SETTING UP AUSCHWITZ-1
The Polish city of Oswiecim harks back to the XII century and has experienced a long tradition of succeeding different variants of own lettering and pronunciation in Polish, German and Czech manner. The German ‘Auschwitz’ has marked a dramatic place in the history in the matter of the Holocaust and the Second World War, yet the naming itself was not an invention of the Nazis and had the very much older history than the Third Reich. In this historical manner, the ‘Auschwitz’ geographical equivalent, which has become a symbol of the Genocide, had come into common use of the German merchants five centuries before the perimeter of the camp was sealed.
In spring and summer 1940, the Germans were extending their small system of concentration camps so that they could intimidate and exploit Poles. At the initiative of Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, Himmler’s Commissar for the Strengthening of Germandom for the Silesia region, a new concentration camp was established at the site of a Polish army barracks close to Cracow: Oświęcim, better known by its German name, Auschwitz.
Timothy Snyder (Bloodlands, 2010)
The decision to establish a concentration camp within the city of Oswiecim was not a one-time event. The infamously well-known order of Heinrich Himmler of April 27, 1940, was a little more than another stage of the long-lasting process and debates in the bureaucratic heart of the SS. Starting from December 1939, the Polish city of Oswiecim witnessed a number of supervising inspections. The SS inspectors and third-party consultants managed to examine the geographic setting, a well-developed railway chain, coal deposits on the short distance for a potential labor camp. Rudolf Höß was appointed to take control over the construction process and did become the first commandant of an upcoming concentration camp for the Polish political prisoners already on May 4, 1940.
In January 1940, Rudolf Höss, commandant of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, led the last of several SS commissions to survey the site. He approved it. Three months later, Himmler appointed Höss to command the new establishment and it took all his drive plus ingenuity to obtain the necessary materials to complete the job. Höss did not lack for labour, though: he used 300 Jews from the town to do much of the heavy manual work. Höss brought with him from Sachsenhausen thirty veteran prisoners, criminals, who served as the core of the internal prisoner administration, the kapos.
David Cesarani (Final Solution, 2015)
Long before the surrounding area become known as the ‘SS interest zone’, Höß had ordered to dishouse more than 1200 civilians, who used to live within the Zazole city district of Oswiecim before the war and the occupation. The oncoming ‘Auschwitz’ camp was planned to absorb the site of the former Polish military barracks, built in the interwar period in the independent state of Poland at that time. The following two years (1940-1942) witnessed the eviction of the citizens of the bordering streets to ‘make space’ for the SS officers and their families. For instance, the householders of the Legionow street by the Sola river were forcibly evicted from their homes. One of the villas was occupied by Höß himself already in the summer of 1940.
POLISH TOBACCO MONOPOLY BUILDINGS
The tobacco in Poland had covered a long historical way from the strange habit of one-aloners to the industrial volume of production up to the mid. XVIII century. The first dominant enterprise of this field, known as the Kaiserlich-Königliche Tabakregie (Imperial Tobacco Directorate or Austrian Tobacco Monopoly), was opened back in 1784 was a monopolist in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Subsequent to the results of the Great War (The First World War) and the Versaille Peace Treaty, Poland had gained own independence. All the former ‘imperial’ property within the new-born country was swallowed by the new state. It was a time when the taxes from the tobacco industry were boosting the national treasury and the state had a financial interest in the subsequent expansion of the money-earner, as well as the polish people granted a growing consumer demand.
At this stage, Auschwitz consisted of twenty two-storey brick barracks to hold the prisoners, plus wooden stables and a former tobacco warehouse. The barracks complex was enclosed by barbed wire and entered through a gate that was topped off with a curvaceous wrought-iron sign announcing ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, ‘work is liberating’.
David Cesarani (Final Solution, 2015)
Taking into account all the above, the year of 1919 witnessed the foundation of the ‘Department of Government Tobacco industry’ with the little more creatively different ‘Polish Tobacco Monopoly’ nomination on paper. This new state board was to be subordinated to the Ministry of Finance directly. The seized Austrian production facilities in Krakow had become a basis for a new monopoly, which succeeded to cover two dozens enterprises already in the 1920s. More than significant investments and the state authority made it possible to buy up almost every private tobacco company in Poland and to widen the presence of most of the big cities. At the year 1924 when the Polish Tobacco Monopoly had sway over the city of Oswiecim, its annual production volume did amount up to fantastic 8 billion cigarettes, 56 million cigars and 12 million kilograms of the chewing tobacco.
