Jaworzno concentration camp
The Jaworzno concentration camp was a concentration camp in WW2 German-occupied Poland, first established by the Nazis in 1943 amidst the Second World War and then used briefly by the Soviets and by the post-war communist Polish government until 1956. Today the site is an apartment complex and also houses a memorial to the camp's victims.
Originally, it was established as a Nazi concentration camp called SS-Lager Dachsgrube ("SS Camp Dachsgrube) also known as Arbeitslager Neu-Dachs ("Work Camp Neu-Dachs") established during World War II by the Third Reich on the territory of German-occupied Poland in Jaworzno, Upper Silesia. The camp operated under the Nazi German administration from June 1943 until its evacuation in January 1945.
After the communist takeover of Poland, the camp was reinstated and run first by the Soviet Union and then the People's Republic of Poland till 1956. During this period, it was renamed as the Central Labour Camp in Jaworzno (Centralny Obóz Pracy w Jaworznie, COP Jaworzno).
During the German occupation of Poland
The Nazi concentration camp at Jaworzno was opened on June 15, 1943, as one of many subcamps of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The camp, known as SS-Arbeitslager Neu-Dachs (often also called SS-Lager Dachsgrube), provided forced labor for the German war industry. Inmates were primarily employed in coal mining in Jaworzno, and in the construction of the power plant "Wilhelm" (renamed "Jaworzno I" after the war) for Albert Speer's company EnergieVersorgung Oberschlesien AG (EVO). Among the builders of the camp were British prisoners of war from the Stalag VIII-B at Lamsdorf (Łambinowice). The camp's guard unit of about 200 to 300 SS personnel was composed mostly of the ethnic German Volksdeutsche from occupied Poland and other countries, led by camp commandant Bruno Pfütze and his deputy Paul Weissman.
There were up to 5,000 inmates interned in the camp at any time. The prisoners were composed of various nationalities, chiefly European Jews (about 80% of all inmates); by the time the camp begin its operation, the local Jews of Jaworzno (who numbered about 3,000 before the war) and of the rest of Poland have already been mostly exterminated. There were also Poles, Germans and others, as well as Soviet prisoners of war. There were 14 reported successful escapes (including several Soviet POWs who then joined the local Polish communist partisans). The camp's survival rate was low due to its lethal conditions, including starvation, disease, hard labor and wanton brutality. In effect, about 2,000 people lost their lives in the Jaworzno camp. Some of them were murdered not by the guards but by German civilian employees of the coal mine (mostly members of the paramilitary organization SA), who had been tasked with overseeing the prisoners at work. In addition, every month about 200 inmates who were unable to work anymore were taken by truck from Jaworzno to the gas chambers at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, resulting in several thousand more deaths.
On the night of January 15, 1945, the camp was bombed by the Soviet Air Force as the front approached. The camp was evacuated two days later on January 17. At the last roll-call, the number of inmates was established at 3,664. The SS executed about 40 prisoners who were unfit for transportation (about 400 others were left behind alive) and approximately 3,200 were marched away on a route leading them some 250 km westward. Hundreds of them died on the way to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp in Lower Silesia, including about 300 who were shot dead in a massacre which occurred on the second night of this death march (in all, about 9,000 to 15,000 Auschwitz system prisoners perished during the evacuation marches). The abandoned camp was liberated on January 19, 1945, by the local unit of the Polish resistance organization Armia Krajowa (AK). Some 350 former prisoners were still alive when the Soviet Red Army forces arrived there a week later. Commandant Pfütze was killed later in 1945.
Since February 1945 the camp had served the Soviet NKVD and then the Polish Ministry of Public Security (UB) as a prison camp for the so-called "enemies of the nation" (Polish: wrogowie narodu). Some of them were German military POWs (members of the Waffen-SS were interned separately from the rest) and the Nazi collaborators from all over Poland. Others were local German Volksdeutsche and Silesian civilians from Jaworzno, the nearby Chrzanów, and elsewhere; they included women and children. There were also ethnic Poles who were arrested for their opposition to Stalinism, including members of the Polish non-communist resistance organizations AK and BCh, and later the anti-communist organization WiN.
