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The search for Arbeitskommando W/610 and its connection with coal mining

When I returned to Germany in 2007, I already knew the location of Stalag IV-D from my previous research. It was just a matter of arranging visits and taking photographs etc. But the real purpose of my visit was to try and discover the location of Arbeitskommando W/610 " in the Wittenberg area" where my father was sent to work from Stalag IV-D.

For the uninitiated, the word "Arbeitskommando" (usually abbreviated to AK) can be translated as work camp, working party, work detail or work detachment. As stated elsewhere, these could be factories, mines, railway yards or even farms up to 160 km/100 miles from their controlling Stalag or main camp. The number of PoW attached to each AK could vary from a handful to several hundred.

Each AK was coded with a letter referring to the district (Kreis) where it was situated or its nearest town, and a number. So W/610 must have been in Kreis Wittenberg (Wittenberg district). According to the Red Cross report dated 810 March 1945 the number of AKs under the control of Stalag IV-D (Torgau) with British and Commonwealth PoW working in them was as follows:

Bitterfeld    (Be*)    11

Delitzch      (D)        8

Eisleben     (E/Ei) 12

Hettstedt     (He)      1

Jessen        (J)         1

Liebenwerda (L)    22

Merseburg  (Me)      5

Nauendorf   (Ne)      2

Reiderburg  (Rei)     8

Torgau          (T)        5

Wittenberg   (W)     8

 

* The "e" stood for "Englander" (English). Bitterfeld camps with Russian prisoners were designated as "BR".

Again as stated elsewhere, it appears that no comprehensive list of Arbeitskommandos seems to exist, despite the famous claim to efficiency and bureaucracy of the Third Reich.

My family history has it that the AK where my father worked was a "coke factory" for converting coal into coke (the fuel not the drink!) and that it was possibly attached to, or very near, a coal mine.

At my first meeting with the director of DIZ in Torgau, he confirmed the lack of a list and admitted that he had never come across this particular AK (W/610) in his researches. However, given the story of the coke factory and coal mine he suggested that we approach the problem from that angle.

The bad news was that there were/are no coke factories in this part of Germany as coke is only produced from normal "hard" coal extracted from deep shaft mines.  The only coal mined in this part of the country was the soft "brown coal" (lignite) dug out of huge open-cast mines.

The good news was that the area from Wittenberg to Bitterfeld, Delitzsch, Leipzig and beyond is even now marked on maps as the "Strasse der Braunkohle"  (the Brown-coal Route).

This huge resource was essential to the German industrial and war effort but to make the brown coal burn efficiently it first had to be processed to remove its water content. It was also compressed into briquettes about half the size of a British house brick (see the photos in the Bitterfeld section on the "Places Nearby" page) which also made them easier to handle and more efficient to transport etc. Thus coal-briquette factories were usually located adjacent to the mines and there were lots of them working in this area during the war.

As the concept of brown-coal briquettes was probably completely foreign to British people after the war, it is possible therefore that my father just used the term coke factory as a form of shorthand for briquette factory to save him having to explain what briquettes were.

On this basis I started to research briquette factories near Wittenberg to see if any still existed and if one of them was my mysterious AK No W/610.

The first factory that I found is at Bergwitz: 10kms/6 miles southwest of Wittenberg just to the west of the B100 road. The mine no longer exists as it is now a lake and country park area. But the old factory still stands derelict just by the railway station. Among the little row of shops in front of the factory is the post office whose owner showed me a copy of a photograph of the factory during the war with a phalanx of German soldiers on parade in front of it. He claimed that the army were detailed to work there but that no PoW were ever used. I was unable to verify this.

Bergwitz briquette factory 1.jpg (144688 bytes)    Bergwitz briquette factory 2.jpg (155892 bytes)
Bergwitz briquette factory

Farther south along the B100 about 25 kms/16 miles from Wittenberg is the major lignite mining town, Grafenhainichen. Nearby lies the site of the old Golpa-Nord mine which was one of the largest open-cast mines in Europe also now transformed into a huge lake (Lake Gremmin). On a peninsula jutting into the waters is now Ferropolis ("Iron City") a mix of mining museum, theme park and event venue. Here you can see a collection of five huge excavators used to mine and move the lignite, ride on the old railway, or even attend open-air concerts with the machines as an illuminated backdrop. This mine supplied the briquette factory at nearby Zschornewitz but again, enquiries at Ferropolis could not help identify any briquette factories in the area which were Arbeitskommandos using PoW as labour. Lots of websites provide more information on Ferropolis including:
http://tourisme-rfo.net/html/pdf_doc/brass-on.pdf
(8MB pdf file in English)
http://www.ferropolis-online.de/ferropolis.html
(in German)

I also visited the nearby little village of Mohlau and the site of another mine at Golpa (Golpa-Sud/South?) just to the west of Zschornewitz. Again the mine pit is a lake, the factory seems to have vanished and there is no recollection of PoW ever working in the area.

So, unfortunately, I have so far been unable to track down the elusive Arbeitskommando W/610 "in the Wittenberg area". My contact at DIZ continues to try and find some reference to it in the record. If anyone reading this can assist further, I would be most grateful to hear from them. The search continues...

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(Last updated 30 August 2010 )

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