As part of the exclusive ASG “Werk Kamps Project”, I had the privilege of interviewing Sandor Vandor, a Hungarian native who was interned at one of the lesser known labour camps in Austria during the Holocaust. As often neglected in circles of Holocaust memory, Sandor’s extraordinary testimony raises awareness of the individual experiences of those placed in forced labour camps across Europe. Yet, his placement in Sankt Anna directly contributed to his survival, and his will to live grew stronger due to the humanity, courage and kindness of the local residents. Now, Sandor works to educate others, and regularly visits the town in which he was imprisoned to teach future generations about their history.
The IG Farben plant in Auschwitz came to represent the largest of the continual spatial areas within the concentration camp system. Of the 10 IG Farben Werk Kamps that were spread around the town of Oświęcim and the village of Monowitz, 6 camps existed in a zone that were not divided by residential buildings. The whole of this area measured around 8.31km² (or 4.45km in a straight line).
Its incomprehensible to imagine that selection for a work unit in Auschwitz where one rises before the rest of the camp and often returns after most other work commandos in the evening, would be considered a lucrative placement. Yet this was how hardened prisoners of Auschwitz would compartmentalise their lot.
Only 8km from Oświęcim sits an unassuming town in Poland, one equally as rich in community and tradition as you’d come to expect of any here. It is conveniently equidistant from several larger industrial towns making it an attractive proposition for those who desire a more rural landscape to retreat to. The town is Chełmek and was first mentioned in the 15th century; with today’s population hovering around the 13,000 mark. Benefiting economically from passing trade as a mid-town in its own right, or from the coal mines of localities such as Libiaz, Brzeszcze, or even the refineries in Monowice or Trzebinia – They all have something in common. They all became sub-camps of the infamous mother camp in Oświęcim, Auschwitz.
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