Sonderkommando Kattowitz

Name of the camp
Sonderkommando Kattowitz
Other Name of the camp
Aussenkommando Kattowitz
Maurer-Kommando
Commandant of the camp
Probably the chief of the Gestapo in Katowice, SS-Obersturmbannführer Johannes Thümmler, performed the function of Lagerführer.
Number of SS Guards
The prisoners were supervised by low level Gestapo officers. Estimated 3.
Work type
Other: Constructing a barrack and air raid shelter at the Kattowitz Gestapo headquarters.
Employer
Gestapo Kattowitz
Subcontractor:
Zuber Company
Sub camp buildings
Prisoners slept initially in the rooms in the cellar of the Gestapo headquarters in Kattowice. After three weeks they were moved to a shed of the local brickworks.
Number of prisoners
11 male prisoners
Nationality of prisoners
Polish, Soviets, Czech, German.
Period of camp existence
January 1944 – January 1945
Dissolution / Evacuation of the sub camp
31 January or 1 February 1945, prisoners from the Sonderkommando Kattowitz were evacuated along with 50 Gestapo members by truck to Klodzko. From there they were deported on a rail transport to Ölsnitz, where they remained until liberation.
Dates of site visits by Tiergartenstrasse4 Association
August 2006, September 2006, October 2006 March 2007, July 2007, June 2008
Memorialisation
At the main entrance to the building of the former headquarters of the Gestapo at Ul Powstańców, there is a plaque with an inscription in Polish. This plaque does not specifically mention this sub camp of Auschwitz.
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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 Post War History of the Former Gestapo Headquarters at ul. Powstańców 31 in Katowice.

After the war, the former Gestapo headquarters building was occupied by the Wojewódzki Urząd Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego (Provincial Office for Public Security), and now the Biuro Wojewódzkich Specjalistycznych Klinik (Office of Provincial Specialist Clinics). This is a multi-storey, three-wing neoclassical building whose main entrance is located on the front wing along ul. Powstańców. In the basement of this building there still exist the cells for Gestapo prisoners, which were also used by the prisoners from Auschwitz.

The History of the Sub Camp Sonderkommando Kattowitz

Sonderkommando Kattowitz was the smallest of the Auschwitz sub camps in terms of the number of prisoners, there were exactly eleven.[1] For a camp with such a small number of prisoners it was not necessary to build any camp infrastructure. Sonderkommando Kattowitz was termed an Aussenkommando, however, as was the case with Aussenkommandos Chelmek and Sosnica, prisoners sent to Katowice were accommodated at their place of work for a prolonged period and did not return to the Auschwitz main camp on a daily basis. This meets the generally accepted definition of a sub camp as opposed to an Aussenkommando that worked outside of the main Auschwitz camps and returned on a daily basis to the Auschwitz main camps. It has been generally accepted in the literature that such Aussenkommandos were a form of sub camp, hence Sonderkommando Kattowitz appears in the list of Auschwitz subcamps.

A few detailed testimonies and accounts of former prisoners were taken after the war about this sub camp. However, no documents have been preserved. The lack of surviving documentation is probably because the Sonderkommando had an informal character. It is worth noting that in 1944 the prisoners of the Auschwitz sub camps were employed mainly in enterprises and industrial plants in Upper Silesia. The transfer to the Kattowitz Gestapo, of 11 prisoners may be considered surprising but probably resulted from the many years of strong working relationships between the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp and the head of the Kattowitz Gestapo.

It is not known who made the decision to create the Sonderkommando Kattowitz. It can only be assumed that this was a result of an agreement between the head of the Kattowitz Gestapo – Johannes Thümmler and the commandant of the Auschwitz camp. SS-Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel.

Johannes Thümmler served as the chair of the Police Emergency Court from September 1943. This court met in the infamous Block 11 of Auschwitz concentration camp, issuing numerous death sentences.[2] Given his close contact with the headquarters of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Thümmler may have asked for a group of prisoners to be sent to Katowice. Due to the lack of documentation regarding Sonderkommando Kattowitz, it is not known whether a formal agreement existed regarding the transfer or “loan” of Auschwitz prisoners to the Kattowitz Gestapo.