The foundation of the principal place of business in Oswiecim was followed by the buying out of the four concrete buildings within the Zazole city district. Three of these four were built back in 1916-1917 at the times of the Habsburg monarchy in Europe and had yet performed functions of bakery and the barracks for the workers from Galicia (part of modern Western Ukraine). The erection of the fourth building was initiated in the last year of the Great War in 1918 and then was periodically resumed until 1931.
As a result of the German occupation in 1939 and the later construction of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the buildings of the former ‘Polish Tobacco Monopoly’ served a variety of functions. The administration buildings, barracks, warehouses for goods and food, prison facilities. June 19, 1940, witnessed the forced eviction of more than 500 civilians from these buildings. This action was performed under the supervision of the local German ‘Arbeitsamt’ (labor office) with the assistance of the police. These 500 people were to become among the first prisoners of the Auschwitz camp. In wider international means, the German occupation authorities evicted polish civilians and Galician settlers from the barracks, which had been built by the Austro-Hungarian Empire with the Italian loans.
The smallest among the buildings of the former Polish Tobacco Company in Oswiecim and distanced from the other three in direction of the Legionow street was first to be built back in 1916 at the height of the First World War. The concrete facility was in use as one of the bakeries in Oswiecim up to the year 1924, when it was brought up by the ‘Polish Tobacco Monopoly’. For the span of the next 15 interwar years the building was turned into a warehouse for the tobacco production ingredients.
As a subsequent result of the German occupation of the city and the former Tobacco Monopoly facilities, the smallest one preserved its role as the warehouse. At the times of the Auschwitz camp, Germans used to store the food products for the SS guards here, sugar and flour for bread in particular. The warehouse had gained a LAGERHOUSE prison-camp-slang name and was located one through from the SS kitchen, built-in 1941-1942.
The present-day, this concrete facility, distanced from the perimeter of the Auschwitz main camp and the three other former Polish Monopoly buildings, is hardly distinguishable among the trees and greenery. Photos from the different periods can even reveal the plastic windows, yet in 2019 the windows are boarded up. The authorities of the city of Oswiecim has plans to restore the LAGERHAUS building and to open a museum devoted to the brave Polish citizens of the city and the region, who did assist the prisoners of the Auschwitz camp and participated in the resistance movement within the camp.
STABSGEBAUDE SS BUILDING
At a time when a moderate-sized building of the future LAGERHAUS did already accommodate a bakery, the years of 1916-1917 witnessed the construction of two monumental concrete facilities, opposite one another. With the initial purpose to house workers from the Galicia region, these two titans bought up by the Polish Tobacco Monopoly in 1924. The Stabsgebaude building has become a part of dramatic history as a facility where the first big group of the Auschwitz prisoners was kept back in June 1940. A few weeks before the event, commandant Rudolf Höß ordered to bring 30 German prisoners from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp to form the skeleton staff of the upcoming capo practice. These first prisoners of the Auschwitz camp were to obtain camp numbers, from 1 to 30. Yet they were accommodated within the Barack 1 within the main camp and did not experience the Stabsgebaude facility.
On June 14, 1940, the recently-established Auschwitz camp ‘accepted’ its first group of the Polish political prisoners, for whom it was initially planned. These 728 prisoners, mostly arrested students, saw a barbed-wired perimeter as their next stop after the prison in a city of Tarnow, some 80 miles to the East. Commandant Rudolf Höß gave instructions to temporarily accommodate these prisoners within a big facility of the former ‘Polish Tobacco Monopoly’. They were forced to leave the train and to get into line in a concrete platform near the warehouse, with would later be known as Unterkunftsgebaude. Some minutes later, these 728 men were ordered to rank in the courtyard of the Stabsgebaude building nearby. The SS guards managed a registration, giving camp numbers from 31 to 758 and placed the inmates within two big premises on the first floor. A few weeks from that day, these and newly arrived prisoners were brought to the main camp.
A thousand miles to the east, the Germans had begun the deportation of 728 Poles, held until then in prison in Tarnow, to the new concentration camp at Auschwitz. As the passenger train in which they were being taken to Auschwitz passed through Cracow station, the deportees heard an excited train announcer trumpet over the loudspeaker system the fall of Paris.
