Auschwitz III - Monowitz

Heinrich Himmler inspects Monowitz, July 1942

Of the three Nazi concentration camps located near the town of Auschwitz, the Auschwitz III camp, also known as Monowitz, was the most important to the Nazis because of its factories which were essential to the German war effort. The Monowitz industrial complex was built by Auschwitz inmates, beginning in April 1941. Initially, the workers walked from the Auschwitz main camp to the building site, a distance of 4 - 6 kilometers each way.

The photograph above shows Heinrich Himmler, the head of all the concentration camps, on a visit to inspect the Monowitz factories in July 1942. Himmler is the man wearing a uniform. The two men on the right are German engineers. The engineers lived in the town of Auschwitz, after it was cleaned up to meet German standards of living. Slave labor was used to make improvements to the town, after Heinrich Himmler volunteered the services of the concentration camp inmates.

The Jews who were sent to Auschwitz, and then assigned to work at Monowitz, had a much better chance of survival because the factory workers were considered too valuable to send to the gas chambers, at least while they were still able to work. Two famous survivors who worked at Monowitz were Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi, both of whom wrote extensively about the Holocaust.

Max Faust shakes hands with a Nazi officer

In the photograph above, Heinrich Himmler is on the far right; the man in civilian clothes, who is shaking hands, is Max Faust. The barracks for the prisoenrs are shown in the background; the slave workers from Auschwitz were transferred to Monowitz at the end of October 1942.

The factories at Monowitz were built by the IG Farben company, which was attempting to produce synthetic rubber, called Buna. The Polish village of Monowice, which was renamed Monowitz by the Germans, is 4 kilometers from the site of the factories, which were located on the east side of Oswiecim. Some of the old factory buildings are still standing, although now abandoned, while others are still in use as factories. The concrete wall around the factories, with its distinctive curved posts strung with barbed wire, can still be seen along the road from Oswiecim to the Krakow airport.

The Monowitz sub-camp was known as Bunalager (Buna Camp) until November 1943 when it became the Auschwitz III camp with its own administrative headquarters. Auschwitz III consisted of 28 sub-camps which were built between 1942 and 1944. This area of Upper Silesia was known as the "Black Triangle" because of its coal deposits. The Buna plant attracted the attention of the Allies, and there were bombing raids on the factories.

When I visited Auschwitz in October 1998, I was told that some of the Monowitz factories were still in operation , but this area was off limits to visitors. On my trip to Auschwitz in October 2005, I hired a taxi driver to take me to the site of the factories, but I was told that they didn't exist anymore. On my way back to the Krakow airport from Oswiecim, the taxi driver from my hotel pointed out the factory buildings, partially hidden behind the concrete wall.

The Monowitz camp was kept open until just a week before the Russians liberators arrived. The last roll call of the three Auschwitz camps showed a total of 67,012 prisoners. Out of this total, more than half were the workers in the Buna plant at Monowitz and its sub-camps. The figures below are from the Nazi records which were turned over to the Red Cross by the Soviet Union after the fall of Communism. They were published in a book written by Danuta Czech.

Male prisoners in Auschwitz III

Monowitz (Buna-Werke) 10,223
Golleschau 1,008
Jawischowitz (Jawiszowice) 1,988
Eintrachthutte (Swietochlowice) 1,297
Neu-Dachs (Jaworzno) 3,664
Blechhammer (Blachownia) 3,958
Furstengrube (Wesola) 1,283
Gute Hoffnung (Janinagrube, Libiaz) 853
Guntergrube (Ledziny) 586
Brunn (Brno) 36
Gleiwitz I 1,336
Gleiwitz II 740
Gleiwitz III 609
Gleiwitz IV 444
Laurahutte (Siemianowice) 937
Sosnowitz 863
Bobrek 213
Trzebinia 641
Althammer (Stara Kuznia) 486
Tschechowitz-Dzieditz 561
Charlottengrube (Rydultowy) 833
Hindenburg (Zabrze) 70
Bismarckhutte (Hajduki) 192
Hubertushutte (Lagiewniki) 202
Subtotal 33,023

Female prisoners in Auschwitz III

Subtotal 2,095
Total for Auschwitz III: 35,118