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Majdanek Death Camp
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Majdanek Concentration Camp
The Majdanek concentration camp in the Polish city of Lubin was in operation from October 1, 1941 to July 23, 1944 when it was liberated by soldiers of the Soviet Union.
The old photograph above shows the original main entrance into the concentration camp at Majdanek. On either side of the gate, there were sentry boxes, painted with black and white chevron stripes. One of these sentry boxes is currently on display in one of the barracks buildings which has been converted into a Museum. Although there doesn't seem to be much security at this gate, the interior of the camp was divided into fields or compounds, each surrounded by a double row of barbed wire fencing.
According to the museum guidebook, the camp was initially called the Concentration Camp at Lublin (Konzentrationslager Lublin); then the name was changed to Prisoner of War Camp at Lublin (Kriegsgefangenenlager der Waffen-SS Lublin), but in Feb. 1943, the name reverted back to Concentration Camp. Throughout its existence, Majdanek received transports of Prisoners of War, including a few Americans.
Although the first prisoners at Majdanek were Russian Prisoners of War, who were transferred from a barbed wire enclosure at Chelm, the camp soon became a detention center for Jews after the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" was planned at the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. Mass transports of Jews began arriving at the Majdanek camp, beginning in April 1942, during the same time period that the Auschwitz II camp, which was originally a POW camp for Soviet soldiers, was being converted to an extermination camp for Jews.
The headquarters for Operation Reinhard, which was set up after the Wannsee Conference, was in Lublin, near the Majdanek camp. The clothing that was confiscated from the prisoners who were sent to the three Operation Reinard camps (Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec) was brought to Majdanek to be disinfected with a poison gas called Zyklon-B. The same gas was used in homicidal gas chambers at Majdanek to murder thousands of Jews.
In sharp contrast to the extermination camp at Treblinka, which is in a wooded area as remote as Ted Kaczynkski's Montana cabin, the Majdanek concentration camp is situated in a major urban area, four kilometers from the city center of Lublin, and can be easily reached by trolley car. The location of the Majdanek camp is in an area of rolling terrain and can be seen from all sides; it could not be more public or accessible.
The Majdanek concentration camp is located in an entirely open area with no ten-foot wall around it to hide the activities inside the camp, as at Dachau. There was no security zone established around the Majdanek camp, as at Birkenau, and there is no natural protection, such as a river or a forest, as at Treblinka. Besides being bounded on the north by a busy main road, the camp was bounded on the south by two small villages named Abramowic and Dziesiata. People driving past the camp, while it was in operation, had a completely unobstructed view, being able to see the tall brick chimney of the crematorium wafting smoke from the top of a slope not far away, and the gas chamber building which is a few yards from a busy street.
Majdakek is also known as Maidenek, which is the German version of the name.
Just as at the Auschwitz main camp, the first Jewish prisoners that were sent to Majdanek were 10,000 young men from Slovakia, followed by transports from the area that is now the Czech Republic. Jews from Austria, Germany, France and Holland were also sent to Majdanek, but from mid 1942 until mid 1943, most of the Jews sent to the camp were from the Lublin region and the ghettos of Warsaw and Bialystok.
According to a Museum booklet, "The transports of Jews from the General Government were in direct connection with Action Reinhard whose aim was mass extermination of Jews and plunder of Jewish property. The headquarters of this action, managed by O. Globocnik, was in Lublin." The Action Reinhard camps were at Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka, all on the border of Soviet-occupied Poland and the General Government, which was the name given to central Poland by the Nazis. Lublin is the easternmost large city in Poland.
The population of Lublin has tripled since the end of World War II to its present total of 350,000, and the former Majdanek concentration camp is now within the city limits, like a municipal park except that it is a ghastly eyesore. There are several modern high-rise apartment buildings overlooking the camp on two sides now, and on one side, right next to the camp, is a Roman Catholic cemetery which was there even when the camp was in operation. On the other side of the street, directly across from the former concentration camp, there is now a Polish military installation since this street is part of the main road into the Ukraine and Russia. During World War II, the street which borders the Majdanek concentration camp was the main route to the eastern front for the German army.
Lublin is near the eastern border of Poland and what is now the Ukraine. Between 1772 and 1918, when Poland had ceased to be an independent country and was divided between Prussia (Germany), Austria and Russia, Lublin was in the Russian sector. In April 1835, Russian Czar Nicholas I issued a decree which created the Pale of Settlement, a territory where Russian Jews were forced to live until after the Communist Revolution of 1917. Lublin was located within the Pale of Settlement, as was the city of Warsaw.
The census of 1897 counted 4,899,300 Jews who were crowded into the Pale of Settlement, which was like a huge reservation similar to those where the Native Americans were forced to live during the same time period in the western USA.
In 1881, Russia began evicting the Jews from the Pale, which began a mass migration. By 1914, two million Jews had left the Pale and had settled in Germany, Austria, America and other countries.
In 1939, when Poland was again divided between Germany and the Soviet Union, Lublin came under the control of Russia again. This lasted until June 1941 when the Nazis launched an attack on the Communist Soviet Union, the ideological enemy of Fascist Germany. Lublin, being close to the border of the German-controlled General Government of Poland, was one of the first cities to be conquered by the Germans. The German conquest of the Soviet sector of Poland in the last 6 months of 1941 brought Polish Communists and also millions of Jews, who were the sworn enemies of the Nazis, under the control of the Germans. In order to avoid having partisans attack them from the rear as they advanced into Russia, the Nazis rounded up those whom they considered their political enemies and confined them in the Majdanek camp, along with the captured Soviet POWs.
Majdanek prisoners were forced to work
During the Nazi occupation of Poland, there was no railroad spur line to bring the new prisoners directly into the Majdanek camp; the victims disembarked from cattle cars at the crowded main railroad station in Lublin amid German troops, also riding in cattle cars, on their way to the Eastern front. Even some regular passengers in Europe rode on freight trains during World War II, according to the author of Schindler's List. The prisoners destined for Majdanek were transported the rest of the way to the camp in trucks.
At the Majdanek camp, there is a large field of grass near the street, in the middle of which stands a lone white stucco house, the former dwelling of the Camp Commandant. There were 5 different camp commanders during the 35 months that Majdanek was in operation: Karl Otto Koch, Max August Koegel, Hermann Florstedt, Martin Gottfried Weiss and Arthur Liebehenschel.
Pictured below is Karl Otto Koch, the first Commandant of the Majdanek camp. Koch had previously been the Commandant of Buchenwald, but he was sent to Majdanek as punishment after he was arrested in Weimar for non-payment of taxes. In 1943, he was brought back to Weimar and put on trial by SS Judge Georg Konrad Morgen on charges of ordering the murder of two prisoners at Buchenwald and taking bribes from Jewish prisoners. He was convicted and executed by the Nazis before the end of the war.
Karl Otto Koch, first Commandant at Majdanek
Commandant Hermann Florstedt was also executed by the Nazis after he was convicted in Judge Georg Konrad Morgen's court on charges of stealing from the camp warehouses. There were 200 cases of cruelty and corruption in the concentration camps which were tried by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, the legal investigator of the Reich Criminal Police. Dr. Morgen testified at the Nuremberg IMT that he had examined 800 documents which resulted in 200 indictments of SS men who were staff members of the camps including Amon Goeth, the commandant at Plaszow, the camp which became famous as a result of the film, "Schindler's List." Goeth was awaiting trial in Dr. Morgen's court when the war ended. Goeth was tried by the People's Court at Krakow after the war; he was convicted and hanged.
Two of the commandants of the Majdanek camp were tried by the Allies after the war. Max Koegel was sentenced to death by a British Military Tribunal in 1946. Martin Gottfried Weiss was tried before an American Military Tribunal at Dachau in November 1945 and received a death sentence for war crimes committed while he was the Commandant at the Dachau concentration camp.
Arthur Liebehenschel, the last commandant of the camp, was sent to Majdanek in 1944 after serving as the commandant of Auschwitz for several months. When Majdanek was evacuated in July 1944, he was sent to Triest. He was convicted by the Supreme People's Court at Krakow in Poland and executed after the war.
Among the inmates, according to the Museum guidebook, were a few American Prisoners of War. There was no mention of what happened to them in any of the Museum booklets, but according to Tollefson's book, "Enemy Prisoners of War," the American Red Cross reported after the war that "over 99% of our American prisoners captured by Germany are now returning home." The Germans honored the rules of the Geneva convention for American POWs and allowed inspections by the Red Cross, which were mandated for Prisoners of War.
All the prisoners at Majdanek were allowed to receive Red Cross packages, as well as packages from Polish civilians who organized to provide aid. Below is a page from the Museum guidebook which shows the official Thank You postcard provided by the Nazis for the prisoners to send in acknowledgment of the receipt of a package.
"Official postcard which a prisoner could send from the camp to his family or to the Polish Red Cross after receiving a parcel."
The Soviet Union had not signed the most recent version of the rules of the Geneva convention in 1929 and were not treating captured German soldiers in accordance with the convention, so the Germans felt justified in not following any war-time regulations with regard to their Soviet POWs.
Polish soldiers, who were Jewish, were not treated in accordance with the Geneva convention, according to the Museum guidebook. They were at first put into a separate camp on Lipowa Street in Lublin, but beginning in 1942, many of them were transferred to the Majdanek camp as ordinary prisoners and not given POW status.
According to my tour guide, the Soviet Union had already decided that after the war, Poland would be a Communist country, in keeping with the political ideology of the liberators. Consequently, Lublin was immediately set up as the capital of the new Polish government, which was to follow the Communist dictates of the Soviet Union. Anti-Communist Polish citizens were dispatched to Siberia from Lublin after the war.
The decision to make the Majdanek camp into a Museum was made in August 1944, a month after the liberation of the camp. According to a Museum booklet, the Majdanek Museum was set up in November 1944 and became the first such museum at a former concentration camp, long before any of the other Nazi camps were even liberated.
During the Communist regime, which lasted until 1989, all Polish citizens were encouraged to go on government-sponsored group tours to the former Nazi concentration camps as part of their indoctrination in hatred of the opponents of Communism. According to the tour guide, Polish schools taught a censored version of history during the Communist rule, leaving out such details as the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1920, but emphasizing the crimes of the Nazi Fascists.
The photograph below shows the ovens where bodies were cremated in the Majdanek camp. On the day that the Soviet troops arrived in Lublin, the Nazis set fire to the wooden crematorium building that housed the cremation ovens. According to the Museum, this was done to cover up their crime of executing the prisoners from the Gestapo prison in Lublin on the day of the battle for Lublin. The prisoners were brought to the camp and shot in front of the ovens. Their burned corpses were found by the Soviet liberators. In the photo, Polish civilians are shown on a tour of the former camp.
Polish citizens were encouraged to tour the Majdanek camp
The first-ever Allied war crimes trial took place in the Polish Special Penal Court in Lublin, starting on November 27, 1944, even before the end of World War II. Six men who had been captured during the liberation of the Majdanek camp were convicted and sentenced to death.
Two of the men on trial were Heinz Stalp and Edmund Pohlmann, both of whom were Kapos, or German prisoners who were in charge of other prisoners in the camp. Theodor Schöllen and Hermann Vogel were guards in the camp. The other two defendants were administrative personnel at Majdanek: Anton Thernes was the deputy commandant of the camp and his aide was Wilhelm Gerstenmeier.
The photograph below shows SS-Obersturmbannfuehrer Anton Thernes, standing on the left, during his trial in front of the Polish court.
Anton Thernes, standing on the left, at his trial
Edmund Pohlmann, one of the accused Kapos, committed suicide during the trial. The other five were found guilty on December 2, 1944 and were executed the next day near the ruins of the crematorium at Majdanek.
After the liberation of Lublin, Majdanek was taken over by the Soviet Army with fields IV and V being used as quarters for Soviet soldiers, while fields I and II were used by the 2nd Polish Army, which was formed after the liberation. German POWs were put into field VI before being sent to slave labor camps deep inside the Soviet Union; a few of them returned after a period of captivity lasting as long as 10 years.
Archaeologists Discover Treasures of Holocaust Victims in Poland
Holocaust survivors working in conjunction with an Israeli archaeologist in Lublin, Poland have found jewelry and other artifacts that were apparently hastily buried by prisoners at the Majdanek death camp.
By Mark Hoerrner
Majdanek is one of the most complete WWII concentration camps still in existence. Despite the large expanse of land, it smells heavily of the pitch and tar on the buildings that once held Polish Jews and captured Soviet soldiers. It's the smell of death. From the small museum to the giant pile of ash and bone recovered from the no-longer working ovens, the camp is filled with the ghosts of its dark history. Now, an excavation taking place at the former death camp is writing a new chapter in Holocaust history.
Four Holocaust survivors have unearthed jewelry, coins and other heirlooms which were buried by hand, hidden by desperate camp prisoners over 60 years ago. The four survivors who took part in the archaeological dig traveled from Australia for the making of a documentary about the Majdanek death camp.
The survivors brought forth amazingly clear memories, including pointing out a place where more than 2000 prisoners were forced to stand for more than a day before Nazi officials herded most of them into the gas chambers. It was during that day that the prisoners most likely buried the treasures. An Israeli archaeologist coordinated the initial three-day dig and hopes to resume digging next month.
"An archaeological dig allowed us to find, around 35 centimeters below the surface, some 50 objects: rings, wedding rings, watches, earrings, and coins, including a 10 dollar coin minted in 1894," Majdanek Museum Director Edward Balawajder said in an interview with foreign news agencies.
An interview with Abraham Lewent, a former prisoner at Majdanek, describes his experience when his family was taken from the Warsaw ghetto and delivered to the camp.
"Where we're going, we don't know," he said in an archival interview conducted by the United States Holocaust Museum. "They put us on trains. I was together with my father, and with this man, and his wife, or his sister, was it? And they took us to Majdanek. Majdanek was a camp near Lublin, and over there was five fields. That means every field had eight or nine hundred people and it was barracks and there's nothing to do."
Lewent was among many Jews forced into hard labor at the camp.
"The only thing you were Majdanek you did, you sit sometimes all day long, and sometimes they took you out to work and a half of them never came back," he recalls. "They make you sit all day long and breaking up from big stones to make little stones, or digging holes, digging ditches, and covering the ditches up. That was the work. That's what you call, uh, a camp what actually is annihilation...they annihilate people, actually."
More than 360,000 people were murdered at Majdanek by the Nazi regime between 1941 and 1944. More than half were Jews. Jews from Poland made up nearly half of the over 6 million Jews exterminated during World War II. Overall, Nazis conducted a campaign of slaughter that saw the deaths of more than 11 million people.
Balawajder called the find significant not just because of the value of the items found, but as additional evidence of the Holocaust that can be preserved for future generations. Some of the found items, including a gold wedding band, are being shipped to various memorials around the world including Yad Vashem in Israel, the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Melbourne Jewish Holocaust Center in Melbourne, Australia.
Gas Chambers at Majdanek
Upon entering Barrack No. 41, which is the gas chamber building, you first come to the bare, unfurnished undressing room which has narrow wooden boards over the concrete floor. Then you enter the shower room, a large room with rows of exposed water pipes and sprinkler-type shower heads on the ceiling; this room also has a wooden floor over concrete. At one end of the shower room, there are two large concrete bathtubs. The tour guide explained that the prisoners were not allowed to loll in the bathtub, but had to get in and out in a few seconds. The bathtubs were probably filled with disinfectant, as was the case at other camps such as Buchenwald. This shower room was also used by incoming prisoners who were selected to work at Majdanek, which was a labor camp as well as an extermination camp for the Jews.
Inside of Majdanek gas chamber has stains left by Zyklon-B
Metal door opens into the gas chamber
An air-raid-shelter door, shown in the photo above, opens into the first gas chamber, a large room with an alcove, which resembles a three-sided room within a room. In the alcove, there are heavy blue stains, called Prussian Blue, left on the walls and ceiling by the Zyklon-B poison gas that was used there to kill thousands of Jews. The alcove is shown in the photo below and also in the photo at the top of this page.
Blue stains caused by heavy use of Zyklon-B gas
There are two doors into this first gas chamber room. When I toured the gas chambers, neither door had a lock on it and no marks where a lock might have been removed. Each of the doors had a glass peephole which is protected by tiny metal bars to prevent anyone on the outside of the room from breaking the glass. On my visit, I observed that the glass in one of the peepholes had been broken, probably from the inside, and had not yet been replaced.
One of the three rooms in the gas chamber building has a window
The main part of the first gas chamber room has a plate glass window, which lets in natural light, but it is too high up on the wall to be useful for observing the people inside. This window has no bars on either the inside or the outside. There were blue Zyklon-B stains on the window frame and the stucco around the window. The gas chamber next to the shower is the largest of the three rooms and it has the heaviest blue stains, caused by repeated use of Zyklon-B.
There are two holes in the ceiling through which the Zyklon-B pellets could be dropped into the room and openings in the wall through which hot air was blown in, according to the guidebook. This room also has a wooden floor over concrete; the walls are covered with stucco.
The door into the three gas chambers in Barrack Number 41 is located in the shower room. When I visited in 1998, a sign in the shower room said that the prisoners were given a shower before gassing to "quite (sic) them down." The tour guide explained that the victims were given a hot shower so they would die more quickly in the gas chamber because the Nazis found that the heat of the bodies caused the gas to work faster. Zyklon-B comes in crystal form, like tiny ice-blue rocks, and the pellets must be heated before they release the poison gas which kills lice or people.
The Majdanek gas chamber building has a heating unit outside the chambers which blew hot air into the chamber to activate the poison gas, so a hot shower, before the victims entered the gas chamber, was not really necessary.
At Majdanek, there are a total of four gas chambers, according to the Museum guidebook which says that the gas chamber right next to the shower room was "a makeshift chamber which presumably had begun functioning before the other three were opened." The fourth gas chamber, which is disguised as a shower room, is in the reconstructed crematorium.
The photograph below shows unopened cans of Zyklon-B and a gas mask which were found in the Majdanek camp when it was liberated by the Soviet Union.
Cans of Zyklon-B and a gas mask
In the second gas chamber in this same building, there is a small interior room which has a small barred window, about 6 by 10 inches, on one of the walls. This window had no glass and no window frame when I saw it. Through this window, the killing process could be observed by an SS guard standing in the small interior observation room, according to my tour guide. Inside the interior room were cans of carbon monoxide, which was also used in this chamber, according to the guidebook. The entrance to the small observation room is inside the gas chamber and there was no door. The tour proceeded very quickly through the gas chambers, as the tour guide wanted to get out of these creepy rooms as quickly as possible.
There are a total of three gas chamber rooms, not including the small interior room used for observation, in this building. Some observers have referred to the first room with the alcove as two separate chambers. All the rooms are connected, with each room opening into the next one. The last gas chamber room in this building is smaller than the others and has no heavy blue stains.
After gassing in Barrack Number 41, the bodies of the victims were hauled up the slope, along the main camp road, to the crematorium in wagons drawn by a tractor, according to survivor testimony. The Museum guidebook says that the engines were revved up while the victims were still in the chamber: "To drown the cries of the dying, tractor engines were run near the gas chambers."
Here is a description of the gas chambers in "Bath and Disinfection" Building Number One (barrack #41) at Majdanek, quoted from a guidebook which I purchased at the Visitor's Center:
"The gas chambers were built of ceramic brick, covered with a ferro-concrete roof, and provided with a cement floor. The installation comprised three chambers: a large one (10 m x 5.5 m x 2 m) and two smaller ones (4.80 m x 3.60 x 2 m) as well as a cabin for the SS man who pumped doses of gas from steel cylinders into the chambers and watched through a small grated window (25 x 15 cm), the behavior of the victims. Two chambers, the large one and the southern smaller one, were equipped with devices for the use of carbon monoxide (CO). In the smaller one, there was a metal pipe, 40 mm in diameter, running along the walls above the floor. The gas got into the chamber through holes in the pipe. Cyclone B was poured into a special opening in the concrete roof."
"The large chamber also had a metal pipe, 25 mm in diameter, fastened to one of the walls above the floor. As in the smaller chamber, the carbon monoxide from a steel cylinder got in through this pipe. In addition, there were two openings in the western wall, through which hot air (120 degrees C) was blown in by a ventilator from a stove placed on the outside of the chamber, which alone killed the victims and, at the same time, intensified the action of Cyclone B, since the lethal effect of the gas increased at a temperature of over 27 degrees C. The other small chamber, on the southern side, had only an opening in the roof to pour in Cyclone B. The massive metal doors to the chambers were air-tight, fastened by two bolts and iron bars."
Gas chamber building with Rosenfeld in front
The gas chambers are located within sight of the main road that goes past the camp. The gas chamber building is barrack Number 41 which is shown in the photo above. A sign on the building says "Bad und Desinfektion" (Bath and Disinfection), which the Museum guidebook says was "to lull the vigilance of those condemned to death." There are actually two buildings near the entrance to the camp where Zyklon-B was used. Only the building used for gassing people with Zyklon-B was shown on the tour; the other one is barrack Number 42 which was used for delousing clothing with the same Zyklon-B when the camp was in operation. Barrack Number 42 is off limits to visitors.
Behind the gas chamber building, where you see the row of poplar trees in the photo above, is the street which was part of a main road. The small black building to the right is a guard tower. The large gravel-covered square in front of the building was called the "rose field" or Rosenfeld in German. This was a Nazi joke. There were no roses there, but it was the place where the Jews were assembled on arrival at the camp, and Rosenfeld referred to the "persons selected," according to the guide book. Selection meant choosing which prisoners were fit for work and which would go to the gas chamber. Rosenfeld is a common Jewish name.
Door on the outside of the building opens into gas chamber
The concentration camp at Majdanek seems to have been laid out by the Nazis with an eye toward its future use as a museum for tourists. The gas chambers are the first exhibit you see after exiting the documentary movie at the Visitor's Center. If I had not had a guide with me, I could easily have missed the gas chamber building. Unlike the impressive brick buildings which once housed the gas chambers at Auschwitz II, usually known as Birkenau, this building is a very ordinary wooden, prefabricated horse barn set at right angles to, and only a few feet from, a row of wooden storage buildings outside the main barracks area of the camp. These former clothing storage buildings, which are identical to the barracks buildings, are where the Museum exhibits are now located.
The clothing taken from the Jews was stored and deloused at Majdanek before shipment to Germany for distribution to bombed-out German civilians. Clothing taken from the Jews was also brought to Majdanek from the three Operation Reinhard camps at Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka; there was, in addition, a Clothing Works in the city of Lublin where additional barracks were set up for the Jewish women who processed the clothing.
There is no wall, nor even a barbed wire fence, separating the gas chambers from the clothing warehouse buildings, so there were many Jewish women working in the warehouses who were eye-witnesses to everything that was going on. Besides that, the gas chamber building is only a stone's throw from the barbed wire fence which surrounds the area where once stood the first set of prisoners' barracks, called Field I, the compound which housed Russian POWs, including three Russian generals. From September 1943 to the evacuation of the camp in April 1944, Field I was the barracks for the Jewish women who worked in the nearby clothing warehouses.
According to a guidebook purchased at the Visitor's Center, construction of the gas chambers at Majdanek started in August 1942 and was completed in October 1942. (The first gassing of humans by the Nazis was conducted in September 1941 at the Auschwitz I camp, where the first victims were Russian Prisoners of War.) By October 1942, the Germans had conquered most of Europe and the Eastern front extended well into the Soviet Union; they were in the midst of their plan to get rid of all the Jews in Europe. Using the pretense of "transportation to the East," the Nazis maintained strict secrecy about their "Final Solution," even on the blueprints for the Majdanek gas chamber building, by naming the gas chambers "Entlausungsanlage," which means "delousing station" in English. The Nazis used Zyklon-B, an insecticide, for gassing the Jews, the same poison they used in the disinfection building, right next to the gas chamber, to kill body lice on the prisoner clothing in an effort to stop typhus epidemics.
Crematorium at Majdanek
Crematorium at Majdanek
Ovens in the Crematorium at Majdanek
The photograph above shows the ovens in the Majdanek crematorium, on the side away from the entrance door, with the metal stretchers which were used to shove the bodies inside.
The original wooden crematorium building at Majdanek was burned by the Nazis on July 22, 1944, just before they abandoned the camp, but the ovens remained intact. The reconstructed crematorium, which is open to tourists, is located at the top of a long slope, behind the spot where the barracks in Field V once stood. This is a reconstruction of the second crematorium that was built in the camp, which was not in operation until the autumn of 1943, according to the Museum guidebook.
When the camp first opened, the bodies were buried in mass graves, but from June 1942 on, there were burned in the first crematorium, or on pyres made from the chassis of old lorries (trucks), according to the guidebook. The first crematorium is no longer in existence, and I never learned the exact location of it. It had two ovens which were brought to Majdanek from the Sachsenhausen camp in Germany. The new crematorium was outfitted with five Kori ovens which were fueled with coke.
As you first walk into the crematorium, you see the row of five ovens. They are placed so close to the entrance door that you realize that there would not have been enough room for workers to slide the bodies inside. Then you walk around to the other side and see that the bodies were put into the ovens from the back side and the ashes taken out on the front side, a few feet from the entrance door.
2006 photo of front side of ovens
Photo Credit: Simon Robertson
2006 photo of back side of the ovens
Photo Credit: Simon Robertson
You can look all the way through the ovens and see that the interior of each oven is long enough to accommodate two bodies, placed end to end. On the front side, you can see ashes still remaining in the ovens. The movie shown at the Visitor's Center showed bones still in the ovens when the camp was liberated, although they have since been removed.
Old photo of second crematorium building before it was burned
2006 Photo of Crematorium reconstructed by the Soviet Union
Photo Credit: Simon Robertson
According to Martin Gilbert in his book "Holocaust Journey," there is a gas chamber in this crematorium building which, like the building, is a reconstruction. Since it is a reconstruction, this gas chamber room does not show the blue staining that is present in the other gas chambers at Majdanek. The gas chamber room in the crematorium is very small; it has a hole in the ceiling for pouring in the poison gas crystals, and there is a floor drain directly below the hole. The door to this gas chamber is missing, and may have been taken to another museum for display. A casting of a Majdanek gas chamber door is on display at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
Right next to the room which has the 5 ovens, there is an alcove, or room open on one side, which has a large concrete bathtub. According to the guide, this tub was used by the SS man in charge of the ovens. In the shower room adjacent to the other gas chambers at Majdanek, there are two similar concrete bathtubs where the prisoners were dipped into disinfectant before taking a shower. The reconstructed gas chamber in the crematorium resembles a shower room.
Crematorium with the remains of burned bodies
The black and white photo above shows the ruined crematorium as it looked when Russian soldiers arrived at the camp on July 23, 1944. The wooden crematorium building had been set on fire by the Nazis in order to burn the bodies of Polish political prisoners who had been brought from the Gestapo prison at the Castle in Lublin and executed the day before liberation. Their charred remains are shown in the foreground in the photo. In the background are the brick ovens with iron doors which were not damaged in the fire. The main gas chamber building, which is located down the slope at the other end of the camp, was not burned, leaving behind ample evidence of the Nazi crimes.
In another room of the crematorium building is the concrete dissection table, on which the bodies were examined for valuables hidden in body cavities, according to the tour guide. It was here also that the gold teeth were removed from the victims after they were gassed.
After the camp was liberated, bones of the cremated victims were gathered and put on display in a glass case, according to accounts written by visitors to Majdanek. I didn't see any glass case, but there was a large closed casket on display in the crematorium. The casket was covered with funeral wreaths, bouquets of flowers and candles left by visitors.
The tour guide pointed out a new memorial plaque, placed at the crematorium in 1998, which had upgraded the percentage of Jewish victims in the Majdanek camp to 48%. The former number was 41%, which is mentioned in the guidebook. During the Communist regime in Poland, the suffering of the Jews was downgraded and the martyrdom of the Poles was emphasized. Now that is slowing changing to reflect the greater suffering by the Jews. Of the remaining victims, 31% were Polish political prisoners, 16% were POWs from the USSR and 5% were POWs or political prisoners from 26 other countries, according to the Museum booklet. Although most of the prisoners were either Jewish or Christian, there were also a few political prisoners in the camp who were Muslims or Buddhists, according to the Museum booklet.
Outside the crematorium building, there was a real rose garden or "Rosenfeld" with miniature roses planted in two beds on either side of the path when I visited in October 1998; one of the flower beds had a clashing border of orange marigolds.
The Liberation of Majdanek
The Liberation of Majdanek
Russian POWs shown after Majdanek was liberated
The Majdanek extermination camp in Lublin was liberated by Soviet troops on July 23, 1944; it was the first of many Nazi concentration camps to be liberated by the Allies.
Shortly after Majdanek was liberated, a documentary film was made by the Russians. This movie was shown at the Majdanek Memorial Site in the Visitor's Center when I visited in October 1998. There are scenes in the movie which show some of the 1,500 surviving prisoners, mostly men who are not cheering the liberators, as shown in the photograph above. Although the survivors do not look emaciated, most of the men shown in the movie were on crutches or had missing feet and were walking on stumps. The movie had no explanation for this strange circumstance, but I later learned from the Museum guidebook that in early 1943, there was a hospital set up in Field II at Majdanek for wounded Russian soldiers who had been POWs, but had defected after their capture and were then wounded in fighting on the side of the Nazis against Communism.
In anticipation of the arrival of Soviet troops, the Nazis had evacuated 15,000 prisoners in March and April 1944, transporting them westward by train to Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen, Ravensbrück, Natzweiler, Mauthausen, Lodz or Plaszow. The last 1,000 prisoners were marched off on foot only the day before the liberation. The Russian defectors were left behind because they were not able to join the death march out of the camp.
The Russian soldiers who had defected were taken to camps in the Soviet Union after their liberation, and one can imagine their fate. Other Russian defectors who had joined the German army were taken prisoner by the Allies during the war and sent to POW camps in America. World War II was more of an ideological war between the Communists and the Fascists than a war between nations, which accounts for large numbers of Russian soldiers who switched sides and fought on the side of the Nazis.
Besides these invalid soldiers, the only other survivors left behind at Majdanek were Polish peasants from the immediate area. According to a Museum booklet, a large percentage of the inmates at Majdanek were "rural people" or "peasants." Some of these Polish civilians had been imprisoned as resistance fighters after they had been ejected from their homes as part of the German plan to colonize Poland, which the Nazis referred to as "the German east." Others were from Byelorussia, a province of the Soviet Union known to Americans as White Russia, where women and children were taken prisoner in reprisal for heavy partisan fighting in that area. The Polish peasants were not shown among the survivors in the movie because they had taken the opportunity to escape while the Germans and the Russians were fighting a last-ditch battle for the city of Lublin, which lasted for two days.
