The Lederfabrik occupied the pre war Oświęcim Tannery building just south of the Oświęcim town, or old town as it is known today. The large factory became a small camp in itself between 1942 and 1945 with around 1000 prisoners working there. Its primary purpose was the sorting of goods confiscated from the incoming transports and the process of destroying those articles that were rendered useless such as worn suitcases, personal possessions of no value such as wallets and bags that were not worth repairing. A large chimney situated at the east perimeter next to the Sola river that ran all the way to the main camp of Auschwitz I would constantly be burning the waste products that were sent here from the transports. Items were often searched for bank notes with dollars being the currency the prisoners looked for. Other bank notes were often used as toilet paper according to a passage in the Witold Pilecki report. Perhaps one of the more gruesome items to be housed here was women's hair shaved after they were murdered in the gas chambers.
The factory was customised into a working camp surrounded by a wooden fence around its perimeter with 4 watchtowers in each corner. Small workshops were established for the repair of goods such as jewellery.
Oberkapo Erik was in power at the tannery who did not recognise the power of other oberkapos, infact even the SS-men feared him, particularly as he had contact with the commander of the camp. He acted like he owned the tannery and pleased himself with his attitude towards the prisoners. Erik sometimes entertained the commander, with whom he made profits on tanned leather.
Food, clothes and underwear were also sent here to be burnt but the underwear and clothes were often sent to the Bekleidungskammer (clothing chamber) whilst other prisoners had the job of matching thousands of shoes together in complete pairs. SS-men and also the kapos would often put aside certain items to keep for themselves.
There were several murders in the tannery, some researchers have suggested several hundred. This is most likely to do with the vast amount of riches available and the need to maintain discretion for those that were pilfering in light of prisoners who were only too aware of what was going on. Infact prisoners themselves would take opportunities to take food or other items to trade to make their lot a little better.
The Lederfabrik, or tannery building as it is more commonly known, is not considered in the wider aspect of Auschwitz. It was outside of the Interessengebiet, close to the old town and overshadowed by Kanada II in Auschwitz-Birkenau when people talk about the sorting of prisoner belongings from the incoming transports. If it was not for a news article that went viral in 2001 concerning an investor who bought the land and wanted to turn it into a discotheque, the events of what happened here during the war may not have been as widely reported as it is today. In this case, the Wiesenthal Center challenged the decision to allow the discotheque to be built eventually overturning the decision much to the disappointment of the land owner who argued that it is indeed outside of the UNESCO buffer zone and therefore not protected land. He also tried to argue that the factory was not even original but actually built in 1952, however this was not the case (it most likely had undergone some modifications).
In the early 21st century, the tannery building and its chimney were demolished and the area is now wasteland sitting idle. The original floors can be seen in places and the remains of the chimney were still there in 2015. In 2016, the area was used as an overspill for the Oświęcim Life Festival that included the likes of Queen and Elton John. The area of the tannery was used to house public toilets for the concert. There are currently no future plans for the development of this important historical site.
Information about sources we used while researching the industrial zones of Auschwitz you can find here.