Friday, February 14, 2014


Organisation Schmelt established its forced-labour camps for Jews (ZALfJ)  (Zwangsarbeitslager für Juden) far from Jewish population centres in Silesia and embarked on a ceaseless process of construction, even though the SS authorities had initially intended to dismantle the camps within a short time. The organisation found it difficult to maintain close supervision in so vast an area, to maximize output, and concurrently to hunt for labour forces that could fulfil the dwindling quotas of labourers in old camps. Lacking a police force of its own, it had to ask local police for assistance. Thus, Special Plenipotentiary Albrecht Schmelt ordered the Zentrale to prepare lists, identify candidates for transport to the camps, and round them up. By means of the Zentrale,(Central Control), Schmelt controlled the use of the Judenräte for this purpose. He left no room for doubt: "The local Judenräte shall be answerable to me for the comprehensive registration of Jewish men and women.... If unregistered Jews are found in their localities, the Judenräte shall be dissolved and their members shall be transported to labour camps".
When they arrived at  the assembly points that were established in each area, the inductees were placed aboard Zentrale trains or trucks and taken to Sonowiec or to the transit camp (Durchgangslager, referred to as Dulag, or Judensammellager). In the transit camp they were handed over to the Schmelt people. The Organisation Schmelt rarely meddled in the process of preparing the lists. Only if they became impatient and believed that the quota might not be filled did the more zealous among them, usually Lindner and Kutczynski, head for the street in order to abduct Jews. Apart from that Schmelt's officials did not go into action until the Jews had reached the assembly point in Sosnowiec. Schmelt himself did not visit the assembly point, the prisoner encountered his senior staff only. The transport headed from there to the camps.
As soon as they entered the Dulag, the young inductees became "Schmelt Jews" and were subordinated to the organizations administrative system. Within a sort time the Dulag became a passage of horror tat augured what the inductees would face in the camps. Most camps were established next to or on the premises of enterprises of value to the armaments industry. In the camps where members of other peoples were interned, mainly Poles and Czechs, the Jews were kept totally separate and were not allowed to communicate with them in any way.
Jews in Zawierce on their way to forced labour work'

The first Labour Camps to which young Jews from Eastern Upper Silesia were sent were referred to in German documents as Reichsautobahnlager, or RAB Lager. Established along roads that were being rebuilt or repaved, they were administratered  by the German Roads and Railways  Administration, which was making a special effort to complete the Berlin-Breslau-Katowice highway. The Administration "leased" its workers from Organisation Schmelt. The first group of camps established for work on the Breslau-Gleiwitz segment of the highway, included Otthmuth, Sakrau, Gogolin, and Anneberg camps, the last being the main camp in the group. In the second phase, the Brande, Eichtal,  and Gepersdorf camps were established. In 1940, about ten camps of this type were operating in Upper and Lower Silesia.
Another group of camps was established in July 1942 in (German) Upper Silesia. This region was considered an appropriate place to situate labour camps because it had good transport connections and was close to mines and agricultural areas. The largest in this group, which included Gleiwitz, Oberlasik, Ratibor, and Mectel, was Blechhammer. In all, ninety-three Schmelt camps were established in this location.
In Lower Silesia, Schmelt established dense concentration of camps near Breslau, because the area was far from the targets of Allied aerial attacks. The main camp in this district was Kletendorf, five additional camps, Markstädt, Fünfteichen, Faulbück, Graiditz and Wiesau, were nearby set up. At a later phase, separate labour  camps for women were established, mainly near textile plants or in existing camps such as Bolkenhein, Gellenau, Gräben, Grünberg and Peterswalde. In all, there were fifty-two camps of that type in this region.
Schmelt established seventeen camps in the Sudetenland, the largest being Parschnitz in Trautenau. In 1942, Organization Schmelt had forty-two active camps with 6,500 prisoners. Six additional camps were under construction, and headquarters was planning the construction of yet others. By early 1943, Schmelt employed 50,570 Jews in 140 camps, about eighty which were for women.
