German camps in occupied Poland during World War II
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The German camps in occupied Poland during World War II were built by Germany in the course of its Occupation of Poland (1939–1945) both in the areas annexed by Germany and in the territory of General Government created by the Third Reich. A system of camps of various kinds was established across the entire country, including extermination camps, concentration camps, labour, and POW camps.
German occupied Poland was a prison-like territory. It contained 457 camp complexes. Some of the major ones, such as Stutthof and Auschwitz consisted of dozens of subsidiary camps scattered over a broad area. The number of subcamps under Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (Birkenau), and Auschwitz III (Monowitz) was forty-eight (48). Their detailed description is provided by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.
The camp system was one of the fundamental institutions of the Nazi regime, and with the invasion of Poland became the backbone of German war economy and the state organized terror. It is estimated that some 5 million Polish citizens went through them. The racist policies of the Third Reich against Slavs and other "undesirables" filled the labor and concentration camps from the first days of occupation. The deliberate maltreatment, starvation, overwork and executions of prisoners amounted to ethnic cleansing. Between 1941–1942, the concerted effort to destroy the Polish Jews including those of other European nationalities led to the creation of death camps, constructed for the sole purpose of extermination. It was only after the majority of Jews from all Polish ghettos were annihilated that the gas chambers and crematoria were blown up in a systematic attempt to hide the evidence of the crimes. The Nazi Germans turned Auschwitz Konzentrationslager into a major death camp by expanding its extermination facilities. The ovens working around the clock till November 25, 1944; were blown up by the orders of SS chief Heinrich Himmler himself.
The German Nazi government established extermination camps (Vernichtungslager) in Poland (see: the Holocaust in Poland) after the Final Solution was already in place. The extermination facilities were added to existing camps, including at Majdanek. Some camps operated in this dual capacity until the end of the war. The Nazi German death factories (Todeslager) as of 1942 included:
- Auschwitz-Birkenau (Oświęcim, near Kraków)
- Belzec (near the current Ukrainian border north-west of L'viv)
- Chełmno (Chełmno nad Nerem, between Warsaw and Poznań)
- Majdanek (near Lublin)
- Sobibor (south of Brest-Litovsk)
- Treblinka (north-east of Warsaw)
The primary function of death camps was the elimination of Jews from all the countries occupied by Germany, except the Soviet Union (Soviet Jews were generally killed on the spot). Many non-Jewish Poles and other prisoners were also killed in these camps; an estimated 75,000 non-Jewish Poles died at Auschwitz-Birkenau and up to 200,000 at Warschau. Most extermination camps had regular concentration camps set up along with them including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Treblinka and Warsaw. However, these camps were distinct from the adjoining extermination camps.
The Nazi concentration camps (Konzentrationslager, KL or KZ) were designed to exploit the labor of prisoners rather than to exterminate them, although the majority of prisoners eventually died due to disease and exhaustion, starvation diet, and regular executions. In Germany before 1939, concentration camps housed mainly Jews and political enemies of the Nazi regime.
Many concentration camps set up in German occupied Poland served as transit points to the extermination camps, and partly so that the Jews could be worked to death. This policy was called Vernichtung durch Arbeit (annihilation through work). Large numbers of non-Jewish Poles were also imprisoned in these camps, as were various prisoners from other countries. For example, at the beginning Stutthof labor camp near Gdańsk was set up for the extermination of Polish elites. The major concentration camps in occupied Poland were:
- Warschau (in Warsaw)
- Kraków-Płaszów (made famous in the book and film Schindler's List)
- Soldau (now Działdowo)
Another camp, Gross-Rosen (now Rogoźnica) in German Silesia (now part of Poland), was surrounded with a number of satellite camps (Aussenlager) to which prisoners were sent to work on various German state projects. There were also concentration camps at: Budzyń, Janowska, Poniatowa, Skarżysko-Kamienna, Starachowice, and Trawniki.
The Germans pressed large numbers of Poles and Polish Jews into forced labour. The labourers were confined in camps known in German as Arbeitslager and their subcamps across Poland, in the Third Reich and in the present day Czech Republic. For example, the Gross-Rosen alone had about 100 subcamps in Lower Silesia by 1944, while Auschwitz run about 50 of them. There were hundreds of Arbeitslager camps in operation, where at least 1.5 million Poles were set to hard labour. Many of the subcamps were transient in nature, being opened and closed according to the labour needs of the occupier. There were also around 30 Polenlager camps among them, formally identified in Silesia as permanent (see list) such as Gorzyce and Gorzyczki. Many of the 400,000 Polish prisoners of war captured by Germans during the 1939 invasion of Poland were also imprisoned in these camps, although many of them were sent as forced labourers to the heartland of Germany. Several types of labor camps in this category were distinguished by German bureaucracy:
- Arbeitslager was general-purpose term for labor camps in the direct sense.
- Gemeinschaftslager was a work camp for civilians.
- Arbeitserziehungslager were training labor camps, where the inmates were held for several weeks.
- Strafarbeitslager were punitive labor camps, originally created as such, as well as based on prisons.
- The term Zwangsarbeitslager is translated as forced labor 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
The Germans established several camps for prisoners of war (POWs) from the western Allied countries in territory which before 1939 had been part of Poland. There was a major POW camp at Toruń (Thorn) and another at Łódź, plus a number of smaller ones. Many prisoners of war from the Soviet Union were also brought to Poland, where most of them died in labor camps. The Germans did not recognise Soviets as POWs and several million of them died in German hands. They were fed only once a day, and the meal would consist of bread, margarine and soup.
The Polish nation lost the largest portion of its pre-war population during World War II. Out of Poland's pre-war population of 34,849,000, about 6,000,000 - constituting 17% of its total - perished during the German occupation. There were 240,000 military deaths, 3,000,000 Polish-Jewish Holocaust victims, and 2,760,000 civilian deaths (see World War II casualties backed with real research and citations).
The Polish government has issued a number of decrees, periodically updated, providing for the surviving Polish victims of wartime (and post-war) repression, and has produced lists of the various camps where Poles (defined both as citizens of Poland regardless of ethnicity, and persons of Polish ethnicity of other citizenship) were detained either by the Germans or by the Soviets.
Camps after the liberation
German camps were liberated by the Red Army and Polish Army in 1944 or 1945. A number of camps were subsequently used by the Soviets or Polish communist regime as POW or labor camps for Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, e.g.: Zgoda labour camp, Central Labour Camp Potulice, Łambinowice camp.
- History of Poland (1939-1945)
- The Holocaust in Poland
- Potulice concentration camp
- Nazi crimes against ethnic Poles
- Operation Tannenberg
Notes and references
- List of Subcamps of KL Auschwitz (Podobozy KL Auschwitz). The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim, Poland (Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau w Oświęcimiu), 1999-2010 (Polish)
- Compiled by Dr. S.D. Stein (2000). "Background and Introduction: German Crimes in Poland, Central Commission for Investigation of German Crimes in Poland. Volume I, Warsaw 1946". Howard Fertig, New York, 1982. "Summary Details of Main Concentration, Slave Labour and Extermination Camps."
- Dr Waldemar Grabowski, IPN Centrala (2009-08-31). "Straty ludności cywilnej". Straty ludzkie poniesione przez Polskę w latach 1939-1945. Bibula – pismo niezalezne. Retrieved February 20, 2013. "Według ustaleń Czesława Łuczaka, do wszelkiego rodzaju obozów odosobnienia deportowano ponad 5 mln obywateli polskich (łącznie z Żydami i Cyganami). Z liczby tej zginęło ponad 3 miliony."
- Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Oświęcim, Poland. (English)(Polish)
- "Forced labor-camps in District Lublin: Budzyn, Trawniki, Poniatowa, Krasnik, Pulawy, Airstrip and Lipowa camps". Holocaust Encyclopedia: Lublin/Majdanek Concentration Camp. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
- "Historia KL Gross-Rosen" (in Polish). Muzeum Gross Rosen w Rogoźnicy. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
- FPNP database. "Lista Polenlagrów" (PDF 251 KB). Obozy przesiedleńcze i przejściowe na terenach wcielonych do III Rzeszy. Demart. p. 6. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- Das Bundesarchiv. "Directory of Places of Detention". Federal Archives. Retrieved May 11, 2012. "Search keyword: Polenlager"