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Laurahütte

Location: Siemianowice Śląskie, Poland
Camp Commandant: SS-Oberscharführer Walter Quakernack

The Laurahütte sub-camp was established in late March and the early April of 1944 at the Oberschlesische Geratebau GmbH company, which was probably founded in 1941 at the existing Huta Laura (Laurahütte), a steel mill in the town of Siemianowice Śląskie near the town of Katowice. The sub-camp was approximately 40 kilometres from Auschwitz and as an industrial camp, it became under the administration of Auschwitz III Monowitz. The company belonged to the German Rheinmetall-Borsig AG corporation. Since it was an arms plant, Oberschlesische Geratebau GmbH was under military supervision. The company manufactured anti aircraft guns for the navy.

The earliest record of the camp is dated April 8th, 1944. A German prisoners named Karl Schmied, a cook, was moved from the Eintrachthütte sub-camp to Laurahütte on that day.

In May 1944, once the sub-camp was ready to house more prisoners, about 150-250 Jews were moved from Auschwitz III Monowitz to Laurahütte. These prisoners had come to Auschwitz from the Netherlands, France and Belgium. Small transports of Auschwitz prisoners were also moved in the following months, predominantly Jews of various nationalities including a transport of 150 Jewish prisoners from Hungary in the September of 1944. On January 17th, 1945, several days prior to evacuation, there were 937 prisoners in the sub-camp, mainly Jews.

The sub-camp's management was in the hands of the SS men. SS-Oberscharführer Walter Quakernack held the position of commandant throughout the sub-camps history. There were 5 or 6 SS men in total. The other guards were not SS, but instead made up from around 40 naval ratings from the coastal anti aircraft artillery, commanded by Obermaat Adamczyk.

The sub-camp was shaped in a triangle, whose northern and eastern side was formed by a wall approximately 3 meters high and topped with barbed wire. The sub-camps first buildings were a large factory hall, where prisoners were quartered, as well as a brick building that contained the camp storehouses. The barrack where the kitchen and secretarial office were set up, as well as the prisoner hospital barrack, were both erected only after the prisoners had been bought to the sub-camp. There were three watchtowers on the inside corners of the sub-camp or on the outside fence, and a guardhouse next to the gate, through which prisoners exited the camp directly into the factory buildings. The entire sub-camp formed a completely separate unit within the factory grounds, administered by the sub-camp management.

Prisoners put in the Laurahütte sub-camp worked directly in manufacturing as well as inside the sub-camp. There were the following detachments: electricians, metalworkers, lathe and milling machine operators, draftsmen, painters, transporters who moved raw materials and engineers, as well as detachments for the camp kitchen, infirmary, cleaners and administration office. Most of the prisoners worked producing coastal anti aircraft guns.

Civilian employees also worked at  the company, and both civilian as well as prisoner foremen supervised the prisoners during the manufacturing process, such as precision equipment required high quality work. When they reported prisoners to the sub-camp management for any alleged offenses, they directly contributed to the severe punishment imposed on them. For example, a transgression was regarded as sabotage and was punished by flogging.

After liberation, former Laurahütte prisoners recalled several escapes from the sub-camp, among which one is documented in surviving records. Jan Purgal escaped from the sub-camp on the night ot August 18th, 1944, with another prisoner's help. SS men from the Political branch conducted an investigation, after which all Polish prisoners were moved to Auschwitz III Monowitz in the early part of September 1944 and on from there to other concentration camps within the Third Reich. The Germans used escapes to justify further torment and suffering such as roll calls that lasted hours. The escape of a young Russian prisoner ended tragically. He was caught and sent to Auschwitz for interrogation and subsequently sent back to Laurahütte where he was hanged on the assembly ground infront of all the prisoners.

Resistance took several forms in this camp. Prisoners who worked at the engineering office were able to move about the factory buildings and availed themselves of opportunities to sabotage operation in which they damaged the machinery of guns the plant manufactured. They carried out the sabotage after the final inspection so it would go unnoticed following shipment from the plant. As civilian prisoners also worked along side the prisoners, there were opportunities to 'organise' various food packages and other products essential for survival.

Evacuation of the Laurahütte sub-camp began on January 23rd, 1945. On that day, all 937 prisoners were loaded into the train cars that had been put on the railway ramp near the plant. The company's civilian personnel were also evacuated on the same train. The prisoners were transported to the Mauthausen concentration camp. A total of 134 prisoners dies during the trip that lasted five days and nights. Several days later at Mauthausen, a group of about 400 prisoners was formed from the Laurahütte sub-camp and sent to the Neuengamme sub-camp in Hannover Muhlenberg-Linden, where they were put to work at Hanomag and Rheinmetall-Borsig AG, manufacturing anti aircraft guns. SS-Oberscharführer Walter Quakernack once again followed them and maintained control of this sub-camp. According to the account of former prisoners, only 254 prisoners survived from 400 and the subsequent death march to Bergen-Belsen.

SS-Oberscharführer Walter Quakernack was sentenced to death in 1946 by a British Military court in Lüneburg.

Laurahütte the sub-camp of Auschwitz
View of the original gate taken from the parade ground with SS barracks, now commercial garages on the left hand side
Photo by Michael Challoner ©

 

Sources

Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.

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