Geoff Walden


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Auschwitz-Birkenau  - Monowitz Camp and Buna-Werke Factory Site

 

   As the Auschwitz concentration camp evolved from its beginning, one of its primary purposes became providing slave labor to German industrial and armaments firms. In April 1941, the IG Farbenindustrie chemical concern began construction in Auschwitz of a huge factory complex to manufacture synthetic rubber and fuel (IG Farben was a corporation formed from several German chemical companies). This factory area was to the east of the town of Auschwitz, some six kilometers from the Auschwitz I main camp, and was called the "Buna-Werke" ("Buna" being an abbreviation for the components used to manufacture synthetic rubber), or "IG-Auschwitz." The site provided a large level area with ample water and nearby coal and other raw material supplies, served by an adjacent railroad.

   Prisoner labor from Auschwitz was used to build the factory complex. At first, prisoners from the Auschwitz I main camp were marched the six kilometers to the Buna-Werke site, but this wasted too much time so they were moved to the site by rail. As demand for prisoner labor increased, work camps were started around the factory complex, and the prisoners were marched across the road and into the factory site. The main camp was built in October 1942 at the southeast edge of the factory area, and was called "Dorfrand" and later the "Buna Lager." This became the largest camp and in 1944 it gained autonomy and operated as Auschwitz III "Monowitz" (the Monowice village had been located across the road from the camp), in charge of all the other Auschwitz sub-camps (some 47 in total).

   Prisoner labor at the Monowitz sub-camps was eventually provided by selections from arriving train shipments of Jews from around Europe, numbering over 35,000 prisoners in 1944 (the highest number in the Monowitz camp itself was about 11,000). Mortality was high, as the work was strenuous and living conditions poor.

   The Buna-Werke factory site was bombed by the Allies on four occasions, August-December 1944, doing considerable damage to some of the factory buildings. Although some products such as synthetic fuel and oil were produced in small quantities, the war ended before the primary product of synthetic rubber ever went into production. Factory work ceased in mid-January 1945, and the factory site was overrun and the remaining prisoners in the labor camps liberated by the Soviet Army on 27 January 1945.

   The primary workers camps established for the IG Farben Buna-Werke factory complex were numbered and designated as follows (some of these were labor camps for prisoners, and others were simply barracks camp living areas for IG Farben civilian workers from Germany):

Lager I - Leonhard Haag (civilian workers, mostly Germans, but also Italians and later Italian POWs)
Lager II - Buchenwald (forced laborers from Poland, the Ukraine, and Russia)
Lager III - Teichgrund (German and Polish civilian workers, plus forced laborers from the Soviet Union)
Lager IV - Dorfrand (this became the "Buna" camp, and later the primary "Monowitz" camp, in charge of all the others; Jewish concentration camp prisoners)
Lager V - Tannenwald (German and Polish civilian workers, plus forced laborers from Croatia and the Soviet Union)
Lager VI - Pulverturm (German civilian workers, plus a separate section for British POWs, designated Lager E715)
Lager VII - Angestellten Wohnlager (German civilian workers)
Lager VIII - Karpfenteich (British POWs, replaced by German civilian workers)
Lager IX (unnamed)
Lager X (unnamed)
Jugendwohnlager - also called the Lehrlingsheim (camp for German and Silesian boys in training as IG Farben apprentices)
Jugendwohnheim-Ost - adjacent to the Jugendwohnlager (this camp housed girls from the Bund Deutscher Mdel (BDM) and Kriegshilfsdient-Maiden of the RAD)

   The building designations in parentheses in the text (e.g., BW73) were the original construction project numbers for each building.

 

Few period photos exist of the Monowitz labor camp site. Above - a prisoner work detail marches out of the camp toward the Buna-Werke factory, with the buildings of the Monowitz SS Kaserne in the background. In the foreground is a one-man shelter for the SS guard force, at the base of a guard tower. These shelters were scattered around the perimeter of the work camps, for air raid protection. The buildings of the SS Kaserne that appear in the background of the period photo no longer exist. Postwar buildings cover the Monowitz camp site today. Below, SS leader Heinrich Himmler visits the Monowitz camp and Buna-Werke factory in July 1942. This was Himmler's second visit to Auschwitz, and on this occasion he visited all the camp and outlying facilities, and even observed a transport of Jews being killed in the gas chamber of Bunker I at Birkenau(above left - U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; below - Bundesarchiv)

 

Despite the fact that tour guides and publications at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum (and, indeed, most publications about Auschwitz) state there are no remains of the Monowitz camp, various period buildings and ruins can still be found there. The ruined brick building above was part of the SS Barracks, adjacent to the prisoner camp enclosure. The building on the left below is said to be the original smithy building inside the prisoner compound, and that on the right is said to be part of the original prisoners kitchen (both structures are on the same spots as the original buildings).  (Google Maps link)

 

Most of the visible remains at Monowitz and the other Buna-Werke camps are air raid shelters. Several concrete one-man shelters of the type shown above (at Monowitz) can be found around the area. The concrete block in front of the door was meant to stop bomb shrapnel from entering the door. The shelter below appears to be an enlargement of one of the semi-circular shelter types seen at the top of this page, into an underground shelter for several men. The barn/shed buildings in the background of these photos are similar to several buildings seen around the Monowitz site today, said to be built from remains of the prisoner barracks and other period camp buildings.  (Google Maps link)

