Arbeitslager Tschechowitz-Vacuum

Name of the camp
Arbeitslager Tschechowitz-Vacuum
Commandant of the camp
Knoblik or Knobloch
Number of SS Guards
During working hours, the prisoners were supervised by men from Organisation Todt, Werkschutz and German police, who were transferred to Czechowice from Morawska Ostrawa. The sub camp itself was guarded by men from the Wachkompanie Monowitz and former Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe men from the 8th Sentry Company Auschwitz. Estimated total 40 guards: 10 SS guards and 30 other.
Work type
Oil and Chemicals: Clearing rubble and maintaining the refinery.
Employer
Vacuum Oil Company S.A appropriated by the occupying German authorities.
Sub camp buildings
The sub camp adapted the existing buildings of a farm in an area of approximately 100 by 50 metres.
Number of prisoners
Around 600 male prisoners. 17 January 1945 561.
Nationality of prisoners
300 Polish Jews from the Litzmannstadt (Łódź) ghetto and 300 Jews from the Theresienstadt ghetto.
Period of camp existence
September 1944 – 18 January 1945
Dissolution / Evacuation of the sub camp
18 January 1945
Dates of site visits by Tiergartenstrasse4 Association
June 2006 and July 2007
Memorialisation
Outside the entrance to the former sub camp there is a small monument and plaque with an inscription in Polish erected in 1959.
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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 Oil Refinery in Czechowice-Dziedzice

The Vacuum Oil Company was founded in 1866 by Matthew Ewing and Hiram Bond Everest, of Rochester, New York. In 1879 the Standard Oil Company purchased a three-quarters interest in the Vacuum Oil Company for $200,000. As a lubricants pioneer, Vacuum Oil introduced a number of popular products, including the revolutionary Gargoyle 600-W Steam Cylinder Oil. [1]

In 1903 the Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, used both Jersey Standard fuel and Vacuum Oil Company lubricants for their historic first flight at Kitty Hawk, north Carolina. [2]

In 1911 following a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Standard Oil was broken up into 34 unrelated companies, including Jersey Standard, Socony and Vacuum Oil. [3]

The Vacuum Oil Company oil refinery Czechowice-Dziedzice started production in 1905.[4] The refinery’s location was primarily associated with proximity to its market, Silesia, and good transport links. The refinery in Czechowice-Dziedzice was the Austro-Hungarian subsidiary of the Vacuum Oil Company. [5]

After the First World War, the refinery was on Polish territory. Soon, the Polish Government issued a government permit to the Vacuum Oil Company S.A in Czechowice.

In 1937, Standard-Nobel in Poland S.A. took over the Vacuum Oil Company S.A. [6]

In 1939 after the occupation of Poland the Vacuum Oil Company S.A was appropriated by the Germans. During the Nazi occupation, the refinery produced oils and gasoline fuels for the German army. [7]

On May 8, 1944, the USAAF decided to simultaneously attack industrial plants in Silesia producing synthetic gasoline from coal. The main targets of the bombings were plants in Blachownia Śląska, Kędzierzyn, Oświęcim-Dwory and Zdzieszowice, refineries in Trzebinia and Czechowice-Dziedzice, and plants in Novy Bohumin in Czechoslovakia. One such raid by the Allies took place on August 20, 1944 on the industrial facilities located in Czechowice.

Although the pilots’ task was difficult because the targets were at the end of the range of Allied bombers operating from Italy, the raid caused severe damage. The Czechowice-Południe railway station, the oil refinery belonging to the Vacuum Oil refinery, the Electrochemical Equipment Factory, the match factory, the Saturation Plant Railway Workshop, the waterworks in Czechowice and the brickyard in Bestwin were bombed. The heaviest damage was at the refinery, where the destruction was estimated at approximately 70-90%.[8] The severe damage was likely the result of mistakes by German anti-aircraft units. In addition, as a result of the surprise and confusion from the mistakes, the air raid sirens were cancelled; this prevented any warning against the impending attack. Jana Mazura who witnessed the raid testified after the war: “Planes came from Oświęcim. The air alarm was announced when the planes were close. I barely managed to hide in the field myself when the bombs started to fall”[9] Another witness testified that around 600 bombs were dropped during the raid.[10] Many of the bombs did not explode, because in the bombing area there was a lot wasteland in the form of loose soil, ponds and so-called cops in which the bombs were trapped.


