Location: Lędziny, Poland
Camp Commandant: SS-Unterscharführer Alois Wedelin Frey
In Late January to early February 1944, the Günthergrube sub-camp was established at the Piast hard coal mine and the new Günthergrube mine under construction in the town of Lędziny about 24 kilometres from Auschwitz. The mines which IG Farbenindustrie AG acquired in February 1941, were to supply coal for the IG Farben factory being built in Monowice (Monowitz), near Auschwitz. The sub-camp was under the administration of Auschwitz III Monowitz.
On January 31st, 1944 just prior to the camps establishment, SS-Hauptscharführer Otto Moll, then Commandant of the sub-camp at the Furstengrube mine, conducted a selection at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Around 300 prisoners were subsequently sent to Günthergrube as a result. Around 95% were Jews from Będzin, Sosnowiec and Zawiercie, as well as from the Netherlands and France. There were just a dozen or so non Jewish prisoners, mainly Germans and Poles. In late 1944, larger transports were sent to the sub-camp consisting of Jews deported from Hungary and Jews bought to Auschwitz on July 31st, 1944 from the Lublin Majdanek sub-camp in Bliżyn. At this point, the population of the Günthergrube sub-camp reached about 600 prisoners. There were still 586 prisoners there on January 19th 1945, a few days before it was shut down.
On May 22nd, 1944, around 40 SS guards from the Auschwitz III Third Guard Company were assigned to the sub-camp. Unterscharführer Alois Wedelin Frey was the commandant until it dissolved in January 1945.
The first prisoners were put into 2 barracks in an older camp for civilian forced labourers, called the Lager Heimat; the camp was located between the old Piast and the new Günthergrube mine. A single barbed wire fence, with watch towers at the corners, surrounded the rectangular compound. Prisoners only stayed at Lager Heimat for five months and from February to June 1944, the prisoners built a new sub-camp closer to the Günthergrube mine. The new sub-camp, Lager Günther III was designed to house concentration camp prisoners. brick watchtowers overlooked the square compound from the corners of a 3-meter brick wall and ten brick barracks were built inside the camp, including three to house prisoners and one as the hospital, although construction was still not completed by January 1945.
The prisoners who worked outside of the sub-camp were divided into two basic labour squads: Detachment I and Detachment II. About 120 prisoners from Detachment I worked extracting hard coal in the Piast mine and also working on construction of the new Günthergrube mine. Prisoners in Detachment II worked on the new sub-camp, basically levelling the site and delivering building materials to the sites.
On March 1st, 1944, Szymon Lewenstein, born in Berlin and bought to Auschwitz on August 1st, 1943, escaped when he was outside the camp working in Detachment I. In April or May 1944, a group of five Jews, most of them from Będzin, planned an escape, but failed most probably as they were betrayed by a civilian foreman or SS man who was let in on the plans in order for it to succeed.
One night, the SS guards surrounded the sub-camp and conducted an additional roll call with their truck lights beaming. they read out the names of the five prisoners and took them to Auschwitz I for interrogation. A week or so later, they were bought back to the sub-camp and hanged in front of the other prisoners.
Evacuations began in December 1944 with the removal of Polish prisoners. The remaining prisoners stayed at Günthergrube until January 18th, 1945. Even on the day of evacuation, prisoners still worked as normal in the day and hastily evacuated in the evening. Around 20 prisoners from the sick bay were sent to the Furstengrube sub-camp where they perished in the barracks that were set on fire before the SS retreated.
On the night of January 18th, 1945 at about 10:00pm, all the remaining prisoners, around 560, were escorted out of the camp by 40 SS men. Eventually reaching prisoners from other sub-camps at the Gleiwitz II sub-camp, 2500 prisoners were once again marched away with around 1900 dying before reaching their destination. The majority from the Günthergrube camp.
On February 25th, 1947, Alois Frey, the former commandant was handed over to the Polish government for crimes committed at Auschwitz. On March 30th, 1948, the Kraków District Court sentenced him to six years in prison. He was released in 1953. The lack of witnesses meant he was not given a bigger sentence.
Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.