Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando

Name of the camp
Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando
Commandant of the camp
SS-Oberscharführer Wilhelm Edmund Claussen
Number of SS Guards
After three days only the Lagerführer and three other SS men remained in the camp. The rest of the guards were members of the Schupo, gendarmerie, and casual Bahnschutze and industrial guards from the refinery. Estimated 4 SS guards and 10 others.
Other information
Groups of prisoners in the Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando worked for a few days in late October 1944 in the sugar factory in Chybie, where they located and disarmed unexploded bombs.
Work type
Bomb Disposal: Removal of unexploded bombs from the refinery and surrounding areas.
Employer
Reichsbahn Tschechowitz, Vacuum Oil Company S.A
Sub camp buildings
The buildings of a former brewery were adapted for use by the sub camp.
Number of prisoners
Approximately 100 male prisoners.
Nationality of prisoners
Originally approximately 60 German prisoners, 3 Jewish prisoners and several Kapos. Subsequently exchanged for 100 Jewish prisoners and 8 Kapos.
Period of camp existence
20 August 1944 – September 1944
Dissolution / Evacuation of the sub camp
At the beginning of September 1944 the camp was closed and all prisoners were sent back to Auschwitz.
Dates of site visits by Tiergartenstrasse4 Association
June 2006 and November 2007
Memorialisation
No known memorial.
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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 Background to the Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando

On May 8, 1944, the USAAF decided to simultaneously attack industrial plants in Silesia that produced synthetic gasoline from coal. The main targets of the bombings were the plants in Blachownia Śląska, Kędzierzyn, Oświęcim-Dwory and Zdzieszowice, refineries in Trzebinia and Czechowice-Dziedzice, and plants in Novy Bohumin in Czechoslovakia. One such Allied raid took place on August 20, 1944 on industrial facilities located in Czechowice.[1] This resulted directly in the formation of the Auschwitz sub camp Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando.

Although the Allied 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 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 inflicted on the refinery, where the destruction was estimated at approximately 70-90%.[2] The severe damage was most likely the result of mistakes by the German anti-aircraft units. In addition, as a result of the surprise and confusion arising from the mistakes, the air raid sirens were cancelled thus preventing any warning of the impending attack. Jana Mazura who witnessed the raid testified after the war: “The planes came from Oświęcim. The air alarm was announced when the planes were close. I barely managed to hide in the field when the bombs started to fall.”[3] Another witness testified that around 600 bombs were dropped during the raid.[4] Many of the bombs did not explode, because much of the bombing area was wasteland with loose soil, ponds and so-called cops in which the bombs were trapped.

It is not known exactly who initiated the establishment of the Bombensucherkommando in Czechowice. Most likely the Reichsbahn in Czechowice (Reichsbahn Tschechowitz) requested the Auschwitz prisoners.


[1] https://tramwajcieszynski.pl/jak-amerykanie-amerykanska-rafinerie-bedaca-w-niemieckich-rekach-zbombardowali-czyli-o-nalocie-bombowym-na-czechowice-20-sierpnia-1944-roku/ Viewed 25 August 2019.
[2] Strzelecka, Irena,  Szymański, Tadeusz Podobóz Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 187-188.
[3] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Jana Mazura, Vol. 3, p. 340.
[4] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Janö Vamosi, Vol. 66, p. 9.

The History of the Sub Camp Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando

The decision to create the Bombensucherkommando was made on the same day the air raid took place on the industrial facilities located in Czechowice, that is August 20, 1944. Franz Hössler, acting on the orders of the overall Auschwitz camp commandant SS-Sturmbannführer Richard Baer and the head of the SS labour department Oberscharführer Max Selel, informed SS-Oberscharführer Wilhelm Edmund Claussen he would become Lagerführer of a new sub camp and should immediately go to Czechowice-Dziedzice.[1]

Rapportführers Oswald Kaduk and Heine Hertwig and Lagerälteste Dürmayer were responsible for selecting the prisoners from Auschwitz I. They picked the prisoners they needed from the Sandgrube Kommando. They were led to the corridor of Block 24 in Auschwitz I, where their personal details were written down. In accordance with the orders of Richard Baer, ​​they were taken the same day, after the evening roll call to Czechowice. The group included around 60 German prisoners, 3 Jewish prisoners and several Kapos, including Seppl, Mentlem and “Long Hans”. The transport most likely was provided by the Reichsbahn Tschechowitz in the form of two wood gas powered lorries.[2]

Upon arriving in Czechowice, the prisoners hoped they would sleep for the night at Czechowice-Południe train station, where two waiting rooms were made available to them. However, due to the need to restart the railway, they were immediately sent to work to remove unexploded bombs that lay between the rail tracks.[3]

In the morning, after a short break, the prisoners were led by Lagerführer Claussen to the former beer bottling plant and restaurant owned by Henryk Feliks. The Lagerführer explained to the prisoners that they would work hard, but in return they would be better fed, would receive paper and even chocolate. To prove this, a barrel of beer was rolled out, from which every prisoner could drink a little.[4]