[1] https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/company/who-we-are/our-history. Viewed 25 August 2019.
[2] https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/company/who-we-are/our-history. Viewed 25 August 2019.
[3] https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/company/who-we-are/our-history. Viewed 25 August 2019.
[4] http://www.polskaniezwykla.pl/web/place/26079,czechowice-dziedzice-podobozy-tschechowitz-(i)—bombensucherkommando-i-tschechowitz-(ii)—vacuum.html. Viewed 25 August 2019.
[5] AGH Journal of Mining and Geoengineering Vol. 36 Nr 1,  2012.
[6] https://szukajwarchiwach.pl/13/153/0#tabZespol. Rafineria Nafty w Czechowicach S.A. Archiwum Państwowe w Katowicach Oddział w Bielsku-Białej
[7] https://sbc.org.pl/Content/260777/Rafineria%20Nafty%20w%20Czechowicach-Dziedzicach.pdf
[8] Strzelecka, Irena, Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 187-188.
[9] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Jana Mazura, Vol. 3, p. 340.
[10] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Janö Vamosi, Vol. 66, p. 9.

The Post War History of the Oil Refinery in Czechowice-Dziedzice

The refinery in Czechowice was appropriated by the Polish authorities in 1945 and rebuilding of the plant began in February 1946. [1] The first production department in the post-war period in 1954 had a capacity 22 thousand processing tons per year. [2]

Nafta Polska SA – a State Treasury company was established on May 7, 1996 to privatize and restructure the Polish chemical and fuel companies.[3]

In 2005, Grupa LOTOS S.A. acquired from Nafta Polska S.A. 80.04% of shares in Rafineria Czechowice S.A. and became the dominant entity in relation to the Company. From December 19, 2005, the Company operated under the name LOTOS Czechowice S.A. [4]


[1] https://sbc.org.pl/Content/260777/Rafineria%20Nafty%20w%20Czechowicach-Dziedzicach.pdf.
[2] https://sbc.org.pl/Content/260777/Rafineria%20Nafty%20w%20Czechowicach-Dziedzicach.pdf.
[3] https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nafta_Polska.
[4] http://www.lotos.pl/381/grupa_kapitalowa/nasze_spolki/lotos_terminale.

The History of the Sub Camp Arbeitslager Tschechowitz-Vacuum

The sub camp Arbeitslager Tschechowitz-Vacuum was founded in September 1944 shortly after the dismantling of the previously existing sub camp Tschechowitz -Bombensuchenkommando in Czechowice. In the surviving documentation of the SS Hygiene Institut it is listed as Arbeitslager Tschechowitz-Vacuum.

The sub camp was created on the farm of Przemsza situated near the railway line Czechowice-Dziedzice – Bielsko Biała, and near the railway station Czechowice-Refinery (then Tschechowitz-Vacuum).

The sub camp used the existing infrastructure of the farm buildings with an area of approximately 100 X 50 metres. The area was surrounded with a barbed wire fence hung on wooden posts. In the four corners of the camp primitive wooden guard towers, were erected on which were mounted spotlights used to illuminate the camp at night. There were two entrance gates to the camp – the main entrance for prisoners and one for economic purposes for example used when clothing or supplies were brought from the main camp. Above the main entrance was an inscription, but today the wording is unknown. A stone stable building with a high attic (map reference 1) was adapted to house the prisoners. Two extensions buildings were added to this building. One housed a washroom, and the second stored fuel. Next to the gate in the old smithy or farmhouse the camp commandants office was located (map reference 4). The SS guards lived in a barrack outside the fence of the camp, built near the railroad tracks which also acted as the camp kitchen and a warehouse (map reference 3)[1]