From the testimony of the former prisoner Antoni Szwajnocha, we know when and in what circumstances the prisoners assigned to the Sonderkommando Kattowitz were selected: “On January 20, 1944, after an evening roll call, I was bathing in the camp laundry when my number was called. Of course, I volunteered immediately to the Schreibstube in Block 24. I found there an SS-Arbeitsdienstführer named Müller and a Kapo of a group of masons (his name was Karl; I do not remember the surname [3]). I knew Karl from the period when I worked in the Neubau Kommando, and he valued my bricklaying skills. I was surprised by the call and did not realize what it meant. At that time 10 prisoners were selected (together with me). We were loaded into a prisoner transport vehicle called a “Mina” and transported to the Katowice headquarters of the Gestapo. In Katowice, the head of the Gestapo – Thümmler himself – spoke with us. We stood in the yard of the Gestapo building, when he approached us and then ordered the prisoners from Katowice to report (to him). The order was repeated three times, but no one reported. I did not know what it meant. To make sure I reported that I came from the vicinity of Katowice. Thümmler hit me so hard that I fell to the snow. I do not know why he did it, because I did not come from Katowice, the town of Brzozowice-Kamień can hardly be considered a suburb of Katowice. Thümmler turned to me, saying that he was making me responsible for the remaining prisoners, and if I escaped, I would be killed. As a professional, I was to be responsible for the work.” [4]

The final selection of prisoners assigned to the Sonderkommando Kattowitz was made by Karl Güssow, a Kapo of a group of bricklayers in Auschwitz I, who used the opportunity to remove unhappy prisoners. Sonderkommando Kattowitz was made up of the following prisoners: [5]

It was not possible to establish the name of the eleventh prisoner, of whom it is only known that he was a Soviet carpenter by profession. He was transported to Katowice from Auschwitz I, after the first 10 prisoners and later died. [6]

The prisoners were brought from Auschwitz I to the Kattowitz Gestapo, which occupied a building in SA-Strasse (now ul Powstańców). They were accomodated in one of the cells in the basement. Unfortunately, nothing is known about the cell and the conditions in which the prisoners lived.

Initially, it was assumed that the prisoners would spend only 14 days in Katowice. The prisoners began work on the construction of an air raid shelter located below the courtyard of the Gestapo building complex. This was probably the reason for the prisoners being sent to Katowice.

As the work took longer than expected, after approximately 3 weeks the prisoners for accommodation purposes were transferred to the brickworks at ul Ceglana in Katowice. They were housed in the shed of the brickworks engine room. At the brickyard there was also a work re-education camp for 40 Erziehungshäftlinge. In the re-education camp prisoners were confined for a defined period (several weeks), after which time they were released and sent back to their previous workplace.[7] In the shed in the brickyard, the Sonderkommando Kattowitz prisoners just spent their nights as meals were provided at the place of work. The food for the prisoners was provided by the Auschwitz concentration camp. For this purpose, every 10 days on a truck, and under guard the prisoner Antoni Szwajnoch, brought bread, porridge, potatoes, margarine and other foodstuffs from the Auschwitz I depots to Katowice. From these products meals were cooked in the kitchen, which was located in the Gestapo building. The dinners were cooked by civilian employees, while the breakfasts and lunches were prepared by the prisoners themselves.

The prisoners marched on foot under the escort of the Gestapo men, from the brickyard to the Gestapo building. The Gestapo men also guarded the prisoners while they worked. The Gestapo men were low-ranking officers of mainly Ukrainian origin, many of whom could not speak German well.

