Tiergartenstrasse 4 Association Project: Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz

Slave Labour in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp Complex – “Vernichtung durch Arbeit”.

The Origins and Primary Aims of the Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz Project

In the minds of most people around the world, Auschwitz is the symbol of industrial scale genocide, a cemetery of nations and peoples, the symbol of the Holocaust, and the place where the policies of the Nazis threatened the very essence of humanity. Stefan Wilkanowicz, who claimed in the 1990s that Auschwitz is a set of symbols, is correct.[1]

Cameron Munro, chairman of Tiergartenstrasse4Association had been interested in the fate of the 45 Auschwitz sub camps since the 1980s and harboured an ambition to re-find the sub camps. In 2005 Artur Hojan and Cameron Munro of Tiergartenstrasse4Association began to consider a project to fulfil this ambition and re-find all 45 sub camps of Auschwitz.

The original aim of the project to re-find the sub camps of the largest Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz, was not to produce histories of the sub camps but simply to satisfy our interest contained in the question – what, 60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz and its sub camps remained of the former Auschwitz sub camps? How were these sub camps memorialised if they were at all? The answer to these questions is important because the sub camps were an integral element in the structure of the Auschwitz camp complex and should therefore be brought to the attention of the general public and memorialised. The association of the name Auschwitz-Birkenau with the term “Vernichtungslager” (extermination camp) by the general public is strong. The association of the name Auschwitz-Birkenau with the term “Vernichtung durch Arbeit” (extermination through labour) by the general public less so.

Auschwitz was the result of an extreme form of hypertrophy of the traditional nation-state that was Nazi Germany. After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Nazism developed extremely rapidly through physical and economic violence. The dynamic expansion of the violence soon threatened Germany´s neighbours, and the subsequent war resulted in a scale of violence and murder that in 6 years exceeded all war crimes in history. Auschwitz, where more than a million people were murdered, is the ultimate symbol of Nazi extermination policies, however, it must not be forgotten that Auschwitz was multi-faceted. The SS as the war progressed and labour became scarce attempted to harness their captive labour force in the concentration camps both for the SS itself and the German economy. Their attempts were in the main not successful and a mentality of “Vernichtung durch Arbeit” persisted until the end of the war.  It should be noted that the number of all concentration camp prisoner labourers in 1944 was only approximately 5.33 to 6.66 % of the combined total workforce of forced labourers and POWs and only approximately 1.11 to 1.39% of the total German workforce. [2]

Labour had always been an essential element of the life of the concentration camp prisoner; “Arbeit macht Frei” became the symbol of the concentration camp system. However, in the first years of the concentration camp system, including at Auschwitz, the available prisoner labour resource was appropriated by the SS for their own purposes in both “re-educating” prisoners and working for the SS and private and SS enterprises. Little thought was given to utilising prisoner labour for the benefit of the Germany economy and subsequent general war effort. By 1943 however, the Third Reich was desperate for labour for the armaments industry, coal mines, steel works, chemical plants and other businesses to keep the war going. Up until 1943 the SS had jealously guarded the labour potential of their prisoners. Prisoners worked for SS enterprises or a few selected conglomerates such as I.G. Farben and Reichswerke Hermann Göring. By April 1943 however, private and state owned companies were pleading with SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler to allow them to utilise concentration camp prisoners in their businesses. In 1944, Germany lost most of the occupied Soviet lands and much of its source of forced labour. Head of the SS-Wirtschafts-und Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Economic and Administration Main Office) (SS-WVHA), Oswald Pohl testified after the war, “Nearly all armament factories applied to my office for concentration camp labour, while the majority of those which already employed such labour, were constantly asking for more.[3] By the time Auschwitz and its sub camps were evacuated in January 1945, more than half of the prisoners in the Auschwitz complex of camps were housed in the sub camps working for the SS, state and external private companies. The sub camps were but one element of the slave labour system in the concentration camps: thousands of prisoners in Auschwitz were assigned to Aussenkommandos. These Aussenkommandos were also assigned to work for the SS and state and external companies but returned to the main Auschwitz camps at the end of the working day.

To date the significance of the sub camps of Auschwitz in economic terms, and in the brutality, misery and ultimately death inflicted on the prisoners has not been fully understood by the general public. Auschwitz to most people means Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the arrival of prisoners on the train ramp, and the walk to the gas chambers and crematoria. In reality, the Auschwitz sub camps were a means of achieving the aims of Kriegswirtschaft while keeping the gas chambers operating; by first utilising the expected short life of prisoners for the benefit of the SS and Third Reich, before literally working them to death or gassing them when unfit to work, the policy of “Vernichtung durch Arbeit“. Many of the starved and ill  prisoners from the sub camps were subsequently murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. This website seeks to bring to wider public attention the slave labour system in the Auschwitz sub camps and the misery of the short lives of the prisoners who worked there.


