About visiting the camps
People have many reasons for wanting to visit the camps in Poland – curiosity, pilgrimage, family imprisoned or killed there, education, research … But there is no denying that what went on in them was an awful manifestation of a terrible period in human history.
We have a separate page About visiting Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. You can read more there, but we’re copying in the Auschwitz Facts we included, just to give you an idea of how much or little you may know about what may be the most well-known of the Nazi camps.
Occupying German forces built the original camp at Auschwitz as a labour camp for Polish political prisoners in 1940. It opened in June of that year and was soon expanded so that by 1942 it contained a total of 3 main camps and 36-48 sub-camps.
Birkenau, officially Auschwitz II, was operational by late 1941. As the main site of killings, it contains gas chambers and crematoria with a capacity of 2,000 per day. It is believed that total deaths were at a rate of 6,000 per day by 1944.
Auschwitz III (Monowitz) housed slave-labour for the nearby I G Farben plant – about 12,000 at a time with those who did not die at the plant or camp usually sent on to Birkenau.
The “Buna-Werke” complex
No exact figures are available, but estimates put the total number of people who died at Auschwitz at over 1.25 million*, of whom roughly 1 million were Jewish. About 100,000 inmates survived. Other groups murdered at Auschwitz included Polish political prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war, gypsies, homosexuals, people with disabilities and prisoners of conscience or religious faith.
Following the liberation of the camp by Soviet soldiers on 27th January 1945, a total of some 7,000 staff and guards were identified. Only 750 were prosecuted.
*The current estimated population of the Kraków metropolitan area is 1.4 million
The Nazis seem to have treated Poland as one huge prison, with the people and lands theirs to do with as they wished. It is believed that in making Poland the backbone of both the war-time economy (slave labour) and the Final Solution, the Germans built some 430 camp complexes – some of which, like Stutthof and Auschwitz, contained dozens of sub-camps – including PoW camps, death camps, concentration camps and slave-labour camps.
From the early days of the occupation of Poland (Germany invaded on 1 September 1939) the Nazis started rounding up Polish people (undesirables) to fill the labour and concentration camps. There they were starved and overworked to death or executed.
From 1941, the major push to exterminate Polish Jewry along with those rounded up elsewhere in Europe led to the construction of the extermination camps – camps with the sole purpose of killing people.
Only after the majority of Jews shipped to camps from the last of the Polish Ghettos were murdered did the Nazis order the destruction of the gas chambers and crematoria, to hide the evidence of their actions. The ovens at Auschwitz worked round the clock until 25 November 1944, when they were blown up under the direct order of the head of the SS, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler.
Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet army on 27 January 1945 – the date is now International Holocaust Remembrance Day – and in 1947 the Polish government formed a museum made up of the camps of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II Birkenau. That museum, ranged over the two camps, now attracts about 1,500,000 visitors a year.
Auschwitz is “poster boy” for this with an interest in the camps in Poland, but where were the other death camps, concentration camps and slave-labour camps? Some 5,000,000 Poles passed through the system, with one of two results – survival or death – and millions from elsewhere in the Third Reich.
Map of the death camps in Poland
From maybe 300 camps in Germany at the start of World War II, the number of camps within German-controlled Europe grew to at least 1,200 – some estimates put the total at close to 15,000, when you take account of camps established for a specific short-term purpose, then demolished to hide the evidence.
This map shows only the major camps in Greater Germany, in 1944
The camps today
Taking the example of Auschwitz III – Monowitz, the industrial complex is now owned by Polish companies, one producing metal structures, parts, metal building elements, tanks and reservoirs and the other manufactures synthetic rubbers, latex and polystyrene among other chemical products. There are no visible structures or remains of the Monowitz camp.
So, some camps are unlikely to ever receive proper recognition, and many were completely destroyed during or after WW2, but while the memory of the camps and what happened in them must never be forgotten, there are a number of sites in Poland where visitors can go to learn about what happened there, and to pay their respects.
The major death camps built by the Nazis in Poland were:
Auschwitz-Birkenau at today’s Oświęcim, between Kraków and Katowice
Bełżec, near the current Polish/Ukrainian border, north west of L’viv (Polish Lvov)
Between 1919 and 1939, Lvov was well within the eastern part of Poland. It was only when the borders were re-drawn after 1945 that the majority Polish city of Lvov found itself in Ukraine. Bełżec is still in Poland.
