Location: Kobiór near Pszczyna, Poland
Camp Commandant: SS-Unterscharführer Franz Baumgartner
Kobier was located in a forest complex 10 kilometres north of Pszczyna (Pless) and approximately 20 kilometres west of Auschwitz. The exact date when the sub-camp was established is not known, however the name first appears in a dispatch order dated September 23rd, 1942; a 5-ton truck was sent to the village of Kobier (Kobiór) that day to deliver wood to the camp, but it is not known whether the prisoners were there already. The few surviving prisoner accounts say that the sub-camp was in existence in the autumn (perhaps as early as October) of 1942 and certainly on December 19th, when a truck with supplies for the prisoners was sent to Kobier. Another probably piece of evidence is that a sub-camp existed at Kobier is a reference in an order of Auschwitz concentration camp headquarters dated November 2nd, 1942, which says that trips by SS men to the 'Pszczyna Forest Commandos' (Plesser Firstkommandos) were to be treated as trips outside the camp's 'zone of interest' (Interessengebiet).
In all likelihood, civilian workers hired by the Pszczyna Forest Management Agency (Oberforstamt Pless) appeared in Kobier in autumn 1942; they began building barracks and a fence. The last barrack (for the SS men) was erected only in late January 1943. The camp was rectangular and approximately 30x40 meters in area. It was surrounded by a barbed wire fence running around along cement posts. Make shift watchtowers were put up at the outside corners of the fence. The first of three barracks inside the camp, to the right of the entrance gate, housed office space for the SS men as well as the kitchen and food storeroom. Prisoners lived in the barrack opposite the gate; it contained a separate space housing a readily accessible storeroom for the sub-camps equipment. The third barrack, to the left of the entrance gate, also housed prisoners, as well as the infirmary and dentists office. The barracks had windows, bunk beds, tables, and benches were set up in them. Heat was provided by quite efficient iron stoves, on which the prisoners attempted to dry their wet clothing. There was also a small toilet barrack with a shower near the camp entrance and the well.
There were approximately 150 prisoners in the camp, mostly Jews (mainly Polish, French, Belgian and Czech) and several non-Jewish Germans, Poles and Russians. The German prisoners assumed the most important functions: the camp elder was Alfred van Hofe, the camp Kapo was Theo from Hamburg, and the Kitchen Kapo was Rudolf Navratil. A few Poles were also put to work in the camp in relatively easier jobs.
The largest Kommando was named 'Woodcutter' (Holzfaller), in which prisoners, mainly Jews, were put to work felling trees in the forest and preparing the trunks for further processing. The wood, especially branches and waste material, was used to burn the bodies of those who died at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The tree trunks were taken away to sawmills, where they were made into props to support the ceilings in mines. In the spring and summer of 1943, most of the prisoners were sent to remove trees brought down by wind and frost. The work was organised as follows: first a rectangle was marked out along the existing cuttings and clearings so that the respective guards would be able to see each other. Therefore, the prisoners first had to remove any branches blocking the line of sight along the sides of the rectangle. Next the SS men took up positions along the clearings that had been marked out, and the prisoners set about cutting down the trees with saws and axes, removing branches, and carrying the wood to spots from where it could be carted away. Prisoners were also frequently put to work cleaning and repairing forest roads so that carts and trucks could get in.
For several weeks, there was also a demolition detachment of approximately 20 prisoners. It was assigned to dismantle old houses and farm buildings in the vicinity. Its major job was to reclaim bricks, which were cleaned of any remaining mortar and stacked in piles. Some prisoners also worked sporadically digging ditches and spreading lime on the local meadows.
The sub-camp's staff numbered 20 SS men. SS-Unterscharführer Franz Baumgartner held the post of commander. There are differing accounts of him; some say he behaved decently towards the prisoners, while others say the opposite and he mistreated the prisoners whilst also remaining tolerant to his staff shooting the prisoners whilst trying to 'escape'. At least once, he took the side of a Polish prisoner who had gotten into conflict with Lageraltester van Hofe. Taking the opportunity, both Poles and Jews testified that van Hofe had helped SS men arrange prisoner escapes to give the SS men a pretext to use their weapons, after which he would drink alcohol with them.
Baumgartner then held an inquiry, and the Lageraltester was thus stripped of his function and assigned to a penal company. How many prisoners fell victim to such provocations is not known, there were presumably at least three of them. The bodies of prisoners who were shot or died in the sub-camp were sent to the morgue at Auschwitz. The first time was on February 11th, 1943, when a body of a soviet prisoner was brought there, and the last time was on June 28th. In that period, a total of 21 bodies from Kobier were delivered to Auschwitz, although it is not known if that figure includes all of the fatalities.
The lives of the prisoners were not much different than the familiar drill at Auschwitz or Auschwitz-Birkenau. The prisoners worked 6 days a week, often in pouring rain or low temperatures. Food, initially delivered from the parent camp, and later prepared on the premises, was not different in quality than the food issued in other parts of the Auschwitz complex. Similarly, clothing was bad and worn.
On August 28th, 1943, a commando of 26 prisoners went out to work for the last time; therefore, this is presumably the date the camp was disbanded at the end of August. The prisoners who still remained in the camp at that time were transferred to Auschwitz, and British prisoners of war took their places at the end of the year.
Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.