(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 separated
from the Jews and from the POWs as transit camp detainees.
In 1943, overcrowded Polish prisoners were also delivered to Majdanek.
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
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.
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 alternative
taken 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.
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
Adler, David A. We Remember the Holocaust.
New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1989
Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust.
Offline May 2001.
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
March of the Living