Geoff Walden


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Auschwitz-Birkenau  - SS "Interest Zone"

   SS chief Heinrich Himmler's plan was to develop Auschwitz into both a model city of the German East and a center of manufacturing and agriculture to support the war effort (such as the IG Farben chemical plant). To accomplish this goal, the SS appropriated an area surrounding the main camps, totaling some 15 square miles, which was called the Interessengebiet, or Interest Zone. The area between the Auschwitz I main camp and the railroad toward the northwest, in the direction of the Birkenau camp, was developed into an area of armaments factories and workshops called the Industriehof. The Krupp armaments firm had a large factory there (later operated by the Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke), and the Deutsche AusrŘstungs Werke (DAW) had several buildings of armaments workshops in the area. There were also buildings for concrete production (the camp fence posts were produced there), a central heating plant, emergency electrical generating station, bakery, a water plant, and the SS headquarters and living area. An extension camp of twenty barracks was under construction just to the north of the main camp, primarily used to house female prisoners.

   Further out, the SS had housing areas and schools built, and to the south and west were the agricultural stations at Plawy, Harmense, Raisko, and Budy, with greenhouses, fish farms, cattle and pig farms, and chicken and rabbit farms, along with gravel works. Many of these latter had their own small sub-camps of the Auschwitz main camp, where prisoners were put to work grading the land, digging drainage ditches, clearing ponds, and other manual labor, as well as livestock care.

   Note - This page uses the wartime German spellings for place names such as Raisko, Harmense, etc. The building designations in parentheses in the text (e.g., BW35) were the original construction project numbers for each building.

 

This large factory building was begun by the Krupp steel and armaments company, but before Krupp occupied it, it was turned over to the Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke, who operated the facility from October 1943 to make fuses for artillery projectiles. Over 1200 prisoners worked in this factory complex. The roofline and skylights were changed after the war, but the rest of the building remains essentially as when built (although now abandoned and stripped of machinery).  (Yad Vashem Collections)  (Google Maps link)

 

  The room on the right below evidently contained hydraulic presses.  (Yad Vashem Collections; above - courtesy Brad Long)

 

On the left, a postcard produced after the war shows an Arbeitskommando (work detail) of concentration camp prisoners in their striped uniforms, marching to work at the construction site for the Krupp factory.  (postwar postcard)

 

The building on the left, at the far end of the Industriehof,  was the Krupp main office building. The nearby group of buildings on the right was provided as housing for German civilian workers, called the Zivilarbeiterlager or Gemeinschaftslager (both private housing today).  (Google Maps link)

 

The Deutsche AusrŘstungs Werke (DAW) was an SS controlled firm with several factory and workshop buildings in the Auschwitz industrial area, using prisoner labor to produce furniture and other woodwork items and woven goods. Three of the workshop buildings remain today in somewhat changed condition, but showing the characteristic side windows. DAW also managed the Zerlegebetrieb salvage yard(Yad Vashem Collections)  (Google Maps link)

 

A central bakery for the Auschwitz I main camp was built in 1942 across the road from the SS staff buildings. In the period view above, just to the right of the bakery building, in the background (behind the low side wing) can be seen the two main buildings of the SS headquarters complex (see below). The bakery building was expanded after the war, enlarging it about half again, in the same style (but the long side wing was shortened). The section on the left in the photo on the left below, with the second chimney, is the addition. The modern photo at the bottom is from a similar view as the period photo, but the addition (on the right) masks the original end of the building (several other small changes have been made as well). In both photos at the bottom, the SS Staff Building can be seen in the background at the left.  (Yad Vashem Collections)  (Google Maps link)

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In 1940 the SS camp administration took over four buildings adjacent to the Auschwitz I main camp; these buildings, built in 1916-17, were formerly part of the Polish Tobacco Monopoly. The SS first housed prisoners in some of these buildings, then later used them as administration, staff, barracks, and storage buildings - the buildings above were (left) the Stabsgebńude Staff Building and (right) the Truppenwirtschaftslager troop support building (dining facility, storage, etc.). Below - SS units parade in front of the Stabsgebńude (photo taken from the TWL building). The Stabsgebńude also served as housing for female SS overseers (Aufseherinnen) and for some female prisoners who worked as maids in SS family housing, such as Jehovah's Witnesses (these were housed in the basement). Bottom - a 1941 view of the TWL building (the large observation tower on the roof was removed after the war).  (Yad Vashem Collections)  (Google Maps link)

 

The abandoned building shown above was the SS Unterkunftsgebńude or barracks building. This building, which was where some of the first prisoners were housed at Auschwitz in June 1940, had a loading dock with double rail lines just outside the back. These rail lines were initially used to transport prisoners to Auschwitz, and to transport prisoners who were housed at Auschwitz I to work at the IG Farben Buna-Werke factory. The period photo shows SS men standing at the loading dock (although not visible in the modern photo, the original rails are still there).  (Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, www.auschwitz.org)  (Google Maps link)

