Blizyn Labour Camp
Document - Adolf Schutt - Sagewerk Blizyn
Blizyn is located about 25 miles southwest of Radom. The forced labour camp for Jews in Blizyn was officially established on 8 March 1943. At that time it was subordinated to the SS and Police Leader in Radom, SS- Standartenführer Dr. Herbert Böttcher, and viewed as a subcamp of the Jewish forced labour camp in Radom. The main company employing prisoners from the Blizyn labour camp was the SS holding company Ostindustrie GmbH (Osti). The company paid the SS a rate of 3.70 zloty per day for prisoner labour. Once the prisoners were withdrawn, the armaments factory in Blizyn was sold to the Deutsche Ausrustungswerke GmbH (German Equipments Works, DAW), and the quarry in Blizyn was sold to the Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke (German Earth and Stone Works, DESt), both at book values determined by Osti.
The camp had been previously used to house Soviet Prisoners of War, and some bodies were buried on the camps grounds. This contributed to the serious rat infestation in the camp, which plagued the prisoners. From the spring until the summer of 1943, various groups of Jews were transferred to the Blizyn forced labour camp, including Jews from Radom, Kielce, Czestochowa, Piotrkow Trybunalski and Tomaszow Mazowiecki. In the late summer of 1943, another group of Jewish prisoners arrived from the Bialystok ghetto via Lublin concentration camp. Among this group were a few doctors and also a number of Jewish women with bandaged wrists, who had tried to commit suicide, when they thought that they would be gassed in Treblinka death camp. In late 1943 or early 1944, those children – aged between 10 -12 – who had survived in the camp until then, were taken away and murdered.
The camp consisted of roughly 5,000 – 6,000 prisoners comprising of both men and women. The prisoners living compound was composed of a number of barracks, with the female and male barracks strictly segregated from each other. There were also additional barracks for the camp administration, a kitchen, a hospital and also a primitive treatment centre. The camp was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, which was lit up by searchlights at night. Within the camp, the parade ground was also surrounded by barbed wire. In an adjoining camp, separated from the prisoners by the Kamienna River, were the offices and accommodation for the camp personnel. Apart from the guards, composed of ethnic German and Ukrainian SS men, as well as German SS, there were also work supervisors, including some German civilian craftsmen.
Every morning and evening there was a roll call during which the prisoners were counted, and new instructions issued. The food supplied to the prisoners was completely inadequate. It consisted of only about 170 to 250 grams of usually damp bread, as well as a watery vegetable soup at lunchtime, which sometimes contained a little meat. Prisoners who worked in the kitchen could acquire a little extra food and trade it. Others bribed Ukrainian guards who could even arrange for local inhabitants to throw bread across the fence. Conditions for workers in the armaments factory and especially the quarry were arduous. Others worked inside the camp in various craft sections, as tailors, cobblers and carpenters, in 12-hour shifts.
The camp commandant from March 1943 until the subordination of the camp to the Lublin concentration camp was SS- Oberscharführer Paul Nell. One survivor described him as ‘a terribly sadistic SS man’ who terrorized the prisoners with his vicious dog Pasha. At the command of his master this dog tore victims to pieces. Nell also shot prisoners during roll call on several occasions. SS- Oberscharführer Heller replaced Nell in February 1944. He enjoyed a markedly better reputation among the surviving prisoners. Under his control as camp commandant, visits by husbands to their wives in the female barracks were silently tolerated; he also curtailed the arbitrary shootings and beatings of prisoners that were customary in the camp. He even made efforts to improve the food rations and in the face of a serious outbreak of typhus, obtained some medical supplies for the Jewish doctors in the camp. Nevertheless, hundreds of prisoners died of typhus, exhaustion and SS brutality during the camp’s existence. The corpses were buried in a wood close to the camp. The names of the dead were simply erased from the camp records, only the number of fatalities was recorded by the camp administration. When SS- Unterscharführer Karl Artur Gosberg stood in as camp commandant for some 10 weeks due to Heller’s illness – he contracted typhus – from April until June 1944, the camp soon relapsed back to its former brutal regime. The Jewish camp elder (Lageraltester), a man named Minzberg, was sometimes forced to carry out the whippings of prisoners, usually 25 lashes, which occasionally resulted in death. One female prisoner was found to have an egg in her possession, which was not permitted. She was given 100 lashes on the orders of Gosberg. She died about 12 days later from the severely infected wounds.
Apart from the change of command, the transition to sub-camp of Lublin entailed certain other changes. Those prisoners working outside the camp now received striped uniforms. In addition, the inclusion of Poles in a separate barracks fenced in within the camp may have been related to this change of status. Escape attempts were severely punished, for the Ukrainian guards hanged some escapees on the camp fence. Nevertheless, several escapes were attempted, some even meeting with success. Before the camp became a concentration camp, Samuel Gerstenfeld escaped with a small group, making it successfully across the bridge to the neighbouring guards’ camp and then fleeing further. Another group escaped via a tunnel in the first half of 1944, having made contact with partisans outside the camp, who were keen that a doctor should escape to join them. Once it was discovered at roll call that five prisoners were missing, all the prisoners were held on the parade ground for hours during the investigation. Prisoners from the block where the escape took place were severely beaten and placed in the underground punishment cell for several days.
As the front began to approach the Radom area at the end of July 1944, the Blizyn sub-camp was evacuated. Records of the WVHA indicate that the armaments factory that employed prisoners from the Blizyn sub-camp began to transfer its equipment into the Reich by rail on 22 July 1944. The remaining Jewish prisoners, 1,614 males and 715 females were transported in cattle wagons to the Auschwitz- Birkenau concentration camp, where they arrived on 31 July 1944. The proportion of survivors from Blizyn was relatively high. Survivors mainly thank the commandant, Heller, for helping to maintain their health, that most survived the initial selection on arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The first commandant of the Jewish forced labour camp in Blizyn, SS- Oberscharführer Paul Nell, was sentenced to death and executed by the Polish authorities after the war. SS- Oberscharführer Heller, who officially commanded the camp from February 1944 until its dissolution in July 1944, was captured and tried by the US authorities. However, after several Jewish survivors from Blizyn testified in his favour, he was acquitted and released. SS- Unterscharführer Gosberg, who deputized for Heller, was tried by the regional court in Wuppertal in 1961. He was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to 12 years in prison on 19 May 1961.
The Encyclopaedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, Volume 1, USHMM ,Indiana University Press Bloomington and Indianapolis 2012
Document - Chris Webb Archive
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