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Bahnhof West

The Bahnhof West was a freight station built by the Nazis in 1942 at the same time as the construction of Auschwitz Birkenau. The simple pre war rail lines were extended to 18 individual tracks to manage the incoming transports of people, materials and soldiers all over Poland. The scale of the building project was huge, the land had to be raised to the level of the original pre war tracks and strengthened by the Reichsbahn, and materials such as switches needed to run the complex lines had to be custom made, all of which dispels the myth that Auschwitz was chosen for its ideal rail network. Without the construction of the Bahnhof West, Auschwitz-Birkenau would not have been able to operate. The original Judenrampe arrival platform was situated within the freight station on the far left side facing in a northern direction.

A view of the original Oswiecim railway station, now disused
A view of the original Oświęcim railway station, now disused
Photo by Michael Challoner ©

At its peak, several trains would have been stationary here waiting for their turn to continue on their journey or to disembark, in the case of the prisoners. Trains often with lengths of about 1000 meters filled with human cargo would have stood here with people dying inside, from the impossible heat and suffocation in the summer, to the extreme cold and lack of provisions in the winter. In both circumstances, lack of sanitation, food and water would have killed 100's of people, if not more. The Bahnhof West freight station was an area of mass murder.


Read testimonies of Jan Mazur and Stanisław Adamczyk about working in Bahnhof West.


Some of the rail tracks led into the Industriehof zones and the factory areas, finally coming to an end at the former Tobacco Monopoly building. The (DAW) Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke had their own freight yard on the right side of the Bahnhof West looking north where they loaded cargo going into the Reich. The confiscated clothes and possessions from incoming transports were all sent from the Bahnhof West, as were prisoners being sent into the vast Auschwitz sub-camp system. At times when there were large numbers of prisoners working or from transports leading into the camp, the freight station was circled by a special guard unit. At night, the area would often be brightly lit up with huge concrete lamps beaming back down to the ground so no area could be hidden.

The rail lines still exist today and operate several daily cargo trains that pass through Poland to their European neighbours. Occasionally, passenger trains can be seen heading to the Oswiecim station just a few minutes to the north. The original Oświęcim station was also used for incoming transports on occasions, as Kitty Hart explained to Michael Challoner of the Auschwitz Study Group in 2015. In these cases, prisoners would first be sent to Auschwitz I and then subjected to a selection before being sent on to Birkenau.

One of the few disused rail lines of the Bahnhof West can still be partly made out heading south in the direction of the former Zerlegebetrieb, the Auschwitz scrap metal yard. The tracks eventually fade away until they no longer exist following years of abandonment and possible scrap metal theft. 

Map showing the location of the Bahnhof West freight station
Map showing the location of the Bahnhof West freight station
Map designed by Michael Challoner ©
         
A view of the Bahnhof West as it looks today facing directly south
A view of the Bahnhof West as it looks today facing directly south
Photo by Michael Challoner ©

Sources

Information about sources we used while researching the industrial zones of Auschwitz you can find here.