[1] Wilkanowicz, Stefan, Auschwitz – problem Niemców, Polaków i Żydów, Znak No 419-420/1990, p. 3.
[2] Piper, Franciszek, Auschwitz Prisoner Labor, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 2002, p. 49.
[3] Piper, Franciszek, Auschwitz Prisoner Labor, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 2002, p. 222. 

The Detailed Aims of the Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz Project

The primary aims of the “Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz” project:

  1. Identify the exact location and remnants of the former sub camps of Auschwitz,
  2. Identify any memorialisation of the sub camps at their locations, vicinity, places of prisoner work,
  3. Photograph the remnants of the sub camps,
  4. Draw maps of the sub camps buildings based on surviving technical drawings of the camps, prisoner testimonies and the work of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum,
  5. Identify the employers of the prisoners and the premises where prisoners worked and photograph them,
  6. Produce textual histories of the individual sub camps and the companies and entities that employed the prisoners,
  7. Investigate the post war history of the sub camps including the use of the former sub camps by the communist government of Poland.

The secondary aims of the project:

  1. Source new material not existing in the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum archives from libraries, museums and local people in the areas where the sub camps and businesses were located,
  2. Undertake research in the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Archives to build upon the Museum´s excellent Hefte von Auschwitz series,
  3. Undertake research in other archives in Poland and Germany on the sub camps,
  4. Research and where possible photograph the routes of the death marches from the Auschwitz complex and its sub camps,
  5. Identify and research the SS guards of the sub camps and post 1945 war crimes trials,
  6. Record the life histories of a sample of survivors of the Auschwitz sub camps to enable conclusions to be drawn on the demographics and the paths to Auschwitz and beyond.

The project plan of the Association was to combine research in archives with physical inspection of the sites themselves to ascertain what remains of the sub camps today and any memorialisation of those sub camps.

The results of the project were to be a published monograph dedicated to the Auschwitz sub camps incorporating the photographic, topographic, documentary and textual history of each sub camp.

Implementing the Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz Project

Where to begin such an ambitious project?

Tiergartenstrasse4Association began the project in 2005 by visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and meeting the then deputy director Teresa Świebocka to explain our ideas. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum was very interested in our proposals and agreed to provide us with a letter of introduction. We believed it would prove difficult without such a letter to gain access to some locations especially businesses still operating on the sites prisoners worked; and so it proved. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum also had plans to further develop its exhibitions and would be producing a dedicated exhibition on the sub camps; Tiergartenstrasse4Association would provide material from the “Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz” project. The Association has a cooperation agreement with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

Tiergartenstrasse4Association wish to be very clear; without the fantastic help and encouragement of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and its staff this project would never have been realised. We relied heavily on the journals of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, “Zeszyty Oświęcimskie“, (“Hefte von Auschwitz” in German and more recently “Auschwitz Studies” in English) which to this day are the most comprehensive histories of the Auschwitz sub camps. Most of the journals relating to the sub camps date from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

We also wish to thank the research staff of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum who gave us their time and expertise.

The pioneering work of Dr. Franciszek Piper on the employment and economics of the Auschwitz complex including the sub camps which was published as “Zatrudnienie więźniów KL Auschwitz. Organizacja pracy i metody eksploatacji siły roboczej“, Oświęcim 1981, proved invaluable. Dr. Piper was one of the first historians of the sub camps and researched the private and state-owned companies that utlised prisoner labour and also prisoner working conditions, employment efficiency, profits generated from prisoner labour, prisoner mortality and many other topics.

Andrzej Strzelecki´s excellent work on the dissolution and evacuation of prisoners from the Auschwitz sub camps, “Ewakuacja, likwidacja i wyzwolenie KL Auschwitz”, Oświęcim 1982 was also used extensively.

An important addition to the professional literature on the economics of the sub camps was the publication by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum of Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz’s work, “Z dziejów obozów IG Farben Werk Auschwitz 1941-1945″, Oświęcim 2006 on the camps founded by the I.G. Farben concern near its Buna plant, including the largest Auschwitz sub camp Monowitz.

Another important publication heavily utilised is the Auschwitz monograph and calendar prepared by Danuta Czech, “Kalendarz wydarzeń w KL Auschwitz”, Oświęcim 1992. Both Danuta Czech´s and Dr. Setkiewicz’s publications have specifically considered many aspects of the functioning of the Auschwitz complex, the labour system and the sub camps.