 

  The fourth of the Polish Tobacco Monopoly buildings was the Lagerhaus on the left above, used for storage. The remaining photos in this group show the adjacent SS-KŘche (kitchen building), which was also used as a Kasino (club) and had an auditorium used for theatrical and film presentations. The wooden structure of the kitchen building is in a deteriorated state today and is currently undergoing preservation efforts. The photo on the right below shows the entrance to an air raid shelter tunnel located across the street.  (Google Maps link)

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The air raid tunnel is a simple construction of pre-fab concrete arch sections and brick walls, with multiple side rooms and passages going off at right angles. There was an emergency exit at the back, and the main entrance was sealed by a thick metal bunker door. The tunnel was not built completely underground, but was emplaced in a pit, then covered over with a mound of earth. This type of tunnel was meant mainly as protection from bomb blast and shrapnel, and would not withstand a direct bomb hit.

 

  Nearby was a sauna built especially for the SS. The original building, which is nearly obscured by vegetation today, had a postwar addition on the side seen in the modern photo above. The other side, with its entry door with diamond shaped window, is seen below.  (Yad Vashem Collections)  (Google Maps link)

 

SS families stationed at Auschwitz had a Kindergarten and school for their children (left above - BW35), and a cafÚ and shop building (SS Haus 7) where they or their employees (often local teenage girls) could buy groceries and other supplies.  (left - Google Maps link; right - Google Maps link)

  An important building in the Industriehof was the central heating complex, or Fernheizwerk (BW161). This facility provided steam heating to several of the surrounding buildings through underground steam pipes. The building was changed somewhat from its original appearance.  (Yad Vashem Collections)  (Google Maps link)

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   The central water treatment and pumping building was located on the periphery of the Auschwitz I area (above). This building was also changed from its original appearance after the war. The area on the left below was the so-called "Canada I" site, the original location where confiscated prisoner belongings were sorted (a much larger such facility, "Canada II," was located in the Birkenau camp). One source says the final Sonderkommando from Birkenau were killed in the delousing facility here at the end of 1944 (Ref. 2, page 130). Today there are no remains of the "Canada I" facility. The building on the right below was the camp slaughterhouse and dairy facility (BW33b).  (Yad Vashem Collections)  (above - Google Maps link; below right - Google Maps link)

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     Expansion of the main camp was planned early in its operation and the Schutzhaftlagererweiterung or Erweiterungslager (Extension Camp) was begun in late 1942. When completed, various categories of prisoners lived there, including skilled craft workers, women who worked at the Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke, and some women prisoners who worked in administration offices or were servants in SS members' houses. Dr. Carl Clauberg's sterilization experiments moved to these barracks from the Auschwitz main camp in May 1944. The Extension Camp was the site of the final executions at Auschwitz, when four Jewish female prisoners were hanged on 6 January 1945 for complicity in the Sonderkommando mutiny of 7 October 1944(Yad Vashem Collections)  (Google Maps link)

 

One of the largest establishments in the Interest Zone was an agricultural and experimental station in the village of Raisko. The prisoners who worked in these greenhouses (BW33c) grew vegetables and flowers and tended nearby fields. Another Raisko facility was an SS experimental station to breed plants for production of india rubber. Also located in Raisko was the SS Hygiene Institute, which conducted chemical and bacteriological analysis for disease prevention, and was also involved in the procurement of Zyklon B poison for the gas chambers.  (Yad Vashem Collections)  (Google Maps link)

 

There are few remains of any of the other agricultural labor sites and sub-camps in the Auschwitz Interest Zone, since these were mostly wooden farm buildings and barracks. The building shown here was a local building appropriated as the headquarters building of a small  labor camp established in April 1942 in Budy. The prisoners there did farm and forestry work and manual labor. This building was the scene of the "Budy Massacre" in October 1942, when female guards and supervisors murdered some 90 French Jewish female prisoners of the penal company.  (Google Maps link)

 

   Continue to Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination and concentration / slave labor camp
   Continue to Auschwitz III Monowitz and surrounding labor camps, along with the IG Farben Buna-Werke factory site
   Continue to Judenrampe rail arrival site
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Official Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum Webpage  --  http://en.auschwitz.org/m/

Follow these links to visit other Third Reich in Ruins pages on concentration camp sites  --  Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Nordhausen (Dora), FlossenbŘrg, S/III Jonastal, Mauthausen (includes Gusen), Ebensee (Austria). 

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This page initially uploaded on 20 July 2000.


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