The camp operated from 17 March 1942 to the end of December 1942, when the wooden buildings – disguised as a labour camp – were dismantled and the area forested.
The lack of survivors is thought to be the main reason so little is known about Bełżec – though estimates put the number of Jews killed there at between 430,000 and 500,000, plus unknown numbers of Poles and Roma. The real total may be near 1 million.
Although small numbers of people were killed in gas vans, the majority died in gas chambers – first three wooden chambers, replaced by six 4×5 or 4×8 metre concrete chambers, all using carbon monoxide gas from an internal combustion engine.
Bodies of the murdered were buried in shallow mass graves, with a thin covering of soil. They expanded in hot weather, and the earth split. Later camps would get around the problem of disposal with crematoria.
Admission to the whole area of the Museum-Memorial Site in Bełżec (monument and exhibition) is free of charge.
The area of the Monument
April to October: from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m
November to March: from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
April to October: from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
November to March: from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The grounds of the former death camp in Bełżec is accessible every day except the Jewish holiday of Jom Kipur.
The Museum exhibition “Bełżec – the death camp” is accessible everyday except Mondays and following national and religious holidays: January 1st and 6th, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Jom Kipur, May 1st and 3rd, the first day of Pentecost, Corpus Christi, August 15th, November 1st and 11th, 25th and 26th of December.
Information for visitors
The Museum can be visited either individually or in groups, with or without a guide. Reservations can be made by phone or e-mail.
The historical exhibition cannot be visited by children under 14.
The last visitors are admitted one hour before the closing time.
Museum – Memorial Site in Bełżec
Ul. Ofiar Obozu 4
tel: +48 84-665-25-10 ,
fax: +48 84-665-25-11,
Guided tours (group up to 10 people, duration 1,5 hours):
• in Polish – 50 Polish złoty
• in English – 100 Polish złoty
Guided tours (group up to 30 people, duration 1,5 hours):
• in Polish – 75 Polish złoty
• in English – 150 Polish złoty
busses – 20 Polish złoty
cars – 5 Polish złoty
other vehicles – 2 Polish złoty
While staying on the grounds of the Museum please respect the site and wear suitable clothes for necropolis and memorial site.
While visiting the Museum, please obey the recommendations of the guides and Museum Guards
On the grounds of the exposition it is strictly forbidden to:
- Use open fire and smoke
- Light candles
- Touch the exhibits
- Make loud noise
- Use mobile phones
- Bring animals (with the exception of guide dogs)
- Visit the site under the influence of alcohol or drugs
Kulmhof, now Chełmno, about 50km from Łódź, between Warsaw and Poznań
In two periods of operation, the camp was the final destination for at least 150,000 people – first during Aktion Reinhard (December 1941 to March 1943) then after some reconstruction, from June 1944 to 18 January 1945, during the Soviet counter-offensive.
More than 150,000 Jews plus other Łódź residents passed through the station on the way to Kulmhof or Auschwitz.
In 2005 a museum located in the station building was opened.
Kulmhof prisoners, wearing just underwear, were loaded into vans – 50-70 in an Opel Blitz or up to 150 in a Magirus-Deutz.
The engine would be started, with the exhaust gases pumping fumes into the sealed rear compartment. By the time the van arrived at the mass graves in the forest Waldlager camp the prisoners would have been dead for some time. After cleaning the vans returned to the camp for more.
Museum of the former Extermination Camp in Chełmno-on-Ner
The museum has two departments:
– The Rzuchów forest – the cemetery grounds, the monument, the Remembrance Wall, commemorative plaques, the lapidarium, the museum pavilion Phone 06906 14710
– The ruins of the palace and the area of archeological research in Chełmno Phone (063) 271 – 94 -47
From 1st April to 30th September – every day from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm
From 1st October to 31st March – only weekdays from 8.00 am to 2.00 pm
The area of archeological research and the ruins of the palace can be visited while the research is being conducted from June to September – weekdays from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm. Tours out of excavation season, during weekends and holidays can be arranged in advance with the Museum in Konin or the museum pavilion.
Tours from Łódź would cost from 650zl, for 1-3 people, by private car http://www.polandtraveltours.com/en/city-breaks/lodz-city-breaks/chelmno-kulmhof-concentration-camp-tour
Majdanek, near Lublin
Majdanek, also known as KL Lublin, remains the best preserved Nazi concentration/extermination camp.
The camp, which operated from October 1, 1941 until July 22, 1944, was captured nearly intact, because the Red Army advance was so fast it prevented the Nazis from destroying most of its infrastructure and the camp commander failed in his task of removing key evidence.
Among an estimated 150,000 prisoners who entered Majdanek, 80,000 people, including 60,000 Jews, were killed according to the most recent research. In order to remove the traces of the crimes, the corpses of those who died and the murdered were burned.
The State Museum at Majdanek was founded in November 1944 on the grounds of the former German concentration camp.
The grounds, buildings and exhibitions of the State Museum at Majdanek are available for visitors within the designated opening hours. Please, plan your visit accordingly
Grounds and historical structures
April to October 9.00-18.00
November to March 9.00-16.00
Permanent historical exhibitions
Exhibition barracks no. 43, 44
April to October 9.00-17.00
November to March closed
Visitor Service Centre and the exhibition barracks no. 62
Cinema, publications, guides
April to October 9.00-17.00
November to March 9.00-16.00
The Museum exhibitions: “Majdanek in the system of concentration camps”, the exhibition barracks no. 62 and the Visitor Service Centre are accessible ever yday except Mondays and following national and religious holidays: January 1st and 6th, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, May 1st and 3rd, the first day of Pentecost, Corpus Christi, August 15th, November 1st and 11th, 25th and 26th of December. On November 1st all the historical buildings are closed, too.
The exhibition “The Primer – children in Majdanek camp” is accessible only as a part of educational activities after prior notification.
Approximate time needed to visit the Museum:
- watching the documentary – 0.5 h
- Guided tour – about 2 h
- Individual tour – about 1-1.5 h
- Museum lessons and other educational activities – 4.5 h or more
The last visitors are admitted half an hour before the closing time.
The State Museum at Majdanek is situated in the south-eastern suburbs of Lublin, along the road leading to Zamość and Chełm (DK 12/17). The way to the museum is clearly signposted. There are three designated car parks on the grounds of the museum. Parking fees are charged as follows:
coaches – 30 zloty, vans – 15 zloty, cars – 5 zloty, motorcycles – 2 zloty
Państwowe Muzeum na Majdanku
Droga Męczenników Majdanka 67
GPS Coordinates: 51.22529°N, 22.60620°E
By public transport
The museum has direct connections with every part of the city by means of public transport. If you are in the city centre you can take 23 bus or 156 trolleybus at the Krakowska Gate bus stop (Królewska Street) and 158 trolleybus next to the Saski Garden (a bus stop in Lipowa Street). From the railway station you can reach the museum by 28 bus, and from the bus station by 156 trolleybus (a bus stop in Lubartowska street). All the buses stop in front of the entrance to the museum. The tickets are available at newsagents and on the bus. The detailed timetable is available on the website of the Urban Transport Board in Lublin: www.ztm.lublin.eu
Sobibór, south of Brest-Litovsk (the town is now in Belarus)
Beginning in 1940, the Nazis established 16 slave labour camps in the Lublin district, which was to become an agricultural centre. Except for Krychów, largest of the camps, the camps used existing structures – such as abandoned schools, factories, or farms – to imprison the laborers.
In 1942, Sobibór extermination camp was built nearby. A 40km branch railway line connected the camp with the main line at Chełm. Construction began in March 1942 – at the same time the Bełżec Extermination camp became operational.
By mid-May 1942 Sobibór became fully operational and began mass gassing operations. Trains entered the railway station, and the Jews onboard were told they were in a transit camp, and were forced to undress and hand over their valuables. They were led along the 100-meter long “Road to Heaven” (Himmelstrasse) to the gas chambers, where they were killed usincarbon monoxide, produced by tank engines.
The exact number of people killed in Sobibór is not known – estimates run at about 200-250,000. The camps was operational until a few days after a somewhat successful revolt on 14 October 1943, when about half of the 600 prisoners attempting to escape Sobibór escaped successfully. Of these, about 50 evaded recapture.
Shortly after the revolt, the Germans closed the camp, bulldozed the earth, and planted it over with pine trees to conceal its location.
From Lublin, you take Route 831 to Wlodawa and then the 83 from Wlodawa to Sobibor. A signpost will direct you left off this road into the forest on a road that takes you past a small catholic chapel. After about 7km you will reach the Camp across the road from Sobibor railway station.
