Wirtschaftshof Birkenau

Name of the camp
Wirtschaftshof Birkenau
Commandant of the camp
SS-Oberscharführer Ötting
SS-Oberscharführer Bernhard Glaue
SS-Rottenführer Hinz
Number of SS Guards
25 to 30 SS guards from the Landswirtschaftskompanie of the SS-T.-Sturmbann Auschwitz. Predominantly Germans and Volksdeutsche from Poland and Hungary.
Work type
Agriculture: Agricultural work on an SS farm.
Employer
Auschwitz concentration camp until February 1942
Landwirtschaft des Auschwitz O/S from February 1942
SS-WVHA/Amt W V; Land-, Forst- und Fischwirtschaft from February 1942
Sub camp buildings
Wooden barracks were erected by Auschwitz prisoners for the sub camp.
Number of prisoners
Between 200 and 260 male prisoners. 204 on 17 January 1945
Nationality of prisoners
In the early days of the sub camp non-Jewish Poles. Later Hungarian Jews and also Jews from the Litzmannstadt (Łódź) ghetto.
Period of camp existence
August 1943 – 18 January 1945
Dissolution / Evacuation of the sub camp
Evacuation on 18 January 1945. The prisoners from the sub camps of Budy Männerlager and Birkenau trecked togtheor with equipment from the Wirtschaftshof on horse and carts to the Tatra mountains in Czechoslovakia. What happened to the prisoners after then is unknown.
Dates of site visits by Tiergartenstrasse4 Association
September 2006, November 2006 and July 2007
Memorialisation
There is no memorial at the former sub camp Birkenau itself. There is an information board at the entrance to Auschwitz II-Birkenau erected by the Polish population of the former Interessengebiet in April 2001.
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 Landwirtschaft des Auschwitz O/S

The development of the agricultural economy in the vicinity of the Auschwitz camp, SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler himself had prioritized. He was a farmer by profession, and even before the war had ordered the establishment of concentration camp farms (for example, in Dachau the plantation farming of herbs and also gardening). In November 1940, the Auschwitz camp commandant, Rudolf Höss gave Himmler a verbal report on the development of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He presented all of the difficulties encountered during the establishment of the camp and the further development of the camp. The meeting was also attended by the head of the office, III D (Agriculture, Forestry, Handicrafts), SS-Sturmbannführer Heinrich Vogel.[1] It was known that Himmler did not like to listen to the complaints of his subordinates; Höss mentions in his diary: “Interest by him (Himmler) was increased when I started talking about the entire area and explained the plans. Changed immediately. He was greatly interested in the plan and gave instructions one after another and noted down everything that was to be built on the land. Auschwitz is to be the agricultural experimental station for the East. There are opportunities which we have not had yet in Germany. … Every agricultural discipline needed to be there. They are to create branches of the great laboratories for plant breeding. Breeding cattle of all breeds and types is required. Vogel is to immediately source experts. Clean ponds, recover land, build embankments along the Vistula River (…). In the near future he wants to see everything in Auschwitz. They further discussed their plans for the agricultural area to the smallest detail, until the adjutant on duty told them he was to meet important people, who had been waiting for a long time.” [2]

Implementation of these plans gained momentum after the first visit by Himmler to Oświęcim on March 1, 1941. During the visit and inspection of the Auschwitz camp Heinrich Himmler was accompanied by SS officers from the camp but also Gauleiter of Upper Silesia SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Bracht, Obergruppenführer Ernst Schmauser, SS-Oberführer Glücks, leaders from the district and leading representatives of IG Farben. After the visit to the camp and its surrounding Interest Area (Interessengebiet) Himmler ordered Höss as follows: a) expand the Auschwitz camp to a capacity of 30,000 prisoners, b) build in the village of Brzezinka, a second camp for 100,000 prisoners of war, c) support the planned construction of industrial plants on land provided for IG Farben at Dwory near Oświęcim, and provide about 10,000 prisoners, d) develop the whole Interessengebiet, especially for agriculture and livestock.[3]

This area was large, covering about 40 square kilometres and before the war had been partly farmed by Poles. Adverse soil and climatic conditions, made the area ideal for experimenting on improvements in farming techniques that could be used in ecologically fragile areas in the East. A huge advantage of undertaking such a large agricultural experiment in the Auschwitz Interresengebiet was the availability of male and female prisoners from the Auschwitz concentration camp.[4]