Martin Gilbert (The Second World War, 1989)
In the following years, the Stabsgebaude (Staff building) placed the SS administration offices, which were intentionally placed outside the perimeter of the main camp. One of the premises was also in use as the laundry for the SS guards and some others as the warehouses for use by the German personnel. Stabsgebaude building was once a placement for ‘Aufseherinnen’ (women-overseers), as well as the basement accommodated a number of Polish and German girls, who used to work as servants at the villas of the SS officers all around the city of Oswiecim.
The Stabsgebaude has preserved almost the same look, as it was used at the times of the Auschwitz camp, corrected with minor after-war renovations. It was the only of four former Polish Monopoly buildings, fenced with a barbed wire, which can be noticed on the historical photos, as well as the ranks of the SS guards. At present, the building places ‘Uczelnia Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Zawodowa im. rtm. Witolda Pileckiego w Oświęcimiu’ (The Oświęcim State Higher Vocational School named after Capt. Witold Pilecki). Witold Pilecki is a national hero of Poland, who had intentionally become a prisoner of the Auschwitz, then the leader of the camp resistance. He managed to escape in 1943 and brought the world among the first testimonies of the mass murders. After the war, he was arrested by the pro-communists and sentenced to death. His name and glory were rehabilitated only a half-century and at the present Pilecki is recognized as the National Hero of Poland and the well-known leader of the resistance against Nazis.
This very building, as well as the one opposite, was a part of a barrack site development and was put in use in 1917. The same manner as the other three buildings in this part of the city did change the ownership in 1924 to become a part of the ‘Polish Tobacco Monopoly’. Germans occupied the facility already in 1940 and used it for a variety of purposes. The building once placed some offices of the SS officers, the warehouses and even a moderate-size canteen. The very ‘Truppenwirtschaftslager’ name meant ‘Military Industrial Camp’. At varying times some premises were used to detain inmates. If you make your way inside the building, you can find a historical relict under the glass. Preserved notes from the seven prisoners, that were revealed within a wall after the war and dated 20 September 1944. The building itself serves as one of the bulks of the ‘Oświęcim State Higher Vocational School named after Capt. Witold Pilecki’.
The construction of this concrete giant was initiated back in 1918 as the last among the four pre-planned facilities of such kind within the Zazole city district of Oswiecim. In contrast to the beforecomers, the building was completed only years later in 1931, under the supervision and thanks to the investments of the ‘Polish Tobacco Monopoly’. The final phases of the works included the concrete railway unloading platform, which was to ended the branch line, connecting the site with the main station of Oswiecim. This very ramp witnessed the first group of the Polish political prisoners, who we brought to Auschwitz in June 1940.
The first transport to Auschwitz was made up of Polish political prisoners from Cracow; they were sent on 14 June 1940 and given the numbers 31-758. In November 1940 the camp became an execution site for Poles.
Timothy Snyder (Bloodlands, 2010)
Years later, a number of the Auschwitz survivors would characterize this unloading platform and the Unterkunftsgebaude building as the first stage of the imprisonment in Auschwitz and a part of the camp. In 1941 the ramp was used to deliver prisoners to the ‘IG Farben Buna-Werke’ factory, also known as Auschwitz III Monowitz, six kilometers to the East. Such daily transport routine had been managing until the late fall of 1942 and the construction of the ‘barrack camp’ on the outskirts of the factory.
The Unterkunftsgebaude building, the biggest among the four concrete giants of the former ‘Polish Tobacco Monopoly’, was mainly used as the warehouse. Its spacious premises were used to store the goods, which had already been sorted within the infamous ‘Canada’ section within the Auschwitz Birkenau. At varying periods, anywhere from 100 to 150 prisoners at the time were appointed to check the belongings for values and then to sort it for storing. The Unterkunfstgebaude facility was also a storage for the goods confiscated from the local citizens, in particular from the city of Oswiecim. In the spring of 1941, the belongings of the forcibly evicted villagers of the demolished Brzezinka were delivered to this very facility for sorting. The newly appointed SS officers, who were to come to Oswiecim used to set up new homes with the furniture and homeware, had been previously confiscated from polish citizens and those, who were shot, starved to death or asphyxiated in the gas chambers in Auschwitz.
