Old Market Square


Coat of arms
Coordinates: 50°3′N 19°14′E / 50.050°N 19.233°E / 50.050; 19.233Coordinates: 50°3′N 19°14′E / 50.050°N 19.233°E / 50.050; 19.233
Country  Poland
Voivodeship Lesser Poland
County Oświęcim County
Gmina Oświęcim (urban gmina)
Established First mentioned in 1117
Town rights 1291
  Mayor Janusz Chwierut
  Total 30.3 km2 (11.7 sq mi)
Elevation 230 m (750 ft)
Population (2006)
  Total 40,979
  Density 1,400/km2 (3,500/sq mi)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
  Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Postal code 32–600, 32–601, 32–602, 32–603, 32–606, 32–610
Area code(s) +48 033
Car plates KOS
Website Oświęcim (English)

Oświęcim (pronounced [ɔɕˈfʲɛɲt͡ɕim]) (German: Auschwitz, Yiddish: אָשפּיצין Oshpitzin) is a town in the Lesser Poland (Polish: Małopolska) province of southern Poland,[1] situated 50 kilometres (31 mi) west of Kraków, near the confluence of the Vistula (Wisła) and Soła rivers. The town is best known as being the location of the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.


The town's name is of Slavic extraction, likely deriving from the name of the owner of a Slavic gord which existed there in the Middle Ages. Across centuries, it was spelled in many different ways, and in many languages – Polish, Czech, German, Latin: Ospenchin (1217), Osvencin (1280), Hospencin (1283), Osswetem (1293), Uspencin (1297), Oswentim (1302), Wswencim (1304), Auswintzen (1312), Oświęcim (1314), Oswencin (1327), Auswieczin (1372), Awswiczin (1372), Uswiczin (1400). In the Latin language, Oświęcim was spelled Osswencimen or Osviecimensis. As the town was an important center of commerce from the late Middle Ages onwards, German-speaking merchants called it Auswintz (14th century), which by the 15th century was changed into Auschwitz. From 1772–1918, when Oświęcim belonged to the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (a semi-autonomous protectorate of the Austrian Empire), both Polish and German language names were in official use. During World War II, when the town was annexed into the Third Reich, the name Auschwitz was used, to be replaced by Oświęcim after 27 January 1945, when the Wehrmacht was pushed out by the Red Army.

Geography and transport

Oświęcim lies on the intersection where National Road 44 meets local roads 933 and 948. Oświęcim's old town is located east of the Soła, with the Main Market Square (Rynek Główny) at its centre. The railway station is across the river, in the north west of the town, with the main museum in the west of the town. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is in the village of Brzezinka, to the west of the railway station. The chemical works are located east of the town.

The main bus station of the town lies in the east of the town, and local bus services are operated by PKS Oświęcim. The PKP railway services are available to Kraków, Katowice and Czechowice-Dziedzice, and internationally to Vienna and Prague. The nearest airport is located 60 kilometres (37 miles) away, at Kraków Balice. According to the 2002 data, Oświęcim is 30 km2, of which forests comprise only 1%. The neighbouring gminas are Chelmek, Libiąż, and the gmina of Oświęcim.


Old town hall

Oświęcim has a rich history, which dates back to the early days of Polish statehood. It is one of the oldest castellan gords in Poland. Following the Fragmentation of Poland in 1138, Duke Casimir II the Just attached the town to the Duchy of Opole in ca. 1179 for his younger brother Mieszko I Tanglefoot, Duke of Opole and Racibórz. The town was destroyed in 1241 during the Mongol invasion of Poland. Around 1272 the newly rebuilt Oświęcim was granted a municipal charter modeled on those of Lwówek Śląski (a Polish variation of the Magdeburg Law). The charter was confirmed on 3 September 1291. In 1281, the Land of Oświęcim became part of the newly established Duchy of Cieszyn, and in ca. 1315, an independent Duchy of Oświęcim was established. In 1327, John I, Duke of Oświęcim joined his Duchy with the Duchy of Zator, and soon afterwards, his state was attached to the Kingdom of Bohemia (see vassal), where it remained for over a century. In 1445, the Duchy was divided into three separate entities – those of Oświęcim and Zator, as well as the Duchy of Toszek. In 1457 Polish King Casimir IV Jagiellon bought the rights to Oświęcim. On 25 February 1564, King Zygmunt August issued a bill, making former Duchies of Oświęcim and Zator part of the Kingdom of Poland. Both lands were attached to the Kraków Voivodeship, making Silesian County of that province. The town later became one of the centres of Protestant culture in Poland.[2]

Like other towns of Lesser Poland, Oświęcim prospered in the period known as Polish Golden Age. Good times ended in 1655, during the catastrophic Swedish invasion of Poland. Oświęcim was burned and afterwards the town declined, and in 1772 (see Partitions of Poland), it was annexed by the Habsburg Empire, as part of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, where it remained until late 1918. After the 1815 Congress of Vienna, the town was close to the borders of both Russian-controlled Congress Poland, and the Kingdom of Prussia. In the 1866 war between Austria and the Prussian-led North German Confederation, a cavalry skirmish was fought at the town, in which an Austrian force defeated a Prussian incursion.[3][4]

In the second half of the 19th century, Oświęcim became an important rail junction. In the same period, the town burned in several fires, such as the fire of 23 August 1863, when two-thirds of Oświęcim burned, including town hall and two synagogues. New town hall was built in 1872–75, and in another fire (in 1881), the parish church burned with a school and a hospital. In 1910, Oświęcim became the seat of a starosta, in 1915 a high school was opened, and in 1917–18 a new district, called Nowe Miasto, was founded. After World War I, the town became part of the Second Polish Republic's Kraków Voivodeship. Until 1932, Oświęcim was the seat of a county, but on 1 April 1932, the County of Oświęcim was divided between the County of Wadowice, and the County of Biala Krakowska. On the eve of World War II there were about 8,000 Jews in the city, over half the population.[5] In the early days of the Invasion of Poland, the retreating Polish Army units blew up the bridge over the Sola river.

