Arbeitslager Blechhammer

Name of the camp
Arbeitslager Blechhammer
Commandant of the camp
Erich Hoffmann
SS-Hauptsturmführer Otto Brossmann
SS-Obersturmführer Kurt Klipp: October 1944 to 21 January 1945
Number of SS Guards
Unknown. Based on the similar sized Auschwitz sub camp Neu-Dachs probably a total of 200 guards from the 7th Wachkompanie Monowitz and former Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe men from the 8th Sentry Company Auschwitz. Predominantly the guards were Volksdeutsche from Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Lithuania.
Work type
Oil and Chemicals: Construction of the chemical plant “Hydrierwerke” in Blachownia Śląska.
Employer
Oberschlesische Hydrierwerke AG
Sub camp buildings
Built originally as a Schmelt organisation forced labour camp for Jews known as the Judenlager.
Number of prisoners
On 17 January 1945 3,959 male prisoners and 157 female prisoners.
Nationality of prisoners
Mainly Jews from various countries including the Netherlands and also Jews transferred from labour camps in Upper Silesia including Sosnowiec, Zakrzów, Otmęt, Bierawa and Ozimek.
The 300 female Jews arrived on a transport from the Arbeitslager Markstedt.
Period of camp existence
1st April 1944 to 21st January 1945
Dissolution / Evacuation of the sub camp
On 21 January 1945 the camp was closed and all prisoners were marched on foot to Gross-Rosen concentration camp and later to Buchenwald concentration camp.
Dates of site visits by Tiergartenstrasse4 Association
June 2006, September 2006 and November 2006.
Memorialisation
On the front wall of the former crematorium building is a commemorative plaque. Next to this building are information boards on the history of the camp in Polish, German, English, French and Hebrew. There is also a memorial statue on the area of the former sub camp.
Explore more

The History

The history of the companies and the places prisoners worked, the sub camps, the SS guards and memorialisation of the sites.

The History of the Oberschlesische Hydrierwerke AG

In Blachownia Śląskia[1] in Upper Silesia the Germans planned to build a coal hydrogenation plant for the supply of fuel oil to the German navy. A joint venture of the Upper Silesian bituminous coal industry, the Reichswerke Hermann Göring and the Nazi government in upper Silesia was formed to undertake the task.  In 1939 the joint venture was incorporated to form the Oberschlesische Hydrierwerke AG. Max Josenhaus director and Walter Kronig chief chemist were the plant´s officials. The plant initially planned to produce oil by hydrogenating Silesian bituminous coal to produce gasoline and then mixing the gasoline with Long Term Care tar (LTC tar) and coke tar-pitch. With the advent of the war and the German Navy´s greatly increased demand for fuel oil a revised strategy called for hydrogenating bituminous coal tar to produce fuel oil and gasoline.

A large LTC plant equipped with Demag generators produced bituminous coal tar for hydrogenation and coke for hydrogen gas production. Blechhammer obtained additional hydrogen from its Linde liquification unit that separated hydrogen from the hydrogenation waste gases and from the nearby Heydebreck saturation plant that produced hydrogen from methane and ethane in a water gas reaction.

Oberschlesische planned to double Hydrierwerke´s capacity and convert its vapour phase stalls to 700 atm in two scheduled expansions, but labour shortages prevented the expansions and no plant increase ever occurred. [2]

The Hydrierwerke was divided into two, Blechhammer South and Blechhammer North. Blechhammer South was located south-east of Kędzierzyn-Koźle and Blechhammer North was located south of the town of Blachownia. [3]

Building the coal hydrogenation plant was a significant undertaking requiring huge numbers of slave labourers, concentration camp prisoners and prisoners of war as labour. In the area of Upper Silesia in Blachownia Śląska and Kędzierzyn Koźle a dense network of camps (up to fourteen) was created to house the approximately 50,000 workers. There were many different types of camps: forced labour camps, penal camps and POW camps. There were also forced labour camps for Jews, created on the initiative of the Schmelt organization.[4] There were up to six camps for British Prisoners of War in the area, including Working Parties E793 and E/3 Blechhammer O/S of Stalag VIIIB 344 Lamsdorf. [5]

