Monowitz concentration camp

Monowitz concentration camp
Buna-Werke, Monowitz and subcamps.

Monowitz (also called Monowitz-Buna or Auschwitz III), initially established as a subcamp of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz concentration camp, was one of the three main camps in the Auschwitz concentration camp system, with an additional 45 subcamps in the surrounding area. It was named after the town of Monowice (German, Monowitz) upon which it was built which was located in the annexed portion of Poland. The camp was established in October 1942 by the SS at the behest of I.G. Farben executives to provide slave labor for their Buna-Werke (Buna Works) industrial complex. The name Buna was derived from the butadiene-based synthetic rubber and the chemical symbol for sodium Na, a process of synthetic rubber production developed in Germany. Various other German industrial enterprises built factories with their own subcamps, such as Siemens-Schuckert's Bobrek subcamp, close to Monowitz in order to profit from the use of slave labor. The German armanents manufacturer Krupp headed by SS member Alfried Krupp also built their own manufacturing facilities near Monowitz.[1]

Monowitz was built as an arbeitslager (workcamp), it also contained a "ArbeitsausbildungLager" (Labor Education Camp)" for non-Jewish prisoners perceived not up to par with German work standards. It held approximately 12,000 prisoners, the great majority of whom were Jewish, but also carried non-Jewish criminals and political prisoners. Monowitz prisoners were leased out by the SS to IG Farben to labor at the Buna-Werke, a collection of chemical factories including those used to manufacture Buna (synthetic rubber) and synthetic oil. The SS charged IG Farben three Reichsmarks (RM) per hour for unskilled workers, four (RM) per hour for skilled workers and one and one-half (RM) for children. Elie Wiesel author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book "Night" was a teenage inmate at Monowitz along with his father. So was Primo Levi prisoner in this camp. The life expectancy of Jewish workers at Buna Werke was three to four months, for those working in the outlying mines, only one month. Those deemed unfit for work were gassed at Birkenau or sent "to Birkenau" (nach Birkenau), according to a euphemism used in I.G. Farben record books.[2][3][4]

Fritz Löhner-Beda (prisoner number 68561) was a popular song lyricist who was murdered in Monowitz-Buna at the behest of an I.G. Farben executive, as his friend Raymond van den Straaten testified at the Nuremberg trial of 24 I.G. Farben executives:

One day, two Buna inmates, Dr. Raymond van den Straaten and Dr. Fritz Löhner-Beda, were going about their work when a party of visiting I.G. Farben dignitaries passed by. One of the directors pointed to Dr. Löhner-Beda and said to his SS companion, ‘This Jewish swine could work a little faster.’ Another director then chanced the remark, ‘If they can’t work, let them perish in the gas chamber.’ After the inspection was over, Dr. Löhner-Beda was pulled out of the work party and was beaten and kicked until, a dying man, he was left in the arms of his inmate friend, to end his life in I.G. Auschwitz.[5]

In November 1943, the SS declared that the Auschwitz II (Birkenau) and Auschwitz III (Monowitz) camps would become separate concentration camps. SS Hauptsturmführer (Captain) Heinrich Schwarz was commandant of Monowitz from November 1943 to January 1945.


History of the labor camp

The creation of the camp was the result of an initiative by the German chemical company I.G. Farben to build the third largest plant to produce synthetic rubber and liquid fuels. The camp was supposed to be located in Silesia, out of range of allied bombers. Among the sites proposed between December 1940 and January 1942 the chosen location was the flat land between the eastern part of Oświęcim and the villages of Dwory and Monowice, justified by good geological conditions, access to transport routes, water supply, and the availability of raw materials such as: coal from mines in Libiąż, Jawiszowice and Jaworzno, limestone from Krzeszowice, and salt from Wieliczka. However the primary reason for building the industrial complex in that location was the immediate access to the slave work-force from the nearby Auschwitz camps.

IG Farben made the preparations and reached an agreement with the Nazis between February and April 1941. The company bought the land from the treasury for a low price, after it had been seized from Polish owners without compensation and their houses were vacated and demolished. Meanwhile German authorities removed Jews from their homes in Oświęcim and placed them in Sosnowiec or Chrzanów and sold their homes to IG Farben as housing for company employees brought from Germany. This also happened to some local Polish residents. The IG Farben officials came to an agreement with the concentration camp commandant to hire prisoners at a rate of 3 to 4 marks per day for labor of auxiliary and skilled construction workers.

Trucks began bringing in the first KL prisoners to work at the plant's construction site in mid-April 1941. Starting in May the workers had to walk 6 to 7 km from camp to the labor at the factory. At the end of July, with the laborers numbering over a thousand, they began taking the train to Dwory station. They did things such as leveling the ground, digging drainage ditches, laying cables, and building roads.

The prisoners returned to the construction site in May 1942 and worked there until July 21, when an outbreak of typhus in the main camp and Birkenau stopped their trips to work. Worried over losing the laborers, factory management decided to turn the barracks camp being built in Monowice for civilians over to the SS, to house prisoners. Because of delays in the supply of barbed wire there were several postponements in opening the camp. The first prisoners arrived on October 26 and by early November there were approximately two thousand prisoners.

At this time the camp only occupied half of its planned area, the expansion was for the most part finished in the summer of 1943; however the last 4 barracks were not built until a year later. The death camp's population grew from 3,500 in December 1942 to over 6,000 by the first half of 1943. By July of 1944 the prisoner population was over 11,000, most of whom were Jews. Despite the growing death-rate from slave labor, starvation, executions or other forms of murders, the demand for labor was growing and more prisoners were brought in. Because the factory management insisted on removing sick and exhausted prisoners from Monowice, people uncapable of continuing the labor were murdered. The company argued that they had not spent large amounts of money building barracks for prisoners incapable of working. February 10, 1943 SS-Obersturmbannführer Gerhard Maurer, responsible for employment of concentration camp prisoners went to Oświęcim, he promised IG Farben the arrival of another thousand prisoners, in exchange for the incapable factory workers. More than 10,000 prisoners were victims of the selection during the period in which the camp operated. Taken to the main camp's hospital, most victims were killed by a lethal injection of phenol to the heart. Some were sent to Birkenau where they were liquidated after “re-selection” in the Bllf prison hospital or in most cases murdered in the gas chambers. More than 1,600 other prisoners died in the hospital at Monowice, and many were shot at the construction site or hanged at the camp. Summing up all figures, an estimated total number of about 10,000 Auschwitz concentration camp prisoners lost their lives because of working for IG Farben.

The total number of victims at Auschwitz III cannot be blamed solely on the murderous conditions that were nearly the same in all Auschwitz camps and sub-camps. The barracks were overcrowded like the ones in Birkenau, however the ones in Monowice had windows and heating during the winter when needed. “Buna-suppe” a watery soup was served as a minimal supplement, along with the extremely low food rations. It can reasonably be inferred that the reason for the high death-rates in the Monowice camp is because factory management wanted to maintain a high work rate, and tried to do so by giving directions to the foremen. The foremen were in charge of laborers and constantly demanded that the capos and SS men enforce higher productivity of the prisoners, by beating them. The factory's management approved such methods. In reports sent from Monowice to the corporate headquarters in Frankfurt am Main, Maximilian Faust, an engineer in charge of construction stated in these reports that the only way to keep the prisoners' labor productivity at a satisfactory level was through the use of violence and corporal punishment. While declaring his own opposition to “flogging and mistreating prisoners to death”, Faust nevertheless added that “achieving the appropriate productivity is out of the question without the stick”.

Prisoners worked more slowly than the German construction workers, even with being beaten. This was a source of anger and dissatisfaction to factory management, and lead to repeated requests that camp authorities increase the numbers of SS men and energetic capos to supervise the prisoners. A group of specially chosen German common criminal capos were sent to Monowice. When these steps seemed to fail, IG Farben officials suggested the introduction of rudimentary piecework system and a motivational scheme including the right to wear watches, have longer hair (rejected in practice), the payment of scrip that could be used in the camp canteen (which offered cigarettes and other low-value trifles for sale), and free visits to the camp bordello (which opened in the Monowice camp in 1943).

These steps hardly had an effect on prisoner productivity. in December 1944, at conferences in Katowice, it was brought to attention that the real cause of low prisoners' productivity: the motivational system was characterized as ineffective and the capos as “good”, but it was admitted that the prisoners worked slowly simply because they were hungry.

To a large degree, the SS men from the garrison in Monowice were responsible for the conditions that prevailed in the camp. SS-Obersturmführer Vinzenz Schöttl held the post of Lagerführer during the period when Monowice functioned as one of the many Auschwitz sub-camps. In November 1943, after the reorganization of the administrative system and the division of Auschwitz into three quasi-autonomous components, the camp in Monowice received a commandant of its own. This was SS-Hauptsturmführer Heinrich Schwarz, who until then had been the head of the labor department and Lagerführer in the main camp. At Monowice, he was given authority over the Jawischowitz, Neu-Dachs, Fürstengrube, Janinagrube, Golleschau, Eintrachthütte, Sosnowitz, Lagischa, and Brünn (Bohemia) sub-camps. Later, the directors of new sub-camps opened at industrial facilities in Silesia and Bohemia answered to him.

In May 1944, the headquarters of a separate guard battalion (SS-Totenkopfsturmbann KL Auschwitz III) was established in Monowice. It consisted of seven companies, who were on duty in the following sub-camps:

  • 1 Company – Monowitz,
  • 2 Company – Golleschau, Jawischowitz,
  • 3 Company – Bobrek, Fürstengrube, Günthergrube, Janinagrube,
  • 4 Company – Neu-Dachs,
  • 5 Company – Eintrachthütte, Lagischa, Laurahütte, Sosnowitz II,
  • 6 Company – Gleiwitz I, II and III,
  • 7 Company – Blechhammer.

In September 1944, a total of 1,315 SS men served in these companies. The 439 of them who made up 1 Company were stationed at Monowice, and included not only guards but also the staffs of the offices and stores that saw to the needs of the remaining sub-camps.

In January 1945, the majority of the prisoners were evacuated and sent on a death march to Gliwice, and then carried by train to the Buchenwald and Mauthausen camps. Prisoners at the camp in Monowice included the Nobel Peace-Prize winner Elie Wiesel and the prominent Italian writer Primo Levi.

(information retrieved from *[])

Monowitz/Buna-Werke bombed

Auschwitz I, II and III.

The allies bombed the I.G. Farben factories at Monowitz four times during the war .

  • The first raid was conducted August 20, 1944 by 127 B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 15th U.S. Army Air Force based in Foggia Italy. The first bombing started at 10:32 p.m. and lasted for 28 minutes. A total of 1,336 500 lb. high explosive bombs were dropped from an altitude of between 26,000 and 29,000 feet.
  • On Sept. 13, 1944 96 B-24 Liberators bombed Monowitz in an air raid that lasted 13 minutes.
  • The third attack occurred on Dec. 18th, 1944 by 2 B-17's and 47 B-24's, 436 500 lb. bombs were dropped.
  • The fourth and last attack was on Dec, 26th, 1944 by 95 B-24's, a total of 679 500 lb. bombs were dropped.[6][7]

Liberation of the camp

January 18, 1945, all prisoners in Monowitz who were deemed healthy enough to walk were evacuated from the camp and sent on a death march to the Gleiwitz (Gliwice) a subcamp near the Czech border. Victor “Young” Perez (prisoner number 107984) a professional boxer of Jewish heritage from French Tunisia died on the death march on January 22, 1945; Paul Steinberg, who would chronicle his experiences in a 1996 book was among those on the March. He was later liberated by the American Army at Buchenwald.[8] The remaining prisoners were liberated on January 27, 1945 by the Red Army along with others in the Auschwitz camp complex, among them was the renowned writer Primo Levi.

Buna-Werke today

What remained of the Buna Werke industrial complex is now owned by two Polish companies - Chemoservos-Dwory S.A., which produces metal structures, parts, metal building elements, tanks and reservoirs etc., and Synthos Dwory Sp. a subsidiary of the Synthos S.A. Group which manufactures synthetic rubbers, latex and polystyrene among other chemical products. Both are based in Oświęcim. Unlike the Buna Werke complex there are no longer any extant structures or visible remains of the Monowitz camp itself.

See also


  1. ^ Synthetic Rubber: A Project That Had to Succeed (Contributions in Economics and Economic History) by Vernon Herbert & Attilio Bisio. Publisher: Greenwood Press (December 11, 1985). Language: English. ISBN 0313246343 ISBN 978-0313246340.
  2. ^ Anatomy of the Auschwitz death camp By Yisrael Gutman, Michael Berenbaum. Publisher: Indiana University Press (April 1, 1998). Language: English. ISBN 025320884X ISBN 978-0253208842.
  3. ^ Night by Elie Wiesel. Publisher: Bantam (March 1, 1982). Language: English. ISBN 0553272535 ISBN 978-0553272536.
  4. ^ The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide by Robert Jay Lifton. Publisher: Basic Books (August 2000). Language: English. ISBN 0465049052 ISBN 978-0465049059.
  5. ^ Dein ist mein ganzes Herz (Fritz Löhner-Beda) by Günther Schwarberg (2000). ISBN 3882437154.
  6. ^ The Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies Have Attempted It? USHCM Michael J. Neufeld (Editor), Michael Berenbaum (Editor Publisher: St Martins Pr; 1 edition (August 2000) Language: English ISBN 0312198388 ISBN 978-0312198381
  7. ^ Extracts from the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, summarizing 15th Air Force bombing attacks in August and September 1944 on Oswiecim (Auschwitz)
  8. ^ Quatre boules de cuir ou l’étrange destin de Young Perez, champion du monde de boxe by André Nahum: Publisher: Bibliophane (April 24, 2002) ISBN 2869700601 ISBN 978-2869700604 .


External links

Coordinates: 50°01′39″N 19°17′17″E / 50.0275°N 19.28806°E / 50.0275; 19.28806

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