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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 five killing centers in German-occupied Poland—Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau (part of the Auschwitz camp complex). Chelmno and Auschwitz were established in areas annexed to Germany in 1939. The other camps (Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka) were established in the General Government (an administrative unit of occupied Poland). Auschwitz functioned as concentration and forced-labor camps, as well as a killing center. The overwhelming majority of the victims of the killing centers were Jews. An estimated 2.7 million Jews were killed in these five killing centers as part of the Final Solution. Other victims murdered in the killing centers included Roma (Gypsies) and Soviet prisoners of war.
On this map, the Majdanek camp is labeled as a killing center. In the past, many scholars counted the Majdanek camp (located just outside the city of Lublin) as a sixth killing center. However, based on newer research, Lublin-Majdanek is usually classified as a concentration camp. According to this research, German authorities used Majdanek primarily as a place to concentrate Jews who were being temporarily spared for use as forced laborers. Occasionally, especially after Belzec ceased operating in late 1942, Jews were sent to Majdanek as part of Operation Reinhard to undergo selection. Jews selected as unfit for labor were murdered at Lublin-Majdanek either by shooting or in the camp's gas chambers.
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