Location: Sławęcice, Poland
Camp commandant: SS-Hauptsturmführer Otto Brossmann, SS-Unterscharführer Kurt Klipp
Number of prisoners: 4,115
Employer in charge: Oberschlesische Hydrierwerke AG
Dates of camp's existence: from 1st April 1944 until 21st January 1945
On the April 1st, 1944, the Auschwitz III administration officially set up the Blechammer sub-camp in Sławęcice, Poland. The first transports to the camp under the Auschwitz administration were 3000 men and 200 women.
The highest total in the sub-camps history reached over 4,500 prisoners (from 15 countries in Europe). Only the sub-camp at Monowitz held more prisoners.
As the camp was surrounded by the dense forest, the security fences were built almost 4 meters high to prevent prisoners climbing trees and jumping over to escape. There were 25 barracks inside the camp including a toilet block, a place to wash in the mornings, a storage barrack, camp workshop and a bath house.
SS-Hauptsturmführer Otto Brossmann and Untersturmführer Kurt Klip, his deputy commanded the 7th Guard Company who were responsible for looking after the camp.
Overcrowding was a problem and the living quarters were very similar to Birkenau. Prisoners had about 15 square feet per person on 3 decker bunks. The amount of toilets for the prisoners were hopelessly inadequate. The poor diet in the camp meant many prisoners suffered from diarrhoea and restrictions of use made it even more unbearable.
Only thin stripped pyjamas and wooden clogs were issued for clothing in the harsh Polish winter and organising of extra layers or warmer clothes was strictly forbidden. Daily checks were made by the SS to see if anyone was illegally wearing clothes or paper underneath the striped uniform. If caught violating this order, prisoners were subject to beatings.
Like most of the sub-camps, the food was on level with a starvation diet and some days, prisoners did not eat at all. Reports relating to punishments from the camp that survived the war were mostly to do with prisoners organising extra food outside of meal times. 2 barracks were dedicated to the camp hospital where the average number of patients admitted was around 100. Sick prisoners avoided being admitted to the hospital whenever possible as the SS orderlies in charge would often beat them unconscious or chase them out of the barracks.
The Jewish doctors who worked in the camp hospital were also beaten daily. The Jews were also aware that most of the patients sent to the hospital would soon be selected for death and sent to Birkenau to be gassed.
Blechammer had its own crematorium so the bodies of prisoners who died or were executed at work would not have to be shipped of to Birkenau. During the camps existence, around 250 prisoners would have to walk over 5 kilometres to the Synthetic Gasoline Factory that was owned by the German company ‘Oberschleische Hydrierwerke’. As in the man camp of Auschwitz, prisoners were selected to play in an orchestra that escorted their journey to work in the mornings and on their return during the evening.
Several detachments of around 200 prisoners were established and then assigned within the many construction companies within the large factory complex. The majority of work undertaken was of an unskilled nature such as heavy groundwork, building construction, resurfacing and creating roads and the unloading of heavy materials. Like in other camps, horses were taken from the camp labour force towards the end of 1944. Prisoners then had the task of pulling waggons and tractors themselves. Between 8-10 male and female workers were whipped relentlessly whilst harnessed to the waggons or tractors.
Work in the factory lasted for at least 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, with the exception of every second Sunday when the prisoners had to work on construction duties at the sub-camp.
Allied bombing increased towards the end of 1944 and many unexploded bombs littered the area of the Hydrierwerke plant. Prisoner detachments were formed to remove the potentially explosive bombs that failed to detonate on impact. This resulted in several fatalities as no provisions were made by the SS or the factory for prisoner safety.
Blechammer had some of the strictest discipline in the Auschwitz sub-camp system. Random beatings were daily and seen as part of camp life. No infringement was necessary to receive them. This could have been as many as 25 lashes officially, but on occasions this figure would be much greater. Some prisoners were sent to isolated bunkers in the camp or even executed if the SS suspected acts of sabotage. The SS considered acts such as organising an extra potato for the soup as sabotage.
On 21st January 1945, 4,000 prisoners were sent on foot wearing just pyjamas and clogs in the deep snow to the Gross Rosen concentration camp. The death march took 10 days in total. 800 prisoners were executed or died on the journey and left at the sides of the road. Polish villagers buried the corpses where they fell and commemorated many with a grave marking.
Many original features of the Blechammer Sub-Camp can still be seen today. Much of the camp fence has been preserved, the brick watchtowers have mostly survived as they are protected by the thick woodland. The barracks were mostly destroyed in the 1950’s but the brick foundations litter the area by the rail line at the perimeter edge.
Not many tourists visit the area but a small memorial has been erected with tourist notice boards giving a short history of the camp. The former camp crematorium has been renovated to show how it looked, with few original features remaining. Although its not signposted, the road which prisoners walked to the Hydrierwerke factory can still be followed. The journey is marked by several SS Bomb shelters that appear every few yards on the road. The large SS bomb shelter at the edge of the camp also remains fully intact but is off limits to the public.
The factory itself still has many original buildings from the 1940’s, many of which constructed by the prisoners. The former camp fence still surrounds the plant in places, particularly at the entrance.
Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.