Field III at Majdanek
camp at Majdanek
was laid out in six compounds, called fields, each surrounded by a barbed
wire fence, to separate the different categories of inmates, the same
as in the Birkenau camp.
Each field had two rows of barracks on each side of an open space which
had a gallows for hanging prisoners. Field I was the closest to the
entrance and Fields II, III and IV stretched up a slight slope with
Field V at the top, nearest to the crematorium. To the left of Field
V, as you are facing up the hill was Field VI, the only field in the
uncompleted second row of fields. At first Russian POWs were in Field
I and Jewish women and children were in Field V, but later Field I,
right next to the gas chamber, was assigned to the Jews. According to
a museum booklet, 41% of the 300,000 prisoners who were brought to Majdanek
were Jewish and 35% were non-Jewish Polish citizens. The civilian prisoners
were mostly peasants, according to the guidebook, which says that only
11% of the prisoners were intellectuals, although there were a few well-known
people in the camp.
The decision to open a camp at Lublin
was made by Heinrich Himmler
after a visit in July 1941. The original plans for the camp were revised
several times, and at one time called for as many as 15 fields, which
could house up to 150,000 prisoners who would be used as slave labor
in the building of housing for the SS
in Lublin. The final plan was changed to 8 fields, but the camp was
never finished; the maximum capacity of the camp was 23,000 prisoners.
The only barrack buildings that are still standing are in Field III,
half way up the slope. In 1997, two reconstructed huts were put up in
Field III to fill in empty spaces where some of the original huts, as
the barracks buildings were called, were missing.
After the Majdanek camp was liberated, it was still used to house political
prisoners, but now the inmates were on the other side of the ideological
war. The barracks in Field III were taken over by the NKWD, the secret
police of the Soviet Union, and used as a transit camp for Polish citizens
who were awaiting shipment to the camps in the Gulag in the Soviet Union.
These Polish prisoners were, according to the museum booklet, officers
and soldiers from the Polish Home Army and the Peasant Battalions who
fought as partisans
during the war, but were "regarded as enemies of the new political
system." They became slave laborers in the Soviet Union, right
alongside the German Prisoners of War.
While it was a Nazi camp, conditions in Majdanek were much worse than
in most of the other concentration camps; the only other comparable
camp was the Auschwitz sub-camp at Birkenau. The Majdanek camp had no
sewer system at first because the Lublin civil authorities, who objected
to building the camp so close to the city, would not allow the camp
to be connected to the city's main sewer line. It was not until May
1942 that an inspection team from Berlin
demanded that the camp be linked to the main sewer system of Lublin,
and it was January 1943 before the work was finished.
Before the sewer system was installed, prisoners used primitive latrines
or just went on the ground; at night when prisoners were forbidden to
leave the barracks, they used wooden buckets. It was not until the autumn
of 1943 that all the barracks had running water, and even then the prisoners
had a bath or shower only about once a month. This lack of sanitation
caused many deaths from disease, including typhus, tuberculosis and
dysentery. Like the horror camp at Bergen-Belsen,
the Majdanek camp later became a camp to which sick prisoners were transferred,
starting with the first transport in December 1943 of "persons
seriously ill, maimed, exhausted to the extreme with hard labor in other
camps," according to the guide book.
After you reach the end of the row of exhibits in the former clothing
warehouse buildings, the brick pathway curves to the left and goes through
Field III, where there are more exhibits in the barracks buildings.
Here, some of the buildings are not stained with black creosote, but
are left in their natural wood color, as at Birkenau.
The picture below show a view of Field III, taken from the road that
runs in front of the clothing warehouse buildings, which are now used
to house the museum exhibits.
Guard towers at Field III at Majdanek
Three of the buildings in Field III have exhibits which show how the
inmates lived in various stages of the camp. At first, the prisoners
had to sleep on straw-filled thin pallets on the bare ground in buildings
which had no wooden floors. These buildings were prefabricated horse
barns, designed to be erected as quickly as possible. The wooden floors
were added later. In the second stage, the prisoners slept in three-tiered
bunks that were the size of a double bed. In the last stage, the bunks
were single beds, as shown in the picture below. There was no living
space in these dormitory rooms at all, only enough room to walk between
the beds. A row of small windows at the top let in the only light or
ventilation. 500 to 800 prisoners slept in one barrack building which
was designed to hold 52 horse stalls or 250 people.
Bunks inside barracks building at Majdanek with light coming from windows under roof.
According to a book by Jozef Marszalek, entitled "Majdanek,"
the prisoners at Majdanek were from 28 countries: Albania, Austria,
Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland,
France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Latvia,
Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the USSR,
the United States of America, and Yugoslavia. He wrote that Polish citizens
were 59.8% of the total, followed by citizens of the USSR at 19.8%,
Czechoslovakia at 13.3%, the German Reich at 4% and France at 1.7%.
All the other countries put together accounted for 1% of the total.
There was a total of 54 ethnic groups represented, including 25 different
ethnic groups from the Soviet Union and 4 ethnic groups from Yugoslavia.
According to this book, the actual names of only 47,890 prisoners are
known, including 7,441 women.
The first commander of the Majdanek camp, from mid-Sept. 1941 to early
August 1942, was Karl Otto Koch who had gained experience in camp administration
at the infamous Buchenwald
camp in Germany. His wife was Ilse Koch, the beautiful but notorious
"Bitch of Buchenwald" who was accused of ordering lamp shades
to be made from the skin of inmates. Commandant Koch was a cultured
man who encouraged the prisoners to do artwork.
The monument in the picture below stands between the barrack buildings
in Field III on the roll call place or Appellplatz. According to the
Museum guide book it was erected by the work group led by Stanislaw
Zelent, the leader of the Polish Home Army prisoners in Field III. Zelent
escaped when the prisoners were evacuated from the camp as the Soviet
Army approached, and was able to rejoin the partisans who were fighting
the Nazis. The monument was designed by Albin Maria Boniecki, one of
the inmates. The monument shows three eagles on top of an urn which
contains the ashes of one of the dead prisoners. The White Eagle is
a Polish national symbol. The Nazis also used an eagle symbol.
Monument on Field III at Majdanek, designed by one of the prisoners, Albin Maria Boniecki.
The displays at the camp also show many drawings and woodcuts made
by the prisoners, as well as poems written by prisoners. There is no
mention anywhere of a camp orchestra, which was a common feature in
other camps, but the guidebook does mention that the prisoners got together
and sang songs from their native countries.
Boniecki also did two other works of sculpture while he was a prisoner
in the camp, including the turtle which is pictured below in its original
spot on Field III. It is now displayed in one of the exhibit buildings
along with another of his sculptures of an animal. These animal sculptures
are quite large, approximately 3 feet in diameter. This artwork was
not done in secret, but was encouraged by the SS
administrators at the camp.
Turtle sculpted by Albin Maria Boniecki, shown in its original spot on Field III.
of Interest in Poland