VWI goes to the University of Vienna
Susanne Barth: The Oberschlesische Hydrierwerke AG and the Auschwitz Subcamp of Blechhammer 1939-1945
Mittwoch, 9. März 2016, 18:00 – 20:00
Institut für Zeitgeschichte der Universität Wien, Seminarraum 2,
Spitalgasse 2–4, Hof 1, 1090 Wien
Based on newly-accessible source material, this dissertation project investigates the history of the Oberschlesische Hydrierwerke AG (OHW), a synthetic fuel plant founded in Blechhammer (today Blachownia/Kędzierzyn-Koźle, Upper Silesia) by the Reich Office for Economic Development in 1939. The Four Year Plan enterprise not only formed part of the Third Reich’s war effort and striving for autarchy from imported goods, but was also meant to contribute to the regime’s racial policy of ‘Germanising’ Upper Silesia. Conscriptions to the front, however, led to the replacement of Germans with foreign workers from all over Nazi-occupied Europe and the Axis states, as well as Allied prisoners of war and Jewish forced labourers.
By order of Albert Speer, the Reichsautobahnbehörde (Motorway Authority, RAB) started to supervise the construction work of the OHW plant from 1942 onwards. As the roadbuilding works had come to a halt, the RAB transferred their Jewish forced labourers to the sites of the armaments industry. In March 1942, the first group of 70 Jewish men from RAB camp Gogolin thus arrived in Blechhammer’s newly-established forced labour camp for Jews. The camp leader was Erich Hoffmann, a civilian employee of the Reichsautobahn; police veterans served as guards. In collaboration with representatives of Organisation Schmelt, more and more Jewish prisoners taken off deportation trains and out of ghettos were brought into Blechhammer. The camp was transformed into a satellite of Auschwitz in April 1944. With a prisoner population of 4,000-6,000, it became its second largest subcamp next to Monowitz.
This research project examines the plant’s ideological and economic function in war-time Upper Silesia as well as the industrial elite’s cooperation with the Schmelt organization and the Auschwitz extermination camp, while at the same time trying to reconstruct the daily life and suffering of Blechhammer prisoners.
Comments by Sybille Steinbacher
Susanne Barth, currently Junior Fellow at the VWI, is a PhD candidate at the University of Olden-burg (Germany). In 2012, she was an EHRI Fellow at the Netherland’s Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD) in Amsterdam and a Saul Kagan Claims Conference Academic Fel-low in Advanced Shoah Studies in 2012–2013.