Muzeum Byego Obozu Smierci w Sobiborze
Stacja Kolejowa 1
22-231 Sobibor, Poland
Contact can be made either by ringing +48-82-571-9867 during the season
or on the Wlodawa Synagogue Museum’s telephone/fax on +48-82-572-2178
or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Admission is free, but the museum is closed (being rebuilt).
Treblinka, north-east of Warsaw
Treblinka I was a slave labour camps – inmates worked in the nearby gravel pit or irrigation area – and during its period of operation (June 1941 to 23 July 1944) nearly half its 20,000 inmates died from execution, exhaustion, or mistreatment.
Treblinka II was designed as a death factory. It operated from July 1942 to 19 October 1943, during which period between 800,000 and 1 million people – Jews and Roma – were murdered.
The small number who were not killed immediately became Sonderkommandos, forced to bury the victims’ bodies in mass graves and later to burn them on open-air pyres.
Killing operations at Treblinka II were ended on October 19, 1943, following a revolt by its Sonderkommandos. Several German guards were killed when 300 prisoners escaped. The camp was then dismantled and a farmhouse was built in an attempt to hide the evidence of genocide.
One description which shocked me was of the infirmary at Treblinka II. The sick, old and wounded were taken to a small barracks, painted white with a red cross on it. There, the prisoners were led to the edge of a ditch where bodies were continuously burning. They had to strip naked and then sit in the edge of the pit before they were shot in the back of the head. Then they fell in the ditch and burned.
The so-called Road to Heaven, aka the tube, with its barbed wire fences led from the death camp up a small hill and straight into the gas chambers. Behind this building there was a large pit, 1 metre wide by 20 metres long, inside which fires burned. Rails were laid across the pit and the bodies of gassed victims were placed on the rails to burn.
Treblinka had a bruise rule: if a prisoner had been bruised on the face, he would be shot that evening at roll call, or the next morning if the bruise first began to show then. Many prisoners, in utter despair at the horrible deaths of their families and unwilling to go on living, committed suicide by hanging themselves in the sleeping barracks with their belts.Normally, the work crews were almost entirely replaced every 3–5 days, with the members of the old crew being sent to their deaths.
90% of the inmates sent to Treblinka died within the first two hours of arriving.
On August 2, 1943, the prisoners in the work details rebelled. They seized small arms, sprayed kerosene on all the buildings and set them ablaze. A number of guards were killed but many more prisoners perished. Of 1,500 prisoners, about 600 managed to escape the camp, but only 40 are known to have survived until the end of the war.
One year after the revolt, Treblinka ceased operation. Camp commander Kurt Franz recalled, during his testimonies: “After the uprising in August 1943 I ran the camp single-handedly for a year; however, during that period no gassings were undertaken. It was during that period that the original camp was levelled off and lupins were planted.”The camp had been badly damaged during the uprising, and the murder of the Polish Jews was also largely complete. It was decided to shoot the last of the Jewish prisoners and shut down the camp.
Treblinka is going to require either a car or a tour – private or otherwise.
GPS : 52.658685 22.027216
The museum charges about 5zl entry.
Open April to October 09:00 – 18:30
November to March 09:00 – 16:00
Closed Xmas and Easter
Recommended minimum age is 14 y/o
Vernichtung durch Arbeit
I honestly feel different about Audi today. The Vernichtung durch Arbeit policy of extermination through work saw the death in concentration and labour camps of huge numbers of Jews as well as Poles and people of other nationalities, regardless of religion. It may only have one word in common with the familiar Audi slogan, but it’s still too close for my liking.
Although these camps were built to exploit slave labour, rather than specifically to exterminate, the majority of prisoners eventually died due to disease and exhaustion, starvation diet, and regular executions. Even before the War, Konzentrationslager in Germany housed large numbers of Jews and political prisoners.
The major concentration camps in occupied Poland were:
Warschau, in Warsaw
Although the Germans had operated prisons in Warsaw before 1942 – the Pawiak Prison was built in 1835 and later served as a transfer camp for Poles sentenced by Imperial Russia to be deported to Siberia. It became the main Warsaw prison for male prisoners, but in 1939 it was turned into the Gestapo Prison – it was not really until the last of the Jews had been shipped from the Warsaw Ghetto (or shot) that the next stage of the Pabst Plan went into operation.
