As the war progressed, more and more prisoners were used in the war industry. Subcamps
were established near factories that were not in the immediate surroundings of Dachau.
The work in the concentration camps was very heavy, but not very productive in the
first years. In 1941 that changed. Because more and more German laborers were called
to arms, a painful shortage in war industry workers was created. Prisoners of the
concentration camps took their places.
Himmler offered industries separate work camps near their workplaces, with prisoners
who could be used as slave labor. Many gratefully took him up on that offer. First
in line was IG Farber, who used thousands of Auschwitz prisoners. However Krupp,
Volkswagen, Siemens and many builders were kept going in large part, due to prisoner
The number of subcamps grew rapidly. By the end of the war there were at least 1200
and could be found in the farthest outreaches of Germany.
With two hundred subcamps Dachau was in the lead. The majority of prisoners worked
for large airplane manufacturers like Messerschmidt, Junkers and Dornier.
The largest employer of Dachau prisoners was BMW, a longtime manufacturer of German
airplane engines. The well known Junkers commercial airliners, and a large number
of military planes had BMW engines. The factory in Munich was bursting at the seams
and suffered greatly from allied bombardments. A large underground factory was under
construction in Allach, which became the largest subcamp, with a work force of over
17,000. The factory was never finished.
More numbers? Messerschmidt employed over 3600 prisoners in different locations,
Dornier had 60, 375 worked for U. Sachse in Kempten and 360 men worked for the screw
factory Prazifix in Dachau. In Munich there was an subcamp with Dutch and Polish
women who worked for the Agfa factory.
At the end off 1944, gigantic bombproof airplane factories were started in Muhlfdorf
and Kaufering. Thousands of prisoners were mustered from Auschwitz to work on them.
The adage “Vernichtung durch Arbeit” (Destruction through work) was definitely appropriate
here. The prisoners, mainly men, but also women, were treated so inhumanely, that
thousands started dying like rats within a few months.
Gradually the subcamps started to become autonomous, although they were actually
ruled by the main camp; but with thousands of prisoners, the units answered to the
main camp only on paper.
Most subcamps were in facilities that were not made for housing so many people. They
were factories and garages, where the well known three bed high cots were placed.
Sanitary facilities were virtually nonexistent. Everyone used large soup kettles
for human wastes. In the middle of the night people were awakened to take the very
heavy kettles, which were filled to the rim, outside. Spillage was punished severely.
They mostly used prisoners who were not accustomed to manual labor Office clerks
collapsed under loads that were too heavy, people who were not good with their hands
were told to perform technically challenging tasks, with disastrous results. If something
went really wrong, there was an immediate accusation of Sabotage. The guilty were
hung. Almost daily someone was hanging from the beams in the factory building.
One of the problems was that the allies did not know that there were so many political
prisoners. Bombardments of the complex were the order of the day. Every time the
alarm sounded, the prisoners were rousted from their beds and often had to take shelter
for several hours in the snow, in a mass grave, or in an open field.
It is not surprising that a lot of us were miserable and longed for the regimen and
order of the old familiar concentration camp.