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).
The purpose of the werk kamps was to imprison workers of various nationalities for labour in the IG Farben plant. The workers in these camps were generally treated better than those in the Auschwitz mother camp, yet the idea of ‘civilian workers’, a term often used to describe them is more than a little ambiguous. The workers were not free to leave, nor could they quit their jobs. Many were badly treated by the guards and in several cases fed a less than substantial diet that had to be subsidised by family members on the outside. The bleak landscape however, mirrored the grey imposing architecture at Birkenau. Large fences, watchtowers and wooden barracks (in total, around 400 wooden barracks were built in and around the IG Farben complex). Yet in contrast, the werk kamps were not as heavily guarded. It was not uncommon for some to only be manned at the main gate, and by Ukrainian guards. The fences were not electrified and the workers had more space per square foot than at Auschwitz.
There were exceptions to this standard within the camp system of IG Farben. Lager IV: Dorfrand became the Auschwitz III Monowitz camp and therefore was equal to the conditions at Birkenau and other sub-camps. Lager VI became the British POW camp and more heavily guarded.
If we consider the 10 werk kamps, over 45 sub camps and the 3 Auschwitz main administrative centers, there were around 58 individual camps of Auschwitz that housed prisoners. Following the establishment of the Auschwitz Museum in 1947 and the subsequent ordering of the protected zones, many buildings connected to Auschwitz that fell outside of these borders have gradually disappeared over the years. In the 1960s, several wooden barracks of the British POW camp, Pulverturm were still present at its north perimeter. Occasionally, tourists who managed to enter Poland from America, Canada and the UK could be seen taking photos. Yet today, the only remaining wooden barracks of IG Farben can be located in the Monowitz area, however non resemble their original design after decades of change, contrary to popular belief.
Post war photos documenting the useage and eventual destruction of these workspaces are extremely rare. In some cases, we simply haven't been able to find any. So when an album documenting a large scale building phase on the exact site of a former camp comes to light, we consider this an incredible find of extreme historical importance. This was recently the case with the IG Farben Werk Kamp Lager VII: Angestellten Wohnlager. The site today is better known as the Oświęcim ice rink. Built in the early 1960s over a large area of land, the project led to the destruction of several barracks on the site (many barracks were actually destroyed in a USAAF bombing raid and were never rebuilt). Those that remained were converted for other purposes, either as housing, storage or work spaces. The construction album seemingly documents the earliest stages of development in the early 1960s through to the final completion in 1964. In several photos, former barracks can be seen in the background giving us an insight into their post war uses as well as architectural changes. We are also given an insight into how the infrastructure was changing the landscape less than two decades following the conclusion of WW2. A new road was built that split the camp boundaries in two, thus temporarily preserving 5 barracks on the west perimeter. The area became woodland and through the following decades, only their foundations remain today. This historically important album was donated to Mirosław Ganobis, a resident and somewhat local celebrity in Oświęcim. Ganobis has become an incredibly important cog in the wheel of preserving artifacts, photos and other obscure items from the occupation of Oświęcim and the decades that followed. Every item and photo that has been collected is made freely available for people to see, and it could be argued that this unique approach of sharing has led to many people donating such collections instead of hoarding them or even looking to sell to private collectors.
21st century photos continue to be equally important. Over the last 10 years, the Auschwitz Study Group have been fortunate enough to document several important buildings attached to the werk kamps, not least several large brick watchtowers and the only latrine outside of Birkenau to still exist (this was at the site of Pulverturm). Unfortunately, in 2014 an area rejuvenation project, the largest industrial development since 1942 led to the destruction of these relics.
As the landscape continues to change, it becomes increasingly more urgent to save what we can from this period. We support the work and passion of people like Mirosław and continue to urge people to donate anything they may not have previously considered essential historical documentation.
Written by Michael Challoner
With special thanks to Mirosław Ganobis