Stutthof concentration camp
Map of KL Stutthof main camp after expansion. The German armaments factory DAW to the right (black, outlined in red) by the prisoner barracks. Death gate marked with an arrow, next to the red-brick SS administration building.
|Known for||Experimental production of soap from human fat|
|Operated by||Nazi Germany|
|Commandant||Max Pauly, September 1939 – August 1942|
Paul-Werner Hoppe, August 1942 – January 1945
|Operational||2 September 1939 – 9 May 1945|
|Inmates||Jews, political prisoners|
|Number of inmates||110,000|
|Killed||63,000 - 65,000 (including 28,000 Jews)|
|Liberated by||Red Army|
Stutthof was a Nazi German concentration camp established in a secluded, wet, and wooded area near the small town of Sztutowo (German: Stutthof) 34 km (21 mi) east of the city of Danzig in the former territory of the Free City of Danzig. The camp was set up around existing structures after the invasion of Poland in World War II, used for the imprisonment of Polish leaders and intelligentsia. The actual barracks were built the following year by hundreds of prisoners.
Stutthof was the first Nazi concentration camp set up outside German borders in World War II, in operation from 2 September 1939. It was also the last camp liberated by the Allies on 9 May 1945. It is estimated that between 63,000 and 65,000 prisoners of Stutthof concentration camp and its subcamps died as a result of murder, epidemics, extreme labour conditions, evacuations, and lack of medical help. Some 28,000 of them were Jews. In total, as many as 110,000 people were deported there in the course of the camp's existence. About 24,600 were transferred from Stutthof to other locations.
The camp was established in connection with the ethnic cleansing project that included the liquidation of Polish elites (members of the intelligentsia, religious and political leaders) in the Danzig area and Western Prussia.
Even before the war began, the German Selbstschutz in Pomerania created lists of people to be arrested, and the Nazi authorities were secretly reviewing suitable places to set up concentration camps in their area.
Originally, Stutthof was a civilian internment camp under the Danzig police chief, before its subsequent massive expansion. In November 1941, it became a "labor education" camp (like Dachau), administered by the German Security Police. Finally, in January 1942, Stutthof became a regular concentration camp.
The original camp (known as the old camp) was surrounded by the barbed-wire fence. It comprised eight barracks for the inmates and a "Kommandantur" for the SS guards, totaling 120,000 m². In 1943, the camp was enlarged and a new camp was constructed alongside the earlier one. It was also surrounded by electrified barbed-wire fence and contained thirty new barracks, raising the total area to 1.2 km² (0.5 sq mi). A crematorium and gas chamber were added in 1943, just in time to start mass executions when Stutthof was included in the "Final Solution" in June 1944. Mobile gas wagons were also used to complement the maximum capacity of the gas chamber (150 people per execution) when needed.
Among the notable female guard personnel were: Elisabeth Becker, Erna Beilhardt, Ella Bergmann, Ella Blank, Gerda Bork, Herta Bothe, Erna Boettcher, Hermine Boettcher-Brueckner, Steffi Brillowski, Charlotte Graf, Charlotte Gregor, Charlotte Klein, Gerda Steinhoff, Ewa Paradies, and Jenny-Wanda Barkmann. Thirty-four female guards including Becker, Bothe, Steinhoff, Paradies, and Barkmann were identified later as having committed crimes against humanity. The SS in Stutthof began conscripting women from Danzig and the surrounding cities in June 1944, to train as camp guards because of their severe shortage after the women's subcamp of Stutthof called Bromberg-Ost (Konzentrationslager Bromberg-Ost) was set up in the city of Bydgoszcz.
Several Norwegian Waffen SS volunteers worked as guards or as instructors for prisoners from Nordic countries, according to senior researcher at the Norwegian Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities, Terje Emberland.
The first 150 inmates, imprisoned on 2 September 1939, were selected among Poles and Jews arrested in Danzig right after the outbreak of war. The inmate population rose to 6,000 in the following two weeks, on 15 September 1939. Until 1942, nearly all of the prisoners were Polish. The number of inmates increased considerably in 1944, with Jews being a prominent group among the newcomers. The first contingent of 2,500 Jewish prisoners arrived from Auschwitz in July 1944. In total, 23,566 Jews (including 21,817 women) were transferred to Stutthof from Auschwitz, and 25,053 (including 16,123 women) from camps in the Baltic states. When the Soviet army began its advance through German-occupied Estonia in July and August 1944, the camp staff of Klooga concentration camp evacuated the majority of the inmates by sea and sent them to Stutthof.
