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Time off Work

Very little time off work was available to prisoners in the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp. The few free minutes in the evening remaining between roll call, supper, and bedtime were used by many to “organize” food or other items or to make articles that could be bartered. Thus painting postcards and making toys were part of the camp’s underground economy, a way for individual inmates to get additional food from Kapos or German master craftsmen.


Only “Aryan” prisoners were allowed to receive and write letters once a month; after 1943 they also were permitted to receive parcels. Jewish prisoners from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, however, were required to send postcards to relatives on two occasions during the camp’s existence, in which they had to state that they were doing well. In this way, the Political Department hoped to obtain additional addresses of Jews who were still at liberty.


Officially, every other Sunday was a day off, but often the prisoners had to work nevertheless, for “disciplinary reasons.” If there actually was a free Sunday, most inmates simply wanted to rest, but even their attempts to do so were threatened frequently by the capriciousness of the SS. Only the privileged had enough energy to undertake anything else. The SS and the prisoner VIPs often put on concerts, plays, or sports events for their entertainment on Sunday afternoons; the ordinary prisoners were excluded from these. Political resistance groups in Monowitz took advantage of the times of such events to meet in the administrative office or the infirmary.


As of summer 1943, there was a camp orchestra in the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp, in which outstanding musicians from all over Europe played. It was led by the Polish prisoner Stanislav Bronek. The orchestra was required to play when the prisoners left the camp in the morning and when they returned in the evening, as well as to give concerts for the SS on many a Sunday afternoon. The orchestra also was required to play at executions.


As for sports events, sometimes there were Sunday-afternoon soccer games between German and Polish inmates in the roll-call square, though the reserves of strength required for play meant that only VIPs could afford to take part. The SS showed special interest in boxing matches, held in the roll-call square in summer, or inside a block in winter. Paul Steinberg tells very graphically how the former world boxing champion Victor “Young” Perez after arrival in Monowitz was first assigned to work in the kitchen, to build up his strength for a match. But after the SS had had its fun—both Young Perez and the French boxer Robert Lévy each had to stage a show match against an SS man, which they could not really attempt to win—Young Perez was transferred from the kitchen to a really hard detachment, and he died a few months later as a Muselmann. Robert Lévy also did not survive Buna/Monowitz.[1]


While it was important for some prisoners to cultivate their cultural ties by discussing art and culture or by practicing their religion in the scant free time available—pursuits that helped them survive—the camp VIPs used special occasions, such as the birthdays of high-ranking camp functionaries, for feasts with “organized” foodstuffs. These events may also have been intended to serve as a demonstration of the divisions within the camp hierarchy.

(MN; transl. KL)


Benjamin Grünfeld, oral history interview [Swed.], January 12, 2008. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Norbert Wollheim Memorial.

[Posener, Curt]: “Zur Geschichte des Lagers Auschwitz-Monowitz (BUNA).” Unpublished manuscript, undated, 53 pages. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute.



Betlen, Oszkár: Leben auf dem Acker des Todes. Berlin: Dietz, 1962.

Sachnowitz, Herman: Auschwitz. Ein norwegischer Jude überlebte, with Arnold Jacoby. Frankfurt am Main/Vienna/Zurich: Büchergilde Gutenberg, 1981.

Steinberg, Paul: Speak You Also: A Survivor’s Reckoning. New York: Henry Holt, 2000.

Wagner, Bernd C.: IG Auschwitz. Zwangsarbeit und Vernichtung von Häftlingen des Lagers Monowitz 1941–1945. Munich: Saur, 2000.

White, Joseph Robert: “IG Auschwitz: The Primacy of Racial Politics.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, NE, 2000.

[1] Cf. Paul Steinberg: Speak You Also: A Survivor’s Reckoning. New York: Henry Holt, 2000, chap. “The Last Fight.”