Current research suggests that Konzentrationslager Warschau was composed of six smaller parts 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:
– The concentration camp at Koło (formerly a camp for PoWs – Polish soldiers captured in 1939)
– An extermination camp near Warszawa Zachodnia station
– Ul Gęsia concentration camp in the former ghetto aka Gęsiówka
– a camp for foreign Jews located on Ul Nowolipie
– Ul Bonifraterska camp near Muranowski Square in the former ghetto
– The former Gestapo prison on ul Pawia aka Pawiak.
The overall area of the camp was 1.2 km², with 119 barracks purposely built to hold approximately 40,000 prisoners, and its infrastructure included several crematoria.
Bema Street tunnel
Because so little remains of the Warsaw camp(s) there is debate surrounding many of the sites and details. One controversial belief is that the road tunnel on Bema Street was converted to function as a gas chamber, capable of killing 1,000 prisoners at a time using poison gas.
According to three eye-witness accounts from the 1980s, the tunnel had been used to kill multiple truckloads of prisoners. The alleged gas exhaust machinery and mysterious massive ventilators that might have been used to remove the gas into the atmosphere following the gassings were removed and scrapped during renovation works in 1996 and early 2000s.
Estimates put the number of non-Jewish Poles killed at Konzentrationslager Warschau at over 200,000.
The order was given to dismantle the complex in July 1943. . The majority of prisoners were either executed or were transferred to other concentration camps. Between 28 and 31 July, 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 that were buried under the blown-up buildings of the ghetto. The camp’s documentation was burned and many of its structures and facilities were mined for demolition.
On August 5, 1944, during the first days of Warsaw Uprising, an assault group stormed the Gęsiówka sub-camp using a captured German tank and set free the remaining 360 men and women before they were forced to withdraw. On August 21, after a failed insurgent attack on Pawiak, the Germans executed almost all (only seven survived) of the remaining inmates and the prison was blown up.
One of the few remnants of Konzentrationslager Warschau is Ściana śmierci – the Wall of Death – in Koło.
Visible are the metal loops, used for hanging prisoners
You can also see the memorial tree and the Pawiak Museum in the surviving basement of the prison.
The camp at Płaszów, Konzentrationslager Płaszów, or Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp was originally intended as a slave labour camp but was also used as a concentration camp. It was constructed in the summer of 1942, on the site of two former Jewish cemeteries, with transportation of Jews from the Kraków Ghetto beginning on 28 October that year. The camp was expanded in 1943.
Under camp commander Amon Leopold Göth, Konzentrationslager Płaszów became notorius. Witnesses say he would never start his breakfast without shooting at least one person.
On March 13, 1943, he personally oversaw the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto, forcing all Jewish inhabitants deemed capable of work into the KL Płaszów camp. Those who were declared unfit for work were either sent to Auschwitz or shot on the spot.
From his villa, Göth would step out wearing his jaunty Tyrolean hat, marking his intention of hunting humans. At this signal, seasoned prisoners took whatever cover they could find.
Supplying manpower to several armament factories and a stone quarry, the death rate in the camp was very high. Many prisoners, including many children and women, died from disease, starvation and execution. Płaszów camp became particularly infamous for both individual and mass shootings carried out there. Some 8,000 deaths took place outside the camp’s fences with prisoners trucked in 3 to 4 times weekly. The covered lorries from Kraków used to arrive in the morning. The condemned were walked into a trench of the Hujowa Górka hillside and shot, bodies then covered with dirt, layer upon layer. In early 1945 all corpses were exhumed and burnt in a heap to hide the evidence. Witnesses later attested that 17 truckloads of human ashes were removed from the burning site, and scattered over the area.
All documents pertaining to the mass killings and executions were entrusted by commandant Göth to a high ranking female member of the SS, Kommandoführerin Alice Orlowski. She held these documents in her possession until the end of the war, then allegedly destroyed them. A picture-perfect SS-woman, Orlowski was known for her whippings especially of young women across their eyes. At roll-call she would walk through the lines of women, and personally whip them.
In July and August 1944 a number of transports left KL Płaszów for Auschwitz, Stutthof and other camps. In January 1945, the remaining prisoners were sent on a death march to Auschwitz – accompanied by a number of female SS guards, including Orlowski. Many of those who survived the march were killed upon arrival. En route, Orlowski gave comfort to the inmates, and even slept alongside them on the ground. 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 at Ravensbrück as a guard.
The area which held the camp now consists of sparsely wooded hills and fields with one large memorial to all the victims and two smaller monuments (one to the Jewish victims specifically, and another to the Hungarian Jewish victims) at one perimeter of where the camp once stood. An additional small monument located near the opposite end of the site stands in memory of the first execution of Polish (non-Jewish) prisoners in 1939.
