Budy: An Auschwitz Subcamp
The Nazi concentration camp system was organized into main camps and subordinate camps, called subcamps. These subcamps varied in their design and purpose, but all supported the economic and ideological goals of the SS. Like the main camps, the subcamps brutally exploited prisoner labor. The Auschwitz concentration camp complex had more than 40 such subcamps, including the Budy farm.
At Budy, prisoners were forced to work under murderous conditions in farming and animal husbandry, as well as forestry and construction work.
The Budy subcamp operated from April 1942 until the Auschwitz concentration camp was evacuated in January 1945.
Throughout its operation, the Budy subcamp consisted of three separate units: a men’s camp, a women’s penal company, and a women’s camp.
Budy was one of more than 40 subcamps that the SS administered as part of the Auschwitz concentration camp complex. It was an agricultural subcamp, meaning that prisoners there performed forced labor related to farming and animal husbandry. The Budy farm (Wirtschaftshof Budy) was developed on 667 acres of land that had previously belonged to three Polish villages. In addition to farmland, it also included two large fish ponds. Budy was located approximately 4 kilometers southwest of the Auschwitz main camp (also called Auschwitz I).
The Auschwitz Interest Zone
Budy was located within the so-called Interest Zone of the Auschwitz concentration camp (Interessengebiet des KL Auschwitz). The Interest Zone comprised a 40 square kilometer area from which the SS expelled the local Polish population. The area was under the control of Auschwitz camp authorities and was adjacent to the main Auschwitz camp. The SS created the Interest Zone in order to guarantee the security of the Auschwitz camp complex, and to prevent the local Polish population from witnessing SS crimes and assisting prisoner escapees.
The Nazi leadership also intended to develop this area as a model for future German settlement in conquered eastern territories.
Constructing the Budy Farm, 1941
In the spring of 1941, the SS began to establish the Budy farm as an experimental agricultural station in the Auschwitz Interest Zone. To do so, they expelled almost the entire Polish population of the villages of Bór and Budy. The Germans seized the villagers’ homes, land, farm buildings, agricultural equipment, and livestock.
Construction of the SS Budy farm started shortly thereafter. The SS exploited prisoner laborers from the Auschwitz main camp to dismantle most of the buildings in Bór. The SS then repurposed the building materials to construct watchtowers, stables, and chicken coops, among other structures.
At this time, Budy did not house its own prisoner population. Prisoners from the Auschwitz main camp were forced to walk under guard to the farm and back each day. However, walking the prisoners to the camp was time consuming and inefficient. Thus, the SS decided to create a subcamp in Budy where prisoners would live and work.
Creating a Subcamp at Budy, 1942
The SS eventually set up three different camps that formed the Budy subcamp:
- a men’s camp (Männerlager Budy), which functioned from April 1942 to January 18, 1945;
- a women’s penal company (Frauen-Strafkompanie) that existed from June 1942 to the spring of 1943; and
- a women’s camp (Frauenlager Budy), which operated from the spring of 1943 until the fall of 1944.
Unlike the earlier prisoners who traveled to and from Budy, the prisoners of these three camps both lived and worked there.
At Budy, there were Jewish and non-Jewish prisoners from various countries, including Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Greece, Poland, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia. There were also some Roma and Sinti prisoners at Budy.
Work detachments (Kommandos) of male and female prisoners from other camps also worked at Budy throughout the subcamp’s operation. These detachments were brought over from other parts of the Auschwitz camp complex.
Men at the Budy Subcamp
In April 1942, the SS transferred 40 male prisoners from the Auschwitz main camp to Budy and housed them in a barrack on-site. This was the start of the Budy subcamp. The first group of men worked and lived at Budy for only several months. But when the need for agricultural workers increased again in the spring of 1943, another group of male prisoners was permanently installed at Budy.
At that point, the fenced-off area of the men’s camp included stables, barns, storehouses, several silos, workshops, and separate barracks for the prisoners and SS staff. The number of male prisoners at Budy varied. According to primary source documents, there were 167 male prisoners at Budy in April 1943 and 388 in March 1944.
Women at the Budy Subcamp
There were two different women’s camps at Budy. The first was a women’s penal company. The second was a women’s camp.
The Women’s Penal Company: Penal companies were a form of punishment within the concentration camp system. The women’s penal company in Budy was formed in the summer of 1942 when a prisoner escaped from her work detail (Kommando). In an act of collective punishment, the SS sent all 200 (mostly Polish) women from her work detail to Budy. Only a few days later, the camp authorities sent another approximately 200 Jewish women to the penal company.
Women were sent to the penal company to serve sentences for various offenses committed in the camp. In addition to attempts at escape, these offenses included trying to send a letter without going through the camp censorship office or sewing a pocket from rags onto camp-issued clothing. The women were treated brutally and the death rate in the penal company was high.
In the spring of 1943, the entire penal company was transferred to the women's camp (Frauenkonzentrationslager, FKL) in Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
The Women’s Camp: On April 5, 1943, following the transfer of the penal company to Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the SS established a women’s camp at Budy. They sent another 200, mostly Polish, women to Budy. The number of prisoners varied over time. Documentation confirms that there were 455 prisoners in the women’s camp in March 1944.
SS Supervision of Prisoners at Budy
An SS officer supervised the Budy men’s camp. The women’s camps were supervised by a so-called SS female overseer (SS-Aufseherin). Women could not be members of the SS, so female overseers worked as private civilian contractors for the SS. In all three camps, the guards were SS men.
Like in other concentration camps, the SS used specially-selected concentration camp prisoners, called kapos, to oversee other prisoners. In the women’s penal company and the women’s camp, the kapos were female German prisoners. Reflecting their position in the camp hierarchy, they lodged with the female overseer. The kapos in the penal company were especially brutal, even carrying out a massacre of 90 Jewish female prisoners in the penal company in October 1942.
