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The Pawiak prison took its name from that of the street on which it stood, ulica Pawia (Polish for "Peacock Street").
After Poland regained its independence in 1918, the Pawiak became Warsaw's main prison for male criminals. (Females were detained nearby at Gęsiówka.)
Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939 it was turned into a German Gestapo prison, and then part of the Warsaw concentration camp. Approximately 100,000 men and 200,000 women passed through the prison, mostly members of the Armia Krajowa, political prisoners and civilians taken as hostages in street round-ups. An estimated 37,000 were executed and 60,000 sent to German death and concentration camps. Exact numbers are unknown, as the prison's archives have never been found.
On July 19, 1944, a Ukrainian guard, Wachmeister Petrenko, and some prisoners attempted a mass jailbreak, supported by an attack from the outside, but failed. Petrenko and several others committed suicide. The Resistance attack detachment was ambushed and suffered very heavy casualties, practically ceasing to exist. In reprisal, over 380 prisoners were executed the next day. It is thought that the whole incident was actually a well-planned Gestapo provocation.
The final transport of prisoners took place shortly before the Warsaw Uprising, on July 30, 1944. Two thousand men and the remaining 400 women were sent to Gross-Rosen and Ravensbrück. Afterwards the area was secured during the Warsaw Uprising but subsequently again lost to German forces. On August 21 an unknown number of remaining prisoners were shot and the buildings burned and blown up by the Nazis.
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- History of the prison - official website of the museum