In the area of Kędzierzyn Koźle there were several Schmelt camps, amongst others: in Bierawa (Reigersfeld), in Góra Świętej Anny (Annaberg) and Sławięcice (Ehrenforst) – the so-called Dorflager. [6]

The Hydrierwerke was subject to heavy allied bombing raids from May 1944 and large sections of it were destroyed. The US Fifteenth Air Force flew nine missions over Blechhammer South and two over Blechhammer North and lost a total of 10 aircraft to the 25 anti-aircraft batteries that surrounded the area. A heavy raid on the Hydrierwerke on 2nd December 1944 resulted in the death of 30 British prisoners of war and many injured prisoners. These prisoners were from Working Parties E793 and E3 Blechhammer O/S from Stalag VIIIB 344 Lamsdorf. [7]

In the archives of the Public Records Office in Kew London there survive some of the interpretation reports on of the bombing raids on the Blechhammer North and South plants. We have selected for inclusion in the document section the report from 1st January 1945. This gives details and results from the bombing raids on Blechhammer South by the 15th Air Force on 13th and 17th October, 12/13th, 17th and 20th November and 2nd, 12th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 26th December 1944. The report includes detailed plans of the plant and the results of the bombing.[8]

At the turn of 1943/1944, the majority of Jewish prisoners from the forced labour camps in the area of Kędzierzyn Koźle were transferred to the newly established Judenlager in Blachownia Śląska. Its construction began in 1942, using approximately 350 Jews from the Dorflager. In time, the prisoners moved to 6 barracks they had already erected in the Judenlager in Sławięcice, near the train station. The camp was constantly expanded, and soon there were several thousand Jewish prisoners housed there. [9]


[1] Blachownia Śląska (German. Medar-Blechhammer, 1936–45: Blechhammer) – former village district from 1973 and since 1975 the industrial district in Kędzierzyn-Koźle (Opole region) through which the Gliwice canal passes.
[2] The German Chemical Industry in the Twentieth Century edited by John E.Leach. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000.
[3] https://www.lamsdorf.com/working-parties.html. (Blechhammer by Duane L. “Sparky” Bohnstedt 460th Bomb Group Historian 2004). Viewed 2 October 2019.
[4] Piper, Franciszek, Podobóz Blechhammer, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1967] Nr 10, p. 40-41.
[5] https://www.lamsdorf.com/working-parties.html. Viewed 2 October 2019.
[6] The Schmelt organisation ran more 100 forced labour camps for Jews in Silesia from 1942.
[7] https://www.lamsdorf.com/working-parties.html. Viewed 2 October 2019.
[8] Public Records Office Kew London reference Air 40 1938.
[9] Piper, Franciszek, Podobóz Blechhammer, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1967] Nr 10, p. 41.

The Post War History of the Former Oberschlesische Hydrierwerke AG

After the capture of Kędzierzyn Koźle by the Red Army, the Soviets completely disassembled the facilities and apparatus of the former Hydrierwerke. What remained was salvaged by the Poles to rebuild the chemical plants in Oświęcim, Chorzów and Tarnów.

The Polish Governments six-year development plan of 1950–1955 provided for the construction of a benzene and coke tar plant in Blachownia. The new factory was named Zakłady Koksochemiczne Blachownia.

The first production of benzene started in 1952. In 1953 it was decided to build a combined heat and power plant Blachownia, to supply the chemical plants. In 1955 a tar processing unit was built. In 1956, the company started chemical synthesis, and also changed its name to Zakłady Chemiczne Blachownia. [1]

In the 1990s, Zakłady Chemiczne Blachownia was restructured, and the production units were separated from the assets of Blachownia and turned into independent commercial companies. These companies formed the Blachownia Capital Group, managed by Blachownia Holding SA. Several of these companies were subsequently sold. One of these was Petrochemia-Blachownia S.A. which owned the Blachownia coke chemical plant and the crude benzol processing plant on the site of a synthetic fuel factory destroyed during the war. BorsodChem became the new owner of Petrochemia-Blachownia S.A. in 2006. In 2017 the company was taken over by the Agrofert Group.[2]

