The camp was founded in the second half of
1941 on orders from Heinrich Himmler. It was to be an enormous camp,
covering 516 hectares and having a total of 250,000 prisoners. In the
end, however, the camp only represented twenty percent of those original
plans. It was nevertheless a large camp, with 144 barracks for
prisoners, workshops, warehouses, quarters for the SS-men, the
commandant's office, soldiers' barracks and gas chambers. Only some of
these buildings survive today. Considering the threat of revisionism
today, it is important that both the original gas chambers and
crematoria still survive at Majdanek.
The camp's commandants were Karl Otto Koch, Max Koegel, Hermann
Florstedt, Martin Weiss and Arthur Liebehenschel. The first prisoners to
arrive were Soviet prisoners-of-war in late 1941. Although
prisoner-of-war transports continued to be sent there, the Jewish
population from the Lublin region also began arriving in late 1941 and
early 1942. The third large group of prisoners-peculiar to Majdanek-were
the peasant victims of rural pacifications and deportations that were
designed to aid the German colonization of the Zamosc region.
Beginning in the spring of 1943, Belarusian peasants, especially
women and children, were also sent to Majdanek for their "partisan
activities". That same year, transports of political prisoners, for the
most part Poles, were also sent there from the overflowing Gestapo
prisons. The last were the death transports of political prisoners from
the prison at the Lublin Castle.
The numbers are only estimates. In all, Majdanek had about 300,000
prisoners of over fifty different nationalities. Among these, 41% were
Jews and 35% were Poles. Of all the camps, Majdanek had the highest
percentage of children and young people. Children up to fifteen years of
age comprised 6% of the camp's populations, and more than 1% were
infants. Over 230,000 people died at Majdanek. Among the victims, 48%
were Jews, 31% Poles, and 16% were citizens of the Soviet Union. Over
half died as the result of the bad conditions, disease and exhaustion.
The rest died as the result of executions and in the gas chambers.
Forty-five thousand were sent to other camps, twenty-thousand were
freed, five hundred escaped and 1,500 survived until the liberation.
Majdanek did not have its own railway ramp at the camp. The
prisoners walked from the ramp at the Lublin-Chelm rail line. After
entering the camp, the prisoners' belongings were confiscated. The
prisoners' hair was cut off and they were bathed and disinfected with
lysol. After registration, dressing in prison stripes, and being marked
with their category (Jews, politicals, criminals, asocials, Jehovah's
Witnesses, homosexuals) were allowed to enter the camp.
The camp conditions were very bad and the mortality rate among the
prisoners at Majdanek was high, even compared to other German camps. The
numerous commandos worked constructing and running the camp. Slave
labor was used at German companies outside the camp.
The genocide began with large-scale executions. The first victims
were Soviet prisoners-of-war and peasants from the Lublin region. On
November 3, 1943, the largest execution took place: accompanied by
music, the Germans shot over 18,000 Jews. From mid-1942, the gas
chambers began functioning, using carbon monoxide and Zyklon B.
It was primarily Jews who were killed in the gas chambers,
immediately after they arrived. At first, the bodies were buried;
beginning in mid-1942, however, they began to be burned in heaps and in
An underground Home Army organization
within the camp, numbering several hundred people, managed to transmit
information about conditions in the camp to the outside world-and to the
Polish resistance in particular. The first reports from the camp
arrived as early as 1952. In 1943, regular reports were being
transmitted every month. The Polish underground gave this information to
The Column of Three Eagles, carved by prisoners. In the distance, the postwar buildings of postwar Lublin are visible:
When the Red Army was drawing near in March and April 1944, fifteen
thousand prisoners were sent westward to other camps. On July 24, 1944,
Lublin was taken by the Red Army. Immediately after liberation, the Red
Army organized a camp at Majdanek for German prisoners-of-war who had
been sent deep into the heart of Russia.
Polish democratic elites were imprisoned by the NKVD (precursor of the KGB) in one section of the camp.
The State Museum at Majdanek was founded very early-in the autumn of
1944. In 1969, two enormous memorials were erected, the Monument to
Struggle and Martyrdom and the Mausoleum. The first is an enormous gate
above which irregular stone blocks hang, representing the burden of the
camp's tragedy bearing down on those who enter it. The Mausoleum is a
rotunda with a raised cupola containing the ashes of those who were
Majdanek, which during the war was located on the outskirts of
Lublin, today lies within the city limits, making transportation simple.
Lublin has good rail connections with Warsaw (the travel time is about
2.5 hours) and other cities.
Lublin has numerous hotels and youth hostels. It is worth visiting
an exhibition at the theater at the Brama Grodzka, which shows prewar
Lublin and the now non-existent Jewish quarter around the Lublin castle.
The Museum is open daily from 8am to 3pm from October to April, and
8am to 6pm from May to September. There is no admission fee, though
visitors must pay for parking. Guides may be hired in Polish, English,
German and Russian for two-hour tours. Visitors may also view
documentary films for an extra fee. Numerous publications are available
for sale near the entrance, along with other items.
Lublin no longer has an autonomous Jewish Community, but it does
have a branch of the Warsaw Jewish Community. Numerous prewar shtetlech
are scattered throughout the Lublin region. (pc)