Stutthof's registered inmates included citizens of 28 countries, and besides Jews and Poles - Germans, Czechs, Dutch, Belgians, French, Norwegians, Finns, Danes, Lithuanians, Latvians, Belarusians, Russians and others. Among 110,000 prisoners were Jews from all of Europe, members of the Polish underground, Polish civilians deported from Warsaw during the Warsaw Uprising, Lithuanian and Latvian intelligentsia, Latvian resistance fighters, psychiatric patients, Soviet prisoners of war, and communists (as an example of communist deportations to Stutthof, see the Danish Horserød camp). It is believed that inmates sent for immediate execution were not registered.
Conditions in the camp were extremely harsh. The first executions were carried out on 11 January and 22 March 1940 - 89 Polish activists and government officials were shot. Many prisoners died in typhus epidemics that swept the camp in the winter of 1942 and again in 1944. Those whom the SS guards judged too weak or sick to work were gassed in the camp's small gas chamber. Gassing with Zyklon B began in June 1944. 4,000 prisoners, including Jewish women and children, were killed in a gas chamber before the evacuation of the camp. Another method of execution practiced in Stutthof was lethal injection of phenol into the heart. Between 63,000 and 65,000 people died in the camp.
Germans used Stutthof prisoners as forced laborers. Many prisoners worked in SS-owned businesses such as DAW (Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke), the heavily guarded armaments factory meaning literally the German Equipment Works which was located inside the camp (see map) next to prisoner barracks. Other inmates labored in local brickyards, in private industrial enterprises, in agriculture, or in the camp's own workshops. In 1944, as forced labor by concentration camp prisoners became increasingly important in armaments production, a Focke-Wulf aircraft factory was constructed at Stutthof. Eventually, the Stutthof camp system became a network of forced-labor camps. The Holocaust Encyclopedia estimates that (less officially) some 105 Stutthof subcamps were established throughout northern and central Poland. The major subcamps were in Toruń (Thorn) and in Elbląg (Elbing).
Soap production from the bodies of victims
Evidence exists of a small-scale experimental production of soap made from human corpses obtained from the Stutthof concentration camp. Stutthof has been confirmed as one of three sources for human remains that Nazi Dr. Rudolf Spanner used to make a limited quantity of soap from human fat, with the intention of product development.
In his book, Russia at War 1941 to 1945, Alexander Werth reported that while visiting Gdańsk (Danzig) in 1945 shortly after its liberation by the Red Army, he saw an experimental factory outside the city for making soap from human corpses. According to Werth it had been run by "a German professor called Spanner" and "was a nightmarish sight, with its vats full of human heads and torsos pickled in some liquid, and its pails full of a flakey substance – human soap". The scale of production alleged by Werth is disputed by Polish researchers. In 2006, researchers from the Gdańsk University of Technology published a press release by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum which stated that the total amount of soap produced, from all three sources, was somewhere between 10 and 100 kilograms. Since Stutthof was only one of three sources for human remains, production would have been on a laboratory, rather than "factory", scale. Professor Andrzej Stołyhwo from SGGW in Warsaw analyzed a soap sample obtained from the Anatomy Institute of the Medical Academy in Gdańsk, and found that its chemical properties were similar to those of the sample from the International Court of Justice in The Hague used as evidence of Nazi war crimes between November 1945 and October 1946.
The main German concentration camp in Stutthof had as many as 40 sub-camps during World War II. In total, the sub-camps held 110,000 prisoners from 25 countries according to the Jewish Virtual Library. The sub-camps of Stutthof included:
- Bottschin in Bocień
- Bromberg-Ost in Bydgoszcz
- Chorabie (Chorab)
- Danzig–Burggraben in Kokoszki
- Danziger Werft in Gdańsk
- Dzimianen (Dziemiany)
- Außenstelle Elbing in Elbląg
- Elbing / Org. Todt
- Elbing / Schichau-Werke
- Pölitz (Police near Szczecin)
- Gotenhafen in Gdynia
- Außenarbeitslager Gerdauen
- Graudenz in Grudziądz
- Grenzdorf (?)
