Top-level IG Farben officials inspected
the Janina coal mine on 16 July, 1943. After
assessing the situation, Walter Dürrfeld, the
civilian manager in charge of the factory,
who headed the delegation, recommended
that the British POWs there be ‘sent away
as quickly as possible’ and replaced by
Auschwitz Concentration Camp prisoners.
He saw two advantages to such a move:
first, the concentration camp prisoners could
be punished at will and forced to achieve
higher productivity because they were
not covered by the Geneva Convention.
Second, 300 concentration camp prisoners
could be housed in the barracks that had
been occupied by 150 British POWs,
without incurring any additional costs.
In view of these negative experiences, it
is baffling that, two months later, IG Farben
management agreed to the establishment
of a camp for British POWs in Monowice
despite misgivings as to their productivity
in construction work.
It may have been the case that slowdowns
in the construction of barracks in Camp iv
(a branch of Auschwitz Concentration
Camp) forced limitations in the number
of concentration camp prisoners transferred
IG Farben had built other camp quarters
near the plant, but organisational difficulties
made it impossible to house concentration
camp prisoners there. Management
therefore decided to cordon off some of
the barracks in one of these recently finished
camps, designated vlii-Karpfenteich,
and house British POWs there.
These barracks were surrounded by
barbed wire, but the erection of guard
towers was not deemed necessary. The
camp was administered by the army and
guarded by Wehrmacht soldiers from the
third company of 515 Territorial Rifle
Battalion Its official name was Kommando
e715, Stalag viiib, Lamsdorf.
Charlie was sent to the factory at
Auschwitz where, as senior British prisoner
and the Red Cross representative, he
witnessed the atrocities at first hand. True
to form, he resisted, and by bribing guards
he managed to swap the dead bodies of
Jewish prisoners for some 400 live people.
Knowing that the guards only measured
the number of people transferred from the
camp to the gas chambers, he took live
prisoners out of the ranks and buried them
in a shallow hole, to be recovered later,
and replaced them with dead prisoners.
He knew that the SS would assume that the
prisoners died on the march.
At least 80 of these poor souls are known
to have survived the end of the war. With
the assistance of fellow POWs and Polish
resistance workers, Charlie helped to
smuggle arms and explosives in to the death
camp and substantial damage was done to the
gas ovens, and they were never fully repaired.
One of his last duties before he left the
camp was to organise the funerals of 34
British POWs who had been killed by a stray
American bomb after a raid on the factory
started whilst they were on a sports activity.
Prior to this he had complained:
‘Another thing I want to mention is that the
British prisoners of war were not permitted
to use the air raid shelters in the IG plant.
I complained to Dürrfeld about this. He
was very abrupt and said that a place was
‘The place we could use instead of an airraid
shelter was locked, so we would have
to get the guard to get us a key before we
could get even that protection. The inmates
had no air-raid shelters of any kind, and
the foreign workers were marched out
into the fields.’
It is sad to record that the mass graves
were subsequent directly hit by another
large bomb and the prisoners’ remains
After the war Charlie Coward testified
at the Nuremburg IG Farben war crimes
tribunal, and his affidavit is registered as
document ni-11696, prosecution exhibit
His testimony ensured that the civilian
contractors could not be excused their
dreadful part in this savage Auschwitz
death factory enterprise. “I discussed the
gas chambers with German civilians.
I never heard of any of the German foremen
who protested against the gassing. The
others were in favour of gassing – provided
it was for Jews.
‘They looked upon killing Jews as killing
vermin. We were not permitted to talk to
the inmates but managed to do so anyway.
I was told by quite a number of inmates that
if they were sick for more than five days,
they would be sent to the gas chambers.
‘One foreman boasted about having seen
Jews arrive for gassing, 100 to the railway
wagon, standing because there was not
enough room to sit down. It was too much
trouble to take the inmates out, so a gas pipe
was put into the wagon. He also told us
about the Jews walking into the
In 1961 he was an expert witness at the
trial of Adolf Eichmann, who had been
in charge of the extermination of the Jews,
in Tel Aviv and he continued to attend
Soviet war crimes trials as a prosecution
witness until 1967.
Charlie lived in Edmonton, North
London, and recently the area was adorned
with a heritage blue plaque. With his
brother Charles Stancer, he initiated the
first live outside broadcasts of Tottenham
Hotspurs’ football matches to hospital radio
in three boroughs, taking on the might of
the BBC, who tried to curtail these
broadcasts by claiming copyright. Charlie
informed them that they were welcome to
sue him and the matter was quietly dropped!
It was his great delight to bring the
first female into the press box at the Spurs
ground, one Jayne Mansfield! She also
featured on one of the early Eamon
Andrews’ This Is Your Life programmes,
when Charlie was the topic.
The North Middlesex Hospital has
a ward named after him, and following
his death in 1979, a physiotherapy room
was endowed in his name at the Enfield
Leonard Cheshire home.
I would like to thank Charles Stancer for providing
me with a great deal of information regarding my
neighbour, to Linda and Barry Clark, his daughter
and son-in-law, who carry the flame and to Diane
Clements, director of the Library and Museum of
Freemasonry, for finding Charlie’s Lodge for me
after I had spent two years of frustrating, unfruitful
Web site created by Mark Griffin