Majdanek: Cornerstone of Himmler's SS Empire in the East
by Elizabeth B. White
The concentration camp known today as Majdanek (Maidanek in German) originated less than a month after Germany invaded the Soviet Union. During a visit to the city of Lublin in eastern Poland on 20 July 1941, Reich Leader SS Heinrich Himmler ordered Odilo Globocnik, the SS and Police Leader (SS- und Polizeifuhrer, or SSPF) in Lublin, to "build a concentration camp for 25,000- 50,000 prisoners" who were to be used in "workshops and buildings of the SS and police."1
The plan to build Majdanek was born of the new conditions arising from Germany's campaign against the Soviet Union and formed an integral part of the Nazis' grand design for eastern Poland. Following Poland's defeat in 1939, Germany had annexed its western territories, which were slated for total Germanization, but had planned to preserve its eastern portion, which the Germans designated the General Government, as a rump Polish state with a reservation for Jews in the area around Lublin. In order to preserve German domination of this area and to secure the border with the Soviet Union, German colonies were to be established along the eastern frontier.
This plan was scrapped when Hitler decided to wage war on the Soviet Union. In March 1941, following a private conference with Hitler, General Governor Hans Frank announced to his subordinates that the General Government had nearly served its purpose, for "the Fuhrer has decided to make this region a purely German land in the course of 15 to 20 years." Not only the Jews, but also the Poles would vanish from this area: "Where 12 million Poles live today will one day live four to five million Germans. The General Government must become as German a land as the Rhineland." In addition, the lands to be conquered in the Soviet Union would provide a new frontier for German colonists.2
In Himmler's eyes, moreover, the new territories to be conquered in the East appeared to offer the ideal conditions for his aspirations to build an SS empire, particularly since units of his SS and police already had the task of establishing order in the areas behind the front. Lublin would be the military and industrial base from which this empire would expand, supplying the manpower and equipment needed to establish SS dominion in the newly occupied East. Himmler's purpose in visiting Lublin in July 1941 was to entrust Globocnik with the implementation of these plans, and the order to build Majdanek was but one of many he gave to the SS and Police Leader during his visit. Himmler also directed that an SS and police garrison be constructed in Lublin with a capacity of 60,000 SS men. In addition to the concentration camp, branch camps were to be erected, and the SS-owned German Equipment Works was to expand its existing Jewish forced-labor camp in Lublin and establish another one. These camps would provide the labor for SS-owned and operated industries producing construction materials and clothing, shoes, and other textiles.3 Himmler further appointed Globocnik his Plenipotentiary for the Establishment of the SS and Police Bases in the New Eastern Area (Beauftragter fur die Errichtung der SS- und Polizeistutzpunkte im neuen Ostraum), which were to be a combination of military outposts and self-supporting agricultural communes where SS men would reside with their families, creating oases of German culture while enforcing German domination and exploitation of the surrounding territory.4
As the agent of the Reich Commissar for the Strengthening of German Nationhood (Reichskommissar fur die Festigung deutschen Volkstums, or RKFDV), moreover, Globocnik had already been pursuing the earlier Nazi schemes for establishing German colonies in eastern Poland; and his responsibilities were now increased to implement the new plans to Germanize that area. A principal site for the earlier colonization efforts had been the area around Zamosc in Lublin District, where the Nazis had "discovered" peasants supposedly descended from Germans who had settled that area centuries earlier.5 During his July 1941 visit to Lublin, Himmler as RKFDV ordered the operation "Search for German Blood" to be extended to the entire General Government and authorized Globocnik to settle the ethnic Germans thus identified in a "greater settlement area" around Zamosc.6 The long-range plan was to link this settlement with Nordic and German settlements in the Baltic and in Transylvania which, together with the Reich, would encircle the remaining Polish population and eventually "crush [it] to death economically and biologically.7
One of the topics that Himmler probably discussed with Globocnik in Lublin was the "reservation" of tens of thousands of Jews who had been concentrated in Lublin District during the previous two years. Himmler no doubt intended that Jews would supply much of the labor force for the SS industries he had ordered to be established in Lublin. Whether he also used this opportunity to inform Globocnik of the eventual fate planned not only for these Jews but for all the Jews of Europe has not yet been established with complete certainty. It is certain, however, that by autumn 1941 Globocnik, as head of the operation later named "Reinhard," had started to build the killing centers in Lublin District where the annihilation of more than a million European Jews was to be accomplished.8
Himmler thus seems to have viewed Lublin District as the focal point for his efforts to obtain for the SS complete control over Nazi domination of Eastern Europe and, above all, over the Eastern Europeans. From its military and industrial base in Lublin, the SS was to exploit and eventually remove the Poles, supply the advance forces of German colonization, pacify and control the Ukraine and Byelorussia, and annihilate the Jews. Majdanek was to prove an important tool in all these tasks.