The Polish Home Army, a partisan group, joined the Russian soldiers in the battle to free Lublin from Nazi occupation. The photo below shows some of the Polish Home Army soldiers, including three who had escaped from Majdanek after they had been imprisoned for fighting as partisans.
Polish Home Army soldiers
When Majdanek was liberated, it was also the first time that anyone from the Allied countries had actually seen a gas chamber, although there had been plenty of news in the world-wide media about their existence, since as far back as June 1942 when the BBC first broadcast the news over the radio. It was not that the Russians unexpectedly stumbled across the gas chambers and made the shocking discovery of the Nazi killing machine; it was more like the Russians arrived at the camp and said, "Take us to the gas chambers."
800,000 shoes were found in the Majdanek camp
The documentary film made by the Russians shows the 800,000 pairs of shoes which were found in the camp when it was liberated, but the narrator did not point out that Majdanek was a center for processing clothing taken from the Jews who were sent to the three Operation Reinhard camps at Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor. There was also a shoe repair shop at Majdanek where the prisoners worked on the boots of the German soldiers as well as the shoes taken from the Jews. When the camp was liberated these shoes were awaiting shipment by train to Germany where they were to be distributed to civilians in the German cities that had been bombed by the Allies. Some of the shoes from Majdanek are currently on display at the United States Holocaust Museum. The remainder are displayed at Majdanek in three warehouse buildings.
Audience lines up to see Nazi Atrocities film
Films taken by the American Army Signal Corps at the liberation of the Nazi camps were shown in newsreels all over the world. In the photo above, the theater marquee says that a film has been held over: the Maidanek Nazi Death Factory "See SS guards executed." Maidanek was the German name for Majdanek.
Majdanek Death Statistics
When the Majdanek death camp was liberated on July 23, 1944, the Soviet Union at first announced to the world that 1.7 million people had been murdered there by the Nazis. By the time that the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal proceedings against the Nazi war criminals began in November 1945, the Soviets had revised this number down to 1.5 million.
In December 2005, the Majdanek Museum announced that Lublin scholar Tomasz Kranz has established that the Nazis murdered 78,000 people at the Majdanek concentration camp. This revision is the culmination of years of research in which the number of deaths at Majdanek has steadily dwindled down to only a fraction of the original estimate by the Soviet liberators.
Immediately after the liberation of Majdanek, the Illustrated London News published photographs of the camp, saying that this was "irrefutable proof of the organized murder of between 600,000 and 1,000,000 helpless persons at the Majdanek Camp near Lublin." The same newspaper also stated that "Prisoners too ill to walk into the camp were dragged alive to the furnaces and thrust in alongside the dead."
In 1948, the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland published a report which said that the number of deaths at Majdanek was 360,000. By the time that the movie, made by the Soviet Union shortly after the liberation, was released in 1960, the number of people murdered by the Nazis at Majdanek had dropped to 350,000. A Museum booklet, which I purchased at the camp in 1998, stated that most of the files from Majdanek were stored in the Soviet Union and have never been released.
The number of deaths had to be revised again when it was learned that no more than 300,000 people had ever been sent to the Majdanek camp. According to the 1998 Museum guidebook, the total number of deaths at Majdanek was around 234,000. This approximate number came from an article written in 1992 by Dr. Czesaw Rajca, a former member of the Majdanek Museum staff; it was based on the number of arrivals (300,000) minus the number of prisoners who escaped, were transferred or were released.
Approximately 45,000 prisoners were transferred to other camps after being registered at Majdanek; 20,000 were released and 500 escaped, according to Polish historians. There were six sub-camps surrounding the Majdanek camp, to which some of the prisoners had been transferred after being sent to the main camp, according to the guidebook.
According to the Majdanek Museum web site in March 2007, the total number of prisoners sent to the camp is now estimated to be around 150,000, of which approximately 80,000 died, including around 60,000 Jews.
When Majdanek was evacuated in April 1944, there were 15,000 prisoners marched out of the camp and taken to other camps, according to the 1998 Museum guidebook. There were approximately 1,500 survivors who remained behind because they were too crippled or sick to join the march. Some of these survivors were Soviet POWs who had defected after being captured and had been wounded while fighting on the side of the Germans. Majdanek had a section that was a "sick camp" or Krankenlager where crippled Soviet defectors were held.
Other estimates from books that I have read put the total number of deaths at Majdanek anywhere from 42,200 to 1,380,000. At the Düsseldorf trial of the Majdanek war criminals, the West German government charged the Nazis with the murder of no less than 200,000 people at the camp. Jewish historian Martin Gilbert wrote "Between 300,000 and 350,000 people were murdered here in Majdanek over a period of three years."
Raul Hilberg put the number of Jewish victims at Majdanek at 50,000, but didn't mention how many non-Jews were murdered there. According to the December 2005 article by Tomasz Kranz, there were 59,000 Jews and 19,000 non-Jews murdered at Majdanek. Kranz based his claims on all available sources, including the existing fragments of the camp death books, the death registry, the notifications of prisoner deaths that the Nazis sent to parishes in Lublin, the testimony at the war crimes trial in Dusseldorf in the late 1970s and early 1980s by SS men stationed at Majdanek, and on the accounts of survivors. Before Kranz's article was published, it was approved by the Majdanek Museum staff, which had no objections to this new claim.
Regarding the article by Kranz, the following quote is from the web site of the Auschwitz Museum in its Latest News section:
"78,000 deaths over the course of three years is a crime on an enormous scale, and not only in comparison with other camps like Buchenwald, where about 56,000 people died over eight years," said Kranz. "It must be remembered, however, that the number of victims only gives an idea about the scale of genocide; it does not convey the measureless pain and suffering experienced by the people imprisoned and murdered at Majdanek."
In 1998, the Majdanek Museum did not offer any information about how many Jews were gassed at the camp, nor whether there were Jews brought there for immediate gassing who were not registered in the camp. Although Majdanek has three gas chambers, which are still in their original condition, and one reconstructed gas chamber, it was primarily a camp for political prisoners, POWs, captured partisans, and hostages who were held as a way of controlling the inhabitants of occupied Poland.
According to a book, which I purchased at the Visitor's Center, entitled "Majdanek," by Jozef Marszalek, the prisoners at Majdanek were from 28 countries: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the USSR, the United States of America, and Yugoslavia.
Marszalek wrote that Polish citizens were 59.8% of the total, followed by citizens of the USSR at 19.8%, Czechoslovakia at 13.3%, the German Reich at 4% and France at 1.7%. All the other countries put together accounted for 1% of the total. There was a total of 54 ethnic groups represented, including 25 different ethnic groups from the Soviet Union and 4 ethnic groups from Yugoslavia. According to this book, the actual names of only 47,890 prisoners are known, including 7,441 women.
According to the 1998 Museum guidebook, 41% of the 300,000 prisoners, who were brought to the camp, were Jewish, which would mean that around 123,000 Jews were brought to Majdanek and approximately 59,00 of them died, if the latest figure claimed by Tomasz Kranz is correct. Most of the Jews sent to Majdanek were from the Lublin area, according to the Museum booklet. The Majdanek camp was also a labor camp; the women worked in the clothing warehouses and a shoe repair shop. The men were engaged in constructing buildings for the SS headquarters of Operation Reinhard in Lublin. The Lublin Jews who were unable to work were sent to the Belzec death camp.
There were around 43,000 Jews in the Lublin district who were brought to Majdanek and shot on November 3rd, 4th, and 5th in 1943, according to information in the Museum guidebook. The victims were brought to Majdanek from other camps, such as Poniatowa and Trawniki and they were not registered in the camp. A memorial plaque near the Majdanek Mausoleum states that 18,000 Jews were shot at Majdanek on November 3, 1943 and buried in mass graves, which were later dug up, so the bodies could be burned.
Crematorium ovens after building was burned
Barbed wire fence and wooden guard tower at Majdanek
Photo taken in 2006 shows double fence around camp
Photo taken in 2006 shows double fence around camp
Photo Credit: Simon Robertson
Monument of Struggle and Martyrdom at Majdanek
Halina Birenbaum (born 1929) is a Holocaust survivor, writer, poet and translator. Born in Warsaw, Birenbaum spent her childhood in theWarsaw Ghetto and later on in Nazi concentration camps: Majdanek, Auschwitz (O?wi?cim), Ravensbrück and Neustadt-Glewe, from which she was liberated in 1945. In 1947 she moved to Israel, where she started a family.
In March 2001 she was awarded a title of Person of Unity 2001 by Polish Rada Chrzescijan i ?ydów.
Filar began to study piano at the age of five, and a year or so later he gave his first recital at the Warsaw Conservatory as a wunderkind. When 12 years of age, he played Mozart's Concerto in D Minor with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. He again played with the Orchestra the following year and gained the interest of Zbigniew Drzewiecki, the noted piano teacher at the Warsaw Conservatory with whom he studied until the outbreak of the Second World War.
Filar was from a Jewish family. He was imprisoned during the Second World War in seven different Nazi concentration camps. In the first death camp - Majdanek - he nearly died from malnutrition and infection. He narrowly escaped being sent to the gas chambers despite his legs being so swollen from malnutrition that he was barely able to stand. After being liberated by the Polish Army he returned to the piano although he did consider studying medicine.
(July 10, 1878 – March 9, 1943) was a German painter and sculptor of Jewish origin and one of the first generation of abstract artists.
Freundlich was born in Stolp, Province of Pomerania, Prussia, and studied dentistry before deciding to become an artist. He went to Paris in 1908, living in Montmartre in Bateau Lavoir near to Pablo Picasso, Braque and others. In 1914 he returned to Germany. After World War I, he became politically active as a member November Group. In 1919, he organized the first Dada - exhibition in Cologne with Max Ernst and Johannes Theodor Baargeld. In 1925, he joined theAbstraction-Création group.
After 1925, Freundlich lived and worked mainly in France. In Germany, his work was condemned by the Nazis as degenerate and removed form public display. Some works were seized and displayed at the infamous Nazi exhibition of degenerate art including his monumental sculptureDer Neue Mensch (The New Man) which was photographed unsympathetically and used as the cover illustration of the exhibition catalogue. Der Neue Mensch was never recovered and is assumed to have been destroyed. One of his sculptures has been recovered, from a Berlin dig, and put on display at the Neues Museum.
With outbreak of World War II, Freundlich was interned by the French authorities but released, for a time, under the influence of Pablo Picasso. In 1943 he was arrested and deported toMajdanek Concentration Camp, where he was murdered on the day he arrived.
Israel Gutman was born in Warsaw, Poland. After playing an important role in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, he was deported to the Majdanek,Auschwitz and Mauthausen concentration camps. His older sister died in the ghetto. After two years in the camps, he was hospitalized in Austria. He managed to escape and join the Jewish Brigade in Italy. In 1946, he immigrated to Mandate Palestine and joined KibbutzLehavot HaBashan, where he raised a family. He was a member of the kibbutz for 25 years. In 1961, he testified at the trial of Adolf Eichmann.
(25 March 1933 – 9 November 1942) (in Polish: Henio ?ytomirski), (inHebrew: ???? ?'?????????) was a Polish Jew born in Lublin, Poland and was murdered at the age of 9 in a gas chamber in Majdanek concentration camp, during the Nazi occupation of Poland.Henio became an icon of the Holocaust, not only in Lublin but all over Poland. His life story became a part of the curriculum which is learnt in the general education system in Poland. "Letters to Henio" project is held in Lublin since 2005. Henio Zytomirski is one of the heroes of "The Primer" permanent exhibition at barrack 53 in Majdanek, an exhibition which is dedicated to children who were in the camp.
Henio Zytomirski was born in the city of Lublin in Poland, the firstborn son of Sara (née Oksman) and Shmuel Zytomirski. Henio and his parents lived at 3rd Szewska Street in Lublin. His grandparents, Chaya (née Melamed) and Ephraim Zytomirski, lived at 22nd Lubartowska Street. On 1 September 1937 Henio began attending "Trachter" kindergarten in Lublin. On 5 July 1939 he was photographed for the last time at the entrance to PKO Bank, located at 64 Krakowska Avenue (in Polish: Krakowskie Przedmie?cie) in Lublin. On 1 September 1939 Henio was supposed to start first grade, but that day, Nazi Germany invaded Poland.
With the establishment of the Nazi reign in Poland, a Judenrat of 24 members was set up in Lublin. Shmuel, Henio's father, a teacher by profession and Chairman of the Poale Zionmovement in Lublin, was appointed by the Judenrat to be the manager of the post office at 2nd Kowalska Street. This role allowed him, apparently, to make contact with the Polish underground (which delivered him forbidden information and news); to correspond with his young brother, Yehuda (Leon) Zytomirski, who had already immigrated to Palestine in 1937; to be in contact with Yitzhak Zuckerman and Zivia Lubetkin from the Jewish resistance in Warsaw Ghetto and with Hashomer Hatzair people in Vilnius; and to correspond with Nathan Schwalb, Director of the Jewish Agency offices and Hehalutz movement in Geneva, who aided hundreds of youth movement activists in the Nazi occupation territories.
By order from the Nazi governor of Distrikt Lublin, all 34,149 Jews who lived then in the city were forced on 24 March 1941 to move to theghetto that was established in Lublin. In March 1941, Zytomirski family moved to 11th Kowalska Street in the Lublin Ghetto. Henio's grandfather, Ephraim Zytomirski, had died from typhus on 10 November 1941. Before his death he asked to be buried near the cemetery gate in order to be the first to witness the liberation of Lublin. The tombstone on his grave was smashed and destroyed in 1943 when the Nazis liquidated the new Jewish cemetery in Lublin.
On 16 March 1942, the transports in freight trains from Lublin District to extermination camps began as part of "Operation Reinhard". Every day about 1,400 people were sent to camps. The German police and SS people supervised the transports. Selection of Jews took place in the square near the municipal slaughterhouse. The deportees were led on foot from the Great Synagogue (named after the Maharshal), which served as a gathering place for the deportees. Aged and sick people were shot on the spot. The rest were sent to the extermination camps, mainly to Belzec. Hundreds of Jews were shot dead in the woods on the outskirts of Lublin. A total of about 29,000 Lublin Jews were exterminated during March and April 1942. Apparently, among them were Henio's mother and grandmother, as well as two of his aunts – Esther and Rachel – who were murdered then.
On 14 April 1942 the transports ended. Henio and his father survived the selections of spring 1942, apparently thanks to a work permit (J-Auswiess) that his father had. Along with rest of the Jews who stayed alive in Lublin, they were transferred to another smaller ghetto that was built in Majdan Tatarski (a suburb of Lublin). Between 7,000 and 8,000 people entered this ghetto, although many of them did not have work permits. On 22 April the SS held another selection: about 2,500 to 3,000 people without work permits were taken first to Majdanek and from there to Krepiec forest which is about 15 km from Lublin. There they were shot to death.
On 9 November 1942, the final liquidation of the Jewish Ghetto in Majdan Tatarski occurred. About 3,000 people were sent to the extermination camp Majdanek, including Henio and his father Shmuel. Old people and children were sent immediately to the gas chamber. Nine year old Henio was also in this group.
Henio's father, Shmuel Zytomirski, was transferred to a forced labor camp outside Majdanek, where the prisoners built sports stadium for theSS. From the camp he managed to send a few last letters to his brother Yehuda in Palestine and to the Zionist delegation in ?stanbul. On 3 November 1943 the massive extermination of all remaining Jewish prisoners in Majdanek and the other camps in Lublin District took place. This liquidation is known as "Aktion Erntefest", which in German means "Harvest Festival". On that day 18,400 Jews were murdered in Majdanek. At the end of this killing operation, Lublin District was declared Judenrein, i.e., "clean of Jews". Surprisingly, Shmuel Zytomirski survived also this mass extermination. This is known according to a letter he sent from Lublin by courier to the Jewish delegation in ?stanbulon 6 January 1944. It is not clear from where exactly this letter was sent. The city of Lublin was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on 22 July 1944. Shmuel, Henio's father, did not survive the Holocaust, but it is not known how he died.Letters to Henio
The project "Letters to Henio" began in the city of Lublin in 2005 as part of an activity to preserve and reconstruct the city's Jewish heritage. A local cultural center, Grodzka Gate – Theater NN, organizes this educational activity. According to center's director, Tomasz Pietrasiewicz, the main idea of the project is as follows: "It is unacceptable to remember the faces and names of 40,000 people. Remember one. A shy smile, white shirt with a collar, colored shorts, side haircut, striped socks… Henio."
Every year on 19 April, which is Holocaust Remembrance Day in Poland, pupils and citizens of Lublin are asked to send letters addressed to Henio Zytomirski at 11th Kowalska Street, the last known address of Henio in Lublin. Thousands of letters were sent to Henio, includingpaintings, personal letters and exciting stories of 12–13 year-old children. At the entrance to the PKO Bank, the place where Henio's last picture was taken, a special mailbox is placed every year for sending the letters to Henio. Lublin postal Authorities have to deal with full sacks of letters which are sent back to senders with the post seal: "Unknown Addressee". Later in the day, participants follow a walking tour by foot and visit the addresses where Henio had lived at: 3 Szewska Street, 11 Kowalska Street (in the Ghetto). The walk ends with a silent prayer at the foot of a street lamp, which is the last remnant of the pre-war Jewish town of Lublin serving as a memorial candle. In 2007 the passengers by the bank were asked to write letters to Henio on the spot. The response was extraordinary. The national Polish press dedicates a lot of reportages to this project. Since 2005 Henio Zytomirski has become an icon of the Holocaust, not only in Lublin but all over Poland. Today his life story is a part of the curriculum which is learnt in the general education system in Poland. School newspapers tell about him and try to understand the meaning of the Holocaust through his short life story.The Primer
"The Primer" (in Polish: Elementarz) permanent exhibition in Majdanek is exhibited in barrack 53, and it is dedicated to the children who were in the camp. This exhibition was created by Tomasz Pietrasiewicz, the director of The Grodzka Gate – Theater NN Center. The purpose of this educational project is to demonstrate the fate of the children who were imprisoned in Death camp. The idea of the project was born when one of the survivors noticed that Majdanek museum does not inform the visitors and does not show them the lives of the children in the camp. It was hard for pupils who visited Majdanek museum to identify themselves emotionally with the things which happened in Majdanek. By this exhibition the Majdanek museum enables pupils to turn the knowledge which is learnt in school into real education that concerns what had happened in "The Camp World".
The exhibition shows the fate of four children, ex-prisoners in Majdanek Camp: Two Jewish children, Halina Birenbaum and Henio Zytomirski; a Belarusian child, Piotr Kiryszczenko; and a Polish girl, Janina Buczek. One of them was killed in the camp – Henio Zytomirski. The exhibition presents in a symbolic way also a fifth fate which was likely the fate of Jewish girls in the camp. We learn this only from what was written on a slip of paper which was found in Majdanek, hidden in a girl's shoe:"There was once El?unia,who was dying all alone,In Majdanek was her father,And in Auschwitz was her mum".
The girl, El?unia, who wrote the note was nine years old, and she was singing the song to herself to a melody of a famous Polish nursery rhyme (in Polish: "Z popielnika na Wojtusia iskiereczka mruga"). In the exhibition the visitors can hear both versions of the song.
The exhibition is divided into two parts: "The Primer World" and "The Camp World".
It is "The Primer" that teaches children how to organize and describe the world. It contains the simplest social categories that form the basis for relations between a human being and the world that surrounds him. A unique characteristic of "The Primer" lies in presenting a world without cruelty and evil. The children were "dragged out" from this simple and naive world of "The Primer" and forcibly thrown into the "Camp World". This world requires a completely different "Primer" – the Death camp Primer.
The "Camp World" that children were brought into was completely different from the world pictured in "The Primer". Camp life brought entirely new experience, created new concepts for children such as: hunger, selection, gas chamber – as well as daily contact with evil and death. Living in the camp caused distortion, deformed and destroyed the children's psyche. Along the walls of "The Primer World" there are pre-war primers in Polish, Belarusian and Hebrew. Four children's names are written in white chalk on the school board, those whose fates are presented in the exhibition. A hum of a school corridor is sounded in the room, and one can hear screams and pushing shouts of children during a school break.
In "The Camp World" there is a symbolic “Camp Primer”. The following words are described in it: appeal, barrack, gas chamber, crematorium,camp, selection, transport. Each word is expressed by the memories of survivors. To emphasize the importance of the strength of these terms, the terms were written and burned out on clay boards. The boards are put on concrete plates. All texts (written and spoken) presented in this part of the exhibition are memories of the prisoners. There are no comments, historic studies, etc. There are only testimonies of thewitnesses.
Four concrete water wells erected in the barrack symbolize the fate of each of the four children. The wells go through the floor down to earth under the barrack. When one leans into the well, one can hear from the depths of the earth a story narrated by an adult about their stay in camp when they were a child. The well commemorating Henio Zytomirski is silent– he did not survive the camp.
Dmitry Mikhaylovich Karbyshev (Russian: ??????? ?????????? ????????) ( October 26 [O.S. October 14] 1880, Omsk — February 18, 1945, Mauthausen, Austria) was a Red Army general and Hero of the Soviet Union (posthumously).
Karbyshev was born in Omsk , where his father was a military officer. His father died when he was twelve, and he was raised by his mother. Despite financial difficulties, he graduated from the Siberian Cadet Corps in 1898 and went on to attend the Nykolaiv Petersburg Military Engineering Academy (present-day Saint Petersburg Military Engineering-Technical University (Nikolaevsky), from which he graduated in 1900. He was assigned to serve in the 1st East Siberian Sapper Battalion, in charge of battlefield telegraph operations, and was stationed in Manchuria.Russo-Japanese War and World War I
During the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905), Karbyshev was responsible in building bridges, and conducting reconnaissance patrols, as well as telegraph operations. He was at the Battle of Mukden and was decorated for bravery. He was promoted to lieutenant at the end of the war.
Karbyshev subsequently served in Vladivostok. He returned to St. Petersburg to graduate from the Nikolaev Military Engineering Academy in 1911. Promoted to captain, he was then sent to Brest-Litovsk as commander of a military engineering company, and participated in the construction of the Brest Fortress.
At the start of World War I, Karbyshev was involved in combat operations in the Carpathians under General Aleksei Brusilov’s 8th Army on the Southwestern Front. In early 1915, he was at the Siege of Przemy?l, where he was wounded in the leg. He was decorated with the Order of St. Anne for bravery. In 1916, he participated in the Brusilov Offensive. However, with the February Revolutionand the collapse of the Russian Empire, Karbyshev joined the Red Guard in December 1917 while stationed at Mohyliv-Podilskyi. From 1918, he was an officer in the Bolshevik Red Army.Career in the Red Army
During the Russian Civil War, Karbyshev oversaw the construction of numerous fortifications, and held senior positions at the headquarters of the North Caucasus Military District. In 1920, he was chief engineer of the Soviet 5th Army and supervised sapper assaults on White movementfortifications in the Crimea.
From 1923-1926, Karbyshev was chairman of the Engineering Committee of the Main Military Engineering Management (WPRA) of the Red Army. From 1926, he became an instructor at theFrunze Military Academy, and from 1936 he joined the General Staff Academy. In 1941 he earned a degree of the Doctor of Military Sciences. He was awarded the academic title of professor in 1938, and the military rank of lieutenant general in the Corps of Engineers in 1940, followed by a doctorate in military sciences in 1941. He published over 100 scientific papers on military engineering and military history. His speciality was in the construction and destruction of barriers, and on the issues involved in forcing rivers and other water hazards. His articles and manuals on the theory of engineering and battlefield operations and tactics were required reading for the commanders of the Red Army in the prewar years. He was also a consultant for the restoration of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius outside of Moscow.
With the start of World War II, Karbyshev was assigned to the Soviet 3rd Army and Grodno, followed by the headquarters of the Soviet 10th Army, which was encircled and destroyed during the Battle of Bia?ystok–Minsk. In August 1941, Karbyshev was serious wounded in combat at the Dnieper River in what is now the Mogilev Region in Belarus, and was captured by the Nazis.
Karbyshev was held at a succession of concentration camps, including Hammelburg , Flossenburg , Majdanek , Auschwitz , Sachsenhausenand Mauthausen. Refusing repeated offers from the Nazis to solicit his cooperation, and despite his advanced age, he was one of the most active leaders of the camp resistance movement. On the night of February 17, 1945, he was one of 500 prisoners doused with cold water and left to expire in the frost. He was posthumously awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union on August 16, 1946.
- July 10, 1878 – March 9, 1943)
Blessed ?melyan Kovch
He was born in a peasant family in the town of Tlumach in the Kosiv region of Western Ukraine, and was ordained in 1911 after graduating from the Sts. Sergius and Bacchus College in Rome. He served as a parish priest from 1921 to 1943 at the church of St. Nicholas in the village of Peremyshliany, and was the father of six children.
On September 9, 1999, the Jewish Council of Ukraine awarded him the title of "Ukraine's righteous".
Igor Newerly or Igor Abramow-Newerly (24 March 1903, Bia?owie?a – 19 October 1987,Warsaw, Poland) was a Polish novelist and educator. He was born into a Russian-Polish family. His son is Polish novelist Jaros?aw Abramow-Newerly. His grandfather Józef Newerly, was a Czechnational, who held a title of ?owczy ("Master of Hunt") to the court of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.
Igor Newerly studied law at Kiev University but he was relegated for political reasons, arrested and sent to Odessa. In 1924 he emigrated illegally to the newly independent Poland and was active in the field of pedagogy in Warsaw. He worked together with the renowned educator Janusz Korczak, and in 1926 became his secretary. From 1932 to 1939 Newerly worked for Ma?y Przegl?d (Little Review). He married Barbara Jarecka.
Under the Nazi German occupation of Poland Newerly was a member of the Polish resistance. He helped Janusz Korczak at his Orphanage and saved his diary of martyrdom. He also hid from Nazipersecution several of his Jewish colleagues from Nasz Przegl?d daily – among them Kuba Hersztein – and transported Lejzor Czarnobroda to Warsaw after he escaped from the train toTreblinka and broke his leg. Newerly was arrested at the beginning of 1943 by the GermanGestapo and imprisoned at Pawiak in Warsaw. Until the end of the war he was an inmate of Nazi concentration camps: Majdanek, Auschwitz, Oranienburg and Bergen Belsen where he was liberated.
Grocher was born in 1927 in Warsaw, Poland and lived with his family in the Warsaw Ghetto. As a teenager during World War II, Grocher survived the gas chamber and nine concentration camps including Buchenwald and Majdanek. He was the only member of his family to survive. Since the end of the war he has lived in Västerås, Sweden and traveled around to Swedish schools giving speeches about the events of the holocaust.
Camp Commanders~Karl-Otto Koch
Majdanek could boast more commanders in its short lifetime than any other camp. In quick succession command over the camp went to the following SSers; First, SS-Standartenführer - SS-Colonel Karl Otto Koch, from September 1941 to July 1942,
Second, SS-Hauptsturmführer - SS-Captain Max Kögel from August until October 1942, third, SS-Führer und KZ-Lagerkommandant -
SS Leader and concentrationcamp commandant Hermann Florstedt from October 1942 until September 1943 when he was executed by the Nazis for corruption in 1943,
Forth, SS-Obersturmbannführer - SS-Lt. Colonel Martin Gottfried Weiß from September 1943 to May 1944
and fifth,SS-Obersturmbannführer - SS-Lt. Colonel Arthur Liebehenschel from May until 22 Juli 1944. But the actual authority rested with SS Obersturmführer - SS-1st Lt. Anthony Thernes. Thernes acted with cruel authority under all five commandants. He was captured by the Soviets and tried and executed on the spot.
Karl Otto Koch, the first commandant of Majdanek, was soon relieved of his command. He was charged with stealing from the camp warehouses where plunder taken from the Jewish victims was kept. He was tried by a German court and executed before the end of the war. Hermann Florstedt also was executed by the Nazis after he was convicted by a Nazi court on charges of stealing from the camp warehouses. Strange as it may seem under the given circumstances, there were 800 recorded cases of cruelty and corruption in concentration camps which were tried by Dr. Konrad Morgan, the legal investigator for the Kripo, Kriminal Polizei - Criminal Police in the Reich - Empire. As a result, a total of 200 SS men, who at one time or another, were in charge of concentration camps were convicted. Included in this ignominious group was the notorious Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow. This camp of horror became well-documented as a result of the movie "Schindler's List."
Two commandants of the Majdanek camp were tried by the Allies after the war; Max Kögel was sentenced to death by a British court in 1946 and Martin Weiss received the death sentence in an American court, also in 1946. Arthur Liebehenschel, the last commandant of the camp, was sent to Majdanek in 1944 after having served as the commandant of Auschwitz I for several months. When Majdanek was evacuated in July 1944, he was sent to Triest. After the war, Liebehenschel was convicted by the Supreme People's Court in Krakow and executed. The trial of the remaining Majdanek SS officers and regular officers finally took place in 1976-77 in Düsseldorf, Germany.
(August 2, 1897 – April 5, 1945),
a Standartenführer (Colonel) in the German Schutzstaffel (SS), was the first commandant of the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen, and later also served as a commander at the Majdanek concentration camp.
Koch served with several SS-Standarten until June 13, 1935, when he became commander of the Columbia concentration camp in Berlin-Tempelhof. In April 1936 he was assigned to the concentration camp at Esterwegen. Four months later he was moved to Sachsenhausen.
On August 1, 1937, he was given command of the new concentration camp atBuchenwald. He remained at Buchenwald until September 1941, when he was transferred to the Majdanek concentration camp for POWs. That was largely due to an investigation based on allegations of his improper conduct at Buchenwald, which included corruption, fraud, embezzlement, drunkenness, sexual offences and a murder. Koch commanded the Majdanek camp for only one year; he was relieved from his duties after 86 Soviet POWs escaped from the camp in August 1942. Koch was charged with criminal negligence and transferred to Berlin, where he worked at the SS Personalhauptamt and as a liaison between the SS and the German Post-Office.