World War II

For the nearby concentration and extermination camps, the museum, and the forced labour camp for the IG Farben plant, see Auschwitz, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and Monowitz.
Entrance to Auschwitz I concentration camp
14th-century St. Mary's Church

In October 1939, Nazi Germany immediately annexed the area to Germany in the Gau of Upper Silesia, which became part of the "second Ruhr" by 1944.[6]

In 1940, Nazi Germany used forced labour to build a new subdivision to house Auschwitz guards and staff. In 1941, German authorities decided to build a large chemical plant of IG Farben, in the eastern outskirts of the town. Polish residents of several districts were forced to abandon their houses, as the Germans wanted to keep the area around Auschwitz concentration camp empty. A buffer zone with the area of some 40 square kilometres (15 sq mi) was planned around the camp, and expulsions of local Polish residents took place in two stages, in 1940 and 1941. All the residents of the Zasole district were forced to abandon their homes. In the Plawy and Harmeze districts, more than 90% of all buildings were destroyed and the residents of Plawy were transported to Gorlice to fend for themselves. Altogether, some 17,000 people in Oświęcim itself and surrounding villages were forced to leave their homes, and eight villages were wiped off the map. As a result, by April 1941 the population of Oświęcim shrank to 7,600.

The town and the camp were seized by the Red Army on 27 January 1945. Soviets immediately opened two temporary camps for German POWs in the complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Auschwitz Soviet camp existed until fall 1945, and the Birkenau camp lasted until spring 1946. Some 15,000 Germans were interned there. Furthermore, there was a camp of Communist secret police (Urząd Bezpieczeństwa), located near the rail station, in the complex of former "Gemeinschaftslager". Most of its prisoners were members of the NSDAP, Hitlerjugend and BDM, as well as German civilians, the Volksdeutsche and Upper Silesians who were suspected of being disloyal to Poland. Inmates worked at a chemical plant in Monowice, where they dismantled the equipment, which was then transported to the Soviet Union.

Post-World War II

After the territorial changes of Poland immediately after World War II, new housing complexes in the town were developed with large buildings of rectangular and concrete constructions. The chemical industry became the main employer of the town and in later years, a service industry and trade were added. Tourism to the concentration camp sites is an important source of revenue for the town's businesses. In the mid-1990s following Communism's end, employment at the chemical works (former IG Farben, renamed Dwory S.A.) reduced from 10,000 in the Communist era to only 1,500 people. In 1952, the County of Oświęcim was re-created, and the town until 1975 belonged to Kraków Voivodeship. In 1975–99, it was part of Bielsko-Biała Voivodeship. In 1979, Oświęcim was visited by Pope John Paul II, and on 1 September 1980, a local Solidarity office was created at the chemical plant. On 28 May 2006, the town was visited by Pope Benedict XVI.

Local sports

The ice hockey team of TH Unia Oświęcim was crowned Polish champions 8 times as of 2010.[7] Sports club Unia Oświęcim was established in 1946, and apart from ice-hockey, it has such departments, as swimming, figure skating, and association football (as Zasole-Unia Oświęcim). In the past, Unia had boxing, table tennis, volleyball, track and field, cycling and basketball departments. Another sports organization from Oświęcim is Sports Club Sola (established 1919).

Notable people

Polish figure skaters Sabina Wojtala, Dorota Siudek and Mariusz Siudek are from the town. Other notable people from the town include Rabbi Aaron Miller (father of chazzan Benzion Miller), Marian Kasperczyk (Polish-born French painter) and Victor Zarnowitz (American economist).

Members of Parliament (Sejm) elected from this constituency include Janusz Chwierut (PO), Paweł Graś (PO), Paweł Kowal (PiS), Marek Jerzy Łatas (PiS), Leszek Murzyn (LPR), Marek Polak (PiS), and Stanisław Rydzoń (SLD-UP).

International relations

Twin towns – sister cities

Oświęcim is twinned with:

See also


  1. This article incorporates information from this version of the equivalent article on the Polish Wikipedia
  2. Elzbieta Skalinska-Dindorf, historian, State Archive in Oświęcim, The History of the City of Oświęcim. CHRONICLE via archive.org; accessed 16 November 2014.
  3. Prussian General Staff, The Campaign of 1866 in Germany, 1907, page 97.
  4. Balck, William, trans by Walter Krueger, Tactics, Volume II: Cavalry, Field, and Heavy Artilliery in Field Warfare; U.S. Cavalry Association, 1914, pg. 5
  5. Oshpitzin, Sefer (translator, from Hebrew). "ספר אושפיצין (English: Oświęcim Memorial Book)". Israel: Oświęcim Descendant and Survivor Association.
  6. "The Coming Phase". Flight Magazine. 23 September 1943. Retrieved 20 October 2010. This vast industrial area, which has been called by the Germans the "second Ruhr" (and which includes the Southern regions of Germany, the plateau of Bohemia, and Polish Silesia, hitherto more or less impervious to bomber attack), has been stripped of its geographic defenses.
  7. Historia klubu (Polish)


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