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Pawiak Prison took its name from that of the street on which it stood, ulica Pawia (Polish for "Peacock Street").
Pawiak Prison was built in 1829–35 to the design of Fryderyk Florian Skarbek, prison reformer and godfather of composer Frédéric Chopin. During the nineteenth century it was under the control of the Czarist Rulers, whilst Warsaw was still a part of the Russian Empire. During this time it was the main prison of central Poland, where political prisoners and criminals alike were incarcerated.
After Poland regained its independence in 1918, the Pawiak became Warsaw's main prison for male criminals. (Females were detained nearby at Serbia prison.)
Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939 it was turned into a German Gestapo prison, and then part of the Nazi concentration-death camp system. 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 Wachmeister (guard) 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. As Julien Hirshaut convincingly argues in his book, Jewish Martyrs of Pawiak, it is inconceivable that the prison escape attempt was a Gestapo initiated provocation. The Polish underground initially approved the plan but backed out without being able to alert those in the prison that the plan was cancelled.
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.
After World War II, the building was not rebuilt. Half of the gateway and three detention cells remained. Since 1990, its surviving basement has held a museum which, with the Mausoleum of Struggle and Martyrdom, forms the Museum of Independence.
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- Hirshaut, Julien (1982). Jewish Martyrs Of Pawiak (1 ed.). New York: Holocaust Publications, Inc,. p. 25. ISBN 0-89604-041-0.
- History of the prison - official website of the museum