Location: Stara Kuźnia, Bytom-Halemba Poland
Camp Commandants: SS-Hauptscharführer Otto Moll, SS-Oberscharführer Max Schmidt
In February 1941, IG Farbenindustrie AG purchased the old coal mine known as Altanlage in Mysłowice to produce hard coal for powering the large factories in Monowitz. The first prisoners sent to work at the mine were mainly Russian POW’s as well as Jewish slave labourers, however the mine would not be given sub-camp status until 1943 when it became subordinate to Auschwitz III Monowitz.
Before the war, the old mine had been shut for many years as the tunnels were far to dangerous to use. By 1943, construction began on a new mine that would eventually yield a much greater output of coal. The new mine was to be called Fürstengrube Neuanlage and the sub-camp named Fürstengrube.
Rudolf Höss agreed terms with representatives of IG Farben for an eventual capacity of 1,300 prisoners, skilled and none skilled to live and work at the camp to be selected and sent from Auschwitz. To accommodate this figure, a new camp would have to be built next to the mine. Jews who were already living in the force labour camp near by known as Lager Ostland were forced to construct the new accommodation, which was to be square in shape, and have approximately 18 brick and wooden buildings with 4 brick watch towers in each corner.
Between September 4th 1943 and July 1944, the prisoner population rose from just 129 to approximately 1,200. Jews from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Greece were represented at Fürstengrube with a few Polish political prisoners joining later on in 1944. The SS numbers rose from 47 to 64 by the end of 1944.
SS-Hauptscharführer Otto Moll became the camps first commandant who would become known as the most strictest and brutal in the sub-camp system. Moll also worked for a time at Gleiwitz and was head of the crematoriums at Birkenau on 2 separate occasions, eventually leaving Fürstengrube in March 1944 to prepare for the Hungarian actions at Birkenau. This is where he was to supervise the gassing and burning of corpses. Upon learning of his departure back to Birkenau, Moll and other SS men were celebrating with vodka when he encountered a prisoner at random in the camp. Moll pushed the man in the water tank which was inside the camp grounds and shot him dead. Many of the SS drank heavily in the evenings so prisoners would try and remain incognito to avoid similar unprovoked fates.
In March 1944, Moll handed the command to his number 2 in charge, Max Schmidt who was in his mid-twenties. He had been wounded in active combat and no longer able to join the front lines before joining the ranks at Fürstengrube. Schmidt soon settled in the town at Mysłowice and married a civilians daughter and lived close to the camp. He made Herman Josef the Oberkapo who was influential in manipulating Schmidt to the prisoners advantage. Although after the war, Josef testified at his trial stating he was not the sadist that Moll was.
Escape attempts were rare but did happen from time to time. One of the block seniors had led a group of German Jews to dig a tunnel going north underneath the camp fence between blocks A and B. The SS had caught a prisoner inside and subsequently arrested a total of 5 prisoners responsible for the attempt. After a few days of interrogation, the prisoners returned to the camp after being severely beaten to face newly erected gallows.
On January 19th 1945, the sub-camp was evacuated and all prisoners who could walk were sent on foot to the sub-camp of Gleiwitz II. The journey took just over 24 hours where they stayed for a further night until they were loaded into open rail cars and sent on to Mittelbau-Dora following Mauthausen’s reluctance to accept them. From 4,000 prisoners sent to Mittelbau-Dora, only 3,500 made it alive from the Gleiwitz sub-camp.
Several dozen prisoners who were too weak to leave the Fürstengrube camp were later shot by the SS who were already making advances in the town. Due to the proximity of the Russians, the SS set fire to the remaining barracks with the prisoners still inside. Miraculously, about 20 prisoners survived this massacre with 239 reported dead.
Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.