In February 1942 a new department named the Landwirtschaft des Auschwitz O/S was created headed by SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Caesar.[5] Dr Caesar reported to the head of the newly created SS-WVHA/Amt W V; Land-, Forst- und Fischwirtschaft, SS-Sturmbannführer Heinrich Vogel. Certain day to day administration functions of the farming camps remained with Auschwitz. With the administrative changes in Auschwitz in the Autumn of 1943 the day to day administration of the Interessengebiet came under the authority of Auschwitz II-Birkenau. [6]

The farming camp of Auschwitz had their own guard unit named the Landswirtschaftskompanie of the SS-T.-Sturmbann Auschwitz. The SS guards were assigned from the Landswirtschaftskompanie of the SS-T.-Sturmbann Auschwitz to each individual farm for guard duty. The Landswirtschaftskompanie was made up of men from the 9/ SS-T.-Sturmbann Auschwitz and later the 2.Stabskompanie/ SS-T.-Sturmbann Auschwitz. The first head of the Landswirtschaftskompanie was SS Hauptsturmführer Thomsen. His successor was Hauptsturmführer Ziemssen. Thomsen was the deputy and adjutant to the chief of the Landwirtschaft des Auschwitz O/S, Dr Caeasar. The Spiess of the Landswirtschaftskompanie was SS Hauptsturmführer Becker. The company headquarters of the Landswirtschaftskompanie was at the experimental station in Rajsko. Later it was moved to the SS barracks in Auschwitz I. By the Autumn of 1944 there were approximately 300 men in the Landswirtschaftskompanie. [7]

Reinhard Thomsen described the creation of Landwirtschaft des Auschwitz O/S and Landswirtschaftskompanie in post war testimony, “ As I came to Auschwitz in May 1940 the camp was still being built up. My task from the beginning and thereafter was to build up the agricultural department and subsequently get the Auschwitz ariculture operational. This seemed necessary in particular because the Poles in the immediate vicinity of the camp were to be resettled and the fields would therefore lie fallow. The idea for setting up a special Landwirtschaftbetriebe of the camp could have come from the commandant Höss, as he was strongly interested in agricultural matters. The workforce for agricultural work I sought first from the Wachkompanien. At the beginning under my leadership were only SS. After, sometime, in the spring or summer of 1941 my department was given prisoners for use as workers. The entire area was split up into departments:

  1. Poultry farm (Harmense)
  2. Fish Farming (also in Harmense)
  3. A forest department
  4. A sheep farm (but after a short time this was closed as it did not pay)
  5. A nursery (Rajsko)
  6. A tree nursery
  7. Three agricultural areas (Budy, Broszkowitz)[8]
  8. A plant research station (in Rajsko. This was set up as a kind of secret department under Dr Caesar)

The prisoners that worked for the different agricultural departments were at first brought from the Auschwitz main camp to their workplace and in the evening brought back. When in early 1942 Dr. Caesar came to Auschwitz and took over the leadership of the agricultural department the prisoners assigned to agricultural work were withdrawn and were brought to barracks at their workplace.” [9]

From the 7th April 1941 to 12th April 1941 (and in the case of Pławy 8 March 1941) the Germans resettled the population from the villages in the Interessengebiet that were to be used as farms: Babice (in German Babitz), Brzezinka (in German Birkenau), Harmęże (in German Harmense), Rajsko (In German Raisko) and Pławy (In German Plawy).[10]

Residents were only able to take their movable property, excluding farm machinery and tools, and were transported to the train station at Oświęcim where they were sent to the General Government. The cattle and farm equipment were taken over by the Auschwitz concentration camp. Only a few people – mostly railroad workers and miners – were allowed to live in the neighbouring villages. Then the Abbruchkommando was sent in to demolish the abandoned houses and farm buildings.