The first transport of about Auschwitz 300 prisoners to Tschechowitz-Vacuum arrived in the second half of September 1944. They were almost exclusively Jews, who had been transported to Auschwitz-II Birkenau from the liquidated ghetto in Łódź. Then, on Oct. 9, 1944 on several trucks arrived 305 Jewish prisoners from Auschwitz II-Birkenau who had recently been deported from the Theresienstadt ghetto. In addition, to these two substantial transports from time to time smaller transports arrived to replace those prisoners who had died or were sick or unfit to work. The number of prisoners in Tschechowitz-Vacuum sub camp remained at around 600 until evacuation.[2]

The prisoners were quartered in the former stone stables building (map reference 1), painted white and furnished with three-tier bunks and primitive tables. Soon electric lights and central heating were installed. The conditions were relatively good for the first prisoners. After the arrival of the second large transport, the number of prisoners rose to 600, and the building was too small and conditions worsened. The Kapos were housed in the former single storey stable block. (map reference 2). This also housed the infirmary, the camp workshops, and a small morgue, where bodies of dead prisoners were stored before being transported to Auschwitz. [3]

Prisoners, as in the other sub camps of Auschwitz, were dressed in standard striped prisoner clothing. Food supplies were also periodically sent from the Auschwitz main camp. The food supplied to prisoners proved inadequate and the spreading famine caused numerous conflicts between the prisoners and moral depravity – there were brawls over food and theft of scarce food rations.[4]

Prisoners of the sub camp in Czechowice were employed at the nearby oil refinery. The prisoners performed the heaviest labour, demolition of the ruins of bombed out buildings and industrial installations, masonry, excavation works, repairing the tracks and roads within the refinery. Only a dozen or so were employed on light administrative and technical duties in the sub camp. [5]


[1] Description of the sub-camp Tschechowitz-Vacuum based on field research conducted by the authors: Irena Strzelecka, Tadeusz Szymański, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Vacuum [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 199-222.
[2] Strzelecka, Irena, Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Vacuum [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 206-207; APMAB, SS-Hygiene Institut, Vol 55, p. 540-549.
[3] Strzelecka, Irena, Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Vacuum [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 208.
[4] Strzelecka, Irena, Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Vacuum [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 210.
[5] Strzelecka, Irena, Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Vacuum [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 213.
Literature:
Strzelecka, Irena, Szymański, Tadeusz Podobóz Tschechowitz-Vacuum [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 199-222.

The SS Guard Unit

The Lagerführer was an SS man named Knoblik. SS- Oberscharführer Rudolf Ullman, who had also been a paramedic at the sub camp Charlotttegrube supervised the infirmary. During working hours, the prisoners were supervised by men from Organisation Todt, Werkschutz and German police, who were brought to Czechowice from Moravian Ostrava. The names of the supervisors and SS guards have not been determined as they were often replaced.[1]

The camp guards abused the prisoners punishing them for the slightest infringement. Punishments included long roll calls, “exercises”, flogging and being beaten.


[1] Strzelecka, Irena,  Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Vacuum [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 202, 206.
Literature:
Strzelecka, Irena, Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Vacuum [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 199-222.

The SS Guards

References:
BA Ludwigsburg B162/2680 and B162/2679.
Rudorff, Andrea, Tschechowitz-Vacuum (Czechowice-Dziedzice) in Des Ort des Terrors Band 5, Geschichte der Nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager. C.H.Beck 2007, p 311-312.
Zppw-auschwitz.pl Zwiazek Polaków Pomordowanych w Auschwitz. List of 8500 SS men in KL Auschwitz.
IPN database of Auschwitz SS guards. https://truthaboutcamps.eu/th/form/60,Zaloga-SS-KL-Auschwitz.html.
Strzelecka, Irena, Szymański, Tadeusz Podobóz Tschechowitz-Vacuum [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 199-222.