Planning and research of the project ultimately named “Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz” began in March 2005. Undoubtedly, the most important piece of the work were the field trips to the Auschwitz sub camps locations. In total there were more than 12 such field trips ranging from two weeks to six weeks: including April, June, September and October 2006; March, July, October and November 2007; and February 2008. The authors spent approximately 120 days in the field. These were long days: during summer months from 07.00 hrs to 19.00 hrs and in the winter the available daylight hours. There were highs and lows: re-finding the location of a sub camp after 3 or 4 site visits were the highs; the lows were being refused access to a location where former sub camp prisoners worked. Personally, the project forms one of most rewarding parts of my life (Cameron Munro), and now producing the results of our work, and publishing them in a format accessible to a wide audience will also provide a suitable memorial to our friend and colleague Artur Hojan.

During the first field trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in 2005, a preliminary list of the likely locations of the sub camps were sourced in the professional publications in the library of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, including “Zeszyty Oświęcimskie“. Subsequently in April 2006, the Association made preliminary site visits to undertake an initial review of the locations that were listed in the archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. It was only during later field trips that detailed inspections were carried out in order to prepare in depth descriptions of the camps to enable maps to be drawn and to prepare photographic documentation. In addition, Artur Hojan moved to Oświęcim from May 2007 to June 2008 for the purposes of research in the library and archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, including sourcing testimonies of prisoners from each of the sub camps.

From the research in the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum we learned that the Museum itself had undertaken a “Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz” project in the late 1950s, 1960s up to the 1990s and taken photographs of the remnants of the sub camps and some of the places where the prisoners worked. Before the site visits of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum nobody had sought to identify and document the state of all of the Auschwitz sub camps. Unlike Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau the areas on which the Auschwitz sub camps were located including Monowitz did not come under the authority and direct remit of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum kindly provided us with copies of their post war photographs of the sub camps which proved invaluable in locating the sites of the former sub camps. We produced “field” books incorporating these photographs from each sub camp which were used on the site visits. We also attempted to prepare comparison photographs to the original Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum photographs when we visited the locations.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum photographed many but not all of the sub camps. For example as far as we are aware they had not visited the sub camps located in what is now the Czech Republic. In addition, it would appear that the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum had not visited on an organised basis all of the sub camps since their original visits in the late 1950s, 1960s up to the 1990s. Nobody had visited all of the camps for nearly 40 years.

We believe we chose the perfect time to undertake the project. Fifteen years after the fall of communism, Poland was changing rapidly. Many of the heavy industries such as coal mining and steel making were closing or had already closed when we undertook our site visits. The plants where prisoners laboured were in some cases already in the first stages of demolition. In one case the cement plant where the sub camp prisoners of Arbeitslager Golleschau laboured was being finally demolished over the 2 year period we visited. Many of the sites of the sub camps and the plants prisoners worked have either already disappeared or will vanish as Poland develops further. This project is in effect a photographic history of Poland from the war years, through communism to the fall of the Berlin wall and the rebirth of Poland as a fully independent modern democracy and economy.

Our site visits were structured by using the information sourced in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, maps prepared by the SS, maps drawn by surviving prisoners and those represented in “Zeszyty Oświęcimskie“, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum photographs to walk the localities of the sub camps and find by a matter of elimination and discussion with locals the exact locations of the sub camps. Back then we did not yet have the benefit of Google Maps. Over a series of site visits we photographed the areas, and remnants of the sub camps and the places where prisoners worked. We then, using the source material and the information collected on the site visits produced the maps of the sub camps. We also checked whether there was any memorialisation of the sub camps in terms of monuments, plaques, information boards. In total, Tiergartenstrasse4Association took more than 10,000 photographs on the site visits.

Tiergartenstrasse4Association also sought out local libraries and museums; some local people and organisations had established small museums, exhibitions on individual sub camps or businesses who employed Auschwitz prisoners. For example, some of the mines had museums which included material on the Auschwitz sub camps. We also received significant help from local historians, business caretakers and people living in the areas of the former sub camps and places prisoners worked. In some of the former sub camps we received a tour of the area from locals with significant knowledge of the former sub camp and the places prisoners worked. We would like to thank these people who are too numerous to mention by name.

Tiergartenstrasse4Association completed the site visits in 2008 and the research and production of maps, histories etc continued until 2011. The monograph was basically ready albeit in draft form.

What Happened to the Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz Project and the Publication of the Monograph?