[1] Piper, Franciszek, Zatrudnienie więźniów KL Auschwitz, Oświęcim 1981, p. 188-189.
[2] Autobiografia Rudolfa Hössa, komendanta obozu oświęcimskiego, Warszawa 1989, p. 274.
[3] Czech, Danuta, Kalendarz wydarzeń w KL Auschwitz, Oświęcim 1992, p. 52.
[4] Lasik, Aleksander, Struktura organizacyjna obozu [in:] Auschwitz 1940-1945. Węzłowe zagadnienia z dziejów obozu, vol. I: Założenie i organizacja obozu, Edit. Wacław Długoborski, Franciszek Piper, Oświęcim 1995, p. 213.
[5] Joachim Caesar, SS-Obersturmbannführer, born. May 30, 1901 in Boppard, Doctor of Agricultural Sciences, a member of the NSDAP from 1 September 1931 (No Party: 626,589) and the Allgemeine-SS from 27 June 1933 (Registration No: 74704), to 1 April 1937 was an officer of the Central Office Affairs of the SS Race and Settlement (SS-Rasse-und Siedlungshauptamt, R.u.SHA). From 2 August 1941, employed in the Training Department of the Waffen-SS (Schulungsamt der Waffen-SS), where he was seconded to the Office of Human Resources Recruitment Agency of the Waffen-SS (Ergänzungsamt der Waffen-SS). From 16 February 1942, he was an SS officer in the WVHA assigned as manager of the farms in Auschwitz. From: BDC, personal file of Joachim Caesar.
[6] StA Ludwigsburg StAL EL 317 VI_Bu 881, p. 36-38.
[7] StA Ludwigsburg StAL EL 317 VI_Bu 881, p. 29.
[8] Budy, Plawy and Birkenau.
[9] StA Ludwigsburg StAL EL 317 VI_Bu 885. Testimony of Reinhard Thomsen 15 March 1962.
[10] StA Ludwigsburg StAL EL 317 VI_Bu 881, p. 26.

The History of the Sub Camp Wirtschaftshof Birkenau

Before the establishment of the sub camp in Brzezinka, Aussenkommandos would come to work the farm area in Brzezinka from the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. The prisoners would leave Auschwitz-Birkenau early in the morning and be marched back at the end of the day’s work.

The first time Auschwitz sub camp Wirtschaftshof Birkenau is mentioned in surviving records is in a letter dated 15 October 1943 from the medical office at Auschwitz to the paramedics attached to the sub camps.[1] It is possible that Wirtschaftshof Birkenau sub camp had been founded earlier. Andrzej Strzelecki in his article on the Wirtschaftshof Birkenau estimates the date of the opening of the sub camp as August 1943. [12]

The sub camp was located in the village of Brzezinka a distance of about 1.5 km from the main gate leading to Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp and about 0.7 km from the commandant’s house at the camp.

It is not known exactly how the buildings of the sub camp were organised. Beyond doubt the camp was surrounded by an electrified barbed wire fence, hung on concrete posts. Inside the fence were a few barracks, of which at least one served as the prisoner’s accommodation. The barracks were located just off the main gate leading to the camp. [2] In the post war witness statements of prisoners from Wirtschaftshof Birkenau there is no information on use of the other barracks for work or accommodation, or of guard towers.

The average number of prisoners in Wirtschaftshof Birkenau was approximately 200. Some of them had been transported to Auschwitz from the Łódź ghetto. [3]

Little is known of the quality of the prisoners’ daily food, which was supplied from Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The extra food the prisoners managed to scavenge were sugar beets; used for feeding the horses, but the prisoners in the Kommando that fed the horses – if there were 3 or 4 beets for a horse, took one for the prisoners. In the post-war testimonies it was confirmed that this scavenged food saved many prisoners lives. The pains of hunger were stronger than the fear of detection by the SS guards who would have considered such actions sabotage. [4]

The hunger that prevailed among the prisoners led to some extreme situations. Zeev Factor, a former prisoner testified after the war that once the SS shot a dog at Wirtschaftshof Birkenau. They gave the dead dog to the prisoners, saying that’s “something for you, some dinner”. The starved prisoners after the preparation of the slaughtered dog ate the meat with some delight. [5]

The workday began at 04:00 hrs and ended around 22.00 hrs.[6] Prisoners of Wirtschaftshof Birkenau were divided into several Kommandos. A group of approximately 40 to 60 Hungarian Jews were employed in the stables. A second group worked with the horses. The remainder of the prisoners at Birkenau Wirtschaftshof worked the surrounding arable fields harvesting agricultural crops and also worked at field drainage. [7]

In November 1944, a selection took place in the sub camp, “Me and a few other less healthy-looking men were removed from the gangs of prisoners working with the horses and we were sent to the gangs working in the drainage fields. I was in very poor condition a semi-Muselmann. After about one month of work in this new commando I felt that I was struggling.”[8]