The Wehrmacht's agreement in September 1941 to transfer 325,000 Soviet prisoners of war to the control of the SS supplied Himmler with both the financial means and the justification to appropriate land to build a concentration camp in Lublin. On 27 September 1941 the SS Budget and Construction Main Office ordered the construction of two POW camps, in Lublin and in Auschwitz, each with a capacity of 50,000 prisoners. Majdanek and Birkenau were the result of this order. Majdanek received the official designation "Waffen SS Prisoner of War Camp Lublin" (Kriegsgefangenenlager der Waften-SS Lublin), and the Lublin Central Construction Board of the Waffen SS and Police (Zentralbauleitung der Waffen-SS und Polizei Lublin) was assigned responsibility for drawing up the plans and supplying the materials to build the camp.9
Inspired, no doubt, by German military successes and by the scale of Himmler's plans for Lublin, the Construction Office of the Waffen SS (Office IIA of the SS Budget and Construction Main Office) issued increasingly grandiose orders for the construction of Majdanek. On 1 November 1941 it authorized the Central Construction Board in Lublin "to set up a POW camp in Lublin to accommodate 125,000 prisoners of war." On 8 December 1941 it instructed the board "to extend the building order to include the establishment of a POW camp in Lublin that could accommodate 150,000 prisoners of war or detainees. The indispensable economic facilities and workshops should be planned in the camp." In March 1942, however, the Central Construction Board submitted new plans for three contiguous camps at the Majdanek site with a total capacity of 250,000 prisoners.10 The SS thus envisioned Majdanek as the largest of its camps, overshadowing even the Birkenau complex at Auschwitz, which was then intended to house 200,000 prisoners.11
The grand scale of these plans soon evoked resistance from the civilian authorities. In January 1942 the governor of Lublin District, Ernst Z6rner, complained to the General Government that "the building of such a huge camp may seriously injure the supply of the town [the city of Lublin] with electricity, coal, and gas and may also raise reservations because of the spread of contagious diseases." Complaints from the Eastern Railway (Ostbahn) that the supply demands of the huge camp and SS residential district planned for Lublin would seriously disrupt deliveries to the Eastern Front prompted the Reich Ministry of Transport to ask Himmler in March 1942 to reduce "transports in connection with the building project in Lublin." Added to the arguments for scaling back the plans for Majdanek was the shortage of construction materials caused by the war.
Himmler responded to the transport ministry that "in view of the difficulties with materials and transport, the capacity of the camp has been reduced to 50, 000 by the middle of this year." In accordance with this plan, the SS Building Inspectorate in Cracow instructed in May 1942 that a total of eight prisoner compounds be built at Majdanek, but in two phases, with the first phase confined to the five compounds on which work had already begun.12 In July 1942 Himmler ordered a women's camp for 5,000 prisoners to be established in the concentration camp in Lublin. Three months later, Majdanek opened this camp and began planning a second women's camp for 5,000 prisoners, which was established at the nearby SS Clothing Works.13
Despite its official designation as a prisoner-of-war camp, Majdanek was from its inception subordinate to the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps, and its administrative organization was an exact replica of the model developed by Theodor Eicke, Himmler's first Inspector of Concentration Camps and the architect of the SS concentration-camp system. Moreover, Majdanek's staff and guard personnel came from the SS Death's Head Units, the concentration camp guards trained by Eicke to exhibit the ideological zeal and maintain the iron discipline necessary for the ruthless suppression of all enemies of the Nazi German state. In its role as an instrument for crushing opposition to German occupation among the civilian population of the areas surrounding it, Majdanek similarly mirrored the geographic task assigned to the new concentration camps established or expanded since the beginning of the war by Richard Glucks, Eicke's successor as Inspector of Concentration Camps: Auschwitz, Gross Rosen, and Stutthof as centers for prisoners from western Poland; Neuengamme, Natzwefler, and Vught for prisoners from Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.
Moreover, Himmler's intention to make Majdanek the site and labor pool for SS-owned industries resulted from his growing interest in the contribution the concentration camps could make to Germany's industrial war effort. In February 1942 Himmler thus authorized Oswald Pohl, his budget chief and the manager of the SS-owned industries, to meld the various SS offices responsible for finances, construction, administration, and economic enterprises into a single agency, the SS Econon-dc and Administrative Main Office (SS-Wirtschaftsverzvaltungshauptamt, or WVHA), which one month later swallowed the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps and, with it, Majdanek.14
Himmler indicated Majdanek's true function when he stated in April 1942 that "the POW camp in Lublin is to serve at the same time as a concentration camp."15 Occasional references to Majdanek as "Lublin Concentration Camp" can be found in the records of the WVHA from 1941 and 1942.16 All pretense was dropped on 16 February 1943, when Majdanek's official designation was changed to "Lublin Concentration Camp" (Konzentrationslager Lublin).17
Majdanek did house Soviet POWs in its earliest days. The first transport of 2,000 from the Wehrmacht POW camp in Chelm arrived in October 1941 to join Polish Jewish POWs and Jewish civilians in budding the camp. Most of the Soviet POWs had died or had been killed by early 1942, however, and Majdanek received no new transports from the Wehrmacht after April of that year. By the spring of 1942, the camp population was overwhelmingly civilian.18
The activities of the SS and police in pacifying eastern Poland and enforcing German domination of the area reaped tens of thousands of Polish civilian prisoners for Majdanek. The first Polish civilians were incarcerated in the camp in December 1941. For the most part, they were peasants from Lublin District who had failed to supply the agricultural tribute imposed upon them by the Germans, hostages taken to ensure the local population's cooperation with German authorities, and persons rounded up during pacification operations or as retribution for partisan attacks. During 1942 hostages were transferred to Majdanek via transit camps, but in 1943 the Order Police (Ordnungspolizez), the regular uniformed German police, set up a special camp in Majdanek's fourth compound to which hostages were directly assigned and which generally housed 1,000 prisoners at any given time.19 A study of 1,279 of these hostages for whom records have survived reveals that 68 percent of them died at Majdanek.20
