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The Auschwitz concentration camp complex was the largest of its kind established by the Nazi regime. It included three main camps, all of which deployed incarcerated prisoners at forced labor. One of them also functioned for an extended period as a killing center. The camps were located approximately 37 miles west of Krakow, near the prewar German-Polish border in Upper Silesia, an area that Nazi Germany annexed in 1939 after invading and conquering Poland. The SS authorities established three main camps near the Polish city of Oswiecim: Auschwitz I in May 1940; Auschwitz II (also called Auschwitz-Birkenau) in early 1942; and Auschwitz III (also called Auschwitz-Monowitz) in October 1942.
The Auschwitz concentration camp complex was subordinate to the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps. Until March 1942, the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps was an agency of the SS Main Office, and, from 1941, of the SS Operations Main Office. From March 1942 until the liberation of Auschwitz, the Inspectorate was subordinate to the SS Economic-Administrative Main Office.
In November 1943, the SS decreed that Auschwitz-Birkenau and Auschwitz-Monowitz would become independent concentration camps. The commandant of Auschwitz I remained the SS garrison commander of all SS units assigned to Auschwitz and was considered the senior officer of the three commandants. SS offices for maintaining prisoner records and managing prisoner labor deployment continued to be located and centrally run from Auschwitz I. In November 1944, Auschwitz II was reunified with Auschwitz I. Auschwitz III was renamed Monowitz concentration camp.