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Concentration Camps in and around Breslau 1940-1945

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(Lecture delivered at a symposium on Jews and other Breslauers, Krzyzowa, Poland, November 1998.)

In the summer of 1943 Breslau was officially declared to be Judenrein. In a series of actions beginning in the late summer of 1941, the remaining 7,000 of the Breslau Jewish community had been deported to the ghettos of Riga, Minsk or Kaunas or to Auschwitz. Despite being officially Judenrein however, Breslau continued to maintain a Jewish community of sorts. Not only did the city continue to house the 750 or so of those designated as Mischlinge or "privileged Jews" who were tolerated by the regime, but, as the Statistical Office of the Reichsführer-SS noted in April 1942, Breslau was also "home" to a much larger Jewish community. "Allein im Bereich der Stadt Breslau", it was noted, "sind 50,570 staatenlose und ausländische Juden im Lagereinsatz." 

Already by 1943 Breslau had quite a tradition of concentration and forced labour camps. The first, in Dürrgoy (Tarnogaj) to the south of the city, had been established on 12 March 1933, a week before Dachau. As one of the rash of "wild" concentration camps established in the wake of the Nazi seizure of power, Dürrgoy housed some of the city's most prominent anti-Nazis; amongst them former Reichstagspräsident Paul Löbe, former Schlesische Landespräsident Heinrich Lüdemann and former Bürgermeister Karl Mache. As the designation "wild" would suggest, Dürrgoy was run independently by the Breslau Polizei Präsidium and the SA and conditions were predictably primitive. In August 1933 the camp was closed, and its inmates were transferred to the KZ at Sonnenburg near Küstrin.

With the closure of Dürrgoy, Breslau was subsequently without a concentration camp for quite some time. Indeed, this lack of facilities is illustrated by the fact that the 3,000 or so Jews arrested in the city in the wake of Reichskristallnacht in 1938 were sent to Buchenwald in Thüringen. Soon after the outbreak of war however, the network of labour and concentration camps in the region began to be built up. By the end of the war Breslau had 14 camps whose existence can be documented as well as countless smaller, usually forced labour camps, attached to Breslau firms. The majority of these 14 camps bore the designation ZAL or Zwangsarbeitslager, though others bore the designation AEL Arbeitserzieungslager or KZ Konzentrationslager.

The role of Zwangsarbeitslager in the economic and punitive systems of the Third Reich is often misunderstood. It is thought that some 5,000,000 foreign labourers served in the Third Reich, the vast majority of them doing so involuntarily. Working on average 12-14 hours a day, forced labourers provided the largely unskilled manual labour for the German wartime economy. When not working such labourers were confined to hastily built, often wooden, barrack blocks, guarded by the SS and often subordinated to the nearest concentration camp. The treatment "enjoyed" by such labourers varied enormously from camp to camp, often apparently dependent upon the whim of the individual SS commander. At worst, forced labourers would live in near concentration camp conditions, with its attendant disease, malnutrition, maltreatment and arbitrary violence. At best, forced labourers would be paid for their efforts and would be allowed out for short periods. Some ZAL apparently even had brothels attached- presumably to prevent local women being subjected to attacks. On the whole however, one can make the generalisation that the treatment of forced labourers was worse the further east a man had come from, with Jews and Soviet POWs at the bottom of the scale.

Breslau's ZAL were many and varied. As elsewhere in Germany and occupied Europe, the impetus behind the establishment of such camps was initially economic rather than punitive. With the successful Polish campaign of 1939, deportations and voluntary migrations from Poland's western provinces brought a large number of Poles to Silesia, and, given the shortage of manpower in the Reich, the German authorities tended to turn a blind eye to the process. Indeed, with its trademark opportunism, the Nazi authorities established a network to deal with this influx. An organisation was set up to oversee the exploitation of such workers under the leadership of SS Brigadeführer Schmelt, who received the title "Sonderbeauftragter des Reichsführer-SS für fremdvölkische Arbeitseinsatz". Ideological and racial considerations meant that such labourers had to be kept under close supervision however, and to this end Breslau's first ZAL was established at Gross Masselwitz, (Maslice Wielki) to the west of the city, in the summer of 1940. Subsequent establishments - Neukirch, Klettendorf, (Klecina), Güntherbrücke and Hundsfeld (Psie Pole) amongst them, housed anything from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand labourers and served such firms as Famo, Archimedes, Linke-Hoffmann, Junkers and Krupp.