Globocnik's fanatical pursuit of Himmler's resettlement and Germanization plans for eastern Poland proved to be a rich source of Polish civilian victims for Majdanek. The first prisoners incarcerated in Majdanek's women's camp were deportees from the sections on the edge of the city of Lublin that were slated for the German district and SS garrison.21 About the end of June 1943, Himmler reached an agreement with General Governor Frank that set the goals for resettlement and Germanization to be accomplished by the end of the year, that is, the resettlement of Zamosc and the Germanization of "the old Hansa city of Lublin-" The Poles and Ukrainians removed from their farms around Zamosc were to be resettled in the southern part of Lublin District and in Galicia on farms cleared of their previous residents by the anti-partisan Operation Wehnvolf. The city of Lublin was to see the German proportion of its population rise from 10 percent to about 25 percent by 1944, principally by reducing its Polish population from 89,000 to 60,000.22
As carried out by Globocnik, the resettlement of Zamosc, combined with Operation Wehrzvolf, produced a tremendous upheaval in which at least 100,000 Poles and Ukrainians were displaced from their homes.23 In July 1943, 16,000 victims of the resettlement, including women, children, and the elderly, were imprisoned in Majdanek. Over 3,000 of them died in the camp. Another 2,600, including 957 children, were released at the end of the month in a state of such physical collapse that many of them subsequently died.24 The disastrous effects of the resettlement, including a ruined harvest and an increase in partisan activity, contributed to the decision to dismiss Globocnik as Lublin SS and Police Leader in September 1943.25
Women and children rounded up in anti-partisan operations in Byelorussia and the Ukraine comprised a substantial proportion of the Soviet civilian prisoners consigned to Majdanek. In a special directive of 6 January 1943 to the Special Commissioners for Anti-Partisan Warfare in the Soviet Union, Himmler instructed that "in operations against guerrilla troops, men, women, and children suspected of guerrilla activities will be rounded up and shipped to the camps in Lublin or Auschwitz." This directive also suggested "the establishment of collective camps for children and adolescents in Lublin." Following a selection, "racially worthless adolescents, male and female, will be assigned as apprentices to the economic enterprises of the concentration camps."26 Oswald Pohl of WVHA informed Himmler on 25 January 1943 that a special camp for children would be established within the women's camp in Compound Five at Majdanek.27 In the summer of 1943, certain barracks in Compound Five were in fact set aside for some of the thousands of children consigned to Majdanek as a result of antipartisan operations in Byelorussia and the resettlement of Zamosc.28
Majdanek also served as an important tool in the dual, and to some extent conflicting, policies of exploiting Jewish labor and annihilating the Jews. The increasing demand for labor power by the German warrelated and SS-owned industries caused Himmler to decree in January 1942 that 100,000 Jewish men and 50,000 Jewish women be withdrawn from the deportation process -that is, shipment to the killing centers and sent instead to the concentration camps, which were about to receive large economic contracts.29 Consequently, some of the more than a million Jews shipped to Lublin District in the course of Operation Reinhard were consigned to Majdanek or to the forced-labor camps in Lublin to work for the SS industries there instead of going directly to the killing centers set up by Globocnik at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.
As SS and Police Leader, Globocnik had the power to operate forcedlabor camps for Jews, and as head of Operation Reinhard, he had access to hundreds of thousands of potential Jewish laborers. As a result, more Jewish forced-labor camps operated in Lublin District than under any other SS and Police Leader.30 Globocnik himself described Operation Reinhard in 1944, after its completion, as having four functions: "the deportation itself"; "the utilization of manpower"; "the utilization of property"; and "the recovering of hidden values and real estate."31 Thus, in addition to providing the SS industries in Lublin with most of their labor power, Operation Reinhard also supplied them with much of the equipment they used and with many of the goods they processed, such as clothing, furs, shoes, and housewares.32
Globocnik was thus the principal executor of Nazi Jewish policy in Lublin District. It also appears that he had considerable influence over the operation of Majdanek, despite the fact that it was subordinate to the WVHA. Lack of documentation, however, limits our understanding of Globocnik's relationship with Majdanek. Certainly, as Lublin SSPF, he had the authority to command and the responsibility to coordinate all units of the SS and police in Lublin District, including the staff and guards of Majdanek. In addition, Operation Reinhard gave him powers which, though apparently never set down in writing, far exceeded those of any other SS and Police Leader.33 Moreover, as we shall see, the economic functions of Operation Reinhard, particularly as they involved the exploitation of Jewish labor and goods by SS industries in Lublin, required a certain degree of cooperation between Globocnik and the WVHA.
Exactly when and to what extent Majdanek was incorporated into Operation Reinhard cannot be precisely determined. It did, however, eventually become involved in three of the four areas of activity outlined by Globocnik: murdering Jews, exploiting Jewish labor, and utilizing Jewish property. During the period from March to August 1942, thousands of Jews deported to Lublin in the course of Operation Reinhard from Slovakia, Austria, Bohemia and Moravia, Germany, and the General Government were incarcerated in Majdanek.34 In some cases, the trains heading for BeIzec and Sobibor stopped in Lublin, where ablebodied men were selected for consignment to Majdanek.35 Although some of these prisoners were shot, hanged, or bludgeoned to death after becoming too ill or weak to work, for most of these Jews, consignment to Majdanek meant at least a temporary reprieve from the killing process of Operation Reinhard.36
In August 1942, however, when the chief disinfection officer in the Main Hygienic Office of the Waffen SS toured the Operation Reinhard killing centers, he was also shown gas chambers under construction at Majdanek.37 By October 1942 the gas chambers were in operation. For the next year, transports of tens of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children arrived at Majdanek and underwent immediate selection, following which children, the elderly, and others found unfit for forced labor were gassed. These transports came from as far away as France, but most were sent to Majdanek from the Warsaw Ghetto in April and May 1943, and from the Bialystok Ghetto (where Globocnik personally directed the deportation) in August and September of that year.38 Apparently, no documentation has survived to show the total number of persons gassed at Majdanek, and even the number of gas chambers there remains in dispute.39 Certainly, the number of gassings at Majdanek was minuscule compared to those at the killing centers of Operation Reinhard and especially to those at Auschwitz-Birkenau. A very rough estimate of Majdanek's gassing victims is at least 20,000 Jews; in all likelihood, some non-Jews were gassed there as well.40
