Nazi concentration, labour and extermination camps in occupied Poland (marked with black and white skulls)
|Known for||Genocide during the Holocaust|
|Location||Near Lublin, General Government (German-occupied Poland)|
|Original use||Forced labor|
|Operational||October 1, 1941 — July 22, 1944|
|Liberated by||Soviet Union, July 22, 1944|
Majdanek was a German Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland, established during the German Nazi occupation of Poland. Although initially established for forced labor and not for extermination, the camp was used to kill people on an industrial scale during Operation Reinhard: the German Nazi plan to murder all Jews within the General Government in Poland. More than 79,000 people were killed at Majdanek (59,000 of them Polish Jews) during the 34 months of its operation. The camp, which operated from October 1, 1941 until July 22, 1944, was captured nearly intact, because the advance of the Soviet Red Army was so rapid it prevented the Nazis from destroying most of its infrastructure before liberation, but also, due to ineptitude of Obersturmführer Anton Thernes who failed his task of destroying key evidence. Majdanek, also known as KL Lublin, remains the best preserved Nazi concentration camp of the Holocaust.
Unlike other similar camps in Poland, Majdanek was not located in a remote rural location away from population centres, but next to a major city. This proximity led the camp to be named 'Majdanek' ("little Majdan") by local people in 1941 because it was adjacent to the city's district of Majdan Tatarski ("Tatar Maidan") in Lublin. The Nazi documents initially called the site "Prisoner of War Camp of the Waffen-SS in Lublin" because of the way it was operated and funded. It was renamed by RSHA in Berlin on April 9, 1943 as "Konzentrationslager Lublin" (English: Concentration Camp Lublin); however, the local name is how it is remembered.
"Konzentrationslager Lublin" (Concentration Camp Lublin), the official name of the Majdanek concentration camp, was established in October 1941, on Heinrich Himmler's orders to Odilo Globocnik, following the SS commander's visit to Lublin on 17 and 20 July 1941. Himmler's initial order was for a camp to hold "25,000 to 50,000" prisoners.
Following the large numbers of Soviet prisoners of war captured during the Battle of Kiev, the number was subsequently raised to 50,000 and construction for that many began on October 1, 1941 (as it did also in Auschwitz-Birkenau, which had received the same order). In early November, the plans were then extended to 125,000, and in December to 150,000, and in March 1942 to 250,000 Soviet prisoners of war.
Construction began with 150 Jewish laborers from Globocnik's Lublin camp, whence the laborers returned each night. Later the workforce included 2,000 Red Army POWs, who had to survive extreme conditions, including sleeping out in the open. By mid-November only 500 of them were still alive, of which at least 30% were incapable of further labor. In mid-December, barracks for 20,000 only were ready when a typhus epidemic broke out, and by January 1942 all the forced laborers—POWs as well as Jews—were dead. All work ceased until March 1942, when new prisoners arrived. Although the camp did eventually have the capacity to hold approximately 50,000 prisoners, it did not grow significantly beyond that size.
In operation 
In July 1942, Himmler visited Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, that is, the three camps built specifically for Operation Reinhard – the plan to eliminate Polish Jewry (cf. "Solution of the Jewish Question") in the five districts of occupied Poland that constituted the Nazi Generalgouvernement. Those camps had begun operations in respectively March, May and July of that year. Subsequently, Himmler issued an order that the deportation of Jews to the camps be completed by the end of 1942.
However, due to the need for Jewish manpower for the war effort, some laborers were temporarily spared, and were (for a time) either kept in the ghettos, such as the one in Warsaw (which became a concentration camp after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising), or sent to labor camps such as Majdanek where they worked primarily at the Steyr-Daimler-Puch weapons/munitions factory.
By mid-October 1942 the camp held 9,519 registered prisoners, of which 7,468 (or 78.45%) were Jews, and another 1,884 (19.79%) were non-Jewish Poles. By August 1943, there were 16,206 prisoners in the main camp, of which 9,105 (56.18%) were Jews and 3,893 (24.02%) were non-Jewish Poles. Minority contingents included Belarusians, Ukrainians, Russians, Germans, Austrians, Slovenes, Italians, and French and Dutch nationals. According to the data from the official Majdanek State Museum, 300,000 persons were inmates of the camp at one time or another. The prisoner population at any given time was much lower.
From October 1942 onwards, Majdanek also had female overseers. These SS guards, who had been trained at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, included the war criminals Elsa Erich, Hermine Braunsteiner, Hildegard Lächert, Rosy Suess (Süss) and Gertrud Heise (1942–1944).
