Luftwaffe Zerlegebetrieb was the scrap metal yard where Auschwitz prisoners were dismantling the planes coming from every country taking part in the war. In many testimonies prisoners were referring to this place as the ‘cemetery of the planes’. The Luftwaffe was renting the prisoners from the Auschwitz administration.
It was located halfway in between Auschwitz I and Birkenau, next to Judenrampe.
The construction of the plant started in March 1944. In the same time the prisoners were building a complex of barracks for the Luftwaffe. They built a canteen for the soldiers where the female prisoners worked.
Zerlegebetrieb was the Aussenkommando – the work unit that was sent outside the main camp. The prisoners had to walk every day to their place of work from Birkenau. However, they didn’t have to work if the temperature was below – 15 degrees Celsius due to the order of the Luftwaffe administration. The kommando had its very own SS guards. There were many of them as many of the prisoners would escape from that place.
SS-Unterscharführer Schulz was in charge of this work unit. He did not have the best reputation amongst the prisoners. There were a couple of other SS-men working there, their names remain unknown though.
The main engineer in the plant was a Luftwaffe major. The prisoners were afraid of him as he was known for beating them with a thick aluminium pipe. The attitude of the Luftwaffe soldiers towards the prisoners was much better. A lot of them helped them by giving them food or by sending letters for them.
The number of the prisoners working in Zerlegebetrieb varied from a couple of hundred to 2,000. There were 1,300 of them on average, mostly Poles and the Soviet POWs. 200 Soviet POWs became famous due to the very creative ways of escaping from that kommando.
The death rate was very high due to hard labour. The prisoners were being killed by the kapos and the SS-men, due to emaciation and the accidents that would take place during the work.
When dismantling the planes, the prisoners were able to find various things – money, food, watches and other goods. They were able to trade with the Luftwaffe soldiers and the fellow prisoners. The SS-men were well aware of this fact; therefore they would search the prisoners very often. The punishment for smuggling those things in the camp was being sent to the Penal Company. The Zerlegebtrieb prisoners also traded with the Sonderkommando – they would sell them the ammo found on the planes and receive gold in return.
Information about sources we used while researching the industrial zones of Auschwitz you can find here.