At the times of the Auschwitz camp, the Unterkunftsgebäude facility was generally considered as no less a privilege than the infamous ‘Canada’ section in Birkenau. Its ‘employees’ among the prisoners were in most cases accommodated and brought here from Barack №23 of the main camp and were rarely involved in any physical work beyond sorting. The staff had access to the camp resources, food in particular. At some ‘intense’ periods in Birkenau, the workers of the Unterkunftsgebaude were directly involved in work within the Judenrampe. In August 1943 the workers were sent to assist the liquidation of two big ghettos in Sosnowiec and Będzin to the North. By the time two ghettos were liquidated, apr. 35 000 of its inhabitants were gassed in Auschwitz. On July 21, 1944, two workers from the Unterkunftsgebaude facility managed to escape the camp.
It’s of historical importance to note, that one of the premises of the Unterkunftsgebaude building used to locate the Auschwitz camp topography. With some minor exceptions, even the SS guards were not permitted to enter the site. This typography used to print a diverse variety of documents, enquired by the camp administration and Kommandantur, such as passes for guards, SS identification records, work assignments, papers of the civil consultants, taken into service on factories within the ‘SS interest zone’. The female staff of this typography among the Slovak Jews succeeded to contact the camp resistance movement and to give deliver confidential accounts on the mass murders in Auschwitz. In 1943 the typography was moved to the Schutzhaftlagerweiterung Barack camp to the North.
THE CAMP BAKERY
The camp bakery of the Auschwitz-1 main camp was used to supply the prisoners and partially the SS guards with bread. The building was constructed to the West of the main perimeter and across the road to the former Polish Tobacco Monopoly buildings in 1942. This house of bricks with a large wooden enlargement was set up by the prisoners at the site, had been previously considered as a potential location for the Auschwitz II, eventually erected near Brzezinka village. Yet after 1942, a spacious site beyond the bakery was meant to be occupied with a new barrack camp, ultimately build to the North and known as the ‘Erweiterungslager’.
At the present day, the territory to the West of the bakery is still no more than fields with the Birkenau to the North-West and the Rajsko village to the South. The building itself has been preserved pretty the same appearance as it was built in 1942 and still used as a bakery, seven decades after the war. The after-war period witnessed the demolition of the wooden wing, once perpendicular to the main building. The main brick facility itself has been enlarged and the second chimney can be now noticed in contrast to the archive photos.
A WOODEN CANTEEN AND THE SS CASINO
Progressively as the Auschwitz camp had been enlarging and the new Birkenau camp was set up in 1941, the number of the SS guards was increasing consistently. To maintain these changing circumstances, commandant Rudolf Höß ordered to build up full-fledged cookery with a canteen to service the camp guards and the SS officers. The new wooden facility was finished in 1942 and located across the Stabsgebaude, perpendicular to the Unterkunftsgebaude and within touching distance from the Lagerhaus buildings. The large-scale wooden T-shape building is still among the largest wooden facilities in the history of the Nazi concentration camps in Europe. It was additionally fenced with barbed wire with a guard post nearby.
The enormous building scale of the wooden SS-Kuche gained perspective by the ‘volume’ of food, that had to be cooked here for more than 3000 men among the SS guards. The huge installation also included a number of premises for multiple purposes. Despite the fact that only german chefs were commissioned to make meals, up to 300 inmates were also ‘occupied’ here to give physical power. The administration of Auschwitz issued to assembly a few separate groups among the inmates with at least 100 prisoners to be occupied at peeling potatoes. The ‘Kartoffelschallereikommando’ meant a ‘squad to peel potatoes’ and had once become another dramatic linguistic euphemism of the Nazi era and the Holocaust.
Some other groups of the ‘assistants’ were engaged in subsidiary works, which used to include unloading of supplies, servicing the SS guards at the kitchen and delivering rations to the guards all around the Auschwitz territory, to the distanced watching towers in particular. For reasons that were appreciated, work at the ‘SS-Kuche‘ once gave access to the supplies and had become a stronghold for the camp resistance movement among the inmates.
Rybacki had clearly understood how lucky he was to become a servant within a canteen. It was not only a chance to do work under roof, although already of big significance as a matter to survive the winter. In addition, he now had access to the most valuable resource within the camp and it was food. He with the other inmates, who used to work as servants, took their chance to smuggle any supplies, they could get to hide it on the bulks.
