In what is left as a witness of the Majdanek extermination German-Nazi camp, located in east Poland and adjacent to the Polish city Lublin, where I visited last week, you witness the true meaning of the Holocaust. There, in Majdanek, the term anti-Semitism, today so often applied wrongly or deliberately ignored, can be well understood.
For those who have not made the trip to visit the remains of one of the German extermination camp sites in Europe, join me here on my visit that describes my stroll and what I saw in Majdanek.
The gigantic monument one sees upon arrival at the site, erected in 1969 and designed by Victor Tolkin, a survivor of the camp, stands where the entrance to camp once was. It is the place where the transports of thousands of people arrived. Seeing that monument immediately transforms your mood. From there on, a walk in the boundaries of the camp, large fields of grass, is eerie.
Holocaust means the systematic mass slaughter of European Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
The Nazis’ plan was to Germanize Poland and the starting point was Lublin, making Lublin an example of a German city in Poland. They moved Polish people out of their homes and gave their homes to arriving German folks. Polish people were picked up in the street to be used as forced labor force while Polish Jews were transported to their death.
The camp was initially called the Concentration Camp at Lublin (Konzentrationslager Lublin); then the name was changed to Prisoner of War Camp at Lublin (Kriegsgefangenenlager der Waffen-SS Lublin), but in February 1943, the name reverted back to Concentration Camp.
The first prisoners at Majdanek were Russian prisoners of war, transferred to the camp from a barbed wire enclosure at Chelm, but the camp soon became a detention center for Jews. After on January 20, 1942, the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” received the green light at the Wannsee Conference, mass transport of Jews began arriving at the Majdanek camp.
The headquarters for Operation Reinhard, which was set up after the Final Solution decision at the Wannsee Conference, was in Lublin, near the Majdanek camp. It was a camp system made of Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec camps.
The field one sees today is the size of 90 soccer fields but it was three times larger during its Nazi operation. After the war, Lublin city expanded and buildings were built on land on which camp barracks once stood.
At the entrance to the camp the ‘economic’ section barracks still stand. There the Nazis established workshops in which prisoners with suitable vocations worked as slaves to the benefit of the Nazi war machine and their sick mind operation, to the point of even assigning artists to decorate the deadly camp. In Majdanek Camp III a three bird statue stands, built in 1943 by a camp prisoner whom the Nazis commissioned for the job. The statue, made of prisoners’ ash, in fact is the first Holocaust memorial.
Noted, the artist had the bird’s head facing east, a message to the prisoners that the Russian army is getting closer and hope could be expected to come to them from the east. The Nazis, immersed in their hate for humanity and ego, did not get the message.
The camp consisted of five fields or ‘feld,’ as the remaining signs indicate. Out of five, Feld III is on display, a testimony to what went on in Majdanek. The entire camp could house up to 150,000 prisoners whom the Nazis would use as slave laborers. There were 120 barracks, making Majdanek larger than the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.
At Majdanek camp, the guards were Ukrainians and living conditions were extremely poor and totally inhuman. There were no regulations and at that time, the Nazis did not know what to do with the arriving people and many simply died in the horrific living conditions in the camp.
Almost at the beginning of the walk through the camp you walk into an empty filed which was once the “selektzia” – selection field, the Nazis named it ‘rose garden,’ because it was fenced by barbed wire fence that reminded the SS officers of rose-bush thorns. There the Nazis decided whom among the arrivals was useful to them and who must die. When, in 1942, the Nazi regime decided to liquidate the Jewish ghettos, Jews arrived at this field and there, according to the Nazi selection system, their pathetic future was decided upon. There prisoners were shaved, stripped of their clothes and belongings, showered and chemical bathed. Some were gassed either by Zyklon-B or carbon monoxide, which caused them a terrible death, and then burned there.
The main object of the Nazis was the dehumanization and humiliation of people while making the person insignificant and maximizing the use of his or her body and belongings. Shaving hair had a two-fold purpose, taking away from the person’s recognizable image while using his or her hair for industrial purposes. The human ash at the end of the process of making people simply disappear off the face of the earth was used as fertilizer. The inmates were given a number, which was tattooed on their left arm in order to strip them of their identity name.
The Nazis recycled clothes and tattooed numbers. A dead inmate’s striped uniform, unwashed and often covered with blood, was passed on to another inmate. A dead inmate’s tattooed number was assigned to a new inmate.
In Feld III the barracks were built as horse stables, offering no human living conditions in order to degrade and steal the inmates’ humanity. Each barracks accommodated 400-to-500 prisoners but more often than not the number of inmates was much higher and that toughened the living condition further. In order to prevent solidarity among the prisoners, the men inmates were a mix of Slovaks, Jews, Poles and Russians who did not speak the same language and thus could not communicate well.
In Feld V, the women’s section of the camp solidarity was somewhat formed and they helped one another wherever and however possible. On display there are 40,000 mostly Jewish prisoners’ shoes. It is estimated that upon liberation of the camp, the Russians found about 400,000 shoes there but no feet wearing them.
The most notorious event in Majdanek was called the ‘harvest festival,’ during which 42,000 Jews were killed, 18,000 of them in nine hours, on November 3rd, 1943, the ‘bloody Wednesday.’ It took however two months to bury them. It took the Germans nine hours to kill the entire Lublin Polish-Jewish community.
To hush their ongoing atrocities and keep it a ‘secret,’ so they thought, the Nazis placed amplifiers that played loud music where they were conducting the murders in order for the prisoners not to hear the gun shots.
The camp ends with a huge memorial mausoleum dome, shaped as an urn, under which there is a huge heap of soil made of the 18,000 murdered Jews ashes’ mixed with concrete to give the place a burial sense.
In Majdanek, one of the largest mass murders of Jews in Holocaust history took place. One minute in Majdanek feels as long a lesson as the four years one takes to obtain one’s first high learning degree.
Between the years 1941 to 1943, the Majdanek extermination camp system served the Nazis Final Solution plan well. More Jews were murdered in east Poland than in Auschwitz and in a much a shorter time. Within three years 80,000 people, mostly Jews, were murdered. In 1943 the Germans stopped the extermination of Jews in Majdanek gas chambers and transferred the remaining Jewish inmates to other camps. One can ask why? Is it because they ran out of Jews?
The camp was liberated by the Russian Red Army. Upon liquidation, the remaining 600 prisoners were transferred to other extermination camps and only two survived; they jumped off the train and landed in the river.
After the war, due to cost calculations, the Polish government decided not to preserve the camp’s barracks and all but Feld III, as I wrote, on display, were destroyed.
Poland can be called the largest cemetery for Jews in the world. There is a saying: Man tracht un Got lacht, meaning man makes plans and God laughs. By the Majdanek main crematorium building a lovely garden of red roses blooms.
I will change the saying to: Man veinen (cries) un G-d lacht (laughs). In Majdanek, the souls of the dead and the hearts of the visitors cry while God’s nature laughs in the happiness of blooms.
My question that is dug deep in my mind is, what exactly did the Jews do to Hitler, his Nazi commandant cohorts and the entire German nation for them to have had the obsessive need to try wipe them off the face of the earth?
A walk through Majdanek: