The Calvary of Europe
German Nazi camps in the German Reich and occupied Europe in the years 1933-1945
≥ Ząbki 2016
Introduction “The Calvary of Europe” was caused by the German Reich, which had planned to create a thousand-year global empire and gain “living space” – Lebensraum – reaching the Urals through the annihilation and mass genocide of other nations. The German defeat in World War I, a conflict triggered by that very country, and the downfall of the Hohenzollern Empire (1877-1918) led to the creation of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). By virtue of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was forced to, among others, recognise the independence of Poland and Czechoslovakia and cede its territorial gains to France, Belgium, and Poland. A global economic crisis and retaliatory sentiment in the country resulted in the development of German fascism, headed by Adolf Hitler, the leader of the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. He organised a failed coup attempt aimed at overthrowing the Weimar Republic and in consequence was sentenced to five years in prison, but was eventually released after a year. In his book entitled Mein Kampf, written while being held in prison, Hitler formulated his pseudo-scientific theory of racial superiority of the German nation and the programme of its military expansion aimed at gaining “living space”. In the work, he glorified strength and struggle for fundamental social rights; he expressed his support for the “Blood and Soil” ideology and war. In 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg. Following the President’s death in 1934, he proclaimed himself the leader (Führer) and assumed the position of the Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht. On 16 March 1935, compulsory military service was introduced in entire Germany. Adolf Hitler’s politics relied on intimidation, terror, and conquest. On 7 March 1936, the German Reich violated the terms of the Locarno Treaties and entered the demilitarised zone of the Rhineland. Germany annexed Austria (Anschluss) two years
later and took control over Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in October 1938. It also gained control over the area of Slovakia. Due to the policy of non-intervention and appeasement on the part of Western states, the German Reich was able to keep on expanding its territory to eventually become the greatest European power, continuously looking to trigger a war. On 23 April 1939, Germany annexed Klaipeda, a Lithuanian port town at the Baltic Sea. In August 1939, the German State signed a pact with the Soviet Union – the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – regarding the liquidation and division of the Polish territory among the two powers and the delineation of their spheres of influence in Europe. On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, which marked the beginning of World War II. Poles bravely defended their homeland for over a month, fighting against the strength of 2 million Wehrmacht soldiers, 2,000 aircrafts, 2,800 tanks, and 10,000 field guns. They fought fierce battles at, among others, Westerplatte, Hel, Gdynia, Bory Tucholskie, Wizna, Mława, Mokra, Węgierska Górka, Jordanów, Piotrków Trybunalski, Iłża, Warsaw, Modlin, the Bzura River, Lviv, Brest, Tomaszów Lubelski, Kock. Approximately 70,000 Polish soldiers died on the field of honour. They are buried near those battle fields. Despite various guarantees of help and military alliances, Poland was left alone in the defensive war. On 17 September 1939, the country was attacked once again, this time by the Soviet Union. Poland found itself in the military chokehold of two totalitarian powers – the German fascist dictatorship and the Soviet Bolshevik dictatorship. The Polish territory was divided in half and annexed by Germany and the Soviet Union. Having taken control of Poland, Germany attacked Denmark and Norway on 9 April 1940, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France on 10 May 1940, Great Britain on 8 August 1940, Greece and Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941, and the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. The territorial 7
conquest of the German Reich peaked in 1942, with the country occupying a substantial portion of Europe ranging from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea, Crimea, the Volga River, Stalingrad, from Norway and the Barents Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. German troops stationed as far as in North Africa: in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. The German occupation of Poland was the longest and the most bloody out of all European countries. When invading Poland, the German Reich used criminal strategies of total war. The Luftwaffe carried out heavy bombardments of towns, transportation routes, and train stations used by civilians to escape. As the German forces advanced, the Wehrmacht was followed by police units and military Einsatzgruppen, which committed numerous mass murders on Polish civilians and Prisoners of War (POWs). During 5 years of occupation of the Polish territory, Germans carried out covert and public executions, suppressions, displacements, round-ups of people leaving churches, going to markets, found at train stations, in the streets and on squares, all of whom were deported to concentration camps or subjected to forced labour. Mass shootings of Polish people took place in Piaśnica near Puck (over 12,000 killed), in Szpęgawski Forest near Starograd Gdański (5,000 – 7,000 victims), in Bydgoszcz – the Valley of Death (over 1,200 people), in the following forests: Barbarka near Toruń, Komorniki near Działdowo, Lućmierski near Zgierz (30,000 people), forests surrounding Warsaw: Kabacki, Sękociński, Kampinos; Przegorzały near Kraków. Germans focused particularly on eliminating Polish intelligentsia – teachers, priests, officials, scholars, social and cultural activists. They carried out the bloody “AB” campaign (Außerordentliche Befriedungsaktion) in various spots around Poland, mostly in Pomerania and Silesia. Germans also murdered participants of the Silesian and Greater Poland uprisings. The intensity of German genocide peaked during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, with over 200,000 people killed over its course. 50,000 Polish civilians were shot down in the district of Wola alone. Germans did not shy away even from killing wounded people kept in rebel hospitals and using civilians as human shields to cover their attacking tanks. In occupied Poland, Germans established a system of investigative and political prisons, including Pawiak in Warsaw and the Gestapo headquarters on Szucha Avenue; similar facilities
were located at Fort VIII and Żabikowo in Poznań, Fort VII in Toruń, at the Lublin Castle. Among others sites of torture were Rotunda in Zamość, the Montelupi Prison in Kraków, “Palace” in Zakopane, Radogoszcz in Łódź. Despite the unspoken terror unleashed by the German Reich in Poland, resistance movement started to grow in prominence. Poles carried out retaliations, sabotages, they paralysed sites of strategic importance, transportation lines, organised assaults on higher SS and Wehrmacht officers, recaptured prisoners, provided help for the displaced and for families of the murdered, engaged in diversion, military operations, and underground arms production. The German plan of extermination was targeted most specifically against Polish-Jewish citizens. Several hundred ghettos for the Jewish population were established throughout the territory of Poland. The biggest of them were the ghettos in Warsaw, Łódź, Kraków, Częstochowa, Białystok, Piotrków Trybunalski, and in the Polish Eastern Borderlands – in Vilnius and Lviv. At the end of 1940, Germans started to separate the areas of ghettos in bigger towns and surround them with brick walls or barbed wire. Jewish people forced to live within the confines of ghettos performed slave work at the production of various goods, mostly for the purposes of the Wehrmacht. Inside the ghettos, the Jewish population was biologically destroyed by hunger, diseases, epidemics, cold, psychological and physical terror. The year 1942 saw the beginning of Operation Reinhard aimed at exterminating European Jews in accordance with the plan of the “Final Solution” (Endlösung). In the years 1942-1944, ghettos were liquidated and Jews were sent off to extermination camps, death camps, labour camps, and subjected to slave work. Uprisings broke out in several ghettos, but all of them ended with defeat and Germans speeding up the transports of people to extermination camps. Thanks to the activity of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews during the times of occupation of Poland, dozens of thousands of Jews were rescued from the Holocaust. Poles fought against Germany not only in Poland, but also far beyond its borders. Large Polish military units battled the enemy in Norway, France, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, North Africa. Polish people were also actively engaged in the underground activities of resistance movements in almost all European 8
countries. Polish pilots took part in the Battle of Britain (1940), Battle of the Atlantic (1942-1945), as well as battles fought in Tunisia (1943), Normandy (1944), Brandenburg (1945). Polish marines fought on the waters of the Baltic Sea (1939), the North Sea (1939-1945), the Atlantic (1939-1945), the Mediterranean Sea (1940-1945), the Gulf of Salerno (1943), the Barents Sea (1941-1944), the English Channel (1944), and protected naval convoys (1939-1945). Polish soldiers were the only ones who fought on both the Western and the Eastern Front. They conquered the German Reich from the West at the side of Western Allies, and from the East with the Red Army. They participated in battles near Dresden and in the Berlin Offensive. Cemeteries and graves of Polish soldiers and partisans can be found in almost all previously occupied countries of Europe. They are a testament to heroism, sacrifice, and dedication to embodying the “for our freedom and yours” motto. German concentration camps operated in Europe for 12 years (1933-1945). This time can be divided into four periods: First period (1933-1939): In this period, German camps were located in the territory of Germany and Austria, annexed by the Third Reich in 1938. The people imprisoned in the camps were Germans, Jews, and Poles – members of Polish organisations in Germany. These camps served as a proving ground for the “improvement” of structures and methods to be applied in future, even more heinous camps in Europe. Second period (1939-1942): Internationalisation of the camp system in the territories of occupied countries. The people imprisoned in the camps were mostly Poles, Jews, and citizens of the USSR. This period saw the nadir of living conditions inside the camps and the peak of mortality rate among prisoners. Towards the end of the period, Germans started to establish mass extermination camps. Third period (1943-1944): Mass incorporation of prisoners into the military-industrial complex of the Third Reich and selling slave workforce to the German capital and companies, the highly profitable Waffen SS. The living conditions of prisoners relatively improved, while the process of extermination of Jews, Russians, Poles, and Roma people in death camps intensified. Fourth period (December 1944 – May 1945): Liquidation and disintegration of camps; murder of
prisoners and witnesses to the German genocide; evacuations and “death marches,” destruction of camp archives and covering up traces of crimes. First Nazi camps were established in the year of Hitler’s rise to power. They were initially referred to as “assembly,” “detention” or “formative” camps; the term “concentration camp” started to be widely used in the middle of 1933. The entity responsible for managing the camps was the paramilitary wing of the NSDAP (SA). The SA apprehended political opponents – “enemies of the state and the German nation” – and instigated first pogroms of Jews. As a result of fierce competition among prominent German Nazi activists, many high officers of the SA, including its leader Ernest Rőhm, were murdered on 30 June 1934, which came to be known as the Night of the Long Knives. SA Units were disarmed and partially incorporated into the developing Wehrmacht forces and reserve police forces, which went on to actively participate in war crimes committed in Poland and other occupied countries during World War II. From that moment on, the SS gained full power over Nazi camps in Germany, and later in entire Europe. The camps were subordinate to the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), the SS Main Economic and Administrative Office (SS-WVHA), the Concentration Camps Inspectorate. Camp administration headquarters were located in Oranienburg near Berlin (1936-1945). In the years 1933-1939, a number of big camps was established in Germany: Dachau (1933), Esterwegen (1933), Kemna (1933), Sonnenburg (1933), Lichtenburg (1933), Osthofen (1933), Quednau (1933), Berlin (Columbia Haus 1935), Sachsenhausen (1936), Buchenwald (1937), Flossenbürg (1938), Mauthausen (1938), Ravensbrück (women’s camp, 1939). Over the aforementioned period, more than 170,000 people were imprisoned in those camps – Germans, Poles, and German Jews. Prior to the outbreak of WWII, a large portion of the prisoners was released from camps and ordered to migrate; most chose to leave for the United States. On 1 September 1939, the day of the German invasion of Poland marking the beginning of WWII, 25,000 people were held in German camps. The first German camp established in occupied Poland, opened on the second day of the war, was the Stutthof camp located near Gdańsk. It was initially used as an internment camp for 9
Polish citizens and civilian hostages. Most prisoners of the camp were Poles living in the region of Pomerania. In 1942, it was converted into a concentration camp and became the site of the suffering of inmates of a wide array of nationalities. Other transit and displaced persons camps were situated, among others, in Poznań, Skalmierzyce, Potulice, Łódź, Działdowo, Inowrocław. The years 1942-1944 saw the establishment of subsequent camps: in Zamość, Zwierzyniec (for Poles displaced from the Zamość region), and in Pruszków and Zakroczym (for Poles displaced from the capital after the fall of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising). In the years 1942-1944, the KL Warschau concentration camp was in operation in Warsaw; probably ca. 200,000 people from the capital were killed in its gas chambers as a result of the implementation of the so-called Pabst Plan – a plan to reconstruct Warsaw and create the “new German city of Warschau” open exclusively to German inhabitants. Germans created a gargantuan system and network of camps in the territory of Poland, and later also in other occupied countries. One of the purposes of the camps was the completion of the General Plan East (Generalplan Ost), the premise of which was to displace and destroy Polish, Slavic, and Jewish people living in Eastern Europe and to colonise the area with German population. The plan entailed the displacement (to places such as Siberia) or extermination of 51 million people, including 20 million Poles. The remaining population was to serve as free workforce which did not require any middle or higher education, which is why Germans shut down schools and universities. In the peak of German power and expansion, extermination camps were created in the territory of Poland with the aim of eliminating Jewish people, and in the future also Poles and other Slavic nations. A series of defeats suffered by the Wehrmacht in the East, however, hampered the development of the network and forced Germans to shut down the already existing camps and conceal any evidence of genocide. The protracted war, losses and enormous demands of the German war economy influenced Germany’s decision to use prisoners as workforce. Over the course of WWII, numerous concentration camps were created in the territory of the German Reich and occupied countries; among those were Soldau (Działdowo 1939), Auschwitz-
-Birkenau (1940), Neuengamme near Hamburg (1940), Natzweiler-Struthof in France (1940), Gross-Rosen in Lower Silesia (1940), Bergen-Belsen near Hannover (1940), Breendonk in Belgium (1940), Kulmhof upon the Ner (1941), Majdanek (1941), Falstad in Norway (1941), Terezin in the Czech territory (1941), Treblinka I and Treblinka II (1942), Bełżec (1942), Sobibór (1942), KrakauPłaszów (1942), KL Warschau (1942), Mechelen in Belgium (1942), Herzogenbusch and Amersfoort in the Netherlands (1942), Mittelbau-Dora in Germany (1943), Horserød in Denmark (1943), Frøslev in Denmark (1944), Risiera di San Sabba in Italy (1943), as well as camps in Yugoslavia, Greece, and the USSR (Kaunas, Siauliai, Vilnius, Paneriai – currently in Lithuania, Maly Trostenez near Minsk – currently in Belarus, Riga-Kaiserwald – currently in Latvia, Vaivara – currently in Estonia, Lviv – currently in Ukraine). Apart from concentration camps, Germans also committed mass murder and torture in detention centres and prisons run by the Gestapo. They were first created in the territory of Germany and then spread throughout occupied European countries. Large concentration of such facilities could be found in Poland (ca. 1,300) due to the strong resistance movement active in the country. The German system of imprisonment in occupied Europe was composed of various types of camps: labour camps, displacement camps, transit camps, penal and investigative camps, concentration camps, forced labourers camps, extermination camps, civilian and hostage camps, camps for the youth, children and infants of female forced labourers, and Germanisation camps. The system of Nazi camps also included POW camps, which were managed by the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW). In July 1944, all military district commanders became subordinate to high officers of the SS and the police. POW camps were divided into oflags (Offizierlager) for officers, stalags (Stammlagers) for privates and non-commissioned officers, and dulags (Durchgangslager) – transit camps. The camps were guarded by Landesschützen batallions (“National Shooters”; LB), while auxiliary guards (Hilfswache) guarded POW labour units in the Reich (Arbeitskommando). The first prisoners held in the camps were Polish soldiers. Many Polish POWs were shot dead by Germans right after the battles on the front, for 10
example 500 prisoners were killed in Zakroczym, 200 in Zambrów, 300 in Ciepielów, 250 in Śladów, 80 in Katowice, ca. 80 near Serock (Świecie district), 42 in Tomaszów Lubelski, 19 officers near Moryca. Almost half a million Polish soldiers were taken captive by Germans. Over 200,000 of them were forced to work in the arms industry, which constituted a violation of international law. The rest were kept in POW camps, mostly located in the territory of the German Reich, for example in Hohenstein (Olsztynek), Strasburg, Lamsdorf (Łambinowice), Altengrabow, Nuremberg, Prenzlau, Rotenburg, Lübeck, and Murnau. As the German forces were advancing and gaining new territory, POW camps became the site of imprisonment of soldiers hailing from Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Greece, the USA, Canada, Italy. Germans also apprehended 17,000 participants of the Warsaw Uprising (after its fall in 1944), who were sent to Nazi POW and concentration camps. In the autumn of 1944, over 1.7 million POWs of different nationalities were exploited as free workforce for the purposes of German economy. At times, POW camps were the site of mass murder. The highest number of victims was noted among Soviet prisoners (3 million killed). They were murdered in camps such as those located in Dęblin, Szebnie, Lamsdorf, Bergen-Belsen, Rawa Ruska, Białystok, Zamość, Częstochowa. POWs from the Soviet Union, Poland, and other countries were subjected to cruel pseudo-medical experiments and at times used as human shields in order to defend military and industrial objects from air raids of the Allied forces. Throughout the period of their operation, 10 million people were imprisoned in POW camps, 4 million out of which were killed. German Nazis opened thousands of camps, subcamps, and camp branches in the territory of the Reich and 17 occupied European countries. The total number of prisoners amounted to 18 million (including POWs). 11 million people from 30 countries lost their lives in the camps. Concentration and extermination camps had the total of 9 million prisoners, 80% of whom (7 million) were killed. Out of all countries occupied by Germany, Poland lost the highest percentage of its population (ca. 20%) – over 6 million people (over 3 million Poles and ca. 3 million Polish Jews).
The Reich’s genocidal plans regarding Polish people were expressed on a number of occasions, including Heinrich Himmler’s speech directed at concentration camp commandants. He stated that the following conditions needed to be satisfied to exterminate the Polish nation: “a) determine and find Polish leaders in order to neutralise them, b) eradicate Poles quickly and in specific stages, c) the German nation should consider the destruction of all Poles its main objective.” Heinrich Himmler, the SS leader and the murderer of millions of Poles, Jews, and people of other nationalities, died in the Allied custody on 23 May 1945 after biting into a cyanide pill. Nonetheless, many other war criminals avoided death, even despite the Nuremberg trials, and nowadays their descendants make compensation claims for the properties they had abandoned while escaping from responsibility and Soviet custody. According to the provisions of the Potsdam Conference (17 July – 2 August 1945), the trials of German war criminals accused of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity were held in Nuremberg. The main proceedings took place before the International Military Tribunal (1945-1946). After their conclusion, a number of subsequent trials was held in Allied-controlled zones. In the years 1946-1949, 12 criminal trials of German war criminals were held before US military courts. Nuremberg was the main centre of Nazism and the site of annual NSDAP rallies. It was also the same town where ten years earlier, in 1935, the government had adopted racist regulations of the German Reich, including the “Law on the Protection of German Blood and Honour.” The people acting as accused in the Nuremberg trials were leaders and heads of organisations, institutions, German government officials, high officers of the Wehrmacht, as well as industrialists and physicians collaborating with the Nazi party. The International Military Tribunal sentenced twelve accused men to death: Hermann Göring, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Straicher, Fritz Sauckel, Alfred Jodl, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Martin Bormann. Among people put on trial were also other war criminals, accused of extermination of the mentally ill, disabled, carrying out forced sterilisations, murderous pseudo-medical experiments, deportations to labour colonies, forcing POWs to 11
trial in Poland was Jürgen Stroop, war criminal responsible for the bloody quenching of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He was executed in the prison located in Warsaw’s Mokotów district. Despite the Nuremberg trials and the subsequent denazification of Germany, some war criminals were never held criminally liable. One of those people was SS General Heinz Reinefarth, who served as the mayor of Westerland in the years 1951-1967 and sat in the Schleswig-Holstein Landtag in the years 1958-1967. The criminal was never held responsible for murdering Polish civilians in the Wola Disrtrict (ca. 50,000 people) during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
work in industrial enterprises. Among the defendants there were also lawyers accused of adjusting the judiciary to the plan to conquer and exterminate other nations, creating and maintaining the concentration camp system, and committing plunder. Some of the people accused in trials were the representatives of Flick’s group of steel companies, directors of the IG Farbenindustrie AG chemical conglomerate, which opened its production plant near Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the directors of the Krupp Group. Some of the trials were held before national courts of the countries in which the accused had committed their crimes. Among people put on
a bbreviation for Displaced Persons – people forcibly displaced to Germany, who usually did not come back to their homelands after the war and were aided by international organisations GPO Generalplan Ost / General Plan East KL Konzentrationslager / concentration camp, used interchangeably with KZ NSDAP Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei / National Socialist German Workers’ Party SA Sturmabteilung / Storm Detachment SD Sicherheitsdienst (des Reichsführers SS) / Security Service (SS of the Reichsführer) SK Sonderkommando / special units SS Schutzstaffel / Protection Squadron VL Vernichtungslager / extermination camp; some historians use the abbreviation VL instead of KL
The bas-relief of the monument commemorating victims of the Dachau concentration camp at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris 12
Germany KL Dachau The first German concentration camp in Europe. It was established near a munition factory on the outskirts of Dachau, Bavaria, ca. 30 km south-west of Munich. It was created several weeks after Hitler had been appointed the Chancellor of the German Reich. In July 1933, Theodor Eicke became the camp commandant. A year later, after the camp had come under the supervision of the SS apparatus, KL Dachau became a site of terror and violation, as well as a training facility for the staff and functionaries of subsequent camps. It existed from 22 March 1933 to 29 April 1945. During its 12 years of operation, KL Dachau was the place of imprisonment of ca. 200,000 people of over 30 nationalities. Over 32,000 prisoners died in the Dachau camp and its 150 subcamps; a third of them were Poles, who constituted one of the largest ethnic
groups in the camp. The first Polish inmates held in Dachau were activists and members of Polish organisations in Germany, Polish intellectuals (exterminated and destroyed in the “AB-Aktion” [“extraordinary operation of pacification”] and “Sonderaktion Krakau”), professors, lawyers, teachers, doctors, artists, civil servants, and Polish priests. Ca. 860 of the latter were killed, which constituted almost a half of all 1,777 clergy held in the camp. One of the victims was Blessed Michał Kozal (1893-1943), the rector of Poland’s oldest seminary in Włocławek, and Blessed Józef Pawłowski (born 1890), the rector of the Higher Seminary in Kielce (hanged on 9 January 1942 for helping Jews). The solidarity and bravery of Polish priests was admired and respected by their inmates, at the same time breeding anger and hate in their
Plaque on the rear façade of the Chapel of Christ’s Deadly Fear (erected in 1960) 13
A history lesson by the monument to the victims of the KL Dachau German Nazi concentration camp
Exhibition in the former outhouse â€“ aÂ place where flogging took place 14
oppressors. Among the 108 martyrs of WWII beatified by John Paul II, as many as 45 were priests tormented in Dachau. In September 1944, large transports of Poles from Warsaw (following the Warsaw Uprising) arrived at KL Dachau. Polish prisoners, including priests, and Soviet POWs were subjected to cruel pseudo-medical experiments. The SS had a shooting ground near Herberthousen, right outside of the camp; in 1941, it was used to execute over 4,000 Soviet POWs. Among the camp buildings there was also a special barracks (Sonderbaracke) where female inmates transported from the Ravensbrück women’s camp were forced to engage in prostitution. A crematory was built in the camp in the summer of 1940. Another, bigger one was constructed in the years 1942-1943; it had four furnaces for cremating bodies and a gas chamber (which was never used). Executions and murders took place in the crematory. There was also a camp prison on the premises of KL Dachau – a bunker located on the camp yard, where people were punished by flogging, pole hanging, or shooting. Roll calls were carried out in a vast square and would often last for hours, serving as a particular method of psychological and physical torture. The camp was liberated by the 7th United States Army on 29 April 1945. On that day, 31,000 prisoners were set free. Short after the camp’s liberation, 1,280 of its former inmates lost their lives due to exhaustion and diseases spreading among prisoners. They were buried in Waldfriedhof, in the forest cemetery of the town of Dachau. During the weeks directly preceding the liberation of the camp, in the period between 29 February and 27 April 1945, corpses of prisoners (4,318 victims) were not burned down in crematories due to coal shortage, but buried in graves
The cross and monstrance made by prisoners in secret on the Leitenberg Hill, located 5 km away from the camp. This cemetery is also the resting place of the ashes of victims exhumed from various cemeteries in Upper Bavaria (7,500 victims in total). In 1999, a modest monument was erected in the Leitenberg cemetery; it bears the following inscription in Polish and German: “To Poles, the victims of Nazism tormented in KZ Dachau.” This place is not widely known and is visited relatively seldom, even though the camp itself has numerous visitors. The suffering of Poles in the recently created museum of KL Dachau is poorly commemorated; there are practically no mentions of Polish prisoners, despite the fact that they constituted a third of all the camp’s inmates. The representative of Polish victims did not make any speeches during the commemorative events on the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
Vast drill grounds 15
Germany Wewelsburg, KL Niederhagen In the years 1933-1945, Wewelsberg was a site of torture and SS training. It was in the local castle, the former secondary residence of the PrinceBishops of Paderborn, where Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS, planned to open a national-socialist ideology centre, with a training facility for the governing body of the “Reich Leadership School.” In order to implement these projects, modernise the castle and expand the centre, the Niederhagen concentration camp was established on the outskirts of the town of Wewelsburg. The camp became an independent entity in 1941, thus becoming the smallest independent concentration camp. Out of nearly 4,000 of its prisoners, almost one third died. The high mor-
tality rate, achieved through the SS chief rule, “extermination through labour”, was also caused by malnutrition, cold, sadistic practices of the guards and frequent punishments. In 1943, the camp was dissolved and all its prisoners were sent to other concentration camps. Only a small group of 42 prisoners was left on the site and forced to carry out various tasks on a running basis. They were liberated by American forces on 2 April 1945. The Wewelsburg Castle was the hiding place for cultural objects stolen from occupied European countries. It also served as a “treasury” of rings with skull and crossbones – the SS insignia. A special SS unit blew up the castle two days before the arrival of US forces.
Obergruppenführersaal (The Hall of SS “order” Generals) in the north castle tower, which was to be a capital of Nazi mysticism, a place of worship of power and Aryan omnipotence, “the centre of the world” (Mittelpunkt der Welt) 16
Germany KL Osthofen There were two concentration camps located in the area of the current German state Rhineland-Palatinate: Osthofen near Worms (March 1933 – summer of 1934) and special SS camp Hinzert (1939-1945). KL Osthofen was a relatively small camp, established in a former paper mill near the local train station, active during the first period of the national-socialist rule. The camp’s prisoners were people opposing the fascist dictatorship and contesting “Heil Hitler” for political or religious reasons. In July 1933, ca. 27,000 people were held in various concentration camps around Germany. Most of the camps were shut down in the summer of 1934, due to which the number of prisoners fell to 7,000-10,000 in 1935. The reduction of the so-called preventive camps was possible thanks to the quenching of the resistance movement, the empowerment of the fascist regime, and mass emigration (mainly of Jews) from Germany; the decision was also influenced by Germany attempting to maintain a positive reputation before the 1936 Olympic Games.
The network of camps was expanded after the conclusion of the Olympics, with new camps opened both in Germany and in other countries. Over 6 years of its existence (1939-1945), the special SS camp KL Hinzert near Luxembourg had 13,600 prisoners of twelve nationalities. Its inmates hailed from Luxembourg, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland; they were also Jews, Sinti and Roma people, and Soviet POWs. Luxembourgers constituted a relatively large part of all prisoners; they were people opposing Germanisation and compulsory service in the Wehrmacht who had taken part in the general strike and formed partisan units. In the aftermath of German repressions, ca. 4,000 citizens of Luxembourg were sent to concentration camps and 13,000 were enrolled into the Wehrmacht. Some of the camp’s inmates were also Poles with connections to the resistance movement and those who had been the object of unsuccessful Germanisation attempts.
Fragments of the exhibition in the former camp 17
Germany KL Buchenwald The camp was established even before WWII, on 28 July 1937, in a forest area by a quarry, ca. 10 km north of the German city of Weimar. It was initially called Ettersberg. It was open for almost eight years, until 11 April 1945 – almost until the very end of the war. The first prisoners held in the camp were German citizens: Germans, Jews, and Poles, apprehended for political, racial, and religious reasons. A separate group of inmates consisted of homosexuals, criminals, and procurers. Thousands of Poles were sent to the camp after the German invasion of Poland. There were almost no survivors among the 800 inhabitants of Bydgoszcz held in Buchenwald in September 1939, who were one of the first groups of Polish citizens transported there. The inmates, living in tents, died of cold and starvation during the heavy winter of 1939/1940. The only person left alive was Father Szulc, who was later tortured to death in a prison cell. Among the people held in Buchenwald, there were Polish military chaplains. Over the entire period of its operation, the camp had ca. 250,000 prisoners of various nationalities. Almost a quarter of all inmates perished. The number of the deceased and murdered is estimated at 60,000-85,000. When it comes to nationality, the biggest groups in the camp were Poles, Jews, and Soviet POWs. Among the people held in the camp there were also Polish children apprehended during the Warsaw Uprising. Prisoners held in the camp were subjected to cruel pseudo-medical experiments; they were for example used as guinea pigs for testing med-
ication and vaccines. 90% of people experimented on died in the aftermath of those practices. The central KL Buchenwald had jurisdiction over more than 100 subcamps. According to some estimates, the number of subcamps could have been as high as 170. The camp’s inmates were used as free labour in arms factories owned by the Gustloft and FritzSauckel companies. Large subcamps were also created by the Erla-Maschinenwerk GmbH production plant in Leipzig and two aircraft production facilities: the Junkers plant in Schönebeck and the Rautal plant in Wernigerode. The commandants of the camp were Karl Otto Koch (1939-1940), and Hermann Pister (1941-1945). Prisoners created a well-organised resistance movement inside the camp, with Poles being some of its most active members. One of the initiatives of the movement was the rescue operation for English parachutists who were to be shot in Buchenwald by Germans. Inmates held in Buchenwald feared that the SS officers would murder all prisoners before the arrival of the Allied forces, which is why on 11 April 1945, at 2 p.m., they launched an uprising which had been prepared long beforehand. After an hour’s fight, they managed to take over the entire camp and took 220 Germans hostage. American soldiers entered the already liberated camp on the very same day. In 1958, an impressive memorial monument was unveiled on the former premises of the camp, at the time located in East Germany.
Crematory oven at the Buchenwald concentration camp 19
Germany KL Sachsenhausen The camp was in operation in the years 19361945. It was established in Brandenburg, the suburb of Oranienburg located ca. 30 km away from Berlin. It housed the administrative headquarters of the SS KL and the Main Economic and Administrative Office (Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt – WVHA). Large barracks of SS units (Totenkopfstandarte) were built in close vicinity of the camp. KL Sachsenhausen had ca. 50 subcamps. The first people kept in the camp were German antifascists, as well as Polish activists and teachers working in the German Reich, apprehended before the outbreak of WWII. After 1 September 1939, Poles from Gdańsk and Pomerania were transported to Sachsenhausen from KL Stutthof. Over the period of its operation, KL Sachsenhausen and its subcamps had the total of 200,000 prisoners. Out of all nationalities held in the camp, Poles constituted the biggest group. Over 100,000 people from the countries of occupied Europe lost their lives in the camp.
A group of 1,200 Polish patriots, previously interrogated in the Pawiak Gestapo prison in Warsaw, was transported to KL Sachnsenhausen on 3 May 1940. Later on, the Head of the Security Police and the SD ordered for 300 people from the group to be shot. Only 33 Poles from the transport managed to survive until 9 November 1940 (the anniversary of Hitler’s failed 1923 Munich Putsch); the rest were tormented to death (mainly in the process of the so-called quarantine, which consisted in soaking prisoners wearing clothes in water and making them stay outside until they dry out). On 9 November, the remaining Polish patriots were shot in a ditch located on the camp’s premises. KL Sachsenhausen was the site of martyrdom of 183 professors and academics from the Jagiellonian University and the AGH University of Science and Technology from Kraków. They were sent to the camp after being arrested on 6 November 1939, during the “Sonderaktion Krakau” operation.
Central spot of the former camp 20
The trench – a site commemorating the executions by firing squads; on 9 October 1940 during the first SS extermination execution 33 Polish patriots were murdered here Having been held in one of the camp’s prison cells for an extended period of time, Divisional General Stefan Grot-Rowecki, the commanderin-chief of the Home Army, was murdered in August 1944. During the summer and autumn of 1944, mass transports of girls and women from Warsaw (following the Warsaw Uprising) were organised into camp commandos and forced to work in the arms industry. KL Sachsenhausen was the only camp to produce fake British pound sterling. Berlin, the capital of the German Reich and a town located in close proximity to Sachsenhausen, was the site of operation of hundreds of forced labour camps. Almost half a million foreigners held there worked in factories and were responsible for removing rubble and burying the victims during air strikes on the German capital. In April 1945, the camp was evacuated, with all the prisoners sent to the Bay of Lübeck, where it was planned for them to embark on ships which were most probably to be sunk. During the last days of the war, on the very brink of freedom, thousands of people died in the “death marches.” The camp was liberated by Soviet and Polish soldiers.
Fifty years after the war, modern German Nazis organised street marches and set houses on fire, killing many people trapped inside. One of the destroyed buildings was Barracks no. 38, which had constituted a symbol of the extermination of Jews in KL Sachsenhausen.
A cemetery without graves – hay-making on the “meadows of blood”. Charred remains of prisoners were used for hardening and levelling roads and ground. Stone blocks mark outlines of former blocks and territories 21
Monument commemorating the victims of Sachsenhausen concentration camp 22
Germany KL Neuengamme The camp was in operation in the years 19381945 and was located ca. 10 km south-east of Hamburg. The first prisoners, sent to the camp in 1938, lived in the former buildings of a brickyard and did construction work during the camp’s expansion. KL Neuengamme initially served as a subcamp of KL Sachsenhausen, but became an independent entity in 1940. Among the prisoners of the camp there were inhabitants of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Spain, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Luxembourg, Germany, Norway, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy, the USSR, as well as Jews and Roma and Sinti people. Over the entire course of its operation, the camp and its numerous subcamps scattered around northern Germany had 106,000 inmates, 55,000 of which did not survive the incarceration. The largest ethnic groups in the camp were citizens of the republics of the USSR
(mainly Russians) – ca. 35,000; Poles – 17,000, 7,500 out of whom died; Frenchmen – 11,500; Jews – 10,000 (registered according to their nationality). As many as 7,000 Dutchmen were transported to KL Neuengamme from the small, neighbouring Netherlands. Inmates held in KL Neuengamme and its numerous subcamps and branches spread throughout northern Germany were used as slave labour in various factories and production plants of the arms industry, in the production of bombs and munitions, aircrafts, shops, submarines, vehicles, petrol, cement, steel, gas masks; they also worked at construction sites of underground factories, military airports, bunkers, sewers, fortification of ports, anti-tank trenches. Moreover, prisoners were forced to remove rubble from ports and production plants following Allied air strikes, camouflage objects of strategic
Millions of brick smithereens symbolising martyrdom of multinational prisoners in Europe occupied by Germans 23
Fragment of unearthed barrack foundations importance, search for duds, bury corpses. The production plant of the Walther Werke company was situated right by the main camp. Inmates were also sent out to work in the Messapa arms production company and the Jastram engine factory. In the years 1942-1945, prisoners were assigned to work in specific enterprises on commission of the companies, which were obliged to pay the Main Economic and Administrative Office (WVHA) 6 marks a day for a specialist and 4 marks for an assistant. As a result, the labour of 36,000 inmates, including 13,000 women, was exploited in the total of 70 branches of the camp. One of the most demanding workplaces was the clay pit located by the camp. Prisoners extracted the resource and transported it to the clinker brickyard. The bricks produced there were used for the reconstruction and expansion of Hamburg. The SS also forced inmates to do backbreaking work during the widening of the Dove-Elbe and the construction of a canal leading to the brickyard. Dirt was dug out with shovels regardless of weather conditions. The com-
mandos assigned to these works were “Elbe 1” and “Elbe 2”, which, together with the clay pit commando, were regarded the “death commandos.” 12 hours of work a day, combined with malnutrition and cold, resulted in the prisoners working in those commandos dying after no more than several weeks. They began their gruelling slave work at 6 a.m. and ended their shifts at 6 p.m., with an hour-long dinner break at noon. Meals served to the prisoners were meagre in size and made of low-quality ingredients, which led to many inmates suffering from various digestive system afflictions, including ailments of the stomach and intestines. Moreover, numerous epidemics wreaked havoc inside the camp; the most widespread one was tuberculosis, as well as cardiac and circulatory diseases. SS officers used the word “fakirs” as a derogatory term for prisoners consumed by diseases or debilitated and apathetic due to exhaustion from inhuman amounts of work, hunger, torture. In the years 1942-1943, those suffering from tuberculosis were killed with a lethal injection. Kurt Heiss24
meyer, an SS officer and a physician, was responsible for these practices; he also used the injections to kill healthy inmates. There was a prison bunker in the camp, located right next to a crematory with two furnaces. Executions were often carried out at the bunker’s entrance. 35 Polish and Soviet prisoners were hanged there in August 1944. In March 1945, the same fate befell 60 Dutchmen. The bunker was also the place where 448 Soviet POWs were murdered with Zyklon B in the autumn of 1942. Another site used to carry out executions was the SS shooting range located right by the camp. Most people killed there were Soviet officers. Gold teeth were extracted from corpses, which were then burned. SS officers ordered to use the ashes as fertiliser and scatter them in the farming fields located near the camp, which were used primarily to grow Swedish turnip and vegetables for the purposes of the camp kitchen.
KL Neuengamme had its own camp train station, situated by the industrial spur. Prisoners from all countries of occupied Europe were transported to the camp in freight wagons; many of them died before reaching their destination. A large transport of 6,000 Poles from Warsaw (during the Warsaw Uprising) arrived to the camp in the autumn of 1944. In the last years of the war, the barracks in the camp became overcrowded. Prisoners were woken up at 4:30 a.m. Every morning and evening they had to show up for roll call, standing in lines of 5 people each. Evening roll calls, often lasting for hours, were particularly torturous as they took place after 12 hours of backbreaking work. Apart from mental torment, inmates also had to endure physical torture inflicted by SS officers, who would flog them, confine them in the prison bunker, or send them to penal commandos on the slightest pretext. Most severe punishments were given for attempting to escape. The most desperate prisoners would throw themselves on the electric fence surrounding the camp. If an inmate came within 5 metres of the restricted area, he was shot without warning. The evacuation of the camp, taking place in April 1945, was a tragic event. A part of the prisoners was loaded on trains and sent to Lübeck, where they embarked on three ships; it was probably planned for them to reach the high seas and then be drowned. SS Cap Arcona was boarded by 4,600 inmates, freighter SS Thielbek and SS Athen – by ca. 2,000 inmates each. The two former ships were mistakenly attacked by English fighters, which resulted in thousands of casualties. Ca. 600 people from SS Cap Arcona survived the attack. There were many Poles among the victims. During the “death march” taking place on the night of 13/14 April 1945, SS officers led ca. 1,000 prisoners to a big warehouse in Gardelegen and set them on fire, mere hours before the arrival of American soldiers. Many people also died in the transports from Sandbostel and the Wöbbelin subcamp. Thousand of inmates passed away in the last days of the war. After the war, the buildings of former KL Neunegamme were used to intern SS officers, NSDAP and Wehrmacht officials. War criminals were brought before English military courts, which sentenced them to imprisonment and, at times, to death.
Neuengamme – a plant struggling to survive 25
.. KL Flossenburg It was established in May 1938 near the Bavarian town of Floss, situated in the mountains of Böhmerwald (the Bohemian Forest). It was also the location of the SS “DEST” (Deutsche Erd-und Steinwerke) industrial plant, founded near granite quarries. In the years 1938-1945, KL Flossenbürg and its over 100 subcamps had the total of 100,000 prisoners from several dozen countries, only 30,000 out of which survived their imprisonment in the camp. Inmates were used as free labour not only in the quarries, but also in numerous arms factories located in Bavaria, northern Saxony, and Bohemia, including the Messerschmitt aircraft factory (planes were assembled in the camp itself). Most prisoners of the camp hailed from Poland, the Soviet Union, Bohemia, and Hun-
gary. Some subcamps served to imprison women and even children, sent there primarily from Warsaw during the Uprising. Among the prisoners there were also Soviet POWs and Polish inmates, who were selected to be murdered by a lethal injection. People held in the camp were killed by inhuman workload, hunger, cold, terror, diseases and epidemics (mostly typhus). The largest groups among the victims were citizens of the USSR, primarily Russians (26,000 people), and Poles (ca. 18,000). A thousand people were killed in the courtyard of the camp prison alone. One of the inmates hanged there was Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), who was one of the few Evangelical priests to speak out against the national-socialist regime.
A pyramid made of burned corpses remains; there is a nearby plate commemorating Col. Odarski, commander of the 30th Infantry Regiment of Kaniowski’s Fusiliers 26
The prisoners assigned to work outside the camp left their barracks early in the morning and did not come back until the evening. Many people died during the workday; it was ordered for their corpses to be brought back to the camp. The Appelplatz, with a gallows located in its central point, was used to carry out punishments, torture, and executions. The camp was evacuated on 20 April 1945 due to the battle front approaching the area. 16,000 prisoners, including 5,000 Poles, marched to another Bavarian concentration camp, KL Dachau. Thousands of people did not survive this threeday “death march.” SS officers shot down the inmates who were too exhausted to keep walking. After the war, the remains of the prisoners buried in cemeteries located by the road connecting Flossenbürg and Dachau were exhumed and moved to a cemetery established right next to the area of the camp, where ca. 5,500 people were buried in single graves; bodies of 120 murdered inmates were exhumed from the Neunburg vorm Wald forest. These works were carried out by German civilians, who were forced to do so by Americans. The camp was liberated by US soldiers on 23 April 1945. At the moment of their arrival, there were still 1,500 people living in the deserted camp; they were mostly prisoners unable to march or left in quarantine barracks to avoid the spread of typhus. Despite being given excellent aid, dozens of them died from exhaustion soon afterwards. American authorities ordered for them to be buried in the centre of the town. The inhabitants of Flossenbürg were forced to attend their burial and funeral procession, which took place on 3 May 1945. Among the victims of KL Flossenbürg there were prisoners from the following nations: Albania, Algeria, the United States, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia, Great Britain, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Bohemia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, India, Spain, the Netherlands, Iran, Croatia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Morocco, Mexico, Germany, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Tunisia, Ukraine, Hungary, Italy, as well as Roma people and Jews. Having previously worked in other camps, Max Koegel assumed the position of KL Flossenbürg’s commandant in May 1943. After the war, he went into hiding for a year. Having eventual-
The Death Valley, the Chapel of Jesus in Prison in the background
Interior of the Chapel of Jesus in Prison 27
ly been captured, he hanged himself in his prison cell. Many other German war criminals, however, managed to escape punishment. During the Cold War, the pursuit of war criminals started to become less and less of a priority, even despite the international convention calling for pursuing them “for ever and all over the globe.” Germans tried to cover up the genocide taking place inside the camps; they dismantled or burned down barracks, levelled the areas where the victims’ ashes had been buried, trailed new camp paths, planted trees, moved all bodies into mass, anonymous graves and destroyed individual graves. The suffering of Poles in KL Flossenbürg, unlike in other camps in the area of Germany where they constituted a large group, is well documented, mainly due to the fact that numerous Polish former prisoners were not able to come back to their homeland after the camp’s liberation. Poland’s loss of the Eastern Borderlands to the USSR and the introduction of socialist economy made it dangerous for those people to return home and attempt to reclaim their property. These Poles, referred to as displaced persons, continued to live in the camp’s area for some time after its liberation and thus were able to carefully commemorate the suffering of all its inmates. In 1946, they erected the Memorial to the Victims of the Concentration Camp in Flossenbürg. A pyramid made of soil mixed with human ashes was built near the execution site. In the years 19461948, the former prisoners erected a chapel using granite and parts of dismantled camp guard towers. One of the towers was left intact and used as a bell tower. The memorial chapel was given the name of “Jesus in prison.” The Jewish Memorial Site was later erected in 1995. Half a century later, German Nazi supporters became active again. The walls of the Catholic chapel were vandalised with drawings of swastikas by “unknown” culprits. German publishers of neo-fascist literature questioned and excused German genocide. As more and more witnesses of the events passed away, they published “fundamental works” on the subject, containing “most recent research” and opinions of “experts.” Naturally not all German researchers deny the existence of camps, but many of them claim that they were only labour camps, used to hold criminals, perverts, homosexuals, prostitutes, asocial individuals, communists, Jews and Roma people.