Prosecution and death
Koch's actions at Buchenwald first caught the attention of SS-Obergruppenführer Josias, Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont in 1941. In glancing over the death list of Buchenwald, Josias had stumbled across the name of Dr. Walter Krämer, a head hospital orderly at Buchenwald, which he recognized because Krämer had successfully treated him in the past. Josias investigated the case and found out that Koch, in a position as the Camp Commandant, had ordered Krämer and Karl Peixof, a hospital attendant, killed as "political prisoners" because they had treated him forsyphilis and he feared it might be discovered. Waldeck also received reports that a certain prisoner had been shot while attempting to escape. By that time, Koch had been transferred to the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland, but his wife, Ilse, was still living at the Commandant's house in Buchenwald. Waldeck ordered a full scale investigation of the camp by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, an SS officer who was a judge in a German court. Throughout the investigation, more of Koch's orders to kill prisoners at the camp were revealed, as well as embezzlement of property stolen from prisoners. It was also discovered that a prisoner who was "shot while trying to escape" had been told to get water from a well some distance from the camp, and he was shot from behind. He had also helped treat Koch for syphilis. A charge of incitement to murder was lodged by Prince Waldeck and Dr. Morgen against Koch, to which were later added charges of embezzlement. Other camp officials were charged, including Koch's wife. The trial resulted in Koch being sentenced to death for disgracing both himself and the SS. Koch was executed by firing squad on 5 April 1945, one week before American allied troops arrived to liberate the camp.
Marriage Ilse Koch
Koch first married in 1924 and had one son; however, his marriage ended in divorce 1931, due to his infidelity.
On May 25, 1936 Koch married Ilse Köhler with whom he had a son and two daughters. Köhler later became known as "The Witch of Buchenwald" (Die Hexe von Buchenwald), usually rendered more alliteratively in English as "The Bitch of Buchenwald." When Koch was transferred to Buchenwald, Ilse was appointed anOberaufseherin (overseer) by the SS and thus had an active, official role in the atrocities committed there. There have been many unverified rumors about a lampshade made from human skin, which has become an often repeated legend since the war, but no one could testify that they had actually seen such a thing during Ilse's trial. Acquitted by Morgen, Ilse Koch was sentenced after the war to life in prison. She hanged herself in prison in 1967.
- August 2, 1897 – April 5, 1945
Otto Max Koegel
Koegel became adjutant of the Dachau concentration camp commander in 1937. From 1938 to 1942 he was first "Direktor" (managing director) and then commander of the labour camp for women in Lichtenburg at Ravensbrück in the rank ofSturmbannführer (Major). In 1942 he was commander of the extermination camp Majdanek and involved in the installation of gas chambers at this site. From 1943 to 1945 he was commander at Flossenbürg concentration camp.
- 16 October 1895~27 June 1946
(February 18, 1895 – April 15, 1945)
He was replaced by the interim commander Martin Gottfried Weiss, after the SS charged him with embezzlement and arbitrarily killing prisoners - having been investigated by SS Judge Georg Konrad Morgen. He was executed by the SS on April 15, 1945.
He was alleged to have had an affair with Ilse Koch.
- February 18, 1895 – April 15, 1945
Martin Gottfried Weiss
SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) Martin Gottfried Weiss, alternatively spelled Weiß
(3 June 1905 – 29 May 1946)
- 3 June 1905 – 29 May 194
(25 November 1901 - 28 January 1948)
Liebehenschel was born in Posen (now Pozna?). He studied economics and public administration. Too young to serve in World War I, in 1919 he was in the Freikorps"Grenzschutz Ost"; he served as a sergeant major in the German Reichswehrafterwards. In 1932, he joined the Nazi Party (member number 39 254), and in 1934 was commissioned in the SS, where he served in the Totenkopfverbände. Liebehenschel became the adjutant in the Lichtenburg concentration camp, and two years later was transferred to the inspectorate of the concentration camps in Berlin. In 1942, when the SS- Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt (WVHA - Office of economic policy) was founded, Liebehenschel was assigned to the new Amtsgruppe D (Concentration Camps) as head of Office D I (Central Office).
On December 1, 1943, Liebehenschel was appointed commandant of Auschwitzextermination camp, succeeding Rudolf Höß. When Höß returned to Auschwitz, Liebehenschel was replaced as commandant on May 8, 1944, and appointed commandant of the Majdanek extermination camp on 19 May 1944, succeedingMartin Gottfried Weiss. The camp was evacuated because of the Soviet advance on Nazi Germany, and Liebehenschel was ordered to Trieste, Italy to the office of Odilo Globocnik, Höhere SS- und Polizeiführer (HSSPF) for Operational Zone Adriatic Coast (OZAK). Liebehenschel became head the SS Manpower Office there.
At the war's end, Liebehenschel was arrested by the American Army and was extradited to Poland. After being convicted in the Auschwitz Trial in Kraków, he was sentenced to death and subsequently executed by hanging on January 28, 1948.
In doing research on the Majdanek concentration camp I came across a reference to a document written by the committee of inquiry which was set up by the Soviets and Poles after the liberation of the Majdanek concentration camp to investigate German crimes at the camp. This is especially important considering that since Majdanek was one of the first camps to be liberated, it was captured relatively intact because the Germans did not have enough time to destroy it or cover up all their crimes. I tracked down only two copies of this document in English in the whole country(there are versions in Russian, Polish and French also), the one of which I used being at the Hoover War Library at Stanford University. Once I received a copy I decided it would be worth it to enter it into my computer, and once I started I decided to make it available to other researchers. I scanned in the text and corrected the mistakes made by the OCR software which was not so accurate because of the poor quality of the photocopy and of the original printing. This will hopefully be the first in a series of documents which I will be making available electronically. I am making this available through e-mail by request, in the various Holocaust archives, and in the original Macintosh document by request. If I ever get my WWW home page set up, it'll be available there too. If you have any questions about this text please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org (which should be active at least through 1997).
Feel free to distribute this but please make sure not to edit or change the text and to leave my intro in place. Thank you.
Format notes: I have tried as best I could to retain the format of the printed document. The original has pages which are about 4 inches wide and 6 inches tall. I separated the pages by dotted lines with the page number on the line preceding the page which it designates. I also, whenever possible, used accent marks and curly quotes to keep it exactly as I saw it on the page -- this means that if you received this document over e-mail without MIME encoding that you will see some strange characters in the middle of the document -- if your mail reader has MIME capabilities then I beleive everying should look okay.
The version of this which is available as a Macintosh document also uses different sized type, bold text and centered text to make it match the styles and such from the original.
[Archival note: I have reformatted this document for the archives. The changes are solely in format; i.e. paragraphs now contain spaces between them, and the right margin has been reset to 70 from 75. Mr. Trauring's original format has been preserved in Maidanek]
COMMUNIQUE OF THE POLISH-SOVIET EXTRAORDINARY COMMISSION FOR INVESTIGATING THE CRIMES COMMITTED BY THE GERMANS IN THE MAJDANEK EXTERMINATION CAMP IN LUBLIN
FOREIGN LANGAUGES PUBLISHING HOUSE MOSCOW 1944
THE TORTURES AND BLOODY REPRISALS PRACTISED IN THE EXTERMINATION CAMP
"COMMUNIQUE OF THE POLISH-SOVIET EXTRAORDINARY COMMISSION FOR INVESTIGATING THE CRIMES COMMITTED BY THE GERMANS IN THE MAJDANEK EXTERMINATION CAMP IN LUBLIN"
Introduction by Philip Trauring:
The regime in the "Extermination Camp" served the object of accomplishing tho wholesale extermination of the prisoners.
The prisoners dragged out a miserable existence of starvation. The ordinary daily ration of a prisoner consisted of one issue per day of coffee made of roasted turnips, two issues per day of soup made of grass, and from one hundred and eighty to two hundred and seventy grams of bread, half adulterated with sawdust or chestnut flour. This led to the complete exhaustion of the prisoners, to the spread of tuberculosis amd other diseases and the wholesale dying out of the prisoners. For the slightest "offence" the prisoners were deprived of even this meagre food for several days at a stretch, which practically doomed them to death from starvation.
Tomasek, a Czech and a former prisoner of the camp, stated before the Commission:
"The people starved all the time. The wholesale exhaustion of the prisoners and death from exbaustion were observed. The prisoners ate offal, cats and dogs. Most of the prisoners looked like walking skeletons covered with skin, or were unaturally bloated due to swelling resulting from starvation."
Corporal Reznik of the Polish Army and former prisoner of the camp stated:
"I noticed that the Russian prisoners of war were hardly fed at all. They were reduced to an extreme state of exhaustion. Their bodies swelled, and they were not even able to talk. They died in large numbers."
Starvation was one of the important elements of the general system of extermination that prevailed in the camp.
The working day started at 4 a.m. The Germans burst into the barracks and roused the people with whips. The roll was called, at which all, sound and sick alike, had to be present. Those who had died in the night had to be taken out to the barrack square by those who had slept next to them to be checked. The roll-call lasted two hours and more, and was accompanied by the beating and tormenting of the prisoners. If a prisoner swooned and was unable to answer when his name was called, he was registered as dead and killed with clubs.
At 6 a.m. the prisoners were taken out to work. The work was exceptionally heavy and exhausting. It was accompanied by severe beating, torment and murder. The gangs of prisoners returning for their so-called dinner at 11 a.m., carried with them their fellow-prisoners who had been beaten, mutilated or killed. During the evening roll-call the SS men on duty read the names of those prisoners who had worked "badly," and these were tied to a form and flogged with whips, rods or birches. The number of strokes inflicted ranged from twenty five and over. Often, prisoners were flogged to death.
Zelent, Docent of the Warsaw University, formerly a prisoner of the camp, stated:
"I knew Barrister Nosek, from Radom, who was given one hundred strokes, from which he died three days later."
In the case of intellectuals and prominent persons among the prisoners, particularly refined methods of torture were adopted. The Germans compelled Professor Michalowicz, age seventy-two, the famous expert on infantile diseases, Professor Pomirowski, age sixty, of the Warsaw Politechnical Institute, Wazowicz, age seventy-five, a member of the Polish Supreme Court, and many others, to perform the most arduous work, and tormented them in every possible way.
Tadeusz Budzyn, M. Sc. Chem., a Pole, and formerly a prisoner at the camp stated:
"The Germans compelled a large group of professors, physicians, engineers and other specialists, numbering one thousand two hundred in all, who came from Greece, to carry heavy stones from one place to another, a task which was far beyond their strength. The scientists who dropped from exhaustion as a result of this heavy labour were beaten to death by thc SS men. Owing to the system of starvation, exhausting labour, beating and murder, the entire group of Greek scientists was exterminated in the course of five weeks."
The methods of torturing and tormenting prisoners varied to an extraordiuary degree. Many of them bore the character of alleged "jokes," which very often ended in the death of the prisoners upon whom they were played. Among these may be cited the mock shooting of a prisoner while simultaneously stunning him by a blow on the head with a plank or other blunt instrument, and the mock drowning of prisoners in the pool at the camp, which often ended in the actual drowning of the victims.
Among the German butchers in the camp some specialized in particular methods of torture and murder. They killed their victims by striking them with a club across the back of the neck, kicking them in the stomach or in the groin, etc,
The SS torturers drowned their victims in the filthy water that flowed from the bathhouse into a shallow ditch. The victim's head was forced into this filthy water and kept there with the jackboot of the SS man until he expired.
The favourite method of the Hitlerite SS men was to hang their victims by their arms, which were tied behind their backs. Le-du Corantin, a Frenchman, who had suffered this form of punishment, stated that when thus suspended the victim soon lost consciousness. When that happencd the victim was lowered, but was hung up again as soon us he recovered consciousness. This was repeatcd over and over again.
For the slightest offence, especially on suspicion of attempting to escape, the German fiends hanged prisoners in the camp. In the middle of every field there was a post with a cross-tree fixed to it about two metres high on which people were hanged.
"From my barrack," said the witness Domashev, a Soviet prisoner of war who was confined in this camp, "I saw people hanged on this post in the middle of the field." Near the laundry, in the space between fields No. 1 and No. 2, there was a special barrack with beams stretching from one end to another, from which people were hanged in whole groups.
Female prisoners in the camp were subjected to no less torment and torture: the same methods of roll-call, exhausting labour, beating and torment. The chief woman overseer Erich, of the SS, and the women overseers Braunstein, Anni Devid, Weber, Knobliek, Ellert and Redli, were distinguished for their cruelty.
The commission has established numerous cases of absolutely unprecedented cruelties on the part of the German fiends in the camp. At a plenary session of the Commission, the German Kampfpolizist, Heinz Stalbe stated that he saw the chief of the crematorium, Oberscharfuhrer Munsfeld, tie a Polish womam hand and foot and throw her alive into the furnace.
Witnesses Jelinski and Olech, who were employed in the camp, also testified to the burning of people alive in the crematorium furnaces.."A child was torn from a mother's breast and before her eyes was dashed against the wall of the barrack and killed," stated the witness Atrokhov. The witness Edward Baran stated:
"I myself saw little children torn away from their mothers and killed before their eyes: the child was held by one leg, the other was kept down by the foot and the child was thus torn in two."
The Deputy Chief of the camp, Obersturmfuhrer SS, Tumann, was notorious for his exceptional sadism. He forced groups of prisoners to stand in a row on thier knees and killed them by striking them on the head with a club; he set police dogs on the prisoners; he took a most active part in all the punishments and killing of prisoners.
Thus, starvation, exhausting labour, torment, torture and murder, accompanied by unprecedented sadism, were resorted to in the wholesale slaughter of prisoners in this camp.
THE WHOLESALE SHOOTING OF PRISONERS OF WAR AND CIVILIANS IN THE CAMP
The wholesale extermination of the civilian population of European countries, including Poland and the occupied regions of the U.S.S.R., was the deliberate policy of Hitler Germany, which logically followed from her plan to enslave and exterminate the progressive and active part of the Slavonic peoples.
The erection in enslaved Poland of camps for the wholesale extermination of European peoples and prisoners of war was prompted by the desire of the Hitlerite ruling clique to cover up and conceal their crimes in every possible way. These camps, including the Majdanek "Extermination Camp," were also places for the complete extermination of tho Jewish population. One of the methods of exterminating vast masses of people whom Hitler Germany regarded as undesirable was wholesale shooting, which was extensively practised in the Lublin "Extermination Camp."
The bloody history of this camp commences with the wholesale shooting of Soviet prisoners of war, which the SS men carried out in November-December 1941. Of a contingent of over two thousand Soviet prisoners of war, only eighty survived; all the rest were shot, except for a small group who were tortured to death.
In the period from January to April 1942 fresh contingents of Soviet prisoners of war arrived in the canmp and were shot.
Jan Niedzialek, a Pole, a hired waggon driver at the camp, stated:
"In the winter of 1942 the Germans exterminated about five thousand Russian prisoners of war in the following way: the prisoners were carted in motor trucks from their barracks to pits in the old quarry and there they were shot."
Prisoners of war of the former Polish army, captured as far back as 1939 and confined in different camps in Germany were already in 1940 collected iu the camp in Lipovaya Street in Lublin and soon after transferred in groups to the Majdanek "Extermination Camp" where they met with the same fate: systematic torment, killing, wholesale shooting, hanging, etc.
The witness Reznik stated the following:
"In January 1941, about four thousand of us Jewish prisoners of war were loaded into railway trucks and sent eastward. . . . We were brought to Lublin, told to get out of the train and handed over to SS men. Approximately in September or October 1942, they decided to leave in the camp in No. 7 Lipovaya Street only those prisoners who had factory qualifications and were needed by the city. All the rest, including myself, were sent to the Majdanek Camp. We all knew perfectly well that to be sent to the Majdanek Camp meant death."
Of this contingent of four thousand prisoners of war only a few individuals, who succeeded in escaping from their work outside of the camp, survived.
In the summer of 1943, three hundred Soviet officers were brought to the Majdanek Camp. Among them were two colonels and four majors. All the rest were captains and senior lieutenants. All the aforesaid officers were shot in the Camp.
During the whole of 1942, the wholesale shooting of prisoners in the camp, as well as of inhabitants brought in from outside, was carried on.
Tadeusz Drabik, a Pole, inhabitant of the village of Krembeck (eight kilometres from Lublin), one day saw the SS men bring up eighty-eight truck loads of people of different nationalities and ages-men, women and children. These people were taken to the Krembecki Woods were made to alight from the trucks, were stripped of all their clothing and valuables and then shot on the edge of pits which had been dug beforehand. During 1942 the Germans systematically carried out wholesale shooting in the Krembecki Woods. In the spring of 1942, six thousand persons arrived at the camp in one contingent; all were shot in the course of two days.
On November 3, 1943, eighteen thousand four hundred persons were shot in the camp. Of these eight thousand four hundred were camp prisoners and ten thousand were people who had been brought here from the city and from other camps. Three days before this wholesale shooting, large trenches were dug within the precincts of the camp, behind the crematorium. The shooting began in the morning and ended late at night. The people were stripped naked. The SS men led them to the trenches in groups of fifty and one hundred, compelled them to lie face downwards in the bottom of the trench and shot them with automatic rifles. On top of the corpses another row of living persons was laid and these were also shot. This went on until the trench was filled. The corpses were then covered with a thin layer of earth. Two or three days later the bodies were disinterred and burnt in the crematorium and on bonfires.
In order to drown the shrieks of the victims during the shooting, and also the sound of the firing, the Germans installed loudspeakers near the crematorium and in different parts of the camp, and all day long these loudspeakers blared forth jazz music.
This wholesale shooting became widely known among the inhabitants of Lublin. SS man Hermann Vogel, who served at the camp, stated:
"That day, in addition - to the people who were brought from the city, eight thousand four hundred persons were taken from the Lublin Camp and shot. I, know the exact figure because next day official information concerning the extermination of eight thousand four hundred persons was sent to the storehouse where I worked, as we had to check their clothing."
Stanislawski, a Polish prisoner who worked in the camp office, stated the following concerning the shooting on November 3, 1943: "The Germans called this shooting 'Sonderbehandlung' (special treatment), and it was under this heading that the report was sent to Berlin. This report contained the following statement-I quote literally: 'The difference between the number of prisoners in the camp in the morning and that of the evening arose as the result of the special extermination of eighteen thousand persons.'"
The inhabitants of the village of Dziesiata were frequent witnesses of wholesale shooting, including those carried out in 1944. From March to July 22 inclusive, the Gestapo brought up a large number of Polish inhabitants, men, women and children, in motor trucks and carts. They were taken to the crematorium, near which they were stripped naked and then shot in the trenches.
"There were days," stated the witness Niedzialek, who witnessed these wholesale shootings of Polish inhabitants, "when from two-hundred to three hundred and more persons were shot."
The Soviet prisoner of war Kanunnikov witnessed the shooting in July 1943 of forty women with little children in field No. 1. Early in the morning the bodies of the victims were taken to the crematorium to be burnt."
In the latter half of May 1943, the SS men brought to the Krembecki Woods two lorries drawn by a tractor and a motor truck, all loaded with the dead bodies of Polish children.
The witness Gangol stated:
"I remember another glaring case which I personally witnessed, and which I fully confirm today: in the latter half of May 1943 the SS men brought to the Krembecki Woods two lorries drawn by a tractor and a motor truck, all loaded exclusively with Polish children. They were entirely naked. All the bodies of these children were piled up in stacks in the woods and burnt."
The witness Krasovskaya informed the Commission of a case of the shooting, in April 1943, of three hundred women brought from Greece.
The aforementioned cases of wholesale shooting represent only a small proportion of the cases collected by the commision.
A Committee of Medical Experts under the chairmanship of Professor Szyling-Syngalewicz, Professor of Medical Jurisprudence at the Lublin Catholic University, and consisting of Dr. Rupniewski, Head Doctor of the Lublin City Administration; Lieutenant Colonel of the Army Medical Service Szkarabski, Medical Expert of a Front; Lieutenant Colonel of the Army Medical Service Krajewski, Dr. M. Sc., Chief Pathologist and Anatomist of a Front; Colonel Blochin of the Army Medical Service, Chief Toxicologist of a Front, and Captain Grafinska, Medical Expert of the First Polish Army, found as follows:
"The examination of four hundred and sixty-seven corpses and two hundred and sixty-six skulls revealed traces of firearm wounds to the number of three hundred and forty two, indicating that it was a wide practice in the camp to sho[o]t prisoners, mainly in the back of the head, at close range, with weapons of 0.9 cm. calibre."
Thus, the evidence of numerous witnesses as well as other proof (the exhumations carried out by the Committee of Medical Experts) prove that throughout the period of the existence of the Lublin Camp, the Germans carried out the wholesale shooting of prisoners, men, women and children, of different nationalities, some of whom were shot in the Krembecki Woods situated eight kilometres from Majdanek.
ASPHYXIATION BY GAS
One of the most widespread methods of exterminating people resorted to in the Majdanck Camp was asphyxiation by gas.
The Committee of Technical and Chemical Experts under the Chairmanship of Kelles-Krause, Engineer-Architect of the City of Lublin, and consisting of Engineer Major
Telaner, Docent; Grigoriev, B.M.E.; and Pelkis, B.M.E., found that the chambers erected within the precincts of tbe camp were mainly utilized for the purpose of the wholesale extermination of people. There were six such chambers in all. Some of them were adapted to the purpose of putting people to death by means of carbon monoxide; the others were adapted to the purpose of putting people to death with the aid of a poisonous chemical substance known as "Zyklon."
Within the precincts of the camp were found five hundred and thirty-five canisters containing the substance "Zyklon B," and several containers with carbon monoxide. The chemical analysis revealed the following:
"The contents of the canisters were tested for the presence of prussic acid by the reaction of the formation of Prussian blue with the aid of benzidino-acinate indicator paper and picric sodium. Samples were taken from eighteen canisters and forty-eight-separate reactions were produced. All the tests gave positive results showing the presence of prussic acid with the aforesaid reagents. . . . Thus, the contents of the canisters that were examined consist of the substance 'Zyklon B' which is a specially prepared kieselghur in the form of granules up to one cm., impregnated with liquid stabilized prussic acid. The contents of the canisters found in large numbers in the camp bearing the label 'Zyklon' are identical with 'Zyklon-B'. . . . Samples of the gas taken from the containers were tested for carbon monoxide with the aid of reactions to iodinc pentoxide and palladious chloride indicator paper. In all, sixteen tests were made with iodine pentoxide and ten were made with palladious chloride indicator paper. All the tests made with the aforesaid reagents gave positive reactions to carbon monoxide."
On the basis of a precise calculation of a technical examination of the gas chambers, a chemical analysis of the carbon monoxide and the substance known as "Zyklon" the Committee of Experts found the following:
"The technical and sanitary-chemical inspection of the gas chambers at the Majdanek Concentration Camp wholly confirmed the fact that all these chambers, particularly I, II, III and IV, were intended and utilized for the purpose of the wholesale and systematic extermination of people by poisoning with the aid of poisonous gases such as: prussic acid (the substance known as 'Zyklon'), and carbon monoxide."
By utilizing all tbe chambers adapted for the purpose of poisoning simultaneously, it was possible to put to death one thousund nine hundred and fourteen persons at a time. It has been established that in these gas chambers were put to death all the prisoners who were exhausted by starvation and enfeebled by exhausting labour and the severity of the camp regime, all those unfit for physical work, all those who fell sick with typhus, and all others whom the Germans deemed it necessary to put to death.
During the course of investigation numerous cases of the wholesale poisoning of prisoners in the gas chamhers of Majdanek were established.
The witness Stanislawski informed the Commission of the following:
"In March 1943, three hundred Poles were put to death in the gas chamber. On June 20, 1943, three hundred and fifty persons were stripped naked in field No. 1 and taken to the bathhouse. From there they were taken into the gas chamber, where they were asphyxiated. On October 14, 1943, two hundred and seventy persons were put to death in this way."
The witness Zelent quoted the case of the asphyxiation by means of gas of eighty-seven Poles on March 15, 1944.
Another witness, Jan Wolski, a Pole, formerly a prisoner at the camp, testified to the wholesale asphyxiation of people with gas.
"In October 1942," he stated, "a large number of women and children were brought to the camp. The healthy ones were picked out for work, while the feeble ones, the sick and the children were asphyxiated in the gas chambers.
In March l943, another two hundred and fifty women and children were exterminated in the same chamber, and several days later another three hundred persons of different nationalities were exterminated in this same way. On May 16, or 17, 1943, one hundred and fifty-eight children of ages ranging from two to ten were brought to the camp in motor trucks. These children were put to death in the gas chanber. In June 1943, the camp administration collected all the sick prisoners of war and civilian prisoners to the number of about six hundred and put them all to death the gas chamber."
Evidence concerning the wholesale asphyxiation of people by means of gases was given at the meeting of the Commission by German SS men who had served in the camp.
Rottenfuhrer SS Hensche stated that on September 15, 1942, three hundred and fifty persons including women and children, were put to death in the gas chambers.
Oberscharfuehrer SS Terner informed the Commission of the case which occurred on October 16, 1943, of the asphyxiation in gas chambers of five hundred persons, including many women and children.
The selection of people to be put to death by asphyxiation was systematically made by the German camp doctors Blanke and Rindfleisch.
The aforesaid Ternes stated:
"In the evening of October 21, 1943, camp doctor Untersturmfuehrer SS Rindfleisch told me that that day three hundred children of ages ranging from three to ten were asphyxiated in the gas chamber with the substance 'Zyklon'."
The corpses were systematically removed from the gas chamber to be incinerated in the crematorium, or on bonfires. The corpses were transported on special lorries hauled by tractors. This is testified to by numerous eyewitnesses.
German prisoner of war, Rottensfuehrer SS Theodor Schollen, who served in the camp, stated:
"I often saw this machine with trailers going to and fro between the gas chambers and the crematorium. It came from the gas chamber loaded with corpses and went back empty."
The Polish-Soviet Extraordinary Commission has established that in addition to the gas chambers, the Germans in Lublin utilized special automobiles known as "murder vans" for the purpose of putting people to death.
The witnesses-Stetdiener, an ex-soldier of the Polish army, and Atrokhov, a Soviet prisoner of war, gave a detailed description of the machine in which the German fiends asphyxiated their victims with the aid of the exhaust gas from the engine.
The discovery within the precincts of the camp of a number of corpses bearing the characteristic symptoms of poisoning by carbon monoxide confirms the fact that the Germans utilized carbon monoxidefor the purpose of putting prisoners to death.
The aforementioned Committee of Medical Experts expressed theopinion that:
"The extermination of prisoners in the concentration camp was accomplished by different methods. In the initial period of the camp's existence the Hitlerites mainly resorted to wholesale shooting. Later, they also resorted to the wholesale poisoning of people in specially built gas chambers by means of powerful poisonous substances such as prussic acid (the substance known as 'Zyklon') and carbon monoxide."
Thus, the evidence of numerous eyewitnesses, the findings of the Committee of Medical Experts and the Committee of Technical and Chemical Experts prove that for nearly three years the Hitler butchers in the Majdanek Camp Systematically carried out the wholesale asphyxiation with the aid of gases of hundreds of thousands of totally innocent people, including aged people, women and children. 2-1966
THE GERMAN BUTCHERS TRIED TO COVER UP THE TRACES OF THEIR HEINOUS CRIMES
In the initial period of the existence of the Majdanek Camp the Germans buried the bodies of all those they shot and tortured to death. Later, and particularly in 1943 and 1944, they burnt the bodies, exhuming them from the pits in which the victims had been previously buried.
Already in the beginning of 1942 two furnaces for burning corpses were erected within the precincts ofthe camp. Owing to the extremely large number of corpses that had to be dealt with, the Germans, in 1942, began to erect a large new crematorium with five incinerators. This crematorium was completed in the autumn of 1943. The furnaces were in continuous operation. The temperature in them could be raised to 1500 C. To enable the largest possible number of corpses to he inserted into the furnaces thc corpses were dismembered, in particular, the extremities of the corpses were hacked off.
The Committee of Technical Experts which carefully examined the construction of the furnaces found as folIows:
"The furnaces were intended for the purpose of incinerating corpses and were calculated to work continuously. Each furnace was capable of holding four corpses at a time if the extremities were hacked off. The time taken to incinerate four corpses was fifteen minutes, which, working night and day, made it possible to incinerate one thousand nine hundred and twenty corpses in twenty-four hours. Judging by the large quantity of bones discovered in all parts of the camp (in pits, vegetable plots and under manure heaps), the Committee of Experts is of the opinion that bones were removed from the furnace before the time necessary for their complete incineration had expired, as a consequence of which the number of corpses incinerated in the twenty-four hours was far larger than one thousand nine hundred and twenty."
The Committee established that for a long time, particularly during the past two years, the Germans, in addition to burning corpses in special furnaces, widely resorted to the practice of burning corpses on bonfires within the precincts of the camp as well as in the Krembecki-Woods.
On stacks of rails or on the chassis of automobiles, which served as grates, planks were placed; on the planks was placed a layer of corpses; then came another layer of planks and another layer of corpses, until from five hundred to one thousand corpses were piled up. An inflammable liquid was then poured over the entire pile and set alight. Each fire burnt for forty-eight hours.
The witnesses Hospodarek and Matyasek, inhabitants of the village of Dziesiata (near the Majdanek Camp) and the village of Krembec, stated that they had seen gigantic bonfires in the camp and in the Krembecki Woods on which the bodies of the people who had been shot and tortured to death by the Germans were burnt.
Within the precincts of the "Extermination Camp" and in the Krembecki Woods a large number of places was found where the burning of corpses had taken place. In one of the trenches within the camp the chassis of an automobile on which corpses had been burnt was discovered after excavation.
After the exposure of the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans in the Katyn Woods, the Hitlerites set to work with increased energy to disinter the corpses from the pits and trenches, and burn them. The Committee of Medical Experts opened twenty pits of this kind; eighteen within the precincts of the Majdanek Camp and two in the Krembecki Woods. In some of the pits a large number of corpses were found which the Germans had not managed to burn.
Thus, as the result of excavations made in pit No. 1 near the crematorium, forty two corpses were discovered; in pit No. 19 in the Krembecki Woods three hundred and sixty-eight bodies of men, women and children were found. 2* In other pits a large number of completely decayed corpses and skeletons were found. In a number of pits a vast quanitity of bones was found.
To conceal the gigantic dimensions of their wholesale massacre of human beings, the Hitler fiends buried the ashes in pits and trenches, scattered them over a large part of the camp vegetable plots, and, mixing the ashes with dung, used them as manure for the fields.