Majdanek's primary function as a tool of Nazi German policy toward the Jews, however, was to provide a reservoir of Jewish laborers to be exploited to their last ounce of energy and only then to be exterminated either by the "natural" means of starvation, exhaustion, and disease, or by violent methods, such as shooting and gassing. As opposed to Auschwitz, which provided laborers and filled contracts for numerous private industrial firms, Majdanek's prisoners were to work for industries entirely owned by the SS and operated primarily for the benefit of the SS, in accordance with Himmler's plans to make Lublin the industrial center of an SS empire. For their labor power, these SS enterprises could rely not only on Majdanek, but also on the two Jewish forced-
The first SS-owned firm to begin operations in Lublin was the German Equipment Works (Deutsche Ausrustungswerke, or DAW), which took over the workshops at the Lipowa Street camp in late 1940 or early 1941, and later established workshops at both the Old Airfield camp and Majdanek.42 The next large industrial enterprise established in Lublin was the SS Clothing Works (Bekleidungswerk), which was a subsidiary of the Waffen SS clothing workshops at the Ravensbrilck concentration camp and began operating at the old Airfield camp in Lublin in the summer of 1941. This enterprise underwent massive expansion in 1942, when it began receiving and processing mountains of clothing and goods looted from the victims of Operation Reinhard.43 Majdanek and the Jewish forced-labor camps in Lublin also supplied slave laborers to the various enterprises operated by the SS garrison administration (Standortvenvaltung), including a glass factory, a truck farm, and a laboratory for producing pharmaceuticals. In addition, the SS troop supply depot (Truppenwirtschaftlager), which supplied SS and police units stationed in or passing through Lublin, and the Supply Depot of the Higher SS and Police Leader of South Russia (Nachschublager des HSSPF Russland-Siid) were both located at the Old Airfield camp and operated workshops that employed prisoners from Majdanek and the two Lublin camps.44
In October 1942 Himmler gave an extra boost to Lublin's development as a center for SS industries employing slave labor when he ordered that the remaining Jews in the General Government employed in tailoring, shoemaking, or manufacturing furs be gathered in workshops in "concentration camps" in Warsaw and Lublin. In addition, he ordered that Jews employed by armaments firms be gradually isolated in "a few large Jewish concentration camps" in the eastern area of the General Government. The fact that this order was directed not only to Pohl as head of the WVHA, but also to Friedrich- Wilhelm Kruger, the Higher SS and Police Leader (HSSPF) of the General Government, to Globocnik, and to the Reich Security Main Office indicates that Himmler intended Lublin's development as an SS industrial center to be a joint venture of the various organs of the SS and police.45
The records indicate, moreover, that there was considerable cooperation, especially between Globocnik and the WVHA, in operating Lublin's SS industries and supplying them with slave laborers. For example, although he was not on the board of the DAW, which was subordinate to the WVHA, Globocnik directed the operation of its plants in Lublin.46 Further, the Old Airfield camp housed economic enterprises subordinate to the WVHA (DAW workshops), the Waffen SS (Standortverwaltung workshops and SS Clothing Works), and the police (Truppenwirtschaftlager and Supply Depot of the HSSPF of South Russia), which received both laborers and guards from Majdanek and from Globocnik's Jewish forced-labor camps.
The prime example of cooperation between the WVHA and Globocnik, however, is the East Industries Inc. (Ostindustrie G.m.b.H., or Osti), which was founded in March 1943 for the express purpose of using Jewish labor and also exploiting machinery and raw materials formerly owned by Jews in industrial workshops located in the Jewish forcedlabor camps in the General Government. Although the forced-labor camps in question were subordinate to Globocnik and HSSPF Kruger, who served respectively as Osti's chief executive officer and deputy chairman of the board, Osti was financed and controlled by the WVHA, and Pohl was the chairman of its board. In Lublin, Osti took over some of the DAW workshops, sorted and manufactured brushes in workshops at both the Old Airfield camp and Majdanek, and, using Majdanek prisoners, constructed an iron foundry.47
As a result of the cooperation between Globocnik and the WVHA, clear lines of demarcation cannot be drawn between Majdanek and the two Jewish forced-labor camps in the city of Lublin before September 1943. The Lipowa Street camp apparently was officially subordinated to Majdanek from its founding in 1941 until sometime in 1942.48 Nevertheless, Majdanek's SS Death's Head Battalion instructed the guards of the Lipowa Street camp to allow access to Globocnik at any time.49 In March 1942 the Old Airfield camp was guarded by the Fourth Company of Majdanek's SS Death's Head Battalion, but the company was actually composed of auxiliaries from Globocnik's SS Training Camp at Trawniki.50 During 1942 and 1943, moreover, a detachment of Trawniki men attached to the SS Death's Head Battalion was deployed to guard Majdanek itself.51 From about the middle of 1942 until September 1943, the male prisoners and their guards at the Old Airfield camp were directly subordinate to Globocnik,52 but the women's camp, which supplied laborers to the SS Clothing Works, was subordinate to Majdanek until March 1943, when it was taken over by Christian Wirth, the inspector of the killing centers. While the SS Clothing Works was thus subordinate to Globocnik as an integral part of Operation Reinhard, clothing received from Reinhard actions was also stored and processed at Majdanek.53 Majdanek also received prisoners from both of the forced-labor camps.54 The degree to which Majdanek was involved in the SS and Police Leader's system of Jewish forced-labor camps in Lublin is indicated by Globocnik's July 1943 report on the development of that system to date, in which he lists Majdanek as one of the camps and describes part of its function as "the supply of laborers to various enterprises of military importance."55
