Oświęcim is a town in Małopolskie Province in southern Poland, 60 km west of Kraków. It's better known by its German name of Auschwitz, and from 1940 to 1945 over a million people, mostly Jews, were slain in the nearby camps. The two principal camps have been preserved as museums and are the main reason to visit. Most visitors come on day-trips to the camps and don't go into town, so the separate Auschwitz-Birkenau page describes the camps and the practicalities of visiting. The present page describes Oświęcim town, in case you want to stay over: there are several other attractions here which are overshadowed by the infamous surroundings.
Oświęcim lies at the western edge of Małopolskie Province. The Soła river flows through town centre to join the Vistula, which nowadays marks the boundary with Silesia Province. When Poland was partitioned in the 18th century, Oświęcim along with Kraków was seized by Austria, while Silesia became part of Prussia. The area was industrial, based on coal and chemicals, with a substantial German-speaking population. The majority of townsfolk were Jewish, and they called it Oshpitzim (Yiddish: אָשפּיצין). In 1918 the area became part of newly-independent Poland, but in 1939 the Nazis annexed it into the Gau of Upper Silesia (a "Gau" being a province ruled by a Gauleiter). They sought to make it a "second Ruhr", an industrial heartland further from the reach of Allied bombing, and to rid it of any unwanted inhabitants. The camps were built and began the industrial genocide of Jews and others not just from Germany, but from anywhere in Europe within Nazi control.
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