Warsaw Concentration Camp
Warsaw Concentration Camp
The Warsaw concentration camp, more commonly known as Gesoiwka, because it stood at 45 Ulica Gesia was established in the summer of 1943 on the ruins of the former Warsaw ghetto. After the deportation of the last of Warsaw’s Jews, the Jewish quarter was to be made inhabitable. The Jewish uprising in the ghetto during April and May 1943, had led to the Germans adopting ‘scorched-
The Germans also expected to uncover large caches of secreted valuables hidden by the ghetto inhabitants. Furthermore, clearance of the rubble would facilitate the efforts of the German forces to uncover the hiding places of Jewish fugitives, who were hiding in cellars and bunkers. It was also in the Germans interest to erase all traces of their brutal liquidation of Warsaw’s Jews. Reichsführer-
The Warsaw concentration camp was officially established on 19 July 1943, with 300 prisoners. German inmates from Buchenwald concentration camp, both political opponents of the Nazis and common criminals, who would in time become the camp’s de facto administrators. In April 1944, the camp was annexed to the Lublin concentration camp, and thus assumed the new name of Lublin Concentration Camp – Warsaw Labour Camp. The camp’s first commandant was SS-
Jewish male inmates from Auschwitz concentration camp constituted the prisoner labour force incarcerated in the Warsaw concentration camp to complete this work. Two series of transports of Jewish prisoners arrived in Warsaw. On 31 August 1943, 500 Jewish prisoners are transferred to the Warsaw concentration camp, and on 7 October 1943, a further 1,151 and the following day 1,032 are sent to Warsaw. On 27 November 1943, a transport of 1,000 Jews left Auschwitz for work in the Warsaw concentration camp. After mid-
The bulk of the Jewish prisoners were assigned to the demolition of the buildings in the former ghetto area. They recovered the bricks lying on the ground, and they also demolished the unstable walls of dilapidated buildings, cleaning the bricks by scraping off the mortar and stacking them in piles for conveyance by trucks, driven by Poles, to the waiting trains. The prisoners were forced to perform this task mostly by the use of their bare hands, although occasionally primitive tools like picks and shovels were also used. In the spring of 1944, the use of dynamite was introduced to raze the remaining buildings. This was dangerous and back-
Officers of the SS unit assigned to the Warsaw concentration camp, which amounted to a company, were transferred from various other camps, including Sachsenhausen and Trawniki. After the annexation of Warsaw concentration camp as a sub-
Hundreds of Jewish prisoners died from sheer exhaustion, ill-
Successful escapes from the camp were rare, since escaping prisoners had to overcome two sets of guarded walls-
Although the Germans planned to complete the demolition of the former ghetto area by 1 August 1944, the Soviet advance to the eastern bank of the Vistula, forced the camp to close in late July 1944. The Germans decided to evacuate the prisoners westward in the first of the large wave of ‘death marches’ undertaken in the last few months of the war. Before the evacuation the Germans killed a couple of hundred of the most debilitated prisoners whilst approximately 300 prisoners volunteered upon request of the camp’s authorities to remain after the evacuation to complete the dismantling of the concentration camp. On 28 July 1944, the Germans evacuated approximately 4,500 of the remaining prisoners under heavy SS guard in the direction of Kutno, which is located about 75 miles west of Warsaw. The Germans shot any prisoner who fell behind. The prisoners marched off in the scorching summer heat, tortured by thirst on a march that lasted three days. On 2 August 1944, the surviving prisoners were loaded into boxcars on a train to Dachau concentration camp for a journey of almost 466 miles. Conditions in the boxcars were abysmal, with approximately 100 men crammed into each wagon, without any rations. Scores of prisoners died en route from suffocation and hunger. This ‘train of death’ reached Dachau concentration camp on 6 August 1944, with almost 4,000 survivors.
In Warsaw itself, the Warsaw Uprising erupted on 1 August 1944, and four days later on 5 August 1944, the ‘Zoska’ battalion of the Polish Underground Home Army (AK) liberated the Warsaw concentration camp. In a fierce skirmish on the first day of the Uprising, Polish fighters freed a group of 50 Jewish prisoners toiling outside the perimeter of the camp. Of the approximately 350 Jewish prisoners freed in the camp by the AK, dozens, including 24 women, had been transferred on 31 July 1944, from the Pawiak prison. The vast majority of liberated prisoners volunteered to fight in the Uprising and served the revolt in various capacities. A special Jewish fighting platoon and a Jewish brigade to construct barricades were formed from those liberated from the Warsaw concentration camp. These units sustained heavy losses. The morale of the former concentration camp prisoners was corroded, however, when anti-
With the defeat of the Polish Home Army during the Warsaw Uprising, by superior German forces on 2 October 1944, the surviving Jewish fighters were compelled either to flee or go into hiding in underground bunkers, which was a gruesome ordeal. When the Red Army finally entered Warsaw on 17 January 1945, only 200 Jews, among them former inmates from the Warsaw concentration camp were able to emerge from their bunkers as survivors. Of the 8,000 to 9,000 inmates who passed through the gates of the Warsaw concentration camp between the summers of 1943 to 1944, some 5,000 of them perished during the operation of the camp, its evacuation or the battle for it and Warsaw.
There were several post-
The Encyclopaedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-
Jozef Marszalek, Majdanek – The Concentration Camp in Lublin, Interpress Warsaw, 1986
D. Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle, Henry Holt and Company, New York,1989
Tomasz Kranz ,Extermination of the Jews at Majdanek and Role of the Camp in “Aktion Reinhardt” (Eksterminacja Żydów na Majdanku I rola obozu w “Akcji “Reinhardt”) “Zeszyty Majdanka”, vol. XXII, Lublin 2003.
The Stroop Report – The Jewish Quarter of Warsaw is no more by Jurgen Stroop – published by Secker & Warburg London 1980.
Wiener Library London
Photograph: USHMM Archive
© Holocaust Historical Society 2014