Move the mouse pointer over a red word in the main text, to view the glossary entry for this word.

Polish Workers at I.G. Auschwitz

 a  The Polish historian Piotr Setkiewicz describes the Gestapo’s inspection regulations as follows: “A Polish worker employed at Buna who wanted to travel home from Monowitz had to get permission from both his boss and the police. He could not buy a ticket on his own, but had to use a worker designated by the plant to do so. At the train station in Auschwitz, moreover, he was obligated to show the requisite documents during an inspection conducted by policemen, guards from the plant security force, and people designated for this purpose by the plant. [...] For being late  to work, a 28-day stay in the work education camp was considered the minimum punishment.”

(Piotr Setkiewicz: “Ausgewählte Probleme aus der Geschichte des IG Werkes Auschwitz.” In: Hefte von Auschwitz 22 (2002), pp. 7–147, here p. 115. (Transl. KL))
 b  “I can still see the Polish workmen unwrapping their country bread and bacon. They cut cubes of both with knives, stuff in huge mouthfuls, chew noisily. The eyes of poor starving devils follow their every move. They cannot be unaware of this. They pretend. To them, we don’t exist. We don’t belong to the same species. We’re the inmates of a zoo where it’s forbidden to feed the animals.”
(Paul Steinberg: Speak You Also: A Survivor's Reckoning (New York: Henry Holt, 2000), p. 69.)

Poles were the largest group of “foreign” workers at the I.G. Farben construction site; in March, 1944, 7,700 of them were employed at I.G. Auschwitz. Largely, they had come as civilian workers and were housed in barracks camps near the factory. Some, however, had been picked up in sweeps and transported for use as forced laborers; they were housed in the so-called Forced Labor Camp III-Teichgrund (Forced Labor Camp No. 50 for Poles). Until the dissolution of the camp on March 10, 1944, they lived here in harsh conditions (tiny food rations, cramped quarters, poor sanitary facilities). Then the Polish inmates were given “worker I.D. cards from I.G. Farben, the right to receive pay and to leave the barracks in their time off work.”[1] Thus they were classed with the Polish civilian workers.


The civilian workers came from every part of Poland: A great many came to work from Auschwitz or the neighboring villages; others came from farther away and were housed in barracks camps that were allocated for them. Most had been referred by the job centers and had hoped this would keep them from being transported to Germany for forced labor.


Polish workers were treated as “second-class workers”: The members of the German workforce were instructed at employee meetings to keep their distance from Poles and other foreigners.  The Polish workers received lower wages, smaller food rations of inferior quality, and less clothing and had to pay higher contributions. Poles were not entitled to employee benefits or even to cultural offerings. For their benefit, I.G. Auschwitz financed “in the context of their social activities, only the building of a brothel.”[2] In case of illness, they received treatment more rarely; the German doctors often viewed them as malingerers and refused to put them on sick leave. Additional repressive measures and monitoring decreed by the Gestapo in Kattowitz in April 1943 kept the Polish workers from traveling to see their families.  a 


The almost unbearable working and living conditions, in combination with the fundamentally hostile attitude of most Polish workers toward the German workforce, resulted in numerous escapes from the construction site: In-house I.G. Farben statistics for September 30, 1942, record that 121 of 369 Polish workers had run away, and only an infinitesimal percentage could be “recycled.”


Many Polish workers employed at I.G. Farben put up resistance, tried, as far as their opportunities permitted, to engage in sabotage, and often helped the concentration camp prisoners as well. In many cases, their help was directed at imprisoned “compatriots,” that is, at Polish concentration camp inmates, who in a few cases were even helped to escape. The absence of any assistance led some prisoners to conclude that many Poles had an anti-Semitic attitude.  b  It must be pointed out, however, that helping Jewish prisoners always entailed increased difficulties: In contrast to Polish prisoners, they often were better guarded, and frequently they had no common language in which to communicate. If the attempt to escape was successful, the Jewish prisoners—usually deported from other countries—required more intensive support than Polish prisoners. Moreover, the penalties in effect for helping someone to escape were severe. One exception was the Polish civilian worker Józef Wróna, who helped the prisoners Max Drimmer and Herman Shine escape, and sheltered them for four months at great personal risk.


In January 1945, even before the arrival of the Red Army, many Polish workers escaped singly or in groups from their barracks camps and made their way home.

(SP; transl. KL)


Excerpt from Wochenbericht [weekly report] No. 70/71 for the period September 21–Oktober 4, 1942, sgd. Faust, NI-14514. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, Case VI, Prosecution Exhibit 1993, reel 033, pp. 363–364.



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

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

[1] Piotr Setkiewicz: “Ausgewählte Probleme aus der Geschichte des IG Werkes Auschwitz.” In: Hefte von Auschwitz 22 (2002), pp. 7–147, here p. 119. (Translated by KL)

[2] Setkiewicz: Ausgewählte Probleme, p. 108.