The distinction between Majdanek and the Jewish forced-labor camps in Lublin disappeared in September 1943 when Pohl, gradually expanding the WVHA's control to all economic enterprises operated by the SS, declared the labor camps under the SSPF Lublin to be subcamps of Majdanek.56 This was the high-water mark of Majdanek's existence. With Pohl's order, it became the center of a concentration-camp system in which 45,000 to 52,000 Jews and tens of thousands of other prisoners labored in a broad diversity of enterprises intended to produce the supplies necessary to feed, clothe, house, fuel, transport, and arm the SS.57 These enterprises included, among others, farms, numerous textile industries, a sawmill, a roofing paper plant, a tileworks, a brickworks, a peat cutting and processing plant, auto-repair shops, and plants producing airplane parts, explosives, fuses, and ammunition.58 The centerpiece of this military-industrial complex was to be the ironworks, which Majdanek prisoners built in the city of Lublin between August and November 1943.59
just as the ironworks was to begin production, however, Majdanek's industrial empire collapsed. The Jewish uprisings in the ghettos of Warsaw and Bialystok and at the Treblinka and Sobibor killing centers raised a specter so horrifying to Himmler as to override the importance of the industrial center he had planned for Lublin. He therefore ordered Friedrich-Wilhelm Kruger, as HSSPF in the General Government, to murder all Jews remaining in Lublin District. On 3 November 1943 in a procedure code-named Operation Harvest Festival, 42,000 Jewish prisoners in the Majdanek camp system were shot, at least 17,000 of them in ditches behind the crematorium at the main camp. As with other SS activities involving Jews in Lublin, Operation Harvest Festival proved to be a joint venture, whose preparation and execution involved the participation of Waffen SS units; a special detachment from Auschwitz; SS and police units from Warsaw, Cracow, Radom, Lvov, and Lublin; and the SS personnel of Majdanek.60 Deprived of their labor force, most of the enterprises operating in the Majdanek camp system either moved out of Lublin or shut down permanently.61
The changing fortunes of war may have contributed to Himmler's decision to order Operation Harvest Festival, for the approaching Soviet army was transforming Lublin once again into a frontier area too dangerous to serve as a site for German industries. After 1943 no further political prisoners were consigned to Majdanek, lest their presence encourage partisan attacks. Instead, the other concentration camps sent Majdanek transports of prisoners in the last throes of starvation and disease. Even those transports stopped arriving in April 1944, and all but two of Majdanek's six compounds were evacuated. In June and July, the last desperate attempts of the SS to pacify Lublin briefly swelled Majdanek's prisoner population with men, women, and children captured in roundups. On 22 July, however, the SS abandoned the camp, and Majdanek was liberated by Soviet forces on 23 July 1944.62
The total number of Majdanek's victims cannot be determined. The Dusseldorf district court found that at least 200,000 persons died at the camp, including at least 60,000 Jews,63 while postwar Polish scholarship places the number of dead at 360,000. 64 It is clear, however, that the mortality rate at Majdanek, excluding the Jews selected for gassing upon their arrival, was extremely high, even for a concentration camp. In August 1943, for example, Majdanek's official mortality rate was 4.41 percent for women and 7.67 percent for men. The next highest mortality rate at the concentration camps that month was 3.61 percent among the women prisoners of Auschwitz.65
The reasons for the high mortality rate at Majdanek lie in part in the extremely primitive conditions there, since the camp had to be built entirely from scratch and suffered war-related problems with the transport and supply of materials. The construction delays meant the camp's population continually exceeded its capacity. Many of the barracks eventually erected were actually leaky and drafty cattle stalls.66 Although the SS Hygiene Institute declared in 1942 that the water in Majdanek's wells was contaminated and undrinkable, the camp was not linked to Lublin's municipal waterworks until mid-1943; and there was no running water until autumn of that year.67 Thus it was impossible to rid the camp of the typhus that arrived with the first Soviet POWs and which even claimed numerous victims among the SS men serving there.68 The thick mud in which the prisoners were constantly mired, combined with the inadequate laundry and bathing facilities, open latrines, and the dysentery endemic at every concentration camp, created conditions of unimaginable filth.69
The cruelty and corruption exhibited by the camp's SS regime added to the physical miseries suffered by the prisoners. Majdanek's SS leadership consisted primarily of men from the old school of concentrationcamp management, particularly as practiced at Buchenwald, where many members of Majdanek's staff had previously served. Corruption was evident at every level of Majdanek's administration. 70 Two of Majdanek's commandants, Karl Otto Koch (September 1941 to August 1942) and Hermann Florstedt (November 1942 to September 1943), were executed by the SS for corruption before the end of the war.71 The WVHA's policy, introduced in 1942, of preserving the prisoners' ability to work by improving conditions in the concentration camps did not begin to affect Majdanek until the arrival of Martin Weiss as commandant in autumn 1943.72
The conditions at Majdanek reached their most catastrophic level in summer 1943. During that period, Majdanek received tens of thousands of prisoners from the ghettos in Warsaw, Rejowiec, and Bialystok; from pacification operations in Byelorussia and the southern portion of Lublin District; and from the resettlement of Zamosc. A severe water shortage in Lublin added to the misery caused by overcrowding and lack of food. For four weeks in the middle of the summer, Commandant Florstedt forbade the use of water in the prisoner compounds and ordered the execution of any prisoner attempting to use the pumps.73 Not only did typhus decimate the prisoner population, but epidemics of measles, mumps, and whooping cough broke out among the thousands of children imprisoned at the camp.74
Thanks to the fortunes of war, Majdanek never achieved the dimensions Himmler planned for it. Still, during the two and a half years of its existence, more than a quarter of a million people were imprisoned there.75 Apart from the political prisoners common to every concentration camp, the roster of Majdanek's victims includes men, women, and children from the areas of Poland, Byelorussia, and the Ukraine slated for SS dominion; and the Jewish families from nearly every European nation, who were slaughtered there in the Nazis' pursuit of the "final solution." Majdanek was the only Nazi camp besides Auschwitz that operated as both a concentration camp and a killing center. Although it never challenged the status of Auschwitz as the preeminent factory of death, Majdanek's record provides a grim testament to the true nature of the "New Order" that Nazi Germany aimed to install in Eastern Europe.
This is a revised version of a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, San Francisco, 30 December 1989.
