Location: Monowice near Oświęcim, Poland
Camp Commandant: SS-Hauptsturmführer Heinrich Schwarz
Number of Prisoners: around 11,000
Employer in Charge: IG Farbenindustrie
Dates of Camps Existence: October 1942 to January 1945
In 1942, an area of land in the Polish village of Monowice (Monowitz in German) was selected for the construction of a camp to hold around 5,000 civilian workers to work at the IG Farben plant. The camp’s original name was Lager IV Dorfrand, the Lager prefix relating to the IG Farben Werk Kamps’ numerical structure. However, in late 1942, a decision was made to house Auschwitz prisoners in the camp instead. As the camp had not been completed at this time, and the lives and living conditions of concentration camp prisoners could be treated much more cheaply than civilian workers, a logistical decision was made to house more prisoners in much fewer barracks, around 1/3 less living space in total. This meant that there would be 2 prisoners to a bunk on average.
In this way, the sub-camp of Auschwitz was created, directly subordinate to the administration of Auschwitz camp I. Before the camps establishment, prisoners were already sent daily from Auschwitz to Monowitz via trucks that passed over the main bridge that crossed the Sola river into the old town, in full view of the town’s population. However, this changed following council protests and from June 1941, prisoners departed by train near the Auschwitz camp and left at the Dwory train station at the north east perimeter of the IG Farben complex. It was clear that to improve the output of work from the prisoners, they would have to be moved to a location on the borders of the plant.
The first 2,000 prisoners to arrive at the new camp, now known as Monowitz, or Buna Monowitz, were mostly Jews and some German criminals who were sent to be kapos. By December 1942, the camp population rose to around 3,500 and 6,000 by mid-1943. The growth in population added to the sanitary problem in the camps early days. There were no proper washing facilities for either showering or for clothing. To cope with the expected rise in prisoner numbers, 2 large extension plans began. Firstly, 7 barracks were built at the beginning of 1943 and 2 further construction projects in the summer. As part of the extension, the SS barracks were moved to a new site at the west of the camp, just outside the fence. The extension works meant that Buna Monowitz was now larger than the main camp at Auschwitz I with 60 barracks now in operation.
At first, food was delivered on trucks from the main camp. It was typical camp food, watery soup with little to no nutrition or meat. Eventually in February 1943, the camp kitchen opened in Monowitz. In the morning, the prisoners received coffee with a small piece of bread. The next meal was issued in the evening following roll call. This was also soup, usually issued with a potato. Some work details were issued sausage 2 or 3 times a week, and on occasions, prisoners would find a sympathetic civilian worker who would leave rations in their work places. However, those caught with food that wasn’t issued could result in death.
IG Farben paid the SS 4RM per day for each adult skilled worker and 3RM per unskilled worker. On average, the life expectancy of a prisoner at Monowitz could be between 3 to 4 months, and much less for those assigned to hard labour such as coal mining or excavation works.
The work consisted of ground levelling the vast area that the plant would inhabit, construction of roads and the physical sorting and management of building materials that were constantly bought into the plant by trains. Many prisoners died by accident working on the construction sites, primarily because of the complete lack of provisions made for their welfare. In cases where prisoners would survive an accident, they would certainly no longer be fit for work and would have to go to the camps hospital where selections to be sent to Birkenau would be regular. An estimated 1,600 prisoners died during work or at the camp hospital and a further 11,000 were selected as unfit for work and subsequently died through injection or gassing at Auschwitz or Auschwitz-Birkenau.
On November 22nd, 1943, Himmler rearranged the organisational structure of Auschwitz and created a new administrational centre. The camp now consisted of Auschwitz I (main camp), Auschwitz-Birkenau, which also became the administration for the agricultural sub-camps and Auschwitz III Monowitz that became the administration for all industrial sub-camps. A further change was made in December 1944 when Auschwitz-Birkenau became subordinate to the main camp at Auschwitz leaving Auschwitz III Monowitz as the only other independent camp in the Auschwitz system.
Towards the end of 1944, the location of IG Farben in Monowitz that had originally been chosen for its safety away from Allied bombing raids, was now exposed from the Italian airfields now occupied by the British and Americans. Several bomb shelters were constructed around the plant and camps for use of SS and civilians. The first bombing raid occurred on August 20th, 1944, and the last of 4 prolonged attacks was on December 26th, 1944. Many werk kamps were hit and some destroyed in the attacks, however parts of the IG Farben plant that were damaged soon resumed functioning again.
Plans to expand the Monowitz camp to its east side had been ongoing throughout 1944. Construction had started and some buildings were in various stages of development, however none were ever used before the evacuation.
On January 18th, 1945, those prisoners who could march out of the camp were escorted under armed guard and on foot to the Gleiwitz II sub-camp that had been evacuated shortly before. Prisoners stayed on average 1 or 2 nights before heading to Buchenwald and Mathausen by rail. Some prisoners managed to escape from the columns en route, hiding in farms or houses until the Red Army liberated the areas. Most prisoners who tried to escape were shot to death.
Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.