These buildings become the residence of prisoners of the Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando sub camp. A camp headquarters was set up in the two-story building at ul Dworcowa, in which the restaurant and Feliks’s apartment were located. There was a camp office, Lagerführer’s room, rooms for guards, and a food warehouse. The prisoners, however, were accommodated in a long building behind the restaurant, where the former icehouse and the room for bottling beer was located. The prisoners slept on bunk beds with mattresses and blankets for covers. The prisoners accommodation also had tables and benches. In addition to these two stone buildings, there was an old barn and shed in the camp area, in which tools were stored, as well as excavated and disarmed bombs. The area of ​​the camp was enclosed with a wire mesh fence.[5]

The prisoners were dressed in typical striped clothing, and for footwear had clogs or leather shoes. Those prisoners for which no striped uniforms were available were issued with civilian clothes marked with painted stripes.

Provisional washbasins for the prisoners were set up in the yard in front of their accommodation. The latrine was set up between the barn and the shed, but could only be used during the day. At night, tin barrels were left in the prisoners’ accommodation for their toiletry needs.

Meals for prisoners were prepared in the field kitchen, which was located in the yard next to the house where the guard rooms were located. The food was slightly better than at the Auschwitz main camp. Four prisoners under the supervision of a Kapo, nicknamed “Long Hans”, were responsible for their preparation. The provisions necessary for food preparation were provided from the Auschwitz main camp. [6] The prisoners also received additional food. During the removal of unexploded bombs from the refinery area, the former Vacuum Oil Company S.A delivered a boiler of soup to the prisoners workplace.

According to the account of the commander of the sub camp Claussen [7],  he came to Czechowice in the first week of operation of Bombesucherkommando. He had been informed that on orders from the commandant of Auschwitz Richard Baer, ​​that all German prisoners were to be replaced by Jewish prisoners. Shortly after his visit, the German prisoners were transported back to Auschwitz I, in their place came about 100 Jewish prisoners and 8 new Kapos.[8] Richard Baer’s order also instructed that the camp guards be exchanged. With a few exceptions the SS guards, all returned to Auschwitz I. The new guards were provided by the head of the police in Czechowice.

The work of finding and extracting unexploded bombs only happened when Claussen had sufficient guards. The prisoners divided into groups of 6-7, and under the control of guards were sent into the surrounding areas of southern Czechowice and the village of Bestwina to disarm unexploded bombs.

The former prisoner Jenő Vámosi remembered his work in the Bombesucherkommando: “The Kapos along with the guard escort found the areas where the unexploded bombs had fallen and then the prisoners were led there and the (dismantling of the) unexploded bomb began. In difficult terrain, it took up to 8 hours of work to dig up a bomb using one group of 6-7 men. Within a radius of over 2 meters of the place where the bomb was stuck, we dug the ground up, throwing it aside. A large funnel shaped hole was formed, at the bottom of which the bomb was dug up. After finding the bomb, the group’s Vorarbeiter (foreman) had to excavate it from the ground. When the bomb, and especially it´s fuse had been cleaned, the German specialist entered the funnel, examined the fuse carefully and then unscrewed it – disarming the bomb. The artilleryman and Vorarbeiter were below, and the other prisoners lay hidden behind the embankment (…). The disarmed bomb was carried out of the funnel (…).”[9] The disarming of the unexploded bombs was carried out by two Luftwaffe bomb disposal technicians. One of them soon left the Bombensucherkommando, while the other, named Fischer, stayed on site until the camp was dissolved.[10]

After the war, Wilhelm Claussen explained that the work carried out by the prisoners was both physically demanding and dangerous; the prisoners suffered a constant psychological burden due to the possibility of one of the bombs exploding.

During the three weeks of the existence of the Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando sub camp, the prisoners excavated and disarmed more than 80 unexploded bombs.

At the end of October 1944, 10 prisoners were selected from the Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando, and were transported to the town of Chybie[11] in order to dig up unexploded bombs that were found in the local sugar factory. The prisoners spent a week there, during which time they removed about 10 unexploded bombs. They were accommodated in the local prison, while meals were served to them in a local canteen-restaurant. They were supervised by SS men Hartwig, Breiuer and Brüll. On October 28, the prisoners returned to Auschwitz I.[12]


[1] Strzelecka, Irena,  Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 189-191.
[2] Strzelecka, Irena,  Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 189-199.
[3] Strzelecka, Irena,  Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18,  p. 191.
[4] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of former prisoner Janö Vamosi, Vol. 66, p. 9.
[5] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of Jan Mazur, Vol. 11, p. 37.
[6] APMAB. Zespół Fahrbefehl, orders from 24-28 and 30 August 1944.
[7] APMAB. Proces Załogi, Vol. 78, p. 260.
[8] They were mainly Jews from Poland, France and Hungary.
[9] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of former prisoner Janö Vamosi, Vol. 66, p. 9.
[10] Strzelecka, Irena,  Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 194-195.
[11] Chybie – village in Cieszyn county, about 30 km from Oświęcim.
[12] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of former prisoner Janö Vamosi, Vol. 66, p. 10-11.
Literature:
Strzelecka, Irena,  Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 189-199.

