Location: Rajsko near Oświęcim, Poland
Camp Commandant: SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Caesar
The Rajsko agricultural sub-camp was officially established on June 12th, 1943, if we consider the date when the first prisoners moved there to be the inauguration. However, work of clearing the lands in Rajsko and establishing the camp for its later purposes had begun in 1942 with prisoners marching to work in 2 separate convoy shifts from Auschwitz. The Rajsko sub-camp was around 10 minutes’ walk south from the main camp, with prisoners being split into 2 separate areas of work detail: Gartnerei (gardening detail) and the Pflazenzucht (plant growing, particularly the development of the Kazakh dandelion). This was of particular importance as the rubber producing substance would make up for a shortage of natural rubber. However, some historians have noted that at the beginning of the war, Germany was 10 years behind the Russians in the technical advancements of synthetic rubber production.
Before the camp could be established, the area had to be cleared and levelled and subsequently, many Poles were displaced in the process. Approximately 68 houses and 41 stables were removed. The residents had to leave behind all their possessions including livestock and could only take a small allocation of what they could carry. To achieve this, 300 prisoners were given a variety of different jobs, mostly hard labour to remove the buildings and prepare the land for growing vegetables and flowers. The notorious SS-Hauptscharführer Otto Moll was in charge of the gardening work party that carried out the work.
Some prisoners were selected for their experience and qualifications in agronomy. Such was their importance to the project, they were sent from Ravensbrück concentration camp, just north of Berlin. The flowers produced in Rajsko were sent all over Germany. They became very popular and developed a reputation for the quality and longevity.
SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Caesar was the Kommandant of the sub-camp, and often remembered as a humane man by many prisoners. He was also the only SS-man to refuse to participate in selections at the ramp in Birkenau, believing it to be unethical. No action was taken against him for his refusal, proving that it was possible to turn down such orders without reprisal.
Caesar had a Ph.D in agriculture and botany. His visions for expanding and improving large scale agricultural projects made him the ideal person to foresee Himmler’s vision of turning Oświęcim and its outer villages into an experimental and productive hub. He was also active in the planning and establishments of sites for the agricultural sub-camps, often disagreeing with architects in the early stages concerning many technical factors. Caesar was subsequently placed in charge of all of the agricultural sub-camps under the administration of Auschwitz-Birkenau. He lived with his wife in the SS Siedlung residential housing of Zasole, just several minutes from the main camp of Auschwitz. After his wife died of typhus, he continued living in the house until the evacuation.
When the camp was finally constructed, it consisted of 5 barracks. 2 were reserved for prisoner accommodation whilst two others were occupied by the Gartnerei and Pflanzenzucht units respectfully. The kitchen was located in one of the barracks; there was also a toilet and bathhouse (in the building of the former barn). A workshop barrack that included a customised kitchen for boiling the Kazakh dandelion seeds, the machine used to separate the rubber was nearby. The fence was topped with barbed wire that was not electrified. Guards patrolled the perimeter throughout the night.
The prisoners working day started at 5am with 1 hour for getting ready. Roll call was at 6am followed by a shift that lasted until 12pm, then 1 hour for lunch. The working day finished at 6pm. Prisoners eat reasonably well by camp standards, and were allowed to change clothes and bedding often. This was because of Caesar’s insistence that prisoners had to be healthy and clean, especially as they were working in close quarters with the SS. Despite the provisions made, the camp was not immune from a typhus outbreak which was eventually controlled. Despite the marginally better conditions in the camp, the work was hard and had to be done correctly. Random checks were made on the prisoner’s output and anything that displeased the SS would often result in physical punishments. Prisoners often overcame the hardship by small acts of residence. Holidays were celebrated in the confines of their barracks, and even a small Christmas tree was used to decorate their barracks.
On the 18th January 1945, the camp was evacuated and the prisoners joined the marching columns that had evacuated the main camps of Auschwitz. An unmarked grave marks the entrance from the main road to the sub-camp where a prisoner was shot for failing to keep up with the convoy.
In 2012, the Auschwitz Study Group had exclusive access to the nursery that still exists on the site of the sub-camp. Today it is in private ownership selling flowers, some from the same greenhouses built during the occupation. The owners are trying to preserve many of the original features of the camp, whilst showing compassion during extensive renovation and extension.
Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.