In the second half of 1997, during the time of the restructuring of the “Blachownia” complex, the chemical synthesis plant found itself within the scope of interest of the Petro Carbo Chem Group. This Group acting via its subsidiary company located in Gliwice, first leased the production facilities of the chemical synthesis plant and then bought them together with all of the continuing production rights. PCC SYNTEZA S.A. has functioned since 2001 as an independent identity within the Petro Carbo Chem Group. [3]


[1] Bek, T: “Wczoraj i dziś Zakładów Chemicznych Blachownia w Kędzierzynie-Koźlu”, “Szkice Kędzierzyńsko-Kozielskie” 1993.
[2] https://petrochemia-bl.com.pl/pl/o-spolce.html. Viewed 16 August 2019.
[3] https://www.pccsynteza.pl/en/company/. Viewed 16 August 2019.

The History of Sub Camp Arbeitslager Blechhammer

In the area of Kędzierzyn Koźle there were several Organisation Schmelt camps, amongst others: in Bierawa (Reigersfeld), in Góra Świętej Anny (Annaberg) and Sławięcice (Ehrenforst) – the so-called Dorflager. [1]

At the turn of 1943/1944, the majority of Jewish prisoners from the forced labour camps in the area of Kędzierzyn Koźle were transferred to the newly established Judenlager in Blachownia Śląska. Its construction began in 1942, using approximately 350 Jews from the Dorflager. With time, they moved into 6 barracks they had already erected in the Judenlager in Sławięcice, near the train station. The camp was constantly expanded, and in a very short time there were several thousand Jewish prisoners housed there. [2]

At the end of 1943, the commandant of Auschwitz began efforts to bring the Judenlager under his control. Negotiations were finalised a few months later and on 1 April 1944 the Judenlager became one of the Auschwitz sub camps.

In April 1944 a transport of 300 Jewish female prisoners arrived in Blechhammer from the Arbeitslager Markstedt which had been closed. They were housed in a separate block near the kitchen and office. [3]

Arbeitslager Blechhammer the official name of the sub camp was located near the road leading from the centre of Sławięcic to the railway station. From the east and west it was surrounded by forest. To the south of the camp was a railway siding into the chemical plants. To the north were the barracks of the SS. The Blechhammer sub camp occupied an area of approximately 4 hectares. It was surrounded by a 4 meter high concrete wall topped with electrified barbed wire. Along the fence concrete guard towers were built. On the external side of the fence were placed dozens of small concrete bunkers used by the SS guards as air raid shelters.

Within the camp there were about 25 wooden barracks with dimensions of 7.5 m by 40 m, and there were facilities for prisoners: lavatories, washrooms, barracks, hospital, workshops, kitchen and underground cellars. After the takeover of the camp by Auschwitz a small crematorium was built. At the time Blechhammer became a sub camp of Auschwitz there were 3,056 male prisoners and about 200 female prisoners. This number increased substantially, so that by January 1945 there were close to 4,000 prisoners in the camp. They were mainly Jews from various countries transferred to Blechhammer from labour camps in Upper Silesia – from Sosnowiec (German: Sosnowitz), Zakrzów (German: Seedorf), Otmęt (German: Ottmuth), Bierawa (German: Birawa) and Ozimek (German: Malapane). [4]

The prisoners lived in the wooden barracks. In each barrack there were six rooms, which could accommodate between 30 to 40 people. They slept on wooden, two-or three level bunks. In the summer the prisoners suffered from the heat and the stench of so many prisoners living in such a small area in poor conditions, and in the winter from the cold as the heating in the barracks did not work properly.

The prisoners were dressed in standard striped prisoner uniforms – pants, shirts, round hats and clogs. [5]

The food situation was extremely poor: prisoners before morning roll call received for breakfast 0.5 litre of coffee or a broth made from herbs and at noon at the lunch break they were given a bowl of soup and for dinner after work they were given ¾ litre of soup made of turnip, cabbage and potatoes or 3-4 potatoes as a main dish. They were also given for lunch and dinner 400 g of whole-meal bread, margarine and jam a little cheese or sausage.

