Oświęcim: Camp Judenfreidhof

In Oświęcim Jewish cemetery, the Nazis further desecrated a sacred site by turning it into a camp.

Authored by Caroline Sturdy Colls

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.

A map created in 1944, showing the Buna-Monowitz complex, including its subcamps. Lager II (Buchenwald) was built on the Jewish cemetery in Oświęcim (© Fritz Bauer Institute, I.G. Farben i.L. Archive)

Archaeological Assessment 

Aerial imagery analysis highlights that a large water reservoir, two bunkers and camp fences were constructed on the cemetery grounds.

During archaeological investigations in 2016, walkover survey and  Total Station mapping revealed that the remnants of these features still survive in the landscape today

Non Invasive Scene Reconstruction with Photogrammetry
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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.

The fence posts from Camp Judenfriedhof/Camp Buchenwald. (© Centre of Archaeology, Staffordshire University)

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.

Volunteers document matzevot fragments removed from a wartime bunker that formed part of the camp built on Oświęcim’s Jewish cemetery grounds (© Centre of Archaeology, Staffordshire University)

Oświęcim: Finding Existing Graves

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