After the war ended in May 1945, Orlowski was captured by Soviet forces and extradited to Poland to stand trial for war crimes. She was sentenced to life imprisonment, but released in 1957. In 1975 West Germany tried her in the Third Majdanek Trial (last of the overall longest Nazi war crimes trial in history spanning over 30 years). She died during the trial in 1976 at the age of 73.
On 13 September 1944 Amon Göth was relieved of his position and charged by the SS with theft of Jewish property (which belonged to the state, according to Nazi legislation), failure to provide adequate food to the prisoners under his charge, violation of concentration camp regulations regarding the treatment and punishment of prisoners, and allowing unauthorised access to camp personnel records by prisoners and non-commissioned officers. Due to the progress of World War II and Germany’s looming defeat, the charges against him were dropped in early 1945.SS doctors diagnosed Göth as suffering from mental illness and he was committed to a mental institution, where he was arrested by the US military in May 1945.
Tried in Poland in 1946 for, amongst other charges, personally ordering the imprisonment, torture, and extermination of individuals and groups of people and personally killing, maiming and torturing a substantial, albeit unidentified number of people,Göth was convicted and sentenced to death.
He was hanged on 13 September 1946, his body cremated and his ashes were thrown on the Vistula.
From Kraków-Płaszów train station go to the corner of ul. Jerozolimska and ul. Abrahama (which turns from a paved road between the apartment blocks into a dirt trail leading into the camp). At ul. Jerozolimska 3 stands the infamous ‘Grey House’, used as a prison and torture chamber by the SS during the camp’s existence.
Cross ul. Abrahama and continue up ul. Heltmana (the continuation of ul. Jerozolimska). This residential street was known as ‘SS-strasse’ during the war for it was here that the Nazi officers lived, including camp commandant Amon Göth at number 22, known as the ‘Red House.’
You can see the back of the house by making a detour onto ul. Lecha, and if you follow it to the end and make a left onto the dirt trail there it will lead you to Hujowa Górka. One of the camp’s mass execution sites, it was here that the Nazis later exhumed the bodies of 10,000 Jews and burned them to hide their crimes. The name is a vulgar bit of Polish word play taken from the name of the SS officer who ordered the first executions here (Albert Hujar) and the Polish word for the male member; a print-friendly translation would be ‘Prick’s Hill.’ Today the site is marked by a modest wooden cross with a crown of thorns, surrounded by a few benches.
From here you can see the large stone monument, which stands atop Płaszów’s other main execution yard. Towering over not only the camp, but also the highway towards which it unfortunately faces, this monolithic Soviet-era monument is known as the ‘Memorial of Torn-Out Hearts.’
“To the memory of the martyrs murdered by the Nazi perpetrators of genocide in the years 1943-45.”
Near its base are two other monuments: to the left, a low-lying plaque remembering the Hungarian Jewish women processed in Płaszów on their way to Auschwitz; to the right, a stone obelisk commemorating all the Jewish victims of the camp. The last line of the long text reads, “In memory of those murdered, whose final scream of anguish is the silence of this Płaszów graveyard.”
If you don’t want to take the train, just catch one of the city buses going South across the Debnicki bridge, look out for the monument on the hill to the left and get off at the nearest stop.
Enter the quarry at your own risk by following a trail from Krakus Mound toward Podgórze cemetery along the rim of and into the quarry, or from ul. Za Torem. It is not unlawful to enter the quarry, but city employees of the Housing Office buildings at the quarry’s entrance have been known to deny entry or ask people to leave.
Soldau, now Działdowo
Otto Rasch, with the approval of Reinhard Heydrich, founded the Soldau camp in a former Polish army barracks in the winter of 1939/40 to act as a transit camp for deportations to the Generalgouvernement, an area of Poland which the Nazi government designated as a separate administrative region of the Third Reich and comprising much of central and southern Poland, western Ukraine, and the major cities of Warsaw, Kraków and Lwów.
However, the transit camp was to be the front for a site where Polish intelligentsia cou;d be executed. It was originally intended to be temporary, but “as the supply of anti-German elements, ‘criminals’, ‘asocials’ and ‘shirkers’ never ended, the ‘temporary’ camp at Soldau became a permanent fixture” where some 1,000 political prisoners perished.