The Schmelt camps were of different sizes, depending on the requirements of the factories that requested allocations of prisoner-labourers. There is no confirmed information about the considerations that determined the size of the camps. The norm was several hundred, but some camps had only a few dozen prisoners. Even camps that employed relatively few workers had to meet cumbersome and detailed reporting requirements. Larger camps established for the armament industry held 1,000-6,000 prisoners, and the organization had Ideas about expanding them further. [Krupp Trial, IMT, vol. 9, sic]
"Moniek Merin, the leader of the Jews in all of Eastern Upper Silesia, invited us to a meeting and proposed that we send a few people as instructors to the large labour camps that had just been established... He promised decent wages and housing". This was the first impression of the young people who were summoned to labour in Schmelt camps. Thus, the process of staffing the large camps began with a decision by many young Jews in Bedzin and Sosnowiec to join the first transports willingly. After the recruitment activities spread throughout Eastern Upper Silesia. Merin continued to deal personally with organizing the transports and prodded local Judenräte to mobilize workers more energetically.
A second wave of transports to labour camps began 1941, as did the liquidation of small communities. In June-July 1942, 2,500 young people were transported to the camps while those left behind were transferred to large towns and put to labour in the "shops".  In August 1942, some 50,000 Jews were rounded up, and, after selection, 10,000 were sent to Auschwitz for extermination. The selection was administered by staff members of Organisation Schmelt, which was at its pinnacle then. Schmelt was busy establishing mare camps and searching for skilled workers whom he could lease out to the factories.
To prepare for the exploitation of the Jewish labour force, Organization Schmelt drew up a special set of statues and prepared a specimen contract that the enterprises applying for workers were to sign. An edifying example of this business relationship is the contract concluded, in 1942, between Organization Schmelt and a subsidiary of IG Farben, Luranil, which established a large factory in Dyhernfurth for the production of toxic gases.
Letters from the Jews in the camps and reports from the few prisoners who were able to obtain their release spread the grim news through the ghettos about the real situation in the camp. In order to fill the quotas in the second wave of mobilization, Schmelt had to put the Zentrale and its executive agency, the Jewish police, to work and even threaten to abduct Jews. In a letter of 15 January 1942, Schmelt presented Merin with a new set of rules and regulations:
a. The Judenrat administration shall deliver the requisite quota within five days.
b. The Jews shall be equipped with clothing suitable for work outdoors and with enough food for one full day.
c.In the event of failure to report, the following punitive measures shall be taken:
   1. The ration card for the family shall be confiscated and transferred within twenty-four hours to the Department J [Jews] administration of the Organization.
   2. The ration card shall be confiscated until [the worker] reports as required.
   3. The ration cards of candidates for transport shall be submitted in accordance with a list that the Judenrat shall prepare, on which all details of inductees and their families shall be recorded.
d. Those who refuse to report and are caught shall be handed over to the concentration camp punitive police.
e. The Judenrat shall be responsible for ensuring that the person selected will report.]

Himmlers visit to Eastern Upper Silesia on 1 March 1941 and his impression of the work being done in the camps elevated the importance of Organization Schmelt. Himmler decided to make greater use of prisoners in construction projects for the armament industry that Speers ministry oversaw. Consequently, Eastern Upper Silesia experienced a swift economic efflorescence, mines were reactivated, production increased, and other larger concerns flocked in. Apart from Krupp, enterprises such as Flick, IG Farben, Siemens, and Telefunken invested massively in the construction of new plants. The Wehrmacht also focused its attention on this area. In addition, Schmelt had to exert himself to meet a demand that suggested that further reinforcement and expansion of Organization Schmelt were on the way, he received a special request from Krupp, in July 1943, for 4,000 young men to build a new artillery plant near Merkstädt. Hitler and Speer had given the project their blessing.
'Gross-Rosen Labour Camp Network'
 In the aftermath of this first round of development in Silesia, the SS attempted to branch into new economic pursuits and establish industrial plants of its own. Private developers soon discovered that their business fate was in the hands of Himmler, who controlled hundreds and thousands of forced-labourers, war prisoners and ordinary prisoners. Thus, they offered the SS a considerable percentage of future profits. Himmler elected to lease out prisoners in the Silesia camps by means of Organisation Schmelt. Their greed was insatiable. There are documents describing the labour of women and girls in the sewing factories of Lower Silesia and the Sudetenland. The textile industry at its various phases , harvesting cotton and flax, ginning and cleaning the cotton, knitting and producing finished clothing, exploited girls sixteen to eighteen, if not younger. Schmelts decision to establish special camps for them resulted in the development of a comprehensive system of separate forced-labour camps, for men, for women, and for mixed populations.
