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KZ Warsaw

Last Update 17 June 2006


KZ Warsaw and Gesiowka Prison
The concentration camp (official German abbreviation: KL for Konzentrationslager) in Warsaw was established on the initiative of SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop, the "SS- and Police Leader for the Warsaw District" who finally liquidated the Warsaw Ghetto.
In his report of 16 May 1943, he wrote that the prisoners of this camp could be used to clear away the ruins and buildings on the territory of the ghetto, so as to re-use the bricks, iron and other materials needed by industry. Heinrich Himmler accepted this proposal, and by 19 July 1943 Oswald Pohl, who was responsible for the concentration camps in the "Third Reich", was able to report to Himmler that "KL Warschau" was already established. The camp commandant was SS-Obersturmbannführer Wilhelm Goecke.

The territory of the camp consisted of the former soldiers' prison on Gesia and Zamenhofa Streets and the whole of Zamenhofa, Okopowa and Smocza Streets. Because the prison building was too small for all prisoners, barracks were built in autumn 1943. In June 1944, when the camp’s construction was completed, it had a capacity of 5,000 prisoners. The first prisoners were deported to KZ Warschau from the Reich - this was a group of 300 Germans who became the camp’s prisoner functionaries (Kapos). Apart from them, all the camp's other prisoners were Jews, transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Between August and November 1943, 3,686 Jews were sent to KZ Warschau in four transports. Only 50 of them were Polish Jews - the others were from Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Austria. In spring 1944, further transports arrived at KZ Warschau from Auschwitz-Birkenau, among them a group of around 3,000 Jews from Hungary.

Freed by AK Fighters
Freed by AK Fighters *
In April 1944, KZ Warschau became a sub-camp of Majdanek concentration camp ("KL Lublin"), and from then on all the staff (259 SS men) were under the command of the commandant of KZ Majdanek.
The conditions in the camp were the same as in Majdanek, but food was generally worse. According to survivor's testimonies, the biggest problem in the camp was hunger. As well as hunger, conditions in the barracks and the very hard work were the main reasons for the high mortality in the camp. Owing to a lack of documents, it is not possible to estimate the number of victims of this camp.

Most of the prisoners worked clearing away buildings and ruins on the site of the former ghetto. A group of Poles also worked in the camp, but they were free workers, employed by German companies. In April 1944 there were 2,180 Jewish prisoners and 2,439 Polish workers in the camp. From the site of the ghetto as a whole 34 million bricks, 7,300 kg of iron and 805 kg of coloured metal were recovered. As well as recovery of building materials, a special commando of prisoners was responsible for searching for gold in the ruined buildings. On many occasions the prisoners found intact bunkers in the ruins, where Jews from the Warsaw ghetto were still hiding. If SS men were present at such "discoveries", those in hiding were executed immediately. Gold and money found in the former ghetto were sent to Majdanek and from there to Berlin.

The Crematorium
The Crematorium
A "death brigade" was also organised in the camp. This group of 20 prisoners had to burn the bodies of those who died in the camp and of prisoners from the Pawiak Gestapo Prison who were executed in the ghetto ruins. The pyre for burning the bodies was in the courtyard of the house on 45 Gesia Street.
In spring 1944 the SS ordered the building of a crematorium at 19 Zamenhofa Street. However, although the building was finished, it was never used because on 27 July 1944 the evacuation of the camp began. On that day the commandant announced the evacuation and invited those who could not walk to let him know this. Around 180 prisoners decided not to go. Together with 250 prisoners from the camp hospital they were shot.

On 28 July around 4,000 prisoners left the camp, and after four days’ marching they were halted near Lowicz. From there, after a five-day train journey, they were transferred to KZ Dachau.

Freed by AK Battalion
Freed by AK Battalion "Zoska"
Not all prisoners were evacuated from KZ Warschau. A group of several hundred prisoners had the task of finally liquidating the camp. A smaller group of Polish Jews (including women) from Pawiak prison was attached to this group. At the start of the uprising in Warsaw on 1 August 1944, the whole group numbered about 400 prisoners. On 5 August 1944, a unit of Polish AK insurgents liberated the camp after a battle with the SS. 348 people (including 24 women) were liberated, and most of them joined Polish insurgent units. The liberated prisoners informed the Jewish organisations and Polish Government in Exile in London by radio, of their liberation. Some of them survived the Warsaw Uprising and the end of the war.

The character of KZ Warschau was typical of a labour and concentration camp. There were no gas chambers, and most prisoners who died in the camp fell victim to the primitive living and working conditions.

Archive documents from State Museum Majdanek.
T. Berenstein, A. Rutkowski: Obóz koncentracyjny dla Żydów w Warszawie (1943-1944). (The Concentration Camp for the Jews in Warsaw 1943-1944). In: "Biuletyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego", No. 62 (1967)
Cz. Rajca: Podobozy Majdanka (The Sub-camps of Majdanek). In: Majdanek 1941-1944. Red. T. Mencel. Lublin 1991.

Powstanie Warszawskie 1944, Okiem Polskiej Kamery, by W. Jewsiewicki, and GFH *

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