Under Nazi Germany’s euthanasia programme, Aktion T4, mental patients from sanatoria in East Prussia were taken to Soldau. 1,558 patients were murdered in gas vans, between 21 May and 8 June 1940.
During the summer of 1941, the Soldau camp was reorganized as an Arbeitserziehungslager (literally “work education camp”), with separate camps for men and for women. The camp closed in January 1945.
13,000 out of 30,000 prisoners were murdered.
Aktion T4 was the name used after World War 2 for the Nazi euthanasia programme during which physicians murdered thousands of people who were “judged incurably sick, by critical medical examination”. Officially it ran from September 1939to August 1941, but it continued unofficiallyuntil the end of the Nazi regime in 1945.
60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read “(A) New People, the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race Politics of the NSDAP.
During the official stage of Action T4, 70,273 people were killed, but evidence suggests the total killed was more than 200,000 physically or mentally handicapped people, killed by medication, starvation, or in the gas chambers between 1939 and 1945
The name T4 was an abbreviation of Tiergartenstraße4, the address of a villa in Berlin which was the headquarters of the Gemeinnützige Stiftung für Heil- und Anstaltspflege, literally translating into English as “Charitable Foundation for Curative and Institutional Care”.
Nothing remains of number 4, but at the Bus terminal at the Philharmonie, a plaque is set into the pavement to commemorate the victims of the Aktion T4.
GPS Coordinates: 53°15’7″N 20°9’48″E
By train, about 3 hours from Toruń or 2½ by fast train from Warsaw.
Stutthof labour camp, near Gdańsk, was another camp originally set up for the extermination of Polish elites (so the Russian alternative, at Katyn and others, was far from unique)
As early as 1936 the Nazi authorities of the Free City of Danzig and were also reviewing suitable places to build concentration camps in their area. Originally, Stutthof was a civilian internment camp under the Danzig police chief. In November 1941, it became a “labor education” camp, administered by the SS. In January 1942, Stutthof became a regular concentration camp.
The camp staff consisted of SS guards and after 1943, Ukrainian auxiliaries. In 1942 the first female prisoners and female German guards arrived in Stutthof. A total of over 130 women served in the Stutthof complex of camps. Thirty-four female guards were identified later as having committed crimes against humanity at Stutthof.
Conditions in the camp were brutal. Many prisoners died in epidemics that swept the camp in the winter of 1942 and again in 1944. Those whom the SS guards judged too weak or sick to work were gassed in the camp’s small gas chamber. Gassing began in June 1944. Camp doctors also killed sick or injured prisoners in the infirmary with lethal injections. More than 85,000 people died in the camp.
The Nazis used Stutthof prisoners as forced labourers. In 1944, as forced labour by concentration camp prisoners became increasingly important in armaments production, a Focke-Wulf aircraft factory was constructed at Stutthof. Eventually, the Stutthof camp system became a vast network of forced-labor camps – 105 subcamps were established throughout northern and central Poland.
Research shows that the Stutthof concentration camp was a potential sources for human remains that Nazi Dr. Rudolf Spanner used to make a limited quantity of soap. It “was a nightmarish sight, with its vats full of human heads and torsos pickled in some liquid, and its pails full of a flakey substance – human soap”.
The evacuation of prisoners from the Stutthof camp system began in January 1945. When the final evacuation began, there were nearly 50,000 prisoners, the majority of them Jews, in the system. About 5,000 prisoners from Stutthof subcamps were marched to the Baltic Sea coast, forced into the water, and machine-gunned. The rest of the prisoners were marched in the direction of Lauenburg in eastern Germany. Cut off by advancing Soviet forces the Germans forced the surviving prisoners back to Stutthof. Marching in severe winter conditions and brutal treatment by SS guards led to thousands of deaths.
In late April 1945, the remaining prisoners were removed from Stutthof by sea, since the camp was completely encircled by Soviet forces. Again, hundreds of prisoners were forced into the sea and shot. Over 4,000 were sent by small boat to camps in Germany. Many drowned along the way.
It has been estimated that over 25,000 prisoners, one in two, died during the evacuation from Stutthof and its subcamps.
Soviet forces liberated Stutthof on May 9, 1945, rescuing about 100 prisoners who had managed to hide during the final evacuation of the camp.
Poland held four trials in Gdańsk of former guards and kapos of Stutthof, charging them with crimes of war and crimes against humanity.
