The crematorium which is shown to tourists is located
at the top of a long slope, behind the spot where the barracks in Field
V once stood. It is the second crematorium that was built in the camp
and it was not in operation until the autumn of 1943, according to the
camp guidebook. When the camp first opened, the bodies were buried in
mass graves, but from June 1942 on, there were burned in the first crematorium
or on pyres made from the chassis of old lorries (trucks), according
to the guidebook. The first crematorium is no longer in existence, and
I never learned the exact location of it. It had two ovens which were
brought to Majdanek
from the Sachsenhausen
camp in Germany. The new
crematorium was outfitted with five Kori ovens which were fueled with
When you first walk into the crematorium, you see the row of five ovens.
They are placed so close to the entrance door that you realize that
there would not have been enough room for workers to slide the bodies
inside. Then you walk around to the other side and see that the bodies
were put into the ovens from the back side and the ashes taken out on
the front side, close to the entrance door. You can look all the way
through the ovens and see that the interior of each oven is long enough
to accommodate two bodies. On the front side, you can see ashes still
remaining in the ovens. The movie shown at the visitor's center showed
bones still in the ovens when the camp was liberated, although they
have since been removed.
The second crematorium was a wooden building which the Germans set
on fire on July 22, 1944 as they abandoned the camp on the day that
the Russian soldiers entered the outskirts of Lublin;
the building that is shown to tourists is a reconstruction, according
to the guide book, but the ovens are original. According to Martin Gilbert
in his book Holocaust
Journey, there is a gas
chamber in this crematorium building which, like the building, is
a reconstruction. Since it is a reconstruction, this gas chamber room
does not show the blue staining that is present in the other gas chambers.
The gas chamber room in the crematorium is very small; it has a hole
in the ceiling for pouring in the poison gas crystals, and there is
a floor drain directly below the hole. The door to this gas chamber
is missing, and may have been taken to another museum for display. A
casting of a Majdanek gas chamber door is on display at the United States
Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
Right next to the room which has the five ovens, there is an alcove,
or room open on one side, which has a large concrete bathtub. According
to the guide, this tub was used by the SS
man in charge of the ovens. The guide was puzzled as to why a bathtub
should be located in this spot; I theorized that the location might
have been chosen because of the warmth in this room from the heat of
The picture below shows the ovens, on the side away from the entrance
door, with the metal stretchers which were used to shove the bodies
The black and white picture below shows the ruined crematorium as it
looked when Russian soldiers arrived at the camp to liberate it. The
wooden crematorium building had been set on fire by the Nazis in order
to burn the bodies of Polish political prisoners who were brought from
the Gestapo prison at the Castle in Lublin and executed the day before
liberation. Their charred remains are shown on the left in the picture
below. On the right are the brick ovens with iron doors which were not
damaged in the fire. The main gas chamber building, which is located
down the slope at the other end of the camp, was not burned, leaving
behind ample evidence of the Nazi crimes.
In another room of the crematorium building is the concrete dissection
table, on which the bodies were examined for valuables hidden in body
cavities, according to the tour guide. It was here also that the gold
teeth were removed from the victims after they were gassed.
After the camp was liberated,
bones of the cremated victims were gathered and put on display in a
glass case, according to accounts written by visitors to Majdanek. I
didn't see any glass case, but there was a large closed casket on display
in the crematorium. The casket was covered with funeral wreaths, bouquets
of flowers and candles left by visitors.
The tour guide pointed out a new memorial plaque which has recently
upgraded the percentage of Jewish victims in the Majdanek camp to 48%.
The former number was 41%, which is mentioned in the guidebook. During
the Communist regime in Poland,
the suffering of the Jews was downgraded and the martyrdom of the Poles
was emphasized. Now that is slowing changing to reflect the greater
suffering by the Jews. Of the remaining victims, 31% were Polish political
prisoners, 16% were POWs from the USSR and 5% were POWs or political
prisoners from 26 other countries, according to the Museum booklet.
Although most of the prisoners were either Jewish or Christian, there
were also a few political prisoners in the camp who were Muslims
or Buddhists, according to the Museum booklet.
Outside the crematorium building, there is a real rose garden or "Rosenfeld"
with miniature roses planted in two beds on either side of the path;
one of the flower beds has a clashing border of orange marigolds.