Solahütte (SS Hütte Porąbka)
Location: Międzybrodzie, Poland
Camp Commandants: SS-Oberscharführer Frans Hössler, SS-Rottenführer Leo Rummel, SS-Unterscharführer Georg Ritzinger, SS-man (named) Niedermeie
Solahütte, or SS Hütte Porąbka, was the German name for a lake and forestry retreat around 25km from Oświęcim in the small town of Międzybrodzie. The picturesque scenic views in this little haven were already popular before the war, however the area that would eventually become the Solahütte was yet to be developed.
In 1940, Międzybrodzie was identified as the location to develop for the use of German guards, administrators, and other personnel attached to Auschwitz. The retreat would provide a conveniently located weekend retreat for rest and recreational purposes, but also a healthy environment for patients from the SS hospital to assist with recovery.
In 1935, engineers completed work on the Porąbka dam at the Międzybrodzkie reservoir lake, whilst the surrounding landscape was enhanced further with many smaller holiday retreats created. At the rivers bend, a small road way ventures higher into the hillside, quite steep in places. This was to become the site of the Solahütte.
From the autumn of 1940, several dozen male prisoners from the main camp at Auschwitz were sent to Międzybrodzie and began the construction of the camp. According to local testimonies, Poles living in the area remember seeing prisoners in striped uniforms carrying large stones and timber up the hillside, in conditions often seen at other external industrial sites of Auschwitz. Navigation of the hillside with heavy materials would certainly have been back breaking without the correct equipment to assist with leverage, however with simple to zero road infrastructure leading up to the hilltop, we can assume that the SS overseers valued the welfare of the prisoners lives very thinly in pursuit of the construction of the retreat.
Upon its completion, the Solahütte continued to be operational up until January 1945. Less than 10 women were regularly employed to work there from 1941, mainly in the kitchen, cleaning and other similar tasks. On occasions, men were sent from the main camp at Auschwitz to undertake minor repair jobs. Auschwitz prisoner Jan Liwacz testified that he was taken to the Solahütte to specifically make decorative lamps, handles, door knobs, and the garden ornaments. In this way, the general maintenance and upkeep, including the hospitalities had an endless supply of labour.
Regular excursions to the Solahütte embarked by bus from the east side of the market square in Oświęcim. The bus would then make the relatively short journey to the retreat. In 2007, a photo album that had was owned by Karl Höcker, an SS-Obersturmführer and the adjutant to Richard Baer, who was a commandant of Auschwitz I concentration camp was donated to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. The photo album is one of the most intriguing finds of its kind since the end of the war. For the first time, it showed high ranking and notorious SS men such as Rudolf Höss, Otto Moll, Josef Mengele and Josef Kramer relaxing on their days off from the murderous hell of Auschwitz. The photo album not only depicts the journey of one particular excursion to the retreat, but more sinisterly shows the seemingly normal side of these mass murderers. The captivating imagery of this normalness, displaying typical scenes from any vacation of its day or even in modern times, is in its banality the very reason it captivates researchers to continue to study the album. Only with the knowledge we have of these murderers today, confirms the album as the uniquely disturbing object it has become.
After the war, the buildings continued to be a retreat for Polish holiday makers, however its history was never mentioned. According to Barbara Starzyńska, a native of Oświęcim who co-wrote 'Auschwitz-Oświęcim' with her husband Hans Citroen, she would often holiday at the retreat, in the same buildings as these SS murderers, the same buildings built by Auschwitz prisoners. It was not until 2007 and the release of the images that she became aware of its history. However, the resort was well known to the Auschwitz Museum before the release of the photo albums. Prisoner testimonies available in the archives from as early as the 1960’s mention the work that carried out there.
In 2011, the majority of the buildings were demolished to make way for a new development of 'cabin pods'. The Auschwitz Study Group travelled to see the development in progress midway through 2012. The constructers in charge informed us they were not aware it was connected to Auschwitz and as such, the area would not be commemorated in any way.
In 2016, Christophe Busch, the Director General of Kazerne Dossin. the Holocaust and Human Rights Museum in Belgium who also wrote a book on the Höcker album contacted the Auschwitz Study Group after conducting research on the area. It is highly possible a 'new barrack' built during the occupation has been discovered from his research. We will hopefully present more information on this on the near future.
Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.