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Jawischowitz

Location: Brzeszcze-Jawiszowice, Poland
Camp Commandants: SS-Unterscharführer Wilhelm Kowol, SS-Hauptscharführer Josef Remmele, SS-Unterscharführer Horst Buss

In the first half of 1942, the German government concern Reichswerke Hermann Göring (RWHG) entered into a contract with the SS Business administration Main Office (WVHA), under which the Auschwitz concentration camp was to provide 6,000 prisoners to the Brzeszcze-Jawiszowice (Jawischowitz) hard coal mine, which they owned. The mine authorities and the management of Auschwitz prepared barracks in which to put prisoners, and the SS guarded the buildings.

The first transport of 150 Jewish prisoners arrived on August 15th, 1942. The sub-camps population grew steadily and reached approximately 2,500 prisoners in mid-1944; 1,988 were there on January 17th, 1945. Most of the prisoners were Jews from Poland and Western Europe, while Poles, Russians, and Germans made up most the others.

Administratively, the Jawischowitz Sub-Camp was under the command of the main camp of Auschwitz until November 22nd, 1943; after that it came under Auschwitz III Monowitz. SS-Unterscharführer Wilhelm Kowol was the commandant for two years, he also served at Flossenburg and at Auschwitz as well as at the Auschwitz sub-camp of Trzebinia. SS-Hauptscharführer Josef Remmele, took over from Kowol in July 1944 and remained in command until the camp shut down. He had already served at Dachau, Auschwitz and at the Auschwitz sub-camp of Eintrachthütte. Both of these commandants were brutal by nature. Kowol would get drunk and shoot towards prisoners. He also participated in selections.

Jawischowitz was infamous among Auschwitz prisoners. Working conditions were extremely hard, and mortality was high. The living barracks were overcrowded. The portions of food issued to prisoners were small and low in calorie intake. Prisoners often searched in the camp rubbish for food scraps or for bits thrown away by people who would pass by. It was not uncommon for prisoners to eat grass outside of the camp on the way to work. If they were caught, they would be beaten by the SS.

The camp hospital mainly contained prisoners who had been injured on the job, as well as those suffering from starvation, diarrhea, ulcerations, pneumonia and typhus. Every few weeks or so, SS doctors would conduct selections in the sick room. Prisoners found unfit for work, sometimes over 100 of them, were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where most were killed in the gas chambers. Others would be injected with phenol injections to the heart. SS doctor Horst Fischer usually conducted the selections, and mine director Otto Heine also participated in one. From the end of October 1942 through to December 1944, at least 1,800 prisoners were sent back to Auschwitz. New transports replenished the camp population. Te bodies of murdered prisoners or those who had died of hunger and overwork were also trucked away to the crematoriums of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Some prisoners went to the wires, meaning they committed suicide by throwing themselves on the sub-camps electric fence.

80% of Jawischowitz prisoners worked in the mine, most of the underground, the rest on the surface; underground they dug, loaded and hauled coal, drove and shored up new tunnels, and reclaimed shoring materials from cave-ins. Mine employees and prisoner foreman, mostly German, supervised the work; the SS men went below on to make spot inspections. With few exceptions, the German supervisors were hostile towards the prisoners, suspecting them of being averse to work and prone to sabotage. Some of them beat the prisoners under any pretext or without any reason at all. In contrast, almost all the Polish foremen tried to male the work easier for the prisoners, despite the danger of punishment.

Deaths and injuries occurred frequently in the mines, quite aside from the acts that supervisors perpetrated. Cave-ins and other accidents were common. Mentally broken prisoners also committed suicide, sometimes by throwing themselves under the locomotives traveling through the galleries. Prisoners often returned to camp with bodies of their fellow prisoners on their shoulders.

On the surface, in what was called the 'yard', several dozen to well over a hundred prisoners were generally put to work per month unloading and transporting wood, rails, and other materials needed to do the work underground, cleaning the mine grounds, sorting coal, or performing  works at similar workstations. Several dozen young Hungarian Jews worked in the sorting plant at Brzeszcze in 1944, including some children under 14 years old.

Most prisoners who worked above ground worked building the Andreas Electric Power Plant in Brzeszcze and expanding various types of mine structures at Jawischowitz. The administration of RWHG had contracted construction work to the following companies: Franz Galehr, Fiebig, Gleitbau Klotz & Co, Hans Schmidt, Jinz und Korring, Kreuz & Lösch Oppeln, Kurt Hein, Norddeutsche Hoch u. Tiedbau and Riedel & Sohn from Bielitz. In consultation with the Auschwitz authorities, the mine leased prisoners labour to those companies. Almost all the foregoing companies were under the German Mine and Steelmill Construction Company, Deutsche Bergwerke und Hüttenbau Gesellschaft (DBHG).

On the surface, besides SS men, the prisoners were supervised by civilian foremen, Wehrmacht soldiers, plant guards and members of the olunteer auxiliary guard service. Prisoners were treated so badly. at the electrical plant construction sire that many called the place a 'death trap'.

Both inside Jawischowitz as well asnat their work sites, prisoners tried to improve their situation as best they could. Some of them organised blankets, shoes and other items from the sub-camp or from the mine and exchanged them with Polish workers for food products. In the winter, when there was not enough fuel to heat the barrack rooms, prisoners would bring pieces of coal from the mine in their pockets or up their sleeves. Some prisoners put to work in the winter at construction sites tried to protect themselves from the cold and wind by putting on what were called 'under shirts' under their clothes, meaning sheets from paper cement sacks torn in advance. Not infrequently, the SS men would discover these types of illegal action by prisoners and severely punish them.

Prisoner underground units operated at Jawischowitz in 1943 and 1944, headed by several dozen Austrian, German, Polish and Russian prisoners. Well over 100 prisoners cooperated with them. In consultation with members of underground organisations at Auschwitz and members of the Polish socialist party's combat group operating at Brzeszcze Jawischowitz, they conducted sabotage operations in the mine, tried to help sick prisoners as well as they could, took care of the young, and prepared escapes. Several prisoners escaped successfully with help from the inhabitants of Brzeszcze Jawischowitz, and nearby areas, not only Polish Socialist Party (PPS) activists but also members of the Home Army (AK), Polish Workers Party (PPR), Peasant Battalions (BCh), as well as people who did not belong to any underground organisations, despite the risks to their lives. Unsuccessful escapes often led to the deaths of both the escapee and those who rendered assistance.

In the final months of 1944, the SS men sent almost all the Poles as well as some of the Russians and Germans from Jawischowitz to Mauthausen and Buchenwald. The sub-camp's final evacuation was in January 1945, and 1,948 prisoners were joined to the prisoner columns evacuated from Birkenau. The SS men shot prisoners who could not keep up with the march. Some of the Jawischowitz sub-camp prisoners were sent to Mauthausen and some to Buchenwald and its sub-camps.

Josef Remmele was tried by an Allied court in West Germany and executed.

Jawischowitz the sub-camp of Auschwitz
The last remaining relic from the sub-camp, the camp floodlights
Photo by Michael Challoner ©

 

Sources

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

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