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Auschwitz entrance with the sign "Work set Free"

Auschwitz view of the camp by the winter

Oświęcim is a town in southern Poland with about 43,000 inhabitants (2001), situated some 60 km southwest of Krakow in the Lesser Poland Voivodship since 1999, previously in Bielsko-Biala Voivodship (1975-1998).

The German name of the town is Auschwitz, and it is mainly known for the Auschwitz concentration camp built there by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Concentration camp
3 Sports


The city was first mentioned in 1117. In 1179 it was attached to one of the Silesian duchies. Oświęcim was organized under German law (more precisely Lwowek law, which is a flavour of Magdeburg law) in 1270. Throughout history, Germans and Poles lived here together peacefully. Since 1315 Oświęcim was the capital of an independent duchy. In 1327 Oświęcim became vassal of Bohemia. In the 14th century many people moved away. In 1457 the Polish king Casimir IV bought the rights to Oświęcim. Jews, invited by Polish kings to settle in the region, became the majority in the population already in the 15th century. Oświęcim became also one of centres of Protestant culture in Poland. The Polish poet Łukasz Górnicki was born here in 1527.

The town was destroyed by Swedish troops in 1655. When Poland was divided in the late 18th century, Oświęcim became part of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (an Austrian province) in 1772 and was located close to the borders of Russia and Prussia. After World War I the town returned to Poland.

Concentration camp

Poland was occupied by the Germany in World War II, and in 1940 the Germans built the Auschwitz concentration camp by converting Polish military barracks.

Between 1940 and 1945, roughly 1 million people, mostly Jews, died in the Auschwitz camps: see the articles on Auschwitz concentration camp, Holocaust and extermination camp for a detailed account.

After the war, the Polish government took possession of the Buna-Werke, a chemical factory owned by IG Farben which had previously used Auschwitz prisoners as slave laborers. The chemical industry became the main employer of Oświęcim; in later times service and trade were emphasized. The concentration camp became a museum.


The ice hockey team of Oświęcim was repeatedly Polish champion.