Due to the harsh working and living conditions in sub camp Wirtschaftshof Birkenau prisoners resorted to various tricks, just to get away from the sub camp. Zeev Factor: “Seeing that I was almost at the end and saw death before my eyes, I decided to take a step which saved me. In December 1944, we knew that the crematoria and gas chambers were no longer working. We had also heard that there was an uprising in Birkenau, and that part of the crematorium building was blown up and that prisoners who fell ill after that time, or succumbed to injuries at work were sent to the so-called sickbay in Oswiecim – Auschwitz I. And then I decided that morning, when cleaning the stables to put my leg under a nearby heavy car. I did it. They loaded me onto a cart and transported me to Auschwitz I, where there were physicians. There was a hospital. [9] Another prisoner, who decided to ‘leave’ Wirtschaftshof Birkenau in a similar manner, was Mojsze Rybkowski: “(…) I wanted to do the same thing as Factor, but before doing so I was fearful I would be caught and charged by the SS. I decided on a different kind of trick. It did concern my health, in particular my hernia, which I had had since before the war when somebody kicked me when I was a boy. When I strained, it felt it a little bit (It went out a bit.) I reported the ailment to the orderly, or the doctor (I cannot remember exactly whether it was an orderly or doctor). He promised me that in due time I would be brought before the SS. I stood before this committee in mid-December 1944 I was told – well – in a sense that something would be done. After some time, on 3 January 1945, I was actually sent to a hospital in Auschwitz I. If I remember correctly, I was taken there on foot and estimated that the distance between the sub-camp and Auschwitz I was about 3 km. In the hospital I was sent to the surgical ward (Chirurgische Abteilung) located in block 21. On January 12, I was looked at. On this date my hernia was finally operated on.” [10]

Even after the establishment of the Birkenau sub camp, Aussenkommandos came daily to work at the farm in Brzezinka from Auschwitz II-Birkenau, including Kommandos Dunschke and Lechmann. [11]


[1]  Piper, Franciszek, Zatrudnienie więźniów KL Auschwitz, Oświęcim 1981, p. 200-201.
[2] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of former prisoner Zeew Factor, Vol. 134, p. 166.
[3] Strzelecki, Andrzej, Deportacja Żydów z getta łódzkiego do KL Auschwitz i ich zagłada, Oświęcim 2004, p. 61.
[4] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of former prisoner Zeew Factor, Vol. 134, p. 166.
[5] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of former prisoner Zeew Factor, Vol. 134, p. 168.
[6] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of former prisoner Zeew Factor, Vol. 134, p. 166.
[7] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of former prisoner Mojsze Rybowski, Vol. 134, p. 224.
[8] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of former prisoner Mojsze Rybowski, Vol. 134, p. 224.
[9] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of former prisoner Zeew Factor, Vol. 134, p. 168.
[10] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of former prisoner Mojsze Rybowski, Vol. 134, p. 225.
[11] StA Ludwigsburg StAL EL 317 VI_Bu 882, p. 301.
[12] Strzelecki, Andrzej, The Wirtschaftshof Birkenau Sub Camp, in Auschwitz Studies 29 [2018], p. 97-115.
Literature:
Strzelecki, Andrzej, The Wirtschaftshof Birkenau Sub Camp, in Auschwitz Studies 29 [2018], p. 97-115.

The Evacuation of the Sub Camp Wirtschaftshof Birkenau

The evacuation of the Wirtschaftshof Birkenau took place on 18 January 1945. The leader of the evacuation was the Lagerführer SS Unterscharführer Kurt Weilandt, “With regard to the evacuation march I can say that we received orders from Auschwitz to leave. The Landwirtschaft in Budy and Birkenau had then trekked together. On the horse-drawn carts were loaded grain, work tools and the like, everything we might need. So far as I remember the horses collected in Budy were nervous. These horse drawn carts, driven by the SS men, were partly taken from the Poles who had not been imprisoned. Today I cannot remember whether these horse-drawn carts were also driven by prisoners. However I have in my mind that this was not the case. What happened to the foals in the Budy camp I do not know. The trek took us to the Tatra mountains in Czechoslovakia where the horses were changed I received orders to go to Berlin…. It can be that the march lasted 14 days or less. What happened after the changing of the horses to the tools and also to the people I cannot say. How the prisoners from Budy were evacuated I cannot say.” [1]

[1] StA Ludwigsburg StAL EL 317 VI_Bu 884, p. 625. Testimony of Kurt Weilandt.
Literature:
Strzelecki, Andrzej, The Wirtschaftshof Birkenau Sub Camp, in Auschwitz Studies 29 [2018], p. 97-115.