Each day, prisoners worked at the expansion of the Hydrierwerke Chemical Plants in Blachownia Śląska. They were divided into 100 and 200 person work detachments under the supervision of Kapos and supervisors from the various construction companies subcontracted to build the plant. Overall dozens of Kommandos from the sub camp Blechhammer worked on building the chemical plants. Based on the analysis of documents and reports by Dr. Franciszek Piper of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum some of the Kommandos in which prisoners worked were identified: [6]

Due to the exhaustive work, the terror regime of the SS, poor malnutrition and living conditions the mortality rate in Blechhammer sub camp was 86.4% per annum. For this reason, a crematorium was built in the camp in which was installed a portable crematorium manufactured by Kori of Berlin. Before the crematorium was operational sick and prisoners unable to work were sent back to Auschwitz-Birkenau by truck to be gassed, “The ill and prisoners unable to work that lay in the Revier, were in the course of time sent back to Auschwitz to be gassed. Also prisoners that could have worked but were undernourished were placed on a list and had to report to the Schreibstube and undress and were then selected for Auschwitz. If I remember correctly, approximately 150 of the prisoners that came with me from Markstedt to Blechhammer were sent to Auschwitz to be gassed. The SS men without the presence of a doctor did the selections.”[7]

During the period of the intensive Allied air raids on the chemical plants, Jewish prisoners were forced to work at bomb disposal resulting in numerous deaths. In addition, many Jewish prisoners died as a result of the air raids, as often they were not allowed to take to the shelters. [8]

Harsh discipline was maintained in the sub camp. Former prisoner Abe Sztulberg recalled: “Hanging, beating and penal exercises were the most common ways of suppressing the slightest signs of resistance on the part of the hungry and abused prisoners. I remember that on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, during the evening roll call a young boy was hanged – a prisoner. For what, I do not remember, at any rate for some minor offense. He was hanged twice, because the first time the rope snapped. The SS guard, called by the prisoners Tom Mir, assisted in this shocking execution. This SS man differentiated himself from the others due to his exceptional sadism, he very often beat prisoners. It happened once that two prisoners made a holder for a mess tin from a piece of wire. It was enough to accuse them of sabotage. These prisoners were hanged along with the Kapos of their commando, who were accused of neglect of their duties.” [9] 

George Didcock a British prisoner of war in Working Party E3 at Blechhammer kept a diary of his experiences and the atrocities committed against Jewish prisoners. He commented that during the air raids over Blechhammer that the British prisoners of war were allowed to take shelter but the Auschwitz Jewish prisoners were not. After the air raid of 28 August 1944 for example he recorded that “nearly a 100 Jews killed”. The British prisoners of war had to dig out the dead Jewish prisoners from the rubble and were still digging them out nearly three days later. Didcock also recorded the frequent execution of Jewish prisoners: “28th September 1944 a Jew was hung last night a detonator was found on him, 16th October 1944 two of the Jews were hanged last night for pinching.” [10]

Another British prisoner of war at Blechhammer M. Newey of Working Party E714 also witnessed atrocities against Jewish prisoners, “ A huge SS man would ride down on his large sit-up-and-beg bicycle to search them. He would order, hands up and trousers down. Putting on a pair of immaculate white gloves, he would perform the distasteful task of actually having to touch those “vermin”. Woe betide anyone found with as much as a saccharine found on his person. A savage scientific beating up would be his reward as a salutary lesson to the others.” [11]


[1] Organisation Schmelt headquartered in Sosnowiec controlled the Jewish labour camps in Silesia from 1940.
[2] Piper, Franciszek, Podobóz Blechhammer, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1967] Nr 10, p. 41.
[3] StA Ludwigsburg StAL EL 48-2-BA 2242. Testimony of Szlama Szwinkelstein, dated 18 February 1970.
[4] Piper, Franciszek, Podobóz Blechhammer, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1967] Nr 10, p. 46.
[5] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Abe Sztulberg, Vol. 48, p. 113.
[6] Piper, Franciszek, Podobóz Blechhammer, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1967] Nr 10, p. 52.
[7] StA Ludwigsburg StAL EL 48-2-BA 2242. Testimony of Szlama Szwinkelstein dated 18 February 1970.
[8] Piper, Franciszek, Podobóz Blechhammer, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1967] Nr 10, p. 53.
[9] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Abe Sztulberg, Vol. 48, p. 113.
[10] Wallis, Russell British POWs and the Holocaust. Witnessing the Nazi Atrocities. I.B Taurus. 2017, p. 97-98.
[11] Wallis, Russell British POWs and the Holocaust. Witnessing the Nazi Atrocities. I.B Taurus. 2017, p. 98-99.
Literature:
Piper, Franciszek Podobóz Blechhammer, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1967] Nr 10, p. 39-57.