Stained glass window in the Chapel of Jesus in Prison depicting the Queen of Poland, emblem of Poland and a 17,546 figure (the number of murdered Poles)
Fragment of camp book featuring Polish names 28
Germany KL Bergen-Belsen The camp was established in Lower Saxony, in the area that used to be the Wehrmacht’s biggest proving ground, stretching between Fallingbostel and Bergen, ca. 50 km north-east of Hannover. In 1940, the Wehrmacht opened a camp for 600 French and German POWs. 20,000 Soviet POWs were transported there in the summer of 1941 and thronged together without a roof over their heads, which resulted in their dying in large numbers (18,000). In April 1943, a part of the camp came under the supervision of SS officers, who converted it into a “holding camp” (Bergen-Belsen) for Jews who were intended to be exchanged for Germans interned by the Allies or for currency and goods. Transports of people of various nationalities from other camps (Buchenwald, Wewelsburg,
Natzweiler) started to arrive to KL Bergen-Belsen in March 1944. In August 1944, the camp also started to receive transports of women from Poland, mostly from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Around a thousand of participants of the Warsaw Uprising was sent to Bergen-Belsen in the autumn of 1944. Polish women from that transport were later sent to Oberlagen. In September 1944, the KL Bergen-Belsen complex was divided into the following subcamps: – Prisoners Camp (Häftlingslager), with the largest nationality groups being Russians and Poles. This part of the camp had the highest mortality rate. – Neutral Camp (Neutralenlager) for several hundreds of Jewish citizens of neutral countries
Bergen-Belsen after liberation by British troops, April 1945: a former guard buries the bodies of prisoners photo: AKG/East News
The resident doctor Fritz Klein, who carried out experiments on prisoners, in a large pit filled with bodies (spring photo: AKG/East News 1945) 30
(Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Turkey). The prisoners of the neutral camp were held in better living conditions and were not forced to work. – Star Camp (Sternlager), whose prisoners were Jews from the Netherlands “for exchange” (ca. 4,000 people). They wore civilian clothing with a Star of David and were forced to work. They could be visited by their families. – Hungarian Camp (Ungarnlager), for 1,638 Hungarian and Slovak Jews intended to be exchanged for currency; Himmler negotiated the terms of exchange with international Jewish organisations. The prisoners wore civilian clothing with a Star of David and were not forced to work. – Special Camp (Sonderlager) for several thousand Polish Jews with makeshift South American passports and those included in the so-called Palestinian list. They were not forced to work, but were isolated from the rest of the prisoners as they were aware of the cruelty and genocide perpetrated by the SS in Poland. Most of them were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were executed. Only 350 prisoners of the subcamp survived. – Tent Camp (Zeltlager) for numerous transports of women arriving from Poland. In the autumn of 1944, they were joined by 8,000 women evacuated from Auschwitz-Birkenau. – Small Women’s Camp (Kleines Frauenlager) for female prisoners, mostly those transported from Auschwitz-Birkenau. – Big Women’s Camp (Grosses Frauenlager), from the autumn of 1944 dedicated to thousands of female prisoners transported from camps located near the front line. In January 1945, the victims started to die in large numbers due to overcrowding of the camp, epidemics, and hunger. The camp was liberated by British forces on 15 April 1945. Even though its prisoners regained their freedom and were given good care, many former inmates died due to exhaustion and postcamp diseases. 13,000 people passed away in April and May 1945 alone. The total number of prisoners held in KL Bergen-Belsen is estimated at 100,000-120,000 (with Polish inmates constituting a quarter of this number). Ca. 50,000-70,000 prisoners, including POWs, died in the camp. The highest numbers of deceased were noted among Jews, Poles, and POWs from various countries of the USSR, mostly Russians. Among the people who died in the
camp there were also citizens of Austria, England, Belgium, Bohemia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, Romania, Slovakia, Italy, Hungary, and Sinti and Roma people. In April 1945, a part of people liberated from the camp were sent to their homelands, mostly to France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Poles and Jews were sent to the neighbouring Wehrmacht barracks, where a DP (Displaced Persons) camp was established. Polish DPs stayed in BergenBelsen until September 1946, when they were transported to other DP camps. Jewish DPs prepared for migrating to Palestine, North and South America, and Australia until September 1950. Poles and Jews from the DP camp erected monuments commemorating the suffering of their compatriots in the area of the former camp: Poles unveiled an 8-metre high wooden cross, where a memorial service was held on 2 November 1945 (attended by Catholics and non-Catholics alike); Jews built a wooden statue, which a year later was replaced by a masonry monument with the inscription: “Earth Conceal not the Blood Shed on Thee!”. In April 1946, a monument was erected in the Soviet POW cemetery; in 1947, a monumental obelisk was built in the cemetery as well, accompanied with a wall commemorating prisoners of various nationalities. From the 1940s to the 1970s, it was attempted to hide the traces of KL Bergen-Belsen, new paths were trailed, individual tombs were destroyed and replaced with anonymous mass graves, a landscape park was designed to cover up the area. A radical change in the approach to the issue could be noted in 1990, when it was decided to create the museum of KL Bergen-Belsen. The first commandant of the camp was SS Hauptsturmführer Adolf Haas (previously the commandant of the Niederhagen-Wewelsburg camp near Paderborn). In December 1944, he was replaced by SS Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramner (previously the commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau). Most SS officers in charge of the camp escaped before the arrival of British forces and were never found or punished. Nonetheless, 33 SS officers and 11 kapos were apprehended. They were brought before a British military court in Lüneburg. 11 SS officers were sentenced to death, while 11 SS officers and 8 kapos were given long prison sentences. 31
.. KL Ravensbruck KL Ravensbrück consisted of a women’s (Frauen-KL Ravensbrück) and men’s camp. It was situated by the town of Fürstenberg in Mecklenburg, near health resorts and recreational areas situated by Himmler’s property. Women arrested in the years 1933-1939 were held in prisons or, temporarily, in the small Moringen camp. One of the first women’s camps was located in the old Lichtenburg Castle; it was moved to Ravensbrück in the spring of 1939. In the first period of its existence, KL Ravensbrück was a sample camp (Musterlager), where future female SS guards were trained; they would go on to work in the concentration camps in Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Soon after the outbreak of the war, Frauen-KL Ravensbrück became a big camp with prisoners
of various nationalities and German criminals working as supervisors. First Polish women were brought to the camp at the end of September 1939 from the territory then belonging to Germany. Most of them were activists of Polish organisations arrested for social and cultural activities carried out among the Polish minority in Warmia and Masuria, East Prussia, Opolian Silesia, Lubusz Land, Westphalia, and Berlin. Subsequent transports of Polish women started to arrive to the camp on 2 November 1939; this time, the prisoners hailed from the territory of Poland: Pomerania, Mazovia. The women were first sent to the camp in Działdowo and then brought to Ravensbrück from Gestapo prisons in Lesser Poland in 1940. Special transports from Warsaw and Lublin reached the camp in
Fragment of the Ravensbrück concentration camp walls; a large mass grave has been arranged in front of the wall 32
1941. With time, women from all regions of Poland started to be sent to Ravensbrück, including 12,000 Poles from Warsaw during the Uprising, who were transported to the camp in August and September 1944. Over the entire period of its existence, in the years 1939-1945, the camp had over 130,000 female prisoners of 27 nationalities. Various sources provide different numbers, but it is estimated that up to 90,000 of them died. The biggest nationality group were Poles, ca. 40,000 women (30% of all inmates), almost a half of whom did not survive the captivity. High mortality among prisoners was caused by inhuman slave work, hunger, terror, executions, typhus epidemics, hunger diarrhoea, uncleanliness, lice infestation, and scabies. Women selected to be killed in gas chambers were sent to the small Uckermark subcamp (the so-called Jugendlager). Pregnant women sent to Ravensbrück underwent abortions performed by the camp SS physicians. Sometimes women were allowed to give birth,
but the infants were immediately strangled or drowned on their mothers’ eyes. Later on, newborns started to be left alive. Almost 803 children were born in the camp until 1943. Most prisoners giving birth were Polish. Due to the harsh living conditions in the camp, however, most infants soon died of hunger, cold, and bug infestation, hardly ever surviving more than 4 weeks. In total, only 30 newborn babies survived. Thanks to the efforts of the Swedish Red Cross, the camp authorities allowed for them and their mothers to be sent to Sweden, where they received attentive care. Female prisoners worked in the arms industry, for example in the factories owned by Siemens and Industrielhof. Actual or suspected sabotage was punishable by death. The executions were carried out not only on Poles and Russians working in the factory commandos of the arms industry, but also on English and French women who had been parachuted to the rear of the German Army in France. Among the people implicated in the German genocide and crimes against humanity there were also physicians with high academic and professional degrees, for example Karl Gebhardt (medical superintendent at the Hohelychen Sanatorium, Himmler’s personal physician, leader of the German Red Cross) and his assistant Fritz Fischer, SS Sturmbannführer. In the years 1942-1943, 86 young women – including 74 Poles, one Ukrainian, and one German – and 10 mentally ill inmates of various nationalities were subjected to cruel pseudomedical experiments and surgeries. The doctors transmitted diseases to the patients, inflicted infections and attempted to treat phlegmon and gas gangrene with sulphonamides. They also performed “surgeries” on bones and muscles. Test were carried out with pyogenic bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, malignant oedema, tetanus. In the autumn of 1942, 800 Jewish women were transported from KL Ravensbrück to KL Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were subjected to experimental sterilisation by chemical liquid injection by camp physician Karl Clauberg. Poles subjected to pseudo-medical experiments were to be later executed. Thanks to the help and exceptional solidarity of their fellow inmates, however, they managed to blend into the crowd and hide in other infectious diseases hospital blocks. Despite the manhunt organised
Lake Schwedtsee in the vicinity of the former Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp. Ashes of murdered women were disposed of in this lake. The monument at the National Spot of Admonition and Memory of Ravensbrück in the background 33
to find them, some managed to survive and lived to see the moment of the camp’s liberation. The camp authorities repeatedly made failed attempts to recruit female prisoners of Ravensbrück to brothels in order to satisfy the sexual needs of SS officers working in various concentration camps. The camp was surrounded by a 4-metre high fence with electric barbed wire running all along its inner side. In 1942, the women’s camp in Ravensbrück was expanded with the creation of a smaller men’s camp, which had the total of 20,000 prisoners of various nationalities, including 6,500 Poles. The camp was the site of numerous mass executions. Corpses were burned in crematories erected in April 1943; a gas chamber was built in the camp in the middle of 1944. An industrial zone was created on the premises and around the camp. It housed various workshops, furrier’s shops, a textile factory and over 20 Siemiens & Halske production plants. Female prisoners were also exploited outside of the camp, in numerous subcamps and factory commandos. The camp became a source of slave workforce bringing enormous profit. 1-3 marks were paid for each inmate employed in arms factories. In order to support the prisoners’ physical strength, Himmler allowed for them to receive food parcels from their families. This regulation was at times exploited by SS officers, who would use the contents of the packages to “feed” themselves. Towards the end of the war, military objects and arms factories became priority targets of Allied air strikes. At times transports of prisoners working in factories came back to the camp with dead or injured women. The deceased inmates were burned in crematories, together with the injured women finished off by guards. The beginning of 1945, when Ravensbrück was being prepared for evacuation, marked a tragic time for the camp’s inmates. Thousands of women unfit for evacuation were set to be killed in gas chambers. The crematory furnaces worked for days on end, not being able to keep up to speed with the ever-growing number of gassed bodies. Towards the end of the war, ca. 30,000 people were liberated from concentration camps thanks to the efforts of Count Folke Bernadotte, the vice-president of the Swedish Red Cross. Out of those, 8,000 were sent to Sweden, including 4,000
Sculptures in front of the former camp wall
Polish women from KL Ravensbrück. International Red Cross coaches reached the camp on Easter Sunday, 30 March 1945. Gas chambers had been disabled before their arrival. The first transport of 300 liberated women left the camp on 5 April 1945. Among them were 299 French women and one Pole, Karolina Lanckorońska. Norwegian, Danish, and Jewish women were driven out of Ravensbrück later on. On 29 April 1945, over 4,000 Poles travelled in trains to the DanishGerman border via Lübeck and later arrived in a ship to Malmö, Sweden. Graves of Poles who died in Sweden soon after regaining freedom can be found, among others, in the cemeteries in Lund, Malmö, and Halmstadt. Nonetheless, not all women were liberated. Many of them died in the process of evacuation, in the “death march.” The camp, together with ca. 3,000 women unable to march still residing there, was liberated by the Red Army on 30 April 1945. The US Military Tribunal sentenced the aforementioned physician Karl Gebhardt to death and gave Fritz Fisher a life sentence. Other camp physicians sentenced to death were Ralf Rosenthal, Gerhard Schidlarski, Percival Treite. 34
Germany KL Mittelbau-Dora The camp existed from 1 November 1943 until 9 April 1945, initially as a subcamp of the Buchenwald concentration camp, and then as an autonomous camp with 40 subcamps from 1 October 1944. It was located in Kohnstein near Nordhausen in Thuringia, ca. 60 km east of Göttingen. It was established following the Allied air raid on the Experimental Rocket Station on the island of Usedom carried out on 17 and 18 August 1943 (the facility produced ballistic missiles). The V-1 (retribution weapon no. 1, a remotecontrolled flying bomb) and V-2 (retribution weapon no. 2, the world’s first ballistic missile) weapons were successfully used by Germans to attack Great Britain. Intelligence on this dangerous weapon was to a large extent gathered by Poles from the resistance movement, who cooperated with the British intelligence service. After
the British air strike on Peenemünde Germans decided to open a rocket factory in Kohnstein, in the now non-existent adits complex used to mine anhydrite. For this purpose, they transported prisoners of various nationalities, mostly from KL Buchenwald, to the site. Their task was to expand and modernise the tunnels and galleries where the factory rooms were moved in a strictly confidential operation. After several weeks of backbreaking work, the prisoners started to die of tuberculosis due to malnutrition and the cold and damp atmosphere inside the adits. Their “bedrooms” were situated in galleries connecting two parallel tunnels. Barracks were not built there until the spring of 1944. Over the course of its operation, the camp had 60,000 prisoners: Russians, Frenchmen, Jews, Roma people, Italians, and Poles, the latter of whom constituted the largest nationality group among the inmates. 20,000 people lost their lives in KL MittelbauDora. The underground factory and equipment was undergoing developments until the last weeks of the war. The vast Mittelbaum restricted zone, supervised by Hans Kummler, was created over and under the ground in cooperation with a number of big German companies: AEG, Siemens, Volkswagen, IG Farben. The campaign of terror and repressions intensified in the last period of the camp’s existence. Many people were shot for actual or presumed sabotage. Thousands of prisoners did not survive the evacuation, carried out in the form of a “death march.” The camp was liberated on 11 April 1945 by the 3rd United States Army, who came upon several hundred starved and dying inmates whom the SS had not managed to kill or evacuate. The former ground barracks served as a DP camp until 1946. Only a couple of people from death commandos were brought before court (one was executed, the rest were sentenced to several years in prison). Top technicians and rocket technology specialists were transported to the USA together with documentation and equipment.
Monument at the memorial square in front of the crematorium building 35
Germany Forced labour Apart from establishing labour camps all around occupied Europe, Germans created a system of forced labour. The most extensive system of slave work was implemented in Poland â€“ it was an entire network of German labour officers cooperating with police forces. At first, all Poles aged 18-60 were used as forced workers for the German Reich. Later on, all people aged 14 and over were subjected to forced labour as well. Through numerous round-ups in various towns and villages, displacements and deportations, ca. 2.5 million people were sent to work in the German Reich from the territory of Poland. During pacification actions, children were taken away from Polish parents (ca. 200,000 in total) and transported to Germany in order to be Germanised. After the war, only 15% of the kidnapped children returned to their homeland. Forced workers were employed in industry, agriculture, construction, and transportation of the German Reich. The system of forced labour brought Germany enormous profits.
Warsaw, 8 Skaryszewska St. Transit camp in the years 1940-1944, the place from which tens of thousands of Poles were deported to forced labour in Germany
Forced labour in the German Reich
photo: Everett Collection /EastNews
Austria KL Mauthausen The camp was situated near a quarry, ca. 20 km east of Linz in northern Austria. It was established several months after the annexation of Austria by the German Reich. It was open from 8 April 1938 to 5 May 1945. Over the course of its operation, KL Mauthausen and its several dozen subcamps had the total of 330,000 prisoners of over 20 nationalities, 130,000 of whom died in the camp, including 30,000 Poles. Among the Polish inmates there were also children and adolescents from the Warsaw Uprising. KL Mauthausen had 6,000 prisoners aged 14 to 24, including over 500 under 16. The number of deaths registered in camp books amounted to 71,000 people. Apart from being assigned numbers, the prisoners were also marked with triangles of various colours: red was assigned to political prisoners, brown to people referred to as “asocial” by Germans, purple to clerics, pink to homosexuals,
green to criminals and murderers. Jews were marked with a yellow Star of David. Red triangles with the letter “P” inside were assigned to Polish political prisoners. At first, the camp was meant to hold Austrian political prisoners. Among the inmates there were also criminals from Germany, who in the first period of the camp’s existence assumed various administrative functions and were often as menacing to other prisoners as the SS officers. In 1940, the camp started to accept inmates of various nationalities. Poles constituted the largest nationality group and were followed by Soviet POWs hailing from various countries of the USSR and by Jews. Dozens of thousands of Polish intellectuals died in the entire Mauthausen complex. Particularly many Polish lives were consumed in the Gusen subcamp – Vernichtunslager für die Pol-
Monument to the victims of the Mathausen concentration camp at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris 37
Mass grave of the victims of German homicide at Mathausen concentration camp 38
Monument commemorating Polish victims of the Mathausen concentration camp. 27,000 Poles perished in the complex of Mathausen-Gusen concentration camp. The monument was designed by two Poles â€“ StanisĹ‚aw Sikora and Teodor Bursche, a camp prisoner who worked at the Mathausen-Gusen quarries 39
Reinhard Heydrich, SS general and co-creator of the police regime in the German Reich. Despite the terror, tragedy, and daily hardships suffered by the prisoners of the camp, there was much solidarity among them. There was a strictly confidential self-help organisation working in the camp; they provided medical aid and, if possible, food rations to the inmates. Polish physicians were especially devoted to extending help, protecting the lives of others by risking their own. Prisoners also organised secret education, religious and cultural life, and prepared to defend themselves in case of potential liquidation of the camp. There was also a separate camp anthem translated into various languages. Its lyrics were written by a Polish poet and journalist, Konstanty Ćwierk. One of the lines of the anthem, sung to the melody composed by Gracjan Guziński, went as follows: “The thunder has sound and the world’s face transforms, the father’s house awaits our swift return. We will enter the bright day with fresh supply of strength, so we say goodbye to the world of shapes carved in stone...” The author of the anthem did not return to “his father’s house”; he was killed in the camp on 19 August 1944. Organising aid or cultural “activity” was severely punished (beating, standing on the roll call square for hours regardless of the weather and time of day and year, strict confinement, penal commando, or even death). The punishments were arbitrarily administered by SS “Raportführer.” The commandants of the camp were A. Sauer and F. Ziereis. Prisoners took control over the camp on 5 May 1945, shortly before the arrival of US soldiers. Having reached the camp, Americans came upon 20,000 prisoners and ca. 700 corpses in the crematorium, as well as 1,000 bodies in the Mauthausen-Gusen subcamp. Thousands of liberated prisoners died soon afterwards of chronic post-camp diseases. Many survivors of the camp suffered from anxiety and increased auditory, visual, and olfactory acuity. They reacted nervously to loud German speech, especially to shouts and orders. They could not support seeing military uniforms, fences and grilles. They also became anxious when smelling smoke, things burning, smells reminding them of soups served in the camp. They suffered from sleep disorders and night terrors.
Monument at the site of Mathausen concentration camp nische Inteligenz. 27,000 Polish people died there. Prisoners held in the Mauthausen-Gusen camp were forced to do backbreaking work in three several dozen metres high quarries, in the area which in the summer became as hot as the tropics. Barracks were situated in a basin, damp and cold during autumn and winter. In the years 1943-1944, several arms industry plants were opened in the premises of the camp: Steyer, Daimler, and Puch factories, and a Messerschmitt aircraft production plant. Ca. 70% of prisoners who had worked in the quarries were sent to various military production plants. International resistance movement organised sabotage inside the factories. The camp’s prisoners were decimated by epidemics of typhoid fever and typhus, tuberculosis, phlegmon. Daily “contingents” were selected from among the ill; they were murdered by beating, drowning, injections, and gassing. Healthy prisoners were subjected to pseudo-medical experiments. KL Mauthausen-Gusen had some of the most difficult living conditions and was classified as a Grade III camp (Stufe III), used to incarcerate prisoners considered the worst, “fully incorrigible” enemies. The three-grade classification of camps was introduced in a 1940 decree issued by 40
Czech Republic Terezin Terezin is located in today’s Czech Republic, ca. 60 km north of Prague and 3 km away from Litomerice, by the Ohre and Elbe rivers. It is an international memorial site consisting of the Small Fortress, national cemetery, Jewish and Russian cemetery, area of the former ghetto, site of the former underground factory in the nearby town of Litomerice. In 1940, under the German occupation, the Prague Gestapo opened a prison in the former 18th-century fortress in Terezin. Its first prisoners were Czech patriots, held there in the summer of 1940. Later on, it served to incarcerate political prisoners of various nationalities, for example Poles, citizens of the Soviet Union, Jews, Belgians, Frenchmen, Greeks, citizens of Yugoslavia, Italians, Turks, Brits. In the years 1940-1945, 32,000 people were held in the Small Fortress, including 5,000 women. The largest nationality
group were Czech people from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The fortress was the site of individual and mass executions, mostly by shooting. Ill people were murdered as a part of the “14f13” euthanasia campaign. Healthy prisoners were forced to do slave work in industrial plants located on the premises of the fortress, as well as in brickyards, mines, and construction sites outside the camp. Prisoners of the Small Fortress in Terezin were sent to numerous other concentration camps, especially to KL Auschwitz, KL Buchenwald, KL Dachau, KL Flossenbürg, KL Gross-Rosen, KL Mauthausen, KL Ravensbrück. The commandant of the prison was Heinrich Jökel, who was later sentenced to death along with his deputy, W. Schmidt. The sentences were executed.
Cemetery of victims in Terezin 41
Gate leading to the “Small Fortress” with a mocking inscription “Arbeit macht frei” 42
A ghetto was established in Terezin alongside the Small Fortress. Among the people deported there starting from the autumn of 1941 were Jews from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the German Reich, Slovakia, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and France. The camp was a “demonstration” ghetto, inspected by representatives of the International Red Cross. Jewish families from occupied Europe were transported to the former Wehrmacht barracks, and later also to other houses in the town of Terezin; Germans simulated good, natural living conditions inside the ghetto. SS-controlled Jewish local government took care of administrative, economic, and social matters, distribution of work, and religious and cultural life. All people below the age of 60 were obliged to work. Prisoners worked in workshops within the premises of the ghetto, as well as on outside construction sites railroads, waterworks, sewage systems, and in nearby mines: Kladno, Oslawany, Panenske Brezany. Women worked in mica processing plants for the purposes of isolation of Wehrmacht’s electric equipment.
Before the arrival of the representation of the International Red Cross, ill prisoners were sent to KL Auschwitz in order to be exterminated. In the spring of 1945, before another visitation of the IRC, Germans sent over 1,000 inmates to neutral Switzerland. Before each visit of the Red Cross, the town-ghetto was refurbished and various elements of infrastructure were created: park with benches, shops, bank, prayer halls, libraries, gyms. On 15 April 1945, Danish prisoners of Terezin were freed by the Swedish Red Cross. The entire camp was liberated on 8 May 1945 by Soviet soldiers. Ca. 25,000-30,000 inmates were put in quarantine. A Soviet medical team of 400 people played a big role in combating the epidemic; many of its members were infected and died. Over the course of its existence, the Terezin Ghetto had 100,000-150,000 Jewish prisoners. It is estimated that up to 60,000 people lost their lives in the ghetto and the Small Fortress. The commandants of the ghetto were Siegfried Seidi and Karl Rahm. They were sentenced to death by courts in Vienna and Litomerice. The sentences were executed.
Dungeons in the “Small Fortress” 43
Poland Occupation and resettlement The process of exterminating nations was carried out by the Germans not only through the system of camps, but also through mass executions and resettlements. In their expansion to the East (Drang nach Osten) the Germans gained the “living space” (Lebensraum) by way of the most atrocious, genocidal and brutal occupation amongst all the occupied countries in Europe. The Germans commenced mass executions by firing squads already in the first days of the war, especially in Pomerania and Wielkopolska (Greater Poland), in Silesia and in the Białystok Province, as well as in the area which was to become the General Governement. For example, in the Piaśnica Forest, the Wermacht, Gestapo, SS and Selbstschutz divisions executed ca. 12,000 Poles (between September 1939 and April 1940). Mass executions took place in, among other places, Piaśnica, Szpęgawsk, Truszczyny and Rudzki Most.
In numerous towns the residents were forced to sign the Deutsche Volksliste, nationality lists. Thousands of people who refused were condemned to resettlement, labour or concentration camps. Massacres of Polish population took place in, i.a.: Bydgoszcz (1,500 people), Przekupna (900 people), Dynów (300 people), Łódź (executions in the nearby Lućmierski Forest). In Łódź, there was a ghetto and an educational-Germanization camp for children and youth. Similar camps were also in Potulice, Iława, Lubliniec and Lubawa. In Firlej near Radom, 18,000 people perished in mass executions. Massacres took place also in Radomsk, Częstochowa, Warsaw (Wawer, Palmiry), Poznań (2,000 people were shot dead only in September and October 1939, 5,000 more died in shooting actions in the streets), Katowice (750 people). First execution in Warsaw took place in December 1939, hundreds more followed, especially during the Warsaw Uprising. In Pszczyna the Germans established a Germanization camp for Polish children and POW camps. In Urycz in the Przemyśl district a massacre of 100 Polish Prisoners of War took place – the Germans locked them up in a barn and set it on fire. There were massacres of the POWs also in Ciepielów, Tułowice, Zamość, Nowy Sącz, and of civilians in numerous towns in Kresy (Eastern Borderlands), i.a. in Vilna, Lviv, Stanisławów (from the summer of 1941 onwards, following the German invasion on the USSR). Mass executions and pacifications were carried out by the Einsatzgruppen units (EG), Wermacht, SS and the police. EG units were special operational groups of the police, SIPO security service (Sicherheitspolizei) and SD security service (Sicherheitsdienst), which followed the German Army and operated and committed murders with the support of the Wermacht. Only in the first two months of the German occupation of Poland the SS, police and Wermacht units carried out approximately 7,600 pacification actions, murders and executions. 440 villages were pacified and resettled: Borowo – 300 victims, Szczecyn and Wólka
Monument commemorating the Poles executed in September 1939 in Bydgoszcz 44
Plaque commemorating the location of public execution in Siedlce Szczecka – ca. 300 victims, Aleksandrów – 290 victims, Michniów – 213 victims, Jamy – 186 victims, Sochy – 183 victims, Józefów – 170 victims, Nasiechowice – 120 victims, Wanaty – 109 victims. Sometimes, people were burnt alive in the buildings during the pacification. Part of the Polish territory was annexed to the German Reich, including the following provinces: Pomorskie, Poznańskie, Upper Silesia, large part of the Łódź Province, western part of the Krakow Province, part of the Warsaw Province, some districts of the Kielce Province, including Zagłębie Dąbrowskie. These territories constituted new German administrative units: Gdańsk, West Pomerania, governed by A. Forster, Reichsgau Wartheland, governed by A. Greiser, and Upper and Lower Silesia, governed by F. Bracht. The Białystok Province, occupied since the summer of 1941, was incorporated into East Prussia and renamed Reichsgau Białystok. The remaining area – Kraków, Radom, Warsaw and Lublin Provinces – created the so-called General Government, to which the district of Galicia was annexed in August 1941. The General Government’s SS and police was initially led by W. Krüger and from 20 November 1943 W. Koppe. In order to destroy Polish national identity, resettle Poles, settle Germans and Germanize the population, the annexed Polish territories were equipped with the following German institutions,
founded with the support of the SS: the Umwandererzentralstelle (Resettlement Centre), the Main Trustee Office for the East and the Deutsche Volksliste (German National List). The genocidal plan of gaining Lebensraum (“living space”) and of Germanization was launched by mass murders and executions which were aimed at evoking fear and thwarting the resistance in the areas to be resettled. Moreover, local population was sent off to forced labour or to labour camps. The Germans planned to use the experience gained in Poland in other invaded countries, especially in the USSR during the march to the East (Drang nach Osten) with the final destination being the Urals. The main institutions carrying out terror and extermination were the SS and the police. The police was divided into Sicherheitspolizei, Geheime Staatspolizei, Kriminalpolizei, Sicherheitsdienst and Ordnungspolizei. A special unit called Sonderdienst was also in operation, as was auxiliary police (Hilfspolizei) and border guards (Grenzpolizei). There were also units of traffic police, railroad police, industrial police, forest police, aquatic police and postal police. In the territory of Poland, police forces totalled – depending on the year – between 30,000 and 150,000 members, whereas the number of Wermacht soldiers reached between 400,000 and 600,000, at certain periods as many as one million soldiers. All the above mentioned bodies were responsible for the genocide carried out in Poland. 45
The population in the Polish lands incorporated into the Reich was almost completely expropriated. The expropriation was carried out mainly by the Main Trustee Office for the East. Already in November 1939 the resettlement and deportations started, sometimes preceded by mass executions. The deportees were transported in sealed freight cars which sometimes stood for days on railway stations. Many people died of cold and hunger on such occasions. The Germans took children away from the deported people and sent them to the Reich in order to bring them up as Germans. Having murdered the parents, the Germans often changed the names of kidnapped children, or the time and place of birth. They were forbidden to use Polish language and were forced to join Nazi youth organizations. Only 15% of such children were tracked down after the war. The people captured during numerous roundups organized at railway stations, streets, squares, market places or near churches were also deported. The largest wave of resettlement in the Pomerania region happened in the winter of 1939/1940, the first ones taking place in Gdynia. From 1940 onwards, the deportees from the Polish lands were sent to transit camps (Durchgangslager) or Displaced Persons camps (Umsiedlungslager), among other places in Toruń, Tczew, Potulice, Grudziądz, Działdowo, Poznań, Łódź, Tuszyn and Konstantynów. During the initial selection, the youth were separated from the rest and sent off to the Reich to be exploited as forced labour or to undergo the Germanization process. Resettlements and deportations took place not only in the regions incorporated into the Third Reich, but also in the General Government and in the Białystok Province. Resettlement actions took place, among other places, in Pułtusk, in the Radom district, in the Valley of Sandomierz, near Kolbuszowa, Nisko, Dębica and Rozwadów, and finally – on a very large scale – in the Zamość region. A great resettlement action followed the fall of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. 650,000 Poles ended up in the transit camp in Pruszków – some of them were sent to concentration camps or to forced labour in the German Reich. The rest was sent to the western part of General Government. The Germans often carried out mass deportations under false pretences of fighting the resistance units. The total amount of Poles deported and resettled reached 2,5 million. The same number,
2,5 million Polish citizens, were sent to forced labour in the Third Reich. The whole of occupied Poland, along with the entire social spectrum of its citizens, was subjected to the acts of terror, executions, imprisonment and incarceration in camps. The clergy – especially Catholic priests – and Polish intelligentsia were the most fiercely targeted groups. As part of the Inteligenzaktion, AB, Sonderaktion Krakau and other, Polish intelligentsia was liquidated, among other places in Vilna and Lviv, where the professors of the Lviv University, together with their families, were shot dead in the Wuleckie Hills. Poland lost 6 million of its citizens (3 million Poles and almost 3 million Polish Jews). Amongst the Holocaust victims, both Poles and Jews, onethird were children. In Warsaw alone, 800,000 of its residents perished as a result of the Second World War, which is more than the overall loss in population of both Great Britain and the United States. Almost a quarter (220) out of each thousand of people perished; meanwhile, in Belgium, for example, the number equals 10, in the Netherlands 12, and in France 15. The loss in national wealth was 38% of the pre-war value (data from 1939), the loss in industry reached 50% of the prewar value. 85% of the city of Warsaw was in ruin, whereas Białystok was destroyed in 50% and Poznań in 45%.