Our friend and colleague Artur Hojan died on 9 February 2014. He is mourned to this day by his wife and young daughter, friends and colleagues. It is shameful he died so young given the outstanding research he undertook prior to his early death. After Artur´s death Tiergartenstrasse4Association moved to Berlin and was reconstituted as Tiergarten4Association e.V.

In 2017 having moved the Association to Berlin in 2014, Cameron Munro was showing some of his German colleagues including Reinald Purmann and Robert Parzer, material collected over the years including the Auschwitz sub camp research project. Both were impressed with the extent of the project but saddened that it lay unpublished and unseen on the Association´s hard drive by persons outside of the Association. At this point Tiergarten4Association e.V. decided to publish the Auschwitz sub camp material initially as a stand-alone website that could be utilised by researchers, schools and the general public. Subsequently the material would be published as a monograph.

Tiergarten4Association e.V. began to seek funds to prepare the website of the Auschwitz sub camp project. While we received sympathetic hearings from a number of institutions in Germany no funds were forthcoming. Most frustrating were contacts with institutions in Germany whose purpose is the memorialisation of the Holocaust and Nazi war crimes. Exasperated by the lack of interest and hard cash from Germany, Tiergarten4Association decided to go ahead and produce the website with its own limited funds albeit on a less grand scale than originally envisaged.

The timing of the website project is fortuitous. The 27 January 2020 is the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz and its sub camps. We dedicate this website to the former prisoners who laboured in the sub camps of Auschwitz. The latter days of the lives of most of these prisoners was spent in assisting Nazi Germany in prosecuting the war and its war aims. Most of these prisoners were dead before the end of the war of cold, starvation, disease, physical violence, murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz II-Birkenau or shot on the death marches. They are not forgotten.

The Website Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz

Once the Association decided to go ahead with the website we were very pleased that the Internationales Auschwitz Komitee (International Auschwitz Committee) and the Stiftung Denkmal für die Ermordeten Juden Europas (Foundation Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe) joined us as partners and encouraged us to present the material to as wide an audience as possible. We are grateful to them for their assistance and contributions in the production of this website.

Even with the decision taken to initially publish the material from the sub camp project as a website, and not initially as a monograph, we decided to remain faithful to the design of the original monograph. The website is in effect the original monograph online. The extent of the material on the website is vast. The written histories of the sub camps total some 800 pages and the photographs, documents and maps amount to more than 3,500 individual items.

The individual sections of the website:

  1. The history of the individual sub camps in text, maps, photographs and documents,
  2. The companies and prisoner labour,
  3. The death marches,
  4. The survivors,
  5. Trials and investigations,
  6. Memorialisation.

The largest section of the website is the histories of the 45 individual sub camps. This encompasses 95% of the material presented. The other sections provide a broad outline of their topics but are in no way complete; further research is required.

Each individual history of a sub camp is structured as follows:

  1. The pre-war history of the entity that employed the prisoners,
  2. The post-war history of the entity that employed the prisoners,
  3. The history of the sub camp,
  4. The SS guard unit,
  5. The SS guards,
  6. The post-war history of the former sub camp,
  7. The preservation status of the former sub camp,
  8. Memorialisation of the former sub camp,
  9. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum site visits,
  10. Other site visits and photographs.

A table of other Auschwitz sub camps in the same industry category is presented below the textual history of each sub camp for ease of reference.

The over 3,500 individual photographs, documents and maps are organised under each respective sub camp as follows:

  1. Topography,
  2. SS contemporary photographs,
  3. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum photographs,
  4. Tiergartenstrasse4Association photographs,
  5. Other photographs and postcards,
  6. Sub camp documents.

The textual histories of the individual sub camps and the memorialisation of those camps were originally written in Polish and have been translated into English and updated for this website. The texts on the histories of the sub camps focus on the buildings and structure of the sub camps. In addition, we have extensively incorporated testimonies from former prisoners and some former guards to allow the reader a more authentic and first hand account of the conditions in the camps and the treatment of prisoners by camp guards and the businesses that employed the prisoners. More extensive  histories of the individual sub camps can be found in the “Zeszyty Oświęcimskie” series of journals. We have utilised in the texts the Polish names of the locations of the sub camps and places Auschwitz prisoners worked but obviously the original German name of the sub camp and the entities that employed the prisoners.

The Topography section for each sub camp includes a map of the sub camp prepared by Tiergartenstrasse4Association based on surviving prisoner drawings of the camps, “Zeszyty Oświęcimskie” and Tiergartenstrasse4Association site visits. The maps identify the remnants of the sub camp buildings at the dates of the Tiergartenstrasse4Association site visits between 2005 and 2008.