The SS Guard Unit

The first Lagerführer of the sub camp was Erich Hoffmann and then SS-Hauptsturmführer Otto Brossmann and from October 1944 SS-Unterscharführer Kurt Klipp. Men of the 7th SS guard company guarded the sub camp prisoners. The head of the Political Section (Politische Abteilung) was SS-Oberscharführer Schmidt. The SS Rapportführer was SS-Unterscharführer Olejak. The head of the camp hospital was in turn SS-Oberscharführer Herbert Scherpe, SS-Sturmmann Peter Quirin, SS-Sturmmann Kaufmann and finally SS-Hauptsturmführer Müller.

Literature:
Piper, Franciszek, Podobóz Blechhammer, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1967] Nr 10, p. 39-57.

The SS Guards

References:
Rudorff, Andrea, Blechhammer (Blachownia) in Des Ort des Terrors Band 5, Geschichte der Nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager. C.H.Beck 2007, p 186-191.
BA Ludwigsburg B162/2680 and B162/2679.
Zppw-auschwitz.pl Zwiazek Polaków Pomordowanych w Auschwitz. List of 8,500 SS men in KL Auschwitz.
IPN database of Auschwitz SS guards. https://truthaboutcamps.eu/th/form/60,Zaloga-SS-KL-Auschwitz.html.
Piper, Franciszek, Podobóz Blechhammer, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1967] Nr 10, p. 39-57.
Piper, Franciszek, Das Nebenlager Blechhammer, [in:] Hefte von Auschwitz [1967] Nr 10, p.19-39.

The Crematorium of the Sub Camp Arbeitslager Blechhammer

The crematorium in the Blechhammer sub camp was built immediately after the takeover by Auschwitz III-Monowitz of the Schmelt Judenlager camp. The crematorium was built in the south-eastern corner of the camp. The walls are built of brick in an L-shape. The total length of the building is 7.6 m long and 5.9 m wide. Walls with a height of 2.35 m are covered with a gable roof. There are two windows in the north wall, one in the south. The entrance door to the crematorium is in front of the front wall of the furnace facing east. The furnace is placed in the middle of the room. On the left side of the entrance door is a large recess that was used to store corpses before cremation. On the left side of the oven´s main body, on the wall were hung hooks for pokers used for pushing the bodies onto the crematorium grate and for removing ashes from the furnace retort. The furnace in Blechhammer was manufactured by H. Kori G.m.b.H. from Berlin. It is a stand-alone unit and the generator is located deep in the right hand side of the furnace and was fired using coke. The inside of the retort itself is lined with chamotte bricks, and the whole structure is covered with a thick sheet of metal. The retort door is double winged, and made of iron, but without an internal chamotte liner. The doors were closed with a buckle built in the form of two hooks connected with a flat bar with a handle. The buckle is placed on the right hand door. There was a single ash-box under the doors. On the sides of the ash pan there are two flaps controlling the flow of air inside the retort. By means of these flaps, it was possible to increase or decrease the air supply, thereby controlling the heat during the burning of corpses. The combustion retort is a semi-circular chamber and its length was 195 cm. At the bottom of the retort is a chamotte grate, through which ash fell to the lower ash box. A cylindrical heavy oil tank is placed on the right side of the crematorium body on metal supports. On the left, a fan powered by an electric motor was placed on a metal scaffold attached to the main body. With it, the air was pumped through a pipe to the valves located at the back of the retort. Oil was also pumped in. Using compressed air, the fuel was sprayed into the entire retort, using two nozzles. The furnace exhaust gases were discharged by means of a brick chimney with a height of approximately 7 m. As the furnace could not support the weight of such a structure, two brick supports were built on the sides, on which a steel support with vertical brickwork was placed. This ensured adequate durability and stability of the structure. The smoke channel was located in the front, upper part of the retort. [1]

Corpses were loaded into the retort with a metal stretcher. The corpses were pushed or held down with pokers to make pushing the stretcher easier. According to research conducted by Dr. Igor Bartosik from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, this type of crematorium had a “capacity” of about 100 corpses per day, with an average time of about 15 minutes.[2] Therefore, it was not an efficient device, but it met the camp’s needs for cremating deceased or murdered prisoners.