In addition to the construction of an air raid shelter, prisoners of the Sonderkommando Kattowitz also carried out other construction works. These included building a brick longitudinal barrack which was to be used to conduct interrogations and also an underground tunnel connecting the Gestapo building with a neighbouring villa. [8]

The construction works carried out for the Kattowitz Gestapo was supervised by the private company “Zuber”. The company was responsible for the work of prisoners, the quality of construction and the delivery of materials. A civilian worker named Wójcikiewicz from Sosnowiec was responsible for contacts with the prisoners on behalf of the company.

From time to time prisoners were also used for other works – including repairs in the boiler room or cleaning of office rooms.[9] The prisoners worked every day including Sundays and also worked in the brickyard on public holidays.

In the autumn of 1944, prisoners were used to dig out unexploded bombs which had fallen near the Gestapo building in Kattowice. In total, six unexploded bombs were recovered. None of the prisoners were killed during this dangerous work. During the recovery of the unexploded bombs, soldiers of the Wehrmacht were also assigned to the group of Auschwitz prisoners, as a punishment for insubordination.

Prisoners of the Sonderkommando Kattowitz often had the opportunity to observe the Gestapo at work. Jiři Wehle, a former prisoner, recalled: “We remained in Katowice for a relatively long time, so we were able to observe the actions of the Gestapo agents. We noticed, for example, that from time to time the Gestapo carried out massive actions aimed at the Polish and German population with the participation of local (Gestapo) branches. After each such action, the premises of the Gestapo headquarters was completely filled with those arrested, who were even placed in the basement. We could see the traces of beatings. Sometimes we also saw the corpses of murdered people. I remember that shortly after our arrival, in the spring of 1944, in a garage – near where we worked – we saw the corpse of a civilian. I suppose it was some Pole killed during the Gestapo action of the previous night. Often, we were forced to clean trucks, whose floors were contaminated with blood. Another time – in mid-1944 – when we arrived at our workplace in the morning (building a shelter in the cellars of the Gestapo building), we found about 10 people there. They were men and women, bound by their legs and hands. Everyone was in a state of complete exhaustion and had traces of beatings. We were told by the Gestapo man Wagner that these people would be transported Auschwitz concentration camp (to Block 11) in order to carry out their death sentence.” [10] Several times, detainees were seen jumping into the courtyard from the windows. These suicides meant additional gruesome duties for the Auschwitz prisoners. Not only did they from time to time have to remove a corpse from the courtyard, but they also had to tear out the gold teeth.

Johannes Thümmler was recalled by former prisoner Antoni Szwajnoch, “He was a tall, good-looking man with a scar on his cheek. One such meeting almost ended tragically for me. It was exactly on January 17, 1945. I remember the date precisely because two days later, on January 19, 1945, I fled from Katowice. Well, that day, going down the stairs to the basement, I did not see Thümmler in time and did not take off my hat. He hit me with all his strength, knocking out a few teeth. He did not interfere with what we did, at most he intervened with the supervisor demanding a quick completion of the works.” [11] Other Gestapo men also abused the prisoners by beating and kicking them, often for no reason.

In the post war testimonies of former prisoners there were also Gestapo men who behaved decently towards them. One of them was a Gestapo man named Pomern. He allowed prisoners to contact civilian employees from the kitchen, and obliged the owner of the company “Zuber” to treat the prisoners well. Other Gestapo men who treated the prisoners decently were Woltersdorf and Weiss. [12] It was to these men that the prisoners made formal requests.

