MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

Living conditions and number of victims

After repeated memos and complaints, SS-Obersturmbannführer Gerhard Maurer, who was responsible for the employment of concentration camp prisoners, traveled to Oświęcim on February 10, 1943. He promised IG Farben the prompt supply of another thousand prisoners, and the systematic “exchanging” of those no longer capable of hard labor at the factory. More than 10 thousand prisoners fell victim to selection during the period that the camp was in operation. They were taken to the hospital in the main camp, where most of them were killed by lethal injection of phenol to the heart, or to Birkenau, where some were liquidated after so-called “re-selection” in the BIIf prison hospital or—in the majority of cases—murdered immediately in the gas chambers. More than 1,600 prisoners other prisoners died in the hospital in Monowice, and several dozen were shot at the construction site or hanged in the camp. Summing up these figures and adding several hundred known victims in the Buna labor detail, a total of about 10 thousand Auschwitz concentration camp prisoners thus lost their lives as a result of working for IG Farben.
The number of victims of the camp in Monowice cannot be attributed solely to the difficult living conditions that were typical of almost all the components of the Auschwitz complex. Although the barracks were as overcrowded as those in Birkenau, the ones in Monowice at least had windows and were heated in the winter. An additional portion of watery soup—the so-called “Buna-Suppe”—served as a supplement, however minimal, to the insufficient food rations. It therefore seems reasonable to assume that the main reason for the high death rate among the prisoners in the Monowice camp resulted from the desire by factory management to maintain a high work rate, and that this desire was expressed in the instructions given to foremen. In practical terms, the foremen were in charge of the various labor details, and they constantly demanded that the capos and SS men enforce higher productivity by the prisoners—by beating them. The management of the IG Farben plants approved such methods, as indicated by, among other things, reports sent from Monowice to corporate headquarters in Frankfurt am Main. Maximilian Faust, the engineer in charge of construction, repeatedly stated in these reports that the only way to keep prisoner labor productivity at a satisfactory level was through the use of violence and corporal punishment. While declaring his own opposition to “flogging and mistreating prisoners to death,” Faust nevertheless added that “achieving the appropriate productivity is out of the question without the stick.”

The fact that the prisoners worked more slowly on the average than German construction workers, despite the beatings, was a source of irritation and dissatisfaction to factory management. This led to repeated requests to the camp authorities for increased numbers of SS men to supervise the prisoners, and for the supply of “more energetic capos.” Soon afterwards, a group of specially chosen German common criminal capos was sent to Monowice. When these steps failed to yield tangible results, IG Farben officials proposed the introduction of a “rudimentary piecework system” and a motivational scheme including the right to wear watches, longer hair (rejected in practice), the payment of scrip that could be used in the camp canteen (which offered cigarettes and other low-value trifles for sale), and free visits to the camp bordello (which opened in the Monowice camp in 1943).

However, these steps had hardly any real effect on prisoner productivity. Only in December 1944, at the conference in Katowice, was attention paid to the true causes of low prisoner labor productivity: the motivational system was characterized as ineffective and the capos as “good,” but it was admitted that the prisoners worked slowly simply because they were hungry.

To an enormous degree, of course, the SS men from the garrison in Monowice were responsible for the conditions that prevailed in the camp. SS-Obersturmführer Vinzenz Schöttl held the post of Lagerführer during the period when Monowice functioned as one of the many Auschwitz sub-camps. In November 1943, after the reorganization of the administrative system and the division of Auschwitz into three quasi-autonomous components, the camp in Monowice received a commandant of its own. This was SS-Hauptsturmführer Heinrich Schwarz, who until then had been the head of the labor department and Lagerführer in the main camp. At Monowice, he was given authority over the Jawischowitz, Neu-Dachs, Fürstengrube, Janinagrube, Golleschau, Eintrachthütte, Sosnowitz, Lagischa, and Brünn (Bohemia) sub-camps. Later, the directors of new sub-camps opened at industrial facilities in Silesia and Bohemia answered to him.

In May 1944, the headquarters of a separate guard battalion (SS-Totenkopfsturmbann KL Auschwitz III) was established in Monowice. It consisted of seven companies, who were on duty in the following sub-camps:

1 Company – Monowitz,

2 Company – Golleschau, Jawischowitz,

3 Company – Bobrek, Fürstengrube, Günthergrube, Janinagrube,

4 Company – Neu-Dachs,

5 Company – Eintrachthütte, Lagischa, Laurahütte, Sosnowitz II,

6 Company – Gleiwitz I, II and III,

7 Company – Blechhammer.

In September 1944, a total of 1,315 SS men served in these companies. The 439 of them who made up 1 Company were stationed at Monowice, and included not only guards but also the staffs of the offices and stores that saw to the needs of the remaining sub-camps.