The Evacuation of the Sub Camp Arbeitslager Tschechowitz-Vacuum

In view of the approaching front, on January 18, 1945 orders were issued for the evacuation of the sub camp Tschechowitz-Vacuum. On 17 January 1945 561 prisoners were in the sub camp.[1] That same day at 19.00 hrs SS guards evacuated from the camp about 400 prisoners, leading them towards Wodzisław Śląski. In the sub camp, remained about 150 prisoners too sick or unable to march. Among them were some prisoners who simulated illness or disease to avoid the death march.

Meanwhile, the column of prisoners, after two days’ march through Pszczyna Goczałkowice reached the railway station in Wodzisław Śląski. Here they met thousands of other prisoners from the Auschwitz complex and were transported to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Few of them survived until liberation.

More than a hundred of the prisoners who had remained in the sub camp did not survive until the liberation of Czechowice. On 21 January 1944, members of the armed branch of the Todt organisation arrived and ordered the prisoners to dig a pit to a depth of 2 meters. After several hours a group of the SS or SD men arrived in the camp and shot almost all of the prisoners. Then the pit was covered with straw mattresses and wood which was then doused with gasoline and set on fire.


[1] Testimony of former prisoner Otto Wolken 22 June 1945. Viewed on 13 August 2019. https://www.zapisyterroru.pl/dlibra/publication/3755/edition/3736/.
Literature:
Strzelecka, Irena, Szymański, Tadeusz Podobóz Tschechowitz-Vacuum [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 199-222.

The Post War History of the Former Sub Camp Arbeitslager Tschechowitz-Vacuum

The area was still being used as a working farm when the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum visited the site in 1959. By the time of the site visits of Tiergatenstrasse4Association the farm buildings were derelict but intact.

The Preservation Status of the Former Sub Camp Arbeitslager Tschechowitz-Vacuum

The Tschechowitz-Vacuum sub camp is one of the few sub camps where the buildings of the camp have remained virtually unchanged since the war. The site of the former sub camp is located opposite the Czechowice Rafineria, next to the railway line, opposite the Czechowice-Rafineria railway stop. Ul Łukaszewicza, which is crossed by railroad tracks, which divides after crossing into ul Pionkowa and ul Żabiele.

At the fork of these streets are the buildings of the former Tschechowitz-Vacuum sub camp. Outside of the former camp a small monument has been erected to commemorate the victims of the former sub camp

On the left side of the monument is the entrance to the former sub camp, exactly in the place where the main camp gate was located. The gate as well as the fencing are from the post-war period, but the fencing is in exactly the same position as the original fence. The guard towers, primitive wooden platforms were located in the corners outside of the camp have not survived.

To the right of the entrance to the former sub camp there is a multi-story building with a gable roof – the so-called old smithy, but possibly used as a residential building (map reference 4). It most likely housed the sub camp commander’s office.

On the left side of the main entrance, the long single storey stable building constructed from bricks has survived (map reference 2). It cannot be excluded that it also served as a barrack for prisoners. The Kapos were housed in the former single storey stable block. It also housed the infirmary, the camp workshops, and the small morgue.

The prisoners lived in the substantial large stone stable building (map reference 1) opposite the one-story stable. This building has a gable roof with a high attic. Additionally, fragments of the extensions can be seen on the sides of this building. One of them contained a washroom, the other stored fuel. The prisoners also used the washroom located in the northern part of the camp (map reference 6), where there was probably a water heating stove.

The washroom building (map reference 6) has also survived although substantially modernised. The walls are covered with tiles. It was probably used after the war for agricultural cleaning of farm bred animals. What this building looked like during the time of the sub camp is unknown.

The SS barracks, the warehouse and the kitchen were located in a long wooden barrack along ul Pionkowa (map reference 3). A post war building has replaced the SS barracks.

