Warsaw concentration camp
|Operated by||Nazi Germany|
|Commandant||Wilhelm Göcke (June 1943 – September 1943)|
Nikolaus Herbet (September 1943 – July 1944)
|Operational||Autumn 1942–August 1944|
|Number of gas chambers||Gęsia Street|
|Inmates||Poles, Jews, Greeks, Romani people|
|Liberated by||Home Army|
The Warsaw concentration camp (German: Konzentrationslager Warschau, short KL or KZ Warschau) was an associated group of the German Nazi concentration camps, located in German-occupied Warsaw, the capital of Poland.
Planning and establishment
According to the Nazi Pabst Plan, Warsaw was to be turned into a provincial German city. To accomplish this, the Jewish population was confined in the Warsaw Ghetto before being eventually deported and mostly murdered. The Nazis' next target was the Polish population of the city, who were rounded in łapankas (roundups) for arrest and deportation.
The earliest official mention of the Warsaw concentration camp (KZ Warschau) is from June 19, 1943, which referred to the concentration camp in the ruins of the former Warsaw Ghetto. However, the term KZ Warschau was also used to describe similar camps that were discovered at an earlier date. Nevertheless, it is estimated that the camp was in operation from autumn 1942 until the Warsaw Uprising. The first commandant of the camp was Wilhelm Göcke, a former warehouse manager in Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. The camp was designed to provide a workforce to clean up the levelled ruins of the former Warsaw Ghetto and ultimately turn this area into a planned recreational park for the SS.
The exact date of the camp's creation remains unknown. Some historians have suggested that it was created following the orders of SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl on June 11, 1943. However, others, among them historian and Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) judge Maria Trzcińska, claimed that the camp had already been operational prior to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943. The factual basis for this aforementioned claim is that on October 9, 1942, the SS head Heinrich Himmler issued an order in which he stated, regarding the population of the Warsaw Ghetto: "I've issued orders and requested that all the so-called arms factories workers working only as tailors, furriers or bootmakers be grouped in the nearest concentration camps, that is in Warsaw and in Lublin."
In the Atlas zur deutschen Zeitgeschichte 1918-1968 published in 1986 in Deutschland KL, Warschau is designated as a Hauptlager ("main camp"), and as such, it has the same status as KL Dachau. Besides Germans and the Volksdeutsche, the guards also included ethnic Ukrainians and Latvians from Trawniki concentration camp.
The camp was composed of six small sections located in different areas of Warsaw, all of which were connected by railway and were under unified organization and one command. In chronological order of opening, those were:
- Konzentrationslager (concentration camp) at Koło area (formerly a Kreigsgefangenenlager POW camp for the Polish Army soldiers captured in 1939);) this part remains controversial since local residents claim Maria Trzcinska mistook buildings of "drewniane Kolo" housing project for a camp.
- Gęsia Street (now: Anielewicza Street) concentration camp (formerly Arbeitserziehungslager, or "reeducational labour camp") in the former ghetto known as Gęsiówka;
- a camp for foreign Jews located on Nowolipie Street;
- Bonifraterska Street camp near Muranowski Square in the former ghetto;
- the former Gestapo prison on Pawia Street known as Pawiak.
The overall area of the camp was 1.2 km² (0.46 sq mi), with 119 barracks purposely built to hold approximately 40,000 prisoners, its infrastructure including several crematoriums.
Death in KL Warschau
The IPN estimates that the number of victims killed at those camps to be "not less than tens of thousands". The victims included ethnic Poles, Jews, Greeks, Romani people, Belarusians and the German-interned officers of the Italian Army.
According to IPN, the majority of those executed at the camp were killed by gunfire, mostly with machine guns, both in the camp and in an adjoining "security zone". Some of the hostages and prisoners were also publicly executed in the streets of Warsaw by means of firing squad shooting and hanging. The first gassing there took place on October 17, 1943, killing at least 150 Poles caught in a street roundup and about 20 Belgian Jews. A relatively small number of victims were sadistically killed by drunken guards in the so-called "amphitheatre" at Gęsiówka, or hanged at the so-called "death wall" (ściana śmierci) at Koło. Besides the outright murders, a majority of deaths in the camps resulted from physical exhaustion and typhus epidemics.
Bodies were either cremated in crematoria or open-air pyres (including at a former sports stadium) or simply buried under collapsed buildings during the systematic demolition of the former ghetto. A team of the SS wearing white coats and posing as medical workers also patrolled the ruins in order to locate and shoot the remaining Jews still hiding since the end of the ghetto uprising.
On July 20, 1943, SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Koppe ordered the complex to be liquidated and dismantled. The majority of prisoners were either executed or transferred to other concentration camps, such as Dachau, Gross-Rosen and Ravensbrück. Between July 28 and July 31, four major railway transports left Warsaw, containing some 12,300 prisoners. Only a small group of several hundred inmates, mostly Jews from the other occupied countries, were left in Pawiak and Gęsiówka to dig up and burn the bodies buried under the blown-up buildings of the ghetto. The camp's documentation was burnt, and many of its structures and facilities were mined for demolition.
On August 5, 1944, during the first days of the Warsaw Uprising, an assault group of Armia Krajowa (AK) stormed the Gęsiówka sub-camp using a captured German tank, setting free the remaining 360 men and women, before the AK were forced to withdraw. On August 21, after a failed insurgent attack on Pawiak, the Germans executed almost all (except seven) of the remaining inmates, and the prison was blown up.
Communist prison camp
After the Soviet takeover of Warsaw in January 1945, the remnants of the camp were used as a POW camp and a place of detention of the "enemies of the people's power" political prisoners by the Soviet NKVD and then by the Polish MBP until 1954 (the last prisoners left in 1956). It was the second biggest prison after the Mokotów Prison.
- Jerzy Kochanowski (4 November 2009). "Śmierć w Warschau" [Death in Warschau]. Polityka.pl – Historia (in Polish). Archived from the original on 2013-09-25. Retrieved 25 September 2013.
- Werner Hilgemann. Atlas zur deutschen Zeitgeschichte 1918-1968. Zurich 1986
- Timothy Snyder (8 September 2015). Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. Crown/Archetype. p. 275. ISBN 978-1-101-90346-9.
- "IPN wydał książkę o obozie KL Warschau - Bankier.pl: LifeStyle". Archived from the original on 2012-07-23. Retrieved 2019-05-04.
- Andreas Mix: Warschau-Stammlager. In: Wolfgang Benz, Barbara Distel: Der Ort des Terrors. München 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-57237-1, Band 8, S. 93
- Norman Davies "Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory". Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-69285-3
- Bogusław Kopka, "Konzentrationslager Warschau Historia i następstwa", Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, Warszawa 2007, ISBN 83-60464-46-4. (in Polish)
- Informacja o ustaleniach dotyczących Konzentrationslager Warschau - Institute of National Remembrance, June 2002. (in Polish)
- Śmierć w Warschau, "Polityka", 12 XI 2007. (in Polish)
- (in Polish) Polish Wikipedia article