Majdanek


Majdanek

Majdanek was a Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland. The camp operated from October 1, 1941 until July 22, 1944, when it was captured nearly intact by the advancing Soviet Red Army. Although conceived as a forced labor camp and not as an extermination camp, over 79,000 people died there (59,000 of them Polish Jews) during the 34 months of its operation.

The name 'Majdanek' ("little Majdan") derives from the nearby Majdan Tatarski ("Tartar Maidan") district of Lublin, and was given to the camp in 1941 by the locals, who were aware of its existence. For reasons initially related to its funding, Majdanek was officially "Prisoner of War Camp of the Waffen-SS in Lublin" from October 1, 1941 until February 16, 1943, when it officially became "Konzentrationslager Lublin" (Concentration Camp Lublin).

Among Nazi concentration camps, Majdanek was unusual in that it was located near a major city, not hidden away at a remote rural location.citation|last=Rosenberg|first=Jennifer|chapter=Majdanek: An Overview|title=20th Century History|year=2008|publisher=about.com
url=http://history1900s.about.com/library/holocaust/aa092099.htm
.]

History

Construction

"Konzentrationslager Lublin" (Concentration Camp Lublin), the official name of the Majdanek concentration camp, was established in October 1941, on Heinrich Himmler's orders to Odilo Globocnik, following the SS commander's visit to Lublin on 17 and 20 July 1941. Himmler's initial order was for a camp to hold "25,000 to 50,000" prisoners.

Following the large numbers of Soviet prisoners of war captured during the Battle of Kiew, the number was subsequently raised to 50,000 and construction for that many began on 1 October 1941 (as it did also in Auschwitz-Birkenau, which had received the same order). In early November, the plans were then extended to 125,000, and in December to 150,000, and in March 1942 to 250,000 Soviet prisoners of war.

Construction began with 150 Jewish laborers from the Globocnik's Lublin camp, where the laborers then returned each night. Later the workforce included 2,000 Red Army POWs, who however had to survive extreme conditions, including sleeping out in the open. By mid-November only 500 of them were still alive, of which at least 30% were incapable of further labor. In mid-December, barracks for only 20,000 were ready when a Typhus epidemic broke out, and by January 1942 all the forced laborers—POWs as well as Jews—were dead. All work ceased until March 1942, when new prisoners arrived. Although the camp did eventually have the capacity to hold approximately 50,000 prisoners, it did not grow significantly beyond that size.

In operation

In July 1942, Himmler visited Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, that is, the three camps built specifically for Operation Reinhard—the plan to eliminate Polish Jewry ("cf." "Solution of the Jewish Question") in the five districts of occupied Poland that constituted the Nazi "Generalgouvernement". Those camps had begun operations in respectively March, May and July of that year. Subsequently, Himmler issued an order that the deportation of Jews to the camps be completed by the end of 1942.

However, due to the need for Jewish manpower for the war effort, some laborers were temporarily spared, and were (for a time) either kept in the ghettos, such as the one in Warsaw (which became a concentration camp after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising), or sent to labor camps such as Majdanek where they used primarily at the Steyr-Daimler-Puch weapons/munitions factory.

By mid-October 1942 the camp held 9,519 registered prisoners, of which 7,468 (or 78.45%) were Jews, and another 1,884 (19.79%) were non-Jewish Poles. By August 1943, there were 16,206 prisoners in the main camp, of which 9,105 (56.18%) were Jews and 3,893 (24.02%) were non-Jewish Poles.citation|author=Staff Writer|chapter=Lublin/Majdanek Concentration Camp: Overview|title=United States Holocaust Memorial Museum|date=2006|publisher=ushmm.org
url=http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005190
.] Minority contingents included Belarusians, Ukrainians, Russians, Germans, Austrians, Slovenes, Italians, and French and Dutch nationals. According to the data from the official Majdanek State Museum, 300,000 persons were inmates of the camp at one time or another. The prisoner population at any given time was much lower.

From October 1942 onwards, Majdanek also had female overseers, SS troopers who had been trained at the Ravensbrück concentration camp. These women included Elsa Erich, Hermine Braunsteiner, Hildegard Lächert and Rosy Suess.