Mass grave of victims of the German genocide in Grabówka near Białystok 46
Poland Warsaw In the history of martyrdom suffered by cities all across the world during the Second World War, the Polish capital has a rather unique place. During the defence of Warsaw following the German invasion, during the both Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 and Warsaw Uprising in 1944, the total of 800,000 people lost their lives. Both individual and mass graves of the warfare victims were scattered under the rubble, in the basements of collapsed buildings, in the courtyards, on grassy lawns, in gardens and parks. Today, the ashes of Warsaw heroes and martyrs have been removed and laid to rest at the Powązki Military and Catholic cemeteries, the Jewish Cemetery on Okopowa Street, the Rus-
sian-Orthodox cemetery on Wolska Street, the Catholic cemetery in the Bródno district, the Warsaw Insurgents cemetery in the Wola district (formerly II Military cemetery on Wolska Street), the Cemetery of the Victims of War 1939-1945 on Kościuszkowców Street in Marysin Wawerski and the following Catholic cemeteries: on Łagiewnicka Street (Pyry), on Mehoffera Street (Tarchomin), on Powsińska Street (Czerniaków), on Przyczółkowa Street (Powsin), on Kleszczowa Street (the Włochy district), on Wilanowska Avenue (Wilanów), on Wólczyńska Street (Wawrzyszew), on Wałbrzyska Street (Służew), and next to the St. Laurence Church on Wolska Street.
Ruins of the Church of Divine Mercy on Żytnia Street in the Wola district of Warsaw destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 47
Poland Warsaw-Pawiak Hundreds of thousands of people sent to concentration camps for participating in the resistance were first put through the Gestapo prisons scattered all over occupied Europe. One of the largest of such prisons was Pawiak, located on Dzielna Street in Warsaw. The prison was managed by the commandant of the security police and the security service (SIPO and SD). On average, 1,800 of Poles were held in the Pawiak prison at one time (one-third of whom were women). Having been brought to the prison, they were first interrogated, and then transported to another site on the Szucha Avenue, the headquarters of the security police and the security service (the main headquarters of the Gestapo for Warsaw and the Warsaw district were housed there, too). In the years 1939-1944, a total of 90,000 Poles had at some point spent time at Pawiak; 30,000 were executed there by a firing squad, approximately 60,000 were sent to concentration camps. The sites where most of
the tortures and mass executions took places were the gardens of the Sejm and the Warsaw University, Palmiry, Magdalenka, forests surrounding Warsaw, and later, in the years 19431944 the ruins of the ghetto, as well as the streets and squares of Warsaw. Mainly Poles were imprisoned at Pawiak, with some prisoners of other nationalities. Approximately two-third of all Pawiak prisoners were sent to concentration camps, among them to, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Gross-Rosen, Ravensbrück, Majdanek, Mauthausen, Stutthof and Sachsenhausen. A clandestine organization saving lives of the prisoners was in operation in the Pawiak prison. The names of people sentenced to death were entered on the lists of people to be transported to concentration camps. Especially prisoners who were medical doctors and nurses, working at the prison hospital, played a crucial role in saving other prisoners’ lives.
Tree-monument in Pawiak (at the former prison courtyard) 48
Poland Warsaw - 25 Szucha Avenue mander of the Union of Armed Struggle and later of the Home Army, arrested on 30 June 1943 in Warsaw, was interrogated; he was sent to the KL Sachsenhausen and murdered there. During the Warsaw Uprising, the building and its surroundings were the site of mass executions. After the war, in 1946, five tons of ashes of the victims murdered on site was exhumed from only one mass grave. Today, the building houses the Museum of Struggle and Martyrdom. The group prison cells, corridors, solitary cells, the room of Gestapo officer on duty as well as interrogation rooms were all preserved and made available for visitors.
The building at 25 Szucha Avenue in Warsaw housed the headquarters of the German security police and the security service, and the main office of the Gestapo. It was here that the Germans planned their terror operations and extermination of the Polish population. Mainly prisoners from the Pawiak prison were interrogated here. During the interrogations, the Germans used brutal and cruel tortures, sometimes prisoners were murdered during the interrogation. The sentences were passed on Szucha Avenue – death by firing squad, or deportation to concentration camps. It was here that Stefan Rowecki “Grot”, general of the Polish Army and com-
Fragment of the exhibition at the Mausoleum of Struggle and Martyrdom. Inscription on the wall: It’s easy to talk about Poland, it’s harder to work for her, even harder to die and hardest of all to suffer 49
Gestapo duty officerâ€™s room 50
Poland KL Warschau KL Warschau was in operation between autumn 1942 and August 1944. Built following the order of 29 October 1942 issued by SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, it was a complex consisting of 5 camps (Lagers) located in three districts of Warsaw. One camp was situated in the Koło quarter of the Wola district, on the site of the guarded German munition plant located in the Bema Fort. The other two were located in the proximity of the Warsaw West Railway Station. One was built in the area delineated by the following streets: Mszczonowska, Prądzyńskiego, Armatnia and Bema; the other was situated along Skalmierzycka Street, in the today’s location of the PKS bus station. The two other camps were located in the area of the liquidated ghetto on Gęsia Street (today Anielewicza Street) and on Bonifraterska Street. In the ghetto area section of KL Warschau, at the corner of Zamenhoffa and Gęsia Streets, at the spot where the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes now stands, there was a military prison before the war (the so-called Gęsiówka prison). The overall area occupied by the camp equaled 120 hectares and comprised 119 barracks. All sections were connected by an internal railway line. Three sections of the camp shared a commandant and could accommodate 35,000 – 40,000 prisoners. The section situated in the Koło quarter was housed in the former POW camp, established by the Germans already in 1939. It was there that the prisoners were executed and their corpses burnt. Following the construction of gas chambers in a tunnel near the Warsaw West Railway Station, some prisoners were brought here to be exterminated. Several hundred people could be gassed in a gas chamber at one time. According to some historical sources, next to the gas chambers in the Warsaw West Railway Station tunnel there were two round structures in which gas was being produced. Inside the structures, diatoms of poisonous gas were placed in voluminous tubs filled with water. Thus created steam was directed through ventilating ducts to the gas chambers.
It is very likely that in Gęsiówka there had been a gas chamber as well, as a pile of empty cans of Zyklon B gas was found there in 1945. The corpses of gassed prisoners were burnt in the crematorium located near Gęsia and Smocza Streets. The camps in Koło and near the Warsaw West railway station were in operation for nearly two years; camps in the ghetto area were in operation for more than a year. Among the victims of the KL Warschau camp were Polish citizens, mainly people captured in numerous roundups. People ambushed during roundups were not registered. They were shot dead or gassed soon after being captured. Ashes of the victims were scattered in the fields, parks, or in the Wisła River and the sewers. Due to the large amount of burnt bodies, in 1944 additional crematoria were built, including one electric. On average, 400 Poles were murdered daily by the Germans in Warsaw. Some of them were gassed at the KL Warschau camp, some shot dead in various locations of the city, i.a. in the area of the former ghetto. Their bodies were burnt on stakes near the spot where they had been executed or in the KL Warschau crematoria. The Germans established a subcamp, mainly for the Jews deported from various parts of Europe as labour force. The prisoners were forced to clean the area of the former ghetto and to erect the KL Warschau camp. The subcamp was located between Nowolipie and Nowolipki Streets. Approximately 200,000 Poles perished in the KL Warschau camp (the data provided by Maria Trzcińska, author of the book titled KL Warschau). According to another author, B. Kopka, 20,000 people were exterminated in the camp. Several thousand people of other nationalities were also victims of the camp: Jews, Romani, Belarussians, Hungarians, Romanians, Greeks and 150 Italian officers. In July 1944 the Germans, sensing the possibility of an outbreak of uprising, evacuated all 51
Plaque from the frontage of the Church of Stanisław the Bishop and Martyr in Wola, Warsaw
During the exhumation carried out in 1945 several dozen tons of ashes was recovered from the area of Gęsiówka and the martyrdom sites in the Wola district, where the Germans conducted mass executions in the early August 1944. The ashes were also recovered from the basement of the Gestapo headquarters on Szucha Avenue, from the Sejm gardens, from parks and forests surrounding the city. However, the ashes of very many victims were never recovered – they had been scattered in the fields, or lost in the Wisła River. German genocide in the Warsaw concentration camp was never mentioned during the Nuremberg trials (the Polish State did not provide the required documentation on time).
the surviving prisoners to concentration camps in Dachau, Ravensbrück and Gross-Rosen. The German extermination plan included murdering half of the city population and abolishing Warsaw as a capital of Poland. One of the reasons for establishing KL Warschau was to transform the Polish capital into – in line with the so-called Pabst Plan to create the “New German City Warsaw” (die neue deutsche Stadt Warschau) – a city to be inhabited exclusively by Germans, or more precisely by the German elites. During the German occupation Warsaw lost circa 800,000 of its inhabitants (500,000 Poles and 300,000 Jews), which is more than overall human losses of France and Great Britain combined. 52
After the war the Soviet NKVD converted the KL Warschau into a camp for Polish patriots from the Home Army, the National Armed Forces and the Freedom and Independence organizations. The prisoners were executed at the camp. The new Polish authorities took efforts to conceal the post-war tragedy of the Polish nation which lasted until 1956. That is why the history of KL Warschau remained untold and therefore unknown. The trial of KL Warschau lasted for many years, the investigation was repeatedly interrupted and eventually the case was closed, due to the passing of German perpetrators. For many decades, the genocide at KL Warschau remained an enormous, undisclosed and un-researched chapter in the history of Polish martyrdom. However, thanks to exceptional determination and dedication of Justice Maria Trzcińska of the Commission for the Research of the Nazi Crimes, the case was exposed and described in her book KL Warschau. The book was based on witness accounts pertaining to gas
chambers, protocols of witnesses of the Nuremberg trials, original Nazi proclamations and orders, the resistance documents, aerial photographs and German maps on which the KL Warschau camp was clearly marked. On 27 July 2001, on the 57th anniversary of the liquidation of the concentration camp KL Warschau, Polish Sejm paid tribute to the martyrs who had perished at the camp. Despite the efforts, ready design project for a monument and promises made by the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites, the KL Warschau victims have not yet been commemorated. The foundation act for a monument to the victims of KL Warschau was placed at the Alojzy Pawełek Square. The act was performed by Rev. Prelate Zdzisław Peszkowski together with Professor Jan Moore-Jankowski, himself a prisoner of KL Warschau (Rev. Prelate Zdzisław Peszkowski contributed a lot to the commemoration of the Calvary of the East).
Saxon Garden in Warsaw. The plaque commemorating 6 million Polish victims of World War II 53
Poland The Warsaw Ghetto The Germans established first Jewish ghettos in the German territory and later on in other European countries they invaded. Jewish ghettos were created in Poland, in the Soviet Union (also in the former Polish lands), and in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Greece. In Belgium, the Germans ordered Jews to reside only in Brussels, Antwerp, Liège and Charleroi; in the Netherlands Jews were allowed to reside in Amsterdam only. Jews from various occupied countries of Europe were deported to the ghettos in the East, amongst them to Łódź, Lublin, Mińsk, Ryga, and to extermination camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Bełżec, Sobibór.
In Poland, the largest ghettos were established in Warsaw (500,000 residents), Łódź and Białystok. Initially some ghettos were not sealed off; crossing the boundaries, however, was punishable by death. Poles who provided help to Jews were also sentenced to death. Despite these cruel restrictions, Poles rescued approximately 200,000 Jews. Occasionally, a single Polish family provided shelter for over a dozen Jews. For such help, the entire family of Cz. Sawicki – 26 people in total – was shot dead in the village of Grabówka near Białystok, whereas in the Ciepielów county 33 Poles were burnt alive. Poles active in the resistance movement organized escapes from the ghettos or the camps and arranged
Jewish youth from various continents pay homage to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw 54
hideouts for the Jews. They organized false documents, food, medicines, money, and even arms. Especially active in this field was the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews, established as an auxiliary body of the Government Delegation for Poland. From 1940 onwards, the ghettos were being surrounded by walls and sealed off. Inside the walls, there was terror, hunger, epidemics of infectious diseases (especially typhoid fever). In the years 1942-1944 the Germans began to liquidate ghettos and to send Jews to extermination camps. In some of the ghettos which faced liquidation, armed resistance broke out, i.a. in Klecko (21 July 1942), Łachnia (3 September 1942), Głębokie (today in Belarus – July 1943), Krzemieniec (today Ukraine, 9 August 1943), Vilna (today Lithuania – July 1943), and in Warsaw, Białystok, Będzin and Hrubieszów (AprilJuly 1943). The most widely known ghetto uprising in history broke out in the Warsaw Ghetto on 19 April 1943. The Jewish Combat Organization and the Jewish Military Union decided to revolt
against the SS units and German police headed by general Jürgen von Stroop, which led the liquidation action. Mordechai Anielewicz was the Jewish Combat Organization commander. In the face of crushing advantage of the German forces, the combat units moved underground (i.e. to the underground system of bunkers and shelters) from which they ventured outside to fight. On 8 May 1943, all the commanders of both the Jewish Combat Organization and the Jewish Military Union died in the bunker on Miła Street. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was supported by the Home Army units and by the People’s Guard units. Towards the end of the Uprising, soldiers from the Polish conspiratorial organizations helped evacuate the surviving commanders of the Jewish Combat Organization, Marek Edelman amongst them. After crushing the Uprising, the Germans sent the remaining 50,000 Jews to Treblinka, where they all perished. The area of the ghetto was razed to the ground.
Warsaw Ghetto ablaze in April 1943 55
Ceremony at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw 56
Poland Dulag 121 Pruszków The Warsaw Uprising and its fall was an excruciating tragedy for the Poles living in Warsaw. Approximately 200,000 people were killed in the Uprising. Having expelled all the surviving residents to the Durchgangslager 121 in Pruszków, Germans plundered the abandoned apartments: they stole furniture, carpets, clothes and most precious items, and sent them all off to the German Reich. The plundered buildings were blown up. The camp in Pruszków was located on site of the former Rail Rolling Stock Repair Workshop (6 August 1944 – 16 January 1945; ca. 550,000 prisoners from Warsaw, ca. 100,000 from the surrounding towns and villages). There were three categories of prisoners: 1. People suspected of participating in the Uprising (shot dead or sent off to one of the extermination camps – 12,000 sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau); 2. People deemed
fit for labour (over 160,000 persons), sent to the German Reich while the elderly, under-aged or mothers with babies were sent to various locations within the General Government, further from the front line); 3. Prisoners who were later released. The residents of Pruszków collected food and medicines to help – as far as it was possible – the people expelled from Warsaw. Aside from the main camp in Pruszków, similar camps were established in Ursus, Piastów, Ożarów, Modlin, Grodzisk Mazowiecki and Skierniewice. On 16 January 1945, prior to the Red and Polish armies entering Warsaw, the German command of the Dulag 121 Pruszków fled. Today, a monument commemorates the former camp in Pruszków. On the site of the former Rail Rolling Stock Repair Workshop there is a “Dulag 121” Museum.
Wall with a guard tower in the former transit camp in Pruszków 57
Poland Palmiry out all over Poland, was led by Bruno Streckenbach, police and security service commander for the General Government. Similar actions aimed at the extermination of Polish intelligentsia were carried out throughout 1941, following the invasion on the USSR and occupation of the Polish borderlands, amongst other places in Stanisławów, where approximately 200 Poles were murdered. In Lviv, the Germans, supported by Ukrainian nationalists from the SS Nachtigall Batallion, executed several dozen eminent Polish scholars from the Lviv University, together with their families. There had already been an action directed against Polish professors – on 6 November 1939, during the so-called Sonderaktion Krakau, 183 academics from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków were arrested and deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
The German perpetrators carried out the genocide of local population not only in the concentration and extermination camps, but also through both secret and open mass executions all across occupied Poland. One of such places where mass murders took place is Palmiry, situated in the Kampinos Forest, ca. 25 kilometres away to the north-west of Warsaw. Ashes of the residents of Warsaw and its vicinity, executed in Palmiry, are laid to rest in the local cemetery. In the period between December 1939 and July 1941 the Germans carried out twenty secret mass executions, shooting about 2,000 people dead. Amongst the victims were mostly members of Polish intelligentsia, exterminated as part of the AB action (Außerordentliche Befriedungsaktion, May-July 1940). The Aktion was aimed at politicians, social activists, teachers, professors, priests and army officers. The AB action, carried
Cemetery of the victims of mass executions in Palmiry in Kampinos Forest 58
Poland Piaśnica Stutthof camp. They were ordered to exhume the bodies from mass graves and burn them. Having completed the task, the prisoners were all shot dead. After the war, ashes from 35 mass graves were retrieved. Another site where the extermination action took place in Pomerania was Szpęgowski Forest near Starogard Szczeciński, where 5,000-7,000 Poles were executed. Mniszek to the east of Świecie is yet another such place. It is there that the second largest, after Piaśnica, cemetery of the victims of Nazi genocide in Pomerania is located.
The AB Aktion was preceded by another action, the so-called Intelligenzaktion, organized as early as autumn 1939 in the Pomerania region, and in the spring of 1940 in Silesia. The actions in the Pomerania region were led by the Wermacht, Gestapo, SS and Selbstschutz units. 12,000 Poles perished in Gdynia, Gdańsk, Wejherowo, Puck and the vicinity. One of the most atrocious genocidal actions took place in Piaśnica Wielka near Wejherowo. In order to cover up the traces of the committed crimes, Germans summoned prisoners from the nearby
German executions in the Piaśnicki Forest 59
photo: from a public domain
Poland Łódź Next to Warsaw, Gdańsk, Poznań, Lublin, Kraków, Katowice, Białystok and Lviv, Łódź is one of the most severely damaged cities by German atrocities and extermination actions during the Second World War. On 9 September 1939, the German Army entered Łódź. The Łódź Province was defended by the “Łódź” Army. The Volhynia Cavalry Brigade was successful in attacking German 4th Armoured Division tanks and combat cars near Mokra. The “Poznań” and “Pomorze” armies were counter-attacking during the Battle of Bzura, but they were forced to retreat towards Warsaw. In the years 1939-1945 the City of Łódź lost 60% of its population. Its infrastructure (including the machine park) was almost completely ruined. Already in mid-September 1939 transit camps for the POWs, Polish soldiers from the “Łódź” Army, were established in the city. They were located in the Assumption of the Blessed
Virgin Mary Church, in the Franciscan Monastery in Łagiewniki, in the sports hall in the Poniatowski Park and in the Rosenblaftt textile factory on Żwirki Street. All these camps were liquidated in October 1939; the POWs were sent off to stalags and oflags in the German Reich, i.a. stalag III A (Luckenwalde), oflags VII A Murnau, X A Itzehoe, II C Woldenberg, VI B Dössel and XII Hadamar. In the years 1940-1942, as a result of various forms of repression, approximately 140,000 people were forced to give up their POW status and acquire the status of a forced labourer. Wanda Węgierska from Zgierz near Łódź, a very courageous scout, managed to contact Polish POWs, labourers working at munition plants in the Westfalen and Rhineland. Under the pseudonym “Wanda”, she used to gain precious military information for the Armed Struggle Union. She was arrested in Berlin in April
Commemoration plaques in Łódź 60
Location of execution of Poles in Zgierz mately 1,500 Poles died in the fire, which was the last attempt to obliterate the traces of atrocious crimes that had been taking place at the prison. In one of his speeches, the Governor of the Wartheland Arthur Greiser stated: “all the manifestations of Polish nature (…), no matter of what kind, must be obliterated (…). Only one nation can reside in this region. This nation is the German nation, and where the German nation resides, there is no place for any other nation.” In the spring of 1940, 40,000 of the inhabitants of Łódź were resettled to the General Government. Their apartments were taken over by the Germans. Expelled from their own houses, Łódź residents were sent off to transit camps where they were robbed of the remaining personal belongings and property. At the transit camp, the children whose facial features agreed with the Aryan model look were sent to the German Reich to be Germanized. In March 1940, patients from the psychiatric hospital in Kochanówka as well as the ghetto hospital on Wesoła Street were all shot dead. Several dozen healthy children suffering from impaired vision were eliminated in the course of the action. The Resettlement Centre was in operation at 133 Piotrkowska Street; the main transit camp was located at 4
1942, during her fourth intelligence expedition. Despite repeated interrogation and torture, Wanda did not provide her perpetrators with any information, neither did she sign the written request for pardon. As a result, she was decapitated at the Plötzensee prison in Berlin. After the Germans invaded Łódź in September 1939, the Gestapo organized a prison for women in the prison building at 13 Gdańska Street. Approximately 14,000 Polish women were incarcerated there until 1945: members of the military, political, cultural and social organizations. From there, they were sent off to concentration camps, mainly to Auschwitz and Ravensbrück, or executed at the Jewish cemetery in Łódź. Yet another remand prison for women was located at the Barefoot Carmelites Convent on Świętej Teresy Street. Having resettled the nuns, the female prisoners were ordered to do laundry and sew army uniforms for the Wermacht soldiers. On 9 November 1939, Łódź was incorporated into the Reich – Reichsgau Posen (Reich’s district Poznań). The Polish name Łódź was changed into Litzmannstadt. In January 1945, the prison guards set the prisons on fire before fleeing the city. Approxi61
Forest, Tuszyn Forest and Rzgów Forest – there might still be up to over a dozen thousand remnants of the victims somewhere in the area. The highest number of executions took place in November and December 1939, in the summer of 1942 and in the summer of 1944. The Poles were shot dead (mainly for their activity in the resistance movement) also at the Jewish cemetery in Łódź. The prisons were located at: 13 Gdańska Street, 29 Kilińskiego Street, 16 Sterlinga Street, 6 Anstadta Street, and by the police precint and the employment bureaus. The terror and atrocities directed at the Łódź Jewish community began with setting the historic synagogue on Kościuszki Square on fire. Soon, the Germans set fire to the remaining synagogues on Wolborska, Zachodnia and Wólczańska Streets. The ghetto was established in Febrauary 1940 in the Bałuty quarter; it was liquidated in August 1944. Over 200,000 Jews resided in the Łódź Ghetto at some point; 140,000 were deported to the extermination camps in Chełmno on Ner (Kulmhof am Ner), as well as to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The ultimate transports to the camp left in 1944. The ghetto in Łódź, aside from the local Jewish community, also accomodated Jews from Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Luxembourg. Initially, the ghetto enjoyed relative autonomy: Jews had their own administration, heath service, police, postal service, school system and cultural centres. The ghetto residents produced uniforms, overcoats, bags, shoes and textiles for the German Army. In January 1942 first transports set off to the Kulmhof death camp. The ghetto was liquidated in mid-1944. Despite the liquidation, many Jews managed to survive. Today, next to the Radogoszcz railway station, ca. 500 metres away from one of the largest Jewish necropolises in Europe, there is a complex of monuments commemorating martyrdom of the Jews from Łódź. The Łódź ghetto included a separate section for about 5,000 Romani people, brought to the city from Burgenland, i.e. the border between Austria and Hungary. The Romani shared the fate of their Jewish neighbours – they all perished in the Kulmhof death camp. Aside from the section for the Romani population, the ghetto also housed a section dedicated to Polish children and youth.
