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Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

The Final Solution

On 20 January 1942, a group of leading Nazis, but not Adolf Hitler, met at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, Germany, to discuss how to organise the 'Final Solution': the extermination of all Jews. As the Germans extended their power across Eastern Europe into the Soviet Union, more and more Jews came under their control. They were rounded up into concentration camps, but this presented the Nazis with a problem of keeping them there.

Their solution was to build extermination camps, in Poland, that had the capacity to kill large numbers of people - up to 25,000 a day. The six camps were Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.

Jews, and gypsies, were taken to these camps and sent to gas chambers. Jeanette Kaufmann, in her testimony given on her liberation from Belsen, gave a detailed description of the deception in place at Auschwitz. 'The place was camouflaged to represent a sanatorium with a light railway line running into it for conveying sick persons too ill to walk. Inscriptions explained the passageways leading to the various departments - "Waiting Room" - "Clothing Room" - "Bathroom". The last mentioned room had a very big door like that of a bank safe. The bathroom was actually fitted out with shower sprays, but they were connected to gas pipes instead of water pipes.'

The exact number of victims of the extermination camps is unknown, but is estimated at about 3.5 million. This was in addition to those killed by overwork, cruelty, hunger, disease and random executions.