Fünfteichen camp - OVERVIEW

FÜNFTEICHEN

Overview courtesy of The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CAMPS AND GHETTOS, 1933–1945. 

View of Fünfteichen camp taken shortly after liberation [Gross Rosen Museum]

View of Fünfteichen camp taken shortly after liberation [Gross Rosen Museum]

 The creation of a Gross- Rosen subcamp in Fünfteichen (later Miłoszyce) near Breslau (Wrocław) was closely connected to the decision to build another armaments plant for the Maschinenfabriken Friedrich Krupp Berthawerk AG at that location. Construction of the Krupp factory buildings began in early 1942 and production commenced by early 1943. The construction and production schedules assumed that employment at the plant would exceed 20,000 by the end of 1944. Plant management learned on July 1, 1943, however, that such numbers would not be available through normal channels; they therefore undertook negotiations with GrossRosen to use prisoners. Consequent to the resulting agreement, Gross- Rosen took over a camp approximately 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from the plant. The construction work to finish and adapt the site was done in August and September 1943, with a workforce that included prisoners from the nearby camp in Markstädt (later Laskowice Oławskie, now part of Jelcz- Laskowice).

The newly created Fünfteichen camp received its first large prisoner transport in late September or early October 1943: a transport of approximately 600 Polish Jews from Auschwitz. More prisoner transports arrived at the camp in subsequent months. There were 1,200 prisoners in the camp on February 2, 1944, though it could already hold 4,000 to 5,000 men. Prisoner accounts tell us that between 6,000 and 7,000 prisoners were in the camp near the end of its existence. It was the largest subcamp in the Gross- Rosen system. The structure of Fünfteichen’s prisoner population changed during 1944. Initially Jews constituted the majority. However, starting with the second quarter of 1944, many transports of Poles from prisons all over Poland began arriving via Gross- Rosen. These included approximately 200 men who had been sent to Gross-Rosen after the failure of the Warsaw Uprising. Records indicate that transports of Jewish prisoners also were leaving the camp. For example, in August 1944, 314 emaciated prisoners were sent back to Auschwitz, while 403 were transferred to the Gross- Rosen subcamp at Görlitz. Although a transport of approximately 500 Hungarian Jews arrived from Auschwitz in late May or early June, the number of Jewish prisoners decreased appreciably in late 1944. Poles began constituting the clear majority. There were also, though less numerous, French, Belgian, Dutch, Rus sian, German, Czech, and Croatian prisoners. When the expansion was completed, the camp consisted of several dozen barracks: 32 one- story wooden barracks set directly on the ground for the prisoners; 5 barracks served as lavatories and bathrooms, and 5 brick ones as the hospital.

A plan of Fünfteichen camp, made by the survivor Tadeusz Solla, superimposed on an aerial photograph [Jerzy Urbaniak]

A plan of Fünfteichen camp, made by the survivor Tadeusz Solla, superimposed on an aerial photograph [Jerzy Urbaniak]

To the north of the assembly ground were the buildings of the Schreibstube, the camp canteen, and kitchen. A double barbed wire fence surrounded the entire camp. Beyond the fence were 2 barracks for the SS and the headquarters building. Also on the outside were concrete bunkers spaced every 20 to 30 meters (66 to 98 feet) and several watchtowers. Electric current ran through the inner fence. Most of the prisoners worked for the Krupp factory, in two 12- hour shifts, manufacturing 75mm and 150mm cannons as well as torpedo launchers. The prisoners made the approximately 3- kilometer (1.9- mile) trip from the camp to the plant on foot via a dirt road lined with barbed- wire entanglements on both sides. The SS men escorting the prisoners had dogs and walked outside the fencing on both sides. The testimony of former prisoners leaves no doubt that the mortality rate was high. However, the figures are only estimates, which preclude providing an exact death count for the entire time the camp was in existence. The estimates range from 30 deaths per week to 100 or even 200. If even the lowest of those figures were accurate, it would add up to over 2,000 deaths over the roughly 16 months of the camp’s existence. Initial plans called for a staff of approximately 60 to 100 SS guards, but by late 1944, there were between 400 and 500.

Attempts to escape from Fünfteichen occurred quite often, more frequently from the factory than from the camp itself. Escapes from the factory mainly occurred on the night shift or in the evening, when the day- shift prisoners were finishing work. People also took advantage of situations when an air- raid alarm was announced, because then the lights in and around the factory were shut off, and the chance for success increased. Many successful attempts took advantage of the rail lines that ran by the factory. Prisoners shot while attempting to escape were displayed on the assembly ground as a warning to others. There would be a sign on the prisoner’s chest, with the derisive words: “Ich bin wieder da” (I am back again) or “Ich bin von Reise zurück” (I am back from my trip). Anyone who was caught and brought to camp alive also stood on the assembly ground with a similar sign. The punishment for attempting to escape was usually death, most frequently by hanging. Executions were conducted either on the spot at the subcamp or at the main camp. Sometimes the escapee was only whipped and assigned to a penal company.

Going to the fence - desperate prisoners were known to commit suicide on the electric fences surrounding Fünfteichen camp. [Gross Rosen Museum]

Going to the fence - desperate prisoners were known to commit suicide on the electric fences surrounding Fünfteichen camp. [Gross Rosen Museum]

Prisoner beatings by SS men were a daily occurrence, mainly in camp but during work as well. Any prisoner who left his workstation without permission, talked to a fellow prisoner, or got tired and sat down for a moment was beaten, but it also happened very often for no evident reason. Some beatings were fatal. Many prisoners could not stand the conditions prevailing in camp and committed suicide. The most frequent form of suicide in the camp was called “going to the post,” meaning getting so near the fence that a guard would open fire. At the factory, instances of suicide by hanging occurred. The evacuation of Fünfteichen started on January 21, 1945. Approximately 6,000 prisoners were marched out of the camp, surrounded by SS men. In temperatures reaching -20°C (–4°F), usually by dirt roads, the prisoners journeyed on foot to Gross-Rosen, which they reached in four days. Approximately 1,000 prisoners died en route. The prisoners stayed at the main camp for a few days, then were assigned to various evacuation trains into the Reich. Those who survived that next travail finally wound up at the concentration camps in Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau, Mittelbau, and primarily Mauthausen. However, not all the prisoners left with the death march. Approximately 300 sick prisoners remained in the camp hospital, without medical care or food; many of them did not live until liberation. The prisoners who died during that time were buried in a mass grave near the camp. The staff left the camp along with the evacuation and were replaced by the German Home Guard (Volkssturm). After two days, on January 23, 1945, they too left the camp. At approximately 11:00 A.M. that day, Soviet Army soldiers entered the camp, probably a detachment of the 52nd Army’s 78th Rifle Corps. A number of lynchings occurred at that time, as prisoners took revenge against some of their fellows.

The full entry is available at the USHMM website.


According to a Polish Wikipedia entry little remains of Fünfteichen camp.

"Today, little has survived this camp. The camp command block at the track was converted into an apartment, the remains of the barracks SS serve as an economic building for the inhabitants. Remnants of reinforced concrete bunkers remain in the fields but are severely damaged. There are 6 brick barracks (the ruins of the seventh are hard to see - they were blown up by bombs by the youths in the late 1950s), ruined 2 fire basins and barely visible ruins of the camp kitchen. In some places residues of slag roads are visible."