Conditions within Breslau's ZAL are difficult to determine; but patchy evidence allows the drawing of some tentative conclusions. Though Polish labourers only received 50% of the wage paid to their German counterparts, it would appear that restrictions placed on them in Gross Masselwitz were initially limited to being forbidden to speak Polish, and being forbidden to go to the theatre, cinema or church. Czech workers in the Krupp plant in Markstädt meanwhile apparently had their leave allowance cut following repeated escape attempts. Naturally conditions varied from camp to camp, from month to month, from inmate to inmate, and suffered a general deterioration as the war progressed, especially after the Schmelt network was absorbed into the larger one of the SS and KZs. However, given that Polish and Czech workers evidently received payment and leave, it would seem reasonable to conclude that conditions in at least some of Breslau's Zwangsarbeitslager were not universally bad.
Where conditions were apparently much worse was in the area's Arbeitserziehungslager or AEL. The AEL were established in the summer of 1940 to deal with the perceived failing discipline amongst forced labourers in the region. Miscreants, usually saboteurs or "workshys", would be sent for an 8 week course of "work re-education" in camps whose conditions were to act as the primary deterrent. The head of the Sipo, Ernst Kaltenbrunner noted in 1944 that "Die Arbeitsbedingungen und Lebensverhältnisse für die Insassen sind im allgemeinen härter als in einem Konzentrationslager. Dies ist notwendig, um den gewünschten Zweck zu erreichen." 

Breslau apparently had two AEL whose existence can be documented. The one at Rattwitz seems to have been established in the autumn of 1940, and was run by the SD as a camp for "asocials". Inmates were put to work in nearby factories or in SD projects in the city. The second Breslau AEL was apparently run by the Gestapo, and it has been noted that this entire camp, with its 4,200 inmates was transferred to Gross-Rosen in the summer of 1943. 

The concentration camp of Gross-Rosen, near Striegau, (Strzegom) stood above this network of ZAL and AEL as the hub of the camp system in Lower Silesia. Begun in August 1940 as a subcommand of Sachsenhausen, Gross-Rosen was established as a KZ in its own right in May 1941. Of initially only modest size , Gross-Rosen grew according to the rapid expansion of the war economy in Silesia and its burgeoning requirement for labour. In this capacity, the camp took the healthiest inmates from Auschwitz and Buchenwald as well as local miscreants (including some 3,000 from the Gestapo in Breslau) and supplied them to the region's forced labour camps and factories. Thus Gross-Rosen had some 118 außenkommandos of its own, of which 68 were industrial concerns, 25 were involved with construction and 3 were service providers. In return Gross-Rosen sent large numbers of those no longer fit to work to Auschwitz, though it is thought that the camp itself also possessed the facilities for medical experimentation and cremation. The number of inmates of Gross-Rosen is estimated at some 76,000 in 1945, whilst the number of victims of the camp is estimated at 100,000.

Breslau's first KZ of the war years was established in the summer of 1942 at Deutsch-Lissa (Lesnica) where some 1,000 male prisoners were engaged in roadbuilding and the construction of an SS barracks. The expansion of the concentration camp network in the Breslau area, however, had to wait until the summer of 1943. Already the previous year, the growing intensity of allied bombing on the Reich had begun to worry many in the government and industry, and moves had been set in train to transfer an element of vital industrial production to those areas, such as Silesia, that were beyond the range of allied airforces. This development was symbolised by a Führerbefehl of 5 March 1942 for the establishment of a munitions plant in Breslau. The result of this order, the Krupp "Berthawerk" at Markstädt, (Laskowice) whose construction was begun in the summer of 1942, was to be the largest single KZ industrial enterprise in the Breslau area. The following summer then saw the development of the second largest - the expansion of the IG Farben/Anorgana plant at Dyhernfurth, (Brzeg Dolny) for the synthesis of the nerve agent Tabun and the production of related munitions.

Given the size of the Krupp project in Markstädt - 7 halls were to be constructed totalling 120,000m² of floor space - the labour requirement of the Berthawerk was enormous. After 4,000 workers of the Speer Baustab had laid the foundations, a ZAL was established to provide labourers for the construction, supplemented by forced labour from Gross Masselwitz and Rattwitz. Krupp records from July 1943, when production began, show that the establishment of the plant had demanded an average of 3,000 workers, peaking at almost 4,400, of whom some ¾ were forced labourers. The overwhelming majority of these were described as Jewish. 
Once the plant came "on stream" however, the "make-up" of its workforce altered quite radically. Initially, those predominantly Jewish forced labourers who had constructed the plant were replaced by semi-skilled mainly west and central European workers who then made up 75% of the workforce. However, as Krupp itself acknowledged, as a relative latecomer to the region, it was forced to, figuratively speaking "live off scraps" as far as its recruitment was concerned. The general shortage of labour in the region thus prompted the establishment in the autumn of 1943 of a KZ at neighbouring Fünfteichen, (Meleswice), using inmates from Gross-Rosen and Auschwitz. Fünfteichen was to develop into the largest of the concentration camps in the Breslau region, housing at its peak some 7-8,000 inmates in 32 wooden barracks. 