During the evacuation of the camp, the crematorium was not dismantled.


[1] Description based on the observations, by the architect of the county (district Koźle) Eng. Stasiak on 25 May 1946 at the request of the Court in Kędzierzyn Koźle and the unpublished doctoral dissertation by Igor Bartosik Zacieranie zbrodni w nazistowskich obozach koncentracyjnych. Technika-procedura-ludzie (Krakow 2002).
[2] Unpublished doctoral dissertation by Igor Bartosik Zacieranie zbrodni w nazistowskich obozach koncentracyjnych. Technika-procedura-ludzie (Krakow 2002).

The Evacuation of the Sub Camp Arbeitslager Blechhammer

The evacuation of Blechhammer sub camp began on 21 January 1945, when all prisoners able to march were given 80 grams of bread, a portion of margarine and artificial honey. About 4,000 prisoners marched out of the camp in columns, and set out on foot through Koźle, Prudnik, Głuchołazy, Nysa, Otmuchów, Ząbkowice Śląskie, Świdnica and Strzegom to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. Their numbers decimated the prisoners arrived there on 2 February 1945. During the forced march the SS had murdered about 800 prisoners.

The emaciated prisoners from Blechhammer remained in Gross-Rosen concentration camp for five days until 7 February 1945, when they were loaded onto freight rail trucks and transported via Legnica, Zgorzelec, Dresden, Chemnitz, Gera, Jena and Weimar, to the Buchenwald concentration camp. The transport arrived on 9 February 1945. They were then transported to the sub camp Langenstein in the district of Halberstadt and were liberated there by American troops on 12 April 1945. [1]

Within the sub camp Blechhammer remained sick prisoners, dozens of women and those who had managed to hide. Some of the SS, who returned after the evacuation of the sub camp decided to shoot the remaining prisoners.

The massacre was remembered by Ignacy Sobczak one of the surviving prisoners: “On the morning of January 23, I saw in the guard towers armed SS. The SS men began to shoot us. Initially, they were shooting the prisoners outside the barracks, for example those who had lit fires and roasted potatoes on them. After some time, the Nazis fired into the windows and walls of the barracks. The barracks were full of people seeking refuge. The bullets pierced the walls. I know that many of the prisoners died. In the barracks, where I stayed together with comrades from Gleiwitz III, only a few people were not injured those who accidentally found themselves outside the field of fire. Fortunately I escaped injury.”[2]

The Blechhammer sub camp was liberated by Red Army troops on 28 January 1945. The few sick and wounded prisoners remaining at the camp were taken to a hospital in Sławięcice, and then transported to Częstochowa.


[1] StA Ludwigsburg StAL EL 48-2-BA 2242. Testimony of Szlama Szwinkelstein.
[2] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Ignacy Sobczak, Vol. 55, p. 49.
Literature:
Piper, Franciszek Podobóz Blechhammer, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1967] Nr 10, p. 39-57.

The Post War history of the Former Sub Camp Arbeitslager Blechhammer

Shortly after the liberation of the Blechhammer sub camp in Sławęcice by the Red Army, a camp was set up for Silesians and Germans in the former Auschwitz sub camp. Prisoners of war were also interned there. The local administrative authorities exercised control over the camp. According to the census of December 1945, 16 people were in the camp.[1]

Sometime after the closure of the prisoner of war camp the wooden barracks in the camp area were dismantled possibly for emergency housing. By the time of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum site visit in 1957 none of the original buildings in the camp area remained except for the crematorium.


[1] Kopka, Bogusław, Obozy pracy w Polsce 1944-1950, Warszawa 2002. p. 157-158.