Łąkowa Street – the preliminary selections were conducted there. Young, strong, healthy individuals were sent off to labour in the German Reich, the rest was deported to the General Government. All the monks from the Bernardines’ Monastery at 73 Sporna Street were resettled; the building was converted into a Rassenlager. The prisoners were sent here by the SS Race and Settlement Main Office; people selected for the process of Germanization came not only from Łódź and the vicinity, but also from Wielkopolska (Greater Poland) and Pomerania. In order to intimidate Poles who were active in the resistance movement, Germans organized mass executions in public spaces. On 20 March 1942 in Zgierz near Łódź, a mass execution of 100 Poles took place at the Stu Square. 6,000 people from Zgierz and the vicinity were forced to watch the execution. Catholic priests were a target of severe Nazi persecutions. Already in Novemeber 1939 there were numerous arrests of priests in Łódź and the surrounding towns and villages. The priests were sent off to Radogoszcz. Another wave of mass arrests, this time not merely in the Łódź region but in the entire Wartheland, took place on 5-7 October 1941. Over 300 priests were arrested in Łódź alone; they were sent off to the Dachau concentration camp where many of them perished. The Polish intelligentsia in Łódź suffered severe losses already at the beginning of the German occupation. On 9-11 November 1939 teachers, political and social activists, journalists, editors of underground periodicals such as Pochodnik or Na zachodnim szańcu were arrested. Approximately 1,500 people were captured and placed in the transit camp, and subsequently in the former Glazer plant. Many of those were later executed or sent off to concentration camps. At around the same time, at night from 10 to 11 November 1939, the monument of Tadeusz Kościuszko was pulled down. The Germans carried out mass executions of the residents of Łódź, mainly members of the resistance movement and the Szare Szeregi scout organization. The number of victims of the Lućmierski Forest executions is estimated at 12,000-20,000, mostly Poles from Łódź and the vicinity, as well as from Pabianice and Łęczyca. The executions also took place in the Wiączyń 62
Radegast railway station, a departure place for the Jews taken to the German concentration and death camps. CzesĹ‚aw Bielecki is the author of the monument 63
Poland Radegast At the beginning of the German occupation a transit and resettlement camp was in operation in Łódź, at the corner of today’s Sowińskiego and Zgierska Streets, in the building of Samuel Abbe’s plant. The resettled population of Łódź and the vicinity was later deported to the General Government, to the Kraków and Nowy Sącz Provinces. In early November 1939, the Germans organized mass arrests of the local intelligentsia, based on to the residents’ lists prepared beforehand. Social and political activists as well as administrative officials were sentenced to death by military martial courts; they were then shot dead in the forests surrounding Łódź. Through elimination of the Polish population both in Łódź and all
over Poland, the Germans aimed at eradicating any forms of Polish national identity and culture. From 1 July 1940, the transit camp was transformed into the Erweitertes Polizeigefängnis, Enhanced Police Prison. Throughout the occupation, the names and functions of the prison changed as follows: Konzentrationslager Radogosch; Gefangenenlager Radogosch; Polizeigefängnis Radogosch; Erweitertes Polizeigefängnis Radegast (1 July 1940 – March 1943); Erweitertes Polizeigefängnis und Arbeitsenziehungslager Radegast (March 1943 – January 1945). The Enhanced Police Prison was the largest prison in the Łódź Province at the time of the German occupation. Majority of the prisoners were sent off to other prisons, i.a. to Sieradz, Łęczyca, Wieluń, and to labour camps in Ostrów
Fragment of the museum exhibition 64
Wielkopolski and in Sikawa district of Łódź, as well as to concentration camps in Dachau, GrossRosen and Mauthausen-Gusen. Approximately 40,000 men in total were incarcerated in the Radogoszcz Prison. Many of them perished there, or were executed in extermination actions carried out in the nearby forests (Lućmierz, Łagiewniki, Wiączyn). The bodies of the prisoners who had died or had been murdered in the prison were buried at local cemeteries, and from early 1942 at the Roman-Catholic cemetery on Kurczaki Street. There were no gas chambers or crematoria in the Radogoszcz Prison. The prison staff totaled over 70 guards, equipped with arms, whips and wooden clubs (many of them were local Volksdeutsche). Walter Pelzhausen, a sadistic commandant of the Prison, was sentenced to death after the war. The sentence was executed in February 1948. Numerous collaborators of the commandant, however, managed to escape punishment. The prisoners were labelled: red badge indicated political prisoners, yellow badge those imprisoned for smuggling food from villages to towns; the prisoners sentenced to death had a yellow letter “B” painted on their trousers, back and chest. Prior to execution, prisoners were often tortured – their fingers were broken, eyes poked out, skin torn off with metal brushes. People ended up in this Prison-camp for illegal animal slaughter, skipping forced labour, illegal crossing of the border of the General Government and the Wartheland. There were also those captured during roundups in the streets and while leaving the churches after attending the Mass. The victims were members of Łódź intelligentsia – mainly teachers, social activists, culture activists, state and self-government officials. Very often prisoners from other Łódź prisons such as the prisons on Sterlinga, Anstadta and Kilińskiego Streets were moved to the Radogoszcz Prison. Despite the terror, the residents of Łódź continued to engage in sabotage, clandestine education, intelligence service, and disinformation as part of the “N” action. Several dozen hours prior to the Red Army entering the city of Łódź, at night of 17 and 18 January 1945, the staff of the Prison began to eliminate the prisoners. Having liquidated the sick, the German perpetrators set off to eliminate the remaining prisoners in their cells. However, they encountered a strong resistance there and had to leave the
Monument at a prison ground building, which they promptly set on fire. 1,500 people died in the flames, or were shot dead while attempting to escape the blaze. Only 30 prisoners managed to survive by hiding in water containers. Ashes and remains of those who had perished were later buried in two mass graves at the St. Rocco Roman-Catholic cemetery nearby. Setting fire to the Radogoszcz Prison was not an isolated event. At the labour camp in the Sikawa quarter of Łódź, the Germans planned to set fire to the barracks where ca. 800 prisoners were staying; only the unexpected Soviet air-raid saved their lives: the Germans fled, and the prisoners managed to force the gate open. Radogoszcz – the former police prison and transit camp – has been properly commemorated: there is a museum on the site, which holds rich documentation on the history of the place and on the martyrdom of the city of Łódź and its residents. A marble sarcophagus has been placed next to the former prison building, with an inscription which reads: “Here we are laid to rest, murdered on the eve of liberation, our names and bodies engulfed by the flames. We live in your memory. Do not allow such an atrocious death to happen ever again”. On the right side of the sarcophagus there is yet another inscription: „Each grain of the soil reveals a history covered in blood.” 65
Poland Children and youth camps On 1 December 1942 in Łódź, in the section of the ghetto delineated by Bracka, Przemysłowa, Górnicza and Emilii Plater Streets, the Germans established penal camp for Polish children and youth (Polen-Jugendverwahrlager der Sicherheitspolizei in Litzmannstadt). The camp was in operation until 19 January 1945. The number of children which were held at the camp and its subcamps is difficult to determine. We do know that at the turn of 1944, the number of prisoners reached ca. 1,250. Approximately 800 children survived until the liberation. Many were too weak to leave the camp by themselves. The camp, formally an educational facility, was created on similar premises to concentration camps and in point of fact was to serve the purpose of extermination. Its prisoners were children aged between 8 and 16 years old; there was a separate prison bloc for children under 8. The children were in most cases orphans (their parents murdered in mass executions or sent off to prisons or camps). They were brought to the camp from orphanages or captured during roundups. Their fingerprints were taken, as well as photo shots for the camp files. They were given identification numbers, prisoner garb and wooden clogs. Underage prisoners had to work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Boys were busy making shoes out of hay, wicker baskets, leather bits for masks and backpacks. Girls worked in launderettes, tailoring workshops or in the garden. Children were dying of malnutrition, cold, diseases, exhaustion, stress and both physical and psychological distress. A subcamp (Polen-Jugendverwahrlager Litzmannstadt Arbeitsbetrieb “Dzierzazna” über Biala 23) was opened for older girls in Dzierżązna near Biała, 17 kilometres north of Zgierz. Young Polish women were forced to work in the fields surrounding the villages of Dzierżązna, Ciosny and Ciosny-Sady. A transit camp was established in the nearby Konstantynów Łódzki at 25 Łódzka Street, in the building of a former Schweikert’s plant. Aside from the adult prisoners, many children were also
held there. Several hundred died, especially during the epidemics of 1940 and 1942. There is a spacious section with the children’s ashes at the local Roman-Catholic cemetery. The Germans resettled at least 1,600 Polish children aged under 10 from Łódź with the intent to Germanize them. The children were selected at transit camps, orphanages and foster homes. Those selected for Germanization had to undergo preliminary medical examination. If they had been deemed fit, they were directed to care homes in the Wartheland, in the town of Bruczków (until the end of 1942) and later in Kalisz, Puszczyków, Ludwików and Poznań. Having undergone initial Germanization and having reached fluency in the German language, the children were sent off to German families, under changed first names and surnames. In the autumn of 1940, the Germans imposed an obligation to work on 14-year-old youth from Łódź; in 1941 the age was lowered to 12-13 years. Children were employed at Scheibler’s, Grohman’s and Steinert’s plants. Constituting 5%-10% of the staff, they worked the same amount of hours as the adults, including night shifts. The 8-metre tall monument, often referred to as the monument of a broken heart, has been placed at the south-west section of the former camp for Polish children, in today’s Szarych Szeregów Park. The monument bears an inscription which reads: “Our lives have been taken away from us, today memory is all we have to offer.” A symbolic fragment of the camp fence is located near the monument; it bears the names of concentration camps, penal and “educational” facilities where the children and youth from the Łódź camp were sent: Racibórz, Działdowo, Buszkowo, Dzierżązna, Rusinowo, Lubawa, Głogów, Otorów, Stutthof, Sobibór, Zamość, Chełm Lubelski, Majdanek, Auschwitz, Kortuntów, Lubliniec, Łódź, Bełżec, Gross-Rosen, Ludwikowo, Bruczków, Połczyn, Treblinka, Żory, Chełmno on Ner, Pruszków, Potulice, Gonżyce Wielkie, Kalisz and Kiekrz. 66
The “Broken Heart” Monument commemorating the youngest Polish victims of German camp for children in Łódź 67
Poland Poznań During the German occupation, Poznań was the capital of the German Reich province – Reichsgau Posen, and from January 1940, the capital of the socalled Reichsgau Wartheland. Arthur Greiser, leader of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) was the commander of this region. Arthur Greiser intended to create a “training ground of National Socialism” (Exerzieplatz des Nationalsocializmus) in the Polish region of Greater Poland (Wielkopolska) by way of exterminating both Poles and Jews, depriving people of national identity and Germanizing them. The streets of Poznań were the location of numerous mass executions. People were also murdered at Fort VII, the prison on Młyńska Street (where the victims were beheaded) as well as the Soldier’s House and the Gestapo headquarters. The Germans resettled approximately 100,000 Poles from Poznań to the General Government. The Security Police Prison and Penal Custody Camp in Żabikowo near Poznań was the martyrology site of the city residents. The Germans established concentration camp at Fort VII (today Polska Avenue); its prisoners
were mainly representatives of Polish intelligentsia: professors of the Poznań University, teachers, clergy, land owners, members of the resistance movement, fighters for independence and scouts. Prisoners were eliminated by shooting and hanging; there were also first attempts at extermination with the use of gas. Some prisoners died already during the interrogation. From 1941 onwards, Fort VII was officially named Polizeigefängnis der Sicherheitspolizei und Arbeitserziehungslager. From the spring of 1943 onwards, prisoners of Fort VII were gradually transfered to a similar facility – prison at Żabikowo near Poznań. The commandants of Fort VII, and subsequently in Żabikowo were Hans Weibrecht, Heinrich Mohlendort, Gunthner Kuhndel, Kurt Etzold, Hans Walter, Alfred Dietze. There were also POW camps in Poznań. One was established at the citadel. From August 1940 there were also POW camps being opened for the French and British Prisoners of War (Stalag XXI A/2 and Stalag XXI D Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschaftsstammlager XXI D).
Fort VII in Poznań – a concentration camp for Polish intelligentsia 68
Poland Żabikowo The camp also housed Soviet Prisoners of War, fugitives from forced labour and labour camps, fugitives from Wermacht, residents of Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Hungary. There was also a number of the US citizens. In 1944, Poles who fought in the Warsaw Uprising appeared in the camp. 22,000 prisoners were held at the Żabikowo camp. The Germans began evacuating the prisoners at the night of 20 January 1945. They shot dead some prisoners and burnt their bodies, then they set the camp on fire. The remaining prisoners were forced to march towards Frankfurt an der Oder and further to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The march, referred to as the “death march”, lasted for two weeks. Only 208 prisones reached the camp. Women marched even further, to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, which was located further away. Those who could not manage were shot dead along the way. The last execution carried out by the Germans in Żabikowo was shooting of a group of 33 residents of Maków Mazowiecki and the vicinity. The SS officers brought the group to the site of the burnt down camp, and later to the parish cemetery in Żabikowo, where the execution took place.
The Security Police Prison and Educational Labour Camp in Żabikowo (Polizeigefängnis der Sicherheitspolizei und Arbeitserziehungs-lager PosenLenzingen) was established in April 1943 at the site of a former brickworks. Prisoners of Fort VII in Poznań were forced to construct the camp. For a year, both the camp and the prison operated side by side. The camp was divided into men’s and women’s sections. The entire area of 4 hectares was surrounded by double abattis of electric barbed wire fence. Smashing the stones with hammers or forming brick blocks made of clay and straw – at a murderous pace – were the main occupations at the camp. People suspected of hostile activity against the Reich were held in Żabikowo throughout the interrogation and investigation. These were mainly members of the Poznań and Pomeranian branches of the Home Army, and before that members of the National Military Organization and of the Szare Szeregi scout organization. Members of the Polish Workers’ Party were also executed. The prisoners were also tortured in a barrel made of barbed wire or by drowning. The bodies were burnt at the crematorium of the Collegium Anatomicum in Poznań. 28 transports were sent from Żabikowo, taking the prisoners to other concentration camps in the German Reich, Austria and Poland.
Żabikowo – site of the former German camp 69
Poland Toruń Having invaded Toruń on 7 September 1939, the Germans began ruthless extermination and then Germanization of the local population and resettlement to the General Government. In February 1940, the German Nazis established a camp, which was transformed into a penal camp in March 1941. From 1940 a POW camp was also in operation in Toruń, and 1941 another camp for Soviet POWs, and from 1943 a POW camp for Italian soldiers. 60,000 soldiers were prisoners of the above mentioned camps, approximately 10,000 perished there. During the occupation, German organized numerous mass executions of Poles, among others in the Barbarka Forest near Toruń, which is scattered with graves with the ashes of thousands of Polish victims. Mass executions were organized also at Fort VII in Toruń. One of the graves of thousands of the Poles executed in the Barbarka Forest near Toruń
Fort VII in Toruń, the place of execution of Poles 70
Poland Soldau A POW camp for Polish soldiers taken captive following the surrender of Modlin was established by the Germans already in the autumn of 1939, at the site of former army barracks, near the railway station. Subsequently, the Germans converted it into a Selbstschutz arrest, a transit, educational, labour and penal camp. In reality, it functioned as an extermination camp, in which 15,000 perished (out of ca. 30,000 Polish prisoners). Archbishop Antoni Julian Nowowiejski, bishop Leon Wetmański and Polish Consul in Olsztyn Bogdan Jałowiecki were among those murdered at the camp. The main barrack housed prisoners’ cells. A memorial site and a chapel-sanctuary were organized in the basement and in the former cells. The upper floors of the building now house the Działdowo Martyrs’ Hospice. The Germans had begun the action of exterminating Polish intelligentsia in early September 1939, even before the extermination camp was in operation. The people arrested were held in the prison and at the Gestapo headquarters; they were tortured and then murdered. The bodies were buried in mass graves in the village of Komorniki. The Soldau (Działdowo) camp was initially a POW camp for Polish soldiers. From there, they were sent off to oflags and stalags. SS Hauptsturmführer Hans Krause was the first commandant of the camp. Already in the autumn of 1939 a Selbstschutz (Self-defence) camp was set up; Polish patriots from Działdowo, Płock, Mława, Ciechanów and other locations were tortured and murdered there. The bodies were taken to the aforementioned Komorniki and to the forest near Białuty, Bursz and Malinów. Mass graves of over a dozen thousand Poles and Jews are located in Komorniki. The extermination of the Polish population was part of the German Lebensraum politics. Another camp in the area was a Soldau-Durchganglager für Polnische Zivilgefangene, transit camp
for Polish intelligentsia who were being liquidated as part of the Intelligenzaktion. Amongst the action’s victims were members of the intelligentsia, land owners, officials, priests and nuns. The Soldau camp had branches in Iława, Mławka and Nosarzewo. The prisoners at these branches were forced to work at the military sites, i.a. reconstruction of the German army cemetery in Mławka. There was also a labour camp and a penal camp for political prisoners sentenced to death. Priests were a special group amongst political prisoners; they were vilified for their faith, brutally tortured and murdered. The Capuchin Poor Clares nuns of Przasnysz were also incarcerated at the camp. In August 1941 a typhoid fever epidemics broke out at the camp. In order to deal with the situation, all the prisoners who fell ill were shot dead in the forest near Białuty. Many prisoners were transferred to other camps: Stutthof, Majdanek, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Fort III Pomiechówek, Gross-Rosen, Ravensbrück, Dachau, Mauthausen-Gusen, Fort VII in Poznań and the prison in Toruń. Mentally handicapped persons from Germany were brought to Soldau in order to be exterminated. Aside from political prisoners, also highly qualified Jews were held at the camp. They had to use their expertise working for the Germans. In January 1945, the prisoners were forced to march to Germany, in the freezing wind and snowstorm. Not many survived the “death march”; 120 prisoners were shot on the way via Frygnowo, Ostróda, Jabłonki and Małe Zawady. When the Red Army entered Działdowo, the camp was converted into the NKVD Internal Affairs’ People’s Commissariat Distributive Camp, which was in operation between January and September 1945. Poles who fought the new Soviet regime were brought here from Pomerania, Warmia, Mazury and Mazovia. Many were later deported to the eastern territories of the USSR. 71
Wall commemorating the martyrdom of Poles at the Catholic cemetery in DziaĹ‚dowo, which holds mass graves with remains of victims of the German genocide 72
Poland POW camp in Żagań and executions, up to 50,000 prisoners lost their lives there. At Stalag Luft III, in March 1944, 78 British RAF pilots managed to escape through a dug up tunnel. 73 were captured, 50 were executed. Over 300,000 POWs from Poland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Greece, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, Italy, South Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Senegal and India were held at the camp in Żagań. Several dozen thousand perished. Those who survived died during the „march of death” to Germany in the winter of 1945. Despite German attempts to cover up traces of their atrocious crimes, mass graves were discovered in 1957. In 1961, an international cemetery was opened on site.