Within the precincts of the "Extermination Camp" the Committee found over one thousand three hundred and fifty cubic metres of compost consisting of dung, the ashes of incinerated corpses and small human bones.
The Hitlerites resorted to the grinding up of small bones in a special "mill." A detailed description of this mill was given by the witness Stetdiener, a Diesel mechanic by trade, whom the Germans compelled to work this "mill."
Lieutenant General Hilmar Moser, of the German army, ex-Military Commandant of Lublin, stated the following:
"I have no reasons for hushing or covering up the heinous crimes committed by Hitler, and I regard it as my duty to tell the whole truth about the so-called "Extermination Camp" the Hitlerites established along the Cholm Road, near Lublin.
"In the winter of 1943-44 a large number of the prisoners-among whom, to my great indignation, were women and children-were exterminated there.
"The number of killed was round about one hundred thousand.
"Part of the unfortunate people were shot and part put to death by means of gas.
"Furthermore, I was told more than once that condenmed people in the 'Extermination Camp' were compelled to perform extremely heavy work, far beyond their strength, and were goaded on by extremely cruel beatings.
"I learned with indignation that before they were put to death the prisoners in this camp were tortured and tormented.
"Last spring an incalcuable number of corpses were exhumed and burned in furnaces specially built for the purpose, evidently with the object of wiping out the traces of the crimes committed by Hitler's orders.
"These huge furnaces were built of bricks and iron and constituted a crematorium of a large capacity. Often the stench from the corpses reached the city, at least the east end of it, and consequently, even less informed people realized what was going on in that frightful place. . . .
"The fact that the activities of the 'Extermination Camp' were directed by the Hitler government is proved by the visit Himmler himself paid to the camp when he came to Lublin in the summer of 1943."
The Committee established the fact that in the crematorium alone over six hundred thousand bodies were burnt; on gigantic bonfires in the Krembecki Woods over three hundred thousand corpses were burnt; in the two old furnaces over eighty thousand corpses were burnt; on bonfires in the camp near the crematorium no less than four hundred thousand corpses were burnt.
With the object of covering up the traces of their crimes the Germans killed the attendants, prisoners in the camp, of the gas chamber and crematorium.
As a result of a thorough investigation of numerous affidavits by medical experts and material proof, the aforesaid Committee of Medical Experts under the chairmanship of Professor Szyling-Syngalewicz, Professor of Medical Jurisprudence at the Lublin Catholic Univcrsity, found that:
"During the whole period of four years that the Lublin Majdanek Camp was in existence, a deliberate and consistent system operated for the premeditated, wholesale extermination of people, both prisoners in the camp as well as people especially brought there for the purpose of extermination."
THE HITLERITES ROBBED THE PRISONERS IN THE CAMP OF THEIR VALUABLES AND BELONGINGS
The Hitlerites reduced the robbing of the prisoners and those they tortured to death in the camp to a regular system.
The material proof which the Commission discovered in the camp: the store of boots and shoes which had belonged to those who were shot or who died, the store of miscellaneous belongings of the prisoners, and also the Gestapo store in Chopin Street in Lublin, indicates that all the clothing and other belongings of thc prisoners were carefully sorted and shipped to Germany.
The huge shoe store discovered in field No. 6 at the camp contains boots and shoes bearing the labels of shops in Paris, Vienna, Brussels, Warsaw, Triest, Prague, Riga, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Kiev, Cracow, Lublin, Lvov, and many other towns, shoes of different shapes and sizes, men's women's, juveniles' and infants', army boots, civilian town shoes and peasants' topboots. In addition to boots and shoes a large quantity of ripped footwear (separate soles, uppers and heels) were fouud, sorted and piled in stacks ready to be shipped to Germany.
The Commission established that in the "Extermination Camp" alone the footwear of children, men and women who were tortured to death and killed in the camp runs into over eight hundred and twenty thousand pairs.
In an enormous warehouse of the Gestapo in Chopin Street, in Lublin, the Commission found large stocks of various kinds of men's, women's and children's underclothing, and also a large variety of other personal belongings. For example: several shelves of balls of knitting wool, thousands of pairs of spectacles, tens of thousands of pairs of various kinds of men's, women's and children's footwear, tens of thousands of men's neckties bearing the labels of shops in different cities, such as Paris, Prague,
Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam and Brussels, tens of thoueands of women's belts, part of which were sorted and ready for shipment, bath robes, pyjamas, bedroom slippers, numerous children's toys, rubber teats, shaving brushes, scissors, knives and a vast quantity of other household utensils. Here also were found numerous suitcases of various types belonging to Soviet citizens, Poles, Frenchmen, Czechs, Belgians, Netherlanders, Greeks, Croatians, Italians, Norwegians, Danes and also Jews from different countries.
In the same warehouse the Commission found some of the books and papers of the warehouse, from which it is evident that this warehouse in Chopin Street was a base where these belongings were sorted and prepared for shipment to Germany.
Concerning the shipment of the belongings of people shot in camps there was a special order couched in the following terms:
"SS-Head Office of the Economic Administration. Chief of tho Administration of D-Conc. Camp. D/l Az: 14 D 3 (Ot) I. Oranienburg, July 11, 1942.
To All Commandants Of Concentration Camps.
"The Chief Administration of State Security reports that parcels of clothing have been sent from concentration camps, addressed mainly to the Gestapo Administration in the city of Bruenn, and that in some cases this clothing was perforated with bullet holes and blood stained. Some of these parcels were damaged and strangers were thus able to ascertain the nature of their contents.
"In view of the fact that the Chief Administration of State Security will shortly issue regulations governing the handling of property left after the death of prisoners, the sending of articles must be stopped forthwith pending the final settlement of the question of how the property of executed prisoners is to be dealt with.
SS Brigade Commander and Major General SS Troops."
The evidence of SS prisoners of war who had served in tho "Extermination Camp" proves that an organized system prevailed in the camps of robbing the prisoners of their personal belongings and property, and of the appropriation by camp officials of the property of prisoners who were tortured to death and shot.
At a plenary meeting of the Commission, Rottenfuehrer SS Vogel, a German prisoner of war, stated:
"I was Deputy Chief of the clothing warehouse at the Majdanek Camp. The clothing and footwear of exterminated prisoners was sorted and the best was shipped to Germany. In l944 alone, I myself shipped to Germany over eighteen carloads of clothing and footwear. I cannot say exactly how many pairs of boots and shoes and sets of clothing were despatched, but I assert that it was a very large quantity. What I sent off was only a part of what was shipped to Germany. Everything was shipped to the address: Ploetzensee-Berlin, Strafanstalt."
Obersturmfuehrer SS Ternes, a prisoner of war, officer of the German army, formerly a camp auditor, stated:
"I know personally that the money and valuables taken from the prisoners were sent to Berlin. The gold taken from the prisoners and sent to Berlin was calculated by weight. Virtually, all this stolen property constituted an item of revenue of the German government A very large quantity of gold and valuables was sent to Berlin. I know all about this because I worked as an auditor at the camp. I must emphasize that a great deal of the money and valuables that was taken from prisoners was not entered in the books, as they were appropriated by the Germans who took them from the prisoners."
Thus, the robbing of the tortured prisoners in the Majdanek Gamp, as well as in other camps, constituted a definite item of income of the Hitlerite robbers of various ranks.
On the basis of documentary evidence, the interrogation of witnesses and of eyewitnesses of the crimes committed by the Germans in thc city of Lublin, in the Majdanek Concentration Camp, in the Lublin prison and in the Krembecki Woods, on the basis of considerable material proof obtained by the Commission, and also on the basis of the findings of thc Committee of Medical Experts and the Committee of Technical and Chemical Experts, the Polish-Soviet Extraordinary Commission finds that:
1) The Majdanek Concentration Camp, which the Germans called "Vernichtungslager," i.e., "Extermination Camp," was a place for the wholesale extermination of Soviet prisoners of war, prisoners of war of the former Polish army, and of civilian inhabitants of different European countries occupied by Hitler Germany and also of the temporarily occupied regions of Poland and the U.S.S.R.
2) The prisoners at the Majdanek Camp were subject to a brutal system of treatment. The methods employed for the wholesale extermination of prisoners were: single and wholcsale shooting and killing, wholesale and single asphyxiation in gas chambers, hanging, torture, torment and organized starvation.
In this camp the SS butchers and the Gestapo carried out the wholesale extermination of Poles, Frenchmen, Netherlanders, Italians, Serbs, Croatians and persons of other nationalities, and also Soviet prisoners of war and prisoners of war of the former Polish army confined as prisoners in this camp, as well as those transported to this camp from other camps and places especially for the purpose of being exterminated.
3) In order to wipe out the traces of their criminal activities, the Hitler butchers resortcd to the following system of measures: burning the corpses of prisoners on gigantic bonfires in the Krembecki Woods and in the camp, burning the corpses in the crematorium especially built for the purpose, grinding up small bones, scattering ashes over the fields and vegetable plots belonging to thc Hitlerite officials of this camp, and preparing large manure heaps of human ashes and dung. The Hitlerite robbers operated an entire system of robbing the people they tortured for the enrichment of the rank-and-file SS and Gestapo men as well as of the leading officials of this robber gang. The system of robbing the prisoners in this camp constituted an important item of revenue of the Hitler-government.
The Polish-Soviet Extraordinary Commission finds that during the four years the Majdanek Extermination Camp was in existence the Hitlerite butchers, on thc direct orders of their criminal government, exterminated by means of wholesale shooting and wholesale asphyxiation in gas chambers of about one million five hundred thousand persons-Soviet prisoners of war, prisoners of war of the former Polish army, and civilians of different nationalities, such as Poles, Frenchmen, Italians, Belgians, Netherlanders, Czechs, Serbs, Greeks, Croatians and a vast number of Jews.
The Polish-Soviet Extraordinary Commission for the Investigation of the Crimes committcd by thc Germans in Lublin finds that the principle culprits in these crimes are the Hitler government, chief executioner Himmler, and his underlings of thc SS and SD in the area of the Lublin Wojewdstwo.
The principal instruments of these atrocitics are Obergruppanfuehrer Globocnik-Chief of the SS and SD in Lublin; Wendler-ex-Governor of the Lublin Wojew=F2dstwo; Sturmbannfuehrer Dominnik-Chief of thc SS and SD in Lublin; Sturmbannfuehrer Liski-Chief of Prisoner of War Camps in Poland; Standartenfuehrer Koch-Chief of Camps; Obersturmfuehrer Kegel; Hauptsturmfuehrer Melzer-Deputy Commandant of the camp; Hauptsturmfuehrer Kloppmann; Obersturmfuehrer Tumann; Oberscharfuehrer Musfeld; Oberscharfuehrer Kostial; camp doctors Hauptscharfuehrer Erich Gruen, Hauptscharfuehrer Rindfleisch and Hauptsturmfuerer Blanke; Untersturmfuehrer Wende, Chief of the crematorium and all the other persons acting in the role of executioners and guilty of exterminating innocent people.
Chairman of Ihe Polish-Soviet Extraordinary Commission WITOS, Vice-Chairman of the Polish Committee for National Liberation
Vice-Chairman of the Commission D. I, KUDRYAYTSEV (U,S,S.R.)
SOMMERSTEIN, Member of the Polish Committee for National Liberatian
Prof. N. I. GRASCHENKOV (U.S.S.R.)
Prof. V. I. PROZOROVSKY (U.S.S.R.)
The Rev. Dr. KRUSZYNSKI, Dean of The Lublin Catholic Cathedral
CHRISTIANS, Chairman of the Lublin Red Cross Society
Prof. BIALKOWSKI, Professor of thc Lublin Catholic University
Prof. POPLAWSKI, Professor of the Lublin University
BALCERZAK, Procurator of The Lublin Appeal Court
SZCZEPANSKI, President of the Lublin Circuit Court
Born: Lublin, Poland, ca. 1910
Benjamin was born in the industrial city of Lublin to a large, Yiddish-speaking Jewish family. He attended public school, and after he graduated at the age of 14, he apprenticed at the same tannery where his father was the tannery master.
1933-39: After completing his apprenticeship, Benjamin became the assistant tannery master. After his father's death in 1938, he became the production tannery master. He and his wife, Gucia, lived with his mother at 50 Lubartowska Street. In 1938 the Frydmachers had a daughter, whom they named Ruth. On September 17, 16 days after the outbreak of World War II, German troops entered Lublin.
1940-44: In 1941 the Germans established a ghetto in Lublin. Benjamin's tannery was ordered to produce leather for the Germans. Luckily, Benjamin had blond hair, and by wearing a black leather jacket, he was able to pass for a non-Jew and sneak out of the ghetto so that he could bring the family food. When the Germans began liquidating the ghetto in 1942, Benjamin's mother was machine-gunned to death at a hospital with other elderly patients, and his wife and daughter were deported to an extermination camp. Benjamin managed to escape.
Benjamin made his way to the non-Jewish part of Warsaw. His Jewish identity was eventually discovered and he was killed.
Chris Porsz~His Family
In the early hours of January 31st 1953 safe within the walls of Peterborough’s maternity unit, the Gables, I was born. Outside the worst floods of the 20th century visited our shores where ships went down and over 300 people drowned.
A mere 8 years before my mother Krystyna hovered on the brink of survival and extinction in a Nazi concentration camp.
They called the sisters the three beauties, Krystyna, Eda and Regina. They led happy lives in Warsaw but the family would be torn asunder. My mother’s father died in the sewers, her mother Sarah, Regina and her five year old daughter Lillian were murdered in Majdanek concentration camp Lublin. Eda was sent to Siberia by the Russians and it is where my cousin Vicki was born.
Krystyna and Lillian - 1939
My mother’s fiancée was a member of the resistance and helped her escape the Warsaw Ghetto but ended up in the infamous Pawiak prison and later Ravensbruck a womens slave labour and extermination camp near Berlin. Surviving the harsh winter of 44/45 she was liberated by the Americans.
My father Alfons Porsz escaped from Poland to England to join the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade. Later he fought bravely at Arnhem and married my mother in Germany.
Alphons Porsz training for Arnhem
Krystyna and Alphons Porsz - Germany, 1947
Alphons & Krystyna Porsz - Cathedral Square, Peterborough late 1940s/early 1950s
Penniless and homeless they came to Peterborough in 1947 but worked hard to put the horrors of war behind them and build a new life. They first lived in Gladstone Street where the landlady stole their rations.
Krystyna and Alphons Porsz - Peterborough, 1947
My father worked in the brickyards and then Perkins. He was one of their most skilled toolmakers and a table tennis champion. Sadly he developed pre-senile dementia at the age of 48. My mother worked for many years at the Embassy and now at 89 her memory is fading fast. My brother Richard was born at Thorpe Hall in 1949. We both attended Fulbridge and Lincoln Road schools and spent our formative years at 61 Burmer Road.
Burmer Road, Peterborough, 1952
Burmer Road, Peterborough approximately 1955
From left to right: Alphons, Richard, Alphon's mother, Chris and Krystyna - Burmer Road, Peterborough approximately 1958
A mass grave uncovered at Majdanek
A starved prisoner liberated from Majdanek
Bodies of a mother and child killed at Majdanek
Ashes at Majdanek that were used to fertilize the surrounding fields
Reception, Prisoners Daily Life, Sub- Camps
Reception of Prisoners
Most prisoners were brought to Majdanek in freight trains in tightly closed, crowded cattle cars deprived of any sanitary facilities, without food and water.
The newly arrived were unloaded in the vicinity of the Lublin railway station, on a siding situated on the premises of the SS Fur and Clothing Works 1.5 kilometers from the camp.
The SS- men, shouting and cursing pushed and beat the prisoners descending from the train, then arranged them in fives, and marched the column to the camp at a rapid pace.
Cattle car of the type used at Majdanek Surrounded by a dense cordon of SS-men and military police equipped with machine guns, as Zacheusz Pawlak recollects the arrival in Lublin of a transport from Radom on 8 January 1943 – “we had to march quickly. Some of the guards were holding dogs on leashes, the dogs barking furiously and baring their teeth at the prisoners. These were specially trained dogs. If a prisoner dropped out of the column even three steps, they immediately jumped at the victim. The SS-men and the military police terrorised the column by shouting and beating”.
Only the larger groups of prisoners deported from prisons, ghettos and camps arrived at Majdanek in trains. The smaller transports, usually from the Lublin district were brought in trucks.
As in every concentration camp, the newly arrived were subjected to the ritual of reception.
After passing through the camp gate, the new arrivals were directed to barrack 44, where they had to surrender all they had with them and on them.
Naked – whatever the season of the year or weather conditions – they were rushed, with shouting and beatings to the nearby bathhouse, where all their body hair was removed, most frequently with dull razors, which caused acute pain.
From there they were taken to the neighbouring room to take a bath. They first underwent disinfection by submerging in concrete tubs filled with a Lysol solution. Next came the bath proper, which according to prisoners accounts, rarely occurred without various harassments.
For example, hot water alternated with cold water, and so on. After such a “purification” , the prisoners were issued with rags, most often in the wrong size, to replace the clothes worn previously.
Division lll, which thenceforth took responsibility for the prisoner, directed them to the assigned compound and barrack. There followed registration, where numerous forms were filled in with personal details.
Next each new prisoner received a number and a triangle. The number replaced the prisoners name and the triangle indicated the cause of imprisonment. The numbering system applied in the Majdanek was different from those in other concentration camps, where the number increased as new prisoners arrived.
In Majdanek, the numeration went up to 20,000 and never exceeded that number. The newly arrived received the number of deceased prisoners. There were separate numeration systems, both up to 20,000, for men and for women.
The manner of identification was almost the same as in other concentration camps, Soviet Prisoners of War had the letters SU painted on the back of their jackets.
The number and triangle were worn by the prisoner on his clothes – the number, printed on a piece of white linen 14x 4.5cm, was placed on the left breast of the jacket or the dress and on the left trouser leg above the knee.
Besides, the prisoners received round badges, 3.8cm in diameter, with the number impressed on it, to be worn on a piece of wire around the neck.
Above the number, the prisoners wore thetriangles printed on a square piece of linen, with a side of 8cm. In the middle of the triangle there was a letter indicating the prisoners nationality.
After fulfilling all the formalities, each new arrival had to undergo a quarantine, during which the functionaries taught them close order drill, forming ranks at the roll call, removing and putting on caps, marching in work-gangs, keeping order in the barracks,
Also those who, immediately after arriving in the camp had been accommodated in the compounds underwent quarantine. Still wearing their own clothes they were forced to learn close order drill, and only afterwards were they formally admitted into the camp.
This was the case, for example with transports arriving in January and February 1943 from Radom, Warsaw and Lvov.
Plunder of Property
Each new arrival was informed that they must place all their property for depositing, for possession of money or valuables was punished.
The looted property details was entered into a special register by the unit concerned with the management of property belonging to the prisoners in Division IV.
Clothing was recorded on personal forms titled Effecten-Verzeichnis, money on a money card – Geldkartet, and valuables on a separate form attached to the Effecten- Verzeichnis.
The depositing of the property was confirmed by the prisoner with their own signature. The property of prisoners of Jewish descent was entered into the register only after January 1943.
The prisoners employed in the Effektenkammer packed all these things into special sacks, attaching labels showing the prisoners numbers.
The sacks were stored in barracks number 43 and 44. When a prisoner was transferred to another camp, his or her sack followed them, the date of the transport and the name of the camp was entered into the register.
In the event of release, the property was returned and the prisoner had to annote as such in the appropriate spaces on the above mentioned cards.
When a prisoner died, the deposited property was turned over to his family. If the address was lacking, the belongings deposited became the property of the camp.
From 1943 onwards, the money, valuables and clothing left by prisoners who had died , Poles, Jews, Soviets passed into the possession of the SS Economic and Administrative Head Office.
The plunder was particularly ruthless as regards the property of Jewish prisoners. During previous incarceration in ghettos and camps they had been deluded with hopes of survival, so they tried to take with them whatever they still possessed, particularly money and valuables.
The Camp authorities attempted to seize these things right away. Since transports doomed to immediate extermination were not subjected to registration procedures, the SS were able to easily conceal the plunder.
Deceit was often resorted to, as in the case of the Jews from Czechoslovakia who had been promised good living conditions in the General- Government and were permitted to take with them money, securities, jewellery, and luggage up to 50kg per person. All the above were plundered by the camp authorities at Majdanek.
The new arrivals, seeing their property was being plundered, at times tried to conceal small valuable objects in shoe heels, or conceal them on their person. These measures were of little avail, since the SS men carefully searched all new arrival. While taking a bath, in the disinfection tube, prisoners were ordered to make appropriate movements, so the SS-men could discover hidden valuables.
Even if a prisoner managed to smuggle some valuables or money, the SS-men would often find it during searches of barracks or on the prisoners themselves returning to the camp from work.
Prisoner and SS guardThe money or valuables found on prisoners was treated as “owner-less” and turned over to the treasury of Division IV, and this was the case with any money and valuables found on prisoners in the Majdanek sub-camps.
Until the end of 1943, Division IV shipped the property of Jewish prisoners to the storehouses of the Aktion Reinhard (SS- Standortverwaltung Lublin, Altachenverwaltungsstelle) located at 27 Chopin Street in Lublin, where all the valuables left by the Jews murdered in the death camps and ghettos were deposited.
The prisoner’s property was disposed of by the WVHA, which deposited money and valuables in a special account at the Reichs Bank, whereas other property was turned over to the Reichs Ministry of the Economy.
From the autumn of 1943, following the completion of Aktion Reinhard, the Majdanek camp administration sent all the plundered belongings direct to the WVHA.
Because of the lack of source materials it is impossible to estimate the dimension of plunder or to give any concrete total figures. All that can be offered is some illustrations:
From an analysis of 300 money cards of former Jewish prisoners that the average money deposited was 103 RM. The SS also looted clothing and other personal effects, as an example on the 20 July 1943 3900 women’s mantles, 2250 men’s overcoats, 700 coats and 1450 jackets were shipped from Majdanek to Chopin Street.
The receipts from 20 August the storehouse of Aktion Reinhard received 1800 women’s overcoats and 2900 dresses. Six days later, 3000 items of women’s clothing were received, followed by 103.80 square meters of fabric for men’s clothes, 73.20 square meters of fabric for women’s clothes and 70 headscarf’s on 28 August.
These things were looted from the transports of Jews from the Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos.
Even the prisoner’s hair, cut upon their admission to the camp, was of value to the Third Reich, making socks for submarine crews, and for the railway staff.
Division IV established a commercial contract with Paul Reimann’s firm at Kostrze near Wroclaw, where it sent the hair collected from the prisoners. According to extant reports between 15 September 1942 and 26 June 1944, 730kg of human hair was gathered and shipped to this firm.
A considerable number of the Majdanek staff were involved in theft from the Reich and corruption. Property was misappropriated by the Camp Commandants Koch, and Florstedt – by the Chief of Division III, Hackmann – by SS non-coms Laurich, Gossberg – Kapos Kostial, Knott and others – by criminals acting as trustees, Peter Burzer, Theodor Hessel, Peter Wyderko, Julian Lang and many others.
The complete set of clothes included – shirt, underpants, jacket, trousers and round cap without a visor. In the winter, the prisoner received additionally an overcoat without any lining of any sort.
The clothes were made of poor quality fabric with grey and blue stripes, so called pasiak. The women’s clothes were made of the same grey-blue fabric and consisted of a long sleeved dress and a white headscarf. In the winter, women were issued striped jackets and grey stockings. The set was complete with wooden shoes known as Dutch clogs or leather shoes with a wooden sole.
Majdanek UniformBeginning from 1942 such clothes were issued in Majdanek only to political and asocial prisoners. In 1942, striped clothes were given only to prisoners brought from other camps to assume functions in the so-called self-government of prisoners.
Soviet POW’s the first to have been brought to Majdanek, retained their military uniforms and hostages were allowed to wear their own clothes.
The Camps Inspectorate issued instructions on 26 February 1943, to camp commandants that prisoners employed within the bounds of the camp should wear appropriately marked civilian clothes.
In keeping with this instruction, prisoners were issued the most worn-out clothes of murdered Jews. On the backs of the jackets were painted in oil the large red letters KL separated by a broad stripe of the same colour. Similar stripes were painted on the trousers.
The children in Majdanek camp did not wear striped clothes. They could wear their own clothes or received civilian clothes left by adults.
The Prisoner’s Day
As soon as a prisoner had passed through the gate of their compound, they were immediately subjected to the full regime of the camp regulations.
Their day was filled from morning till the evening roll call with a maximum amount of activity – they were in constant haste, always fearful of beatings and vexations.
In the spring and summer period - from April till September, the reveille took place at 4am, and in the autumn and winter period at 5am.
Some barrack leaders, however, ordered the prisoners up earlier. Upon hearing the signal, the prisoners had to get dressed quickly, make the bunks, go to the latrine, drink the morning coffee, clean the barracks, and then the barrack leader would drive them out into the roll call yard amidst yelling and cursing.
Whatever the weather might be, the morning roll call commenced at 5am, in the summer and at 6am in the winter. In the roll call yard, the prisoners usually had to stand facing their own barrack. Perfect order had to be maintained while the number of prisoners was being reported. At the command: Stillgestanden, Mutzen ab, Augen links (Attention, caps off, eyes left), the whole column had to perform all movements correctly. “If only someone moved, budged, or turned his head, he would be beaten black and blue.”
In the initial period the sick and infirm were helped to stand up and still by their fellow inmates. Later they were laid on the ground, in mud and snow. Only from November 1943 they were allowed to stay in the barracks during the roll call.
The morning roll call for the whole compound lasted on average, half an hour, but only when the number of prisoners in the various barracks reported by the Blockfuhrers to the Rapportfuhrer talied with the figures supplied by the camps administration.
Otherwise, another roll call was ordered, which lengthened the time standing in the square by at least half an hour. At the command: Arbeitskommando formieren – the prisoners went running to form work gangs, hurried by the Kapos and the work overseers. After the work gangs had left, only the functionaries would stay in the compound – their task was to tidy the roll call yard.and supervise work gangs working the camps and the new arrivals who were still under quarantine.
At 11:45 am a lunch break was ordered. All the gangs working within the camp, or a short distance away would come running or marching very quickly back to their compounds. The returning prisoners were often searched by SS-men, in which task Schutzlagerfuhrer Thumann excelled.
There followed a check of the number of prisoners, so called Zellappell, in the roll call yard. If a prisoner was missing, a search would be instituted, which at times could last for several hours, during which the prisoners standing in the roll call yard would not be given anything to eat.
If however, everything was in order the prisoners received lunch, consisting of a ladleful of watery soup, this being frequently accompanied by harassment. After eating, or strictly speaking drinking the soup, the bowl had to be washed and placed in the barrack.
Around 1pm the gangs of prisoners would set out back to work, which in spring and summer lasted till 6pm, and in autumn and winter till 4:30pm
Fatigued, maltreated often running and dragging the dead behind them, the work gangs returned to their compounds for the evening roll call.
The evening roll call could last for two or three hours, and were especially long if a prisoner escaped, or fell asleep somewhere in the camp. Any prisoner found asleep were brought to the roll call yard for punishment. Until the autumn of 1943 such “escapees” were hanged on the gallows in the presence of the prisoners assembled at the roll call.
Another cause of the lengthening of the roll calls was the inflicting of punishment for transgressions of camp regulations. From the autumn of 1943 the roll calls were shortened considerably in order to exploit prisoner manpower more effectively.
The roll call was followed by supper and “leisure time” until lights out at 9pm, when silence was to prevail in the camp. The reality was entirely different, however, during the construction of the camp SS- men forced prisoners to do various additional jobs in “leisure time” such as tidying, levelling of the compounds, planting flower beds and planting trees.
If there were no additional tasks a prisoner could spend their leisure time talking with friends from other barracks, writing letters or washing. In some barracks in the men’s compounds functionaries organised drinking parties for themselves, during which they fought with one another, yelled, searched prisoners, maltreated them and even murdered them.
The Majdanek Concentration camp housing conditions consisted of primitive wooden barracks without elementary furnishings. The barracks were grossly overcrowded, with the constant influx of new prisoners, created inhuman living conditions.
In 1941 and 1942 the prisoners already imprisoned in the camp were waiting for new barracks to be assembled in order to ease the overcrowding in the existing barracks.
Prisoners arriving in early 1943 found the barracks in Compounds 3,4 and 5 erected but unfinished, without doors and windows and without any furnishings.
Prisoners accounts indicate a barrack housed on average 500 to 800 and even up to a thousand prisoners. According to the original plans of construction the barracks in Compounds 1, 2 and 5 were better constructed and were known by the prisoners as “dwelling barracks”, were supposed to house 550 prisoners each, whereas the stable barracks in Compounds 3 and 4 were supposed to accommodate 521 or 750 persons each.
The congestion in the barracks was at its worst during May to August 1943, when thousands of Jews from the Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos and Poles expelled from the Zamosc region were brought to the camp.
The number of prisoners living in the barracks in Compounds 3,4and 5 then exceeded a thousand in each, and for some Jewish groups there was no place at all, and they were lodged in the empty space between Compounds 4 and 5 where coal was heaped.
No prisoner could lay down freely on the floor for lack of space. They would lie down, at a command, on one side and also at a command, turn to the other side.
In the spring of 1943, partitions began to be put up in Compounds 1, 2 and 5 and after the barracks had been connected to a water main in the autumn of that year, the part at the head of the barracks was set aside for sanitary purposes.
Most barracks then comprised, a sleeping area and a small area for cleaning purposes. In addition there were in each barracks, tables, a closet for the prisoners files and some stools.
The barrack leader and the barrack clerk had separate bunks, separated from the rest by a special partition, whilst the other prisoners slept in 250 bunks. Each bunk was provided with a pallet and a bolster stuffed with straw or wood chips and with a blanket.
Throughout the history of the camp the individual compounds were allocated for various purposes:
Compound 1 – set up in late 1941 initially accommodated Soviet Prisoners of War and later civilian male prisoners. In the same year a hospital was established there, and in 1942 occupied the whole northern row of ten barracks.
The southern part was occupied by prisoners dwelling barracks and had a separate chancery. The hospital was moved to Compound 5 in September 1943, and the prisoners who were fit to work were transferred to Compounds 3 and 4.
In September 1943 the women prisoners were accommodated in Compound 1, in both the hospital and the barracks in the southern part. In April 1944 healthy and sick women were transported to Auschwitz and Ravensbruck ,
Compound 1, was again occupied by men.