The camp was soon renamed as the "Central Labor Camp" (COP) and the German inscription "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work makes (you) free") was replaced by Polish "Praca uszlachetnia człowieka" ("Work ennobles man"). The prisoners mostly worked on the construction of Jaworzno power plant or in nearby factories and mines. All of them were interned in separate subcamps and were guarded by more than 300 soldiers and officers from the Internal Security Corps, aided by about a dozen civilian personnel. One of the commandants (from 1949), was a Polish Jew and communist named Solomon Morel, who had gained a reputation for cruelty in the Zgoda labour camp in Świętochłowice; the others included Włodzimierz Staniszewski, Stanisław Kwiatkowski and Teofil Hazelmajer (all answering to Jakub Hammerschmidt, later known as Jakub Halicki), as well as the Soviet NKVD officer Ivan Mordasov. There were also two satellite subcamps located at Chrusty and Libiąż.
A separate subcamp existed for the ethnic Lemko and Ukrainian prisoners. On April 23, 1947, by a decree of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Polish Workers' Party, COP Jaworzno was selected for the detention of civilians during the Operation Vistula deportation campaign. The first transportation of 17 prisoners from Sanok reached the special subcamp of Jaworzno on May 5 and the number of these prisoners eventually totalled almost 4,000 (including over 700 women and children); the vast majority of them arrived in 1947. Most of them were people suspected of sympathy towards the rebels of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and those otherwise selected from the Operation Vistula transports (including more than 100 Lemko intelligentsia and 25 mostly Greek Catholic priests). The Lemko and Ukrainian prisoners were gradually released from the spring of 1948 until the spring of 1949, when the last of them left Jaworzno. Most of them were deported to the new places of settlement or freed and allowed to return to their homes, but several hundred were sent to military prisons and at least 161 died in the camp.
According to the (incomplete) official statistics from the period, 1,535 people died at COP Jaworzno between 1945 and 1947 (972 of them of a typhus epidemic in the overcrowded camp), out of at least 6,140 who died during this period in all camps and prisons in Poland. Contemporary figures are much higher. According to research conducted by Polish historians on the data released by the prison services in 1993, the list of prisoners who died at COP Jaworzno and its filias between 1945 and 1956 consists of 6,987 names, which was a figure much greater than in any other Polish detention center (for a comparison, approximately 2,915 prisoners died at the second most-lethal work camp in the Stalinist Poland, the Central Labour Camp in Potulice, mainly from typhus and dysentery). The victims were mostly the German Volksdeutsche.
After the Operation Vistula was concluded in 1949, the camp continued to be used as a prison for Polish political prisoners. Between 1951 and 1956, it was turned into the "progressive prison" for adolescents under the age of 21, of which some 15,000 passed through it as inmates, interned in better conditions than the previous batches of prisoners; their forced labour was accompanied by indoctrination and education. The camp's final closure took place during the wave of general post-Stalinist reforms, following a prison revolt in 1955 (a riot sparked by an incident of an escaping prisoner being shot dead).
The former camp was converted into an apartment complex, the brick barracks forming housing and educational buildings (a primary musical school and a kindergarten, as well as a house of culture). As of 2012, residents still lived in the complex. A memorial dedicated in Polish to "the victims of Hitlerism 1939-1945" was erected on the site of the January 1945 mass execution of prisoners by the SS.
After the fall of communism in Poland, the monument was joined by a small commemorative plinth to the inmates of the political prison in the nearby primary school grounds. On May 23, 1998, Polish and Ukrainian Presidents Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Leonid Kuchma opened another memorial, dedicated in three languages to "all German, Polish and Ukrainian innocent victims of communist terror who died or were murdered" in the camp, which was erected on the previously unmarked mass grave site in a nearby forest.
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