- Gwisdyn in Gwiździny
- KL Heiligenbeil (Mamonowo, Russia)
- Jesau/Juschny, Russia
- Malken Mierzynek
- Camp Nawitz in Nawitz/Nawcz
- Praust/Pruszcz Gdański
- Schirkenpass (Scherokopas)
- Schippenbeil/Sępopol, Poland
- Seerappen/Lyublino, Russia
- Preußisch Stargard (Starogard Gdański)
- Bruss (Brusy)
- Thorn (AEG, Org. Todt) in Toruń
- SS-Sturmbannführer Max Pauly, September 1939 – August 1942
- SS-Sturmbannführer Paul-Werner Hoppe, August 1942 – January 1945
The evacuation of prisoners from the Stutthof camp system began on 25 January 1945. When the final evacuation began, there were nearly 50,000 prisoners, the majority of them Jews, in the Stutthof camp system. About 5,000 prisoners from Stutthof subcamps were marched to the Baltic Sea coast, forced into the water, and machine-gunned. The rest of the prisoners were marched in the direction of Lauenburg in eastern Germany. Cut off by advancing Soviet forces the Germans forced the surviving prisoners back to Stutthof. Marching in severe winter conditions and brutal treatment by SS guards led to thousands of deaths.
In late April 1945, the remaining prisoners were removed from Stutthof by sea, since the camp was completely encircled by Soviet forces. Again, hundreds of prisoners were forced into the sea and shot. Over 4,000 were sent by small boat to Germany, some to the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg, and some to camps along the Baltic coast. Many drowned along the way.
On 5 May 1945, a barge full of starving prisoners was towed into harbour at Klintholm Havn in Denmark where 351 of the 370 on board were saved. Shortly before the German surrender, some prisoners were transferred to Malmö, Sweden, and released into the care of that neutral country. It has been estimated that over 25,000 prisoners, one in two, died during the evacuation from Stutthof and its subcamps.
Soviet forces liberated Stutthof on 9 May 1945, rescuing about 100 prisoners who had managed to hide during the final evacuation of the camp.
The well known Nuremberg Trials were only concerned with concentration camps as evidence for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Third Reich leadership. Several lesser known trials followed against the staff of various concentration camps. Poland held four trials in Gdańsk against former guards and kapos of Stutthof, charging them with crimes of war and crimes against humanity.
The first trial was held from April 25 to May 31, 1946 against 30 ex-officials and prisoner-guards of the camp. The Soviet/Polish Special Criminal Court found all of them guilty of the charges. Eleven defendants including the former commander, Johann Pauls, were sentenced to death. The rest were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.
The second trial was held from October 8 to October 31, 1947, before a Polish Special Criminal Court. Arraigned 24 ex-officials and guards of the Stutthof concentration camp were judged and found guilty. Ten were sentenced to death.
The third trial was held from November 5 to November 10, 1947, before a Polish Special Criminal Court. Arraigned 20 ex-officials and guards were judged; 19 were found guilty, and one was acquitted.
The fourth and final trial was also held before a Polish Special Criminal Court, from November 19 to November 29, 1947. Twenty-seven ex-officials and guards were arraigned and judged; 26 were found guilty, and one was acquitted.
An additional trial was attempted in November 2018, when Johann Rehbogen was accused of being an accessory to murder. There was no evidence to link him to specific killings, and though he admitted to serving at the camp, he said that he was unaware that people were being murdered there. He was charged as a juvenile, as he was under 21 at the time of the offense. Images in the news broadcasts concealed his face for legal reasons. Being tried at the age of 94, court proceedings were limited to no more than two hours per day and two non-consecutive days per week. In February 2019 the trial of a defendant matching this description (whom Reuters reported could not be named for legal reasons) was halted after a medical report, having been suspended since the previous December.
The Game of Tag
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- Hope, Russell (6 November 2018). "Johann Rehbogen: Former SS guard, 94, on trial over deaths at Stutthof concentration camp". Sky News.
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- Balys Sruoga, Dievų miškas (The Forest of Gods). Novel by former Stutthoff prisoner, describing the everyday horrors of the camp. PDF file, direct download 1.6 MB (116 pages) from GoodReads.
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