Within the general framework of Operation Reinhard, Majdanek functioned as sorting and storage depot for property and valuables taken from the victims at the killing centers in Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.citation|author=Staff Writer|chapter=Lublin/Majdanek Concentration Camp: Overview|title=United States Holocaust Memorial Museum|date=2006|publisher=ushmm.org
url=http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005190
.] Although Majdanek also occasionally functioned as a killing center for Jews, this was initially not as systematic as in the three specifically Operation Reinhard camps: Of the more than 2,000,000 Jews killed in the course of Operation Reinhard, [citation|title=Aktion Reinhard|series=Shoah Resource Center, The International School for Holocaust Studies|publisher=yadvashem.org|page=2|year= 2004|url=http://www1.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/microsoft%20word%20-%205724.pdf.] 59,000 (of 78,000 altogether)citation|last=Kranz|first=Tomasz|title=Ewidencja zgonow i smiertelnosc wiezniow KL Lublin|publisher=Zeszyty Majdanka|location=Lublin|year=2005|volume=23|pages=7-53.] citation|last=Reszka|first=Paweł P.|date=December 23, 2005|chapter=Majdanek Victims Enumerated|title=Gazeta Wyborcza|location=Lublin|publisher=auschwitz-muzeum.oswiecim.pl
url=http://www.auschwitz-muzeum.oswiecim.pl/new/index.php?tryb=news_big&language=EN&id=879
.] were killed in Majdanek.

Majdanek did not initially have subcamps. These were incorporated in early autumn 1943 when the remaining forced labor camps around Lublin (Budzyn, Trawniki, Poniatowa, Krasnik, Pulawy, and the "Airstrip" and Lipowa camps) became sub-camps of Majdanek.

Operation Reinhard continued until early November 1943, when the last "Generalgouvernement" Jews were exterminated as part of Operation "Harvest festival". With respect to Majdanek, the most notorious of this wave of executions occurred on November 3, 1943 when 17,000—18,000 Jews were killed on a single day. On November 4th, 25 Jews who had succeeded in hiding during the killings of the day before were found and executed. Another 611 prisoners, 311 women and 300 men, were commanded to sort through the clothes and remains of the dead. The men were at first commanded to bury the dead, but were later assigned to "Sonderkommando 1005", where they had to exhume the same bodies for cremation. The men were then themselves executed. The 311 women were subsequently sent to Auschwitz where they were gassed. By the end of Operation "Harvest Festival," Majdanek had only 71 Jews left (out of a total of 6,562 prisoners).citation|author=Staff Writer|chapter=Lublin/Majdanek Concentration Camp: Overview|title=United States Holocaust Memorial Museum|date=2006|publisher=ushmm.org
url=http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005190
.]

Executions of the remaining prisoners continued at Majdanek in the months thereafter. Between December 1943 and March 1944, Majdanek received approximately 18,000 so-called "invalids," many of whom where subsequently gassed with Zyklon B (carbon monoxide was used in the very early period). Executions by firing squad continued as well, with 600 shot on 21 January 1944, 180 shot on 23 January 1944, 200 shot on 24 March 1944.

Camp commandants included:
# Karl Otto Koch (September 1941 to July 1942)
# Max Koegel (August 1942 to October 1942)
# Hermann Florstedt (October 1942 to November 3, 1943)
# Martin Gottfried Weiss (4 November 1943 to 18 May 1944)
# Arthur Liebehenschel (19 May 1944 to July 22, 1944)

In late July 1944, with Soviet forces rapidly approached Lublin, the Germans hastily evacuated the camp. But the staff had only succeeded in partially destroying the crematoria before Soviet Red Army troops arrived on July 22, 1944, making Majdanek the best-preserved camp of the Holocaust. It was the first major concentration camp liberated by Allied forces, and the horrors found there were widely publicised."cf. " [citation|author=Staff Writer|title=Vernichtungslager|journal=Time magazine|year=1944|issue=August 21, 1944|url=http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,932705,00.html.]

Although 1,000 inmates had previously been force marched to Auschwitz (of whom only half arrived alive), the Red Army still found thousands of inmates, mainly POWs, still in the camp and ample evidence of the mass murder that had occurred there.

