Nazi Concentration Camp
October 1941 - July 1944
The Majdanek concentration camp, which ultimately became the second largest Nazi extermination camp, was established in October of 1941 to house Soviet prisoners of war and Polish political dissidents. Built by Jews from a nearby labor camp and approximately 2000 Soviet POWs, the camp was intended to hold 25,000 inmates. Although the original plans were revised several times to increase the number of prisoners to 150,000 and then to 250,000, difficulty in aquiring construction materials kept the maximum capacity of the camp at any one time to 50,000.
Located three miles from the city of Lublin, Majdanek differs from other Nazi extermination camps in one very significant way. Whereas at other camps, the Nazis went to great lengths to conceal the existence and purpose of the camps, Majdanek is located on a large, open plain, and is clearly visible from nearby houses.
In 1942, Majdanek was converted from a prisoner of war camp to an extermination camp. Two wooden barracks were used as gas chambers until a brick building could be built to house the killing centers. Zyklon B, a poison gas, was used to kill the prisoners who were told that they were entering showers. A large crematorium was constructed on the end of the camp opposite the gas chambers, and bodies were transported from the gas chambers to the crematorium in wheel barrows.
During the years of its operation, Majdanek had 5 camp commandants:
- Karl Otto Koch
- Max Koegel
- Herman Florsted
- Martin Weiss
- Arthur Liebehenschel
In total, it is estimated that approximately 200,000 people were murdered at Majdanek, of whom 125,000 were Jewish victims of Hitler's "Final Solution". When Majdanek was liberated by Soviet troops on July 23, 1944, in it were found warehouses containing vast quantities of shoes and other personal belongings of Holocaust victims that had been killed at Majdanek and at other concentration camps.
Currently, Majdanek is a historical site and museum. Unlike other concentration camps, it has not been modified to be less shocking, and remains almost exactly as it was when it was in use, down to the human ashes in the crematorium ovens.
Information for this writeup came from:
My own observations of Majdanek during my visit there on the March of the Living.