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New online lesson about the inhabitants of Oświęcim during the German occupation


Inhabitants of Oświęcim during the occupation” is the title of the new online lesson prepared by the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. Its author is Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz, the Head of the Auschwitz Museum Research Center.


‘Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War Oświęcim became the site not only of the largest German concentration camp but also of a particular population experiment, consisting in fast complete exchange of its inhabitants, carried out 3 times during the war. The city was also the object of intensive planning works undertaken to create there in the nearby future a model German settlement in the East – “Musterstadt Auschwitz”, the introduction to the lesson states.

The lesson is divided into a dozen chapters devoted among others to pre-war history of the town of Oświęcim, its role in the 1939 defence war as well as to the reactions of the inhabitants of the town under occupation to the presence of German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz in their immediate neighbourhood and to the issue of forced displacement of the town’s inhabitants in connection with the extension of the Auschwitz camp.

Another key moment affecting the town, besides the construction and extension of the camp, consisted in making in January 1941 “the decision to build a huge factory producing synthetic resin by the German IG Farbenindustrie corporation. Its construction was intended in the villages of Dwory and Monowice. The reason was the threat of air raids by British bombers, as targets in the western and central parts of Germany lay within the reach. Therefore, it was believed that, if situated further in the East, such a factory would be saved from aerial attacks for many more months”.

“Seeking an appropriate location, even back in December 1940, experts of IG Farben turned their attention to a highly promising area situated directly to the east of Oświęcim. It was flat and unforested, with convenient access to the railway grid, and in the vicinity of a major river (the Vistula) that could provide a source of water necessary for the cooling of industrial installations. Situated in the vicinity, there were also potential sources of minerals, especially the hard coal that could be supplied from Jawiszowice, Libiąż, Lędziny, and even from Jaworzno and Dziedzice. The only significant problem encountered was the shortage of workers who would be required nearly immediately and in large numbers”, one can read in the material. 

The lesson brings closer the situation of Polish inhabitants of the town of Oświęcim together with the experiences of mainly women and young girls involved in providing the aid to camp prisoners and further repressions resulting from their activity. The role of foreign civilian workers in barrack IG Farben camps was discussed as well together with the strength and power of armed formations stationed in the town of Oświęcim under German occupation.

It is estimated that directly before the war, the population of the town of Oświęcim was ca. 13 thousand people, with approximately a half of them Jewish and another half Polish. In 1946 the population shrank to only 6708 people, nearly exclusively Poles.

The lesson is available in English and Polish.