The Preservation Status of the Former Sub Camp Arbeitslager Blechhammer

On the road between Sławięcice and the railway station of Sławięcice there is a large plaque over which there is an inscription in Polish which reads in English: “Arbeitslager Blechhamer – sub-camp for men and women – a branch of the camp in Auschwitz. It existed from: 1.IV.1944. until 21.I.1945.”[1]

In the former sub camp there are many elements of the sub camp with different degrees of preservation. These elements, however, are so numerous that when found, they give practically a complete picture of the size and manner of development of the Blechhammer sub camp area. One difficulty is that a significant part of the former camp is now covered with dense forest and shrubs, which makes it impossible to find some of the remnants especially in the spring and summer.

Turning left from ul Strzelecka after about 60 m, there is a guard tower, which was located just next to the main entrance to the Blechhammer sub camp. The construction of this guard tower differs significantly from typical guard towers in other concentration camps. It is a construction with a square cross-section (2.25 x 2.25 m), height of about 5 m, built entirely of reinforced concrete. It consists of two separate parts. The lower part was built in the form of a bunker with walls about 0.5 m thick. In each of the walls, with the exception of the one in which the entrance was located, there were two shooting holes. The concrete wall of the camp, which adjoined the walls of the tower, caused one of the holes to be invisible from outside the camp. For the SS guard, it did not matter, because he could control the situation by looking through the openings going out to the camp part, as well as the outside. The entrance to the lower part of the guard towers surrounding the camp was from outside the camp itself. The entrance, without doors, was protected by a concrete wall with a thickness of approx. 0.5 m. There were also two shooting holes in this wall. Such a solid construction ensured the security of the SS guards during air raids but also provided protection in the event of any threat from outside the camp. The roof of the ground floor of the tower was additionally covered with an approximately 10 cm thick concrete slab. On top of this was the second, upper part of the tower used for observation. It was definitely of a lighter construction, but also made of concrete with a square cross-section (1.8 x 1.8 m) and walls with a thickness of approximately 12 cm. To facilitate entry to the upper level from the outside there were vertical handrails installed on the wall. The windows were on all sides and gave a panoramic view of both the inside and outside of the camp. The window directly overlooking the camp had no concrete support post to enable an uninterrupted view of the camp. Perhaps it would not be appropriate to use the term window, as most probably there were no typical window frames and glass. We found no traces during our site visits indicating that window frames and glass had ever been installed. The observation floor was covered with a concrete flat roof. On the front wall of this particular guard tower located at the main gate, there remain fragments of words written in Cyrillic script. However, their state of preservation did allow us to decipher their meaning. Most likely, this inscription comes from the period when the Red Army after liberation established a prisoner of war camp in Blechhammer.

The whole camp was surrounded by a 4 meter high concrete wall. The concrete posts were made of reinforced concrete. Between the columns standing at intervals of 1.25 m, were hung contoured concrete slabs, a very solid construction that also prevented unauthorised observation of what was happening inside the camp. The concrete posts had concrete arches on top, to which insulators were fixed, and on them electrified barbed wire. On many of them, you can also see the fastenings for lamps illuminating the camp. The fence of concrete posts has been preserved in differing condition around the whole area of ​​the camp. Some of them are still standing, while others have fallen, which are difficult to find as they are hidden in the vegetation. Even where the posts have been removed, their stumps protrude from the ground.

The unusual construction of the guard towers resembles those of a modern prison and most probably resulted from the fact that the Blechhammer camp was not designed by concentration camp authorities, but by the Schmelt Organization and the industrial plant.

The guard tower described was in the immediate vicinity of the main gate of the camp. The concrete frame of this gate, about 3.5 m wide, has been preserved in the form of two pillars connected by a horizontal beam. There are metal hinges on the pillars to which the gate was attached. It is not known what it was made of, but beyond doubt it the gate had a double winged door.

Passing through the gate, heading south along the western wall of the camp on the left side of the bushes you can see small fragments of brick buildings – most probably barracks of prisoners, while on the right side there are numerous fence posts preserved in various condition.