Living Conditions at Budy
At Budy, men and women lived separately, as was the case in most concentration camps. Each camp section was surrounded by a barbed wire fence and watchtowers.
Life in the Budy subcamp was physically demanding, dirty, uncomfortable, and agonizing. Prisoners had only one set of clothing, a camp uniform. These uniforms did not protect prisoners from rain or cold. Sanitation and bathing facilities were practically non-existent.
Housing conditions varied between the camps, but in all cases were austere. The men lived in prisoner barracks. They slept on three-tier bunk beds with straw mattresses and blankets. Female prisoners in the penal company slept on the floor of an attic in a former schoolhouse or in a wooden barrack nearby. The women shared bunk beds and blankets. While the men’s barracks were heated in winter, the prisoner barracks in the women’s camp were not.
Labor at Budy
Prisoners of the Budy subcamp were forced to work long hours under harsh and often violent conditions.
Men and women in the Budy subcamp did not work together. The SS assigned them different types of labor tasks. Male prisoners worked in farming and animal husbandry for 12 hours a day (from 6am to 6pm). Among other things, they raised pigs, cattle, and horses. They also sowed grain and grew beets for animal feed. In addition to the difficulties caused by the crude conditions, prisoners, in particular Jews, were severely mistreated and even killed by the SS or their foremen.
Female prisoners built a light railway line and dyke along the Vistula River. They also worked in the fields, in the forests, in the camp’s tree nurseries, and the greenhouse. They demolished and dismantled houses. Female prisoners were also employed to make compost, which consisted of layers of sod, manure, and human ashes of Auschwitz victims.
Many women prisoners described working in the camp’s fish ponds as particularly excruciating:
We were supposed to clean out the fish ponds—it was horrible work—we had to roll up our dresses, get into the water with a scythe—next we had to cut the grass and carry it out onto the shore. We stood like that in water (...). We would sink sometimes up to our chests or even our neck, into the water, since the bottom was sandy and murky. Water vermin bit us. We broke out in rashes all over our bodies.
—From the memoir of former prisoner Wanda Tarasiewicz1
…working in pairs, we moved the cut bulrush on stretchers to the edge of the pond. I remember when we went to this job the first time they gave us scythes. Have you ever seen a scythe in the hand of an inexperienced prisoner? So much work and fear before she learned how to master it, so she wouldn’t hurt herself and others. On command, the prisoners had to go into the pond on a cold, drizzly day not knowing its depth. A cry of despair tore from the chest of some (…), dogs forced those who resisted to enter the water. So what if a dog, let loose, tore off a piece of human flesh…
—From the account of former prisoner Marta Wijas-Bielecka2
The prisoners of the women’s camp were physically and mentally exhausted by hard labor, hunger, and beatings. Many of them died or were killed, and some even committed suicide.
Food rations varied somewhat between the men’s camp, penal company, and women’s camp. But in all cases the rations were far below daily levels of sustenance, particularly in the context of hard physical labor.
Female prisoners in the women’s camp, for example, did not receive their first meal until noon. At that point, they received tea and a paltry amount of bread with margarine or jam to eat at their work site. In the evening, they were given watery soup with little caloric value made from rutabaga, rye, and nettle. Occasionally, non-Jewish women were allowed to receive parcels from their families. The contents, however, were often spoiled or looted by the German kapos.
One of the Jewish prisoners at Budy remembered:
…I remember it was the middle of the night, and they told us to stay in line and we received pieces of bread that they gave us... a couple were standing near the barracks and taking it away from us, they took it away from us….Well, that was the Kapo, they took it for themselves. The Germans gave us a piece of bread and they took it away from us.
Female prisoners of the penal company received even less food. Zofia Posmysz, a former Auschwitz prisoner who was in the penal company for two months, described the food at Budy in her postwar recollection:
The end of the second month in Budy was approaching. I don’t think there was a [single] prisoner left, who didn’t eat raw potatoes, fruit from a mountain ash tree, roots. Rutabaga and cabbage were rarities, seldom available. Some even perfected the art of eating raw mud clams. Durchfall [diarrhea] claimed its victims.3
Escapes and Contact with the Local Population
Unlike prisoners interned in Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II, prisoners who worked in subcamps occasionally had contact with the local population. This contact was potentially lifesaving. The few Poles remaining in the vicinity of Budy, for example, provided prisoners with extra food and medication, and clandestinely transmitted messages. They also helped escapees.
There were at least 9 successful escapes from the subcamp, though the exact number is difficult to determine.
Evacuating the Budy Subcamp
In the fall of 1944, the SS authorities transferred the female prisoners to other camps within the German Reich to work in munitions factories.
The SS evacuated the men’s camp on January 18, 1945, as Soviet forces approached Auschwitz.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945. Vol 1, Early Camps, Youth Camps, and Concentration Camps and Subcamps under the SS-Business Administration Main Office (WVHA), ed. Geoffrey Megargee. Bloomington: Indiana University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2009.
Archive of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Memoir Collection (1/6). Cited according to Teresa Cegłowska. “Karne kompanie w KL Auschwitz” [The Penal Companies in KL Auschwitz]. Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [Auschwitz Studies], no. 17 (1975): 191-192.
Archive of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Statements Collection (66/103). Cited according to Teresa Cegłowska. “Karne kompanie w KL Auschwitz” [The Penal Companies in KL Auschwitz]. Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [Auschwitz Studies], no. 17 (1975): 192.
Cited according to Teresa Cegłowska. “Karne kompanie w KL Auschwitz” [The Penal Companies in KL Auschwitz]. Zeszyty Oświęcimskie [Auschwitz Studies], no. 17 (1975): 192.