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Polish insurgent patrol toured through Gęsiówka by a freed Jewish prisoner (August 5, 1944). Photo by Eugeniusz Lokajski

The Warsaw concentration camp (German: Konzentrationslager Warschau, short KL Warschau or KZ Warschau) was an associated group of the German Nazi concentration camps, possibly including an extermination camp, located in German-occupied Warsaw, capital city of Poland. The various details regarding the camp are very controversial and remain subject of historical research and public debate.


Pabst Plan

According to the Nazi Pabst Plan, Warsaw was to be turned into a provincial German city. To secure the plan The Nazis' next step in their plan was the removal of the gentile population, who became the target of the round up or in polish łapanka policy, in which the troops of the German army and police would close-off a city street in an attempt to capture large numbers of civilians randomly. Between 1942 and 1944, there were about 400 victims of round ups (łapanka) in Warsaw daily. The individuals caught were first being transferred to the KZ Warschau complex; from there, many were transported to other concentation and forced labor camps located in Poland or the Reich.

Establishment date controversy

The earliest official mention of the Warsaw concentration camp (KZ Warschau) is from June 19, 1943, which referred to the concentration camp in the ruins of the former Warsaw Ghetto. However, the term KZ Warschau was also used to describe similar camps that were discovered at an earlier date. Nevertheless, it is estimated that the camp was in operation from the autumn of 1942 until the Warsaw Uprising. The first commandant of the camp was SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Goecke, the former commandant of Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. In addition to its genocidal purposes, the camp was designed to provide the Nazis with a work force to clean up the leveled ruins of the former Warsaw Ghetto and ultimately turn this area into a future recreational park for the SS.

The exact date of the camp's creation is unknown. Some historians (IPN among them) have suggested that it was created following the orders of SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl on June 11, 1943. However, others have (among them historian and IPN judge Maria Trzcińska) claimed that the camp was already operational prior to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The factual basis for this aforementioned claim is that on October 9, 1942, the SS head Heinrich Himmler issued an order in which he stated, regarding the prisoners of the Warsaw Ghetto: "I've issued orders and requested that all the so-called arms factories workers working only as tailors, furriers or bootmakers be grouped in the nearest concentration camps, that is in Warsaw and in Lublin."


Gęsia 26 Street crematorium after the liberation

In atlas „Atlas zur deutschen Zeitgeschichte 1918-1968” published in 1986 in Deutchland KL Warschau is signed as Hauptlager and has the same status like KL Dachau.[1] The camp was composed of six parts located in different areas of Warsaw, all of which were connected by railway and were under unified organization and one command. In chronological order of opening, those were:

  1. Konzentrationslager (concentration camp) at Koło area (formerly a Kreigsgefangenenlager POW camp for the Polish Army soldiers captured in 1939);
  2. Vernichtungslager (extermination camp) near the Warszawa Zachodnia train station (this part remains controversional);
  3. Gęsia Street (now: Anielewicza Street) concentration camp (formerly Arbeitserziehungslager, or "re-educational labour camp") in the former Ghetto (known as Gęsiówka);
  4. a camp for foreign Jews located on Nowolipie Street;
  5. Bonifraterska Street camp near Muranowski Square in the former Ghetto;
  6. the former Gestapo prison on Pawia Street (known as Pawiak).

The overall area of the camp was 1.2 km², with 119 barracks purposely built to hold approximately 40,000 prisoners. The camp infrastructure included five crematoriums (including one electrical). Its guards included (besides Germans and Volksdeutsche) also ethnic Ukrainians and Latvians.

Death in KL Warschau

The IPN or short for Polish Institute of National Remembrance estimates that the number of victims who were exterminated those camps to be "not less than tens of thousands". However, it refrains from making a more precise estimate due to scant evidence. Some estimates place the number of the camp's victims well above 212,000 (mostly gentile Poles). Others estimate the amount of deaths at 20,000 to 35,000 (not including some 37,000 executed at Pawiak), with a proportionally larger percentage of the Polish and other European including Jews among the dead. Other, smaller groups of victims included Greeks, Romani people, Belarusians and officers of the Italian Army.

According to IPN, most murdered victims at the camp were executed by gunfire, mostly using machine guns, both in the camps and in an adjoining "security zone". Some of the hostages and prisoners were also publicly executed in the streets of Warsaw by the means of firing squad shooting, frequently hung. Numerous other victims were also gassed in the gas chambers at Gęsia Street, where a considerable quantity of Zyklon B was found after the war (the first gassing there happened on October 17, 1943, killing at least 150 Poles from a łapanka and about 20 Jews from Belgium). A relatively small number of victims were sadistically murdered by drunken guards in the "games" at so-called "amphitheatre" at Gęsiówka, or hanged at the so-called "death wall" (ściana śmierci) at Koło.