The Soviet prisoners along with the Poles planned a collective escape, which, however, did not come to fruition, because the Jewish prisoners objected to it. However, just before the evacuation of the Gestapo headquarters, Antoni Szwajnoch did manage to escape: “Civilian clothes were arranged for me by Rozalia Kopernok, and it was agreed I should collect the clothes from the now-dead Magner (caretaker and central heating worker in the Gestapo building). On the evening of January 19, 1945, I began to implement my escape plan. Before leaving, I took a knife from the kitchen, because I did not want to be completely vulnerable in the event of a problem. Then, through the corridor, I got out into the inner courtyard, from there through the garage (…) I went to the neighbouring building where Magner lived. There, I changed into a suit provided by Rozalia Kopernok and a coat given to me by Magner. I dressed in a central heating boiler room. I burned my striped clothes in the oven. When I was ready to leave, I hid the knife in the sleeve of my jacket and went to Magner’s apartment, from where it led to the gate of the building. It was a building inhabited by the Gestapo, but no one stopped me. At that time, there was quite a big mess in connection with the arrival and housing of many Gestapo officers from the Aussenstelle. I passed the gate without any obstacles. At some point on the street I met the Gestapo man Woltersdorf, who, however, did not recognize me, because I was in a civilian suit, and besides, I had dark glasses. On what is now ul Francuskat, I met another Gestapo man named Hahn, who did not recognize me even though I passed him. On the corner of ul Schupowiec he stopped me and asked where I was going. When he stopped me, I pressed my knife harder to me – I was determined to use it if I was discovered. Fortunately (…) he contented himself with the answer in which I briefly announced: I am going home from work. The trams were crowded with soldiers, so I walked to Bogucice on foot, and jumped onto a passing tram, and got to Szopienice. In this way, without any difficulties, I reached the house of Rozalia Kopernok´s parents.” [13]Antoni Szwajnoch hid in the home of the Kopernok family until the liberation of Katowice by the Red Army on January 27, 1945. Fortunately, the escape of Szwajnoch did not result in repressive measures against the other prisoners of the Sonderkommando. The Gestapo did not even investigate.


[1] Of the sub camps of Auschwitz the only camp in which there were fewer prisoners was SS Hütte Porombka where after the construction of the SS holiday home less than 10 prisoners from Auschwitz were employed.
[2] The summary Court had three members: a chair and two lay judges – assessors. The Chair was always the Gestapo chief of Katowice – until September 1943, Rudolf Mildner, and then Johannes Thümmler. Alfred Woltersdorf the deputy of Thümmler sometimes stood in for him. For more on this topic see: Alfred Konieczny, Uwagi o sądzie doraźnym katowickiego gestapo pod kierownictwem SS-Obersturmbannführera Johannesa Thümmlera, Biuletyn Głównej Komisji Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce, Vol. XXIV, Warszawa 1972, p. 118.
[3] The Kapo was Karl Güssow.
[4] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Antoni Szwajnoch, Vol. 89a, p. 50-51.
[5] The list of prisoners was created from the testimonies of former prisoners. See: APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, Vol. 89a, p. 7.
[6] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Jiři Wehle, Vol. 89a, p. 8.
[7] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Antoni Szwajnoch, Vol. 89a, p. 51.
[8] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Jiři Wehle, Vol. 89a, p. 8.The villa was owned before the war by Wojciech Korfanty (1873 – 1939) – national leader of Polish Upper Silesia.
[9] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Jiři Wehle, Vol. 89a, p. 9.
[10] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Jiři Wehle, Vol. 89a, p. 9-10.
[11] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Antoni Szwajnoch, Vol. 89a, p. 53.
[12] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Antoni Szwajnoch, Vol. 89a, p. 54.
[13] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Antoni Szwajnoch, Vol. 89a, p. 57-58.

The SS Guard Unit

Little is known about the guards of this sub camp. As described earlier, the prisoners were supervised by low level Gestapo officers who were most likely never formally classified as concentration camp guards. Hence the lack of a Lagerführer function. Probably SS-Obersturmbannführer Johannes Thümmler was directly in charge of the prisoners.

The Evacuation of the Sub camp Sonderkommando Kattowtiz

In December 1944, due to the approaching Soviet army, preparations for the evacuation of the Gestapo in Katowice had already begun. The prisoners packed and loaded the files of the Gestapo Kattowitz which were then taken to the Schloss Schwarzengrund (In Polish Pałac w Kopicach, and now Schloss Kopitz) in Kopice near Grodków. A temporary office of the Gestapo Kattowitz was established there (a so-called Ausweichstelle). The prisoners were not evacuated to Auschwitz concentration camp, but it was decided to include them in the evacuation column of vehicles, of the remaining officers of the Gestapo Kattowitz. The evacuation took place at the end of January 1945, after the escape of Antoni Szwajnoch. In order to prevent the escape of other members of the Sonderkommando Kattowitz the prisoners were transported in a prison wagon. During the evacuation, the column of vehicles unexpectedly encountered motorized Soviet troops. As a result of skirmishes, some vehicles were destroyed, but the prison wagon survived unscathed.[1]