Employers who applied for prisoners found strict taskmaster in Organisation Schmelt, which demanded regular reporting and reams of paperwork. The organisations rigid regulations, printed on the back of the factory report forms, served as rare evidence of its modus operandi:
> The Judenälteste shall report to the camp commander and the prisoner guard supervisor, and after the report is examined both shall guarantee its accuracy sis-a-vis the administration and vis-à-vis the placer of the job order.
> The reports shall include all Jewish prisoners, sorted by the employing firms, including the team of guards, using the following markings: A-camp staff, B-Jews already placed in work, C- Jews not yet placed in any factory.
> If workers at more than one factory are concentrated in one camp, each factory shall report on a separate form. The occupation of those in charge shall be recorded in an abbreviated manner in a special column.
> For reporting purposes, a Jewish artisan employed in the construction zone as a builder, a construction carpenter, a concrete worker, a metal-worker, a smith, a bulldozer operator, or an agricultural worker shall be                considered a skilled worker.
> A Jewish prisoner who has been placed in skilled work may be transferred to the post of a menial a worker if the enterprise that employs him so decides.
> Jewish prisoners who do not work for reason of illness shall be marked with the letter K [krank] Prisoners so defined as persons whom the camp commander or the guard commander confirms as being ill. Both shall answerable to the Dienststelle in Sosnowiec and the employer for the provision of a precise and diagnosis in this matter.
    The  workday of a Jewish prisoner who has worked less than five hours shall be tagged in the category as sick days. More than five hours' work shall be considered a full workday.....

'Albrecht Schmelt' The department lost its meaning from September 1943 and was soon dissolved. In March 1944 Schmelt was forced to retire. At the end of 1944 Schmelt had to answer before an SS court for enrichment in office. The verdict and outcome of the process is not known. Shortly after the war ended Schmelt committed suicide . Ernst Klee cites the date of death 8 May 1945 at a place of Warmbronn.
Organisation Schmelt charged employers 4,50 Reichsmark per day for the sweat of each Jewish prisoner. Of this sum 1,50 Reichsmark went for the workers wage, from which the organisation deducted 0,90 Reichsmark for upkeep. The workday was ten to twelve hours. Contracts with factories and reports about prisoners employment were kept at the Organization Schmelt Headquarters in Sosnowiec. [Based on the calculation that the Organisation had a minimum of 50,000 prisoners leased out to factories at a rate of 4,50 RM, and prisoners would have worked at about 280 days per year, the income would have been 63 Million Reichsmark, a considerable amount in those days.  No wonder he was eventually tried on the accusation that he had enriched himself, (although he transferred large amounts of funds to Berlin) HKS]
The trip from the transit camp in Sosnowiec to the labour camps was arduous even for young people who had reported willingly. It was frightening to be taken from home and family, sometimes without an opportunity to say farewell, and to head into the unknown. Teenagers and, in some cases, twelve-year-old girls torn from the protective bosom of parents and home. Still impressed by the promises of Merin and the local Judenrat-people, they hoped that they could establish themselves in the labour camp and even help families.
Living condition in the Schmelt camps varied and were effected by random factors that were quite important, even though the camp regime seemed orderly and well organized. The conditions were a function of the human composition of the camp staff, guards, and supervisors, the extent of their toughness, the identity of the employer and his staff, the location and structure of the camp, the nature of the work, and of course, the attitude of the prisoner-functionaries. Most Schmelt camps were built rapidly and haphazardly.
The men in the Kletendorf camp were in a desperate state. Their reports show that they were less stringent than women about personal hygiene. Many washed their ears and noses only, aware that the inspectors looked no further. Their work was gruelling and performed with primitive resources and tools. Prisoners were usually sorted into three main groups: Jewish prisoners who worked outside the camp, prisoners who held factory jobs, and those not yet placed. The last were consigned to constructing rail-roads, building roads, clearing forests, and digging trenches. They continued working in stormy weather, and in Fünfteichen, jacket pockets were sewn shut so that the prisoners could not stuff their hands in them to keep warm.
