Location: Pławy near Oświęcim, Poland
Camp Commandant: SS-Erstaufseherin Florentine (Flora) Cichoń
The small village of Pławy (Plawy) is approximately 1 kilometre south of the camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In late 1940, pursuant to an agreement between the concentration camp headquarters and the Katowice regency government, a decision was made to form an Auschwitz 'zone of interest', within which there were plans to create a SS agricultural and breeding farm upon the personal wish of Heinrich Himmler. Although Plawy was in the centre of the planned zone, there was no evidence at this point in time to establish a farm there, at least not in records.
On March 8th, 1941, all the inhabitants were removed from the village, and most of the homes belonging to them (55 in total) were demolished over the next few months. From 1942 to 1944, from commandos made up or prisoners brought in from the Auschwitz II Birkenau camp worked on the land belonging to the village.
In the spring of 1944, one of the large barrack a barn was erected on the site of the future camp as well as two somewhat smaller ones, where cows and horses were later kept. Photographs taken by Allied reconnaissance planes show that no other buildings were put up near them at least until August. Only photographs of November 29th and December 21st, 1944, show more structures on the site, including accommodation barracks for the prisoners and a fence.
It is hard to ascertain when prisoners were housed in barracks on a permanent basis. Starting at least in early October 1944, three large commandos worked at Plawy. According to the account of former prisoner Anna Tytoniak, the Plawy sub-camp was formed on January 3rd, 1945. Amongst the prisoners there were approximately 200 women who had previously been at Birkenau, mainly Russian women as well as prisoner functionaries: 2 female German Kapos, a barrack chief (also a German woman), a living quarters chief (a Hungarian Jewish women) and the commando scribe (a Polish woman).
The sub-camp was rectangular in shape, 160 x 140 meters. It was surrounded by a double barbed wire fence running along concrete posts. The fence was not electrified, and no watchtowers were put up around the sub-camp. Inside, the camp was divided by an inner fence into a living section and a farming section. The former held two accommodation barracks for the women and the men (also separated by a barbed wire fence). A large barn was erected in the centre of the farm, flanked by a quite large stable and cowshed. Barracks for the sheep, pigs, and geese were built a bit further away, as well as storehouses for the farm tools. There was a small office barrack near the entry gate, where the men's and women's commando scribes worked.
The barrack for the female prisoners was spacious and, compared to the barracks of the Birkenau women's camp, far better furnished: it had windows and electric lighting. The women slept alone on bunk beds and had clean straw mattresses and blankets. The space was heated by two stoves, which were regularly supplied with coal - which was a rarity at Birkenau. The prisoner functionaries had their own room at one corner of the barrack, furnished with clean bedding and many luxury items that the barrack chief and kapo had obtained at the 'Canada' warehouses. A makeshift infirmary was set up in the opposite corner of the barrack, to the left of the entrance. Next to it was a washroom where a large barrel had been installed, filled every day with fresh water from a well that had been dug near the barrack.
The women were dressed in prisoners' stripes and jackets and wore white sloth kerchiefs on their heads. They got up at 6:00am, washed and made their beds, then were issued tea or coffee brought in from the Auschwitz main camp.
The women lined up in front of the barrack for roll call. Then some of them left for work in the farm barracks, where they fed and milked the cows (about 100), cleaned the cowshed, and carried out the manure; the others were sent to sift the fodder potatoes and beets that had been put up in mounds of earth and to transport the fodder to the camp. They were issued lunch at the work site, In the evening at approximately 6:00pm, the women returned to the sub-camp, where they received bread with some margarine and jam after the roll call. The doors were closed for the night from the outside with a sliding bar and padlock. SS men served guard duty around the fence and in principle they could not enter the camp during that time.
SS-Erstaufseherin Florentine (Flora) Cichoń was in charge of the women's section of the cub-camp. She behaved decently towards the prisoners, as did the SS men who had been assigned to guard them; they were often older men and were clearly frightened at the prospect of the Red Army suddenly arriving.
The male prisoners at Plawy were mainly Russians and Poles, also sent there were several Slovak Jews and Germans, who held Kapo positions and that of barrack chief. They had been placed in Plawy presumably in the last days of December 1944. The barrack in which they lived in was furnished like the women's barracks, with a separate room for the prisoner functionaries, a makeshift washroom, and a space that was something like a dispensary, too. Patients with no prognosis of a quick recovery were sent back to the hospital at the main camp.
These Plawy prisoners mainly took care of the horses, of which there were about 70 to 80. They also transported farm produce and milk to the camp dairy, having 25 carts available (each one harnessed with 2 horses). A guard escorted every cart leaving the sub-camp. A non-commissioned officer with the rank of SS-Oberscharführer was in charge of the men's camp.
The Plawy sub-camp operated for only about 3 weeks. On the night of January 17th-18th, 1945, the SS men ordered the prisoners to slaughter the calves and pigs, after which they loaded the meat onto several carts. They loaded feed and hay for the cows and horses onto the carts that were left. The last roll call was held the following morning at the assembly ground, after which the 138 male and the 200 female prisoners set out westward on foot.
The convoy was arranged as follows: the livestock was driven at the head of the column, with the female prisoners following a bit behind, then the carts loaded with the meat and feed, and the male prisoners marching at the end, driving along about 300 geese with them. At Pszczyna, where they stopped for the night, the SS men gave the geese to retreating Wehrmacht soldiers, in return for which they received bread and canned food. The next day the female prisoners reached Wodzisław Śląski. They were evacuated farther westward in freight cars. The male prisoners continued driving the livestock to the town of Zamberg, where the SS men sold the cows to local farmers, and the prisoners were sent to the nearby railroad station, from where they were later taken to Mauthausen.
Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.