1. Berlin Document Center [hereafter cited as BDCj, personnel file Odflo Globocnik: Vermerk (sig. Heinrich Himmler), 21 July 1941.
2. Czeslaw Madajczyk, Okkupationspolitik Nazideutschlands in Polen, 1939- 1945 (Berlin, 1987), pp. 55-78, quotations on pp. 76-77.
3. BDC, personnel file Odilo Globocnik: Vermerk, 21 July 1941.
4. Globocnik had already been developing SS and police bases in the General Government, and Himmler authorized him to continue this work as well. See ibid.: [2nd] Vermerk (sig. Heinrich Himmler), 21 July 1941; Bericht [unsigned] betr. Aufbau der SS- und Polizeistutzpunkte, n.d.; Odflo Globocnik, SS- und Polizeistutzpunkte, n.d.; Himmler order to Globocnik of 27 Mar. 1942; and Auszug aus den Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungsanordnungen vom 15. Mai 1942, Nr. 3, Befehl uber die Einrichtung von SS- und Polizeistutzpunkten (sig. Himmler).
5. Landgericht (LG) Wiesbaden, Urteil gg. Georg Lothar Hoffmann u.A., 8 Ks 1/70, 1 Mar. 1973, pp. 16-23.
6. BDC, personnel file, Odilo Globocnik: Vermerk, 21 July 1941.
7. Ibid.: Hellmut Miiller, Erster Lagebericht uber die Verhaltnisse in Lublin, 15 Oct. 1941. Muller was an official of the SS Race and Settlement Main Office.
8. Ibid.: Vermerk, 21 July 1941. See also Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Bloomington, 1987), pp. 11- 25.
9. The SS never called the camp Majdanek, which is a Polish name originating from the camp's proximity to the Majdan-Tatarski quarter of Lublin. LG Dusseldorf, Urteil gg. Hermann Hackmann u.A., 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp. 53-54; jozef Marszalek, Majdanek: The Concentration Camp in Lublin (Warsaw, 1986), pp. 20-22.
10. Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 20-28.
11. Martin Broszat, "Nationalsozialistische Konzentrationslager, 1933-1945," in Anatomie des SS-Staates, 2 vols. (Munich, 1979), 2:99.
12. Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 26-29.
13. Ibid., pp. 46-47; Zofia Leszczynska, "Struktura Osobowa Wladz Obozu Koncentracyjnego na Majdanky [Personnel Structure of the Authorities of the Concentration Camp at Majdanekl," Zeszyty Majdanka, vol. 2 (1967); idem, "Transporty Wiezniow do Obozu na Majdanku [Transports of Prisoners to the Camp at Majdanek]," ibid., vol. 4 (1969). Zeszyty Majdanka [Majdanek Notebooks], edited by Zofia Wojcikowska, has been published since 1965 by the Majdanek Museum in cooperation with the Scientific Council for Publications on Majdanek of the Society for the Preservation of Majdanek. I used private translations of specific articles from the Zeszyty Majdanka and therefore cannot cite the relevant page numbers from the original Polish volumes.
14. The WVHA combined the two previous SS Main Offices that Pohl had directed: Budget and Construction (Haushalt und Bauten) and Administration and Economy (Verwaltung und Wirtschaft). The Inspectorate of Concentration Camps became Department D of the WVHA. Broszat, "Konzentrationslager," pp. 46-111.
15. Marszalek, Majdanek, p. 22.
16. See, for example, BDC, personnel file Max Koegel: WVHA transfer order of 24 Aug. 1942 assigning Koegel to Majdanek as commandant; National Archives and Records Administration [hereafter cited as NARA], Record Group 242, Microfilm Publication T-175 (Records of the Reich Leader of the SS and Chief of the German Police), roll 218, frame 2756724: memo to the concentration camps from the Inspector of Concentration Camps regarding Bekanntgabe der Haftlingsstarken, 13 Oct. 1941.
17. Lublin, Majdanek Museum, 1117: Kommandantur KL Lublin, Umbenennung des Kriegsgefangenenlagers der Waffen-SS Lublin, 23 Feb. 1943.
18. Leszczynska, "Transporty Wiezniow"; LG Dusseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp. 66-68; Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 57-61.
19. Leszczynska, "Transporty Wiezniow"; Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 57-61; idem, "Budowa Obozu Koncentracynego na Majdanku w Latach 19421944 [Constructions of the Concentration Camp at Majdanek in the Years 1942- 19441," Zeszyty Majdanka, vol. 4 (1969); BDC, personnel file Odflo Globocnik: Referat zur Sitzung am 2. August 1943 betr. Sicherheitslage, n.d.
20. Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 60-61.
21. Leszczynska, "Transporty Wiezniow"; Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 46-47.
22. NARA, T-175, roll 73, frames 2590325-28: Himmler to Frank, 3 July 1943.
23. BDC, personnel file Odflo Globocnik: Richard Wendler, Governor of Lublin District, to Himmler, 27 July 1943; Madajczyk, Okkupationspolitik, p. 93.
24. Operation Wehnvolf contributed at least another 2,000 civilian prisoners to Majdanek. Zofia Murawska, "Dzieci w Obozie Koncentracyjnym na Majdanku [Children in the Concentration Camp at Majdanekj," Zeszyty Majdanka, vol. 5 (1971); Leszczynska, "Transporty Wiezniow"; Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 61- 62.
25. BDC, personnel file Odilo Globocnik: Wendler letter, 27 July 1943; LG Wiesbaden, Urteil Hoffmann, 8 Ks 1/70, 1 Mar. 1973, pp. 20-23.
26. Nuremberg Doc. NO-2031: Himmler Order, 6 Jan. 1943, published in English translation in Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10 [hereafter cited as Green Series], 14 vols. (Nuremberg, 1946-1949), 5:367-68.
27. Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 64-65.
