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The penal company

The penal company was created in early August 1940, originally for Catholic priests and the few Jews who were in Auschwitz at the time. Later, any prisoner could be sent there. The majority were Poles, although there were also Jews, Germans, and, in 1944, Soviet POWs. Prisoners were assigned to the penal company for various reasons, including escape attempts, contact with civilians, the illegal possession of food, money, additional clothing, or family photographs, or sluggishness at work—in the opinion of the SS supervisors. The penal company was first housed in block 3 in the main camp, and later moved to block 11. In May 1942, it was moved to Birkenau sector BIb (block 1), and, the following July, to sector BIId (block 11, and later block 13). Prisoners in the penal company were completely isolated. They were forbidden to contact other prisoners or receive correspondence. They performed the hardest labor, usually at double time or on the run. At the same time, they were liable to be beaten continually by SS men and prisoner functionaries. Assignment to the penal company lasted from one month to one year. In June 1942, the prisoners in the penal company attempted to escape en masse, but unsuccessfully. Only 9 of them reached freedom, while more than 350 died as a result of reprisals. The penal company existed until the liquidation of Auschwitz in January 1945.

A penal company for women was created in June 1942. These prisoners were first housed near the Buda sub-camp before being moved to Birkenau in the spring of 1943. The women were mostly Polish and Jewish, but there were also some Germans. Their labor included dredging mud and clearing rushes from ponds, digging ditches, demolishing buildings, and building roads. At labor, they were subjected to continual beating. In early October 1942, German women functionary prisoners used clubs and hatchets to kill about 90 prisoners in the penal company—mostly Jewish women from France—under the pretext of suppressing a mutiny. In July 1944, the entire women’s penal company was transferred to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. There, the prisoners were placed in blocks along with other prisoners, in effect freeing them from their punishment.