In May of that year, Jewish women brought from the forced labour camp at Budzyn were accommodated in three barracks, separated from the rest by a barbed wire fence. Between May and July 1944 this compound, one of two functioning, accommodated both men and women.
Compound 2 – from its establishment in the spring of 1942 until the winding up of the camp, was occupied by men. For the first year the inmates were from various nationalities, but after 1942 the camp was predominantly made up of Jews.
From the spring of 1943 right up to the liberation, this compound housed a hospital for former Soviet POW’s who had served in Wehrmacht auxiliary units and had been severely wounded.
Compound 3 - was occupied by men throughout the functioning of the camp. The first group of men were accommodated there in May 1942 when the northern row of barracks was almost ready.
Aerial view of MajdanekThese were hostages brought from the transit camp in Trawniki and other detention centres. Until the autumn of that year, the compound had housed almost exclusively persons detained for partisan activity.
During the summer of 1942, the barracks where hostages were living were surrounded by barbed wire. In spite of the sweltering heat, the prisoners were not allowed to leave the barracks.
Beginning from January 1943, Compound 3 began to be filled with political prisoners arriving from various prisons in the General Government.
During the year Jews from the Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos were incarcerated there, as were prisoners brought from other concentration camps and numerous transports of peasant families from the pacified villages of the Zamosc region.
In the autumn of 1943 and early 1944, transports of sick prisoners from Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachenhausen were housed there.
Following the evacuation of the prisoners to Auschwitz and Gross Rosen in April 1944 the compound remained empty until the liberation.
Compound 4 – like Compound 3 was occupied by men. From the autumn of 1942 until the camp was liberated hostages were accommodated there. Since, as is known, they were charges of the Ordnungspolizei, the compound was treated as a transit camp for that branch of the German police.
During 1943 and 1944 the compound also housed political prisoners brought from prisons and concentration camps as well as Soviet POW’s. In 1943, workshops of the Ostindustrie Company and the DAW were installed in some barracks there.
Compound 5 – the last to be occupied by prisoners was opened in October 1942. It accommodated women evicted from the Lublin districts of Wieniawa and Dziesiata and later Jewesses from the liquidated ghetto in Majdan Tatarski.
After a relatively short stay they were transferred to a Majdanek sub camp the SS- Bekleidungswerke at the former airfield. New transports of women arrived in Compound 5 in early January 1943, from Radom and somewhat later from Pawiak prison in Warsaw and the prison in Lvov. The arrival of these transports marked the beginning of the women’s concentration camp – Frauenkonzentrationslager – as a separate part of Majdanek.
During 1943, the compound was filled with transports of Byelorussian women and children, Jewesses mainly from the ghettos in Warsaw and Bialystok, women prisoners from the General Government and Ravensbruck and Auschwitz.
In the summer of 1943 the number of inmates in Compound 5 totalled between 6000 – 8000 women and children. When the first transports arrived in January 1943 the compound was still unfinished – it was completed during the first few months of that year.
During the same period thanks to the efforts of Stefania Perzanowska, a doctor from Radom, one barrack was set aside as a women’s hospital. From September 1943 due to rampant diseases another five barracks were allocated as hospitals.
After the women had been transferred to Compound 1, in September 1943 the 22 barracks were turned into hospitals for men. In July 1944 the compound was set up as a transit camp for persons forcibly employed by the Wehrmacht in the construction of fortifications around the town.
Majdanek had its own farm and garden where fruit and vegetables were grown. To some degree Majdanek was self-sufficient as regards the feeding of the prisoners and SS- staff.
Food which were not produced by the Farm or the garden was received from the Food and Agriculture Department of the Office of the Head of the Lublin District.
The management of food provision was the concern of Abteilung Verpflegung in Division IV. Its chief task was to supply food products to the kitchens in the prisoner compounds and to the SS- mess hall.
The prisoners ate their starvation rations three times a day, always in front of their barracks, except in winter, whatever the weather conditions.
For breakfast, a prisoner received about half a litre of black ersatz coffee without sugar, or tea brewed from weeds. Once or twice a week coffee or tea was replaced with a soup surrogate, water with wholemeal added.
Lunch which came at 12 o’clock consisted of three quarters of a litre of soup made of turnip, rotten potatoes, kale, dried cabbage leaves, and from the spring of 1942 of weeds growing wild within the camp.
It was only in the autumn of 1943 that soups prepared from weeds were stopped from being served. The prisoners then began to receive soups made from turnip, potatoes, beet pulp, carrot, and sometimes cabbage or barley soup. These soups were thicker and small amounts of fat, meat or horse sausage were added.
Supper, the basic meal, was served after evening roll call. It consisted mostly of coffee or another brew and 5-7 ounces of bread. At times the brew was replaced by soup, and a few un-peeled potatoes.
On occasions the prisoners received as an addition to the bread, a slice of horse sausage, a spoonful of marmalade, margarine, or cheese.
The prisoners daily diet contained less than a 1000 calories, well below the norm for people undertaking hard labour. Due to the poor food rations both in terms of quality and quantity, a very large number of prisoners were doomed to die, within a short space of time.
On these rations after a short time the skin became grey-blue, grew thinner, became parchment-like, hardened then peeled off. Hair became coarse, and the head took on an elongated form, with the cheek- bones and eye-sockets becoming more prominent.
In Majdanek these prisoners were called gamle, which in the German Silesian dialect means idiots, in Auschwitz emaciated prisoners like those described above were called Moslems
In the last phase of starvation, prisoners no longer felt hungry, refused to accept any food, were unable to emit any sound. Self-preservation vanished – they were past any help.
They perished under the blows of the Kapos sticks, or the SS-men’s rifle butts, they died in barracks, in the fields, in the hospitals, in the so-called Gammelblocke, where those still giving any sign of life were taken to the gas chambers.
Punishments and Executions
In the Majdanek concentration camp whipping by SS-men or trusties was the most frequently applied punishment. Prisoners were whipped until they lost consciousness for minor offences. Whipping was inflicted on both healthy, sick and even dying prisoners – a prisoner was often whipped because he was Jewish or a Gypsy.
Aside from the informal whippings, there took place official punishments where floggings were carried out on the basis of reports for an offence.
These offences could be committed by individual prisoners or groups, and reports were submitted by SS-men or functionaries to the camps authorities – Division III.
The punishment was inflicted after the evening roll call. The flogging was administered on a special table officially known as the Block, but called by the prisoners “the grand piano”.
The top of the table was made of thick boards, was semi-circular. The prisoner to be whipped put his or her feet behind a special board at the rear of the table and laid down on their stomachs, while two SS-men or Kapos held their arms twisted back in between the shoulder blades.
Two other SS-men or Kapos then beat them with whips or sticks. The number of strokes varied from 10 to 200 and more. The “offender” had to count the strokes in German, which to many was a considerable problem, and this caused additional strokes.
The consequences of this type of punishment were always dangerous – it resulted not only in cut skin, but frequently caused internal injuries to the kidneys etc.
From the autumn of 1943 the floggings were curtailed lest it should render the prisoner unable to work. The cruellest of the SS-men included the Commandant of Compound 3, SS- Unterscharfuhrer Groffman, who during the roll call, walked up and down the compound searching for victims.
He positioned a prisoner slightly aslant, aimed his hand at the place he intended to strike, and next with a single blow at the stomach, the liver, the heart or the ear knocked the prisoner down.
Another sadist SS-man Gossberg, smashed heads whilst SS – Unterscharfuhrer Franz Josef Fritsche killed prisoners with a spade, a rifle butt or whatever was at hand.
The greatest murderer in Majdanek’s history was Anton Thurmann, who was brutal and sometimes personally whipped prisoners – giving them 300-400 lashes.
Prisoners were also immersed in fire tanks and cesspools, and the “pillar” was also used where a prisoners wrists were tied behind him, and being raised on a post to such a height that his feet did not touch the ground.
The death penalty was inflicted for more serious offences. Jews attempting to escape who were recaptured were as a rule hanged on the gallows.
Executions by hanging were carried out during the evening roll call in the presence of the camp commandant, the head of Division III , a physician, and the SS staff of a given compound.
In Compound 3, the hangings were performed by the Kapos Karl Galka, and Peter Wyderko. In the women’s compounds the executions were carried out by the crematorium chief Erich Muhsfeldt.
The gangs that built the camp remained at the disposal of the Construction Board. Between 1941 and 1944 an estimated 70 working gangs were employed at various construction tasks, such as earthworks, building and outfitting work.
Earthwork accounted for the bulk of the jobs performed – it included levelling the ground, extraction of sand and stone, building roads, embankments, pillar-boxes, drainage ditches, wells and drillings of water mains and sewage
All these jobs were performed by a large number of gangs, at least fifteen were employed from mid-1942 to mid-1943 and 1,000 to 2,000 prisoners were employed.
Building work encompassed the construction of barracks, watch towers and fences, facilities for mass extermination. The most numerous among these groups were the gangs building the individual compounds, cellars for potatoes, laundries, administrative buildings and fences.
During the period from the autumn of 1941 to the end of 1942 about 1,000 prisoners were engaged in these tasks. A much smaller number of prisoners not more than 500, were employed by the Construction Board, at outfitting work. This work required skilled labourers such as electricians, glaziers, plumbers etc.
Clerical staff were employed at the Camp Command, the Political Division, Division III , the Post Office, the Employment Office , in various sections of Division IV. The prisoners working in these units were mostly educated people with a good command of German and clerical skills.
About 20 gangs were constantly engaged in cleaning work – their task was to keep clean the SS and prisoners living premises.
The cleaning of the prisoners compounds and the removal of snow in the winter was the concern of the Feldkolonne. In 1942 and 1943, there were teams of 15-20 prisoners in each compound who removed the faeces from cesspools to the camp gardens. As a rule Jews were employed to perform this exceptionally dirty and hard work.
Its only advantage was that, because of the stench from the barrels and prisoners clothes, the SS-men and functionaries usually left the group alone, thus the Scheisskommando – as it was commonly called avoided beatings.
In the years 1942 –44 other work gangs were engaged in removing garbage from the Camp Command, the guards quarters and the camp farms, in cleaning the kennels, stables and so on.
In 1943 upon the completion of a number of camp buildings and facilities, permanent work gangs were set up to carry out regular maintenance and improving the appearance of the camp, such as planting shrubs, and flower –beds.
A number of work gangs were employed in various workshops and storehouses – about 60 –100 prisoners worked in the carpenters shop, manufacturing furniture for the camp staff, repairing furniture and making alterations in the barracks.
The blacksmith and locksmith workshops rendered services to the Construction Board for the barracks and sewage and water mains construction.
Those employed in the electric workshop repaired electrical wiring, as well as loudspeakers, radio sets and electric stoves brought in by SS-men.
Early in 1943 the camp authorities established a car repair shop, in which a gang of 20 prisoners engaged in switching petrol and diesel oil powered vehicles into natural gas powered ones and in replacing worn out parts. Another gang cleaned vehicles in the garages.
An exceptionally large number of prisoners were employed in the tailors workshops, 270 persons. Initially only men worked there, but from 1943 women were employed, and they soon became the majority.
The sewing room repaired chiefly confiscated clothes as well as prisoners linen and striped clothes. A group of women knitted earlaps, socks and gloves for the German army. A gang of men sewed and repaired uniforms for SS-men.
Over a hundred persons were employed in the shoemaker’s shop, repairing prisoners and soldiers shoes and sorting out and repairing footwear to be taken to the Reich.
In the camp storehouses, both men and women prisoners were employed in the Effekenkammer, they received and stored prisoners belongings. They searched the clothes of murdered Jews for money and valuables and sorted out and prepared the clothes for shipment.
The farm gangs worked from the early spring till the late autumn. They engaged in ploughing, sowing, weeding, grass mowing, grain harvesting, root plant lifting, threshing or growing potatoes and vegetables.
About 1500 prisoners were employed on the farms – they worked very hard in the open air regardless of weather, under the brutal supervision of functionaries and SS-men.
The work gangs whose task was to supply prisoners and SS-men with food was organised on a permanent basis. Some of them delivered potatoes and vegetables to the kitchens in the prisoner compounds, others prepared meals. The carrying of cauldrons with food to the barracks was the job of room seniors.
About 15 work gangs carried out sanitation and special tasks – including working in the bathroom and barber’s shop for new arrivals and those already staying in the camp.
The Sonderkommando in view of the character of its work, was tightly isolated from the others. Their job was to remove bodies from the gas chambers and burn them on pyres or in the crematorium ovens.
The part of the Sonderkommando which burnt dead bodies in the Krepiecki Forest seven kilometers away from Majdanek in 1942 –43 was called the Waldkommando.
The fate of the Sonderkommando members was foredoomed – now and again they were executed as being unwanted witnesses to the greatest crimes.
The SS institutions had priority in utilising prisoner manpower – particularly by the Deutsche Ausrustungswerke (DAW) and Ostindustrie.
The DAW had existed in Lublin 1941 and employed the prisoners confined in the labour camp at Lipowa Street. As the work expanded, some of the prisoners were transferred to a separate labour camp in Chelmska street and some to Pulawy.
In 1943, a total of 5500 prisoners worked in these three factories. In 1942 the DAW opened in Majdanek a ski-repair shop employing 60 people, and the next year a shoemaker’s shop employing over 200 prisoners.
The Ostindustrie opened four workshops in Lublin. They included a brush making and basketry workshop, a brick kiln, a metal works and a pharmaceutical factory.
All of them employed prisoners from Majdanek, some 2000 in 1943, almost exclusively Jews. The first of these workshops was located in a former airfield in the vicinity of the camp produced munitions baskets and brushes also in the camp itself.
Altogether close to 1,500 men and women prisoners were employed in the manufacture of baskets and brushes. The metal works which dismantled weapons, repaired metal equipment and dissembling gun carriages, employed 240 prisoners, while the small pharmaceutical factory directed by the SS garrison physician from Lublin, Dr Sekel, was staffed by 35 Majdanek prisoners, Jewish physicians and pharmacists from Holland.
The SS Fur and Clothing Works – SS- Bekleidungswerke, a branch of the Majdanek camp from the autumn of 1942, operated its own labour camp. Before the opening of the camp 1200 prisoners were brought from the main camp each day to work on the building site and at sorting out the clothes collected.
The SS and Police Central Construction Board in Lublin used Majdanek prisoner labour during the construction of a supply base for SS units in the occupied Soviet territories.
During the years 1942 –43 prisoners were employed on the building site of a Supply Storehouse of the HSSPF Southern Russia and the Caucasus, in which various military equipment and food were to be stored, a Motor Vehicle Supply Post of the Ordnungsdienst in the East, and in 1944 they built a Motor Vehicle Park for the Eastern Territories.
In addition to working in SS enterprises, Majdanek prisoners were employed by the Lublin Zentralbauleitung at the construction of a Sewage Gas Plant, and on the building site of a huge stadium for the Majdanek SS-men. A total of about 600 prisoners were employed there.
Prisoners of the Majdanek camp were also hired by civilian institutions and organisations in Lublin, such as the Central Agricultural Office which employed about 130 persons, the Tobacco works and the town laundry, power station and railways.
Various building firms availed themselves of the cheap prisoner labour. The number of prisoners employed altered frequently, depending on the jobs to be done. The average employment for one building enterprise amounted to 45 prisoners.
According to the price list fixed by the WVHA, civilian firms paid four marks per skilled worker per day and three marks for an unskilled worker. Until the 1 June 1943 SS enterprises paid only 30 pfennigs per work day, regardless of a prisoners skills – from that day onwards, the rates were equal for both SS an other enterprises.
Majdanek – The Concentration Camp in Lublin by Josef Marszalek – Interpress Warsaw 1986
Holocaust Historical Society
National Archives Kew
Copyright: Rowland Hille, Heart 2007-02-07
The growing resistance movements in the General –Government and in particular the revolts in the death camps at Treblinka and Sobibor, on the 2 August 1943 and in Sobibor on 14 October 1943 alarmed both Hans Frank and Heinrich Himmler.
Himmler ordered the closure of all camps in the Lublin region, Jakob Sporrenberg, who had replaced Globocnik as SS – Police Leader for the Lublin district, planned the mass extermination of all the Jewish workers. Sporrenberg reported after the war as a prisoner of war that Christian Wirth was involved in this action at Majdanek
The orders which were brought by Wirth, were re-worked by Sporrenberg read as follows:
- On orders of the RFSS (Himmler) an action called “Erntefest” will be carried out in the district of Lublin, for which the cordoning –off troops under his command are to be used.
- For this purpose the units in question will be disposed as follows.
- The troops will be used for cordoning-off purposes only and are under the direct command of the SSPF Lublin.
- In the case of the two camps at Lindenstrasse and the airfield, the prisoners will be led out of the camps and taken to Majdanek under guard of the cordoning-off units. At Majdanek the troops are to form a cordon round the camp while the action was being carried out and they are to remain there until recalled.
- The Commanders of the troops are to go into the Majdanek camp on arrival and report to Wirth in order to establish contact and obtain information when the troops are no longer needed.
- On returning from Majdanek the leaders are to report to the SSPF Lublin (Sporrenberg).
- On the second day the troops will surround the camp at Poniatowa at 0600 hours. Commanders will report there to Sturmbannfuhrer Wirth.
On 3 November 1943 the shooting of the prisoners commenced at 0800 hours, the victims had to stand in front of the air-raid shelters and ditches and they were shot and just fell into the ditches. * These ditches were adjacent to the crematorium; one nearby lavatory barrack was used as an undressing room, and valuables collection point. The Jews naked were whipped without mercy, savaged by dogs, they were pushed forward to the deep ditches, only twenty-five yards from Field V. Loud music boomed out from two loudspeaker trucks. Once at the edge of the ditches the Jews were machine-gunned.
The estimate of the number of Jews killed at Majdanek range from 16,000 to 18,400 almost as many as the number of British soldiers killed on the first day of the Somme in 1916.
Source: Interrogation of Sporrenberg – National Archives Kew WO 208/4673
Lublin - The Old Airfield Camp (Alter Flugplatz)
The SS Clothing Works (SS- Bekleidungswerke) was established in the summer of 1941, on the premises of the former Lublin Aircraft Factory, the so-called Plage and Laskiewicz Mechanical Plant located on Chelmska Street.
Initially women prisoners from the Lublin Castle and Jewish specialists from the Lublin ghetto were employed there. Production was developed on a large scale, because Himmler in a note dated 21 July 1941, instructed the SS storehouses to place their orders there. In effect, the enterprise was subordinated, as of 1 September 1942, to the SS- Clothing firm as a branch. This situation lasted until March 1942, when the Clothing Works was again placed under Globocnik’s administration. Thenceforth, the enterprise was to engage in the segregation, disinfection, and shipment to the Reich of the property of the murdered Jews, in the death camps of Aktion Reinhard.
In connection with this re-organisation and in order to conceal the true nature of the Works activities, SS- Hauptsturmfuhrer Friedrich Opitz was replaced as the works manager by SS- Hauptsturmfuhrer Josef Obermeyer, Globocnik’s trusted right-hand man.
His task was to expand, from the spring of 1942 till the spring of 1943, both the Clothing Works proper and the prisoner barracks. In the newly erected barracks Jews and Jewesses were accommodated.
Just before Christmas 1942 Christian Wirth the former Belzec death camp commandant and since 1 August 1942 the Inspekteur der SS- Sonderkommando moved into a two-storey villa on Chelmska Street, at the north-west corner of the disused Lublin airfield, and adjacent to the main Lublin- Warsaw – Lvow railway line.
The ground floor rooms were used as offices – staffed by Wirth, Oberhauser, Hausler and a couple of secretaries. On the first floor were located a first-class dining room and living quarters for Wirth and his staff.
Here at the old airfield from the commencement of the mass-murder programme three hangers had been used as the main sorting depot for the great heaps of clothing, belongings and valuables taken from the victims of Aktion Reinhard.
The Lublin Airfield in 1941About 2,000 prisoners – predominantly women – were employed in sorting the plunder. The articles of clothing were sorted on arrival into kinds – men’s, women’s and children’s. Then sorted again into outer and under –wear, types of footwear. There were also big crates into which were deposited the gold, the silver, diamonds, pearls, gold watches, and other valuables.
At the end of each day, up to six men were needed to carry each crate to the Kommandantur.A great deal of the accumulated wealth was pilfered daily.
Oberhauser who worked at the Kommandantur recalled that:
“The unregistered jewellery and valuables from the individual death camps were delivered to theSS- Verwaltungsamt, whose head was SS- Sturmbannfuhrer Georg Wippern. I had not the slightest thing to do with this.”
In 1942 the DAW Company opened a tar-paper factory behind Wirth’s villa and beyond that a railway siding led from the main tracks into the depot. The wagonloads of plunder from the death camps arrived at the siding and after unloading, sorting and cleaning were despatched again by rail to the Reich. This too was one of Oberhauser’s responsibilities:
“At the office on the airfield I was Wirth’s representative insofar as he was responsible for the supervision and welfare of the Jews employed in the clothing workshops. I had the task of organising the transports of materials being taken away, and looking after the arriving transports of materials.”
The loading work at the railway siding was carried out initially by 20 Polish- Jewish Prisoners of War from the DAW labour camp on Lipowa Street in Lublin. They were supervised by SS- Rottenfuhrer Ernst Gollack, who also supervised the disinfection of quality clothing.
“Furs and skins from the Jews at the Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps were disinfected there and sent to Germany. These articles arrived by rail in goods wagons, were unloaded by the “Hiwis” – and later on unloaded only by work-Jews – disinfected and re-loaded into the goods wagons. (Hiwis – German term used for Russian volunteers)
I was employed at the clothing depot as a disinfector and was in charge of about 20-30 Jewish women who were also trained as disinfectors.”
The disinfection work was carried out in a segregated section of the depot in special chambers using Zyklon – B, a special preparation of hydrocyanic acid. These chambers were also used on occasions to kill prisoners no longer fit for work. With the arrival in spring 1943 of SS- Hauptscarfuhrer Lorenz Hackenholt, the Belzec gassing expert, there can be little doubt he was active in the gassing of these prisoners.
In the spring of 1942 the airfield was divided into a men’s and a women’s compound, segregated by a high plank fence with the entrances at opposite ends. The prisoners’ work day lasted from 0800 – 1800, with a midday break, according to SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Georg Michalsen of Globocnik’s staff:
“The camp management was in Jewish hands – there was a Jewish camp police, and in addition in certain circumstances those Jews who had special passes could buy goods they needed in Lublin and its environs.” Until the arrival of Wirth and his staff, the camp had been run by SS - Hauptsturmfuhrer Josef Obermeyer, assisted by his deputy Heinrich Birmes.
Wirth and Obermeyer took an instant dislike to one another, Wirth did not approve of the way the camp was being run, and Obermeyer loathed the way Wirth treated the Jewish workers.
Wirth was very much feared by the Jewish workers, because of his penchant for riding round the camp on horseback – even entering the barracks and workshops – brandishing a whip on which there was a piece of barbed-wire, according to the statements of Ernst Gollack..
SS- Oberscharfuhrer Bauer from Sobibor death camp who visited Wirth at the Old Airfield witnessed an example of Wirth’s brutal treatment of the Jewish workers at the tar-paper factory. Wirth was personally supervising the work:
“I myself have seen and remember for certain how the Jews employed there were pouring fresh hot tar onto the pasteboard with bare hands. I also saw the raw flesh peeled from their fingers so that the bare bones could be seen. I am convinced that all these people died of their bad burns. I remember this work with the tar-paper so well because I was upset by it at the time and Wirth hit me in the face with his whip.”
Wirth began re-organising the camp at the end of December 1942 by sending all the male prisoners to the nearby Majdanek concentration camp, and re-naming the depot – The Used Materials Administration Depot of the SS Administration Office Lublin, thus bringing it directly under the control of SS- Sturmbannfuhrer Georg Wippern.
Wirth then personally selected a new Jewish work-force from the next incoming transport according to their skills. The selections were carried out on the main railway tracks just outside the depot, the remainder of the transport Wirth sent on to Majdanek camp.
German soldiers outside the wall of the Lublin Airfield CampSelections were frequent and this account from the unpublished memoirs of Wieslaw Dobrowolski describes one such selection:
“Every fortnight – sometimes more frequently – a selection was carried out in the camp. On such occasions a group of SS- men arrive from Majdanek to conduct the selection. We had to line up on the asphalt road.
On the same road, about 50 meters away from us, right by the main entrance to the camp, the group of SS-men gathered. At a sign from the SS-men, 3 -4 prisoners were ordered to run towards the gate.
The men who ran tolerably well were placed on the right of the road, while those whose legs refused to carry them properly were ordered to stand on the left.
There were always a few dozen who were sorted out and escorted to barrack number 5. This was the so-called “gas barrack” which served as a disinfection chamber for furs. The people selected were gassed in this barrack.
I was a witness when Wolanow, the very popular owner of an office selling State Lottery tickets, was selected and pushed into the “gas barrack”.
The shrieks and cries spread far and wide beyond the “gas barrack”. When Wolanow’s 17-year old son, who was standing nearby, heard the cries he was seized by a fit and cried spasmodically.”
The old Lublin airfield was also used throughout Aktion Reinhard as a mustering cente for personnel transferred from the euthanasia institutes in the Reich- members of the SS, police, male nurses – to staff the Aktion Reinhard extermination camps in Poland.
They were usually met by Wirth personally, on occasions accompanied by Reichleitner from Sobibor and Stangl from Treblinka. According to witnesses, at these personnel selections, all three commanders wore the uniforms of Schutzpolizei officers, and none of them mentioned anything about which units they were joining, or where they were to be based.
The male nurses among them – referred to now by Wirth and others as “civilians in uniforms” were first sent to the SS training camp at Trawniki, near Lublin, on a two-week basic militahry training course.
Between January 1943 and spring 1943, a number of Aktion Reinhard personnel were transferred from the death camps to serve at the old Lublin airfield, either because they were now redundant, or as a disciplinary measure.
Among the disciplinary cases were SS- Oberscharfuhrer Kurt Bolender from Sobibor and SS- Stabsscharfuhrer Otto Stadie from Treblinka. Bolender was attached to Lorenz Hackenholt’s work-brigade, and Stadie was placed in charge of the 120-strong Trawniki –SS guard unit at the old airfield.
In February 1943, following the establishment of Ost- Industrie GmbH (Osti) – East Industry Company, the company managed by Globocnik to utilise Jewish labour, was again subordinated to Globocnk, as the director of the company until its liquidation on 3 November 1943.
Jakob Sporrenberg who took over from Globocnik as SSPF Lublin described a visit to the On the 3 November 1943 the old airfield site was cordoned off by SS and Police forces, including members of Police Regiment 25, which included members of Police Battalion 101, and the prisoners marched the short distance to nearby Majdanek concentration camp where they were shot in specially prepared ditches, behind the new crematorium.
The camp was liquidated on this day, and Wirth joined Globocnik in Italy. One of the few survivors from the Alter Flugplatz told his story:
Jules Schelvis at Alte Flugplatz Lublin
Amsterdam born Jules Schelvis -seized from his house on 103, Nieuwe Kerkstraat near the ‘Meagre Bridge’ over the Amstel River, in a big round up on 26 May 1943,- was deported to Westerbork that same day, and from there to Sobibor on 1 June. Three days later his wife Rachel, her parents and sisters were gassed there on arrival. Jules was selected in the Sobibor reception area to work in the peat diggers camp at Dorohucza on the River Wieprz.
After nine days in Dorohucza, he and two other Dutch Jews, -Joop Wins and Leo de Vries,- were selected again, because of their knowledge of the German language, and sent further to the Alter Flugplatz (Old Airfield) camp, between Lublin centre and the Majdanek Concentration Camp, south east of the city.
But instead of work in a printing office, as they had been promised, they were forced to help building new barracks for prisoners. SS men whipped the slave labourers all the time, shouting: “Schneller, schneller, prentko, dalli dalli”. Living conditions in the camp were almost indescribable. Hordes of lice covered the mattresses and everywhere in the sleeping barracks were heaps of human excrements.
Some of the exhausted slave workers lay dying in the bunks, no longer aware of anything; the so called ‘mussulmen’. The food consisted of little more than brown water (‘soup’). Inmates sold or exchanged everything they had for extra food: e.g. one’s pants, belt or a knife for a piece of bread and some butter, somehow smuggled into the camp. A loaf of bread cost 350 zlotys, 50 grams of butter 50 zlotys.
The prisoners were tortured in a very sadistical way. At the Appellplatz, on the command “Mützen ab! Mützen auf!” they had to take off and put on their caps simultaneously. When the SS officer was not satisfied with the result, the prisoners were beaten and those who could not keep up to speed, were forced to do all kinds of gymnastic exercise. Whips and rifle butts were used to speed up the victims. The other prisoners had to watch the scene.
They were also forced to watch the hanging of two inmates who had tried to escape; a young Pole and the Dutch Jew Jim Kleerekoper, who had been forced to build up their own gallows.
This “ceremony” was supervised by SS Untersturmführer Wolfgang Mohwinckel, sitting proudly on the back of a white horse. The hangman was aVolksdeutsche by the name of Schmidt. [Mohwinckel was rewarded with a Kriegsverdienstkreuz by the Führer, but sentenced to life time imprisonment in 1974.
The following days Jules and the other men from Dorohucza were sent to the hall of a former radio factory, to clean machines. There, the prisoners possessed a Russian radio which broadcasted Soviet military news.
Sometimes men in the radio factory were commanded to the building sites or to demolish old barracks. Jules’ friend Joop Wins, also a member of the Dorohucza printers group, found a $ 20 bill, hidden behind a loose shelf. One US dollar had a rate of 600 zlotys in the camp at the time. This fortune kept the group in better condition during several days.
On the 14th day of their stay at Alter Flugplatz, 27 June 1943, the camp was visited by a man named Seifert, commander in the OSTI-organization. He was accompanied by Marian Winogrodski, a Jew, who was to take command of the SS printing office in the town of Radom.
One hundred men from the Alter Flugplatz camp were selected for this office, including the three Dutchmen. Most of the others were Jews and Jewesses from Warsaw. The next day they were put on the train consisting of two freight wagons, to Radom.
… and how he survived the Holocaust.
Jules Schelvis stayed in the printing office in the Radom ghetto until early November 1943, when he was interned in a new nearby camp at Szkolna. There he stayed until 26 July 1944. A march to Lodz (Litzmannstadt) was planned, but at three quarters into that journey at Tomaszow, the survivors were put on a train to Auschwitz.
