What was the Holocaust?
When the Nazis came to power in 1933 they began to strip Jewish people of all property, freedoms and rights.
After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, they began deporting Jews there, creating ghettos separating them from everyone else.
In 1941 the Nazi campaign to exterminate Jews, Roma gypsies, disabled and gay people began in earnest. A year later leaders agreed what they called a “final solution to the Jewish question” –killing the entire European Jewish population, 11million people, by extermination and forced labour.
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What was Auschwitz?
Originally an army barracks in southern Poland, Auschwitz became the largest and deadliest of the Nazi death camps, where hundreds of thousands were tortured and murdered.
The words written above the entrance “Arbeit Macht Frei” – work sets you free – were intended to convince prisoners they would be released if they worked hard. Instead, they would be murdered by being gassed or worked to death. Work later began on a new camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau which became the site of huge gas chambers. By the time Auschwitz was liberated, it had more than 40 camps and subcamps.
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How did Auschwitz work?
The victims were sent to Auschwitz in cramped cattle wagons without windows, toilets, seats or food. When they arrived, they were sorted into two groups – those who could work and those who would be killed straightaway. The second group were sent to the showers for “delousing” – code for the gas chambers – and their bodies cremated. Stronger prisoners were forced into slave labour in factories – about 84% of them died. Others were chosen for medical experiments or to work as guards.
It’s thought 1.3m arrived at Auschwitz and 1.1m died there in fewer than four years. A million of them were Jews.
Why is Holocaust Memorial Day marked on January 27?
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That was the date in 1945 when Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz and freed the prisoners. They found only a few thousand survivors, along with hundreds of thousands of clothes and several tons of human hair.
The day also remembers both survivors and victims of the genocides of Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.
What events are taking place?
There will be services, talks and exhibitions across the country. today. Visit hmd.org.uk to find an event near you. Prince William and Princess Kate will attend a commemorative ceremony in Westminster. David Baddiel and Robert Rinder are among those who have made BBC shows, while at 9pm tonight BBC Two airs The Windermere Children, a drama about 300 young survivors brought to live in Cumbria.
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