The spatial area of Auschwitz encompassed 3 main camps, Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II Birkenau to the west and Auschwitz III Monowitz further to the east. In addition, there were 45 recognised sub-camps, and possibly two more that were not listed, such as a forestry site in the early days of the main camps establishment and the rail tracks at Bieruń in late 1945 where prisoners worked clearing debris from the increased bombing raids. On the latter 2, the Auschwitz Study Group are currently researching the possibility of 2 additional sub-camps. In the area around Auschwitz III Monowitz, there were 10 work camps (werk kamps in German) that surrounded the IG Farben plant, including Lager IV that later became known as Monowitz (Auschwitz III).
All 58 camps of Auschwitz were attached to industry, either industrial such as coal mining, oil refineries and manufacturing and secondly, to agricultural lands such as land farming, plant research, animal/poultry rearing and fish farming. You can find out more about the Auschwitz sub-camps by visiting our sub-camp section.
SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler's plan was to develop Auschwitz into a model city and a hub of manufacturing and agriculture with the appropriate infrastructure for housing, buildings and transport networks to support the war effort, with particular attention to the agricultural side as an experimental project of huge proportions.
The town of Auschwitz just outside of the main camp became a sea of blue and white stripes. Prisoners in stripped pyjamas were moving around in different directions working under the most despicable conditions imaginable. Many of these prisoners were working for German owned companies who relocated to the town making use of the vast numbers of slave labour available. Large factories were built around the camp of Auschwitz I that became part of the so called Industriehof.
The Auschwitz network though, was like a spider's web reaching most of southern Poland’s natural resources, with the camp as its epicentre. As Auschwitz grew, the town expanded to manage the logistics of a new German settlement that housed up to 7,500 SS men, and a camp population that would eventually surpass the 100,000 figure. New constructions had to be built to make the town self sufficient. The land between Auschwitz I and the rail junction known as Bahnhof West was soon redeveloped to house a new bakery, power plants, storage for uniforms, munitions and several dozen warehouses.
Older buildings were reconditioned and reassigned for new uses. All of this came at a security cost. A line was drawn around the area known as the Interessengebiet that totalled 40 square kilometres. This was a security line that was impossible to get in or out without the correct documents. Barbed wire fences and check points were built around this line, with several more lines built within. Fields were laced with security wire that was purposely rigged up to draw attention to any movement that fell on its trap.
To build this new fortress, the Nazis commissioned the help of German companies who now had a presence in the town. They supplied the material for the fences and the Auschwitz camp administration supplied the labour. Wherever prisoners worked, security provisions were made to prevent escapes. Concrete camp posts with dividing slabs appeared everywhere in the town. Barbed wire was then added to the top of the fence for extra security.
The large factories would soon become a target for allied bombings and sabotage which lead to the decision for the construction of over 150 bomb shelters in and around Auschwitz (particularly the Monowitz area). The shelters were built exclusively for the use of Germans, not prisoners or Poles living in the area.
Many of these building relics still exist as evidence in the town of Oświęcim today, but rarely get noticed by the 1.72 million tourists (figure from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum 2015) who travel to Auschwitz each year. They have become saturated against urban development and have been left to rot and fall apart or simply blend into the industrial backdrops that sit behind them. They are not recognised as Auschwitz and neither protected or in some cases, respected.
By clicking on the links below, you will see some of the key areas of the Industriehof and how they appear today.
For further reading, we recommend the exceptional work carried out by Auschwitz researcher and friend of the Auschwitz Study Group, Marek Rawecki - 'Auschwitz-Birkenau Zone' ('Strefa Auschwitz-Birkenau' - in Polish). We salute the level of detail and compassion that was implemented into the research of these zones and the importance they have had on the establishment of the Auschwitz Study Group.
Michael Challoner, The Auschwitz Study Group Founder