2015 is a significant year in Holocaust commemoration as it marks 70 years since the liberation of many of the camps that formed the Nazi concentration camp system. In addition, it is the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

Between mid-1944 and 1945 the Allies liberated tens of thousands of people held in camps across Europe, from Bergen-Belsen in Germany to Majdanek in Poland. Amongst this network was Gross-Rosen, initially built as a satellite camp to Sachsenhausen in August 1940, it became an independent Concentration Camp in May 1941. Gross-Rosen developed into its own vast network of approximately 100 sub-camps located in Germany, former Czechoslovakia and occupied Poland. Tomorrow will be the 70th anniversary of its liberation by Soviet troops.

Gross-Rosen tells a different story to the six Killing Centres: Chelmno, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Treblinka II, Sobibor and Belzec. Whilst Killing Centres were designed solely for the role of industrial mass murder, Gross-Rosen concentration camp was primarily designed as a forced labour camp. The first group of people held prisoner in the camp arrived on August 2, 1940 and were used to build the camp and its infrastructure. As the camp developed prisoners were used as forced labourers in the nearby granite quarry owned by the SS German Earth and Stone Works and for companies including I.G. Farben and Daimler Benz.

People were forced to work under brutal conditions; there was inadequate food, different blocks were not allowed to talk to each other and they were denied medical treatment. Yet as the war continued this labour force became more central to the Nazi war effort. As a result, Gross-Rosen grew in importance and approximately 100 subcamps were formed across Europe. Brünnlitz is perhaps one of the most well-known subcamps as it was here that Oskar Schindler established the production of enamelware and ammunitions in an old textile factory. His story and the story of over 1,000 Jewish people whose survival he facilitated is now immortalised in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

Jewish people made up the largest proportion of prisoners at Gross-Rosen including a large percentage of women. They came from across Europe including Poland, Hungary, France, Belgium and Greece. Other groups held in Gross-Rosen include Polish people and people from the Soviet Union. Towards the end of the war Gross-Rosen held up to 78,000 prisoners. Yet behind each ‘number’ is an individual story. Some of these have been captured by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and remind us of the uniqueness and individuality of experience.

During its operation approximately 120,000 people passed through the Gross-Rosen camp network, around 40,000 people were murdered. On its anniversary we encourage all to take time to remember those who were affected and, in keeping with this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme, ‘keep the memory alive’. 


Shoah Resource Centre ‘Gross-Rosen’, Yad Vashem [Online]. Available at: http://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%206320.pdf (Accessed 3rd April 2015)

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ‘Gross-Rosen’, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [Online]. Available at:

http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005454 (Accessed 3rd April 2015)

Gross-Rosen Museum in Rogoźnica ‘History of KL Gross-Rosen’, Gross-Rosen Museum in Rogoźnica [Online]. Available at: http://en.gross-rosen.eu/historia-kl-gross-rosen/ (Accessed 3rd April 2015)