Within the general framework of Operation Reinhard, Majdanek functioned as a sorting and storage depot for property and valuables taken from the victims at the killing centers in Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. However, Majdanek occasionally functioned as a killing center. Of the more than 2,000,000 Jews killed in the course of Operation Reinhard, 59,000 (of 78,000 altogether) were killed in Majdanek. According to the Majdanek museum, the gas chambers began operation in September 1942. and when killings were carried out, the methods used were either using Zyklon B or with the fumes from the captured Soviet tank engines.
Majdanek did not initially have subcamps. These were incorporated in early autumn 1943 when the remaining forced labor camps around Lublin including Budzyn, Trawniki, Poniatowa, Krasnik, Pulawy, as well as the "Airstrip", and Lipowa concentration camps became sub-camps of Majdanek.
From 1 September 1941 to 28 May 1942, Alfons Bentele headed the Administration in the camp of Majdanek. Alois Kurz , SS Untersturmführer, was a crew member of the German concentration camp Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Mittelbau-Dora who was not charged. On 18 June 1943 Fritz Ritterbusch moved to KL Lublin to become aide-de-camp to the Commandant.
Due to the camp's proximity to Lublin, prisoners were able to communicate with the outside world through letters smuggled out by civilian workers who entered the camp. Many of these surviving letters have been donated by their recipients to the camp museum. In 2008 the museum held a special exhibition displaying a selection of those letters.
From February 1943 onwards the Germans allowed the Polish Red Cross and Central Welfare Council to bring in food for the prisoners to the camp. Prisoners could also receive food packages via the Polish Red Cross addressed to them by name. The Majdanek Museum archives document 10,300 prisoners that received such packages.
Nevertheless Operation Reinhard continued until early November 1943, when the last Generalgouvernement Jews were exterminated as part of Operation "Harvest festival". With respect to Majdanek, the most notorious of this wave of executions occurred on November 3, 1943 when 18,400 Jews were killed on a single day. On November 4, 25 Jews who had succeeded in hiding during the killings of the day before were found and executed. Another 611 prisoners, 311 women and 300 men, were commanded to sort through the clothes and remains of the dead. The men were at first commanded to bury the dead, but were later assigned to Sonderkommando 1005, where they had to exhume the same bodies for cremation. The men were then themselves executed. The 311 women were subsequently sent to Auschwitz where they were gassed. By the end of Operation "Harvest Festival," Majdanek had only 71 Jews left (out of a total of 6,562 prisoners).
Executions of the remaining prisoners continued at Majdanek in the following months. Between December 1943 and March 1944, Majdanek received approximately 18,000 so-called "invalids," many of whom where subsequently gassed with Zyklon B. Executions by firing squad continued as well, with 600 shot on January 21, 1944, 180 shot on January 23, 1944, and 200 shot on March 24, 1944.
Adjutant Karl Hoecker's trial reveals his culpability in mass murders committed at this camp. "On 3 May 1989 a district court in the Germany city of Bielefeld sentenced Höcker to four years imprisonment for his involvement in gassing to death prisoners, primarily Polish Jews, in the concentration camp Majdanek in Poland. Camp records showed that between May 1943 and May 1944 Höcker had acquired at least 3,610 kilograms of Zyklon B poisonous gas for use in Majdanek from the Hamburg firm of Tesch & Stabenow." In addition, Commandant Rudolf Hoess of Auschwitz wrote in his memoirs, penned while awaiting trial in Poland, that one method of murder used at Majdanek (KZ Lublin) was Zyklon-B.
In late July 1944, with Soviet forces rapidly approached Lublin, the Germans hastily evacuated the camp. However, the staff had only succeeded in partially destroying the crematoria before Soviet Red Army troops arrived on July 24, 1944, making Majdanek the best-preserved camp of the Holocaust. It was the first major concentration camp liberated by Allied forces, and the horrors found there were widely publicised.
Although 1,000 inmates had previously been forcibly marched to Auschwitz (of whom only half arrived alive), the Red Army still found thousands of inmates, mainly POWs, still in the camp and ample evidence of the mass murder that had occurred there.