The photographs of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum are captioned with the original archival captions, translated from Polish to English. The German sub camp documents are not captioned.

The photographs of individual SS men are a combination of photographs taken before or during the war, after the war in Polish custody awaiting trial, or later when investigated in West Germany. For ease of organisation on this wesbite, the photographs have been grouped under Contemporary SS Photographs.

A full glossary of German and concentration camp terms, bibliography, abbreviations and table of SS ranks and US army equivalent ranks are included in the section of the website, Links: Bibliography & Glossary.

Due to time constraints two sections originally written for the monograph have not been included on this website: the politics of memorialisation and a history of Organisation Schmelt. Organisation Schmelt headquartered in Sosnowiec was set up in 1940 to manage the Jewish labour camps of Upper Silesia of which, by 1942, there were more than 140. From 1943 many of these labour camps were transferred to the authority of the Gross-Rosen and Auschwitz concentration camps, although some still existed as Jewish labour camps until 1945.

An additional piece of work specifically undertaken to bring the “Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz” material to the internet is an interactive Google Map providing the precise locations of the former sub camps. When we undertook the field work Google Maps didn’t yet exist in Poland. It has been interesting using the street names we recorded during our site visits near the former sub camps to identify the map coordinates of the former sub camps. Even with the street names and the thousands of photographs we took on the field trips it has not always been easy. The changes in Poland since the field work was completed in 2008 have been significant; many locations have changed and many buildings have disappeared altogethor. As an example the massive Huta Jedność steel works in Siemianowice Śląskie and former Auschwitz sub camp has been completely demolished and the area redeveloped. We were unable to locate from Google Maps the exact location of the former sub camp Wirtschaftshof Plawy.

It would be an interesting project to revisit the locations of the former sub camps to see what remains after 15 years of intense economic re-development in Poland.

All of the work and costs of Tiergarten4Association e.V (previously Tiergartenstrasse4Association) to date has been funded by the members. We estimate the costs of the “Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz” project alone, excluding the costs of this website and the work to bring the material to the website, as more than Euro 180,000. The Association has also itself funded offices and a library in Berlin. The Association has received no external funding to date. The extent of our research and the library now requires us to seek external funding if we are to undertake further original research work. Specifically in relation to the Auschwitz sub camp project we have identified areas that would benefit from further research and publication as follows:

Update the Project:

Given the huge economic developments in the Poland since 2008 when we finished the fieldwork of the “Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz” project it is clear many of the sites of the former sub camps and the businesses that employed them have changed substantially. We believe it is important to update the work we undertook between 2005 and 2008 to represent the current condition of the sites.

Translation of the Website:

Currently the website is only in English. We believe it is important to include full Polish and German translations of the website. These translations are important so that schools and the general public in both Germany and Poland can utilise the material as an educational tool.

Exhibition:

We would like to create a travelling exhibition on the Auschwitz sub camps in English, German and Polish which could be utilised by museums, libraries and schools.

Publish the Monograph:

Whilst this website enables the “Re-Finding the Sub Camps of Auschwitz” project to reach a wide international audience, the long term survival of material on the web is not certain. We would therefore wish to publish the material from the website as a physical monograph so that the material is permanently available to future generations. As we have seen, the sites of the former sub camps are rapidly changing beyond recognition, and soon there will be nothing of the original buildings in which prisoners worked and lived, to commemorate. The photographs of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and Tiergartenstrasse4Association will be all that remains.

SS guards and War Crimes Trials:

An area that is under-researched is the men and women of the SS who served in the sub camps and subsequent war crimes trials.

Survivors and Death Marches:

As part of a separate research project on the death camp Kulmhof, [1] Tiergarten4Association have investigated the fate of individual Jews from the labour camps of the Warthegau. [2] who were transported to Auschwitz in 1943 and were subsequently transferred to Auschwitz sub camps. This analysis provides a unique insight into the history of individual Jewish prisoners in the ghettos and various camps from September 1939 through to liberation. This work is only partially completed and we would also like to extend the work to all Auschwitz sub camp survivors.


[1] In Polish Chelmno. Approximately 150,000 mainly Jews from the Warthegau were killed in gas vans and by shooting between December 1941 and April 1943 in Kulmhof. From May 1944 to January 1945 another approximately 6,000 Jews from the Litzmannstadt ghetto were murdered in Kulmhof.
[2] The Reichsgau Wartheland was created as a separate Gau in 1939 after the annexation of parts of Western Poland by the Nazis. The Warthegau was made up of three administrative districts: Posen (Poznań), Litzmannstadt (Łódź) and Hohensalza (Inowrocław).