The Nazis originally planned to use Auschwitz as a transfer point for Jews, as part of an effort to encourage them to leave Europe for Israel and the United States, new research has revealed.
Documents uncovered by a Polish academic show that the now notorious death camp would have been used to manage the expulsion, which the Nazis planned to have funded by American Jews.
Arthur Schindler, of Krakow's Jagiellonian University, uncovered evidence of the original plans for Auschwitz in archives in Israel, the US and Europe.
Dr Schindler, 40, said: "In 2005, a memoir called Angel Touch was published in Polish.
"It was written by Henryk Shenkar, the son of Leon Shenkar, a Jewish businessman who lived in the city of Oswiecim (Auschwitz) during the German invasion.
The camp would have been used as a transit point
"Leon was appointed the chairman of the city's Council of Elders, and as such, was summoned for discussions on various issues with senior officials of the German military administration.
"He reported back that they had decided to turn the Auschwitz camp into an emigration centre for Jews."
Dr Schindler decided to look for evidence of the plot to support Mr Shenkar's story.
After nearly six years of research, he found old, poor-quality microfilms in archives in Jerusalem, New York and Amsterdam. They revealed the existence of official documentation which approved the plan to create a transfer centre.
The documents showed that one year after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, Oswiecim was plastered with adverts calling for Jews to attend the "transfer point" at Auschwitz and emigrate to Israel or the US.
Mr Shenkar was also called to Berlin for a meeting with the regional Gestapo chief. There he learned how the emigration programme would be carried out.
The Nazis believed that the cost of the operation would be substantial - as high as 200,000 Reichsmarks - and decided that the Jewish community in Berlin, and American Jews, should be encouraged to finance it. For the plan to work, the Jews' financial backing would need to cover the costs of train tickets, transport by ship, documents and immigration visas.
But during the second half of 1941 there was a turning point in Nazi policy towards Jews.
Following the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, and the decision to enforce the Final Solution, the earlier ideas to force emigration were dropped.
Instead the Nazis decided to exterminate European Jewry, with Auschwitz at the centre of their plans.