After three days, the column of vehicles reached Kłodzko. There, in the halls of a tile factory that had been closed down, another temporary office of the Gestapo Kattowitz was set up. The Gestapo files were partially unloaded, and the prisoners were placed in local custody. Modest meals were provided to them from outside, most likely from the field kitchen. Former prisoner – Jiři Wehle remembers this period: “We stayed in Kłodzko for one month. We were made to do various odd jobs, including unloading the vehicles that came from Katowice. These were the files of the Kattowitz Gestapo, trunks, etc. Before evacuation from Katowice, we had loaded the same things.” [2]

At the end of February 1945, another evacuation took place. Three freight cars pulled by a locomotive were substituted for the motor vehicles. The prisoners reloaded their belongings and the Gestapo files from Katowice onto the freight cars. Fifteen Gestapo officers along with ten prisoners departed for Ölsnitz near Plauen. There, another Ausweichstelle of the Gestapo Kattowitz was set up. Soon, they were joined by Gestapo officers from Krakow, who also brought with them large numbers of files. [3]

The whole group was led by: SS-Obersturmführer Alfred Hesse and his deputy SS-Obersturmführer (?) Güntzschel. At the time, Johannes Thümmler was in Hnojnik near Cieszyn in Czechoslovakia. Hesse kept in touch with him using couriers. At the beginning of April 1945, it was clear to everyone that the war would soon be over. In this connection, Hesse sent a letter to Thümmler with the proposal to release the prisoners in the event of further evacuation of the Gestapo Ausweichstelle. The returning courier soon provided the answer; Thümmler not only rejected such a solution, but also ordered all prisoners of Sonderkommando Kattowitz to be shot if there was a need. SS-Obersturmführer (?) Güntzschel reassured the prisoners that he would not carry out such an order. [4]At about the same time, the Gestapo burnt the files that had been hauled to Ölsnitz.

In mid-April 1945, the last stage of the evacuation began for the prisoners from the Sonderkommando Kattowitz. Together with the Gestapo men, the prisoners were evacuated on horse-drawn carts to Czechoslovakia. There the prisoners were unexpectedly abandoned by the Gestapo officers who fled. The confused prisoners decided to return to Ölsnitz. On the way back, they met a group of Czechoslovakian prisoners released from another camp who did not join them, and then they met a retreating SS unit. It was a dangerous situation; the prisoners were afraid that they would be shot. Jiři Wehle saved the situation: “The officer in charge of the SS asked what we were doing here. Fortunately, I knew the German language well, so I explained to him that we belonged to the Ausweichstelle of the Katowice Gestapo, and the commander of the convoy had told us to wait here for his return. The explanation was convincing because we were left alone.”[5]

Soon the prisoners were liberated by American troops.


[1] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Jiři Wehle, Vol. 89a, p. 13.
[2] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Jiři Wehle, Vol. 89a, p. 13.
[3] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Jiři Wehle, Vol. 89a, p. 13.
[4] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Jiři Wehle, Vol. 89a, p. 13.
[5] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Jiři Wehle, Vol. 89a, p. 13.

The Post War History of the Former Sub Camp Aussenkommando Kattowitz

After the war, the former Gestapo headquarters building was taken over by the Wojewódzki Urząd Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego (Provincial Office for Public Security), and then the Biuro Wojewódzkich Specjalistycznych Klinik (Office of Provincial Specialist Clinics). This is a multi-storey, three-wing neoclassical building whose main entrance is located on the front wing along ul. Powstańców. In the basement of this building there are still exist the cells for Gestapo prisoners, also used by the prisoners from Auschwitz.

