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The Warsaw concentration camp ( , short KZ Warschau) was an associated group of the German Nazi concentration camps, including possibly a dedicated extermination camp, located in German-occupied Warsawmarker, capital city of Polandmarker. The various details regarding the camps are very controversial.

Pabst Plan

According to the Nazi Pabst Plan, Warsaw was to be turned into a provincial German city. To ensure this modification, the population of the city was to be reduced from over a million to less than 500,000 inhabitants. To accomplish this goal, the Jewish population was grouped together in the Warsaw Ghetto before being eventually removed and mostly exterminated (in the course of the larger Operation Reinhard, in which about 2 million Polish Jews perished). The Nazis' next step in their plan was the removal of the gentile population, who became the target of the łapanka policy in which the troops of the German army and police would close-off a city street and round up civilians randomly. Between 1942 and 1944, there were approximately 400 victims of łapanka in Warsaw daily. The individuals caught were first transferred to the KZ Warschau complex; from there, many were transported to other concentration and labor camps in Poland and the Reich.

Establishment date controversy

The earliest official mention of the 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 KZ Warschau was in operation from the autumn of 1942 until the Warsaw Uprising. The first commandant of the camp was SSmarker-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Goecke, the former commandant of Mauthausen-Gusen concentration campmarker. In addition to genocidal purposes, the camp was designed to provide the Nazi Party with a work force to clean up the leveled ruins of the former Warsaw Ghetto into a future recreational park area 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, 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 Lublinmarker."


Gęsia 26 Street crematorium after the liberation, 5 August 1944

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 Dachaumarker. 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:

  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 Gestapomarker prison on Pawia Street (known as Pawiakmarker).

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 Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) estimates that the number of victims who died at these 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 as high as 200,000 (mostly gentile Poles). Others estimate the amount of deaths at 20,000 to 35,000 (not including some 37,000 executed at Pawiakmarker), with a proportionally larger percentage of the Polish and other European Jews among the dead. Other, smaller groups of victims included Greeks, Romani people, Belarusians and officers of the Italian Army.

According to IPN, most victims of the killings in 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 and sometimes hanging. 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 150 Poles from łapanka roundups and 20 Jews from Belgiummarker). A relatively small number of victims were sadistically murdered by drunken guards during the "games" at so-called "amphitheatre" at Gęsiówka or hanged at the so-called "death wall" at Koło.

There was also a mysterious T-shaped building in the forest at Koło where the truckloads of prisoners were sometimes shipped but never returned. Besides mass shootings and other killings, the majority of other deaths resulted from physical exhaustion and epidemics of typhus. The dead bodies were either burned in crematoriums and open-air pyres, including on the former stadium, or were buried under 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 kill the Jews still hiding in the ruins following the ghetto uprising).

Bema Street tunnel controversy

Bema Street tunnel entry with a ventilator graffiti

A remaining controversy centers around 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, and 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 if Zyklon B or carbon monoxide was used in this case. The Bema Street tunnel was restored to street traffic after the war. The alleged gassing pump machinery and massive ventilators, allegedly used to remove the gas into the atmosphere prior to removal of bodies in the gas chambers, were removed and destroyed during renovation works in 1996 and early 2000s.

The hotly discussed controversy was not publicly debated and almost completely unknown during the era of the communist rule in Poland. One of the possible reasons behind this secrecy was to inflate the numbers of the perceived casualty figures for the tragic Warsaw Uprising against the Germans in 1944, which was initiated by the non-communist forces. In the recent years, the part of the tunnel was turned into an unofficial mausoleum by citizens of Warsaw and in 2001 the Polish parliament Sejm appealed for construction of an official memorial at the tunnel. In 2002 Sejm rejected the inconclusive findings of the Warsaw's IPN regarding the tunnel and the new investigation by another IPN unit began in 2006 in Łódźmarker (since 2007 it is conducted again in Warsaw).

Liquidation and liberation

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 Dachaumarker, Gross-Rosenmarker and Ravensbrückmarker. 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. On August 21, after the failure of an insurgent attack on Pawiak, all but seven of its remaining inmates of the prison were executed and the prison was 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 for the former AK fighters and other "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 Prisonmarker.

See also



  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. Maria Trzcińska, Obóz zagłady w centrum Warszawy, Polskie Wydawnictwo Encyklopedyczne, Radom 2002, ISBN 83-88822-16-0
  4. Bogusław Kopka, "Konzentrationslager Warschau Historia i następstwa", Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, Warszawa 2007, ISBN 83-60464-464
  5. Informacja o ustaleniach dotyczących Konzentrationslager Warschau - Institute of National Remembrance, June 2002
  6. Informacja o śledztwie w sprawie KL Warschau - Institute of National Remembrance, May 2003
  7. [83102] - Jerzy Kochanowski, Śmierć w Warschau, "Polityka", 12 XI 2007

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