Location: Rydułtowy, Poland
Camp commandants: SS-Oberscharführer Alfred Tschiersky, SS-Oberscharführer Hans Kirschner
Number of prisoners: around 1000
Employer in charge: Hermann Göring Werke
Dates of camp's existence: from September 1944 until 19th January 1945
One of the largest shifts of prisoners from Auschwitz towards the end of 1944 was to the Charlottegrube Sub-Camp in Rydułtowy, Poland. Over 1,000 Jewish prisoners mainly of Hungarian, Romanian and Slovakian origin were eventually sent to work at the coal mine between September and October 1944, with the first transport containing approximately 200 prisoners. The last consignment of prisoners were transported on the day of the Sonderkommando revolt on October 7th when prisoners of crematorium 4 in Birkenau blew up the gas chamber during a failed break out.
The establishment of the sub-camp had actually taken a year to implement before the Reichwerke Hermann Göring (RWHG) finally agreed in the September of 1944 to send prisoners to work. Although Auschwitz was to be liberated in under 4 months from the establishment of Charlottegrube, it was not unusual for the Auschwitz Administration to construct new camps and assign workers so late in the war, as was the case in Plawy, Althammer, Bismarckhütte and others. The need to increase coal production was most likely a driving factor for the creation of the camp, although the Red Army advance was not anticipated so quickly.
The foundations of the prisoners living quarters already existed in 2 separate locations by the mine. The area had previously acted as a prisoner of war camp that had since been evacuated. Additional security was added to both sites around the camp such as extra barbed wire and 54 SS men from Monowitz’s Wachkommando (Wachkompanie 8th Guard).
As the prisoner numbers increased, a new camp was created further to the north west of the mine behind the slag heap. The locals coined the camp 'Judenlager'.
The food was the same as most sub-camps, and therefore designed to quickly emaciate the prisoners. Some of the civilian workers in the mine from the town of Rydułtowy would risk their own lives by leaving food and water in places the prisoners could find them. The civilians in the area also helped prisoners escape by providing clothes and escape passages outside of the camp zones. Towards the end of 1944, prisoners also joined forces with the Polish civilian workers to slow down the productions by re-calibrating machinery causing delays.
The Charlottegrube Sub-Camp was extremely brutal under the command of Kirschner who killed and terrorised without reason, often confusing the prisoners who felt they could live by no set rules. Kirschner’s influence spread to his SS staff who would constantly beat the prisoners or take away their food for no reason. The SS Doctor Hans Wilhelm König who often worked with Mengele on experiments with twins, and particularly electro-shock therapy on male camp inmates often visited the camp to perform selections. König would decide if prisoners could no longer work and then had them sent back to Birkenau to be gassed. New prisoners would replace them, just as they did when prisoners died. The death rate at Charlottegrube was high with as many as 40% of the prisoners dead within 3 months.
The high mortality rate persuaded Kirschner that a crematorium was needed on site for logistical purposes. The proposed site was behind the slag heap North of the mine, but it was never completed. There was no morgue to store the dead bodies at the sub-camp and it wasn’t always possible to send the corpses back to Birkenau so Kirschner ordered that on occasion, bodies were to be buried at the Rydułtowy cemetery.
Half of the prisoners worked underground in the mine and the other half on the ground in no set shifts. The average shift was supposed to be 12 hours but often stretched as high as 20 per day. In comparison to the kindness shown by many Polish civilians working along side the prisoners, many of the mine foreman were brutal in the work place and in some cases killing the prisoners.
In January 1945, probably around the 19th, the camp was evacuated but there seemed to be a miscommunication with regards to the prisoners destination. At first, the evacuation under SS escort marched the prisoners for one day towards the Oder River before turning back towards the camp the following day eventually reaching Wodzisław Śląski 2 days later. At this point, many prisoners had already fallen and were shot by the SS. The surviving prisoners were sent to Mauthausen concentration camp in open coal rail cars.
The deportations from Wodzisław Śląski met with some prisoners who evacuated Auschwitz and Birkenau. Eye witness testimony from August Korzuch, an Auschwitz prisoner, said the prisoners of Charlottegrube had appeared in much worse shape than anyone from Auschwitz. As a result of this, it is most likely that no one survived the journey to Mauthausen.
Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.