Mausoleum at Majdanek
A gigantic, circular Mausoleum stands at the end of
the former "black path" to the crematorium, a walkway that
is now called the Road of Homage in English. The structure was designed
by architect and sculptor Wiktor Tolkin, the same man who designed the
Monument of Struggle and Martyrdom at the other end of the walkway,
near the street.
The dome of the Mausoleum is pockmarked, as though it had suffered
bomb damage in the war. An inscription on the frieze of the dome says
"Let our fate be a warning to you." (English translation)
Under the dome is a huge circular urn, shaped like a saucer, which contains
the ashes of some of the victims at Majdanek.
Before visiting Majdanek, I had heard about the ashes and wondered what
kept them from blowing away in the wind. The answer is that the ashes
were recovered from a compost pile in the camp, where they had been
mixed with dirt and garden refuse and composted in preparation for spreading
on the vegetable garden in the camp. The material under the dome looks
like compacted dirt, the color of adobe. There are a few bone fragments
visible. To the left, in front of the steps, are containers to hold
flames for special ceremonies.
Also to the left as you face the dome, is the very inappropriate location
of the toilets, which are underground but have air vents sticking up,
that look like some weird sculpture. The first thing that the tour guides
explain to Americans is the toilet etiquette in Poland. In many places,
including the camp at Majdanek, one must pay the attendant on duty to
use the toilets. Bring your own toilet paper because there is usually
none available, even though the charges are supposed to pay for the
cost of the paper. The toilets are for both sexes and there is no door
on the men's facility.
The picture below shows the Mausoleum. To the right of it is located
the crematorium building. Standing on this spot, you have a panoramic
view of the camp below you. Behind the Mausoleum are new modern apartment
houses, their balconies painted red, yellow and blue, resembling buildings
made with children's colorful building blocks. As you are standing in
front of the Mausoleum facing the camp area, to the left there are more
apartment buildings in the city of Lublin.
To the right, as you face the camp area, is Lublin's main Catholic cemetery
which borders the camp; this cemetery was being used when the concentration
camp was in operation. There are noisy black crows flying overhead,
which the tour guide says are always present here, as if to give further
warning to visitors.
Mausoleum which contains the ashes of victims beneath the dome
Just behind the Mausoleum pictured above, and a little to the right,
is a small stone which commemorates the deaths of around 18,000 Jews
on that spot on Nov. 3, 1943, an event that was code-named by the Nazis
with the cynical word "Erntefest" which means Harvest Festival
in English. The camp inmates called this day "bloody Wednesday."
This was the largest mass execution carried out at any of the concentration
camps in the history of the Holocaust.
The victims were the last remnants of the Jewish population in the Lublin
According to the camp guidebook, Heinrich
Himmler ordered the liquidation of the Jews in the Lublin district
after the insurrection on October 14, 1943 at Sobibor,
one of the Operation Reinhard
extermination camps on the Polish-Russian border, in which 300 Jews,
led by a Jewish Russian prisoner of war, escaped into the nearby woods.
At this time, the three largest concentrations of Jews in Eastern Poland
were at the camp at Majdanek and at the labor
camp at Poniatowa, the tiny village near Treblinka
where 18,000 people were held, and at the village of Trawniki where
10,000 Jews were imprisoned in a labor camp. According to the guidebook,
"In the autumn of 1943, the Nazi authorities were alarmed by the
uprisings in the Warsaw
and Bialystok ghettos,
by the activity of the resistance movement in the camps and by the rebellions
in the death camps at Sobibor and Treblinka." Their greatest fear
was that the Jewish prisoners at Lublin would start a rebellion that
would result in their escape to the forests where they would join the
Polish partisans who were fighting the Nazi soldiers.