 

This large air raid bunker is located to the south of the Monowitz camp, near the SS Kaserne. It is of the type called "Salzgitter" or "Geilenberg" bunkers, built extensively in 1944 around chemical and fuel production facilities (see the similar bunker outside the Buna-Werke factory, below). Curiously, there is one of the small semi-circular shelters just outside, seen in the photo on the left above. Perhaps this shelter was already in place before the large bunker was built.  (Google Maps link)

 

The bunker has entrances at each end, covered by concrete walls both inside and outside the entry doors, to guard from bomb shrapnel and blast going straight into the door opening. The entry doorways originally had metal bunker closure doors.

 

Various remains of the other labor camps can be seen in the area. The building ruin on the left above is in the site of Lager III Teichgrund. The ruin on the right above was a water treatment facility near Lager VI Pulverturm. Nearby is the artifact seen on the left below, sometimes called a water tower (perhaps, since the adjacent camp was called "Pulverturm," this was some sort of powder tower). The photo on the right below shows this tower in the background, with one of the semi-circular air raid shelters in the foreground. Note - This tower was removed in the summer of 2015.  (Google Maps link)

 

The multi-piece one-man shelters can be found at various locations around the sites of the labor camps around the IG Farben factory site. The one above and the one at lower left are in the Lager III Teichgrund site, and the two at lower right are in the Lager V Tannenwald site.  (Google Maps - Teichgrund location; Tannenwald location)

    

 


Buna-Werke Factory Site

  The IG Farben Buna-Werke factory complex eventually measured over two square miles in area, with scores of buildings involved in chemical and fuel production and processing, power plants, and manufacturing machinery. The production facilities were dismantled after the end of WW2 and the machinery was shipped to Russia as war reparations. Several of the buildings and cooling towers were dismantled at this time, but many original buildings remain (none of the chimneys seen today are original to the 1940s, but the chimneys in the modern photo above are adjacent to the original power plant complex seen in the period photo). In the 1950s the factory area was rebuilt and again used to produce chemical products, and it remains one of the largest chemical factories in eastern Europe.
The building arrowed on the left below was one of the main buildings of the synthetic fuel production process, and remains today. A series of low open arches can be seen running along to the right of the building; this was the main "piping viaduct" which still exists today (bottom).  (above - Bundesarchiv 146-2007-0056; below - Bundesarchiv 146-2007-0058; bottom - Bundesarchiv 146-2007-0066)

 

Although several have been removed since 1945, some of the original wartime cooling towers are still in place. The building in the left background of the period photo is the power plant facility, which still exists.  (Bundesarchiv)

 

These original buildings from the Buna-Werke remain at the factory site today, some still in use.

 

Air raid bunkers for the IG Farben civilian personnel were provided throughout the factory complex (both huge concrete cubes and smaller types). In addition, some of the one-man SS guard shelters can still be seen in the factory complex (the one on the right below is next to an original workshop building; the tower near the Pulverturm labor camp can be seen in the left background of this photo).  (Google Maps link)

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Air raid shelters were also provided around the periphery of the Buna-Werke factory site, for civilian employees and workers. The large shelter above, of the "Salzgitter/Geilenberg" type, the same as the shelter near the Monowitz camp but larger, is just outside the northwest corner of the factory complex, near the site of Leonhard Haag Lager I labor camp. The smaller shelter below, similar to others found on the factory grounds and in the Bereitschaftssiedlung housing complex, is near the site of the factory fire department headquarters.  (Google Maps links - above, below)

 

An agricultural complex called the Gutshof (BW73), just north of the Buna-Werke factory, was taken over by the SS and used to provide foodstuffs, primarily meat products, for the civilian factory workers.  (Google Maps link)

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The IG Farben company provided a large new housing area for its German employees, called the Bereitschaftssiedlung, between the Buna-Werke factory and the town of Oświęcim (Auschwitz). This housing district provided apartments for 6,000 civilian workers, and is still in use today by the current factory employees. Both photos were taken on Mariana Smoluchowskiego street. (Bundesarchiv 146-2007-0054)  (Google Maps link)

 

Two monuments at the Buna-Werke and Monowitz sites honor the memory of those prisoners who labored and died there. The monument on the left is just to the west of the IG Farben factory site. The smaller memorial on the right is inside the site of the Monowitz camp.  (Google Maps - Buna-Werke memorial; Monowitz memorial)

 

These relics of one of the Auschwitz sub-camps exist in storage at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.
They are two concrete statues of miners, by Polish prisoner Jakub Markiel, which originally
flanked the entry to the sub-camp at the Jawischowitz coal mine. (Ref 5, pages 115-16)

 

   Continue to Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination camp and concentration / slave labor camp
   Continue to Auschwitz "Interest Zone" - SS administrative buildings and housing, and factory, agricultural, and support sites outside the main camps
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Official Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum Webpage  --  http://en.auschwitz.org/m/

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This page initially uploaded on 20 July 2000.


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