The first trial was held against 30 ex-officials and kapos of the camp, from April 25, 1946, to May 31, 1946. The Soviet/Polish Special Criminal Court found all of them guilty of the charges. Eleven of them, including the former commander, were sentenced to death. The rest were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.
The second trial was held from January 8, 1947, to January 31, 1947, before a Polish Special Criminal Court. 24 ex-officials and guards of the Stutthof concentration camp were judged and found guilty. Ten were sentenced to death.
The third trial was held from November 5, 1947, to November 10, 1947, before a Polish Special Criminal Court. 20 ex-officials and guards were judged. 19 were found guilty, and one was acquitted.
The fourth and final trial was also held before a Polish Special Criminal Court, from November 19, 1947, to November 29, 1947. 27 ex-officials and guards were judged, 26 were found guilty, and one was acquitted.
Stutthof (Sztutowo) is some 35 kilometres to the east of Gdansk.
Entrance is free.
Administration of the museum, Archives and Search Office open to the public:
Monday to Friday from 7.00 a.m to 3.00 p.m.
Exhibitions of the museum open daily:
from May 1st to September 30th: 8.00 a.m till 6.00 p.m
from October 1st to April 30th: 8.00 a.m till 3.00 p.m
Due to organisation and security reasons the last entry to the Museum is possible 30 minutes before closing time.
Information presented by permanent exhibitions is completed with documentary films concerning the time of Nazi – ocupation.
The following films are shown (sets 20-30 min in duration):
“Ambulance” – 16 min
“Konzentrationslager Stutthof bei Danzig” – 30 min.
“Albert Forster” – 25 min.
“Stutthof some days later” – 19 min.
The cinema room is situated in the ex-headquarters building. Northern entrance. During summer shows are held every half an hour from 8.00am until 5.00pm. After the season by request from visitor groups (minimum 15 persons). Admission fee: 3 PLN / person.
Charge only for guided tours. Guides in English or German language available only by request in advance. Sightseeing of the camp area and the expositions of the museum takes up to 2 hours.
Reservation of a guide in advance is obligatory. There is a link to a special ordering form below. This order must include: name, address and phone number of orderer, number of visitors, time of arrival and information about chosen language. Orders of schools, universities, tourist offices, institutions et cetera, placing by phone call must be confirmed by fax +48 55 247 83 58. No confirmation means no guide provided.
The price for guided tour is 140 PLN / group in English, German or Russian.
In case of more than 30 min arrival delay without prior notice, Stutthof Museum is not obliged to secure a tour guide for this group. When the notified group doesn’t arrive, purchaser may be charged to cover the expense of a guide reservation.
Visiting the camp is prohibited for children under 13, because it is exceptionally horrifying.
The visit trail leads around the barracks of the old and new camp, the villa of the main commander, the gas chamber, the crematorium, and the watch towers to the Stutthof memorial. The museum gives testimony to the martyrdom of Poles, Jews and people of 30 other nationalities that were killed in the camp during World War II.
Other camps, with numerous subcamps, were at:
– Gross-Rosen (now Rogoźnica)
– Starachowice, and
Sonderkommando 1005 next to a bone crushing machine during liquidation of genocide evidence in the Janowska concentration camp
The gate at Gross-Rozen
There were hundreds of Arbeitslager – Labour camps – in operation … some for a limited time only as local needs changed. Many of the 400,000 Polish prisoners of war were imprisoned in these camps, along with at least 1.5 million civilians.
There were officially seven types of camp:
– Arbeitslager – the general-purpose labour camps
– Gemeinschaftslager was a work camp for civilians
– Arbeitserziehungslager were training labour camps, where the inmates were held for several weeks
– Strafarbeitslager were punitive labour camps, originally created as such, as well as based on prisons
– Zwangsarbeitslager is translated as forced labour camp
– Polen Jugenverwahrlag were set up for Polish children hard to Germanize
– Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle camps for the actual, and the presumed ethnic Germans.
Prisoner of war camps
Major PoW camps were built at Toruń and Łódź and there were a number of smaller camps in what had been Poland.
Many PoWs from the Soviet Union were imprisoned in Polish camps, though they were not considered prisoners of war – several million of them dies in German hands, through disease, over-work and a diet consisting of one meal of bread, margarine and watery soup per day.
Poland lost about 6,000,000 people in World War 2 – out of a pre-war population of 34,849,000, that’s 17%. There were 240,000 military deaths, 3,000,000 Polish-Jewish Holocaust victims, and 2,760,000 civilian deaths.