Laurence Rees (Auschwitz. 2005)
Along with the spacious kitchen premises, the wooden barrack did include commodious canteen to service all the SS guards in both camps of Auschwitz. In addition to the scheduled meals, the SS guards used to visit the ‘SS-Kuche’ on some extra occasions, which included the long extra-hours shifts and participating in ‘sonderbehandlung’ (special treatment), a cruel euphemism for mass killing. The wooden SS-Kuche was also known and used as the club for the SS officers. One of the roomy premises used to place a stage with a movie projector and a sitting accommodation for 1000 ‘visitors’. Such evening activities were known as the ‘Kameradenschaftsabend’ (friendly parties) and on some busiest occasions, even the ‘Kartoffelschallereikommando’ inmates were engaged in servicing the SS guests.
The inmates were starving. Time in Auschwitz was a sentence itself to starvation, hard physical work, and beatings. And the SS men had all they wanted. Their orgies had booze for any taste, even a French cognac. They lacked nothing.
Laurence Rees (Auschwitz. 2005)
Even as a matter of the wooden construction, the ‘SS-Kuche’ has been preserved pretty the same appearance as it had at the time of the Auschwitz camp, all the way to the wooden front stairs. The main door, as well as a number of back-door entrances and windows, are boarded up and additional wooden piers sustain the whole construction. Up to the day, the former ‘SS-Kuche’ is a matter of discussion to be renovated and to host a museum, exposition. We can still manage the former air shelter for the SS members just on the other side of the street.
VILLA OF RUDOLF HÖSS
Rudolf Höß was among the SS officers, who managed to influence the final judgment of Heinrich Himmler to build up a massive camp within the Polish city of Oswiecim. On April 18-19 Höß made his first inspectorate visit his future patrimonial kingdom. Two weeks after that bureaucratic ride to Oswiecim, Höß made his way back to the site to take reins and on May 4 Rudolf Höß was officially appointed as the commandant of the camp, which at that time were a little more than a draft on paper and a vision inside his own imagination. Within the subsequent months, more than 1200 local citizens of Oswiecim and the accommodators of the barracks of the former Polish Tobacco Monopoly were forced to live their homes in close vicinity to the upcoming camp. July 8, 1940, witnessed a mass eviction of polish families who had used to live in the Legionow street, spanned for more than 2 km to the North. The buildings were brought into requisition in favor of the families of the SS officers.
Originally no great destiny had been intended for this place. The camp was encircled by stagnant fish ponds, which permeated the compound with dampness, mist, and mud. A few months later a new commander approached the German land-acquisition agency in the area, the Bodenamt Schlesien, to confiscate the necessary grounds.
Raul Hilberg (The destruction of the European Jews, 1985)
Höß himself decided to accommodate a spacious two-story villa in the Legionow street, to the immediate rear of the barbed wire fence of the camp. According to the commandant’s order, the villa was renovated by the manpower of the 300 Jewish workers, the very same people, who were forced to build up the camp to its original form in May and June 1940. Sometime later, Rudolf Höß accommodates his family to the villa. His wife and five children did spend almost all of Höß’s ‘commandant period’ inside this very house. Villa had its own servants and a few inmates were engaged in gardening the backyard, which also included an air shelter.
In the midst of starvation, disease, and death the Höss family had everything. “Paradise” is what Frau Höss called Auschwitz. Even after her husband was promoted to Berlin, Frau Höss stayed in her villa at Auschwitz.
Later that evening in their bedroom, she questioned him about what she had heard. Thereafter, Frau Höss refused to sleep in the same bed with her husband “and physical intimacy between the couple was rare. They became emotionally estranged from each other.”
Rudolf Hoss (Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz, 1956)
Höß’s choice of the villa was way more than just a place at a short distance to the camp. At a later date, the Commandant’s office and an administrative building for the SS staff were erected at a stone’s throw, behind the fence and neighboring the garden. Only 200 meters once distanced Höß’s villa and the first gas chamber and Crematorium in Auschwitz, one of its kind in the main camp. After the war, the villa was occupied by the Polish citizens of Oswiecim and now it’s a residential house, still a few dozens meters from the fence.
SOLA RIVER. A SITE, WHERE ASHES WERE DUMPED
The origins of a river of Sola originate from the mountain areas in the South of Poland, neighboring the modern border with Slovakia. A river, that can be mainly thrown over by a stone, some 80 kilometers far, flows along the eastern part of the city of Oswiecim, on the opposite side of the road from the Auschwitz-1 camp. Following the North direction, Sola river disgorges the Vistula river, which also encircles Oswiecim city and the territories, which had made its dramatic mark in history.