Aftermath

In August 1944, the Soviets converted the camp into a museum, and convened a special Polish-Soviet commission to investigate and document the crimes committed at Majdanek."cf." [citation|last=Witos|first=A., et al., eds.|title=Commique of the Polish-Soviet Extraordinary Commission for Investigating the Crimes Committed by the Germans in the Majdanek Extermination Camp in Lublin|publisher=Foreign Languages Publishing House|location=Moscow|year=1944
url=http://www.jewishgen.org/ForgottenCamps/Camps/MajdanekReport.html#1
.
] This effort constitutes one of the first attempts to document the Nazi crimes.

Some Nazi personnel of the camp were prosecuted immediately after the war, and some in the decades afterwards. The last major, widely publicized prosecution of 16 SS members from Majdanek ("Majdanek-Prozess" in German) took place from 1975 to 1981 in West Germany. However, of the 1037 SS members who worked at Majdanek and are known by name, only 170 were prosecuted. This was due to the rule applied by the West German justice system that only those directly involved in the murder process could be charged.

In July 1969, on the 25th anniversary of its liberation, a large monument designed by Victor Tolkin was constructed at the site. It consists of two parts: a large gate monument at the camp's entrance and a large mausoleum holding ashes of the victims at its opposite end.

In October 2005, four survivors of Majdanek returned to the site of the camp and enabled archaeologists to find some 50 objects which had been buried by inmates, including watches, earrings, and wedding rings. [citation|author=Staff Writer|chapter=Survivors find hidden treasures|title=News 24|date=November 15, 2005|publisher=news24.com
url=http://www.news24.com/News24/World/News/0,,2-10-1462_1834817,00.html
.
]

In December 2005, construction works started to build a large trade and entertainment complex near Lipowa (named Lindenstraße during the occupation) and Sklodowskiej streets in Lublin, where a Majdanek sub-camp existed between 1940-1944. The main investor of the complex is the Plaza Centers Group, that (according to [http://www.plazacenters.com/about_us.html their website] ) is a member of the Europe Israel Group of companies, which is controlled by its founder, Mr Mordechay Zisser.

In April 2006, the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" was slated to play at the Majdanek museum, [citation|author=Staff writer|chapter=Musical to be staged at concentration camp|title=The Jerusalem Post|date=April 20, 2006|publisher=jpost.com|url=http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1143498885645&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter.] but was then canceled over concerns of impropriety.

The city of Lublin has tripled in size since the end of World War II, and even the main camp is today within the boundaries of the city of Lublin. It is clearly visible to many inhabitants of the city's high-rises, a fact that many visitors remark upon.

Death toll

:"For a review and background of the various estimates, see" citation|last=Reszka|first=Paweł P.|date=December 23, 2005|chapter=Majdanek Victims Enumerated|title=Gazeta Wyborcza|location=Lublin|publisher=auschwitz-muzeum.oswiecim.pl
url=http://www.auschwitz-muzeum.oswiecim.pl/new/index.php?tryb=news_big&language=EN&id=879
.

The Soviets initially overestimated the number of deaths, claiming in July 1944 that there were no less than 400,000 Jewish victims, and the official Soviet count was of 1,500,000 victims of different nationalities, though this estimate was never taken seriously by scholars.

In 1961, Raul Hilberg estimated the number of the Jewish victims as 50,000, though at the time other sources, including the camp museum, officially estimated 100,000 Jewish victims and up to 200,000 non-Jews killed.

The 2005 research by the Head of Scientific Department at Majdanek Museum, historian Tomasz Kranz indicates that there were 78,000 victims, 59,000 of whom were Jews.citation|last=Kranz|first=Tomasz|title=Ewidencja zgonow i smiertelnosc wiezniow KL Lublin|publisher=Zeszyty Majdanka|location=Lublin|year=2005|volume=23|pages=7-53.]

The differences in various estimates stem from different methods used for estimation and the amounts of evidence available to the researchers. The Soviet figures relied on the most crude methodology, also used to make early Auschwitz estimates - it was assumed that the number of victims more or less corresponded to the crematoria capacities. Later researchers tried to take much more evidence into account, using records of deportations and population censuses, as well as the Nazis own records. Hilberg's 1961 estimate, using these records, aligns closely with Kranz's report.

References

Further reading

* [http://majdanek.pl/?lng=1 Official Majdanek Museum]


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