There was also a mysterious T-shaped building at the forest at Koło where the truckloads of prisoners occasionally were shipped and prisoners perished, were never seen again, their abouts were never found, they never returned. Besides executions, the majority of deaths resulted also from physical exhaustion and epidemics of typhus. The dead bodies were either cremated in crematoriums or open-air pyres, including on the former stadium, some were buried under collapsing blown-up buildings of the former ghetto. A group of SS men wearing white coats would also patrol posing as medical workers in order to find and shot the still surviving Jews, hiding in the ruins after the ghetto uprising.

Bema Street tunnel controversy

Bema Street tunnel entry with a ventilator graffiti

A remaining controversy surrounds the existence of an enormous gas chamber in the pre-existing road traffic tunnel on Józef Bem Street near Warszawa Zachodnia train station. The tunnel was 630 square meters, large enough to kill up to 1,000 people at a time - other known Nazi gas chambers were typically smaller and lower, while the use of a large tunnel as a gas chamber could be highly irregular and inefficient (according to the propagators of the gassing theory, the traffic tunnel could be used to kill multiple truckloads of prisoners). It is unknown which kind of poisonous gas was used in this case Zyklon B or carbon monoxide. The Bema Street tunnel was restored to street traffic after the war. The alleged gas exhauster's machinery and massive ventilators, believed to be used to remove the gas into the atmosphere prior to removal of bodies in the gas chambers, were removed and unfortunately destroyed during renovation works in 1996 and early 2000s.

The hotly discussed controversy was secretly, not publicly debated while almost completely unknown during the era of the communist Polish People's Republic. It is alleged that the reason behind this secrecy could be to inflate the casualty figures of Warsaw Uprising through adding the victims of the camp to the death toll of the uprising. In recent years, the part of the tunnel was turned into an unofficial mausoleum-like site by citizens of Warsaw and in 2001 the Polish parliament Sejm appealed for construction of an official memorial at the tunnel. In 2006, Sejm once more recommended to initiate the new investigation of the tunnel's past faith by new team of IPN this time from the city of Łódź. Beginning 2007 the investigation is once more conducted by the IPN's Warsaw team.

Liquidation and liberation

Szare Szeregi Polish resistance fighters with the liberated prisoners in Gęsiówka

On July 20, 1943 SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Koppe ordered the complex to be liquidated and dismantled. The majority of prisoners were either executed or were transferred to other concentration camps, such as Dachau, Gross-Rosen and Ravensbrück. Between July 28 and July 31, four major railway transports left Warsaw, containing some 12,300 prisoners. A small group of several hundred inmates, mostly Jews from European countries, were left in Pawiak and Gęsiówka to dig up and burn bodies. The camp's documentation was burnt, and the railway tunnel and the prison were mined for demolition.

On August 5, 1944, during the first days of Warsaw Uprising, an assault group of Armia Krajowa (AK) stormed the Gęsiówka sub-camp using a captured German tank and set free the remaining 360 men and women. However, on August 21, after a failed insurgent attack on Pawiak, all but seven of its remaining inmates of Pawiak were executed and the prison w blown up by the Germans.

Communist prison camp

After the Soviet takeover of Warsaw in January 1945, the camp continued to operate as a prison camp where political prisoners were held as the "enemies of the people's power" under the Soviet NKVD and then Polish MBP until 1954 (the last prisoners left in 1956). It was the second biggest prison after the Mokotów Prison.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Werner Hilgemann. Atlas zur deutschen Zeitgeschichte 1918-1968. Zurich 1986
  2. ^ (Polish) IPN wydał książkę o obozie KL Warschau


  1. Andreas Mix: Warschau-Stammlager. In: Wolfgang Benz, Barbara Distel: Der Ort des Terrors. München 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-57237-1, Band 8, S. 93
  2. Norman Davies "Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory". Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-69285-3
  3. (Polish) Maria Trzcińska, Obóz zagłady w centrum Warszawy, Polskie Wydawnictwo Encyklopedyczne, Radom 2002, ISBN 83-88822-16-0
  4. (Polish) Bogusław Kopka, "Konzentrationslager Warschau Historia i następstwa", Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, Warszawa 2007, ISBN 83-60464-464
  5. (Polish) Informacja o ustaleniach dotyczących Konzentrationslager Warschau - Institute of National Remembrance, June 2002
  6. (Polish) Informacja o śledztwie w sprawie KL Warschau - Institute of National Remembrance, May 2003
  7. (Polish) Śmierć w Warschau, "Polityka", 12 XI 2007

External links

Coordinates: 52°14′35″N 20°59′35″E / 52.242925°N 20.9930305556°E / 52.242925; 20.9930305556

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