The SS Guard Unit

The guard unit was originally comprised of Kommandoführer SS-Oberscharführer Wilhelm Claussen and SS men from the Auschwitz main camp. After a few days, only Claussen and three other SS men remained in the camp, and the rest of the guards were made up of members of the Schupo, gendarmerie, and casual Bahnschutz and industrial guards from the refinery. [1] According to the accounts of witnesses and the memories of prisoners, the guards behaved quite decently towards the prisoners. However, there were cases of prisoners being beaten in the sub camp and prisoners being forced to perform penal exercises.


[1] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of former prisoner Janö Vamosi, vol. 66, p. 9.
Literature:
Strzelecka, Irena,  Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 189-199.

The SS Guards

References:
Rudorff, Andrea, Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando in Des Ort des Terrors Band 5, Geschichte der Nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager. C.H.Beck 2007, p 309.
BA Ludwigsburg B162/2680 and B162/2679.
Zppw-auschwitz.pl Zwiazek Polaków Pomordowanych w Auschwitz. List of 8,500 SS men in KL Auschwitz.
Strzelecka, Irena,  Szymański, Tadeusz, Podobóz Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando, [in:] Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [1983] Nr 18, p. 189-199.
IPN database of Auschwitz SS guards. https://truthaboutcamps.eu/th/form/60,Zaloga-SS-KL-Auschwitz.html.

The Evacuation of the Sub Camp Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando

The camp was closed in the first half of September 1944 and the prisoners were transported back to Auschwitz I.[1]


[1] In October 1944, a group of prisoners were sent to Czechowice from the former Bombensucherkommando to remove one unexploded bomb.

The Post War History of the Buildings of the Former Sub Camp Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando

We have been unable to determine what the buildings where used for after the war. At the time of the Tiergartenstarsse4Association site visits the building of the former Henryk Feliks beer bottling plant was used as offices.

The Preservation Status of the Former Sub Camp Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando

One of the two substantial buildings of the Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando sub camp in which prisoners were housed has survived. This is the station building at the Czechowice-Dziedzice Południe train station. This building is still used as a railway station. Inside, you can see the waiting room, where prisoners working in this Kommando were housed for several hours. This was, as already noted, a temporary solution.

On the other side of the railway tracks at 15 ul Dworcowa is the building of the former Henryk Feliks beer bottling plant, which was adapted for the sub camp. Before the war, this building housed a flat and a restaurant owned by Feliks. During the period of operation of the Bombensucherkommando, flats for SS men and a Kapo, Lagerführer’s office and food warehouse were set up there. At present, the rooms on the ground floor are occupied by businesses. Tiergartenstrasse4Association did not gain access to this building.

Unfortunately, the building where the beer was bottled and which was used for prisoner accommodation and the old barn where the excavation equipment, tools and were kept and the prisoner kitchen with latrine was located have not survived.

Memorialisation

There is no plaque commemorating the martyrdom of prisoners of the Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando sub camp in the station building or in the area of the former beer bottling plant.

Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Site Visit

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum visited the site of the former sub camp Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando in 1959 and took one photograph: “Prisoner’s building seen form the north.” (photo reference 4372).

Other Photographs / Site Visits

In 2017, a resident of Czechowice-Dziedzice Janina Białoń and her family decided to publish original photographs of the prisoners and guards of the Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando, which she received in September 1944 from one of the prisoners. She recalled that in September 1944, when the prisoners had finished their work, she stood next to the gate through which they passed and at one point one of them handed her the photographs and a written report. The original photographs together with the report were donated to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim. [1]

The six photographs show the prisoners of the Kommando with guards in what looks like a very relaxed atmosphere.


[1] https://dzieje.pl/aktualnosci/unikalne-zdjecia-wiezniow-auschwitz-trafily-do-bielskiego-historyka. Viewed 25 August 2019. https://wpolityce.pl/spoleczenstwo/379634-tylko-u-nas-unikalne-zdjecia-wiezniow-auschwitz-trafily-do-bielskiego-historyka-fotografie-wkrotce-trafia-do-zbiorow-muzeum-auschwitz-galeria. Viewed 26 August 2019

Topography of the Sub Camp Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando

Map of former sub camp Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando. T4

Location of the Sub Camp Tschechowitz-Bombensucherkommando

TitleCategoryAddressDescriptionLink

Photographs

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

Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Photographs from Site Visits

Prisoner building from the north. 1959 APMAB 4372

Tiergartenstrasse4Association Photographs from Site Visits

Other Photographs and Postcards