At the famous Rampe Jules was selected again for slave labour, this time the building of a secret underground Messerschmidt airplane factory ofOrganisation Todt near Vaihingen an der Enz in southwestern Germany, -originally an Außenlager of Natzweiler Concentration Camp in the Alsace,- where he arrived on 12 August 1944.
In November 1944 Jules was sent to a camp in Unterriexingen, 10 miles from Vaihingen and some 20 miles NW of Stuttgart. In Unterriexingen he got ill with a foot infection and taken into the infirmary barrack; there he was infected with typhus.
Jules Schelvis was evacuated from Unterriexingen in March 1945, although not to Dachau with the prisoners considered still able to work, but back to Vaihingen, which meanwhile had been converted into a recovery camp (“Erhohlungslager”). There he was liberated on 8 April 1945 by French troops, exactly one month before the capitulation of Nazi Germany.
Leo de Vries and Joop Wins had been together with Jules as “die drei Holländer” almost until the end. The two were put on a transport from Unterreixingen to Dachau Concentration Camp, which in fact took weeks to arrive there.
Leo died during the transport. Joop survived Dachau and was reunited with Jules in Amsterdam in early July 1945.
1942 Camp Map
Postcard to Majdanek
Postcard from Majdanek
Majdanek Concentration Camp Fire
WARSAW, Poland — A fire swept through a barrack at the former Nazi death camp of Majdanek, destroying more than half the building and possibly 10,000 shoes of Holocaust victims, officials said Tuesday.
The Majdanek museum said the fire in the barrack housing a camp kitchen was discovered shortly before midnight on Monday by a guard making his rounds. The cause of the fire is not yet known and authorities are investigating.
In Israel, the director of the Yad Vashem museum, Avner Shalev expressed sorrow that the historic site and valuable artifacts had been damaged or destroyed.
"The damage to these irreplaceable items is a loss to a site that has such historical value to Europe, Poland and the Jewish people," Shalev said.
Shalev offered assistance to the museum at the Majdanek camp, which is on the outskirts of Lublin in eastern Poland.
The museum said there were 10,000 shoes in the barrack, but that it was too soon to say how extensive the damage was.
Former death camps across an area once occupied by Nazi Germany are falling into a state of disrepair decades after the end of World War II. There have also been recent cases of vandalism at some of them.
The most brazen of those was the theft of the sign over the entrance gate at Auschwitz bearing the infamous slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" – or "Work Will Set You Free."
The thieves cut the sign in three pieces, but police quickly recovered it and arrested six suspects. A replica has since been put up in place of the original, which is being restored.
VANESSA GERA | 08/10/10 03:59 PM |
Document 12: Death Book, June 30 to July 1, 1942. Source: APMM, sygn. I.d.19, p. 37.
Death Report for the Personal Effects Depot
Document 13: Death Report for the Personal Effects Depot, dated October 23, 1942, refers to October 20. Source: GARF, 7021-107-3, p. 227.
Camp Population 1941
IV Quarter 2,000
I Quarter 2,000
II Quarter 10,000
III Quarter 10,000
IV Quarter 11,500
Month Men Women total
January 7,900 3,000 10,900
February 8,000 4,000 12,000
March 8,200 4,000 12,200
April 9,000 4,000 13,000
May 13,000 8,000 21,000
June 14,500 8,000 22,500
July 12,300 10,000 22,300
August 11,700 6,500 18,200
September 14,100 4,000 18,100
October 13,600 4,500 18,100
November 7,260 3,000 10,260
December 7,640 2,500 10,140
Month Men Women total
January 13,240 2,400 15,640
February 10,460 3,200 13,660
March 11,000 2,000 13,000
Document 10: Population of the concentration camp Majdanek. From: Z. Leszczy?ska, "Stany liczbowe wiezniów obozu koncentracjynego na Majdanku", in: ZM, VII, 1973.
On October 26, 1944, in a Special Court in Lublin, charges of murder and abuse of prisoners were brought against four SS-men and two Kapos who had served in Majdanek. The trial was held from November 27 to December 2 of that year and ended in death sentences for the SS-men Hermann Vogel, Wilhelm Gerstenmeier, Anton Thernes and Theo Schölen as well as the Kapo Heinz Stalp. The sixth defendant, the Kapo Edmund Pohlmann, had allegedly committed suicide in pre-trial detention. The sentences to death by hanging were carried out without delay on December 3.
Under the conditions prevailing at that time, a trial under the rule of law was impossible: after all, the withdrawal of the occupation forces and the end of harsh foreign rule were only four months past, and the war continued to rage in a large part of Poland. Many residents of Lublin and its environs had lost family members in the camp, or had spent some time there themselves. Furthermore, right after Majdanek was liberated, reports of one and a half million murder victims were spread about with all possible hype, and the photos of the crematorium, the "gas chambers" and the bodies that had been found were exploited to the fullest by strategic propaganda.
The people screamed for revenge. In this atmosphere of public incitement the defendants never had a chance. Of course it is too late now to find out if they had really committed crimes during their time of service; there can be no doubt that the same punishment would have been imposed on any other SS-man or Kapo unfortunate enough to come into the same situation as these men. Whether they were guilty or innocent-finding witnesses for the prosecution was an easy matter in any case, and it was also not difficult to obtain the desired confessions.
The Reasons for Sentence made it very clear that these defendants were in the prisoners' dock as proxies for all of Germany, and not only National Socialist Germany:
"This trial revealed all the sordid details of the monstrous nature of that system consolidated, perfected, modernized and mechanized by Adolf Hitler as worthy successor to the imperialist methods of the Crusaders, the methods of the Brandenburg electoral princes, Frederick the Great, Bismarck's imperialism and Treitschke's ideology. The absurd racial theory, the doctrine of the 'Master Race', the catchword of gaining 'living space' at the expense of other peoples were made a reality after the war was set off, by the Hitlerites proceeding step by step in all occupied countries to exterminate the local populations, to an extent and with methods unparalleled in history. The number of victims who were executed or harassed for alleged crimes against the occupation power turns out to be small in comparison to the scope and extent of the extermination that took place in the so-called death camps. In Majdanek alone, 1,700,000 people were murdered. What monstrous total must we arrive at when we add to this figure the number of those martyred to death in the other eleven death camps, not to mention the ordinary so-called labor camps, concentration camps and forced labor camps!"
The following transcript of the pre-trial questioning of a witness shows how summarily 'evidence was taken' for this trial:
"1. Your name?-Benen Anton.
2. Your nationality?-Dutch.
3. How long in the camp?-One year.
4. What can you say about the beatings and murders in the camp?-I was beaten several times. I was hung up in a special way to be beaten. Half an hour later they threw me into the water and beat me again.
5. What can you say about the ordeal of the Soviet POWs?-The people were suffocated in gas chambers and shot.
6. What can you tell us?-Everything was done in such a way that no one saw or heard anything. However, I did see a queue of 600 people being led to death.
7. What nationalities did you see in Majdanek?-I saw Russians, Poles and Jews, but I can't say anything.
8. What do you know about the murders in the gas chambers?-I know that people were suffocated in the gas chambers, and then the bodies were dragged out.
9. Were you sick in the camp? You don't look well, and your throat is bandaged.-I spent four years in concentration camps and got sick because there was not enough to eat.
10. Were there other Dutch inmates?-Yes. There were mostly Jews and they were brought here later.
11. In which concentration camps were you?-In Ostburg, Dachau and then Lublin. But Lublin was the worst.
12. Why were you transferred from Dachau to Lublin?-I was drafted into the army, but I didn't want to go and that's why they locked me up.
13. Who's taking care of you today?-The Polish Red Cross is looking after me, but there is still not enough to eat."
That concluded the questioning, and another example of 'evidence' for the mass murders in Majdanek had been obtained.-The interrogation of the defendants in pre-trial detention was also accomplished at top speed, for example the interrogation of SS-Rottenführer Theo Schölen:
"1. Were you in Majdanek?-Yes, I was there.
2. Do you know about everything that took place in the concentration camp?-I saw a few things, and heard about others.
3. Do you know anything about people being gassed?-I know that gassing was mostly done in the evening, and the bodies were later burned in the cremation furnaces.
4. How was that done?-I only saw bodies, I didn't personally attend the killing.
5. Is it true that people went through the shower beside the gas chamber?-Yes, they were in the bath, and then they went into the chamber.
6. What was the Majdanek camp generally called by the Germans?-'Extermination camp'; this term was used from the time of the mass murder of inmates onward.
7. Do you know what different nationalities were in Majdanek?-I don't know exactly.
8. What nationalities were most strongly represented?-Jews, Russian POWs, Poles, French, Italians and others.
9. What methods were used in dealing with the Soviet prisoners of war?-I don't know exactly about the Russians. But I know that about 18,000 to 20,000 Jews were killed on November 3, 1943.
10. Are you a member of the National Socialist Party?-Yes, since 1937; I have been in the SS only since 1942.
11. Who treated the prisoners especially badly, and who was to blame for the mass murder?-There were many of them, but I don't know all the names. But I recall that the SS-man Foschted [possibly a reference to the third camp Commandant, Florstedt], Obersturmführer Thumann and Obersturmführer Mußfeldt played a major part in the administration and in torturing the inmates.
12. What did you do in Majdanek?-I was manager of a supply depot.
13. Where did the shoes and the children's and women's clothing come from that were found in great numbers in the camp?-These things belonged to murdered people, primarily Jews.
14. What was done with the bodies?-I heard that they were burned in the crematorium.
15. Did you participate in the murder of people?-No. I was far away from it all and just looked after the supply depot.
16. Who told you about the murders?-I don't know the names exactly; I just heard that Mußfeldt and Thumann did it."
The trial itself was conducted as per the classical pattern of a Stalinist show trial in which the defense attorneys served as secondary prosecutors. Accordingly, Jaroslawski, the court-appointed defense counsel for the defendants Gerstenmeier and Vogel, requested on the very first day of the trial to be released from his duties, because
"[...] in the course of a thousand years Germany has systematically committed crimes against all its neighbors, including the Slavic people; because Germany has completely exterminated the Slavic peoples between the Elbe and the Oder and has shown that she wants to completely eradicate the Slavic nations; because Germany, obeying its Führer Adolf Hitler, attacked the Polish state in September 1939 and brought about a horrible world war [...]."
Kazimierz Krzymanski, the court-appointed defense counsel for the defendant Thernes, also begged to be excused from his duties, because
"[...] the misdeeds that are to be judged here in this court room are so absolutely gruesome and were planned and committed in such a satanic way that we, who have lost our loved ones in Majdanek [...], cannot be expected to defend those who are accused of having committed these atrocities."
Naturally, the lawyers' requests were refused, and they had to continue to 'defend' their 'clients'.
The atmosphere of hysteria that must have reigned at this trial can be inferred, for example, from the public prosecutor Jerzy Sawiecki's insane allegation that at least half a million Germans had been involved in organizing the extermination at Majdanek:
"At least 500,000 Germans-accountants, financiers, clerks, supply personnel, railway men, postal workers, telephone operators, engineers, physicians, jurists, agronomists, chemists, pharmacists-it takes one's breath away, try to imagine it, half a million Germans in total were involved in the well-organized machinery for killing defenseless people. Who can really grasp the horror of this fact? Half a million people, all of them driven by one single thought, namely, how to destroy other people as quickly, cheaply and efficiently as possible. That's Majdanek!"
We would love to know if this public prosecutor actually believed what he was saying.-The evidence, aside from 'material evidence' such as empty cans of Zyklon, consisted of the testimony of a total of 13 eyewitnesses. We shall restrict ourselves to just one sample, an excerpt from the questioning of the witness Jan Wolski:
"Public prosecutor: What do you know, in general, about the extermination of the Slavic peoples in Majdanek?
Wolski: When the Governor General came from Berlin to carry out an inspection, and I was setting the table in the casino, I overheard his discussion with our Commandant Weiss (and Gerstenmeier was there too) about how one could exterminate the Slavic peoples in Majdanek.
Public prosecutor: Do you know that Gerstenmeier ordered additional cans of Zyklon?
Wolski: Yes, I heard about it, because he wanted to stockpile some Zyklon for the future. He put it like this: 'These are uncertain times, we must be prepared to wipe out all the prisoners.'"
The defendants as well had been thoroughly drilled in their role in this staged spectacle and obediently recited their scripted admissions of guilt. The following is an excerpt from the Kapo Heinz Stalp's interrogation:
"Public prosecutor: I asked you about the children. How were these children exterminated in the gas chamber?
Stalp: I know of one case. When I was in the 'Clothing Plant' in Pohlmann Street, two trucks drove up in the morning and the children of parents working in Majdanek were loaded up. The parents had been told that the children were being taken away for educational purposes.
Public prosecutor: Was the children's clothing taken away too?
Public prosecutor: How many children were there, and how old were they?
Stalp: There were little ones, one year old, and there were thirteen to fourteen-year-olds.
Public prosecutor: How were they taken to the gas chamber?
Stalp: The truck drove right up to the gas chamber. Personnel from the SD [Security Service] were present, the children were led onto the Women's Compound (Compound No. I) and ten women were brought from there who had to undress the children. Then the children were ordered to go into the chamber, they were told stories about how nice it was there; some children cried, but they didn't know that they were going to their deaths. Once they were in the chamber, an SD-man closed the door, and then gases were piped in through the square opening.
Public prosecutor: Did you see these children who had been asphyxiated in the gas chamber, and how did they look?
Stalp: Yes, I often saw inmates being brought out of the gas chamber. Their lungs had obviously burst, and there was blood coming out, but not in every case. After two days their dead bodies turned a greenish color."
Note that neither of the poisons allegedly used-carbon monoxide or hydrogen cyanide-causes the lungs to burst! Clearly the Kapo Heinz Stalp had said exactly what he was forced to say.
After many years of investigation, in the course of which more than 200 people were questioned, the gloomy spectacle that has gone down in history as the"Majdanek Trial" began in Düsseldorf on November 26, 1975. The proceedings dragged on for six years and ended with a verdict on June 30, 1981. Initially, 15 former members of the camp guard staff had been charged, including six women. One of the accused, Alice Orlowski, then 73 years old, died in 1976 during the trial; another accused, Wilhelm Reinartz, was released in 1978, not being fit to be held in prison; the three former guards Rosy Süss, Charlotte Mayer and Hermine Böttcher, as well as the camp physician Heinrich Schmidt, were acquitted early, in 1979, since their innocence had been established. Of the remaining nine defendants, one-Heinrich Groffmann-was acquitted in 1981. In the other eight cases, the sentences were as follows:
- life imprisonment on two counts of joint murder of a total of at least 100 people, for the defendant Hermine Braunsteiner-Ryan;
- 12 years imprisonment on two counts of serving as joint accessory to murder of a total of at least 100 people, for the defendant Hildegard Lächert;
- 10 years imprisonment on two counts of serving as joint accessory to murder of a total of at least 141 people, for the defendant Hermann Heinrich Hackmann;
- 8 years imprisonment on five counts of serving as joint accessory to murder of a total of at least 195 people, for the defendant Emil Laurich;
- 6 years imprisonment on two counts of serving as joint accessory to murder of a total of at least 17,002 people, for the defendant Heinz Villain;
- 4 years imprisonment for serving as joint accessory to murder of 41 people, for the defendant Heinrich Petrick;
- 3 years and 6 months imprisonment for serving as joint accessory to murder of 41 people, for the defendant Arnold Strippel;
- 3 years imprisonment for serving as joint accessory to murder of at least 100 people, for the defendant Thomas Ellwanger.
The two defendants who were given the severest sentences, Hermine Braunsteiner-Ryan and Hildegard Lächert, had been accused of participating in the selection of Jewish women and children for the gas chambers; the other six were charged with participating in the execution of prisoners, particularly within the scope of the alleged mass murder of November 3, 1943.
In the following we shall quote at some length from the Düsseldorf verdict, which discussed the gassing of inmates and the number of victims of the Majdanek camp:
"The most terrible burden on the inmates, especially the Jewish people, was the selections for death by gassing. These selections had begun in late autumn 1942 and were carried out predominantly in spring and summer 1943.
From the start, the crematorium and so-called delousing facilities had been planned for the concentration camp Majdanek, but their completion was delayed considerably, as was the entire construction project. Just as the camp had initially been described as 'prisoner-of-war camp', even though it was actually designed as concentration camp, the term 'delousing facility' also served as code word. Himmler's aforementioned order of July 19, 1942, [that all Jews living in the General Government were to be concentrated in a few set zones by the end of that year] resulted in the circumstance that the camp, aside from its initial purpose of forced labor and transit camp, at times also had to function as an extermination camp, which it did with its gassing facilities.
[...] The gassing victims were Jews of all ages and various nationalities, especially mothers with children, elderly, ill and injured, as well as people appearing to be unfit or not entirely fit to work. For the most part, the camp personnel used its own judgement to decide which of the people preordained for the 'Final Solution' belonged to this group and which were to contribute their manpower to the National Socialist regime for some time yet. [...] It has not been possible to determine whether there were also isolated cases where non-Jewish inmates were included in the gassings, for example who were considered to be so-called Muslims or decrepits for reasons of their age or ill health; but it is likely that this happened, at least sometimes.
[...] The 'initial selections'-the culling of Jewish people who were considered no longer useful as 'manpower'-continued in further selections for the same purpose, carried out on the various Compounds of the protective detention camp; the SS camp jargon cynically described these selections as 'the unit bound for Heaven'. These selections were done most frequently in spring and summer 1943, at irregular intervals and in various ways. Some were carried out by a sort of 'commission' usually made up of one of the SS camp doctors and a group of other male or female members of the SS, and some by the guards of the individual compounds. The victims were Jewish people who were ill, sickly, exhausted, injured or deemed 'unfit to live' for other reasons.
The gassing always proceeded in the same way. The inmates marked for death were taken to the barrack, made to undress and then herded into one of the gas chambers. As soon as the door was closed air-tight behind them, the carbon monoxide or Zyklon B was introduced into the chamber. Both poisons caused paralysis of the respiratory organs and thus a painful death by suffocation. With carbon monoxide, which was only used in the initial phase of the gassings, death generally took a little longer than with Zyklon B. That poison, however, also did not 'take effect' immediately, only after a certain time, because the effect was dependent on the extent to which the cyanide salt broke down into its gaseous form due to the slowly rising room temperature. As soon as the SS-man in charge of supervising the gassing determined that all the victims had died, the steel doors were thrown open so that the gas could escape. Then the bodies were brought out by a special unit of inmates, loaded onto hand carts or vehicles and either taken to the old or new crematorium to be burned, or to pits or pyres prepared outside the camp in the surrounding forest.
By early 1943 at the latest, the mass selections of people to be killed by gassing were common knowledge in the Majdanek concentration camp. This resulted in the fact that instances where inmates were culled under circumstances resembling selections, but actually for other purposes-primarily for transfers to other camps-were misunderstood by many inmates as selections for the gas chambers. This goes primarily for the culling of female inmates for the aforementioned transports, between late June and late August 1943, to the concentration camps Auschwitz and Ravensbrück and to the forced labor camp Skarcysko-Kamienna. The women who were considered for these transports had to undress and submit to an 'examination' by one of the camp doctors in the presence of female SS guards in the Washing Barrack of the Women's Camp. However, unlike for 'selections for killing', which were carried out in a similar manner, the purpose here was to cull people appearing to be 'particularly fit to work', not such that were unable to work.
The evidence heard by this court has not been able to determine precisely how many people lost their lives in the concentration camp Majdanek as a result of gassing, execution and other violent means, epidemics and malnutrition, abuse and privation, and other reasons, However, this court considers a minimum of 200,000 victims, among them at least 60,000 Jewish people, to be a certainty."
The Court then went on to substantiate how it had arrived at its "findings" about homicidal gassings, selections for the gas chambers, and the number of victims. Eyewitness testimony was the only basis for these findings, and the witnesses fell into the following categories:
a) The accused themselves, as well as the four co-defendants who had already been acquitted, "insofar as they gave relevant information".
b) 75 mostly Jewish former inmates of the camp who testified at the Düsseldorf Trial.
c) 11 members of the SS who were suspected of participation in the crimes under investigation but who were not charged.
d) 6 female witnesses who were not fit to travel and were instead questioned in the United States, Canada and Australia by members of the Court.
e) 37 mostly Jewish former inmates of Majdanek who were not fit or not willing to travel, and were instead questioned in Israel, Poland, the Soviet Union and Austria by means of International Assistance in Law Enforcement, in the presence of members of the Court.
f) 23 inmates who made their testimony in the form of written depositions, and who have since died or become unfit to be questioned.
g) 18 former members of the SS or female SS guards who were not suspected of or charged with any crimes.
h) 3 German witnesses who were unfit to travel and were instead questioned in their homes.
As a fig leaf, the evidence of these witnesses was supplemented with an "expert report" by the "expert on contemporary history" Dr. Wolfgang Scheffler, and with the contents of "other documents, papers and photographs discussed in the Main Hearing, insofar as they were made part of the trial by reading or visual examination". The Court continued:
"The Court has relied primarily on the report by the expert on contemporary history for its determinations with respect to the design and construction of the camp, the purposes it was used for, the development of the inmate population and the total number of victims. The subject expert has also argued this part of his expositions and conclusions convincingly, and supported it with extensive documentary source materials; further, they are largely congruent with what other evidence has shown in this regard [...]. Where the findings respecting the physical location of the gas chambers and their technical facilities are concerned, this Court has based them on the compelling expositions of the subject expert, on the contents of the protocol of the on-site inspection of the camp conducted by means of International Assistance in Law Enforcement, and primarily on the testimonies of the witnesses Heinz Müller, Cesarski [eight more names follow].
The witness Müller is one of the few members of the SS who have not sought to hide their knowledge behind alleged ignorance, inability to remember, disinterest in camp events at the time in question, or other excuses. According to his own statements, he was initially with the Wachsturmbann from late 1941 on, and with the command staff from late 1942 to spring 1943, and has admitted that as part of his training as SDG[sanitation services assistant] he was present when a group of naked people were killed in one of the small gas chambers by piping carbon monoxide into it, and that he observed the deaths of the victims through the small window. The witnesses Cesarski, Stanis?awski, Skibinska and Ostrowski unanimously confirmed the use of Zyklon B; this also follows from the protocols of the questioning of the witnesses Benden, Gröner and Rockinger, which were read into evidence."
So the verdict was based almost exclusively on eyewitness testimony. What should one make of that?
Generally speaking, we note that witness evidence is considered to be the most uncertain form of evidence, since human memory is very unreliable and easy to manipulate. In science as well as in justice under the rule of law there is a hierarchy of evidence with regard to evidential value, according to which any form of material or documentary evidence is superior to eyewitness testimony in terms of evidential value.
The French historian Jacques Baynac has aptly described the value of eyewitness testimony for historians:
"For the academic historian, an eyewitness statement does not represent real history. It is an object of history. Eyewitness testimony is not weighty evidence; and many witness testimonies are not much weightier than a single one if there is no solid documentation to support them. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that the postulate of academic historiography is: no paper(s), no established facts."
In the case of the Düsseldorf Majdanek Trial, there are additional reasons for treating the eyewitness testimony with utmost suspicion:
- The events that were the subject of the trial had happened more than thirty years earlier. Under these circumstances eyewitness testimony must be considered almost worthless, since human powers of recollection tend not to improve over time.
- There was probably not one of the witnesses that had not spent the years since liberation constantly exposed to stories, both heard and read, of gas chambers and mass murders in the National Socialist concentration camps. Under these conditions one had to expect that the witnesses would begin to confuse what they themselves had experienced with what they had merely heard or read.
- Former inmates of Majdanek perforce felt anger and hatred for their former oppressors. No one enjoys being deprived of his freedom, and the conditions in the Lublin camp were beneath all human dignity, which the extremely high mortality rate already shows. Further, it is certainly conceivable that at least some of the accused had tormented and harassed the inmates. Under these circumstances, the temptation would have been irresistible for most of the witnesses to expose not only any real misdeeds the SS-men might have committed, but also to impute to them other, far worse crimes, especially since they had nothing whatsoever to fear even if they were caught committing perjury.
- At the time of the Düsseldorf Majdanek Trial, it had already become well-known that some other German atrocities that had also been 'proven' by eyewitness testimony were in fact fabrications of Allied atrocity propaganda. One example of this is the allegation that the Germans had committed the mass murder of Katyn, which the Soviet perpetrators had blamed on the vanquished Germans. German officers were incriminated in the Soviet courts by eyewitnesses and then hanged as the murderers of Katyn. Even though the Soviet Union did not admit its guilt until Gorbachev's time, the west, and thus the Federal Republic of Germany, knew from the start that the Soviets were responsible for that massacre of Polish officers and that therefore the witnesses drummed up by the Soviet justice system had been lying.
It was equally well known at that time that there had never been any homicidal gassings in Dachau and other western concentration camps, even though 'proof' of such gassings had been obtained right after the war in the form of eyewitness testimony. For example, the Dachau camp physician Dr. Franz Blaha testified under oath at the Nuremberg Trial that he had performed autopsies on the bodies of gassing victims in that camp. But ever since Martin Broszat, then a staff member and later the Chief of the Munich Institute for Contemporary History, had determined in 1960 that no Jews or other inmates had been gassed in Dachau (or in other western camps), even the orthodox historians, i.e., those supporting the theory of extermination, considered the gas chambers of Dachau, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen etc. as finished. Thus, the witnesses had also lied in these cases. The Düsseldorf court should have borne all this in mind rather than putting blind faith in its witness testimony, for why should eyewitness testimony about gassings in Majdanek be more credible, a priori, than eyewitness testimony about gassings in Dachau?
Now the reader may object that even SS-men corroborated the gas chamber murders to the Court-namely, the four acquitted co-defendants, members of the SS who were first suspected but ultimately not charged, and finally, some that had never even been suspected.
We would point out first of all that an outsider has no way of checking the court's claims; we do not know what exactly the SS guards in question said in their testimony, since the trial transcripts are not available to the public. If the members of the SS should actually have testified to the reality of the homicidal gassings, one cannot help but suspect that they bought their early acquittals or their dispensation from criminal charges with this testimony that was so desirable to the Federal German justice system. After all, it was the one with the power to decide which former Majdanek guards would end up in the prisoner's dock and which would not. If the judiciary had been determined to charge and imprison this or that former guard, it was surely not difficult to obtain the desired incriminating eyewitness testimony. The judiciary was not short of means for exerting pressure, as it were, to produce the desired statements.
In this context, the case of SS-man Heinz Müller is quite revealing; as the reader will recall, the court had praised him for being "one of the few members of the SS who have not sought to hide their knowledge behind alleged ignorance, inability to remember, disinterest in camp events at the time in question, or other excuses." He confessed having attended the gassings with carbon monoxide, thus finally furnishing some evidence for murders committed with this poison: even though the official subject literature unanimously alleges this killing method, we have failed to find even one other witness statement to this effect.
Heinz Müller was well rewarded for his cooperation: he never made personal acquaintance with the prisoner's dock.
The court itself involuntarily furnished a striking proof of the unreliable nature of eyewitness testimony by stating that "many inmates" had misinterpreted "instances where inmates were culled under circumstances resembling selections [...] but actually for other purposes, primarily for transfers to other camps". It obviously never occurred to the Court that with this comment it was declaring all eyewitness testimony about "selections for the gas chambers" to be worthless, since every culling "under circumstances resembling selections" could actually have been done for purposes of transfers to other camps (or assignment to a labor unit) and been misconstrued by inmates as a selection for the gas chambers.
Obviously the Federal German justice system did not try for even a second to obtain documentary or material evidence for the alleged homicidal gassings at issue in the Majdanek Trial (not unlike National Socialist trials of similar nature). One example of its utter ignorance of documentary evidence is its claim that the term"delousing facility" was only a code word with which the homicidal facilities were disguised. If the court had taken the trouble to study the surviving German documents, it would have found the descriptions of the plague of lice in the camp, as well as the construction plans for the delousing facilities. And the delousing operations are also mentioned in the eyewitness reports which the court set such great store by in other respects.
The picture of Majdanek as a site of planned extermination of human beings, which the Düsseldorf court painted, is not supported by so much as one documentary proof. It is something that could not be disguised even with numerous references to the "expert on contemporary history", Scheffler, who was said to have supported his findings about the camp's purpose and the total number of victims "with extensive documentary source materials". The court wisely kept silent about what materials these might have been. And since these "extensive documentary source materials" simply do not exist, even Herr Scheffler could not use them to prove either the mass extermination or the alleged minimum of 200,000 victims.
The Court did not even try to come up with a basis for this completely fictional figure. The reference to the eyewitnesses was a particularly pathetic argument here, for even if the gassings had actually taken place, the witnesses could have been present only at individual murder operations at best, and could not possibly have known the total number of the camps' victims. To determine this number, the first requirement would have been to find out the total number of inmates deported to Majdanek; so the court would first of all have had to try to locate the transport lists. But nothing of the sort was done.
The Court even depended on the "compelling expositions of the subject expert" with regard to the "physical location of the gas chambers" and their "technical facilities". While it is alleged that an "on-site inspection of the camp" was done with "International Assistance in Law Enforcement", this inspection cannot have been very thorough. Otherwise the inspectors would at least have noticed that one of the "homicidal gas chambers" has a window, which the victims would immediately have smashed.
One thing that is a matter of course in any nonpolitical murder trial, namely, an expert report on the murder weapon, was obviously deemed superfluous by the Düsseldorf court in a case prosecuting such a spectacular and horrific crime as the alleged mass gassings.
An expert report on the "murder weapon" (meaning, in this case, the rooms described as "gas chambers" as well as the two poisons allegedly used) would have shaken the foundations of the eyewitness accounts about gassings. That, however, was not the purpose of the trial, and therefore such an expert report was omitted and the "expert on contemporary history" Scheffler was consulted instead of a chemist or a toxicologist.
Unfortunately the defense missed its opportunity to take up this point and insist on an expert report about the "murder weapon". Obviously, just as in similar National Socialist trials, the defense attorneys chose to bow to opportunistic considerations and preferred not to question the image of the "extermination camp", insisting instead merely on their clients' personal innocence.
Just as for the alleged gassings, the Court was also satisfied with eyewitness testimony where the alleged mass execution of November 3, 1943, was concerned, and it accepted these testimonies without question.