The Nazis also feared that their plans to exterminate the Jews were
being thwarted by the cooperation of the camp resistance
movement at Majdanek with the Polish underground organizations fighting
as partisans outside the camp. The guidebook devotes a whole section
to the activities of the camp resistance movement, which included activists
from the Polish Home Army, and the main political parties: the Polish
Socialist Party, the Peasant Party, the National Party, and the Polish
Worker's Party. According to a book entitled "The forgotten Holocaust:
the Poles under German Occupation," written by Richard Lucas, the
Polish resistance fighters were responsible for 6,930 damaged train
engines, 732 derailed trains, 979 destroyed train cars, 38 bridges blown
up, 68 aircraft destroyed, 15 factories burned down, 4,623 military
vehicles destroyed, 25,125 acts of sabotage and 5,733 attacks on German
Along with the Polish civilian partisans and the Jewish partisans hiding
in the forests, there were also escaped Russian Prisoners of War, who
would sometimes shoot the Jewish partisans. Although Poland was conquered
by the Germans and Russians within a month after the war started, the
war in Poland continued as a civilian war until the Germans finally
surrendered to the Allies in 1945.
In preparation for the mass execution, ditches were dug behind the
spot where the Mausoleum now stands, 50 meters away from the crematorium
building. It took 300 prisoners, working two shifts day and night to
dig three big ditches over 2 meters deep and 100 meters long, running
in a zigzag line. These ditches are still visible, although they look
like they have been filled in somewhat.
Around 100 Nazi SS men
were brought in from Auschwitz
and other locations to do the shooting, according to the guidebook.
Very early on the morning of Nov. 3, after roll call, all the Jews in
Fields III and IV were ordered to form a column and march to the ditches.
The gravely ill Jews from the three typhus barracks in Field III were
dragged out of their bunks and dumped onto trucks for transportation
to the ditches. Loudspeakers mounted on trucks had been placed near
the ditches and by the camp gate near the street to drown out the noise
of the machine guns.
Simultaneously, a column of over 10,000 Jews were marched toward the
gate of Field IV; the first prisoners reached the gate before the end
of the column had left the city of Lublin. These victims were from the
sub-camps of Majdanek and the work gangs employed outside the camp.
The Jewish political prisoners from the Castle in Lublin were also marched
to the camp. Around noon, the SS soldier ordered the Jewish women out
of their barracks in Field I and again the sick were loaded onto trucks,
while those able to walk were marched to the ditches.
Jews marching to their deaeth on "bloody Wednesday," Nov. 3, 1943, at Majdanek.
The shooting started around 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning, and lasted
without a break until 5 p.m, with 100 victims at a time ordered to strip
in a nearby barrack and then lie down in the ditches in groups of 10,
where they were then machine-gunned to death. Each new group had to
lie down on top of the dead; the men were shot separately from the women.
The fence wire was cut between Field V and the ditches, so that a column
of armed policemen could form a passage, along which the victims were
funneled into the ditches.
This operation was, by no means, done in secret. The shooting was done
at the top of the low hill where the Mausoleum now stands and in full
view of nearby residents who lived behind the area. The loud dance music
which went on for almost 12 hours that day ensured that the local residents
knew that something unusual was going on, even if they couldn't see
it. On the same day, there were other mass executions of Jews at the
labor camps near the villages of Poniatowa and Trawniki, both of which
are in the vicinity of the Treblinka extermination camp. In his best-selling
Willing Executioners, Daniel Goldhagen wrote that the number
of Jews executed at Majdanek was 16,500 and there were an additional
14,000 Jews executed at Poniatowa. According to a book entitled "Poland,
the Rough Guide," the liquidation of the Lublin Jews continued
on Nov. 4th and 5th, and a total of 43,000 inhabitants of the Lublin
ghetto were machine-gunned to death at Majdanek. The same book says
that after the city was liberated by the Soviet Union, "Jewish
partisan groups began using Lublin as their operational base."
The bodies of the victims at Majdanek were burned near the ditches
on pyres formed from old truck chassis, and the ashes thrown on the
compost pile behind the clothing warehouse barracks, which now hold
the tourist exhibits. It is these ashes which have now been given a
place of honor in the Mausoleum.
Sources: Places of Interet in Poland