Location: Gliwice, Poland
Camp Commandants: SS-Hauptscharführer Otto Moll, SS-Oberscharführer Friedrich Jansen, SS-Oberscharführer Richard Stolten
At some point in the March of 1944, construction began on the first sub-camp in the Polish town of Gliwice in Poland. In total, 4 sub-camps would eventually exist in the town under the German name, Gleiwitz with camp I eventually becoming the largest of the 4.
No official records of prisoner numbers survived after the war with the exception of data provided by the underground resistance movement that rose in the camp. The resistance strived to keep meticulous records of camp activity whenever possible. The Reichsbahnausbesserungswerk, also known as RAW were responsible for the repair of railways in the Reich and officials had already been in contact with the Auschwitz business administration for some time to negotiate the use of prisoner labour for use on the repair of railways. During negotiations, the RAW had agreed to subsidise the camp grounds and materials to house the prisoners. The camp population was expected to increase to over 1,000 over the following months so existing barracks at the Plaszow concentration camp in Kraków were purchased and erected on site, around 2km from the rail line where prisoners would eventually work. Living areas were created to separate the Jews from the Poles, Russians and Ukrainians.
SS-Hauptscharführer Otto Moll, who was temporarily the Commandant at the Fürstengrube camp, was put in charge until December 1944. Oberscharführer Friedrich Jansen and Oberscharführer Richard Stolten were appointed Moll’s deputies from the 6th Guard of Monowitz. The first prisoners sent to the grounds were skilled men with carpentry and building backgrounds. They had the task of building the camp for the future transports to be housed in. By April 1944, the camp was ready to accept the first transport of prisoners. This transport included Jews from Poland, Russia and the Ukraine, many of whom were skilled prisoners selected from the ranks of the Union Werke in Oświęcim (a factory in between camps I and II).
Many survivors later testified that the food rations at Gleiwitz I were much worse that what they had received at Birkenau. Starvation was the primary reason for the high death rate and selections were often made with those no longer able to work sent back to Birkenau to be gassed. A small hospital was built a few months after the sub-camp was established in an attempt to curb the high numbers of prisoners who couldn’t work. Anyone who spent more than a few days in the sick bay were usually selected to be returned to Birkenau for extermination.
SS-Oberscharführer Josef Klehr was appointed medical orderly and was directly responsible for the selections. Klehr became known as a butcher in Auschwitz who frequently killed prisoners face to face. He played a part in every conceivable step of death at Auschwitz, from pouring in the gas, to injecting lethal poison into those selected to die. Klehr also took part on the selection ramp and became the medical orderly for all of the Gleiwitz sub-camps.
Another reason for the high numbers of sick prisoners in the hospital was the treatment from the civilian foreman and SS guards. The work required by the prisoners was calculated and regimented. The area of the Wagenwerk was over 4 hectares in size and prisoners were fairly spread out working in small teams. The shifts lasts 12 hours per day although when there was a need for jobs to be completed faster, prisoners would sleep in the rail cars for a few hours before returning to work. This pattern could last over several days.
The factory overseers would specify what needed to be completed in a working day so the prisoners could rarely hide behind avoiding work even when they were not being watched. Despite this, some civilian workers would provide extra food and attempted to cover the work needed to be done to protect them from being killed. Avoiding Moll was a different proposition though. He would often walk the factory grounds and shoot prisoners, sometimes for no reason at all.
There were several escape attempts from the sub-camp and factory in 1944. On the night of August 15th, 11 Russian prisoners escaped through a tunnel. After a wide scale search, 2 Russians were recaptured and beaten under interrogation.
They were sentenced to be hanged at the Gleiwitz I Sub-Camp in front of the prisoners from both Gleiwitz I and II. Before the execution, the 2 Russians were forced to march half dead through the streets by the Wagenwerk until the SS grew tired. They were forced to wear signs around their neck saying: 'Hurrah, we have returned'.
On January 18th 1945, the sub-camp was evacuated and prisoners were marched to the Blechhammer Sub-Camp. The forced march took just over 2 and a half days in freezing temperatures. Many prisoners were shot along the way and left on the road side. Those who were too sick to leave, were left behind and shot the following day. After a few hours at Blechammer, the prisoners of Gleiwitz I were on the move again in the direction of Gross Rosen. The survivors of this arduous journey stayed at the camp for around 2 weeks before being marched to Buchenwald or Sachsenhausen in Germany.
Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.