Oranization of the Camp System: Lublin-Majdanek Camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lublin-Majdanek Camp

John Barrett
Francis Garcia-Pages
Txikia Hernández-Morales
Jesus Miguelez

Lublin-Majdanek (also referred to as Maidanek and Maydanek) was created in 1941, near the city of Lublin, Poland, as a detention camp for Russian POW (Prisoners of War) from another camp, located in Chelm.  Equipped with a gas chamber and a Krematorium (German for Crematory) to rid the bodies of the camp victims in a sanitary method, Majdanek's "main purpose was the elimination of every trace of actual or potential opposition to Nazi rule" (Kogon 19). The Soviet POWs that contracted illness (normally typhoid fever) became the first to experience the camp's capability for mass extermination.  

Before the organization of the camp system, the Einsatzgruppen had first tackled the "final solution" towards the Jewish problem.  "The Einsatzgruppen consisted of four units of between 500 and 900 men, each which followed the invading German troops into the Soviet Union. By the time [Heinrich] Himmler (head of the Gestapo and German police forces; chief of the SS) ordered a halt to the shooting in the fall of 1942, they had murdered approximately 1,500,000 Jews. The death camps proved to be a better, faster, less personal method for killing Jews, one that would spare the shooters, not the victims, emotional anguish. The camp system was much more effective also, not only executing all captured threats to the Nazi government efficiently, but also raising revenues through prisoner labor exploitation and through the plundering of prisoner possessions.

Between 1941 and 1942, Jews from Lublin began to arrive at Majdanek also.  After the German SS (Schutzstaffel) troops conquered Poland in 1939, the Jewish element throughout the country had been successfully separated for immediate deportation.  Majdanek took its name from the Jewish suburbs of Majdan Tatarski that were located close by.  The camp was held and organized both by the militarized SS army authorities and by the SS economic-Administrative Main Office (WVHA) which
was more politically bound to the Nazi party.

Also in 1942, non-Jewish deportations began to arrive at Majdanek. The camp was "defined by a large percentage of rural people.".  These people were deported for short amounts of time because of several circumstances.  Polish and Byelorussians were mostly deported for not being able to meet agricultural quotas.  Peasants from the Bilgoraj area were deported in 1944 because of resistance activities that had set back German forces in the area.  These types of prisoners were eparated from the Jews and from the POWs as transit camp detainees.  In 1943, overcrowded Polish prisoners were also delivered to Majdanek .   

The separation and classification of inmates was common in Majdanek.  Upon entering the camp, Jewish prisoners were separated from the group and taken to the Rose Field, an open area within the Majdanek camp, where they were ordered to strip off their clothes and give up all possessions and then underwent initial selection, where the camp's medical unit expected each of their ability for labor.  Any sick, very malnutritioned, very old, or very young Jews where immediately separated and led to the gas chamber where they were exterminated.  These victims were rarely even registered.  The rest of the prisoners were also separated from their families and sent to the barber and to
the bath house, where their hair was shaved off and they were
disinfected first with very hot water and then with Lysol solution.  They then proceeded to be registered and were given either stripped uniforms, or light civilian clothing with painted markings.  They were also given a pair of shoes or clogs, which normally did not fit.

The barrack housing was in the early years furnished merely with a dirt floor and straw.  When large amounts of prisoners began to arrive, flooring was installed, as were plank beds with sod and straw packed mattresses.  The roofing did not provide proper protection from the extreme cold weathers of the camp's outside environment.  The military blankets given, passed on from year to year and infected with lice, were also too thin to protect from the cold.  The clothing was not only insufficient for the cold and rain, but also could not be changed. Such horrid conditions in such a concentrated environment (barracks were equipped for 250 people but were packed with much more) with proper sanitation only once a month promoted epidemics throughout the inmates.  Proper sewage systems were not installed until 1943.

