Location: Stara Kuźnia, Bytom-Halemba, Poland
Camp commandants: SS-Oberscharführer Hans Höwner, SS-Oberscharführer Hans Mirbeth
Number of prisoners: around 500
Employer in charge: Godula Company
Dates of camp's existence: from September 1944 to January 1945
Althammer became an Auschwitz sub-camp in September 1944. However, its history began in 1940 when the Nazis began the construction of the Walter Electric Power Plant in the Polish town of Stara Kuźnia.
Originally it was only Polish people who worked at the Plant as forced labourers and a new development of brick barracks were built in the vicinity of the Power Plant to house them. In 1941, the Poles were then moved to alternative barracks to make way for Soviet Prisoners of War who were being captured in large numbers on the Eastern Front.
It is assumed that the labour construction of the camp came from the newly arrived Soviet prisoners, although it's possible a labour division from Auschwitz may have been sent to help.
The Soviets stayed at the camp for 2 years and the surviving prisoners were sent back to the main camp at Auschwitz and put to work in one of the many Gravel Pits in the town. Mortality rates were extremely high due to the hard labour, poor or lack of tools and brutality from the SS Guards and Kapos.
Following the removal of the Soviet prisoners, Italian prisoners of war (POW) were moved into the barracks for a short amount of time. No significant changes were made to the camps security, but conditions for the prisoners was generally better than what the Russians experienced.
In 1944, the Italian prisoners were moved to other barracks making way for the first transport of prisoners from Auschwitz III. The sub-camp was then created and became known as Arbeitslager Althammer. At any one time, Italian prisoners were housed there including Polish Jews from Łódź Ghetto, Czechoslovakia, Austria, France and Hungary. The first 30 prisoners arrived from Auschwitz III in an SS truck around the end of September and reached a total of 486 prisoners by the 17th January 1945.
SS Oberscharführer Hans Merbeth was appointed the Kommandant of Althammer by the administration of Auschwitz III. He replaced Oberscharführer Hans Howner due to his experience as the Largerführer at the Golleschau Sub-Camp. The security of the sub-camp was strengthened in September by enclosing double fences of barbed wire, posts and watch towers in each corner. An order was placed at the Betonwerkstattenbarracken in Oświęcim for a number of camp posts and material to be delivered to form a new fence thus creating the camp.
When this was completed, Oberscharführer Hans Merbeth confirmed with the Auschwitz III Administration that the Althammer camp was now equipped to receive the remaining prisoners. Further camp fences were later extended to increase security around the Power Plant by the order of the camp of Auschwitz III to reinforce security and minimise the possibility of escape. Older Wehrmacht and Kriegsmarine reservists were assigned to the camp to help the SS in guarding the perimeter in 3 shifts, 24 hours, 7 days a week.
The main types of work in the camp included brick laying, digging sewage ditches and heavy construction work such as digging foundations for laying cables in the hardened winter ground. It was very damp work too and no provisions were made for the welfare of prisoners. This contributed to illness and disease, however living conditions were still better than at Birkenau.
The most sort after work at Althammer was working directly for the SS in the camp. Examples of this include working in the SS Kitchen, Bath House and Cleaning. The food rations did not even comply with those at other sub-camps. So many prisoners were getting sick within just a few days so an infirmary was created that housed sick prisoners but medicine was not available.
In many cases, rest did not help and those who did not show signs of improvement were sent to Auschwitz and gassed. At times it was not possible to send sick prisoners to the main camp at Auschwitz, so in these instances the SS executed those to weak to work in the forest. This was encouraged by the camp Kommandant Hans Merbeth who was known to murder people by shootings, strangulations and beatings. Many died as a result of his and other SS soldiers abuse and their bodies were eventually sent to Birkenau to be burned.
Althammer was evacuated just before the main camp at Auschwitz was liberated on the 19th January 1945. About 350 prisoners were marched on foot to the Gleiwitz Sub-camp in the Polish town of Gliwice.
As the Red Army got closer, the remaining prisoners were sent deep into Germany, many of which finally arriving at the Bergen-Belsen camp. It is known that the SS took 150 very sick prisoners out of the Althammer camp, but no record exists of their fate. The few remaining prisoners still alive by the end of January, were liberated by the Red Army.
Information about sources we used while researching the sub-camp you can find here.