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SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) Rudolf Höss oversaw the development of the camp and served as the first commandant.SS-Obersturmführer (senior lieutenant) Josef Kramer was appointed Höss's deputy.
From 1940 to 1941, 17,000 Polish and Jewish residents of the western districts of Oświęcim were expelled from places adjacent to the camp.In addition to leaders of Polish society, the Nazis killed Jews, prostitutes, Romani, and the mentally ill.SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, then head of the Gestapo, ordered on 21 September that Polish Jews should be rounded up and concentrated into cities with good rail links.Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah's Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, including an unknown number of homosexuals.Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.The ideology of Nazism brought together elements of anti-Semitism, racial hygiene, and eugenics, and combined them with pan-Germanism and territorial expansionism with the goal of obtaining more Lebensraum (living space) for the Germanic people.
The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, passed on 7 April 1933 excluded most Jews from the legal profession and the civil service.
Some of the plans went forward, including the construction of several hundred apartments, but many were never fully implemented.
The first prisoners (30 German criminal prisoners from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp) arrived in May 1940, intended to act as functionaries within the prison system.
Richard Glücks, head of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate, sent former Sachsenhausen concentration camp commandant Walter Eisfeld to inspect the site, which already held sixteen dilapidated one-story buildings that had once served as an Austrian and later Polish Army barracks and a camp for transient workers.
Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), approved the site in April 1940, intending to use the facility to house political prisoners.
It was first suggested as a site for a concentration camp for Polish prisoners by SS-Oberführer Arpad Wigand, an aide to Higher SS and Police Leader for Silesia, Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski.