The project to build the Auschwitz concentration camp was launched at the end of 1939. In the following years, decisions were made successively to expand the complex and create new sub-camps. They were created in the present territories of two voivodships: Śląskie and Małopolskie, and several in the Czech Republic. There were over forty sub-camps in total.
The prisoners did all kinds of work there. Many sub-camps worked on the extraction of raw materials, mainly coal in mines, including the „Piast” and „Charlotte” mines. One sub-camp was built to renovate an office building in Sosnowiec. Prisoners in the sub-camps planted trees, raised poultry, produced weapons, or worked in factories and mills. It is worth noting that the sub-camps were often set up to do specific work to be liquidated later on. Consequently, they were created and closed at different times.
The largest sub-camps
The largest sub-camp was undoubtedly Birkenau. The camp, built-in Brzezinka near Oświęcim, was initially intended for Soviet prisoners of war. However, this did not happen, mainly due to the large transports of Jews expected at that time. Initially, the camp was to house one hundred thousand and ultimately two hundred thousand prisoners. Data from 1944 shows that over 80,000 prisoners were placed there. Birkenau was a remedy for the Third Reich to solve “the Jewish question”. There were about 30 brick barracks and over 250 wooden barracks in this sub-camp. Historical data shows that over 90% of all prisoners of KL Auschwitz could have died there.
The next largest camp was the so-called Auschwitz III-Monowitz. Monowice is now a district of Oświęcim, but during the war, German factories were producing synthetic rubber and chemicals there, including Zyklon B. The sub-camp had a very high mortality rate. The accommodation and food were better, but the work was much harder. Shortly before liberation, there were over ten thousand prisoners.
Apart from the sub-camps near Oświęcim, mention should also be made of those located in other parts of Silesia and Lesser Poland, and which were assigned to Auschwitz. During the occupation, in Święcice near Blachownia Śląska, known as Blechhammer, there were over 4,000 prisoners at its peak, including around 160 women. The prisoners were involved in the broadly understood construction work there. There were about 25 barracks and a small crematorium in the area of the sub-camp. There were over 1,300 prisoners in the sub-camp in Gliwice, who worked on repairing the railway.
The sub-camp in Budy near Oświęcim is important from the historical point of view. There was a women’s penal company there. This place is known for the „Budy massacre”. One of the German women raised the alarm announcing that she had been attacked by a female prisoner. More than 90 French Jewish women were brutally murdered with axes or rifle butts.
The tragedy took place not only in Auschwitz, and not only today’s Oświęcim was the area of extermination. The camps were located in Katowice, Sosnowiec, Trzebinia, and Czechowice-Dziedzice. Most of the prisoners who were there were exterminated.