A Kommando made up of 505 prisoners, mostly Poles and Russians, formed in Auschwitz in September 1944 for the purpose of repairing damage to German cities and clearing rubble caused by bombing. The prisoners lived on the train, which was made up of about 25 freight cars equipped with three-tier bunks. The train also included kitchen, first-aid, tool, and pantry cars, as well as cars housing the SS guards and a passenger car converted into an office and quarters for the commandant of this unique “sub-camp.” Initially, the train was sent to the station in Karlsruhe, which at the time was a prime target for Allied bombers.
The prisoners were deployed to put out fires near the station and in the city center, to rescue people trapped in the ruins, and to clear rubble from the streets. It was backbreaking labor, performed with the simplest tools—sledgehammers and shovels. Many prisoners were killed or wounded during air raids, or injured when the walls of bombed-out buildings collapsed on them. On the other hand, the prisoners often came across food stocks horded in basements, which supplemented the starvation rations they received officially. Working in urban areas full of potential hiding places facilitated numerous escapes.
In mid-October 1944, the train, known from that time forward as “2 SS Bauzug,” along with the prisoners, was placed under the administration of the Buchenwald camp, and in November of Mittelbau. From this point on, it shuttled between bombed cities in western Germany. In April 1945, it was sent south where, near the town of Schussenried, the prisoners finally overcame the locomotive crew (the majority of the SS men had fled several days earlier) and waited for the arrival of French units.