Construction of a Labour Camp
In November 1941, just a few months after the deportation of Oświęcim’s Jewish population, a labour camp was constructed in the northern part of the town’s Jewish cemetery. The cemetery had already been desecrated in the years prior and the matzevot smashed and used in construction works.
The camp was named “Camp Judenfreidhof” (Camp Jewish Cemetery) but was later renamed Camp II Buchenwald. The camp was one of several built to house I.G. Farben construction workers who were involved in building a new factory at Auschwitz.
"I went to the Jewish cemetery in Oświęcim to say "Kaddish." To my dismay, when I arrived there, the cemetery was empty of all tombstones and in the middle was a dug reservoir holding water. I asked some people; "what happened here?" They told me that the Nazis took out all the tomb stones across to "Buna" or Monowice, or it was called Auschwitz III, and put them under a steel building. I went there and I was told they were under the building. I stood there and said "Kaddish" for all of them."
Jacob Hennenberg describes the scene upon returning to Oświęcim Jewish cemetery in 1945 (Private Archive of Jacob Hennenberg)
Prisoner Numbers and Nationalities
Although the camp was originally designed to house around 5000 workers, by August 1944 there were 7620 inmates. In October 1943, the camp was divided into two halves – Buchenwald Ost and Buchenwald West. In Buchenwald Ost, Poles, Ukrainians and other labourers from eastern Europe were housed and in Buchenwald West, Frenchmen, Flemings and Czechs. In 1944, 79% of the workers housed at the camp were either Polish or French.
Aerial imagery analysis highlights that a large water reservoir, two bunkers and camp fences were constructed on the cemetery grounds.
Non Invasive Scene Reconstruction with PhotogrammetryPlay Video
It is not known exactly why the Nazis decided to construct the camp on the Jewish cemetery and very little is known about how the camp operated. However, its construction impacted and further desecrated the cemetery and graves.
Given the scale of the excavations needed to construct the reservoir and bunkers, human remains would have undoubtedly been disturbed. During the camp’s period of operation, matzevot from within the cemetery continued to be removed and used as part of construction works in the region e.g. the building of roads, riverbank repairs etc.
After the war, the bunker became a dump for matzevot fragments. During a social action project in 2016, the volunteers assisted in the removal, cleaning and documentation of these fragments.
Download our full report for details of our archaeological investigations and social action work at Oświęcim's Jewish cemetery and referencesDownload File