     Malnutrition and harsh labor also promoted "accelerated natural death" .  The common day for an inmate consisted of waking up for role call at 5 or 6 AM.  Like in a military institution, inmates had very little time to clean the barracks and make their bunks.  Anybody who had died during the night had to be dragged out to role call as well. A liquid breakfast was eaten and inmates split up into labor teams called Kommandos.  These teams were appointed jobs either indoors or outdoors, which consisted of either construction within the camp, maintenance of the camp, or outside organization labor recruitment, under which the inmate worked at a company that paid the SS for his/her work.  The SS camp administration made a lot of money exploiting labor in this way by accepting food payments for inmates, but only distributing half of these rations or less.  Inmates were given very little fat, and mostly liquid meals, less than a thousand calories per day.  If not directly exterminated, these conditions provided a long path towards death for any inmate.

      Direct executions, although most of the time executed through the gas chamber, many times was done by shootings.  The largest execution carried out was in November of 1943, when a machine gun was shot onto 18000 Jews.  The execution took place all day, from role call to 5 PM, as the SS commander used the Jews to fill a ditch that his men had dug up.  SS guards changed post throughout the mass execution, going off to lunch as new waves of Jews were ordered to lay over the previously killed others.  

The gas chamber at Majdanek was used with two different gasses. "...Camp guards threw "Zyklon B" pellets down an air shaft.  Zyklon B was a highly poisonous insecticide also used to kill rats and insects" (Bachrach 52).  Carbon Monoxide, which was released through canisters, was also used. The guards were able to observe the killing through a small sealed window on the side of the chamber.  The gas chamber, which was first used in 1942, was connected deceivingly to the bath houses to lessen victim agitation.  The bath houses, which were used to disinfect inmates before such executions.  Hot water sprayed onto the victims made the gas more effective.  After execution, the bodies of the inmates were taken to the Krematorium where any gold or silver teeth were first removed, and later the carcass burnt to ashes.  These gold teeth also provided a lot of money to the SS camp administration along with the original plundering of the inmates' possessions. "This mass plunder yielded mountains of clothing.  Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek together generated nearly 300,000 pairs of shoes, which were distributed among German settlers in Poland and among the inmates of other concentration camps" (Bachrach 102).

     Over its four years of existence, 512 inmates were able to escape from Majdanek. "The huge compound was surrounded by a double net of barbed wire suspended from tall poles and electrified by high voltage towers guarded by Germans with automatic weapons" (Gurdus 126)  A Death Zone was marked at five meters from any fence.  At this distance, SS Guards were able to shoot without warning.  Another alternativet aken by many of the weaker inmates, mostly by the Jews, was suicide .

     In July 1944, the Russian general Siemion Bogdanov initiated the fight for the town along with Polish militias.  On July 24, after evacuating most troops, general Mosser surrendered the German garrison and with it Majdanek.  SS guards caught were convicted for the mass killings in Majdanek.  Out of the 300,000 prisoners that were reported to have passed through the camp, 235,000 were killed., 20,000 released, 45,000 transferred,  and 1500 were liberated ).

Works Cited

Bachrach, Susan D. Bachrach.  Tell Them We Remember:
The Story of the Holocaust
. Boston, MA: Little, Brown &
Company, 1994 

Gurdus, Luba Krugman. The Death Train. New York, NY:
Walden Press, 1978

Kogon, Eugene. The Theory and Practice of Hell.
New York, NY: Berkley Publishing Corporation, 1980

Majdanek State Museum 
http://www.lublin.pol.pl/majdanek/s.html

Works Consulted

Adler, David A.  We Remember the Holocaust. New York,
NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1989 

Berenbaum, Michael.  The World Must Know: The
History of the Holocaust as Told in the United
States Holocaust Memorial Museum
. Canada:
Little, Brown and Company, 1993

History Place Holocaust Timeline: Majdanek
Concentration Camp Liberated 

http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/
holocaust/h-majd-lib.htm

March of the Living
http://www.bonder.com/tour