In the camp are visible: the main camp gate, the guard towers and concrete posts, on which steel fittings can be seen for attaching the lamps and insulators. Most of the posts are overturned. Around the fence you can see a dozen or so anti-aircraft bunkers, in a good state of preservation. Fragments of the bathhouse are also preserved. Much of the former Blechhammer camp itself is overgrown with thick forests.

In the area where the roll call area was most likely located, there is a large clearing where the crematorium building with the Kori crematorium oven is located.

In the whole area of the Hydrierwerke there are the many remnants of the many forced labour camps, POW camps that surrounded the plant. The Krankenhaus air raid bunker survives.

On the visit of Tiergartenstrasse4Association to Blechhammer in November 2006 a meeting was arranged with Mr Ociepski a local man with an interest in the Hydrierwerke and Blechhammer camps especially the prisoner of war camps. He also ran a small museum with photographs, documents relics from the Blechhammer camps. He guided us on a one day tour of the whole area showing us the remnants of Hydrierwerke and the many POW, forced labour and civilian worker camps.


[1] Original text; should be Blechhammer.

Memorialisation

On the front wall of the crematorium building is a commemorative plaque with the inscription original in Polish: “Miejsce uświęcone krwią ofiar zmarłych za wolność.” (A place sanctified by the blood of victims who died for freedom.)

Next to the crematorium building are information boards in Polish, German, English, French and Hebrew about the history of this camp and a map showing the Nazi camps in Sławęcice and Blachownia Śląska: “As the result of the closing down of the Jewish ghettoes and labour camps, on the 1st of April 1944, the Jewish labor camp (Judenlager) in Blachownia-Sławięcice was taken over by the Auschwitz-Birkenau (Oświęcim-Brzezinka) concentration camp. It became a sub-camp and was named Arbeitslager Blechhammer. The prisoners of this camp built – among other things – a chemical factory (Oberschlesische Hydrierwerke). Arbeitslager Blechhammer – male and female sub-camp – a branch of Auschwitz camp – existed here from 1.IV.1944 to 21.I.1945. On average there were 3-4 thousand prisoners here, including around 200 women. The prisoners were Jews from various countries. At least 248 of them died or were selected and killed in KL Auschwitz. In 1945, during the liquidation of this camp and evacuation march around 800 prisoners died. The camp was liberated on the 26th of January 1945.”

In the central part of the square, is a monument depicting freedom in the form of hands intertwined with barbed wire.

Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Site Visit

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum visited the former sub camp in Sławięcice on 21st November 1957 and again on 3 June 1965. Six photographs were taken in 1957 and nineteen photographs were taken in 1965. Substantially the condition of the former sub camp was the same as it is now, except it was less overgrown. A few foundations still existed of the bathhouse (photo references 8778 and 8779), the camp gate (photo reference 8767), concrete posts, the crematorium (photo reference 4355, 4356,8773), foundations of the pigsty (photo reference 8775) but the barracks and concrete slabs forming the wall had gone. There was no trace of the concrete slabs which would suggest they were removed for alternative use.

Other Site Visits/ Photographs

There are two photographs of an Allied bombing raid over the Hydrierwerke plant in 1944.[1]

The former sub camp site was visited on the 6th March 1946 by a team possibly investigating Nazi war crimes. By this time the internment camp for Germans and Silesians had been closed and the camp was empty. They took 10 photographs. At this time the barracks of the sub camp area were still intact (photo reference 10769). The camp wall still existed with the concrete slabs hung between the concrete posts still intact (photo reference 10765). Four photographs show the sites of mass graves, including the traces of skulls (photo references 10760, 10761, 10762 and 10763).


[1] Public Records Office Kew London.

Topography of the Sub Camp Arbeitslager Blechhammer

Location of the Sub Camp Arbeitslager Blechhammer

TitleCategoryAddressDescriptionLink

Photographs

Taken by the SS, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Tiergartenstraße4Association and other

SS Contemporary Photographs

SS-Oberscharführer Herbert Scherpe APMAB 20 917 18 B
SS-Oberscharführer Herbert Scherpe APMAB 20 917 18 A

Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Photographs from Site Visits

Tiergartenstrasse4Association Photographs from Site Visits

Other Photographs and Postcards

Sub Camp Documents