Location: Trzebinia, Poland
Camp Commandant: SS-Unterscharführer Wilhelm Kowol
In August 1944, a former British POW camp by the Erdöl Raffinerie GmbH owned refinery in Trzebinia was transformed to accommodate an expected 1,000 prisoners from Auschwitz. This came at the request of the refinery management who were displeased at the rate of production undertaken by the British POW's who were deliberately working to low capacity. Following the removal of the British, the Germans organised the first shipment of Jews from Auschwitz in August 1944. By September, the figure had reached 800 and would not surpass this number throughout the camps duration. Some prisoners were sent from Auschwitz III but others may have been sent from Birkenau. Out of the 800 prisoners, 120 were children under the age of 17.
The sub-camp was surrounded with a barbed wire that was electrified. There were four guard towers by the fence, and there were the SS guards walking alongside it.
The camp Commandant was SS-Unterscharführer Wilhelm Kowol who had 60 SS men working for him at the camp.
The task of the prisoners was to extend the refinery so that increased production at a faster rate could be achieved, such was the demand at this time. Working up to 11 hours a day, prisoners worked under threat of constant beatings, torture and starvation. The death rate became so high that corpses were no longer sent back to Birkenau. Instead, the SS constructed a small crematorium in the west of the sub camp grounds (furthest from the main road).
The refinery management had no interest in the welfare of the prisoners. They saw how the Germans were treating them and they were aware of the rations and completely inadequate clothing, particularly in the winter. However, they insisted to the SS that more productivity was possible. They therefore insisted that the Jewish foreman be replaced with Germans who could be more brutal and get more work from the prisoners. When this did not have the desired effect, they intervened and encouraged the Germans to be more relentless with the prisoners and drive them though pure fear. This was followed with constant beatings at the work place and on the way to work (a short walk south from the sub-camp). Various instruments were used to beat the prisoners such as large tools found on the building site. This sometimes meant iron bars were used to beat or kill prisoners who stopped to rest, or accept food from the other workers. In one instance, Oberkapo Albert Gumpricht stopped a prisoner in his tracks and made him lie down. A pole was then placed across his windpipe and 2 prisoners were ordered to stand either side to suffocate him.
The lack of food, cold weather and constant beatings meant that by the end of 1944, nearly half of the camps population had been in the camp hospital at some point. Despite the high numbers, the hospital was very primitive and occupied only half of a barrack. Those who showed no signs of recovering were sent to Birkenau to be killed. There was no kitchen in the sub-camp as the food and other provisions such as clothes were brought to Trzebinia from Monowitz.
By January 17th, 1945, the evacuations of prisoners who could walk began. Unlike other sub-camps, those who could not march were packed in rail cars close to the camp and removed. The SS dismantled some buildings before evacuation including the partial demolition of the crematorium. Bones that had not been incinerated were found on liberation close by.
The eventual destination of those evacuated was Bergen-Belsen, however only a few prisoners had survived the long and winding journey.
Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.