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Germany occupied western Poland in fall 1939. Much of this territory was annexed to the German Reich. Eastern Poland was not occupied by German forces until June 1941. In south-central Poland the Germans set up the Generalgouvernement (General Government), where most of the early ghettos were established. Ghettos were enclosed districts of a city in which the Germans forced the Jewish population to live under miserable conditions. Ghettos isolated Jews by separating Jewish communities both from the population as a whole and from neighboring Jewish communities. The Warsaw ghetto, established on October 12, 1940, was the largest ghetto, in both area and population. There, more than 350,000 Jews--about 30 percent of the city's population--were eventually confined in about 2.4 percent of the city's total area.
Killing centers (also referred to as "extermination camps" or "death camps") were designed to carry out genocide. Between 1941 and 1945, the Nazis established six killing centers in former Polish territory—Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau (part of the Auschwitz complex), and Majdanek. Chelmno and Auschwitz were established in areas annexed to Germany in 1939. The other camps (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Majdanek) were established in the Generalgouvernement (General Government) of Poland. Both Auschwitz and Majdanek functioned as concentration and forced-labor camps as well as killing centers. The overwhelming majority of the victims of the killing centers were Jews. An estimated 3.5 million Jews were killed in these six killing centers as part of the Final Solution. Other victims included Roma (Gypsies) and Soviet prisoners of war.
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