In Birkenau, the ashes of the perished victims from the crematoriums and open pits were to be loaded on the trucks, then spread out, fertilized with the soil and thrown to the waters of Vistula river and ‘used’ to pave the roads. In this historical perspective, the similar dramatic activities in the main camp are less known and rarely discussed in the public. In contrast to two first gas chambers (‘the Little White House’ and the ‘Little Red House’) and four huge ones in Birkenau, the first gas chamber in the main camp (Auschwitz-1) was a temporary solution for the Germans.
The town of Auschwitz, Oświęcim in Polish, was in Upper Silesia, a part of Poland that the Nazis wanted to Germanize, and the purpose of Höss’s new camp was to strike terror into the local Polish population. This camp, the original Auschwitz, was established next to the Sola river close to Auschwitz town, and was based around a collection of red-brick former Polish Army barracks.
Laurence Rees (Holocaust. A new history. 2017)
The German administration used the crematorium in the main camp from August 1940 until July 1943. The much of the period, the premise was used to crema corpses of the prisoners of different causes of death, from starvation to typhus. The gas chamber was located within the same building, (a polish warehouse for ammunition between the war) for a span of time between Autumn 1940 and April-may 1943. In this tragic perspective, the SS administration had a ruthlessly bureaucratic issue of the ash utilization. The ash in Auschwitz-1 was also mixed with the soil and dumped to the waters of Sola by means of the improvised carriages. The river makes a natural double just near the North-West part of the camp, 300 meters aside from the Crematorium. Quit and green site once witnessed the carriages, loaded with the human ash. SS guards, as well as the villagers, used to swim here within the warm summer months.
SCHUTZHAFTLAGERERWEITERUNG ADDITIONAL CAMP
Progressively as the significance of the Auschwitz camp was expanding, not only Birkenau was expanded with the new facilities to accept a growing amount of prisoners. The Auschwitz-1 ‘main camp’ (Stammlager) was subjected to be expanded according to the pre-planned schedule. In late 1942 the SS administration issued to build up an additional outer camp to the North of the main territory. These brick barracks have become dramatically known as the ‘Schutzhaftlagererweiterung’ (‘An additional camp for detention‘) or just ‘Erweiterungslager’ (‘Additional camp’).
After this new outer camp was finished, the camp administration decided to relocate some Auschwitz camp facilities to the new site. Barrack now included additional warehouses for storing cloth and belongings, brutally confiscated from the people, the majority of which were asphyxiated inside the gas chambers. One of the barracks included a tailor and shoemaking workshops, whose ‘employees’ were among the prisoners. In 1943 the camp typography was moved here from the Unterkunftsgebaude facility.
The SS administration had once organized a ‘Frauenlager’ (women camp) within the ‘Erweiterungslager’ with the 6000 female prisoners, brought here from the Birkenau. Dating from October 1943, a number among these women were daily brought to the ‘Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke’ factory, half a kilometer to the North-West, to produce fuses (detonators) for the artillery shells. A number of the ‘Frauenlager’ residents were occupied as the servants in the villas of the SS officers in Oswiecim and the administrative building, such as Stabsgebaude.
In addition to an accommodation matter for the skilled prisoners, some part of the ‘Erweiterungslager’ was also used by the SS directly. Germans used the barracks to store personal belongings and the uniform and as the guards’ posts. In may 1944 the infamous gynecologist Carl Clauberg occupied one of the barracks for the purpose for his sterilization experiments, had been previously located in Block 10 within the main camp.
For the span of two months of August-September 1944 and in addition to 6000 women of the ‘Frauenlager’ and the male craftsmen, the ‘additional camp’ hosted the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking (5. SS-Panzerdivision «Wiking»). This military unit was once a home for the infamous Josef Mengele and in summer 1944 the division lost more than half of its troops within the Eastern front. The soldiers of the panzer division ‘Wiking’ did spend two months here waiting to bring up to strength again and to be used in Poland.
On September 13, 1944, an air raid on the ‘Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke’ factory caused the death of 15 SS guards and 40 inmates, as a number of the shells hit the ‘additional camp’. On the eve of the evacuation of the camp back in January 1945, the ‘Schutzhaftlagererweiterung’ camp had become a site for the last sanctioned execution in Auschwitz. Four female prisoners were sentenced to death and hanged by the Germans at an open site between the barracks. They were executed for the assistance to the sonderkommando squad, members of which had revolted and destroyed one of the crematoriums in Birkenau on October 7, 1944.