There was a large complex of POW camps in the vicinity of Żagań. Polish soldiers taken captive in 1939 were held at Kunau Dulag until the spring of 1940. Initially, Sagan Stalag VIII C was the camp for Polish soldiers who had been deprived of the Prisoner of War status and sent off to forced labour. From May 1940, French, Belgian, Dutch and other nationalities POWs were held at the camp. In 1944 Germans brought here Home Army soldiers, following the fall of the Warsaw Uprising. To begin with, the Neuhammer Stalag VIII E was intended for Poles, subsequently there were also POWs from Czechoslovakia, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Soviet Union held there. During the first months, the prisoners slept outside. Due to hunger, cold, epidemics
Żagań, monument in honour of prisoners of various nationalities tortured to death 73
Poland KL Stutthof KL Stutthof was the first Nazi camp established after the German invasion of Poland and the longest operating camp during the war. It was opened at the beginning of September 1939 and existed until 10 May 1945. It was located on the Polish coast, near the village of Sztutowo, Nowy Dwór Gdański district (ca. 35 km east of Gdańsk). The first prisoners of KL Stutthof were Poles from Pomerania. The camp had been prepared for operation in August 1939 by a special SS unit called Wachsturmbann Eimann. Several years earlier, Germans had already kept Polish citizens under surveillance and developed a list of people to be arrested in preparation for war. On the second day of WWII, that is on 2 September 1939, the first group of 250 Poles was sent to the camp. They were prominent political, social, and cultural activists from Gdańsk. A transport of 6,000 people arrived to the camp in mid-September; it was aimed at eliminating and executing Polish intellectuals. The first prisoners of the camp were mostly employees of the Polish Post, railwaymen, civil servants, teachers, priests, physicians. The camp would later be used to incarcerate people from various regions of occupied Poland, including Pomerania and East Prussia. Among the inmates of KL Stutthof there were also members of resistance groups, such as “Gryf Kaszubski,” “Gryf Pomorski,” Związek Jaszczurczy,” and ZWZ – AK, as well as Polish civilians apprehended in Warsaw during the Warsaw Uprising. People of various nationalities from occupied Europe started to arrive to KL Stutthof in 1941. The camp and its numerous subcamps had the total of 110,000-120,000 prisoners – men, women, and children, mostly Poles, Jews, citizens of the USSR (primarily Russians). Among the inmates held in the camp there were also people from Great Britain, Austria, Belgium, Belarus, Bohemia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Latvia, Norway, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy, and Roma people. Over the five years of the camp’s operation, KL Stutthof took
the lives of 65,000-85,000 people of various nationalities. Such high mortality rate was caused by extremely difficult living conditions: the prisoners of the camp suffered from hunger, cold, diseases and epidemics (typhoid fever, tuberculosis, bloody diarrhoea). Inmates were also weakened by gruelling slave work. The camp was the site of mass murders (by shooting, hanging, torture, torment, phenol injections to the heart, and gassing with Zyklon B in gas chambers). Most people killed in gas chambers were weak and ill Jewish women, but also groups of prisoners sentenced to death by German courts. Towards the end of war, Germans started to evacuate the camp by sea and land, which resulted in the tragic death of thousands of people. The bodies of victims were burned in crematoria built in 1942 and, starting from 1944, on a big pile located 500 m from the camp. Until September 1942, dead prisoners (mostly Poles) were buried in mass graves in the Zaspa cemetery in Gdańsk. Human bodies were sometimes used in experimental soap production at the Institute of Hygiene in Gdańsk. In the early period of its operation, that is from 2 September 1939 until 30 September 1941, KL Stutthof was used as a “civilian POW” camp. It was converted into a labour camp for prisoners of various nationalities in October 1941 and later became an extermination camp, mostly used to kill Jews as a part of Endlösung – “the final solution to the Jewish question.” During its operation, KL Stutthof became a complex consisting of the men’s camp and women’s camp (Germanenlager), and the Jewish camp (Sonderlager). Children were kept in the women’s camp and overseen by female SS officers from the Ravensbrück camp. The prisoners held in Germanenlager were mostly Norwegian policemen sent to the camp for refusing to cooperate with the pro-Nazi government of Vidkun Quisling. Germans attempted to convince them to change their stance with favourable treatment (they did not have to work, were fed better than other prisoners 74
Corpses waiting for being burnt 75
photo: AKG/East News
Construction of the Stutthof camp.
photo: AKG/East News
tortured them on a whipping post, with other prisoners counting each stroke aloud, spit in their faces and insulted them by calling them “polnische Pfaffen.” Polish priests with German surnames were unsuccessfully induced to sign the Volksliste. Even though any religious activity was prohibited, Holy Masses were held in the camp, prisoners established prayer circles and groups of the Living Rosary. Towards the end of the war, Germans started to evacuate the camp, first by land and then by sea. On 25 January 1945, ca. 11,600 prisoners set out on the “death march” at 6 a.m., going west in heavy frost and deep snow. Having marched for 11 days, only 7,000 people reached their destination. Over 2,000 people died during the march, while another 2,000 escaped en route or from stop points. Many escapees survived thanks to the help of the people living in the Kashubia region. Later on, Germans organised land evacuations to inner East Prussia, towards Królewiec. Some prisoners escaped from these marches as well, but their efforts were futile as the German civilian population was hostile towards them and did not give them any help. Ca. 10,000 prisoners were left in the camp after the land evacuation. They were forced to do construction work on big trench bunkers for the SS staff and the command of the Wehrmacht unit stationing near the camp. Germans defended themselves near the camp and used the premises to
and could even receive packages sent by the International Red Cross). The Norwegians were also offered work in the guard of KL Stutthof, but all of them declined. People held in Sonderlager, which was an extermination camp, were isolated from the rest of the prisoners starting from the summer of 1944. Most of them were to be murdered. There were also economic enterprises inside the camp (SS Wirtschaftsbetriebe). SS Bauleitung was responsible for expanding the camp to the capacity of 25,000 prisoners; Gut Werdershot was an agricultural enterprise. Deutsche Ausrüstung Werke DAW (German arms enterprise) opened its branch in KL Stutthof on 1 January 1942. The original KL Stutthof camp had ca. 100 subcamps. The most important of those were located in Elbląg, Gdańsk, Gdynia, Pruszcz Gdański, Słupsk, Toruń, and Police. The prisoners were exploited by Focke-Wulff, Gerhard Eppe and the aforementioned Deutsche Ausrüstung Werke. Among the people most severely persecuted in the camp were Polish Catholic priests apprehended primarily in the area of Pomerania. Many of them died in KL Stutthof, while several hundred clerics were sent to other camps, mainly KL Sachsenhausen and KL Dachau. The clothes of priests were marked with purple triangles. They were forced to carry out humiliating tasks, for example clean up latrines, or do backbreaking work in the quarries in Graniczna Wieś. Germans 76
Execution site where hangings took place in the German Stutthof concentration camp 77
store military equipment, which is why the Soviet air forces carried out several bombardments of the camp in March 1945. On 25 and 27 April, Germans evacuated the camp by sea. The prisoners walked or were sent in trains to the mouth of the Wisła River in the area of Mikoszewo, from where they were transported to the Hel Peninsula. 70 ill prisoners were shot in Mikoszewo. The remaining inmates were put on riverboats, unsuitable for sea cruises, and sent from Hel to the German Reich. A half of all prisoners died while travelling in these “death boats.” Their bodies were stripped naked and thrown into the sea. One of the boats was sent to Klintholm, a small fishing port in the Danish island of Mön, most probably due to chaos and panic caused by the approaching Soviet forces in the German territory. The prisoners were taken care of by a unit of the Danish resistance movement commanded by Niels Rosenkrantz. They were later given aid by the Danish Red Cross. Some of the former inmates of KL Stutthof died in Danish hospitals of camp diseases and exhaustion caused by the travel. Among the 229 surviving prisoners who had arrived to the Mön island, over 70% were Polish, 25% were Russian and Lithuanian, while the remaining 5% were individual prisoners of various nationalities.
KL Stutthof was open throughout the entire course of the war in Europe. Soviet soldiers entered the camp on 9 May 1945, where they saw only individual prisoners on the brink of death, left behind during the process of evacuation. The commandants of the camp were SS Hauptsturmführer Max Pauly (from 2 September 1939 until 31 August 1942), who went on to serve as the commandant of the KL Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg until 1945, and SS Sturmbannführer Paul Werner Hoppe (from September 1942 until May 1945), who had earlier been the officer of SS Totenkopfverbände in the staff of the KL Dachau concentration camp near Munich. The selection to the gas chambers was carried out by the camp physician SS Hauptsturmführer Otto Heidl. No indictments for war crimes and genocide in KL Stutthof were issued in the Nuremberg trials. Nonetheless, Polish and Soviet authorities tried 85 out of almost 2,000 members of the KL Stutthof staff in the period of 25 April – 31 May 1946 in Gdańsk. SS Oberscharführer Johann Paulus, along with ten prisoners with official functions and kapos, were sentenced to death. The sentences were executed in public on 4 July 1946 in Gdańsk. The remaining defendants were given prison sentences ranging from several months to life.
Commission examining war crimes at the crematory in the former German concentration camp in Stutthof photo: PAP/Mikołaj Sprudin 78
Poland Lamsdorf A gigantic complex of German camps. Stalag VIII B, VIII F and Stalag 314 Lamsdorf were located near Niemodlin (Opolskie Province). Their first prisoners were Polish POWs (ca. 40,000), most of whom had been taken into captivity in the Battle of the Bzura (9-19 September 1939). As Germans were gaining territory in Europe, the camp became the place of internment of POWs of other nationalities, mostly citizens of the USSR. Ca. 4,000 participants of the Warsaw Uprising were sent to the camp in 1944. Among the prisoners there was also a group of ca. 10,000 British POWs. Over the course of its existence, the camp held the total of 300,000 POWs of 18 nationalities, 100,000 of whom lost their lives. Lamsdorf was liberated by Soviet forces on 18 March 1945. There is a large POW cemetery near the premises of the former camp, as well as a monument commemorating the victims and the Muse-
um of Martyrology of Prisoners of War. Among the sites of German mass crimes there were not only concentration camps, but also POW camps. Other POW camps were located in, among others, Żagań, Zamość, Częstochowa, Hohenstein (Olsztynek), Neubrandenburg, Bad Sulza, Arnswalde (Choszczno), Altengrabow, Nuremberg, Prenzlau, Woldenberg, Rotenburg, Lübeck, Murnau. Out of almost 500,000 Polish POWs, over 200,000 were sent to work in the arms industry, which in September 1944 was supported by the labour of the total of 1.7 million POWs. POWs were also used as human shields in order to protect industrial sites from Allied air raids. All POW camps in occupied Europe were subordinate to the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW).
Monument commemorating murdered POWs 79
Poland KL Auschwitz-Birkenau The camp was located near the train station in the town of Oświęcim, ca. 60 km west of Kraków. It was actually an entire complex of camps, the site of the most heinous massacre in the history of humankind, the biggest cemetery with no graves in the world and a “death factory,” which took the lives of 1 to 1.5 million people of 25 nationalities, primarily Jews and Poles. The KL Auschwitz-Birkenau complex consisted of the following camps: – Auschwitz I, the first camp established on the site, primarily as a forced labour camp; it also served as the management centre of the entire complex. – Auschwitz II-Birkenau, first used as a concentration camp and then converted into an extermination camp with gas chambers and a crematorium; it was located ca. 3 km from Auschwitz I.
– Auschwitz III-Monowitz, built in the village of Monowice, located ca. 6 km east of Auschwitz I, a forced labour camp producing synthetic rubber and petrol in the Buna-Werke plant owned by the IG Farbenindustrie company. KL Auschwitz I was established in the spring of 1940 in Zasole, a suburb of Oświęcim, in accordance with Heinrich Himmler’s order of 27 April 1940. The camp was founded with the aim of exterminating Poles involved in the Polish resistance movement. It was also used to incarcerate Polish intellectuals, participants of the Silesian and Greater Poland Uprisings, social and cultural activists, as well as Polish people apprehended during round-ups and pacification campaigns. Among the people sent to KL Auschwitz there were also Poles from displacement camps and Polish prisoners from other concentration camps: Sachsenhausen, Gross-Rosen, Flossen-
Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp 80
bürg, Dachau. Poles from Silesia, Greater Poland, and the General Government started to arrive to KL Auschwitz on 14 June 1940. Construction works on the second part of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau complex commenced in March 1941 and encompassed, among others, building camps for women and Roma people. In 1942, an extermination centre, mostly for Jews and the Romani, was built in this part of the camp. A large group of Soviet POWs was brought to the camp in October 1941. They lived in a separate part of the camp, where hardly anyone was able to survive the harsh living conditions. Those who did not die were transferred to Auschwitz II-Birkenau and forced to work on the expansion of barracks. The newly erected KL Auschwitz II-Birkenau consisted of the following parts: women’s camp, family camp for Jews (Familienlager Theresienstadt), opened in September 1943, men’s camp for Roma people (for Romani families, Zigeunerlager). Another part of the camp was the so-called Canada, a barracks complex located by Crematorium IV used to store goods stolen from the victims and containing the so-called new sauna, where all transports were sent; Mexico, an area under expansion created in June 1944, crudely adapted and used as a transport receiving point; a complex of gas chambers and crematoria. In March 1943, Germans started to tattoo numbers on the left forearm of each prisoner, except for children and infants, who were tattooed on the left thigh, and Soviet POWs, whose numbers were tattooed on their chests. Selections of inmates to be killed in gas chambers were initiated in May 1942. Prisoners destined to be gassed were not tattooed or listed in the camp registry. Mass extermination in the camp was targeted primarily at Jews, as a part of the so-called final solution of the Jewish question (Endlösung der Judenfrage). People were gassed with Zyklon B. Their bodies were burned not only in crematoria, but also on piles and in big pits. Starting from June 1943, the bodies of the murdered people were burned in four large crematorium complexes built by two German companies, Hoch und Tiefbau AG and J.A. Topf und Söhne. Since the industry of the German Reich was in desperate need of workforce, Germans started to open Auschwitz subcamps, the biggest of which was established in Monowitz, where pro-
duction plants of IG Farbenindustrie, Krupp, and other companies exploited the slave work of 30,000 prisoners. After the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, several thousand children from the Warsaw districts of Wola, Ochota, and Śródmieście were transported to Auschwitz. Some of them were subjected to heinous pseudo-medical experiments, some underwent modifications of the colour of their irises, whiles other were fed AVO powder, a hormoneaffecting substance. Bloody pacifications were carried out in the Polish territory colonised by Germans. Children from such areas underwent a process of selection; some were sent to concentration camps, while others (200,000) were sent to inner German Reich and Germanised. Among the people brought to KL Auschwitz-Birkenau there were also pregnant women. Until May 1943, all newborn babies were immediately murdered. In May 1943, blond-haired and blue-eyed children were selected to be sent to Nakło and raised as Germans. Servant of God Stanisława Leszczyńska (1896-1974), a midwife sent to the camp for conspiratorial activity of her husband, made great sacrifices and risked her life for other prisoners of the camp. She was highly qualified and so was selected to replace German Klara (who had fallen sick) and with time was assigned the position of midwife in the hospital block. Stanisława Leszczyńska delivered ca. 3,000 children. She baptised each infant, which was a “crime” that put her life at risk. She also secretly marked the children selected for Germanisation with an almost undetectable tattoo so that it would be possible to find them after the war. Despite the terror and the perspective of imminent death in the everyday life in the camp, the prisoners established a secret organisation and a resistance movement, providing the Allied forces with information on German crimes. One of the Polish national heroes of the time was Captain Witold Pilecki, who volunteered to get imprisoned in Auschwitz in order to gather intelligence and pass it over to the Allies. Another hero was Polish Franciscan friar Saint Maksymilian Maria Kolbe (1894-1941). Having been apprehended by Germans in Niepokalanów, he was incarcerated in the Gestapo-run Pawiak prison and later transported to the camp. He volunteered to be murdered in order to save 81
Former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during winter. The bottom picture shows aÂ fragment of the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism. The foundation of the monument holds the urn with the martyrsâ€™ ashes 82
Railway ramp at the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp 83
Exhibition dedicated to the youngest prisoners
the life of Franciszek Gajowniczek, a fellow inmate he barely knew. Jewish Carmelite nun Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein (1891-1942), was killed in KL Auschwitz as well. In 1999, she was proclaimed the patron saint of Europe by Pope John Paul II. In the years 1944-1945 prisoners of Auschwitz were gradually evacuated to other camps, for example to Gross-Rosen. Germans initiated a hasty evacuation of the 60,000 inmates who were still alive on 18 January 1945. Thousands of them died during the “death march” due to hunger, severe frost, or were killed for not keeping pace. Soviet soldiers of the 1st Ukrainian Front entered the camp on 27 January 1945, where they saw ca. 7,000 prisoners, including 180 ill children. Before leaving the camp, SS officers attempted to cover up their crimes by destroying gas chambers, crematories, and burning the camp documentation.
The SS staff of KL Auschwitz-Birkenau consisted of over 6,000 people. The commandants of the camp were, in chronological order: – SS Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss, sentenced to death and executed in 1947. – SS Obersturmbannführer Artur Liebehenschel, sentenced to death and executed in 1947. – SS Sturmbannführer Richard Baer, died in a prison in West Germany in 1967. The International Monument to the Victims of KL Auschwitz-Birkenau was unveiled in 1967. In 1979, the camp was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Due to numerous instances of international media misleadingly and libellously writing about “Polish concentration camps,” the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in New Zealand approved the request of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage to change the official name of the camp to “Former German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.” 84
Poland KL Gross-Rosen had some of the most difficult living conditions among all concentration camp. KL Gross-Rosen was used to hold prisoners sent from other concentration camps, such as Majdanek, Płaszów, or Auschwitz-Birkenau, as well as (starting from 1942) people incarcerated in Nazi prisons, for example the Pawiak prison in Warsaw. In the hurried and chaotic evacuation of the camp in February 1945, initiated to escape the approaching Soviet forces, dozens of thousands of prisoners were sent to concentration camps located in inner Germany: KL Buchenwald, KL Bergen-Belsen, KL Dachau, KL Mauthausen, KL Flossenbürg, KL Mittelbau. Thousands of people died in the transports, which lasted several weeks. KL Gross-Rosen was liberated by Soviet soldiers on 13 February 1945. The commandants of the camp were Arthur Rödl, Wilhelm Gideon, Johanes Hassenbrock.
KL Gross-Rosen (Rogoźnica) was located near a quarry purchased by the “Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke” (DEST) company, ca. 70 km west of Wrocław. It was open for almost five years, from August 1940 until Feburary 1945, initially as a branch of KL Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg and later as an independent camp with as many as ca. 100 subcamps scattered around Germany, Poland, and Bohemia. Most of the subcamps were located near industrial plants, underground arms factories, e.g. in the area of the Owl Mountains, and on construction sites of fortifications and military objects and served as a supply of slave workforce. Over the course of its operation, the camp had the total of 125,000 prisoners of 22 nationalities, 40,000 of whom died in captivity. The inmates were mostly Poles, Jews, and Soviet POWs. High mortality among the people held in the camp resulted from malnutrition, epidemics of infectious diseases, and gruelling work in the nearby quarries and industrial plants. KL Gross-Rosen
Blind former prisoner of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. The caption reading “No more war” in the background 85
Gross-Rosen concentration camp. The remnants of granite quarried by prisoners, the mausoleum-monument built of these granite blocks in the background There were also other Nazi camps and prisons in Lower Silesia, for exaple in Jawor, Słońsk (Sonnenburg), Świdnica, Wrocław, Strzelce Opolskie, Brzeg, and Bielawa. One of the people held in the Słońsk (Sonnenburg) camp was Carl von Ossietzky, incarcerated before the outbreak of WWII (recipient of the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize). Among the camp’s prisoners there were also Jean-Baptiste Lebas – French Minister of Posts, Ernst Laurent – hero of the French resistance movement, later given the rank of general, Léon Faye – leader of the “Alliance” resistance group in France, Paul Hoornaert – leader of “Legion Nationale” in Belgium. On the night of 30/31 January 1945, during the liquidation of the camp, Germans shot 819 prisoners. The only people to survive the massacre were Belgian Leon Esseler and Yugoslavians Lecek and Saevica. Among the Polish citizens incarcerated and executed in Lower Silesian prisons and camps there were many activists working in Polish organisations, for example Koło Przyjaciół, scouts, or Union of Poles in Silesia.
Monument to the victims of prisons and camps of Lower Silesia in Wrocław 86
Poland SK Kulmhof The VL or SK Kulmhof extermination camp was located near Chełmno on Ner in the Rzuchowski Forest, about a dozen kilometres away from Konin and 60 km north-west of Łódź. In the autumn of 1939, the forest was the site of German mass execution of Polish hostages from the area of Koło, Dąbie, and Kłodawa. The Poles were the first victims killed on the site, where a death camp was established two years later. It was the first German Nazi extermination camp. It was managed, similarly to subsequent death camps, by the Sonderkommando (a special commando independent from the concentration camp inspectorate). The camp was open from December 1941 until April 1943 and from April 1944 until 18 January 1945. The estimated number of people killed in the camp ranges from 152,000 to 310,000 (depending on the source). The victims were mostly Jewish
people from ghettos in Koło, Dąbie, Izbica Kujawska, Łódź, and from Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria, who had temporarily been sent to the Łódź ghetto. Among the people exterminated in the camp there were also Poles, including young people from Włocławek, Polish children from the Zamość region, as well as Soviet POWs and Romani people. 82 children from the Czech village of Lidice were murdered in the camp in retaliation for the help the villagers had extended to the people behind the assassination of the Deputy Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, SS Gruppenführer and Chief of Police Reinhard Heydrich. The tragic history of the camp is commemorated by a monument bearing a quote from a letter found in Chełmno, written by one of the victims: “We were all taken, from old people to children, between the towns of Koło and Dąbie. We were taken to the forest and gassed, shot, and burned…
SK Kulmhof. Monument commemorating the extermination camp victims 87
We therefore plead for our future brothers to punish our murderers. We once again beg the witnesses of our torment, who live in this area, to make this murder known all around the world…”. Stanisław Kaszyński, serving as the municipality secretary at the time of the camp’s existence, attempted to inform the West of the genocide, which ultimately cost him and his wife their lives. People were exterminated in mobile gas chambers built in Dodge, Mercedes, and Saurer lorries. The victims were transported to the former palace in Chełmno, where they were brought into the gas vans. Each lorry drove to the Rzuchowski Forest, located 4 km from the palace. When the vans’ engines were running, the exhaust fumes were transmitted into the inner compartments filled with people. Bodies were buried in big pits by the Waldkommando, composed of the strongest male prisoners in the camp. They were later killed as well and replaced with people from subsequent transports. Clothes and properties of the victims were sorted by the Hauskommando, who were later murdered in gas chambers.
In the summer of 1940, most probably to prevent an epidemic, the graves were dug up and the corpses were burned in crematoria. Germans blew up the camp buildings and crematories on 7 April 1943, but re-opened the extermination camp, along with two crematories, after a year. They covered up the traces of genocide in July 1944. SS officers killed the remaining Jews with a shot to the back of the head. Soviet soldiers entered the camp in January 1945. The first commandant of the camp, serving until March 1942, was SS Hauptsturmführer Herbert Lange, who was then succeeded by Criminal Commissioner SS Hauptsturmführer Hans Johann Rothmann. They supervised the team of over 120 SS officers. A lapidarium of matzevot from various Jewish communities was built on the site of extermination in the Rzuchowski Forest along with a Memorial Wall with a symbolical gate bearing the inscription in Polish: “In memory of Jews murdered in Chełmno 1941-1945” and in Hebrew: “The gate that the just will pass through.”
Lapidary with matzevot of Jewish communities in Rzuchowski Forest 88
Poland KL Majdanek KL Majdanek was in operation from October 1941 until July 1944. It was situated in Majdan Tatarski, 4 km south-east of Lublin, by the road connecting the town with Zamość and Lviv. The first prisoners held there were Soviet POWs (5,000 people), who did construction work during the expansion of the camp and were murdered several months later. The camp held Polish patriots from the resistance movement, peasants who had not paid quotas to the occupant, Polish intellectuals as hostages. In 1942, among the camp’s inmates there were also people displaced during pacification campaigns, hailing primarily from the area of Zamość, and Jewish people from ghettos. A special women’s unit was established in Majdanek in 1942 and was used to hold female prisoners transported to the camp with children (it had as many as 11,000 inmates in 1943). Mothers and their children lived in the same area of the
camp, but were separated from each other with a high fence. Younger children were killed on the spot, while others, even those aged 8-12, were incorporated into labour units. In 1943, KL Majdanek had 10 subcamps in the Lublin district, for example in Budzyń, Trawniki, Poniatowa. Seven gas chambers were built in KL Majdanek in the years 1942-1943. They were used to kill prisoners with Zyklon B and carbon monoxide. Germans carried out executions first in the nearby Krępiecki Forest and later in execution ditches near the crematorium. Charred corpses were ground into bone meal as used as fertiliser in the fields of the nearby SS farm. Even though the camp was initially called Kriegsgefangenenlager der Waffen SS in Lublin (Prisoners of War Camp in Lublin), and was later renamed to Konzentrationslager der Waffen SS Lublin (Concentration Camp in Lublin). The facility also served as a labour camp, penal camp, transit camp, and extermination camp. On 3 November 1943, on the so-called Bloody Wednesday, 18,400 Jews were shoot in execution ditches as a part of the Erntefest (harvest festival) operation. After KL Aurschwitz-Birkenau and VL Treblinka, KL Majdanek and SK Belzec were German camps with the second biggest number of prisoners. Over the course of the camp’s operation, 300,000-500,000 people were incarcerated there, with the largest groups being Soviet POWs, Jews, and Poles (every third prisoner was Polish). At least 250,000 people from 28 countries and of over 50 nationalities were killed in Majdanek. The first (of the total of five) commandant of the camp was SS Standartenführer Karl Otto Koch (from 1941 until August 1942). The last person to perform this function was SS Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel (from May 1944 until July 1944). In July 1944, the prisoners of Majdanek were evacuated to other concentration camps. A thousand inmates were left in the camp. They were liberated by Soviet and Polish soldiers on 23 July 1944.
Remains of the victims of KL Majdanek camp photo: AKG/East News 89
Interior of a barrack at the KL Majdanek former concentration camp 90
Poland SK Treblinka Treblinka I, SK or VL Treblinka II – these camps were located among the forests of the valley of the Bug River, ca. 80 km away from Warsaw. KL Treblinka was established in the summer of 1941 as a penal labour camp for Poles, who were forced to work in a gravel mine. Most of the prisoners hailed from the Warsaw district. Over the course of its operation, the camp had 20,000 inmates. Ca. 10,000 Poles died in the camp due to inhuman work, malnutrition, cold, torture, and executions. SS Hauptsturmführer Thed van Eupen was the commandant of Treblinka I throughout its existence. After the conference in Wannsee near Berlin held on 20 January 1942, the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) initiated the practical implementation of the “final solution to the Jewish question.”