The Organization Schmelt administration subjected the system to close supervision. Schmelt operatives visited the camps often, inspecting things thoroughly and observing as prisoners toiled. They checked the prisoners appearance, reproached commanders who failed to maintain maximum output, performed selections, removed exhausted prisoners for extermination in Auschwitz, a name that by then evoked terror among prisoners.
Especially frightening was Obersturmbannführer Heinrich Lindner, the Schmelt official in charge of the camps. It was Lindners practice to make surprise visits to observe the work, to take part in beatings and shootings, and to loose his dogs on prisoners. Lindner did not want ill prisoners around, he limited the quota of sick prisoners to 2 percent and sent others to Auschwitz. No less dangerous was Hanschild, for whom the young prisoners invented many nicknames-"the Lame", "the Slave Trader", the Merchant"- that recur often in the testimonies of former Schmelt prisoners. Hanschild, a cheery dark blond whose severe limp was his trademark, was inspector of labour in the concentration department of Organisation Schmelt. In this capacity, he circulated in the ghettos of Eastern Upper Silesia, selected and organized transports, visited the camps, and moved prisoners from camp to camp in accordance with labour requirements.
One conspicuous and controversial figure was Baruch Meister of Chrzanow, who served as Judenätester in several Schmelt camps and in each location managed to work out an understanding with the German commanders. Meister, a former Polish Army Officer who had been born to a respected family, was interned together with his wife and two brothers in three camps: Markstädt, Faulbrück, and Ludwigsdorf. He moved around in these camps in a leather jacket, riding trousers, and gleaming leather boots. He surrounded himself with tough guys, obeyed every directive meticulously, demanded order, discipline, and cleanliness, and loved to quote from the camp code of rules, which he carried everywhere. Meister did not hesitate to loose his violent aides on prisoners, and the unfortunates who dared to violate the rules of cleanliness in the barracks or pilfer food were beaten with the rubber truncheons that his associates invariably carried. He gave his assistants enough power and backing to do as they wished. Although not a violent man himself, Meister took care to keep his dignity and his omnipotent image. For this reason, the arrival of potential rivals, such as Judenrat members and Jewish policemen from Sosnowiec, often upset him. Meister treated them very roughly and humiliated them at every opportunity. On the other hand, he related to rabbis, religious scholars, and intellectuals with respect, tried to better their living conditions, and placed them in easy jobs. His close and trusting relations with the commanders helped him to look out for his own future. Thus, whenever one of the camps was evacuated and dismantled, he managed to move on to another relatively plush camp. In retrospect, one of the prisoners noted: "The Jewish functionaries did their work in darkness, and those whom you'd least expect, members of the intelligentsia, proved to be the toughest and the most contemptuous of them all. They had better conditions, the man in charge chose for himself people who would be suited for his labour".
Organisation Schmelt, which derived its growing economic might from the labour of the Jews of Eastern Upper Silesia, flourished and expanded in 1942, making important changes in the area. Many officials in the complex and serpentine high echelon of the Nazi Regime in Eastern Upper Silesia, the Generalgouvernement, and Berlin, however, took a dim view of this success. (Partly envious) The champions of the "Final Solution" wished to resume and complete the extermination process and thus solve once and for all the Jewish problem in the territories that had been annexed to the Reich. The success of Organisation Schmelt obstructed their scheme. Again and again Schmelt had to deflect the complaints, show high yield, and send money to SS Headquarters. The prisoners were the continuous victims of his efforts, since their food rations were cut repeatedly and their labour hours increased.