Camp commanders 
- SS-Standartenführer - Karl Otto Koch (September 1941 to July 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer - Max Kögel (August 1942 to October 1942)
- SS-Obersturmführer - Hermann Florstedt (October 1942 to November 3, 1943)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer - Martin Gottfried Weiss (November 4, 1943 to May 18, 1944)
- SS-Obersturmbannführer - Arthur Liebehenschel (May 19, 1944 to July 22, 1944)
- The second in command was SS Obersturmführer Anton (Anthony) Thernes
After the liberation, in August 1944 the Soviets protected the camp area and convened a special Polish-Soviet commission, to investigate and document the crimes against humanity committed at Majdanek. This effort constitutes one of the first attempts to document the Nazi war crimes in Eastern Europe. In 1947 the actual camp became the monument of martyrology by the decree of Polish Parliament. In the same year, some 1,300 m³ of surface soil mixed with human ashes and fragments of bones was collected and turned into a large mound. Majdanek received the status of the national museum in 1965.
Some Nazi personnel of the camp were prosecuted immediately after the war, and some in the decades afterward. In November and December 1944, four SS Men and two kapos were placed on trial; one committed suicide and the rest were hanged on December 3, 1944. The last major, widely publicized prosecution of 16 SS members from Majdanek (Majdanek-Prozess in German) took place from 1975 to 1981 in West Germany. However, of the 1,037 SS members who worked at Majdanek and are known by name, only 170 were prosecuted. This was due to a rule applied by the West German justice system that only those directly involved in the murder process could be charged.
In July 1969, on the 25th anniversary of its liberation, a large monument designed by Wiktor Tołkin (a.k.a. Victor Tolkin) was constructed at the site. It consists of two parts: a large gate monument at the camp's entrance and a large mausoleum holding ashes of the victims at its opposite end.
In October 2005, in cooperation with the Majdanek museum, four Majdanek survivors returned to the site and enabled archaeologists to find some 50 objects which had been buried by inmates, including watches, earrings, and wedding rings. According to the documentary film Buried Prayers, this was the largest reported recovery of valuables in a death camp to date. Interviews between government historians and Jewish survivors were not frequent before 2005.
In December 2005, construction work started on a large trade and entertainment complex near Lipowa (named Lindenstraße during the occupation) and Sklodowskiej streets in Lublin, where a Majdanek sub-camp existed between 1940 and 1944. The main investor in the complex is the Plaza Centers Group, which (according to its website) is a member of the Europe Israel Group controlled by founder Mordechay Zisser.
The camp today occupies about half of its original 2.7 km2 (ca. 670 acres), and—but for the former buildings—is mostly bare. A fire in August 2010 destroyed one of the wooden buildings that was being used as a museum to house seven thousand pairs of prisoners' shoes. The city of Lublin has tripled in size since the end of World War II, and even the main camp is today within the boundaries of the city of Lublin. It is clearly visible to many inhabitants of the city's high-rises, a fact that many visitors remark upon. The gardens of houses and flats border on and overlook the camp.
Death toll 
The Soviets initially overestimated the number of deaths, claiming in July 1944 that there were no fewer than 400,000 Jewish victims, and the official Soviet count was of 1.5 million victims of different nationalities, Independent Canadian journalist Raymond Arthur Davies, who was based in Moscow and on the payroll of the Canadian Jewish Congress, visited Majdanek on August 28, 1944. The following day he sent a telegram to Saul Hayes, the executive director of the Canadian Jewish Congress. It states: "I do wish [to] stress that Majdanek where one million Jews and half a million others [were] killed" and "You can tell America that at least three million [Polish] Jews [were] killed of whom at least a third were killed in Majdanek" though this estimate was never taken seriously by scholars.
In 1961, Raul Hilberg estimated the number of the Jewish victims at 50,000, though at the time other sources, including the camp museum, officially estimated 100,000 Jewish victims and up to 200,000 non-Jews killed.
In 1992, Czesław Rajca published a lower estimate of 235,000; it was displayed at the camp museum.
The differences in estimates stem from different methods used for estimating and the amounts of evidence available to the researchers. The Soviet figures relied on the most crude methodology, also used to make early Auschwitz estimates—it was assumed that the number of victims more or less corresponded to the crematoria capacities. Later researchers tried to take much more evidence into account, using records of deportations and population censuses, as well as the Nazis' own records. Hilberg's 1961 estimate, using these records, aligns closely with Kranz's report.
The well-preserved original ovens in the second Crematorium at Majdanek were built in 1943 by Heinrich Kori. They replaced the ovens brought to Majdanek from Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1942.
Notable inmates 
- Halina Birenbaum - writer, poet and translator
- Marian Filar - pianist
- Otto Freundlich - one of the artists included in the Nazis' 1937 "Degenerate Art" exhibition
- Israel Gutman - historian
- Henio Zytomirski - child becoming an icon of the Holocaust in Poland.
