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The Buna External Work Detachment (April 1941 to July 1942)

The prisoners of the Buna external detachment march through the town of Auschwitz'© Fritz Bauer Institute (APMO Collection / Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum)
The prisoners of the Buna external detachment march through the town of Auschwitz
© Fritz Bauer Institute (APMO Collection / Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum)

 a  “The orchestra was not yet there, that’s how early we started out for work. On a siding near the station stood a goods train ready and waiting for us. We piled into the wagons and after a journey lasting only a few minutes we alighted at a small station in the village of Dwory. ‘Form into work squads!’ ordered the Kommandoführer [SS man in charge of work squad], a tall Scharführer with a long hook-nose whom the prisoners called The Owl. At his command two thousand men lined up in rows as if they had been touched by a magic wand [...] The dusty road forked at the end of the village. The majority of columns turned to the left, while we marched to the right, behind the two SS men who were showing us the way [...] After we had ambled across plowed fields we came to a newly built road heavy with traffic—cars, trucks, bicycles and pedestrians. Everyone was heading for the large site which was Buna [...] Alongside the road a special track for vehicles was under construction. Where a straight line had been marked out by means of posts and lengths  of string, we were to level the terrain, getting rid of all uneven places, of which there were a great many, in particular the protruding roots of trees on either side of the road.”

(Wieslaw Kielar: Anus Mundi: 1500 Days in Auschwitz/Birkenau (New York: Times Books, 1980), pp. 90–91.)

In mid-April 1941, the Buna external work detachment, under SS guard, marched out for the first time to the plant construction site of I.G. Farben at Auschwitz. On April 21, 1941, the detachment had a prisoner strength of 150 men.


The construction management of I.G. Farben and the SS repeatedly came into conflict over the strict control and supervision of the prisoners at their workplaces on the construction site, as well as during the march between the Auschwitz concentration camp and the place of deployment, a journey of 6 to 7 kilometers (3–4 miles) each way. In the initial period, the prisoners were transported by truck each day; this arrangement was stopped in May 1941, when the Buna detachment had grown to several hundred laborers. The long march robbed the ailing and undernourished inmates of their last reserves of strength and increased the death rate. In the eyes of the plant management, the prisoners’ grueling walk represented a useless physical wastage of manpower, lowered their productivity, and took up many hours of valuable work time. In late July 1941, therefore, I.G. Farben ordered the prisoners to travel on a Reichsbahn train between the main camp and the train station in the village of Dwory  a , located at the northern edge of the plant grounds.


The daily transport of the approximately 1,000 to 2,000 prisoners of the Buna detachment, accompanied by SS guards, in 10 or 12 freight cars was laborious and time-consuming. As of fall 1941, in addition, troup transports for the Wehrmacht were directed onto the already overburdened rail line, frequently causing the trains to the construction site to be delayed by hours. In late December 1941, most of the construction work was interrupted because of heavy frost, and transportation by rail was discontinued. In March 1942, the deployment of prisoners was increased once more, and the Reichsbahn transports were resumed. The management of I.G. Auschwitz called on the commandant’s office for the Auschwitz concentration camp to set up a subcamp for the firm’s use, and it finally opened in October 1942, under the name of Monowitz.

(FS; transl. KL)


Kielar, Wiesław: Anus Mundi: 1,500 Days in Auschwitz/Birkenau. New York: Times Book, 1980.

Schmaltz, Florian: “Die IG Farbenindustrie und der Ausbau des Konzentrationslagers Auschwitz 1941–1942.” In: Sozial.Geschichte. Zeitschrift für historische Analyse des 20. und 21 Jahrhunderts 21 (2006), No. 1, pp. 33–67.

Setkiewicz, Piotr: “Ausgewählte Probleme aus der Geschichte des IG Werkes Auschwitz.” In: Hefte von Auschwitz 22 (2002), pp. 7–147.

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