Treblinka Death Camp. In the foreground, a fragment of the monument symbolizing the burned corpses of gassed Jews 91
In the area of the General Government, this “question” was “solved” in death camps: in Treblinka, Bełżec, and Sobibór, located in the forests of the estuary of the Bug River, near the common border of three countries with biggest groups of Jewish population in Europe: Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus. The aim was to displace hundreds of thousands of Jews from ghettos and labour camps to extermination camps and murder them. The German plan had not only a political, but also an economic aspect: they attempted to exploit the slave workforce as much as possible before exterminating it, and then to plunder and take over the property of the murdered people. The 1939-1941 programme of involuntary euthanasia of mentally ill people in the Reich, carried out under the name T-4 (abbreviation of the address of the programme headquarters – Tiergartenstraße 4 in Berlin), became the prototype for the concept of camps and technology of mass murder. 80,000 people were killed as a part of the programme. Some of the sites where mentally ill patients were euthanised were Hartheim near Linz and Hadamar. The plan to mass murder Jews was given the name of Operation Reinhard after former chief of the police and security service, SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, who died in June 1942 in the successful assassination attempt of Czech patriots in Prague. As a part of the implementation of Operation Reinhard, Germans established the SS Sonderkommando Treblinka in July 1942. It was an extermination camp, referred to as Treblinka II, located 2 km away from Treblinka I. It was used to exterminate Jews from Poland, mostly from the Warsaw Ghetto, but also from the ghettos in Białystok, Częstochowa, Grodno, Łochów, Łuków, Kozienice, Radom, Sędziszów, Szydłowiec, Włoszczowa, as well as Jewish people from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Yugoslavia, Germany, and the Soviet Union. Victims were killed with exhaust fumes mixed with toxic liquids, at first in three and later in thirteen gas chambers. The
corpses of the gassed people were first burned on piles and then on large grates made of railroad rails. 700,000-800,000 people were killed in Treblinka. Among the victims there were 1,000-2,000 Roma and Sinti people (Polish and German Romani people), as well as at least 1,000 Poles sentenced to death, mostly for saving Jews. A rebellion broke out in the camp in the autumn of 1943. It was quenched by Germans, but resulted in the escape of ca. 200 prisoners, half of whom survived the war. Germans started to gradually liquidate the camp after the uprising, paying special attention to covering up any traces of genocide. The camp was fully liquidated on 17 November 1943. During the period of its existence, Treblinka II was divided into two parts. One of them, referred to as a ghetto, consisted of barracks for 700-800 prisoners selected from each transport. They carried out various tasks connected with the operation of the camp and the extermination of each transport of people. The other part, called the death camp (Totenlager), had ca. 300 inmates responsible for clearing up gas chambers and burning thousands of bodies. Once they completed these task, they were exterminated as well and replaced with people arriving in subsequent transports. Each shuttle transport contained 5,000-6,000 Jews, brought to the camp in 60 cattle wagons. There were 80-120 people in each wagon. Many people died during the transport due to lack of air, thirst or exhaustion.
After the process of selection, prisoners were assigned to the following labour commandos: – Tarnungskommando, responsible for masking the double fence made of barbed wire, which they intertwined with green tree branches; once the branches dried out, they were replaced with fresh ones. – Kommando Rot, the biggest group, the members of which wore armbands and were responsible for sorting property stolen from the victims. – Kommando Blau, whose members worked at the mock train station, where they opened up wagons, carried out luggage and corpses, and then disinfected and cleaned up each wagon. – Desinfektionskommando, whose members disinfected clothes and women’s cut off hair. – Holzfällerkommando, the lumberjack commando logging wood for the purposes of the camp. – Goldjudens, prisoners who sorted and estimated the price of valuables. – A group of craftsmen of various specialities, wearing yellow armbands. Most of its members were tailors, for two reasons. The clothes and German uniforms had to be replaced quite frequently as they were quickly imbued by the deathly odour of the gassed and burned victims. Tailors were also responsible for searching and picking out valuables hidden in clothes, for example pearls, diamonds, or money. These objects were gathered and later transported to the German Reich. Treblinka II also had a camp orchestra wearing special clothes and a separate camp anthem. While waiting for transports to arrive, prisoners practised
Treblinka I. Kurgan and crosses at the spot of death of 10,000 Poles 92
SK Treblinka. In the front fragment of a monument symbolizing burnt bodies of gassed Jews The extermination zone (Totenlager) contained buildings with gas chambers. The process of gassing the crowded people lasted 20 minutes. The bodies, smeared in blood and excrements, were dragged out of the chambers by selected prisoners. Before burning the corpses, golden teeth were extracted and the bodies were searched for pearls and other valuables hidden in body orifices. When bodies of pregnant women were set on fire, their bellies exploded and unveiled the corpses of their unborn children. Petrol was poured over the burning bodies. Ashes were mixed with sand and buried in deep ditches. The entire cycle of the extermination of each transport containing 5,000-6,000 people, from unloading the wagons on the rail platform to taking the bodies out of the gas chambers, lasted 2-3 hours. After “working hours” prisoners were kept in barracks in the Totenlager part of the camp, surrounded with an additional fence. There were 30-40 Germans and Austrians on the staff of Treblinka II. The function of the commandant was performed first by Irmfried Eberl and later by Franz Stangl. They supervised a company of 100-120 guards, mostly Ukrainians. They were recruited from among Soviet POWs trained in the Trawniki camp near Lublin. The camp’s divisions were headed by:
wrestling and boxing, arranged cabaret performances, improvised traditional Jewish weddings and funerals. Inmates were even encouraged to write letters, which were never sent, but burned. Transports of prisoners first arrived to the transit camp (Auffanglager), which served as the receiving area. It consisted of a platform and an undressing room for women and children, where they had their hair cut off. It was necessary to give up all valuables in the so-called cashier’s booth beforehand. The undressing room for men was located in a separate spot. The rooms were connected with gas chambers by a meandering road, with barbed wire on either side, which Germans called der Schlauch. Prisoners referred to the road as Himmelfahrtstraße (“road to ascension” or “road to heaven”). There was an “infirmary” near the extermination zone of the camp; it was used to shoot sick people and the elderly, so that they would not be “cumbersome” and slow down the process of killing. There was a ditch right next to the infirmary, which served as a mass grave of people who had died in the transport and those shot on the spot. The staff of the infirmary, including SS Unterscharführer August Miete, called “the angel of death,” wore white coats with Red Cross armbands. 93
– chief of Totenlager responsible for the entire process of exterminaton, SS Scharführer Arthur Matthes; – gas chambers: SS Unterscharführer Gustav Münzberger and SS Unterscharführer Alfred Löfler; – cremation of bodies: Herbert Floß; – labour commandos: Albert Rum and Otto Horn; – administration, quartermaster: Otto Studie, who was also responsible for the plundered money, clothing, and valuables; – crafts workshops: SS Unterscharführer Karl Schifner; – chief of the camp guard, composed mostly of Ukrainians: SS Unterscharführer Willi Post; – supervisor of the receiving area, train station square, infirmary, undressing rooms: SS Scharführer August Miete. They all lived in the part of the camp containing administrative buildings and dwelling quarters. After the prisoner rebellion, the commandant of Treblinka II was deployed to Italy in order to fight against partisans. He hid in Brazil after the war and was apprehended there in 1967. The number of people murdered in VL Treblinka II, amounting to 700,000-800,000, is estimated on the basis of, among others, the documenta-
tion of the German rail, which were stolen by Polish railwayman Franciszek Ząbecki. A monumental memorial complex was built on the site of the former Treblinka II camp in the 1950s. Depicting a giant symbolic Jewish cemetery, it consist of a concrete surface sprinkled with stones representing matzevot, with each stone engraved with names of home localities of the victims. Only one stone commemorates an individual person – it is devoted to Janusz Korczak (Henryk Goldszmit) and children from his orphanage, killed in August 1942. The road to the symbolic cemetery consists of concrete rails, reaching the former train platform, which is connected with the central monument by a cobbled road. The monument is a symbolic tomb made of granite slabs, reminiscent of the Western Wall in Jerusalem cracked in half, and covered with a cap depicting fragments of human bodies carved in stone. In front of the monument there is a plaque bearing the inscription “Never again” in Polish, Hebrew, Yiddish, German, Russian, English, and French. The monument is located on the former site of the gas chambers. Behind it there is a ditch filled with molten black basalt, serving as a representation of the hundreds of thousands burned bodies.
Symbolic railway tracks leading to the monument-mausoleum 94
Poland SK Belzec SK Bełżec was another extermination camp created as a part of Operation Reinhard. It was located near the Bełżec train station, on the route connecting Lublin with Lviv, ca. 10 km away from Tomaszów Lubelski. The camp was established in this particular area due to its proximity to the districts of Lublin, Kraków, and Galicia. The victims were brought in freight trains, which were directed to an industrial spur with platforms located inside the camp. People arriving to the camp had to give away their luggage and were then sent to undressing rooms. Being told they would be bathed and disinfected, they went to the “bathhouses,” which in fact were gas chambers. Before entering gas chambers, women had their hair cut off. Ca. 2,000 people were killed in six chambers at one time. The victims died of
odourless carbon monoxide poisoning within 20 minutes. Their bodies were buried by prisoners (Jewish workers who were later killed and replaced with subsequent groups of inmates). The corpses were laid in deep ditches, layer by layer. In order to cover up the traces of genocide, bodies were burned in the period of January-April 1943. During the camp’s liquidation (April-June 1943) members of Sonderkommando Bełżec were deported to the Sobibór camp. The camp staff was composed of 20-30 German SS officers and 90-120 guards – Ukrainians and Russians trained in the SS training camp in Trawniki. The camp was managed by a special SS commando, without any supervision from concentration camp inspectors. The extermination camp in
Museum-memorial site 95
formed the function in August 1942 – June 1943 and later went on to become the commandant of the Poniatowa labour camp, died in 1945 in a German hospital. In the 1946 trial of eight former SS officers of the death camp in Bełżec, only one – Joseph Oberhauser – was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison. The open Museum – Memorial Site in Bełżec was founded on the site of the former extermination camp in June 2004.
Bełżec was open from March 1942 to July 1943, with two month-long breaks in the spring and summer of 1943. The number of people killed in the camp peaked in the period between mid-July and mid-December 1942. Up to 600,000 people were killed in the Bełżec camp, including 550,000 Jews, mainly from the south-eastern parts of Poland – the areas of Lublin, Lviv, Kraków, Tarnów, Przemyśl, Zamość, Rzeszów, Nowy Sącz, Stanisławów, and Kołomyja – as well as from the USSR, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, and Hungary. Among the victims there were also Poles and Sinti and Romani people, as well as 500 Polish people who had extended help to Jews and tried to save them. Christian Wirth was the first commandant of the camp and the architect of the genocide in Bełżec in the period of November 1941 – August 1942. He was later transferred to Croatia, where he was shot by Yugoslavian partisans in 1944. Another of the camp’s commandants, Odilo Globockink, killed himself by biting into a cyanide pill in May 1945, while Gottlich Hering, who per-
Surroundings of the former camp
Museum-memorial site 96
Poland SK Sobibor This extermination camp, managed by a special SS commando without the supervision of any concentration camp inspectorates, was located by the Bug River, in the forest near the village of Sobibór, by the Chełm – Włodawa rail route, ca. 75 km north-east of Lublin. It was established as a part of Operation Reinhard and operated from the spring of 1942 until the autumn of 1943. Nazi Germany set out a plan to annihilate entire nations, starting with Jews, Roma people, and later moving on to Poles and other Slavic nations. In the spring 1942, the plan of the mass execution of Jews (Endlösung der Judenfrage) was put into action. Odilo Globockink, SS and police chief, was the head of Operation Reinhard in the Lublin district. Among his closest co-workers were SS Hauptsturmführer Herman Höfle, responsible for the organisation of extermination camps, their personnel and staff, as well as the deportation and distribution of the murdered people’s property; first commandant of the Bełżec camp, SS Obersturmführer Christian Wirth (mentioned in the previous chapter), earlier employed as the director of the Hartheim Centre near Linz, a killing centre for the mentally ill; SS Sturmbannführer Karl Streibel, in charge of training death camp staff and the commandant of the training facility in Trawniki near Lublin camp, which was used to train Ukrainian guards serving in extermination camps; they were most often recruited among apprehended Red Army soldiers). First transports of prisoners arrived to SK Sobibor towards the end of April 1943. After the selection, some of the inmates were assigned to work in various labour commandos on the camp’s premises, while the vast majority of newly arrived people were sent to the extermination camp. The Sobibór camp was composed of: – garrison area (Vorlager), which was the location of the dwelling quarters of the German command and the Ukrainian guards, as well as clothing storages, laundry rooms, and garages;
– Lager I, with barracks for Jewish prisoners working in crafts workshops; – Lager II, where transports were received; prisoners were ordered to undress and their luggage and clothes were sorted and stored in barracks; – Lager III, the site of extermination, completely isolated from the rest of the camp; it was the location of gas chambers with the total killing capacity of 1,200 people; this part of the camp also contained grates made of rails for burning bodies and mass graves; – Lager IV-Nord, or the “North Camp,” whose construction commenced in October 1943; it was never completed due to a prisoner rebellion. The road connecting Lager II and Lager III, where the gas chambers were located, was referred to as Himmelfahrtstraße (“road to ascension” or “road to heaven”). On both sides, the road was fenced with barbed wire intertwined with pine and fir branches. The transports arriving to Sobibór consisted of 30-50 cattle wagons. The wagons had a layer of quick lime on the floor and were sealed shut; they transported up to 150 people each. After the arrival to the train station, the wagons were then taken, three or four at one time, to the industrial spur located inside the camp. Many people died in transit, often lasting up to several days, due to heinous conditions – almost complete lack of fresh air and no food or water. Jews from Western Europe were brought to Sobibór in trains of a vastly different standard – in passenger wagons, sometimes even first class. The luggage of the “passengers” was transported in freight wagons. They were welcomed with music at the Sobibór train station. SS officers, wearing Red Cross armbands, carried out selections in order to separate sick and old people from the rest. They claimed to be taking them to the infirmary. These people, however, were actually shot on the premises of Lager III. During the welcome speech, newly arrived people were informed that they had reached a tran97
Monument in honour of the murdered victims 98
sit camp, where they would go through a quarantine before being sent to their future workplaces in Ukraine. Jews, oblivious to their tragic fate, could even write letters at the desks lined up on the square, each equipped with sheets of paper and writing utensils. It was even possible to write the return address on the envelope. Having given them an illusion of normality, the camp staff then informed the prisoners that they needed to be bathed and that they could safely deposit their money and jewellery, and even ask for a receipt. It was advised to tie two shoes together so that the pairs would not get mixed up. This way the Western European Jews, feeling fully reassured, were led to gas chambers. On the way to the chambers, women entered a transit barracks, where they had their hair cut off. The victims were gassed for ca. 15-20 minutes with exhaust fumes from eight-cylinder Diesel engines. Before burying or burning the bodies, Jewish workers extracted gold teeth and bridges. A rebellion of prisoners led by Soviet POW and Red Army officer Aleksandr “Sasha” Pechersky from Rostov and Leon Feldhendler broke out in the camp on 14 October 1943 and resulted in the escape of 300 people. Nonetheless, numerous prisoners were killed in mine fields and by
the hands of Ukrainian guards. The process of the camp’s liquidation was initiated immediately after the rebellion. Buildings and camp objects were dismantled and a forest was planted on the ploughed land. Over the course of its existence, the camp consumed the lives of 250,000 people, mainly Jews from Poland (General Government), the Netherlands, Austria, France, Germany, Bohemia, Slovakia, and the USSR. Among the victims of Sobibór there were also ca. 1,000 Poles, sent to the camp primarily for helping Jews. The commandants of the camp were Richard Thomalla and Franz Stangl, who was apprehended in Brazil and deported to Europe; he died in 1970 in an Austrian prison. After the war, the ashes of the victims of German genocide in Sobibór were collected and formed into a symbolic pyramid-mausoleum. The prisoners killed in the camp were also commemorated with a monument and the Memory Alley running along the “death road” leading the prisoners to their demise in gas chambers. Barbed wire surrounding the sides of the road was replaced with stones bearing plaques with names of victims and with planted trees.
Sobibór, a memorial stone commemorating some of the hundreds of thousands victims who perished at the camp 99
Mound made of the ashes of the victims of Sobibรณr death camp mixed with soil 100
Poland KL Krakau-Plaszow The camp was established in December 1942 in the Podgórze district of Kraków, between the streets Wielicka and Stworzowska, next to a quarry. At first it served as a forced labour camp, but was converted into a subcamp of KL Majdanek in 1943 and then into an independent concentration camp in the spring of 1944. Over the course of its existence, it had the total of ca. 150,000 prisoners, 50,000-80,000 out of whom were killed. The biggest death toll could be observed along Jews, Poles, citizens of the Soviet Union (mostly POWs, held in the camp’s branch at Wielicka Street). Among the victims there were also Roma people, Italians, Hungarians, and Romanians. The construction of gas chambers and crematorium was initiated towards the end of 1943, but
was never completed. In the autumn of 1944, Germans started to gradually liquidate the camp, sending its prisoners to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Stutthof, Mauthausen, Gross-Rosen and Flossenbürg. The industrial part of the camp contained various crafts workshops specialising in steel fixing, electric works, carpentry, car repairs, shoemaking, as well as the Madritsch plant producing military uniforms. There was also a printing house in the area, serving primarily to print confidential German documents and orders. There were instances of the printers being shot right after they had finished working. The camp had several subcamps situated by various German enterprises. One of them was Oskar Schindler’s enamelware factory employing Jewish prisoners.
Cross at the site of martyrdom of Poles 102
Monument to the victims of the camp where 50,000-80,000 people perished There was a sector for Poles in the Płaszów camp. Polish prisoners were held and exploited in the penal camp by the quarry once owned by the Liban & Ehrenpreis company. Poles transported to the camp from the Montelupi and Św. Michała Gestapo prisons were killed in mass executions. Thousand of people accused of preparing an uprising in Kraków were brought to the camp in 1944. The number of transports of Polish Jews to the Płaszów camp peaked in the period of ghetto liquidations, while the highest numbers of Poles were sent to the camp after the defeat of the Warsaw Uprising. Most probably 8,000-12,000 bodies were buried in mass graves in Płaszów. Germans carried out mass executions on both Polish political prisoners and random people caught in round-ups on the streets of Kraków. One of the transports of people shot in the camp brought an entire wedding procession, with the newly-weds, guests, an orchestra, and a priest wearing a cassock. Sometimes, Germans would tape the mouths of
Polish citizens so that they would not sing the Polish anthem “Poland has not died yet...” during the execution. The camp was fully liquidated in mid-January 1945, before the Soviet forces entered Kraków. The commandant of the camp was Hauptsturmführer Amon Goeth, apprehended by Americans and handed over to Polish authorities to be tried for genocide; he was hanged in Kraków in September 1946. During the occupation, Kraków was the seat of the Nazi administration of the General Government; the Wawel Castle served as the headquarters of Governor Hans Frank. Executions were carried out, among others, in Podłęże, the Krzesławice Fort, Dąbie. Nonetheless, a military unit of the Home Army plotted to assassinate SS leader W. Koppe; their attempt resulted in Koppe being injured and in several Germans, including his adjutant, dying.
Poland Zamość A transit camp with one of the most tragic stories was the Rotunda in Zamość, Lublin region. It was used to hold Poles apprehended in bloody pacification campaigns and displacements carried out in the area of Zamość. The process of displacement was supervised by the leader of the SS and police in the Lublin district – Odilo Globocnik. The operation was completed in two stages, November 1942 to March 1943 and 23 June to 15 July 1943, and given the codename of Wehrwolf (“Werewolf ”). Germans displaced the total of 110,000 Poles from 297 localities in the Zamość region. In the process of the implementation of Wehrwolf, the occupant burned down selected villages along with their inhabitants, shot civilians, split families apart. The displaced population was sent to the transit camp and then transported to concentration camps or to forced labour sites in the Reich. After selection, children from the Zamość region
were also either sent to Germany – in order to be Germanised – or to concentration camps. Many of them died in transit, while travelling on trains. The bloody expeditions and German settlers were combated by the units of the Peasants’ Battalions, the Home Army and the People’s Guard. Ca. 8,000 people were shot in the Zamość Rotunda. The transit camp in Zamość had a branch in Zwierzyniec. Apart from the people killed in the camp, thousands of prisoners died of starvation, cold, and terror. There was also a camp for Soviet POWs in Zamość. It was called Stalag 325 and had three subcamps, where ca. 28,000 people died. Zamość was liberated by Soviet forces on 25 August 1944. The Zamość Rotunda currently houses a memorial site, duly commemorating the tragic fate of Poles and Soviet POWs.
Rotunda in Zamość. The plaques commemorating victims from the former Eastern Borderlands, among others from towns like Kowel, Krzemieniec and Włodzimierz 104
Eastern Borderlands of the Second Republic of Poland Following the Nazi aggression and the Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Polish population started to be exterminated not only by the hands of Germans, but also Soviets (NKVD) and Ukrainians (UPA – Ukrainian Insurgent Army). Polish people living in the area of former provinces – Lwowskie, Stanisławowskie, Tarnopolskie, Wołyńskie, Poleskie, Nowogródzkie, Wileńskie and Białostockie – lands currently belonging to Belarus, Ukraine, and Lithuania – were persecuted by the German invader, then by the Soviets, and later once again by, subsequently, Germans and the USSR. Polish Jews were the target of cruel persecutions by the hands of both Germans and Ukrainian nationalists. During the German invasion, Poles defended Lviv from 12 to 22 September 1939. In accordance with the confidential German-Soviet agreement (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), the Red Army entered the eastern parts of Poland. Polish command of the defence of Lviv decided that it was futile to fight both the Wehrmacht and the Red Army and entered negotiations regarding Soviet control over Lviv. The USSR did not comply with the agreement, which led to the defenders of Lviv being arrested by the NKVD and later, after the process of selection, murdered in the spring
of 1940 in the Katyn massacre. Another tragic event in the history of Lviv took place in the summer of 1941, after Germany had attacked the USSR. On 22 June 1941, the NKVD was leaving Lviv in a rush and liquidated three local prisons holding Polish patriots: the Brygidki prison, the jail in Zamarstynów district, and the prison at Łąckiego Street, murdering thousand of Poles in the process. The building of the Brygidki prison was set on fire and the prisoners still left in the building were burned alive in their prison cells. The Soviets shot the remaining Polish citizens and buried their bodies in the prison yard. In order to coordinate the German-Soviet cooperation in the extermination of Poles and the “solution to the Polish question,” a meeting of the Gestapo and the NKVD was organised at the end of 1939 in Zakopane. In its aftermath, Poles started to be deported deep into the USSR in February 1940 and a series of crimes, nowadays referred to as the Katyn massacre, was carried out and took the lives of over 22,000 people. The process of the extermination of Poles in the Eastern Borderlands, in the following provinces: Lwowskie, Wołyńskie, Tarnopolskie and Stanisławowskie, was continued by UPA, which openly supported Hitler and was joined by over a dozen thousand Ukrainian policemen. The
Fragments of buildings of the former concentration camp in Kołdyczewo 105
well-organised and trained UPA sotnyas (companies), with the support of the OUN network (Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists), carried out numerous extermination operations directed against the Polish population, which resulted in the death of over 100,000 Poles. The scope of the murder peaked in mid-1943. When fleeing from UPA units, Polish civilians would at times go to German garrisons, from where they would be sent to perform forced labour in Germany. A strong centre of Polish self-defence was established in Przebraże, Volhynia region (25 km away from Luck). The town fended off several attacks of the murderous UPA, carried out from August 1943 to January 1944. On 28 January 1944, ca. 1,000 Polish people were murdered in Huta Pieniacka near Lviv by an SS police battalion, consisting mostly of Ukrainians commanded by Germans. The massacre came to be one of the biggest acts of genocide against civilian population during WWII. In the years 1942-1944, Germans established the KL Kołdyczewo concentration camp in the Eastern Borderlands, near Słonim, a district town of the Second Republic of Poland. Ca. 22,000 people of various nationalities were killed in the camp (mainly Poles, Jews, Belarusians, and Russian). The sites of mass extermination and graves can be found in the wetlands, bogs, and thicket of the nearby forests.