28. Murawska, "Dzieci w Obozie na Majdanku."
29. Broszat, "Konzentrationslager," pp. 108-9.
30. Enno Georg, Die wirtschaftlichen Unternehmungen der SS (Stuttgart, 1963), pp. 91-99; Ruth Bettina Birn, Die Hoheren SS- und Polizeifuhrer: Himmlers Vertreter im Reich und in den besetzten Gebieten (Dusseldorf, 1986), pp. 106- 25, 176-85; Hans Buchheim, "Die SS: Das Herrschaftsinstrument," in Anatomie des SS-Staates, 1: 113-36.
31. Green Series, 5:716-20, Nuremberg Doc. NO-057: Globocnik report to Himmler on the"Economic Section of the Action Reinhardt [sic]," 5 Jan. 1944.
32. Ibid.; Nuremberg Doc. NO-1271: report by SS-Unterscharfuhrer Johann Sebastian Fischer on a rough audit of the books of the Ostindustrie, Berlin, 21 June 1944, English version in Green Series, 5:512-28.
33. Bim, Die Hoheren SS- und Polizeifuhrer, pp. 106-31, 176-85; Buchheim, 'Die SS," pp. 113-36; Majdanek Museum, Lf.17: Kommandanturbefehl Nr. 7/43 (sig. Weiss), 10 Dec. 1943.
34. On 24 Mar. 1942, for example, the Inspectorate of the Concentration Camps notified Majdanek that it was about to receive 10,000 Jews from Slovakia. Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 66-67; and Leszczynska, "Transporty Wiezniow." During 1942, 39,000 Slovak Jews and 25,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, and Bohemia and Moravia were deported to Lublin District and murdered at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, pp. 140-42.
35. See, for example, the account of Rudolf Vrba, in Rudolf Vrba and Alan Bestic, Escape from Auschwitz: I Cannot Forgive (New York, 1964), pp. 65-69; also the report of the commander of the 152nd police precinct in Vienna on a transport of Austrian Jews to Sobibor, quoted in Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, p. 139.
36. Leszczynska, "Transporty Wiezniow"; LG Wiesbaden, Urteil Hoffmann, 8 Ks 1/70, 1 Mar. 1973, pp. 37-44; LG Dusseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp, 264-304, 528-54; Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 130-35.
37. See the report of SS-Obersturrnfuhrer Kurt Gerstein, quoted in Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, pp. 100-101.
38. LG Dusseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp. 79-90; Marszalek, "Budowa. Obozu na Majdanku"; Leszczynska, "Transporty Wiezniow"; Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, pp. 134, 147; Majdanek Museum, 115: telegram from the Kommandantur der Sicherheitspolizei und SD, Bialystok District, Office IV C 2, Uberstellung von Haftlingen, 17 Aug. 1943.
39. The indictment in the case against Hermann Hackmann and others (Staatsanwaltschaft [StA] Ko1n, Anklageschrift gg. Hermann Hackmann u.A. 130 [241 Js 200/62 [Z], 15 Nov. 1974, pp. 105-6) describes seven gas chambers, while the judgment (LG Dusseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp. 79-90) gives the number of gas chambers at Majdanek as at least three.
40. LG Dusseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp. 79-90; Marszalek, Majdanek, p. 142.
41. The Old Airfield camp was located at the former Plage-Laskiewicz airplane factory across Chelmska Street from Majdanek. Part of its airfield served as the roll-call area (Appellplatz) of the Majdan-Tatarski ghetto. LG Wiesbaden, Urteil Hoffman, 8 Ks 1/70, 1 Mar. 1973, pp. 45-52, 66-69.
42. Ibid.; LG Dusseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp. 62-65; Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 39-40, 51-52.
43. LG Wiesbaden, Urteil Hoffmann, 8 Ks 1/70, 1 Mar. 1973, p. 65; Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, p. 159; Marszalek, Majdanek, p. 55.
44. LG Wiesbaden, Urteil Hoffmann, 8 Ks 1/70, 1 Mar. 1973, pp. 34-37; StA Ko1n, Verfahren 24 Js 200/62: interrogations of former Majdanek guards Franz Bago (27 May 1970) and Friedrich Gross (9 June 1970); Zofia Murawska, "System Stzrezenia i Sposoby Izolacji Wiezniow w Obozie Koncentracyjnym na Majdanku [The System of Guarding and Methods of Isolating the Prisoners in the Concentration Camp at Majdanek]," Zeszyty Majdanka, vol. 1 (1965); Anna Wisniewska, "Problem Pracy Wiezniow w Obozie Koncentracyjnym na Majdanku [The Problem of Prisoner Labor in the Concentration Camp at Majdanek]," Zeszyty Majdanka, vol. 5(1971).
45. Nuremberg Doc. NO-1611: Himmler circular to Pohl, Kruger, Globocnik, the RSHA, and Karl Wolff (head of Hinunler's personal staff), 9 Oct. 1942, English version in Green Series, 5:616-17.
46. BDC, personnel file Odilo Globocnik: Globocnik to Maximilian von Herff, head of the SS Personnel Main Office, 27 Oct. 1943; Green Series, 5:536-44, Nuremberg Docs. NO-063: "Orders on Hand of the Shops of the SS Labor Camp[s] in the District of Lublin on 3 November 1943 (sig. Globocnik)," n.d.; and NO-057: Globocnik report, 5 Jan. 1944.
47. Nuremberg Docs. NO-1270: file memorandum pertaining to a WVHA conference regarding Osti, 13 Feb. 1943; NO-1265: Dr. [Max] Horn to Hans Hohberg of the WVHA, 26 Feb. 1943; and NO-1271: Fischer report on Osti audit, 21 June 1944, English version in Green Series, 5:505-28; LG Wiesbaden, Urteil Hoffmann, 8 Ks 1/70, 1 Mar. 1973, pp. 66-69; Georg, Wirtschaftliche Unternehmungen, pp. 91-99; Marszalek, "Budowa Obozu na Majdanku."