Aside from the mandatory "expert on contemporary history", Scheffler, the following witnesses are cited in the Court's verdict to prove the massacre of November 3, 1943:
- 24 former inmates of Majdanek;
- the defendants Groffmann and Villain (of whom the former was then acquitted and the latter got away with a sentence that was mild relative to the charge);
- 13 members of the SS who were suspected of complicity but never charged;
- former co-defendant Hermine Böttcher, who had been acquitted;
- 4 German witnesses who were unable to travel and made written depositions instead;
- 5 Polish and Soviet witnesses who were unable or unwilling to travel and made written depositions instead;
- 13 witnesses who had since died-including Erich Mußfeldt(!).
One of the witnesses for the prosecution who was suspected but not charged was the SS-man Georg Werk. With reference to him, the verdict states:
"According to his statements, the witness Werk was posted to the office in Lublin at that time, and had been detailed to the execution squad, but claims that he did not participate in the shooting but only 'watched' because-(in his own words) 'luckily' his submachine gun malfunctioned. The latter is anything but believable; but the Court has absolutely no doubt that the rest of his testimony is truthful, especially with regard to how the witnesses had to lie down on top of each other like roofing tiles, to be killed with shots to the back of the head or in the neck."
It doesn't take much of an imagination to picture how the Court probably bought this witness's incriminating statement: in return for the desired description of the mass murder, Georg Werk was exempted from criminal charges, even though the Court considered his excuse, the malfunctioning submachine gun, to be unbelievable and he would therefore logically have to have been charged as accessory to murder, and convicted. SS-man Erich Laurich, on the other hand, who categorically denied any involvement in the executions, was "exposed" by the testimony of the witness Zacheusz Pawlak, and sentenced to eight years in prison.
One of the most revealing sections of the verdict is that about the witness Stanis?aw Chwiejczak. He incriminated the defendant Heinz Villain (who was charged with participation in the alleged mass execution of November 3, 1943) by testifying that on that day, Villain and another SS-man had received some object of value from a Jew destined to be shot; the latter had retrieved his valuable from a hiding place to try to buy his life with it, but then Villain had led the Jew off to the execution ditch after all. The Court considered Chwiejczak's statement to be unbelievable, for the following reason:
"Where [...] the witness Chwiejczak is concerned, under questioning in the Main Hearing on September 17-18, 1980, he identified the defendant Villain as one of the two SS-men who had accompanied the Jewish inmate to his hiding place; the witness Pych had stated the same. However, as the witness Chwiejczak admitted, this claim is exactly the opposite of that which he stated in this context some 10 months earlier, at his hearing on November 6, 1979, in Warsaw in the presence of members of the Court, where he had stated that the defendant Villain was not involved in this incident. The reason which the witness gave for this contradiction-namely, that after his questioning in Warsaw he had thought about it and remembered that the defendant Villain had been present-may be true; however, the Court is not convinced of this, since there are several indications to suggest that in the time between his questioning in Warsaw and his appearance at the Main Hearing the witness has attempted to 'refresh' his memory not only by 'thinking' but also by obtaining information from outside sources."
Evidently it did not occur to the Court that S. Chwiejczak may not have been the only witness to make use of their time and opportunity to "'refresh'" their "memory[...] by obtaining information from outside sources".
The possibility that one or the other of those accused in Düsseldorf may have been guilty of abusing inmates, or even of murder, cannot be ruled out. More than three decades after war's end, it was impossible to bring evidence and to conduct an inquiry perfectly and in complete accordance with the principles of a state under rule of law. And in any case, such individual crimes would not have contributed anything decisive to the three central issues: whether there were homicidal gas chambers in Majdanek; whether a minimum of 17,000 Jews were shot there on November 3, 1943; and whether at least 200,000 people really died in the Lublin camp.
The irrefutable conclusion can only be that the Majdanek Trial was a political show trial in which the guilt or innocence of the accused was really irrelevant and which actually only served to cement the image of the "extermination camp" with a court verdict, a valuable contribution to the reeducation of the German people.
That the Poles, four months after the liberation of Majdanek, would stage a show trial of members of an enemy nation that still occupied part of their country is something one can understand. But that the Federal Republic of Germany, more than three decades after the end of the war, carried out a trial that disregarded such elementary juridical norms as the subordination of witness testimony to material and documentary evidence is something that cannot be justified. At best there may be mitigating circumstances.
One of the mitigating circumstances one must probably grant the Düsseldorf judges is that they were under extreme pressure from domestic and foreign media, antifascist organizations, foreign governments, particularly the Israeli and the Polish, and most likely also from the Federal German government. Even the early acquittal of some of the accused had prompted a flood of protests. The Court pronounced some of the defendants guilty because it had to pronounce them guilty, and convicted them because it had to convict them. The sentences were then promptly criticized as being too lenient, both at home and abroad. Under such conditions an independent dispensation of justice was hardly possible.
While the state of evidence for the alleged 200,000+ victims of Majdanek, the homicidal gassings in Majdanek, and the massacre of November 1943 has not improved even with the Düsseldorf Trial, those with a vested interest in preserving and maintaining the official version of history can claim, ever since this trial, that these mass crimes have been "judicially noted" as fact and therefore no longer need to be proved. As per their self-perception, the German historians, beginning with the fantastic "expert on contemporary history" Wolfgang Scheffler, will probably continue to take this as a dispensation from responsibility to conduct some serious academic and scientific research about this camp.
As a mere footnote, it should be noted that the verdict of the Düsseldorf court contradicts a statements, which can be found in the verdict of another German court passed in 1950 in Berlin. During this trial, several defendants were accused of having committed atrocities and mass murder in the Sobibor camp. Regarding Majdanek the verdict says:
»Transport from Maidanek [sic]. For the purpose of being gassed, a transport of Jewish inmates of about 15,000 men arrived at one time from the Maidanek camp, which did not posses gassing facilities. Because the gassing facility in the Sobibor camp was out of order at that time [...]«
Thus, there were no homicidal gas chambers in Majdanek according to this verdict!
Crematory ovens at Majdanek with piles of human ashes still in front, as seen after liberation.
Amidst even the horrors of the Holocaust, there are events that stand out for their scale and cruelty. One such event took place on 3 November 1943, code-named (with typical Nazi cynicism) the 'Harvest festival' or Aktion Erntefest. At the Polish concentration and death camp Majdanek and the Trawniki and Poniatowa labour camps, this day began as usual, with a mass roll-call. Once the prisoners had been counted, however, the SS officers commanded the Jewish inmates to form a separate group and to strip. In the preceding days, prisoners had been forced to dig large ditches on the outskirts of the camps; now they were led on the short walk to these freshly-dug graves. Before the killing began, however, one final part of the plan needed to be completed: two large sets of loudspeakers were wired up, and march music began to play. At this point the shooting began. This went on for hours, as one witness recalled:
After the first rounds the noise from the loudspeakers drowned out the further shots. The speakers that had been attached to the watchtowers broadcast in full volume cheerful dance music . . .the music flooded the entire camp. Only in the short pauses necessary to change records did the shots echo through the air . . . around 4 pm the music was silenced. Now [we] heard only occasional single shots that echoed to us from the crematoria.
The massacre, which claimed more than 40,000 lives, was apparently a reaction to Nazi war defeats, as well as to Jewish uprisings in the Warsaw ghetto,Treblinka and Sobibor. The victims of Aktion Erntefest were only some of the tens of thousands who were killed, or died of starvation, disease, and exhaustion, at this camp in eastern Poland.
Unlike the vast majority of Nazi camps, Majdanek was built in immediate proximity to a large and densely populated city, Lublin. Neither camouflaged nor hidden by natural barriers, it was plainly visible to the city’s inhabitants. Constructed in 1941, it functioned (like Auschwitz) as both a concentration and a death camp. Initially it housed Soviet prisoners of war captured by the German army. These soldiers were subjected to harsh treatment, and were worked to death in their thousands; in addition many, already weakened by starvation and exhaustion, died during a typhus epidemic in the winter of 1941/42. At Majdanek, the ‘natural’ death rate was one of the highest in the Nazi camps. Large numbers of Jews, as well as Polish political prisoners and members of the underground were also interned and killed in the camp.
Mass murder operations in gas chambers began at Majdanek in the fall of 1942, and continued until the end of 1943. The camp was liberated by the Soviets in July 1944, and although the fleeing Nazis burned all records, they did not manage to destroy the camp itself, making it the best preserved major Nazi concentration camp today.
Majdanek’s prisoner population was diverse, including Jews from many countries, Soviet soldiers, and political prisoners of all sorts. During the early years of the camp, it was the Soviet prisoners and the community of Slovakian Jews that were best known for their musical activity. There is evidence that both of these groups frequently sang the songs of their homeland in their bunkers at night and while working, although it was forbidden. In addition, after the evening roll call, religious Jews would secretly gather to sing together. In the spring of 1942, an unknown prisoner composed the ‘Jews’ Song of the KZ Lublin’ (an alternative name used for Majdanek.)
These limited forms of clandestine music-making expanded in 1943, when the prohibition on cultural entertainment was lifted. The camp administration allowed for singing and music groups, but prisoners were only allowed to pursue these activities before and after roll-calls and work, so they had limited time and energy for them. Several choruses were established in the camp: Greek Jews and Byelorussians formed a choir, and a Polish women’s choir sang on Sundays in the women’s camp. Amongst the female prisoners, political prisoners sometimes put on concerts and variety shows.
In addition to evidence of organised choruses, there are records of individual and group singing in barracks, on the way to work, or simply at random moments of quiet or freedom from guards. An operetta singer from Warsaw gave mini-concerts of funny and lighthearted songs in the barracks. Zofia Karpinska wrote poems and lyrics. There were also several other camp songs, written by prisoners to commemorate the suffering and deaths of their families and communities. In February 1943, an unknown prisoner wrote ‘O Majdanek our Life and Death,’ describing the mass murders of Polish Jews in the camp. Another song, with the refrain “there never has been, nor will there ever be, anywhere on earth, a sun like that which shines upon our Majdanek," was popular. A former prisoner remembered that
we sang it everywhere we went, all day long, at work, at mealtime, before going to sleep, and even when we were kicked and beaten by our jailers. At night, when we lay on our bunks, our stomachs hollow, our spirits despairing, we would hum the Majdanek song and see visions of fields and forests, towns and villages, visions of peace and contentment. And for a little while the heavy burden pressing on our hearts dissolved into healing tears of hope and yearning.
The report by OPUS, concerning the extermination of the Jews in Majdanek and labour camps in Trawniki and Poniatowa. On November 3-4, 1943, during the so called “Operation Harvest Festival” ("Erntefest"), 42 thousand Jews were murdered.
The report was compiled by Wanda Szupenko alias "El?bieta" or "Sahara", who was working for OPUS. It was prepared for Lieutenant-Colonel Aleksander Bieniecki alias "?odzia", who was the head of intelligence and counter-intelligence of the Lublin District Headquarters of the Home Army.
In December 1944, taking into account the possibility of being arrested, Wanda Szupenko handed over the OPUS documents to a trusted member of the Home Army, who buried them in his garden. They were dug out in 1971 and transferred to the museum .
In Majdanek, there is a bathtub. It was most likely used by the head of the crematorium. After all, in a building where fires are constantly roaring is the easiest place to get hot water. It sickened me to see this, and hear this, from the tour guide. We all walked right up to it. We all touched it. We could smell the smells of the room, empty for the last sixty years, thinking of what had occurred there.
Once back in the states, at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, there is a replica of this bathtub. It sits behind glass.
Majdanek Death Toll: 1.5 million
Nazi Mass Killing Laid Bare in Camp
- Victims Put at 1,500,000 in Huge Death Factory of Gas Chambers and Crematories
LUBLIN, Poland, Aug. 27 (Delayed) -- I have just seen the most terrible place on the face of the earth -- the German concentration camp at Maidanek, which was a veritable River Rouge for the production of death, in which it is estimated by Soviet and Polish authorities that as many as 1,500,000 persons from nearly every country in Europe were killed in the last three years.
I have been all through the camp, inspecting its hermetically sealed gas chambers, in which the victims were asphyxiated, and five furnaces in which the bodies were cremated and I have talked with German officers attached to the camp, who admitted quite frankly that it was a highly systemized place for annihilation, although they, of course, denied any personal participation in the murders.
I have seen the skeletons of bodies the Germans did not have time to burn before the Red Army swept into Lublin on July 23, and I have seen such evidence as bone ash still in the furnaces and piled up beside them ready to be taken to near-by fields, on which it was scattered as fertilizer for cabbages.
Ten Mass Graves Opened
I have been to Krempitski, ten miles to the east, where I saw three of ten opened mass graves and looked upon 368 partly decomposed bodies of men, women and children who had been executed individually in a variety of cruel and horrible means. In this forest alone, the authorities estimate, there are more than 300,000 bodies.
It is impossible for this correspondent to state with any certainty how many persons the Germans killed here. Many bodies unquestionably were burned and not nearly all the graves in this vicinity had been opened by the time I visited the scene.
But I have been in a wooden warehouse at the camp, approximately 150 feet long, in which I walked across literally tens of thousands of shoes spread across the floor like grain in a half-filled elevator. There I saw shoes of children as young as 1 year old. There were shoes of young and old men or women. Those I saw were all in bad shape -- since the Germans used this camp not only to exterminate their victims, but also as a means of obtaining clothing for the German people -- but some obviously had been quite expensive. At least one pair had come from America, for it bore a stamp, "Goodyear welt."
I have been through a warehouse in downtown Lublin in which I saw hundreds of suitcases and literally tens of thousands of pieces of clothing and personal effects of people who died here and I have had the opportunity of questioning a German officer, Herman Vogel, 42, of Millheim, who admitted that as head of the clothing barracks he had supervised the shipment of eighteen freightcar loads of clothing to Germany during a two month period and that he knew it came from the bodies of persons who had been killed at Maidanek.
Evidence Found Convincing
This is a place that must be seen to be believed. I have been present at numerous atrocity investigations in the Soviet Union, but never have I been confronted with such complete evidence, clearly establishing every allegation made by those investigating German crimes.
After inspection of Maidanek, I am now prepared to believe any story of German atrocities, no matter how savage, cruel and depraved.
As one of a group of nearly thirty foreign correspondents brought to Poland on the invitation of the Polish Committee of National Liberation, I also had an opportunity to sit with the special mixed Soviet-Polish Atrocities Investigation Commission, headed by Vice-chairman Andrey Witos of the Polish Committee, and to question six witnesses, including three German officers -- Vogel, Theodore Shoelen and Tanton Earness -- who will probably face trial for their part in the administration of the death camp.
Responsible Germans Listed
For the correspondents, the commission's prosecutor, a Pole, summed up the evidence taken. He said it had been decided that these Germans bore the main responsibility for the crimes committed at Maidanek and in the Krempitski Forest: General Globenik, Gestapo, and SS Chief of the Lublin district. Governor Wendler of the Lublin district, described as a distant relative of Heinrich Himmler. Former Governor Zoerner of the Lublin district. Lisske, who had charge of all the concentration camps in the Lublin district. General Weiss, who was in charge of the Maidanek camp. Company Commander Anton Tumann, who at one time had charge of Maidanek. Mussfeld, who was in charge of the crematorium. Klopmann, who was chief of the German political department in the Lublin district.
It is impossible in the space here available to relate details of all the evidence of crimes we saw and heard, but for the benefit of those who have not had the opportunity to see with their own eyes, here is the story as it came from the lips of a German who had been a prisoner in Maidanek and was left behind by the retreating Germans. He is Hans Staub, a 31-year-old, tall, husky man with close-cropped hair, who had been imprisoned for engaging in black market meat operations in Germany.
Despite German orders that prisoners were to keep out of the crematorium area, he managed to slip inside the brick fence one day and secrete himself about the time a truck loaded with about a dozen persons drove up. Among them was a Polish woman he estimated to have been 28 or 29 years old.
The prisoners were guarded by tommy-gunners, who ordered them to alight from the truck and undress. The woman refused and this enraged Mussfeld, who beat her. She screamed and Mussfeld lost his temper, shouting, "I'll burn you alive."
According to Staub, Mussfeld then directed two attendants to grab the woman and bind her arms and legs. They then threw her on an iron stretcher, still clothed, and pushed her body into the oven.
"I heard one loud scream, saw her hair flame and then she disappeared into the furnace," Staub said.
According to several witnesses, the peak death production day for Maidanek was November 3, 1943, when for some reason not made clear the Germans executed a total of 18,000 to 20,000 prisoners by a variety of means, including shooting, hanging and gassing.
Camp Covers 670 Acres
This is Maidanek as I saw it. It is situated about a mile and a half from the middle of Lublin on the highroad between Chelm and Cracow. As one approaches he gets a view of the concentration camp almost identical with those pictured in American motion pictures. The first site is a twelve-foot-high double barbed-wire fence, which was charged with electricity.
Inside you see group after group of trim green buildings, not unlike the barracks in an Army camp in the United States. There were more than 200 such buildings. Outside the fence there were fourteen high machine-gun turrets and at one edge were kennels for more than 200 especially trained, savage man-tracking dogs used to pursue escaped prisoners. The whole camp covered an area of 670 acres.
As we entered the camp the first place at which we stopped obviously was the reception centre and it was near here that one entered the bath house. Here Jews, Poles, Russians and in fact representatives of a total of twenty-two nationalities entered and removed their clothing, after which they bathed at seventy-two showers and disinfectants were applied.
Sometimes they went directly into the next room, which was hermetically sealed with apertures in the roof down which the Germans threw opened cans of "Zyklon B", a poison gas consisting of prussic acid crystals, which were a light blue chalky substance. This produced death quickly. Other prisoners were kept for long periods; the average, we were told, was about six weeks.
Near the shower house were two other death chambers fitted for either Zyklon gas or carbon monoxide. One of them was seventeen meters square and there, we were told, the Germans executed 100 to 110 persons at once. Around the floor of the room ran a steel pipe with an opening for carbon monoxide to escape at every twenty-five centimeters.
Victims' Death Watched
We were told the victims always received a bath in advance of execution because the hot water opened the pores and generally improved the speed with which the poison gas took effect. There were glass-covered openings in these death chambers so the Germans could watch the effect on their victims and determine when the time had come to remove their bodies. We saw opened and unopened cans of Zyklon gas that bore German labels.
About a mile from the gas chambers was the huge crematorium. Built of brick, it looked and was operated not unlike a small blast furnace for a steel mill, operating with coal as fuel fanned by an electrically operated blower. There were five openings on each side -- on one side the bodies were loaded in and on the other ashes were removed and the fire built up. Each furnace held five bodies at a time.
We were told it took fifteen minutes to fill each furnace and about ten to twelve minutes for the bodies to burn. It was estimated that the battery of furnaces had a capacity of 1,900 bodies a day.
Near the furnaces we saw a large number of partial and complete skeletons. Behind a brick enclosure near by were more than a score of bodies of persons who, we were told, had been killed by the Germans on the day the Red Army captured Lublin, which they did not have time to burn before fleeing.
Not far from the furnaces were a large number of earthenware urns, which investigating authorities said witnesses told them were used by the Germans for ashes of some of their victims, which they sold to families for prices ranging up to 2,500 marks.
We saw a concrete table near the furnace and asked its purpose. We were told the Germans laid the bodies of victims there just before cremation and knocked out gold teeth, which were salvaged. We were told that no bodies were accepted for cremation unless the chest bore a stamp certifying that it had been searched for gold teeth.
It is the purpose of the Polish Committee of National Liberation to keep the main parts of Maidanek just as it now exists as an exhibition of German brutality and cruelty for all posterity to see.
M. Witos struck the universal feeling of all who have seen the camp when he expressed regret that the section of American and British public opinion that favours a soft peace with the Germans will not have an opportunity in advance of the peace conference to look at this plain evidence of the brutality of the Germans practiced towards their victims.
Among the few Polish people whom we had an opportunity to talk there is a widespread sentiment for stronger means of vengeance against the Germans, and the belief that some of those directly responsible for Maidanek should be executed in the terrible death camp they themselves erected.
William H. Lawrence
The New York Times
August 30, 1944
Special Criminal Court in Lublin
Among 1037 well-known names of the officers of the SS KL Lublin suffered only 170 criminal liability for their actions, including 144 before the Polish courts and 26 courts of Allied and German ...[Data from 1991]
27.11.1944 - 02.12.1944 r. - The trial before the Special Criminal Court in Lublin
At the beginning of August 1944, PCNL in consultation with the authorities of the Soviet Union, established in Lublin Polish-Soviet Extraordinary Commission to investigate crimes committed at Majdanek German. As a result of the Commission's work was collected documentation that formed the basis for drawing up an indictment against criminals detained in Lublin during the liberation of the city and bring them to trial. They were (pictured from left):
+ SS-Rottenfiihrer Hermann Vogel - sentry;
+ SS Obersturmführer Anton Thernes - Deputy Head of Division IV;
+ SS William Hauptscharführer Gerstenmeier - employee of the camp administration;
+ Edmund Pohlmann - prisons function, Kapo,
+ Heinz feet - prisons function, Kapo;
+ SS Theodor Rottenfiihrer Schöllen - sentry.
¯ None of the defendants pleaded not guilty, however, confirmed that the camp was made ??a crime.30.11.1944 the court discontinued the proceedings against E. Pohlmannowi a result of his suicide.
"Prosecutor: What did the defendant if, instead of in the camp were Poles, Germans and German children?
A. Thernes: Then shoot myself in the head " SS-Obersturmführer Anton Thernes at the hearing before the Special Criminal Court in Lublin
D present 12.2.1944, the Special Criminal Court in Lublin, chaired by B. Zembrzuski with the participation of jurors: G. and T. Nadulskiej Dymowskiego, issued under Article. 1a and 2 of the Decree of 31.08.1944, at all five defendants death penalty. Made it publicly at Majdanek 12/03/1944, noon. 11th
24.11.1947 - 16.12.1947 r. - "The Auschwitz '
In the process, where the dock sat 40 former members of the crew camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, there were also five defendants, who served in KL Lublin:
+ SS-Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel - last commandant of KL Lublin, sentenced to death. He was executed on 24.01.1948
+ SS Oberscharführer Erich Muhsfeldt - head of the crematorium, sentenced to death. He was executed on 24.01.1948
+ Luise Danz - SS-Aufseherin, sentenced to life imprisonment, but as a result of an amnesty, on 08/20/1957, was released into the wild
+ Hildegard Martha Lachert - SS-Aufseherin, sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, was released 07/12/1956
+ Alice Orlowsky - SS-Aufhseherin. sentenced to 15 years in prison, released on 12/19/1956
In the years 1944-1950 was conducted in Poland and abroad lawsuits against officers of the SS camp at Majdanek and function against the prisoners. Processes in Poland took place mainly in the years 1947-1948, while abroad in 1946-1947. The exception was a trial of Karl Höcker - adjutant commander whose trial took place in the years 1964-1965 in Frankfurt am Main, and two crew members from Majdanek SS and Poniatowa: Gotthard Schubert and Lothar Hoffmann, tried in 1970 in Wiesbaden. In the late forties in connection with the refusal to continue the consideration of Polish requests for extradition by the Western powers for handling cases of Nazi crimes by Polish courts impossible.
SS-Unterscharführer Paul Hoffmann - Head of the crematorium. Convicted 14.11.1945, by the Special Criminal Court in Lublin on the death penalty by hanging. The sentence was executed at Majdanek 12/23/1945
S Ady other countries to 1975 did not have processes whose principal would be crimes in KL Lublin. Only 10 officers of the Majdanek camp staff stood before the courts in connection with their criminal activities in other camps or to conceal his past. In addition to / in were: Max Koegel - Commandant of Majdanek, sentenced by British court sentenced to death in the crew KL Ravensbrück , Martin Weiss - Commandant of Majdanek, sentenced to death by American Military Tribunal in Dachau the crew, Anton Thumann - manager Branch III and Josef Trzebinsky - camp doctor sentenced to death by the British Military Tribunal in the Neuengamme Concentration crew, Hermann Hackmann - Head of Branch III and Arnold Strippel - Deputy Head of Department III judged by the American Military Tribunal in the Buchenwald crew. The last of the group had tried nadzorczyni SS -Braunsteiner Hermine Ryan . In 1947, the Ministry of Justice of the People's Republic has taken efforts for the extradition of Austrian SS men, including H. Braunsteiner, which was entered on the list of war criminals of the Commission of the United Nations War Crimes (UNWCC) at No. 68 On 07.03.1951 the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Austria informed the Political Mission of the Republic of Poland in Vienna that H. Braunsteiner was sentenced by the People's Court in Vienna for crimes committed in 1941-1942 in Ravensbruck for 3 years of heavy imprisonment, but was acquitted of the charge of committing murder in the Majdanek concentration camp because of a lack of evidence of guilt. On 16.01.1967, the GKBZHwP again took the investigation into the H. Braunsteiner in the investigation of complex crimes in Majdanek, and in 1969 for crimes committed by it in the sub-camp in Genthin. In July 1972, gave evidence to the crime GKBZHwP H. Braunsteiner to United States Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalisation Service in New York. On 24/01/1973 the Minister of Justice at the request of PRL GKBZHwP applied to the Attorney General with a request for her extradition from the United States. 03/21/1973 The-Ryan H. Braunsteiner previously deprived of American citizenship, was arrested in the U.S.. 01/05/1973 The verdict was the District Court in New York, hearing her extradition to the FRG, and was released on 8/7/1973 Federal authorities and transported to Düsseldorf, where he imprisoned her in prison.In 1976 was released on bail.
SS Martin Gottfried Weiss Sturmbannführer
Martin Gottfried Weiss, the crew during the Dachau before the American Military Tribunal.The process was taking place from November 15 to 12/13/1945, the Weiss was sentenced to death by hanging sentence was executed on 29.05.1946
In the FRG until 1965 conducted 387 investigations against persons suspected of committing crimes in Majdanek. Of these people until 1965, or a not found itself in the dock, and against 58 individuals completed investigative proceedings without making the indictment. Main Commission for Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland since 1965, conducted a comprehensive investigation against Nazi war criminals are not punished with the Majdanek concentration camp. As a result of the investigation, during which over 800 people interviewed, Main Commission forwarded to the judicial authorities and the Austrian Federal records against suspected of committing crimes in Majdanek, whose place of residence was unknown.
26.11.1975 - 30.06.1981 r. - The process in Düsseldorf
N and the basis of documentation provided by GKBZHwP investigation against suspected of committing crimes in the Majdanek camp was taken by the Central Office for National Boards of Justice for Nazi War Crimes Explanations (Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung Nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen) in Ludwigsburg. Zentrale Stelle shortly after it was created 12/01/1958, undertook activities related to the disclosure and documentation of the crimes committed in the concentration camp at Majdanek.As a result, for 1962, forwarded to the prosecutor's office headquarters in Cologne, about 232 suspected of committing crimes in the camp. In 1968 this number increased to about 350 However, due to the existing legal situation and the difficulties of evidence prosecutors hope to prove they had participated in the commission of crimes of murder, only 32 people. Cases against the other ended in a different way. In the meantime, the investigation included 32 people who died 3rd Later managed to obtain new information about a further 15 suspects and the number of people covered by the investigation in cases of crimes committed in KL Lublin has increased to 44 Of these 44 persons 7 died, while another did not know how to prove anything specific number of suspects and declined again to just 10 people.
At the end of 1974 and early 1975, predicted that the dock will sit 10 officers from the crew of the SS guard at Majdanek. But the indictment, submitted to the Crown Court XVII of the Criminal Chamber of Düsseldorf, took 15 officers and guards who served in the concentration camp at Majdanek. Evidence of the process were collected in 79 volumes, and included 19,000 documents.The process of the crimes in Majdanek was treated as a "last great trial" for crimes of genocide in the German concentration camps. It was envisaged that this process will be questioned at least 200 witnesses from the Polish, U.S., Israel, USSR, Austria, Canada and the FRG. The indictment, numbering 324 pages, provides that in the concentration camp were murdered at least 250,000 people, mostly Poles and Jews and prisoners of war.
P Roces in Düsseldorf against the Nazi war criminals from the concentration camp continued through 474 days, from 26.11.1975 to 30.06.1981, the dramatic days were full of horrors are not deprived of procedural scandals. This process is determined differently: as a giant process or as a last biggest trial against Nazi war criminals in the FRG.
S among 15 indicted seven of them in the past no longer corresponded to the courts for crimes committed in concentration camps and received sentences: 4 Polish courts, two American and Austrian courts. We all crossed 53 years of age. Here they are:
- Heinrich Hermann Hackmann, the SS-Hauptsturmführer, Hackmann was tried by the court for the robbery of property SS prisoners and was sentenced to death but the sentence was postponed for the duration of the war. After the completion of an American military court sentenced him to death first, then to life imprisonment, converted at the end of 25 years in prison in March 1955 he was released from prison and transferred to Federal authorities. He was employed in the furniture business;
- August Wilhelm Reinartz, SS-Unterscharführer, called "Willy", paramedic, who was convicted by a court in Poland on the death penalty then changed into for 2 years in prison. Released in Germany, since 1950 employed as a nurse in the FRG;
- Thomas Ellwanger, SS-Unterscharführer, head of block prisoner from January 1942 to March 1943;
- Ernest Heinrich Schmidt, SS-Unterscharführer, crew medical officer, last doctor in Uetze village near Burgdorf;
- Heinrich Groffmann WG, SS-Rottenfiihrer, from February to June 1944, the head of the block and one prisoner fields;
- H. Fritz Petrick, SS-Oberscharführer, since April 1942, the head of a prisoner fields;
- HK Heinz Villain , SS-Unterscharführer, since November 1941, active in various functions of the camp;
- Emil J. Laurich, SS-Rottenfiihrer, an employee of Division III to the beginning of 1944;
- Arnold G. Strippel, SS-Untersturmführer, from October 1941 to July 1943, the deputy head of the prisoner camp at Majdanek;
- Hildegard Lachert ML, "Bloody Brigid", from 1942 housekeeper, who took part in selections of prisoners, the mass executions, prisoners were beaten with a stick, board, whips, iron tube;
- EM Alice Orlowski, employed in the laundry commando, which accounted for 75-80 prisoners, endowed with great physical strength, women were beaten to unconsciousness and has actively participated in the action 11.03.1943, after World War II Polish extradited to where was sentenced to life imprisonment, but after an amnesty in 1956, delivered to the FRG;
- Rosa Süss, first employed in the laundry, and then the SS kitchen, which also served as supervising the work detachment;
- Charlotte K. Mayer , performs various functions supervision over the work squads;
- Hermine Böttcher , which was incorporated into the process after its commencement;
- Braunsteiner-Hermine Ryan, nadzorczyni SS;
- Robert Seetz, SS-Unterscharführer.