Nowogródek. The site of execution and the first grave of 11 Polish Sisters of Nazareth murdered by Germans (their ashes were moved to the parsonage of Nowogródek)
Słonim. A mound with places which commemorate German mass crimes against the town residents 106
Norway Falstad, Narvik Norway was attacked by Germany on 9 April 1940. After two months of fighting, the country came under the German occupation, opposed by the Norwegian resistance movement, which organised sabotages and strikes. In 1944, the Milorg organisation destroyed equipment for the production of heavy water in the Norsk Hydro plant in Rjukan. Germans established a number of Nazi camps in occupied Norway. Apart from Falstad, there were also camps in Grini, Bredtreit, and Berg in southern Norway. A labour camp was located in the north of the country, near Narvik. The town’s port, which did not freeze over the winter, was used to send Swedish iron ore, transported by trains from Kiruna mines, to Germany. In the area of Narvik there is a number of military cemeteries, with the graves of British, French, Polish, and Norwegian soldiers who defended Norway in the spring of 1940. There are also memorial sites for the citizens of former Yugoslavia and Russia.
Narvik. Memorial commemorating 500 prisoners from the former Yugoslavia who perished there
Narvik. The Allied soldiers cemetery, the burial place of British, French and Polish soldiers 107
Denmark Horsero /d Germany conquered Denmark in a single day, on 9 April 1940. A resistance movement was born in the country to oppose the occupation of Jutland and the Danish islands. After the declaration of a state of emergency, general strike was announced. Danish people were sent to German concentration camps in Europe. One tenth of the total of 6,000 Danes incarcerated in those camps died. The German occupant dissolved the Danish police, which was found to be cooperating with the resistance movement. 2,000 policemen were imprisoned in KL Buchenwald. The first camp established in Denmark was Horserød (opened in 19 April 1940). It was not supervised by the SS, but was nonetheless used a concentration camp. It was located in North Zealand, ca. 7 km from Helsingør. Another camp was established in Denmark in 1944. It was the Frøslev camp. Some of its prisoners were people sent there from Horserød. When the Horserød camp was emptied in 1944, Germans used its buildings to open a hospital for sick and injured German soldiers. After the end of the war, in the period of 19451956, Horserød was used to imprison Danish traitors – collaborators of the German Reich during its occupation of Denmark.
Horserød. The former camp grounds – the memorial site to the victims
The location where Danes were executed by a firing squad near the Mindelunden military cemetery 108
Luxembourg The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was invaded by the Wehrmacht forces on 10 May 1940 and incorporated into the German Reich. In 1941, over 90% of the citizens of Luxembourg voted against annexing the country to the German Reich in a referendum mandated by Germans. As a result, Germans intensified repressions against the Luxembourgian population. Due to the terror, intensive Germanisation, and compulsory service in the Wehrmacht, the people of Luxembourg announced a general strike and developed a resistance movement, led by the “De Freie Letzeburgis” underground organisation.
Germans retaliated for these actions by sending several thousand Luxembourgians to concentration camps and enrolling 13,000 young men into the Wehrmacht. There were no German concentration camps established in the territory of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The biggest group of Luxembourgians was transported to the nearby KL Hinzert camp, located in the territory of Germany. The apprehended people were also sent to German camps in Poland, mostly to Żabikowo near Poznań, Silesia, KL Stutthof, and KL Ravensbrück.
Sculptures in front of the “Gëlle Fra” monument – the symbol of freedom and resistance of the residents of Luxembourg. On 20 October 1940 the monument was destroyed by the German Nazis. The restored monument forms an obelisk topped with a gold female figure raising a wreath of glory 109
“Madonnes des Deportes”, statue at the Notre-Dame Cathedral commemorating the deportation of the residents of Luxembourg
Belgium Fort Breendonk The Wehrmacht forces attacked Belgium on 10 May 1940 and took control over Brussels eight days later. A strong resistance movement developed in the country to combat the German occupation, as a result of which ca. 10,000 Belgians died or went missing. In addition, German Nazis deported ca. 80,000 people from Belgium to German concentration camps, out of which every thirteenth person died or was murdered. In the years 1940-1944, a concentration camp existed in Fort Breendonk, located in the Belgian town of Willebroek, near the road connecting Brussels with Antwerp. First prisoners were sent to Breendonk on 20 September 1940. The camp was used to incarcerate members of the resistance movement, who were interrogated with the use of torture and then shot. Ca. 4,000 were imprisoned in the camp, half of whom survived the detention. Fort Breendonk also served as a transit camp, mainly for Jews transported to other German concentration camps in Europe.
Fort Breendonk 110
The Netherlands KL Herzogenbusch KL Herzogenbusch, also known as Kamp Vught, was built in a forest area, ca. 25 km northwest of Eindhoven, in the suburbs of the town of Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. Another camp established in the Dutch territory was the Westerbork transit camp, out of which Dutch citizens were sent out to other camps. The Netherlands were invaded by Germany on 10 May 1940. After several days of fighting, the Dutch Army surrendered. Nonetheless, the resistance movement in the country persevered. It was supervised from Great Britain, where Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch government had been evacuated. In February 1941, the movement initiated a series of mass protests, manifestations, strikes, and later on, also sabotage and diversion operations. KL Herzogenbusch and its 11 subcamps were used mainly to hold Dutch patriots, as well as
Jews, Roma and Sinti people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and criminals. A labour commando was established by the camp – it designed and manufactured Philips products. There was also a crematorium in the camp. Grünenwald, the commandant of the camp, ordered to shut 74 women in the tiny prison cell no. 115 in Barracks 23 B. The women suffocated to death. Over the course of its operation from January 1943 until September 1944, the camp had ca. 31,000 prisoners, 750 out of whom died; 12,000 Dutch Jews were later sent to other camps. Two transports of the total of 1,269 Jewish children were sent out of KL Herzogenbusch, via Westerbork, to the extermination camp in Sobibór in occupied Poland.
Two-level bunks in one of the camp barracks 111
The camp crematorium
Herzogenbusch â€“ past and present 112
France KL Natzweiler-Struthof The camp was established in the winter of 1940/1941 among the hills of Alsace, in an area located 800 m above sea level, in the northern part of Vosges Mountains, 60 km south of Strasbourg. In the years 1941-1944, the camp and its more than 50 subcamps had the total of 52,000 prisoners from all around Europe, mainly Frenchmen. The inmates were forced to work in the nearby granite quarries. Among the people held in the camp were members of the resistance movement in occupied Europe and people apprehended during the Nacht und Nebel (“Night and Fog”) operation. Wilhelm Keitel, the chief of the Supreme Command of Wehrmacht, ordered the “swift extermination of the opponent of the regime without leaving any traces,” which meant that members of the Western European resistance movement were to be repressed, while the Polish and (mostly) Eastern European partisans were to be shot immediately. The bodies of people killed in KL NatzweilerStruthof were burned in crematoria. The families
Fragment of a monument commemorating the victims of Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp
of the victims had the possibility of buying the ashes of their relatives for 60-100 marks. Over 10,000 people died or were murdered in the camp. In the aftermath of the German invasion of France, the northern and central part of the country, reaching the Loire and encompassing the Atlantic coast, came under the occupation of the German Reich. Following the German-French armistice signed in Compiègne on 22 June 1940, General Petain could govern the part of France not occupied by Germany. In July 1942, the German Reich (in agreement with the Vichy Government) introduced compulsory labour in the country and organised mass deportations of Frenchmen to work in Germany. In November 1942, German and Italian forces took control over the entire territory of France. The occupants were actively fended off by the French resistance movement, who had numerous Polish members (ca. 36,000 people). The French fought in a number of big partisan battles, for example in the Glières Plateau and the Vercors Massif. The partisan forces suffered great losses in these operations. Germans did not shy away from genocide to crush the partisan resistance and carried out pacification campaign among the civilian population, for example in the La Luire cave and in the towns of Vassieux-en-Vercors, La Chapelle-en-Vercors, Saint-Nizier, and Villard-de-Lans. Mass grave of the students of the Cyprian Norwid Polish High School is located in the latter locality. On 10 June 1944, the units of the 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich” (under the command of K. Lammerding) set fire to the locality of Oradoursur-Glane in south-central France and murdered its 642 inhabitants. A part of the victims (five teachers and 242 students) was locked down in the local church and burned alive. French national memorial sites are located, among others, in Paris, Drancy, Compiègne, Forges-les-Eaux, Bondues, Lyon, Izieu, Grenoble, Nizza, Les Milles. France lost over 600,000 of its citizens over the course of WWII.
Former KL Natzweiler-Struthof German Nazi concentration camp 114
Estonia KL Klooga KL Vaivara In the years 1941-1944, Germans established 20 concentration camps in occupied Estonia. Among their prisoners were people from Estonia, Russia, and Jews transported from various European countries. One of the biggest German camps in Estonia was KL Klooga, located by aÂ forest lake, near the rail line in the town of Klooga, ca. 20 km from Tallinn. KL Vaivara was situated by the rail line near the current Estonian-Russian border. It was used to hold prisoners of various nationalities. On 6 August 1940, Estonia was incorporated into the USSR. In the summer of 1941, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, it came under the German occupation. The territory of Estonia proved to be decisive during the Siege of Leningrad, which lasted 900 days and consumed the lives of several hundred thousand of the townâ€™s residents. Estonia was the site of operation of strong partisan groups and Soviet military units from the area of Leningrad.
Klooga. Monument commemorating the murder of approximately 2,000 Jews on 19 September 1944
Vaivara. Monuments commemorating the former concentration camp 115
Lithuania Paneriai, KL Kauen Germans murdered ca. 100,000 Polish citizens – Jews and Poles living in Vilnius and its surroundings – in Paneriai (Ponary) near Vilnius, in cooperation with Lithuanian Nazis. The town was also the site of mass executions of Soviet POWs. Jews were initially deceived and told they were being transported to labour camps. They took all their valuables and clothes, which were taken from them right before the murder. Poles were brought to the site of extermination from the Gestapo Łukiszki prison in Vilnius after about half a year of interrogations and tortures for actual or alleged conspirational activity in the Home Army. Poles and Jews alike were stripped naked and then killed and buried in mass graves. For this purpose, Germans used enormous pits dug out by the Red Army before the German invasion of the USSR and used to store liquid fuels. In order to cover up the traces of genocide, in October 1943 Germans ordered Soviet POWs to dig out the corpses and burn them. The ashes were mixed with a soil hardener and spilt around the area. The KL Kauen camp was established in Kaunas (Kovno). There was also a ghetto in the town. KL Kauen was located in Fort VII and XI and was
open from 15 September 1943 until 1 August 1944. It took the lives of ca. 50,000 people: Jews from the Kaunas Ghetto, Soviet POWs, Poles, Lithuanians, and Roma people. Upon entering Vilnius, the German forces, working in cooperation with Lithuanian collaborators (šauliai), apprehended hundreds of Poles, mostly the local intelligentsia. Mass extermination also encompassed Jews from Vilnius and its surroundings, as well as the entire territory of Lithuania. Several hundred thousand civilians and POWs were murdered by Germans on the Lithuanian soil. Several dozen thousand people were deported to Lithuania and sent to work in the Reich. Under the German occupation, Lithuania was incorporated into the region of Ostland. At the same time, Polish military structures of the Home Army developed in Vilnius and its surroundings. In 7-13 July 1944, Home Army units of ca. 10,000 soldiers from the Vilnius and Nowogródek (Navahrudak) districts carried out Operation “Ostra Brama” (“Gate of Dawn”) as a part of Operation Tempest. Poles supported the Red Army in its attack on Vilnius. Despite suffering great losses, the Home Army soldiers raised the Polish flag on the tower of the Castle Hill.
One of the mass graves in the Ponary Forest 116
Latvia KL Salaspils KL Riga-Kaiserwald KL Salaspils was located in a forest, by the rail line near the town of Salaspis situated ca. 20 km from Riga – the capital of Latvia. It was open for exactly three years, from October 1941 until October 1944. Its prisoners were people transported from occupied Latvia, the USSR, and other European countries. The victims were held in 39 makeshift barracks, some of which were used to incarcerate children. Transports of people from KL Salaspils were sent to concentration camps in the territory of the German Reich. Prisoners lived in very harsh conditions and were forced to do backbreaking work on the construction sites of roads, airports, and military objects. Numerous branches of labour camps were located in the suburbs of Riga and in its surroundings. One of those was KL Riga-Kaiserwald, where over 18,000 people were held in the years 1943-1944, mostly Jews from Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.
Riga. Monument commemorating the former Riga Kaiserwald concentration camp
Fragment of a sculpture complex at the grounds of the former Salaspils concentration camp 117
Belarus SK Maly Trostenez Belarus was one of the nations that suffered most during the Nazi occupation and the German genocide. There are numerous memorial site in the country, commemorating mass executions, ghettos, hundreds of burned villages (on the pretext of help extended to partisans by their residents) and concentration camps. Under the German occupation, ca. 2 million people died in Belarus: Belarusians, Jews, Poles, and Soviet POWs. Hundreds of thousands of people were sent out to perform forced labour in the German Reich. The SK Maly Trostenez concentration camp was located in the suburbs of Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Over 200,000 people of various nationalities were killed in the camp. Wielki Trostenez, located near SK Maly Trostenez, was the site of the murder of 201,500 civilians, partisans, and soldiers. Belarus had aÂ well-developed partisan movement during WWII. ChatyĹ„. Several monuments commemorating the martyrdom of the population of Belarus. On 22 March 1944 the SS Dirlewanger Battalion murdered all inhabitants of the village of ChatyĹ„
Minsk. Memorial site at the former Maly Trostenez concentration camp 118
Ukraine Lemberg (KL Janowska) KL Janowska was established in the summer of 1941, in the Jewish quarter of Lviv and in Janowska Street, which later on became the location of the Deutsche Ausrüstungs GmbH arms factory. The camp was later expanded and a subcamp for women was added. The prisoners of the camp were mainly Jews from Ukraine and other parts of Europe and Soviet POWs. On 19 November 1943, Germans carried out a mass execution of prisoners in the Lemberg lager. The camp was open until May 1944 and had the total of 200,000 prisoners, most of whom died or were murdered. Before the German invasion of September 1939, the western parts of Ukraine belonged to Poland, while its eastern lands were a part of the USSR. After the German attack on the Soviet Union, Germans carried out pogroms of Jews with the help of Ukrainian police. Exterminations and massacres of the Jewish population also took place in central and eastern Ukraine. The biggest mass murders in Ukraine were carried out in Kyiv (Babi Yar), where Germans killed more than 30,000 people in two days (29-30 August 1941), in Kharkiv, where a ghetto was located, and in Odessa. Polish people were persecuted by Soviets, Germans, and Ukrainians. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), in collaboration with Germans, carried out numerous pogroms of Poles, killing over 100,000 people in the regions of Volhynia, Tarnobrzeg, Stanisławów, and Lviv. Over 2 million people from Ukraine were sent to forced labour in the German Reich. Ukrainians, Poles, Jews, and Russian suffered great losses in their civilian populations.
Lviv. The Wuleckie Hill, site of the mass murder of dozens of Polish professors of the Lviv University and their families committed by German Nazis and Ukrainian nationalists (SS “Nachtigall” Battalion) on 4 July 1941 119
Italy Risiera di San Sabba The biggest concentration camps established in Italy during WWII were located in Ferramonti, Fossoli, Gries-Bolzano, and Risiera di San Sabba. The two former ones were founded by Italian fascists. The Fossoli camp was later taken over by Germans. The camps in Gries-Bolzano and Risiera di Sabba were subordinate to German Nazis. The Ferramonti camp was located in the region of Calabria, 6 km from the town of Tarsin. It was open from June 1940 until September 1943. It had the total of 5,000 prisoners, most of whom were freed after the Allied invasion of Sicily. The Fossoli camp was situated near Carpi (the province of Modena). At first it served to hold POWs apprehended in North Africa: Englishmen, Australians, New Zealanders, and Poles. There were ca. 5,000 POWs in the Fossoli camp in July 1943. On the night of 8/9 September 1943, Germans took over the camp, arrested its Italian commandant, and deported all prisoners to concentration camps in Germany. After the rescue of Mussolini by German paratroopers, the operation of mass arrests of the opponent of fascism was initiated. The people apprehended during the campaign were sent to various camps. In July 1944, Germans converted the concentration camp in Fossoli into a transit camp (Durchgangslager), which served to send out prisoners to other concentration camps in Germany (ca. 5,000 people were transported from the Fossoli camp). The commandants of the camp were German SS officers, Karl Titho and Hans Haase. In the period of 6 August – 29 November 1944, Fossoli served as a transit camp for forced workers. The Gries-Bolzano camp (Polizeiliches Durchgangslager) was established in July 1944 in northern Italy. It had the total of ca. 11,000 prisoners. It was supervised by SS officers, with Michael Seifert being the most cruel member of the staff. Inmates of Gries-Bolzano were sent out to Flossenbürg, Mauthausen and Ravensbrück. Ca. 50 Italian soldiers and American paratroopers were shot in the camp.
Fragment of the monument to the victims of the camp in Risiera di San Sabba
Risiera di San Sabba. There are remnants of a small crematorium building adjacent to the main edifice seen in the centre of the photo The Risiera di San Sabba camp was established in the suburbs of Trieste, in the San Sabba district. It was located in an industrial complex – a rice milling plant. It served first as a POW camp (Stalag 339) and then as a transit camp. Transports from the camp were sent out to concentration camps in Germany and Poland. In September 1943, a part of the Italian State was annexed by the German Reich and given the name of Adriatisches Küstenland (Zona d’operazioni del Litorale adriatico). The area encompassed Udine, Trieste, Gorizia, Pula, Fiume and Ljubljana. Einsatzkommando Reinhard – a unit of over 100 people led by Dietrich Allers – arrived to Trieste in October 1943. Among the soldiers were “professional” killers, for example Franz Reichleitner and Franz Stangl, who had overseen the execution of Jews in Treblinka and Sobibór, as well as Christian Wirth, the physician responsible for the “T-4” mass euthanasia campaign. In May 1944, Joseph Oberhausen became the commandant of the Risiera di San Sabba camp.
The staff of the camp was composed mainly of Ukrainian SS officers headed by Otto Stadie, “The Riviera Executioner.” Prisoners of the camp were often tortured by being beaten, strangled, and starved. The camp had 17 death cells, which were mainly used to incarcerate partisans and Yugoslavian soldiers. Over two years of its existence, the camp had ca. 15,000 prisoners, out of which 3,500-5,000 were murdered. Among the inmates there were people from Slovenia, Croatia, Italy from the area of Trieste, Gorizia, Istria, and Jews. Many war criminals from Risiera di San Sabba escaped prosecution. A series of trials was concluded with the sentence and death of Joseph Oberhausen in 1979. For over 30 years, there was no discussion or knowledge of the Risiera di San Sabba camp. The National Martyrdom Monument, designed by Romano Boico, was unveiled in Risiera di San Sabba in 1975.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction__________________________
GERMANY KL Dachau______________________________ Wewelsburg, KL Niederhagen_____________ KL Osthofen____________________________ KL Buchenwald_________________________ KL Sachsenhausen_______________________ KL Neuengamme________________________ KL Flossenbürg__________________________ KL Bergen-Belsen________________________ KL Ravensbrück_________________________ KL Mittelbau-Dora_______________________ Forced labour___________________________
9 12 13 14 16 19 22 25 28 31 32
AUSTRIA KL Mauthausen_________________________ 33 CZECH REPUBLIC Terezin _________________________________ 37 POLAND Occupation and resettlement______________ Warsaw_________________________________ Warsaw – Pawiak________________________ Warsaw – 25 Szucha Avenue______________ KL Warschau____________________________ The Warsaw Ghetto______________________ Dulag 121 Pruszków_____________________ Palmiry_________________________________ Piaśnica________________________________ Łódź___________________________________ Radegast________________________________ Children and youth camps________________ Poznań_________________________________ Żabikowo_______________________________ Toruń__________________________________ Soldau _________________________________ POW camp in Żagań_____________________ KL Stutthof_____________________________ Lamsdorf _______________________________ KL Auschwitz-Birkenau__________________ KL Gross-Rosen________________________ SK Kulmhof____________________________
KL Majdanek___________________________ 85 SK Treblinka____________________________ 87 SK Belzec ______________________________ 91 SK Sobibor ____________________________ 93 KL Krakau-Plaszow _____________________ 98 Zamość________________________________ 100 Eastern Borderlands of the Second Republic of Poland______________________________ 101 NORWAY Falstad, Narvik_________________________ 103 Denmark Horserød______________________________ 104 LUXEMBOURG ___________________________ 105 BELGIUM Fort Breendonk_________________________ 106 THE NETHERLANDS KL Herzogenbusch______________________ 107
40 43 44 45 47 50 53 54 55 56 60 62 64 65 66 67 69 70 75 76 81 83
FRANCE KL Natzweiler-Struthof__________________ 109 ESTONIA KL Klooga, KL Vaivara___________________ 111 LITHUANIA Paneriai, KL Kauen______________________ 112 LATVIA KL Salaspils, KL Riga-Kaiserwald_________ 113 BELARUS SK Maly Trostenez______________________ 114 UKRAINE Lemberg (KL Janowska)_________________ 115 ITALY Risiera di San Sabba_____________________ 116
Text and photos Tadeusz Sobieraj Cover photos KL Auschwitz-Birkenau Photo page 2: KL Mittelbau-Dora, Monument at the memorial square in front of the crematorium building Photo page 119: KL Sachsenhausen, Monument commemorating the victims of Sachsenhausen concentration camp Translated by Zofia Sochańska Layout Bogdan Żukowski Proofreading Paweł Borkowski Typesetting and block layout Barbara Grom © Copyright by Tadeusz Sobieraj, Warsaw 2016 ISBN 978-83-7919-047-8 Apostolicum Wydawnictwo Księży Pallotynów Prowincji Chrystusa Króla ul. Wilcza 8, 05-091 Ząbki, Poland tel. 22 771-52-30, 14; fax 22 771-52-26 email@example.com on-line bookstore: www.apostolicum.pl Printed and bound by APOSTOLICUM Printing House, Ząbki
This photo album is a story constructed with images of German Nazi concentration camps, set up across Europe during World War II and the Holocaust. Each country invaded and occupied by the Germans had its own Calvary, where innocent people were subjected to mass murder, extermination and genocide. The Jewish Virtual Library estimates the number of German Nazi camps at close to 15,000 in the German Reich and in the occupied Europe. This book is being published with the aim to commemorate the victims of all massacres, cruelties, and atrocities committed by Germans. Poland was the first country attacked by the Germans on 1 September 1939. The German occupying force immediately launched the policy of extermination against Jews and Poles. Poland was devastated by the occupant during World War II and Poles did not have any control over the occupied Polish territory. Unlike many European countries, there was no Polish collaboration government and there were no Waffen SS National Legion divisions formed by Polish volunteers. Poles opposed the German occupation. The Polish Underground State (resistance movement in World War II), with the Polish Home Army at its forefront, was the largest underground resistance in all of Nazi Germany occupied Europe and the Polish government-in-exile was based in London. Poland is unique for yet another reason. It should be noted that Poland is a country whose citizens constitute the largest national group within the Righteous Among the Nations recognized by the Yad Vashem Institute. Over 6,500 of Poles were honoured and awarded the title – more than any other nation. Hiding Jews in German-occupied Poland was punishable by death during that period; nonetheless many Poles risked not only their own lives but also the lives of their families to rescue Jews from the German Nazis. Thousands of Poles were killed for helping their Jewish neighbours and fellow countrymen during the War. It is therefore particularly unfair to use the terms �Polish concentration camp� and �Polish death camp�. These historically erroneous terms are occasionally being used in historical discourse and international popular media, in reference to Auschwitz and other Nazi German extermination camps built in German-occupied Poland by the Germans during World War II. The use of these misleading and insulting terms confuses media users worldwide, leading them to believe that the Holocaust was carried out by Poland, rather than Nazi Germany. Of course, the use of these terms is not always guided by malice, but falsifying history and spreading lies should be considered as defamatory and should not go unanswered. These defamation phrases are generally used for two reasons. First is the ignorance and lack of essential historical knowledge and thoughtless pandering to anti-Polish propaganda. Second, I am afraid, is the malevolence and ill will intended to destroy the good name and image of Poland and the Polish people worldwide. In 2007, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee approved the change in the entry for the remains of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The previous name, “Auschwitz Concentration Camp,� has been changed to “Auschwitz-Birkenau. Nazi German Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945)” in order to make it clearer that the concentration camp was built and operated by Nazi Germany. The concentration camps and the Holocaust are a tragic heritage of Europe, therefore it is vital that the historical truth it is neither forgotten nor distorted.
Jan Dziedziczak Secretary of State Ministry of Foreign Affairs Republic of Poland