48. Majdanek Museum, Lf.19: Vermerk vom 23.12.1941 betreffend Gestellung von judischen Arbeitskraften fur das Kriegsgefangenenlager der SS in Maydanik [sic]," 23 Dec. 1941; ibid., Lf.17: memo from Walter Langleist, commander of the SS Death's Head Battalion at Majdanek, to Karl Otto Koch, commandant of Majdanek, 26 Nov. 1941, and Wachvorschrift fur das Lager der "Deutschen Ausrustungswerke" (sig. Koch), Lublin, Lindenstr. 9, 1 Dec. 1941; Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 51-52.
49. Majdanek Museum, Lf.17: Nachtrag zur Wachvorschrift ffir das Lager der "Deutschen Ausrustungswerke" (sig. Langleist), Lublin, Lindenstr. 9, n.d.
50. The SS Ausbildungslager Trawniki trained Ukrainian and Baltic police auxiliaries who were employed in Operation Reinhard, particularly in carrying out deportations and in guarding the killing centers. They were variously called Trawniki men, Hilfswillige or Hiwis, Askaris, or simply Ukrainians. See LG Wiesbaden, Urteil Hoffmann, 8 Ks 1/70, 1 Mar. 1973, pp. 57-58; and Arad, BeIzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, pp. 19-22. See also Majdanek Museum, Lf.17: Anweisung fur den Fuhrer vom Dienst in der Unterkunft Wachbataillon und SS-T. Sturmbann KGL. der Waffen-SS Lublin, 26 Mar. 1942; and Wachvorschrift fur die Kasernenwache Lublin, Bernardinerstrasse 14, 9 Mar. 1942.
51. Majdanek Museum, I.f.5: Ausbildungslager Trawniki, Kdo. K. G.L. der Waffen-SS Lublin, Meldung von der Schutzhundestaffel, 13 Jan. 1943; Flucht des ukrainischen Posten Boris Platonow Erkermungs Nr. 2383, angeblich aus Moskau (sig. Langleist), 24 Jan. 1943; Tod des Polen Kalkus Pawel, geb. 18. 1. 04 nach Schussverletzung (sig. Langleist), 20 Feb. 1943.
52. Green Series, 5:716-20, 377-79, Nuremberg Docs. NO-057: Globocnik report, 5 Jan. 1944; and NO-599: file note signed by Pohl concerning "Taking over of Jewish labor camps from SS and Police Leaders in the Government General," 7 Sept. 1943; Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 51-52.
53. Wisniewska, "Problem Pracy Wiezniow"; Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, pp. 19, 159. Marszalek, Majdanek, p. 55, mistakenly claims that Osti took over the women's camp and the SS Clothing Works in Mar. 1943.
54. LG Dusseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp. 62-65.
55. BDC, personnel file Odflo Globocnik: Globocnik Vermerk, [illegible day] July 1943.
56. Green Series, 5:377-79, Nuremberg Doc. NO-599: Pohl file note, 7 Sept. 1943.
57. BDC , personnel file Odilo Globocnik: Globocnik Vermerk, [illegible day] July 1943; Green Series, 5:716-20, Nuremberg Doc. NO-057: Globocnik report, 5 Jan. 1944.
58. BDC, personnel file Odilo Globocnik: Globocnik Vermerk, [illegible day] July 1943; Green Series, 5:538-44, Nuremberg Doc. NO-063: Globocnik, Report on Orders on Hand of the Labor Camps in the Lublin District as of 3 November 1943, n.d.; Wisniewska, "Problem Pracy Wiezniow."
59. Georg, Wirtschaftliche Untemehmungen, pp. 93-99.
60. Ibid.; LG Diisseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp. 456-72; Arad, BeIzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, pp. 365-69; Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 130-34.
61. Nuremberg Doc. NO-1036: memo to Office W-IV of the WVHA concerning conversion into concentration camps of forced-labor camps at Krakow, Placzow, Lvov, Lublin, and Radom-Blizyn, 19 Jan. 1944, English version in Green Series, 5:545-49; Georg, Wirtschaftliche Unternehmungen, pp. 93-99.
62. Leszczynska, "Transporty Wiezniow."
63. LG Dusseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp. 89-90.
64. Marszalek, Majdanek, p. 142.
65. Nuremberg Doc. PS-1469: Pohl report to Himmler concerning deaths in concentration camps, 30 Sept. 1943, English version in Green Series, 5:379-82.
66. LG Dusseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp. 66-73; Marszalek, "Budowa Obozu na Majdanku"; idem, Majdanek, pp. 89-93.
67. Marszalek, Majdanek, p. 35; idem, "Budowa Obozu na Majdanku."
68. Majdanek Museum, Lf. 17: Hermann Florstedt, Kommandantur Sonderbefehl, 4 Mar. 1943; LG Dusseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, p. 78.
69. Marszalek, "Budowa Obozu na Majdanku"; idem, Majdanek, pp. 114-15.
70. Majdanek Museum, Lf.17: Florstedt, Kommandanturbefehl Nr. 3/43, 3 May 1943; LG Dusseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp. 106-47; BDC, personnel file Florstedt.
71. LG Diisseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp. 65-66, 106-47. Among other Majdanek personnel arrested by the SS for corruption were the Protective Custody Camp Leader (Schutzhaftlagerfuhrer) Hackmann, Roll-Call Leader (Rapportfuhrer) Petrick, and Block Leader (Blockfuhrer) Laurich.
72. Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 39-41.
73. Majdanek Museum, I.f.17: Florstedt, Sonderbefehl, 21 July 1943; LG Dusseldorf, Urteil Hackmann, 8 Ks 1/75, 30 June 1981, pp. 66-73; Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 114-15.
74. Murawska, "Dzieci w Obozie na Majdanku"; Marszalek, Majdanek, pp. 115- 22.
75. Marszalek, Majdanek, p. 69.