The current complaints of the Gestapo landed on fertile ground and eventually found Himmlers attentive ear, especially after the establishment of the WVHA, because Pohl insisted that all ZAHfJ camps be transferred to  Department D II. Even though Organisation Schmelt was providing the SS with a handsome income, Speers influence and involvement in determinating the Jews fate weakened the WVHA, often leading to acrid verbal exchanges between Pohl and Schmelt. In June 1943, having made as much progress as he could toward the goals that he had set for the organization, Himmler was willing to forgo the profits he generated from this source and to sacrifice Organization Schmelt on the altar of the "Final Solution". After all, he had set June 1943 as the deadline for the annihilation of all Jews in the Generalgouvernment. The fate of the Jews who were still in the areas annexed to the Reich also seemed to be sealed. Himmler moved swiftly. On 25 May, he ordered his people to expedite the removal of the Jews who were still in the ghettos. Höss noted: "The SS-Reichsführer gave unequivocal order that the workshops be closed, that the Jews be transferred along the factories to the Auschwitz camp, and that the labour camps, or, to be more precise, of Gross-Rosen. Labour camps that did not fall into these categories were to be dispersed and their prisoners transferred to Auschwitz". Albert Speer was concerned about Himmlers decision. A periodic report from Armament Inspectorate VIIIb to Speer pressed the assessment that the "takeover of Jews camps [Organization Schmelt]  and their transfer to the concentration camps administration will cause severe problems".
This sudden reversal in German policy in Eastern Upper Silesia was related to an upturn in Pohl's strength and Himmlers comprehensive policy toward the Jews. By then Himmler noted: "It is clear that there, too, the Jews are destined to disappear one day, in accordance with the Führers will". Again Himmler was willing to prolong their existence, provided that they be transferred to concentration camps and placed under direct SS control. Many officials, however, refused to accept this decree, which would mean the death of Organization Schmelt. Himmler was lobbied from manu directions, and in December 1943, by which time the Armaments Inspectorate had been transferred to Katowice, the periodic performance reports stated that the elimination of the Jews, as ordered by Himmler, had been postponed and that "Concern about the removal of the Jews has not yet become real because a higher echelon has given directive to the contrary at this time".
The liquidation of the Schmelt camps coincided with the eradication of the last ghettos in Eastern Upper Silesia and the Lodz ghetto. The process began with the removal of the Jews of Dombrowa on 26 June 1943 and continued until the last Jews in Bedzin and Sosnowiec were transported out on 1 July. In the aftermath of the ten day Aktion, thirteen transports were sent to Auschwitz. On 26 August and 8 October, the Germans liquidated what remained of the Jewish community of Zawiercie, sending three transports to Auschwitz. In a selection among the deportees, *,479 Jews - 4,151 men and4,328 women - were removed from the transports. Those not selected were put to death. Some of these Jews, after enduring several days in quarantine and trabsit camp in Szodula were taken away in January 1944.
The prisoners in the Schmelt camps understood that this was happening,because they had stopped receiving letters from home. The camp commandes attempted to deceive them, claiming that the mail was being held up as a punishment for their negligence on the job. The prisoners, however, realized that their worst horror had materialized: their families were no longer alive. In 1943, Bedzin, Sosnowiec, and Zawiercie, like other areas, were declared judenfrei. [free of Jews]
The liquidation of the Schmelt camps also had a personal aspect - a crises in Albrecht Schmelts  career. In 1944, Schmelt was ousted from the Presidency of the Opeln District. His status in the SS declined, and in his commanders eyes, his lustre faded. Thus, an RSHA official reported on 23 March 1944, before Schmelt sank into oblivion, that Schmelt had been relieved of all his duties and was about to retire, the report was placed in Schmelts file. At the time, Schmelt was in Parzymiechy, at his farm in Opeln, which had been built be the sweat of Jewish prisoners. [The report was found in Albect Schmelts personal file, BAK; Konieczny, "Organizacja Schmelt". As the war was weindind down, Schmelt was accused of embezzlement.He had transferred 100,000 Reichsmarks to his personal account without Himmlers knowledge and was brought before the SS tribunal. (The outcome was not clarified).  In May 1945, he committed suicide. See Sybille Steinbacher, "Musterstaat" Auschwitz: Germernisierungspolitik und Judenmord in Oberschlesien (Munich, 2000), 2:305. sic]



  1. This article comes from Bella Gutterman's A NARROW BRIDGE TO LIFE, 53-65.

  2. I would like to refer you to Part 6/6 under ACKNOWLEDGEMENT, Sources, which reads in parts: Short passages from: 'A narrow Bridge to Life', by Bella Gutterman, translated from Hebrew.


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