Along the southeast wall of the former sub camp stretches ul Żabiele, next to which stands a electricity transformer station which generated electricity for the sub camp. Behind the transformer are two residential buildings (Map References 8, 9), in which the senior SS guards of the Tschechowitz-Vacuum sub camp lived.

In general the area of the former sub camp has barely changed since the visit of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in 1959. The area was still recently being used as a working farm and probably the camp looked much as it did when a sub camp of Auschwitz.

Memorialisation

The site of the former sub camp is located opposite the Czechowice Rafineria, next to the railway line, opposite the Czechowice-Rafineria railway stop. Ul Łukaszewicza, which is crossed by railroad tracks, splits after crossing into ul Pionkowa and ul Żabiele.

At the fork of these streets are the buildings of the former Tschechowitz-Vacuum sub camp. It is there outside the former camp that a small monument was erected in 1959 to commemorate the victims of the former sub camp in the form of a vertical block of granite resembling a matzeva. Onto the block a granite plaque has been screwed, on which there is the Star of David, and under it an inscription (in Polish): CZEŚĆ PAMIĘCI, PONAD STU ŻYDOM POLSKIM I INNYCH NARODOWOŚCI, KTÓRZY W PRZEDEDNIU WYZWOLENIA 19.I.1945 ZGINĘLI ŚMIERCIĄ MĘCZENNIKÓW Z RĄK ZBIRÓW HITLEROWSKICH. Tablica ta została wystawiona z inicjatywy Obywatelskiego Komitetu Zabezpieczania Miejsc Straceń Ofiar Hitleryzmu (TO THE MEMORY OF OVER A HUNDRED JEWS FROM POLAND AND OTHER NATIONS WHO ON THE EVE OF THE LIBERATION 19.I.1945 DIED THE DEATH OF MARTYRS AT THE HANDS OF HITLER´S THUGS.)

Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Site Visit

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum visited the site of the former sub camp Tschechowitz-Vacuum on 17 July 1959 and took 26 photographs including:

 

  1. Photographs reference 4360 and 6478 are photographs of the memorial that still exists today. It is probably the oldest memorial on the sites of the Auschwitz sub camps,
  2. Photographs reference 4361 to 4364 are photographs of the interior of the stone barrack used as prisoner accommodation. The design interior was exactly the same as when we visited the area. It was obviously used after the war for rearing animals,
  3. Photograph reference 4367 is a view of the former sub camp area, on the left is a fragment of the washrooms built in brick. This is not in character with the other buildings of the former farm and it would suggest it was built for the sub camp as a washroom. It has subsequently been modernised sometime between 1959 and the date of our site visits,
  4. Photograph reference 6479 is captioned as prisoner accommodation. Most likely it was the commandants office. Again the building had remained unchanged on the dates of our site visits,
  5. The two extensions to the brick stable which housed prisoners appear in photographs reference 6483 and 6484,
  6. Photograph reference 6485 is captioned as “House close to the camp where the prisoner Habal hid after escaping from the camp.” This house had a thatched roof. It probably still exists but has been modernised,
  7. Photograph reference 6486 is a view of the camp from the pond area. It includes the transformer station building which still exists today,
  8. Photograph reference 22/268/4 is captioned, “Building for prisoners where about 100 Jews were burnt.” This did not take place in the building itself but the bodies were burned in a pit dug in the area of the sub camp.

Topography of the Sub Camp Arbeitslager Tschechowitz-Vacuum

Map of the former Arbeitslager Tschechowitz-Vacuum. T4

Location of the Sub Camp Arbeitslager Tschechowitz-Vacuum

TitleCategoryAddressDescriptionLink

Photographs

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

Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Photographs from Site Visits

Tiergartenstrasse4Association Photographs from Site Visits

Other Photographs and Postcards

Postcard of the Vacuum Oil Company refinery
Postcard of the Vacuum Oil Company refinery 

Sub Camp Documents

PMO II 4 266
APMAB 2
APMAB 1