Poniatowa concentration camp
|Other names||Stalag 359 Poniatowa|
|Notable inmates||Israel Shahak|
|Part of a series on|
Poniatowa concentration camp in the town of Poniatowa in occupied Poland, 36 kilometres (22 mi) west of Lublin, was an expanded and redesigned SS Stammlager established in the latter half of 1941, initially, to hold Soviet prisoners of war following Operation Barbarossa. It was known at that time as the Stalag 359 Poniatowa. By mid-1942, about 20,000 Soviet POWs had perished there from hunger, disease and executions. The camp soon expanded to provide slave labour supporting the German war effort, with workshops run by the SS Ostindustrie (Osti) on the grounds of the prewar Polish telecommunications equipment factory founded in the late 1930s. Poniatowa became part of the Majdanek concentration camp system of subcamps in the early autumn of 1943. The wholesale massacre of its mostly Jewish workforce took place during the Aktion Erntefest, thus concluding the Operation Reinhard in General Government.
In October 1942 Amon Göth – soon to become the commandant of Kraków-Płaszów – visited Poniatowa with a blueprint for redevelopment. The construction of a brand new forced labor camp was assigned to Erwin Lambert. The camp was meant to supply workers for the Walter Többens army-uniform factory moving in from the Warsaw Ghetto, where at least 254,000 Jews were sent to Treblinka extermination camp in two months of summer 1942. Obersturmführer Gotlieb Hering was appointed the camp commandant.
The first transport of Jews arrived at Poniatowa in October 1942 from Opole where the ghetto liquidation to Sobibor extermination camp was under way. The new barracks were built. By January 1943 there were 1,500 Jews in the camp. In April 1943, during the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, about 15,000 more Polish Jews were delivered. For the next six months, they all produced fresh garments for the Wehrmacht. Due to the nature of the work performed, the prisoners were not maltreated like in most other camps. They were allowed to keep children through daycare, wear their own clothes, and retain their personal effects, because the new uniforms made by them, were great morale boosters at the Front. The Jewish tailors and seamstresses of Warsaw worked practically free of charge for the German war profiteer Walter Caspar Többens (Toebbens) who was making a fortune. He was later described as the anti-Schindler. The Jews of Poland were augmented by around 3,000 Slovakian and Austrian Jews (the camp elite) housed separately from the rest.
After the closure of the nearby Belzec death factory in June 1943, head of the Operation Reinhard, Obergruppenführer Odilo Globocnik inspected the Poniatowa facility in August 1943. Gottlieb Hering, the camp commandant, was reprimanded for a total lack of prison discipline. Drastic changes were introduced immediately with daily executions of at least several people. The new crematorium was constructed. From September 1943, the Poniatowa forced labor camp became part of the KL Majdanek concentration camp system of subcamps under Aktion Reinhard, the most deadly phase of the Holocaust.
During the secretive Operation Harvest Festival (Aktion Erntefest) the inmates were ordered to dig anti-aircraft trenches at Poniatowa, Trawniki, as well as at the Majdanek concentration camps, unaware of their true purpose. On November 3, 1943, by the orders of Christian Wirth, the German SS and police began shooting all Jews from the camps at these locations. They were massacred simultaneously across the entire Lublin District with subcamps in Budzyn, Kraśnik, Puławy, Lipowa and other places. At Poniatowa, the inmates were compelled to undress and enter the self-prepared trenches naked, where they were shot one-by-one over the course of two days. In one of the barracks at Poniatowa Jews staged a revolt. To stamp it out the SS set the building on fire and the killings went on as planned. In total, some 43,000 male and female prisoners were shot on November 3/4, 1943, over a long line of fake anti-aircraft trenches. The camp was closed. Commandant Gotlieb Hering then joined fellow SS-men from the Operation Reinhard staff in Trieste, Italy.
The first two monuments in memory of the victims of Nazism at Poniatowa were erected in communist Poland at the city centre in 1958 and at the PZT factory in 1959. A different monument, commemorating only the Jewish victims of the Holocaust was unveiled in Poniatowa on November 4, 2008, for the 65 anniversary of their deaths. The inscription in both Polish and English mentions the 14,000 victims of the Aktion Erntefest in Poniatowa from across Poland, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia (without the remaining locations). The monument was unveiled in the presence of the ambassador of Israel to Poland David Peleg, the ambasador of Austria Alfred Langle; Andreas Meitner, minister from the German embassy; Jan Tomaszek, minister from the Czech embassy; Henryka Strojnowska, voivode of Lublin; the town mayor Lilla Stefanek, and many other officials, including Warsaw rabbi and priests.
- Estera Rubinstein, survived beneath the dead bodies of others. Testimony No. 301/1013 at the archives of Żydowski Instytut Historyczny (ŻOB).
- Ludwika Fiszer, escaped from the mass grave. Testimony (45 pages) in the book Destruction and Rising published by the General Federation of Jewish Labour in Eretz Israel, Tel Aviv 1946 (digitized by Yad Vashem).
- Israel Shahak, Israeli professor of chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
- Michał Kaźmierczak, Poniatowa unofficial site with links to History and Gallery of photographs. Retrieved April 19, 2013. Location of Poniatowa factory:
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- Kudryashov, Sergei (2004). "Ordinary Collaborators: The Case of the Travniki Guards". In Erickson, Ljubica; Erickson, Mark. Russia War, Peace And Diplomacy: Essays in Honour of John Erickson (no preview ). London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. pp. 226–239. ISBN 978-0-297-84913-1.
- Steinhart, Eric C. (2009). "The Chameleon of Trawniki: Jack Reimer, Soviet Volksdeutsche, and the Holocaust". Holocaust and Genocide Studies 23 (2): 239–262. doi:10.1093/hgs/dcp032. ISSN 8756-6583.
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum - Trawniki
- In depth overview of the Trawniki Camp, Trawniki Staff, Photos. - All about Trawniki
- Belzec: Stepping Stone to Genocide, Sources of Manpower