- Dmitry Karbyshev - Soviet general, Hero of the Soviet Union
- Omelyan Kovch - Ukrainian priest
- Igor Newerly - writer
- Vladek Spiegelman, whose story is the basis for Art Spiegelman's Maus.
- Dionys Lenard - escaped 1942 warning the Slovakian Jewish community
- Rudolf Vrba - transferred to Auschwitz, from which he escaped, and about which he co-authored the Vrba-Wetzler report, one of the first inside reports of the camp, and published during wartime.
- Mietek Grocher - Survived nine different camps. Now a lecturer residing in Västerås, Sweden. Author of Jag överlevde (eng. I Survived).
- Maryla Husyt Finkelstein - Late mother of the author and Middle East critic Dr Norman Finkelstein.
See also 
- List of Nazi concentration camps
- Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics
- Research Materials: Max Planck Society Archive
- Shark Island Extermination Camp
- Reszka, Paweł (2005-12-23). "Majdanek Victims Enumerated. Changes in the history textbooks?". Gazeta Wyborcza. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Retrieved 2010-04-13.
- Rosenberg, Jennifer (2008), "Majdanek: An Overview", 20th Century History, about.com.
- "Założenia i budowa (Purpose and construction, selection of photographs)". Majdanek concentration camp. KL Lublin. Retrieved 2013-04-18. "Concentration camp name change 9.04.1943."
- Staff Writer (2006), "Lublin/Majdanek Concentration Camp: Overview", United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, ushmm.org.
- "KZ Aufseherinnen". Majdanek Liste. Axis History ‹ Women in the Reich. 3 Apr 2005. Retrieved April 1, 2013. "Source: Frauen in der SS See: index or articles ("Personenregister"). Oldenburger OnlineZeitschriftenBibliothek."
- Aktion Reinhard (PDF), Shoah Resource Center, The International School for Holocaust Studies, yadvashem.org, 2004, p. 2.
- Kranz, Tomasz (2005), Ewidencja zgonow i smiertelnosc wiezniow KL Lublin 23, Lublin: Zeszyty Majdanka, pp. 7–53.
- "Timeline of the most important events / 1942", State Museum at Majdanek
- Jamie McCarthy (September 15, 1999). "Pat Buchanan and the Holocaust". The Holocaust History Project. Retrieved 2013-05-05. "The victims at the Reinhard camps were suffocated to death, not killed with carbon monoxide, because, although an intentionally-mistuned diesel produces enough carbon monoxide to kill you, the lack of oxygen will kill you first."
- Biogram Fritza Ritterbuscha na www.MAJDANEK.com.pl
- Czerwinska, Ewa (August 19, 2008), "Listy z piekła", Kurier Lubelski.
- Lawrence, Geoffrey; et al., eds. (1946), "Session 62: February 19, 1946", The Trial of German Major War Criminals: Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany 7, London: HM Stationery Office, p. 111.
- Rudolf Hoess, Death Dealer
- Staff Writer (August 21, 1944), "Vernichtungslager", Time magazine (August 21, 1944), retrieved May 12, 2010.
- Witos, A., et al., eds. (1944), Commique of the Polish-Soviet Extraordinary Commission for Investigating the Crimes Committed by the Germans in the Majdanek Extermination Camp in Lublin, Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.
- "Kalendarium". Powstanie Państwowego Muzeum (Creation of the Museum). Państwowe Muzeum na Majdanku. Retrieved 2013-04-09.
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington.
- Staff Writer (November 15, 2005), "Survivors find hidden treasures", News 24, news24.com.
- Roberts, Sam (November 4, 2005), "Treasures Emerge From Field of the Dead at Maidanek", New York Times.
- "Brand in voormalig Pools concentratiekamp". Radio Netherlands Worldwide. 11 August 2010.
- Nuremberg Trial. 19 Feb 1946. Evidence submitted by Polish-Soviet Extraordinary Commission's report on Maidanek. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/02-19-46.asp
- Bialystok, Franklin (2002). Delayed Impact: the Holocaust and the Canadian Jewish Community. McGill-Queens. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-7735-2065-3.
- Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives - Collection Guide: http://www.cjccc.ca/national_archives/archives/arcguideD.htm
- "Crematorium at Majdanek". Jewish Virtual Library. 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-15.
- Private Tolkatchev at the Gates of Hell - Majdanek and Auschwitz Liberated: Testimony of An Artist an online exhibition by Yad Vashem
- State Museum at Majdanek - official website
- Pictures of Majdanek (www.druhasvetovavalka.cz)
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