, 1943. The Auschwitz I camp opened on May 20, 1940 and both camps were evacuated on Jan. 18, 1945, so some of the death registers were missing. The Red Cross extrapolated these figures and estimated that there was a total of 135,000 registered deaths at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Jews who were gassed were not registered in the camp and their deaths were not recorded.

The train records for the Jews who were transported to Auschwitz have never been found, but it has been estimated that a total of 1.3 million Jews were sent to Auschwitz and around 200,000 were eventually sent to other camps after being registered. Based on these figures, the total number of deaths at Auschwitz-Birkenau is estimated to be 1.1 million.

Notice that the first inscription on the plaques made no mention of the Jews who had died at Auschwitz-Birkenau, since the Communist Soviet Union did not allow any religion. This was corrected after the fall of Communism. According to the Auschwitz Museum, 90% of those who died at Auschwitz-Birkenau were Jews, but some historians say 95%.

The original plaques were removed in 1990 and in 1995, at the suggestion of Lech Walesa, the number of deaths on the plaques was changed from 4 million to 1.5 million, which includes the deaths in all three Auschwitz camps, known as Auschwitz, Birkenau and Monowitz.

Flowers left by visitors at the Monument

In their book entitled "Auschwitz 1270 to The Present," authors Van Pelt and Dwork wrote:

In the thirty-two months that Auschwitz operated as a designated extermination center, from March 1942 to November 1944, between 1 million and 1.1 million people were killed, or an average of 32,000 to 34,000 a month. During the Hungarian action, the Germans, with dispatch and efficiency, increased that average five-to-six fold.

Death Statistics at Auschwitz-Birkenau

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This page was last updated on March 28, 2009