The Preservation Status of the Former Sub Camp Sonderkommando Kattowitz

The sub camp known as Sonderkommando Kattowitz was associated with three places that were the subject of site visits by the Tiergartenstrasse4Association in 2006 and 2007.

According to the prisoners’ accounts, for the first three weeks they slept in one of the cells of the Kattowitz Gestapo. Later, they were housed in a separate barrack (shed) located in the brickyard located at ul Ceglana in Katowice.

The building in which the Gestapo headquarters was located is now at ul Powstańców 31 in Katowice. After the war, in the former Gestapo headquarters building was the Wojewódzki Urząd Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego (Provincial Office for Public Security), and now the Biuro Wojewódzkich Specjalistycznych Klinik (Office of Provincial Specialist Clinics). This is a multi-storey, three-wing neoclassical building whose main entrance is located on the front wing along ul. Powstańców. In the basement of this building there still exist the cells for Gestapo prisoners, also used by the prisoners from Auschwitz. One of the most interesting rooms is an air-raid shelter built by the Auschwitz prisoners. It is a room with a height of approximately 2.5 meters and an area of ​​approximately 80 square meters. Currently, a fragment of the shelter with an area of ​​approx. 12 square meters has been separated as a boiler room. The shelter was built very quickly using the simplest construction techniques. Most probably, a coal loading platform was used for this purpose, which was widened and deepened and then using a wooden frame covered with concrete. To this day, the reflected relief of this wooden frame can be seen on the walls. The ceiling consists of longitudinal reinforced concrete beams resting on the walls. In the room of the boiler room meals were given to the prisoners. There was also a toolbox there. The room is adjacent to the shelter.

After three weeks, the prisoners were moved to a barrack located in the brickyard at ul Ceglana in Katowice. No buildings have been preserved in the brickworks. The only remnants are the so-called clay, or water reservoirs in the old clay diggings.

The ruins of the Schloss Schwarzengrund still exist.

Memorialisation

At the main entrance to the building of the former headquarters of the Gestapo at Ul Powstańców, there is a plaque with the following inscription: “SPÓJRZCIE – OTO MURY PRZESIĄKNIĘTE ZBRODNIĄ! W TYM GMACHU W LATACH 1939-1945 MIAŁO SWĄ SIEDZIBĘ GESTAPO, A WLATACH 1945-1954 WOJEWÓDZKI URZĄD BEZPIECZEŃSTWA PUBLICZNEGO. TU JEDNI I DRUDZY WIĘZILI, TORTUROWALI I MORDOWALI NAJLEPSZYCH SYNÓW NARODU POLSKIEGO.” (LOOK – HERE THE WALLS ARE STEEPED IN CRIME! IN THIS BUILDING IN THE YEARS 1939-1945 THE GESTAPO HAD ITS HEADQUARTERS, AND IN 1945-1954 THE PROVINCIAL PUBLIC SECURITY HAD THEIR OFFICE. HERE BOTH OF THEM, IMPRISONED, TORTURED, AND KILLED THE BEST SONS OF THE POLISH NATION) Under the inscription is the symbol of Fighting Poland and the signature of the plaque creator : ZWIĄZEK WIĘŹNIÓW POLITYCZNYCH OKRESU STALINOWSKIEGO, ODDZIAŁ KATOWICE, WRZESIEŃ 1996. This plaque does not specifically mention the sub camp of Auschwitz based in this Gestapo building.

Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Site Visit

As far as we are aware the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum had not visited the former Gestapo headquarters at ul Powstańców.

Topography of the Sub Camp Sonderkommando Kattowitz

Technical drawing of Gestapo Headquarters in Katowice. Bunker built by prisoners in yellow. IPN
Technical drawing of Gestapo Headquarters in Katowice. IPN
Map of the former Sonderkommando Kattowitz sub camp. T4

Location of the Sub Camp Sonderkommando Kattowitz

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Photographs

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

Tiergartenstrasse4Association Photographs from Site Visits