Thus, despite profound concerns about productivity and security, the Krupp workforce was to be augmented by the inmates of KZ Fünfteichen. And as the finite resources of semi-skilled labour dwindled still further, the Berthawerk was forced to rely increasingly upon those predominantly Jewish KZ inmates. Thus in August 1944, the last month for which Krupp Berthawerk records are extant, the number of western and central European workers still stood at some 3,000, having barely changed from the previous year, whilst the plant's growth in labour seems to have been met almost exclusively by an increase in KZ inmates, whose numbers had grown to over 3,000, 1/3 of the total.

Dyhernfurth shows a similar pattern of development. Though the Tabun plant had already been in existence for a number of years by 1942, its expansion from that date was facilitated by the establishment of a combination of ZAL and KZ. In November of 1942 a forced labour camp was set up at the site, and soon after, in July 1943 a second camp was established, this time a KZ with the designation "Dyhernfurth I". At that camp some 1,500 males, predominantly Poles and Russians from Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen were employed producing munitions filled with Tabun. The concentration camp "Dyhernfurth II" appears to have been established sometime in the second half of 1943 following an Army Supreme Command decision to double Tabun production. Though Jewish forced labourers were initially used, Dyhernfurth II soon developed to house some 3,000 KZ inmates, predominantly Polish and Hungarian Jews, who were to build the necessary expansion to the Tabun plant. 
As far as they can reasonably be established, conditions in the Dyhernfurth camps would appear to have been wretched. Initially the camps lacked running water and toilets and throughout there was a lack of space for the total 4-5,000 inmates. Moreover, despite the hazardous nature of working with Tabun, the workers did not have access to a sanatorium on site and were forced to rely on the attentions of the camp SS doctor. Given the sensitive nature of the work at Dyhernfurth, it is also claimed that both KZ sites were sealed, thus meaning, once one was in, one was in "for life".
So what can one conclude from this brief survey? Firstly, the apparent distinctions between the city's concentration and forced labour camp systems in the early part of the war clearly did not last to 1945. Where ZAL inmates would, on the whole, have enjoyed better conditions than their concentration camp colleagues in 1940-41, this was no longer the case by the later stages of the war. This blurring of the edges between the two networks was primarily a result of the shortfall in the region's labour requirement, which in turn caused a growing inflexibility in the forced labour system as it fell increasingly under the influence of the SS, as witnessed by the absorption of the Schmelt organisation by the latter from 1942. In this context it is interesting to note that all new establishments from the middle of 1943 bore the designation KZ, including Breslau I & II, centred on the Reichsbahn Repair Works. Indeed, at the end of the war, all inmates in the region's camps whether KZ or ZAL shared the same fate. With the Soviet advance, all camps were cleared in late January 1945 and force-marched initially to Gross-Rosen and subsequently to Buchenwald. In this process little heed would have been taken if one happened technically to be a forced labourer rather than a concentration camp inmate.

Secondly, what conclusions can be drawn about the national/ethnic make up of the region's forced labour workforce? The designation often given by some post-war authors of ZAL f J, meaning Zwangsarbeitslager für Juden, is misleading, at least as far as Breslau's examples are concerned. As has been shown, figures from the Krupp plant at Markstädt reveal a workforce in which Czechs, Italians and Frenchmen formed the majority for a considerable time. Similarly, the Breslau AEL transferred to Gross-Rosen in 1943 showed a 52% majority of Poles and 15% Czechs. Lastly, just as the SS Statistical office noted the presence of some 50,000 Jews in the Breslau region in 1942, later developments are estimated to have pushed the Polish population of Breslau up to around 30,000. Though such figures do not of course take into account the areas of overlap between these categories, it is clear that the forced labour network as a whole was far from exclusively Jewish.
It is perhaps peculiar that the history of Breslau's concentration and forced labour camps is of only tangential relevance to the history of Breslau's Jewish community. Though it is entirely possible that some Breslau Jews and others could have filtered back into the region's camps after their initial deportation, it is clear from the foregoing that the overwhelming majority of the camp network's inmates were foreigners. Thus one could conclude that Breslau did indeed maintain a Jewish community of sorts after 1943 - though not one of local origin

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