The SS Guard Unit

The Lagerführer of Wirtschaftshof Birkenau was firstly SS-Oberscharführer Ötting[1] and subsequently SS-Oberscharführer Glaue. [2]

Andrzej Strzelecki in his history of the Wirtschaftshof Birkenau quotes former SS guards SS-Schütze Willy Kranz and SS-Schütze Valentin Krebs as testifying the Kommandoführer between December 1943 and January 1945 were Meier, Witerich and SS-Rottenführer Herbert Wiesinger. Kranz and Krebs managed the farming activities there in the second half of 1944. [5]

SS-Rottenführer Hinz [6] was the director of the camp farm and may also have been the Lagerführer of the sub camp. [5]

The guard unit in the sub camp consisted of between 25 to 30 SS men who were permanently assigned from Auschwitz II-Birkenau. [3] They lived in a barrack outside the fenced off sub camp. [4]


[1] StA Ludwigsburg StAL EL 317 VI_Bu 884, p. 628. Testimony of Karl Ötting.
[2] StA Ludwigsburg StAL EL 317 VI_Bu 884, p. 623. Testimony of Kurt Weilandt.
[3] Piper, Franciszek, Zatrudnienie więźniów KL Auschwitz, Oświęcim 1981, p. 201.
[4] APMAB. Zespół Oświadczenia, testimony of former prisoner Zeew Factor, Vol. 134, p. 167.
[5] Strzelecki, Andrzej The Wirtschaftshof Birkenau Sub Camp, in Auschwitz Studies [2018] Nr 29,  p. 97-115.
[6] Possibly SS-Rottenführer Alfred Hinz born 12 March 1915 in Nichers. Classified as missing. BA Ludwigsburg B162/2679, p. 157.
Literature:
Strzelecki, Andrzej, The Wirtschaftshof Birkenau Sub Camp, in Auschwitz Studies 29 [2018], p. 97-115.

The SS Guards

References:
BA Ludwigsburg B162/2680, B162/2679 and B162/8949, p. 369-373.
Rudorff, Andrea, Birkenau (Brzezinka) (Wirtschaftshof) in Des Ort des Terrors Band 5, Geschichte der Nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager. C.H.Beck 2007.p 182 and 183.
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.
Strzelecki, Andrzej, The Wirtschaftshof Birkenau Sub Camp, in Auschwitz Studies 29 [2018], p. 97-115.

The Post War History of the Former Sub Camp Wirtschaftshof Birkenau

After the war the barracks of the sub camp were dismantled possibly for emergency housing. A residential and farming village has grown up around the area of the former sub camp.

The Preservation Status of the Former Sub Camp Wirtschaftshof Birkenau

The remains of the Wirtschaftshof Birkenau sub camp can be found in the village of Brzezinka near Oświęcim, about 1 km north-east of the main gate of Birkenau. Due to spatial changes that took place in this area after the war and based on our site visits the former sub camp was located between ul Sportowa and ul Sołtysów and ul Zapłocie and ul Szkolna.

Between ul Sołtysów and ul Szkolna situated between private properties there is a small field the size of a football pitch. There you can find concrete stakes for one of the barrack foundations and, in the field, several stumps that are fragments of fence posts. Column reinforcing bars protrude from the concrete fragments. A larger fragment of a fence post with a protruding steel rod with a diameter of approx. 10 mm, twice threaded from both ends was also found on one of the properties. This rod was not a fragment of the reinforcement structure of the pole, but it passed through the pole. It was used for fixing the ceramic insulators to the electrified wire. Just near the road (ul Zapłocie) a pile of rubble with concrete fragments, bricks and several fence posts were also found.

On ul Zapłocie, there is a property on which the foundations of a sub camp barrack (a cowshed) along with the top wall have been preserved. Presumably, some of the farm buildings in this area were built from bricks of the demolished buildings of the Wirtschaftshof Birkenau sub camp.

One of the most interesting remnants of the sub camp in the village of Brzezinka is located at ul Szkolna. It was a 50-meter fragment of the original camp fence in the form of fence posts, with fragments of barbed wire spanned between them and attached insulators. During the visit by Tiergartenstrasse4 Association in November 2006, 9 such fence poles still existed at ul Szkolna. During a subsequent visit in March 2007, it was found that these posts had been dug up and removed.

Memorialisation

There is no memorial at the former sub camp Wirtschaftshof Birkenau itself. There is an information board at the entrance to Auschwitz II-Birkenau erected by the Polish population of the former Interessengebiet in April 2001.

Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Site Visit

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum visited the site of the sub camp on the 22 March 1993 and took 6 photographs  (photo references 21744-1 to 21744-5, 21747-4). The site by then had long been cleared of its wooden barracks and camp infrastructure and the location looked much the same as it does today.

Topography of the Sub Camp Wirtschaftshof Birkenau

Location of the Sub Camp Wirtschaftshof Birkenau

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

Sub Camp Documents