Three of four: Ester Wajcblum, Ella Gärtner and Regina Safirsztain were the workers of the ‘Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke’ artillery shell factory. Over some time, they managed to steal gunpowder and hide it in own cloth. Then the women used to dispose of the gunpowder to Roza Robota, a prisoner in Birkenau. As a consequence of such an underground activity of these four women, the sonderkommando members managed to blow up the Crematorium IV. These four female inmates have become the last of approximately 500 victims, executed by Germans as the aftermath of the suppressed revolt.
In the span of the after-war years, a special historical commission has excluded the ‘Erweiterungslager’ from the list of the sites to be a part of the Auschwitz memorial complex. This kind of decision was a little more than a bureaucratic mean, as some of the former crick barracks had been already brought under the authority of two different ministries. For some period of time, units of the Polish army were accommodated within the former Auschwitz additional camp. The whole territory even was discussed to be demolished for the construction materials to set up new houses for the previously evicted citizens of Oswiecim.
Up to the date, the former ‘Erweiterungslager’ is no more than a residential district with hundreds of civilians, who now live within the buildings, which have once housed detention barracks, laboratory for medical experiments. One of the buildings now holds the ‘Parafia Miłosierdzia Bożego‘ (Church of Divine Mercy). Some of the former barracks also host apartments with the names of some contrast with the historical past of the place, such as ‘Apartment Romantic’.
MASS GRAVE OF 700 PRISONERS
One more place of historical significance can be found just after a children’s playground a footstep away from the ‘Erweiterungslager’ to the North of the Auschwitz-1 main camp. The stone ground and the adjustment park are a site of commemoration. The center of the memorial includes a stone plate with the inscription in Polish: ‘Zolnierzom armii padzieckiej oswobodzeni 1945’ (Liberated by the Soviet soldiers in 1945). Another memorial plate on five languages honors the memory of 700 of the Auschwitz prisoners, who were buried within a mass grave on this very place. These last victims of the camp passed away within the first days after the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945.
THE ‘THEATER’ WAREHOUSE
This building, located beyond the South-East side of the Auschwitz-1 camp fence, rarely gets into the field of tourist viewing. The construction itself was erected years before the Second World War and the Auschwitz death camp. Within the inter-war period, it used to house a theater for the polish soldiers, accommodated within the barracks nearby. As virtue to the peace purpose, the building had gained the ‘theater’ naming, although nothing of the kind was here at the times of the Auschwitz. As a matter of fact that back in 1940 the Auschwitz was held up as a concentration camp for the Polish political prisoners, that year the ‘theater’ facility was used as a storage for the belongings, meant to be returned after the length of time and a sentence. From after 1941 Germans used to store the Zyklon-B cans here before they were brought to the gas chamber within the north side of the main camp. The Germans also placed an air-raid warning alarm on the roof.
Hydrogen cyanide, or Zyklon, was a powerful lethal agent — a deadly dose was 1 milligram per kilogram of body weight. The Zyklon had only one drawback: within three months it deteriorated in the container and thus could not be stockpiled. Since Auschwitz was a receiving station, always on call, it was necessary to have a dependable gas supply.
Raul Hilberg (The destruction of the European Jews, 1985)
The SS administration once had plans for turning the ‘theater’ warehouse into a casino for the guards and even into a Commandant’s office. None of these plans were fulfilled and the building welcomed the end of the war as the warehouse. An empty space close to the ‘theater’ was also used by the Germans for the mass shootings and now it is a memorial site. In 1984 the building was occupied by the ‘Karmelici Bosi’ (Discalced Carmelites) congregation. The cross which now stands on the site of the mass murders has been an apple of discord for decades. It was erected to be used during Pope John Paul’s II visit Birkenau back in 1979 and was moved here in 1988. The church freed the building only in 1993 and it was finally transferred under the authority of the Auschwitz museum only in 2004.
In 2016 the museum administration decided to renovate the building and all the works should be finalized until 2020. Some premises of the former theater, warehouse, and church planned to be devoted to the educational activities, connected with Auschwitz. Two spacious auditoriums are to host up to 300 visitors, as well as the extended library and the reading halls.