S ad National in Düsseldorf held on 22 and 23.04.1976, the vision in the local concentration camp at Majdanek. The interest aroused Court Jury in particular topography of the camp, the remnants of the technical devices in the form of sewerage system, waterworks, pools of water, prisoner barracks, gas chambers and equipment and the system of protection of the crematorium of the camp. In the course of the vision shown to the Court a documentary, filmed in 1944 immediately after the liberation of Majdanek.
The first day of the hearing, the d most defenders have consistently sought to discredit the very idea of prosecuting the crimes of the Third Reich, not only undermine the credibility of the evidence of guilt of the accused, but also to discredit and humiliate the dignity of witnesses against him and possibly delay the process until the limitation of crimes of murder, which took place in 1979 also did not come without trials or even whiten rehabilitation of German fascism. All this is far beyond wybiega?o responsibilities and rights defenders. Some of them at every opportunity, demonstrating the extreme right and neo-fascist evaluation of the Third Reich, World War II and the occupation hitle-rowskiej. Not even hid his anti-Semitism. Attorneys tried, sometimes successfully, to create a situation in which they explain is not accused, but Majdanek prisoners appearing before the court as witnesses.
The truth of the matter about the crimes of murder, for which initiated the investigation or court action before July 1979, there were to be barred, it is the accused and their defenders expected that with the time limitation at all, even the worst crimes of the Nazi uprising in the FRG social climate in which the court will not presume to impose, high penalties for the crime of World War II.
In ykorzystuj?c opportunities that present any conflict of law rules of the Federal Court's ruling in cases involving crimes of World War II, as well as procedural rules, the defenders sought to overpower the court and show that the prosecution of crimes committed during the war before more than 30 years ago is absurd. They justified the argument that the crimes in Majdanek, like the Nazi crimes in general, an invention of the enemies of Germany, or at least exaggerated.
T aktyk? playing for time, as well as discredit the very idea of the court and the prosecution of Nazi war criminals, was used on the first day of the hearing. Defender Strippela AG, Fritz reported Steinecker motion to dismiss the expert historian Dr. Wolfgang Scheffler, because of its bias.Attorney F. Steinecker to support its conclusion stated that Dr. W. Scheffler, in his book "Judenverfolgung them Dritten Heiche" used a clearly pejorative terms such as brutality, murder on the orders, etc. He further stated that the appraiser maintains close contacts with persecuted by Nazi ideology is poisoned by a Jewish, working with Jewish scholars, and its promoter was also a Jew. Day of 1/7/1976, the court found that Dr. Scheffler is not biased. Judgement in this case read the Court Jury chairman, Judge Gunter Bogen determined voice, which he hinted that it will be counteracted by introducing confusion into the process with this kind of applications.
P rzewodnicz?cy hearing, Judge G. Bogen had reason for concern about the normal process. The court because he was constantly harassed najró?norodniejszymi proposals that have only one goal - to disorganization of the work of the court. Among other things, on 12/29/1975 The H. Stolting II withdrew his consent to the recording process on tape. Typically, in the FRG tape is used for long-term process because it facilitates the work. At the first court session, all have given their consent.H. Request Stolting II was not motivated by anything special, but caused a loss of time. As a result of these and similar applications, the court could proceed to a hearing of the accused only on 13.1.1976 was, in one and a half months after the beginning of the process.
In the course of the defense raised more than 50 applications for a judge or the panel because of the bias, which seriously disrupted the work. In the first years of the process, until the consideration of the request followed a break in the hearing. It came even to the fact that to avoid court hearings in the building was always at the ready another panel, in case the lawyers demanded the exclusion of judges.
? witness, who remained in the memory of many important details to the case, was the subject of close attention to the defenders, who tried all means to discredit her testimony. But they could not directly challenge the credibility of what she said. Therefore, L. Bock, and others such as lawyers tried to persuaded that the witness ... in the camp had meningitis, which could cause permanent damage to memory.
With eznania D. Brzosko-led M?dryk H. Braunsteiner accused to such distress, that in December 1977, during one of the lunch breaks, attacked her with a cry, and offended her. This was the reason for the periodic embedding H. Braunsteiner in custody. Then the lawyers have applied to Polish witnesses were locked in a separate room while waiting for a call to the courtroom. Judge G. Bogen said firmly: "" How were the prisoners of Nazi concentration camps to be locked? There are guests. If you have already considered the application for isolation, is probably the accused. "
H . Mundorf, defender, a former member of the NSDAP, the great star of the West Bar, did not use such tricks as primitive L. Bock, but he could shock you. On one of the meetings of the court made ??a conclusion: "The court shall instruct the physician and veterinarian draw on the expertise odors. Only in this way because you can clarify whether the concentration camp at Majdanek were actually burned people, not animals. '"
In day 11.06.1977, during the testimony of a witness Henryka Ostrowska from Warsaw on killing people in gas chambers incident occurred, who moved to the opinion of many countries. Well, once the witness information about how people gassed and forced her to carry cans of Zyklon B, a few ironic comments H. Mundorf, attorney L. Bock made ??a formal request for the arrest of a witness in the courtroom for ... complicity in the murder, because the witness bore the cans of gas, knowing what purpose it served.
A string pulled dwokaci. Their behavior aroused in public opinion opposed to the intended effect.Federal Public opinion, which is initially in its most seemed to agree with their position, after two years, the process began to differentiate. More and more people dystansowa?o from their views and practices, and expressed their opposition.
P rezydium anti-fascists and the Association of Victims of Nazi Regime issued a July 1978 open letter to the Federal Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt's protest against the scandalous conduct of the process and urging the just punishment of all criminals and war criminals including murderers from Majdanek.This letter, unlike the earlier appeals of the organization has met with broad popular understanding of the West.
P Roces, who conceived of the right and expressing its intention was to be the argument of lawyers for the prosecution of Nazi crimes limitation, it did illustrate an ever wider circles of public opinion seriously the need to overcome the problems of Germany's fascist past. Before the court and the courtroom a group of demonstrators began to loudly express their protest against such conduct of the hearing and demand the immediate punishment of the murderers of Majdanek.
M hen the second day of trial, in November 1975, L. Bock prophesied that public opinion would not be interested in the process it became clear that he was mistaken. He could not foresee that appeals nieprzedawnianie GKBZHwP about genocide in the world will benefit from the publicity that will be discussed at parliament, and the film "Holocaust" will move to the point of international opinion, including West Germany. Especially young Germans began to demand accurate information about what has happened in the Third Reich. Space for the audience at the Hall No. 111 of the District Court in Düsseldorf for months ahead were reserved for school children.
P Roces in Düsseldorf became the subject of numerous newspaper articles and radio and television broadcasts in the FRG and elsewhere. Spoke about it to representatives of various political and ideological orientation. World public opinion for many years, recalled were issues of fascism, concentration camps and genocide, though often, especially in the first phase of the process, press releases were far from being objective.
N and the opening of many journalists attended the press, radio and television, trying to photograph the defendants, who cover their faces. However, hopes that the public will be systematically and reliably informed about the process and committed crimes in Majdanek, quickly dispelled. Most of the journalists left the room at the time when they were forbidden to take pictures and video which are not of the hearing. On the third day of trial on the benches for the press was only three journalists.
In the process, on 21.05.1976, the died of a heart attack 73-year-old accused of Alice Orlowski. And due to the inability of the process, caused by myocardial infarction, dated 21.12.1978, the procedure was halted to Wilhelm Reinartz.
P 323 days of the end of the hearing on 14.3.1979, the Court took a decision to exclude a common procedure in 4 of the remaining 13 defendants, and separate consideration of the case. This provision covered three nadzorczynie: Rosy Süss, Charlotte Mayer and Hermine Böttcher, and the SS camp doctor Hauptsturmführer Heinrich Schmidt. 19/04/1979, at the request of the prosecution, the court announced the acquittal in relation to the four defendants, finding that the process and the taking of evidence did not confirm the allegations contained in the indictment. This decision met with widespread public condemnation. Outraged audiences for a long time chanted "murderers behind bars Nazi prison." Hall mastered several dozen demonstrators, mostly young people. The demonstrators brought into the hall banners with the names of concentration camps and extermination centers and the numbers of victims. The demonstration lasted nearly an hour.Entered and the judge ordered the police to leave the room.
The fifth anniversary of the start of the process estimated that the associated costs amounted to 25 million marks. At the end of the sum had risen to about 30 million marks.
At the end of February 1981, prosecutors and Dieter Weber Wolfgang Ambach in prosecutorial speeches demanded life imprisonment sentences 20 and 26 years in prison for the 9 remaining in the dock crew Majdanek.
3 0.06.1981 was the 474 day trial, the date of its delivery, the main group of demonstrators gathered with banners on the content of anti-fascist and anti-war. At the entrance to the court was an older man in a striped camp. Young people held in their hands flaming torches. Hall No. 111 in the courthouse was filled to capacity. The court gave the following verdict:
--Hermine Ryan Braunsteiner - was sentenced twice to life imprisonment because of the collective murders in two cases;
- Hildegard Lachert - 12 years in prison because of aiding in the murder in two cases;
- Hermann Hackmann - 10 years in prison because of aiding in the murder of two cases ;
- Emil Laurich - 8 years in prison because of aiding in the murder in 5 cases;
- Heinz Villain - 6 years in prison because of aiding in the murder in two cases;
- Fritz Heinrich Petrick - 4 years in prison because of aiding in the murder;
- Arnold Strippel - 3 and a half years in prison because of aiding in the murder;
- Thomas Ellwanger - 3 years in prison because of aiding in the murder;
- Heinrich Groffmann - acquitted.
In yrok Court Jury District Court of Düsseldorf has met with fierce criticism of the world press and a large part of public opinion FRG. Specific sparked outrage and protests in Poland. Judgement issued a statement condemning the National Commission of former prisoners of Nazi Prisons and Concentration Camps, the Board of Society for the Protection of Majdanek and members of the club's former prisoners of Lublin Castle and the Main Committee BZHwP announced a protest against that judgment.
N and validation of the above have to wait long. There were difficulties with the wording numbering 1,000 pages of the final text of the judgment, without which they could not bring convicted of applications for its revision. Some time was also needed for a retrial by a higher court. Stuck in the wild so stayed in their own homes, waiting for the further course of events. Only in June 1983, at 3 years after the onset of judgments, as a result do not take into account by the Federal Court in Karlsruhe revision of complaints brought by prisoners and the withdrawal of its request by the public prosecutor, ended with the longest lasting and probably the last great trial for crimes committed by officials the Third Reich.
S among 1037 well-known names of the officers of the SS garrison at Majdanek incur liability only 170, including 26 in the courts of Allied and German courts, and the rest, ie 144, before the Polish courts.
The intra judged by Polish courts were 3 officers and 41 NCOs SS, 91 privates, 9 without degrees (7 supervisors, 2 capo). 17 of them were sentenced to death (2 judgments were not performed), 3 - to life imprisonment, 72 - more than 5 years imprisonment. District courts in 109 convicted criminals Lublin, Krakow - 7, Radom - 4, Warsaw - 2, Wadowice - 2, ?widnica - 1, Toru? - 1, appellate courts in Lublin - 1, Warsaw - 1, the special criminal courts in Lublin - 10, the Regional Court in Lublin - 1, the Supreme National Tribunal - 5 Most criminals - 106 were convicted in 1948, in 1947 - 19, 1944 - 6, 1949 - 4, 1950 - 3, in 1951 - 1, and in 1952 - first
N a total of 26 of the Majdanek Nazi war criminals convicted abroad 11 SS officers, 6 NCOs, 2 serial, 7 without degrees. Judged on the death penalty 9, including a sentence was not executed, sentenced to life imprisonment - 2, over 5 years - 8, were acquitted - 5 Military courts sentenced U.S.: in the Dachau crew - 4, Buchenwald - 2, British Military Court in the process of KL Neuengamme - 2, the People's Court in Vienna - 1, the Federal courts in Wiesbaden, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf - 17Judgments of courts of Allied and German and Austrian were issued in 1945 against five of the Majdanek Nazi war criminals, in 1946 - 2, in the years 1947, 1949, 1965, 1973, 1978 - 1, in 1970 - 4, in 1981 - 9th So far dragged into responsibility only 10% of the crew of a passenger SS guards at Majdanek.
The last page of the record of the trial. The defendants voiced their opinion about the sentence. Their petition for a pardon was rejected. The sentence was executed on December 3, 1944 on the premises of the former camp, not far from the crematorium.
Hildegard Martha Lächert
(January 20, 1920 in Berlin – 1995)
was a notorious female guard,Aufseherin, at several German World War II concentration camps. She became publicly known for her service at Ravensbrück, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. After the war she spent 27 years in prison altogether for her brutal treatment of inmates during her camp service.
In October 1942, at the age of 22, Hildegard Lächert, a German nurse, was called to serve at Majdanek as an Aufseherin. In 1944, after the birth of her third child, Lächert went on to serve at Auschwitz concentration camp. The ruthless overseer fled the camp in December 1944 ahead of the advancing Red Army. There are reports that her last overseeing jobs were at Bolzano, a detention camp in northern Italy, and at the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp camp inAustria.
In November 1947, the former SS woman appeared in a Kraków, Poland courtroom, along with 40 other SS guards in the Auschwitz Trial. Lächert sat next to three other former SS women, Alice Orlowski, Therese Brandl and Luise Danz. Because of her war crimes at Auschwitz and P?aszów, the former guard and mother of two surviving children was given a sentence of 15 years in prison. Lächert was released in 1956 from a Kraków prison. In 1975, the German government decided to try 16 former SS guards from the Majdanek concentration camp. Lächert was one of them, along with Hermine Braunsteiner and Alice Orlowski. From November 26, 1975, until June 30, 1981, the accused were tried in a Düsseldorf courtroom.
The testimonies heard concerning Lächert's sadistic behaviour were long and detailed. One former prisoner, Henryka Ostrowska, testified, "We always said blutige about the fact that she struck until blood showed," giving her the nickname "Bloody Brigitte" (Krwawa Brygida inPolish). Many other witnesses characterized her as the "worst" or "the most cruel" Aufseherin, as "Beast", and as "Fright of the Prisoners." For her part in selections to the gas chamber, releasing her dog onto inmates and her overall abuse, the court sentenced her to 12 years imprisonment.
Hildegard Lächert died in 1995 in Berlin, aged 75.
- January 20, 1920 ~1995
Born as Alice Minna Elisabeth Elling in Berlin in 1903, she began her guard training at theRavensbrück concentration camp in Germany in 1941. In October 1942 she was selected as one of the SS Aufseherin to be posted at the Majdanek camp near Lublin, Poland where she, and Hermine Braunsteiner, came to be regarded as two of the most brutal overseers. They regularly loaded trucks of women destined for the gas chambers. When a child was left over, the two would throw him or her on the top of the adults like luggage, and bolt the door shut. Orlowski often awaited the arrivals of new transports of women. She would then whip the prisoners especially across the eyes. In Majdanek, Orlowski was promoted to the rank of Kommandoführerin (Work Detail Overseer) in the sorting sheds.
As the SS Aufseherin, Orlowski had over 100 women under her supervision, who sorted through stolen items from gassed prisoners: watches, furs, coats, gold, jewellery, money, toys, glasses, etc. When the camp was evacuated, the Germans sent Orlowski to the notorious Kraków-P?aszów concentration camp near Kraków, Poland.
In early January 1945, Orlowski was one of the SS women posted on the death march to Auschwitz-Birkenau and it was during this time that her behaviour, previously noted as being brutal andsadistic, became more humane. On the death march in mid-January 1945 from Auschwitz to Loslau, Orlowski gave comfort to the inmates, and even slept alongside them on the ground outside. She also brought water to those who were thirsty. It is unknown why her attitude changed, but some speculate that she sensed the war was almost over and she would soon be tried as a war criminal. Orlowski eventually ended up back at Ravensbrück as a guard.
After the war ended in May 1945, Orlowski was captured by Soviet forces and extradited to Poland to stand trial for war crimes. The "picture book SS woman" stood accused at the Auschwitz Trial in 1947. She was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was released in 1957 after serving only 10 years. In 1975, West Germany tracked Orlowski down, and placed her on trial in the Third Majdanek Trial.
She died during the trial in 1976 at the age of 73.
- September 30, 1903~1976
herese ("Rose", "Rosi") Brandl
(February 1, 1902 – January 28, 1948)]
Born in Staudach-Egerndach, Bavaria, Brandl entered Ravensbrück concentration camp in March 1940 to begin her training under SS-Oberaufseherin Maria Mandel. She quickly rose through the ranks there and became a Rapportaufseherin (her main task was to count women at roll call and hand out punishments). In March 1942, Brandl was one of several SS women to be assigned toAuschwitz I camp in occupied Poland. Her jobs there included watching over women in the sorting sheds and as a Rapportaufseherin. In October 1942, she was moved to the newly opened Auschwitz II camp at Birkenau. At Auschwitz, Brandl soon rose through the ranks and became an Erstaufseherin (First Guard) alongside Margot Dreschel and Irma Grese. In the summer of 1943, she received a medal from the Reich for her "good conduct" in the camps. In November 1944, with the approach of the Soviet Army, she was sent to the Muhldorf Forest subcamp of Dachau along with Mandel and she was demoted to Aufseherin. Not many reports have surfaced about Brandl's behavior at Muhldorf. She ultimately fled from Muhldorf on April 27, 1945, weeks before the arrival of the United States Army.
On August 29, 1945, the U.S. Army arrested her in the Bavarian mountains of Germany and sent her to a holding camp to await questioning. In November 1947 she was tried by the Polish authorities along with Maria Mandel, Luise Danz, Hildegard Lächert and Alice Orlowski in theAuschwitz Trial at Kraków. On December 22, 1947, Brandl was proclaimed guilty of participating in the selection of inmates to be put to death. She was hanged in prison on January 28, 1948.
- February 1, 1902 – January 28, 1948
(born December 11, 1917)
On January 24, 1943 at the age of 26, Luise Danz was conscripted as an Aufseherin within the Naziconcentration camp system. She served as guard in several camps, such as Kraków-P?aszów,Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Malchow. In 1943 she received an award from the Nazis for her camp service. She became Oberaufseherin in Malchow in January 1945 when she arrived.
Capture and first trial
At the end of the war in 1945, Luise tried to quietly slip into obscurity, but was later discovered and put on trial in the 1946 Auschwitz Trial by Poland for crimes that she had committed while on duty in the vast camp system. At her trial she was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was then released early in 1956.Second trial
In 1996, Luise Danz was tried in a German court for allegedly stomping a young girl to death at the Malchow concentration camp. The doctor overseeing the trial told the court that the proceedings were too much for the elderly woman and all charges were dropped. As of 2010 Danz is still alive at the age of 92.
- December 11, 1917
Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan
Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan
(July 16, 1919 – April 19, 1999)
She was born in Vienna, the youngest child in a strictly observant Roman Catholic working class family. Her father Friedrich Braunsteiner was a chauffeur for a brewery and/or a butcher. Hermine lacked the means to fulfill her aspiration to become a nurse, and worked as a maid. From 1937 to 1938 she worked in England for an American engineer's household.
At the urging of her landlord, she applied for a better paying job with better working conditions, supervising prisoners, quadrupling her income in time. She began her training on August 15, 1939, as an Aufseherin under Maria Mandel at Ravensbrück concentration camp. After some years a disagreement with Mandel led Braunsteiner to request a transfer.
On October 16, 1942, she took up her duties in the apparel factory at Majdanek, located near Lublin, Poland. It was both a labour camp (Arbeitslager) and an extermination camp (Vernichtungslager). She was promoted to assistant wardress in January 1943 under Oberaufseherin Elsa Erich along with five other women.
Her abuses took many forms in the camp. She involved herself in "selections" of women and children to be sent to the gas chambers and whipped several women to death. Working alongside other female guards such as Elsa Ehrich, Hildegard Lächert, Marta Ulrich, Alice Orlowski, Charlotte Karla Mayer-Woellert, Erna Wallisch and Elisabeth Knoblich, Braunsteiner was infamous for her wild rages and tantrums. According to one witness at her later trial in Dusseldorf, she "seized children by their hair and threw them on trucks heading to the gas chambers”. Other survivors testied how she killed women by stomping on them with her steel-studded jackboots, earning her the nickname "The Stomping Mare". (In Polish "Koby?a", in German "Stute von Majdanek".)
She received the War Merit Cross, 2nd class, in 1943, for her work.
In January 1944, Hermine was ordered back to Ravensbrück as Majdanek began evacuations. There she was promoted to supervising wardress at the Genthin subcamp of Ravensbrück, located outside Berlin. Witnesses say that she abused many of the prisoners with a special whip she carried.
The Austrian police arrested her and turned her over to the British military occupation authorities; she remained incarcerated from May 6, 1946, until April 18, 1947. A court in Graz, Austria. convicted her of torture, maltreatment of prisoners and crimes against humanity and against human dignity at Ravensbrück (not Majdanek), then sentenced her to serve three years, beginning April 7, 1948; she was released early in April 1950. An Austrian civil court subsequently granted her amnesty from further prosecution there. She worked at low level jobs in hotels and restaurants until emigrating.
Russell Ryan, an American, met her on his vacation in Austria. They married in October 1958, after they had emigrated to Nova Scotia,Canada. She entered the United States in April 1959, becoming a United States citizen on January 19, 1963. They lived in Maspeth, Queens, where she was known as a fastidious housewife and friendly neighbor.
Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal had followed her trail from a tip in Tel Aviv to Vienna to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then, via Toronto, toQueens. In 1964 Wiesenthal alerted the New York Times that Braunsteiner might have married a man named Ryan and might live in theMaspeth area of the Borough of Queens in New York. They assigned Joseph Lelyveld, then a young reporter, to find "Mrs. Ryan." They first lived at 54-44 82nd St. in western Elmhurst and moved to 52-11 72nd St. in Maspeth. He found her at the second doorbell he rang, and later wrote that she greeted him at her front doorstep and said, "My God, I knew this would happen. You've come."
Braunsteiner Ryan stated that she had been at Maidanek only a year, eight months of which in the camp infirmary. "My wife, sir, wouldn't hurt a fly" said Ryan. "There's no more decent person on this earth. She told me this was a duty she had to perform. It was a conscriptive service." On August 22, 1968, United States authorities sought to revoke her citizenship because she had failed to disclose her convictions for war crimes; she was denaturalized in 1971 after entering into a consent judgment to avoid deportation.
A prosecutor in Duesseldorf began investigating her wartime behavior, and in 1973 the German government requested her extradition, accusing her of joint responsibility in the death of 200,000 people.
The United States court denied procedural claims that her denaturalization had been invalid (U.S citizens could not be extradited to Germany), and that the charges alleged political offenses committed by a non-German outside West Germany. Later it rejected claims of lack of probable cause and double jeopardy. During the next year she sat with her husband in United States district court in Queens, hearing survivors' testimony against the former SS guard. They described whippings and fatal beatings. Rachel Berger, alone among the witnesses, testified she would celebrate retribution against the former vice-commandant of the women's camp at Majdanek.
The judge certified her extradition to the Secretary of State on May 1, 1973, and on August 7, 1973, Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan became the first Nazi war criminal extradited from the United States to Germany.
She was remanded in Düsseldorf in 1973, until her husband posted bail. The German court rejected Mrs. Ryan's arguments that it lacked jurisdiction, because she was not a German national but Austrian, and that the offenses alleged had occurred outside Germany. It ruled she had been a German citizen at the time, and more importantly had been a German government official acting in the name of the German Reich.
She stood trial in West Germany with 15 other former SS men and women from Majdanek. One of the witnesses against Hermine testified that she "seized children by their hair and threw them on trucks heading to the gas chambers." Others spoke of vicious beatings. One witness told of Hermine and the steel-studded jackboots with which she dealt blows to inmates.
The third Majdanek trial (Majdanek-Prozess in German) was held in Düsseldorf. It began on November 26, 1975, and lasted 474 sessions, Germany's longest and most expensive trial. All the defendants, including Ryan and Hermann Hackmann, had been SS guards at Majdanek. The court found insufficient evidence on six counts of the indictment and convicted her on three: murder of 80 people; abetting the murder of 102 children; and collaborating in the murder of 1000. On June 30, 1981, the court imposed a life sentence, a more severe punishment than those meted out to her co-defendants.
After the publicity surrounding Mrs. Ryan's extradition, the United States government established (1979) a U.S. DOJ Office of Special Investigations to seek out war criminals to denaturalize or deport. It took jurisdiction previously held by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
- July 16, 1919 – April 19, 1999
Matylda Woliniewska was born in Bi?goraj in 1912. She studied at Jagiellonian University and Free Polish University. She was a girl-guide, an instructor of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Service, and a social activist. In the times of the occupation she was a liaison officer and a distributor of underground press for PPS WRN (Polish Socialist Party - Freedom, Equality, Independence). Arrested by Gestapo, she was a prisoner at Pawiak, Majdanek and other concentration camps. After the war she co-organized the Social Tuberculosis Committee in Warsaw and took an active part in the works of Maria Konopnicka Society.
She was awarded the Home Army Cross, the Oficer’s and Knight’s Crosses of the Order of Polonia Restituta, the Auschwitz Cross, the Order of the Commission of National Education, and the Order of the Smile. She was appointed Lieutenant of the Home Army.
Matylda Woliniewska died on December 30, 2008 in Warsaw.
While she was imprisoned at Majdanek, she initiated the prisoner self-government. She was in charge of self-help and culture sections. The women who entrusted her with this function wrote: “The newly elected self-government gave us the feeling of mutual support and the awareness that we are not wandering about at the sea of evil”. She initiated and coordinated “Radio Majdanek”.
In the Buchenwald camp (Commando Lipsk), where she was brought later on, Matylda Woliniewska initiated a series of artistic events, performances and nativity plays, referred to as “concerts”. We present two pages of the Third Christmas Concert of December 1944.
Christmas card made at Majdanek in December 1943. It is an impression from woodcut by prisoner Jan Sowi?ski. A characteristic feature of the drawing is a triangle with its apex directed downwards and letter “P” inside, which was the symbol of Polish political prisoners.
Duplicated cards were distributed in the circle of trusted people who sent them to their nearest and dearest together with Christmas wishes.
- 1912~ December 30, 2008
A personal card from the files of Stanis?aw Ciep?y, a prisoner of Majdanek who was brought to the camp from Lviv on April 30, 1943. APMM, I. b. 3, vol. 9.The archives of the State Museum at Majdanek possess only 17 volumes of prisoners’ files. Most of them have not been preserved as a whole. Apart from the basic personal details, the files originally contained the information about the reason for arrest and an order of imprisonment. Each preventive institution which a prisoner was kept in completed the files with their own documentation. Thus a complete source of information about a given person was created.
The report on a successful escape from the camp. Its author, here signed as "Niedzielski", was called Kazimierz Mali?ski. Pawe? Z?bek (mentioned here as “Zenon”) and Mieczys?aw Osi?ski escaped with him.The report does not contain any information about the course of the trip. During a snowstorm, the prisoners covered with white sheets crawled near a sentry box where they cut the wires and narrowly escaped towards a village called Dziesi?ta. On the left margin there is an inscription „Nurta” made by lieutenant colonel Edward Jasi?ski, a regional inspector of the Home Army in Lublin, who was arrested by the NKVD on 16 October 1944 and executed in the Lublin Castle in April 1945.
The report on sending an Evacuation Transport to KL Auschwitz.
The report on sending an evacuation transport to KL Auschwitz. 2566 people left Lublin then: 1239 men, 1287 women and 40 children.The report was signed by “Stefania”, which was the nom de guerre of Janina Suchodolska, who used this name in the times of occupation. Her real name was Janina Spinner Mehlberg. By 1941 she had lived in Lviv. After the Germans invaded the USSR she moved to Lublin, where she started working in the Polish Welfare Committee of the Central Welfare Council. She was the secretary of Andrzej Skrzy?ski, who was a delegate in the Lublin district. From July 1943 she overtook some of his duties and directly contacted the German authorities (including the command of Majdanek). She repeatedly brought food and parcels for prisoners. What is more, she smuggled letters, reports and medicines.
A part of a cover for a document concerning the transport of the Jewish prisoners who arrived in Majdanek on May 7, 1942. 459 Jews, 384 of whom were Polish and 75 of whom were German, were brought in this transport. They were given consecutive numbers from 7072 to 7530.
At the beginning of camp’s existence, very thorough and comprehensive records of prisoners and their property were kept. The missing right-hand corner of the document contained the information about the cash which was taken over from the people in this particular transport. Other documents registered things like prisoners’ watches and rings. The transport came from Izbica, where the German Jews who came to the camp were brought from such places like Aachen (Germany).
Marianna Buczek Money Record
The money record belonging to Marianna Buczek of Bukowina. She was imprisoned in the camp on July 7, 1943 and was given number 15268. She was released on July 27, 1943. The inscription „entlassen” did not necessarily mean that people were allowed to go home. It was not uncommon for prisoners to be escorted to the camp in Krochmalna Street, from which they were transported to the Third Reich to work.
We are asking for help in deciphering one of the secret messages that we have in our collection. The document consists of four sheets paper written in a pencil. Placed in an envelope with no address on, it was sewn in the lining of a woman’s coat. It was found by a woman from Lublin, who bought the coat in the autumn of 1943 in the market from a vendor who sold second-hand stuff, including things coming form the camp at Majdanek. The document is enciphered and despite many attempts to decipher it by Germanists and volunteers from Austria and Germany, we have not been successful. It was probably written by a German prisoner who was brought to the camp in the autumn of 1941. Part of the document is love letters. We would be grateful if anyone could help us.
A pass for a railway journey, most probably for a family with children. One document allowed 8 people to travel from Lublin to Zamo??. The pass is dated August 14, 1943. The occupational authorities did not usually allow displaced people to return to their homes. However, people came back to their homeland whenever it was possible, which led to further displacements.What draws attention is the fact that Germans commonly distorted the names.
Discharge (Entlassungsschein) Paper
Discharge (Entlassungsschein) paper from the Majdanek concentration camp wrote out by its headquarters. The prisoner stayed in the camp from 30 June 1943 to 21 January 1944. The document was signed by camp commander SS-Sturmbannführer Weiss.