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[ OSR's #8 - #195 ]


















The Krepiecki Forest

Actions outside Lublin




A dirt road leading into the Krepiecki forest outside of Lublin

The Krepiecki forest is approximately 12 kilometres on the way to Zamosc, and during the Second World War, the Nazis carried out mass executions at this site.


On the 3 May 1940 the first execution took place in the forest, a group of Polish and Jewish was executed as a reprisal for the murder of a functionary of the Lublin SD, a certain SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Loska.


During 1942 the Nazis carried out further executions and cremated the bodies of prisoners who had died in the Majdanek concentration camp, from various causes. The biggest mass execution took place on the 21-22 April 1942 organised by the SS/SD in Lublin, following the conclusion of the deportations from the Lublin ghetto to the death camp in Belzec.


The Jews who survived the deportations were forced to move from the original ghetto which was located in the oldest and poorest part of the historical Jewish district in Lublin’s old town, to the suburb of Majdan Tatarski, which was near to the Majdanek concentration camp.


The last 8,000 Jews were confined in the closed ghetto of Majdan Tatarski, in their midst was a large group who were “illegal” residing in the ghetto without documents. Only those Jews who possessed a J-Ausweis could officially stay in the Majdan Tatarski ghetto and the Lublin Judenrat was responsible for the preparation of a list of all the Jews who had been resettled to the new ghetto.


The Jews believed that inclusion on the list meant salvation.


The day following registration on the list, the ghetto at Majdan Tatarski was surrounded by SS-men and Trawniki-manner from the SS training camp for former Red Army members.


SS-Oberscharführer Erich Mußfeldt statement to Polish authorities on August 16, 1947:



"One day in late October 1943 the excavation of pits was begun behind Compounds V and VI, approximately 50 meters behind the structure of the new Crematorium. 300 inmates were put to this work; they dug without interruption for three days and nights, in two shifts of 150 each. In the course of these three days, three pits were excavated; they were more than two meters deep, zigzag-shaped, and each about 100 m long.


During these three days, special commandos from the concentration camp Auschwitz as well as SS and Police commandos from Cracow, Warsaw, Radom, Lwów and Lublin gathered in Majdanek. Otto Moll and Franz Hössler came from Auschwitz with 10 SS men. Altogether, some 100 SS men arrived from the cities I mentioned, and these SS men made up the Special Commando. On the fourth day-it may have been November 3-reveille was sounded at 5:00 a.m.


Therefore I went to that part of the camp where I usually stayed. The entire camp was surrounded by the police; I would estimate that there were about 500 policemen. They stood guard with their weapons at the ready. They were armed with heavy and light submachine guns as well as with other automatic weapons.

A truck mounted with a radio transmitter was parked near the new Crematorium; a second such truck stood near the camp entrance, not far from the Building Administration. When I arrived at the camp grounds, both transmitters were already on. They broadcast German marches and songs as well as dance music from records. The two trucks had been provided by the Propaganda Office [of the NSDAP] in Lublin.


I want to stress that up to that day I had no idea of the storm that was gathering. While the pits were being dug I had thought that they were air-raid trenches, since an anti-aircraft battery was stationed nearby. I asked an SS-man what they were for but I received no answer, and I got the impression that he himself didn't know what it was all about. The Jews who had been put to digging the pits replied to my questions that these pits were surely intended for them. I wouldn't believe that; I laughed at them and said that no doubt they were air-raid trenches. It was an honest remark, for at that time I really thought that.


Around 6:00 a.m.-or maybe it was already near 7:00 a.m.-the operation began. Some of the Jews who were gathered on Compound V were herded into a barrack, where they had to strip naked. Then Commander Thumann cut the wires of the fence separating Compound V from those pits, making a passageway. Armed policemen formed a human chain from this passageway to the pit. The naked Jews were led past this line-up to the pits, where an SS-man from the Special Commando chased them into one of the pits, in groups of ten.


When they were in one, they were chased to the other end of the pit, where they had to lie down, and then an SS-man from the Special Commando shot them from the edge of the pit. The next group was likewise driven to the same end of the pit, where they had to lie down on the bodies already there, so that the pit gradually filled with layers of corpses lying crosswise almost up to the edge. Men and women were shot separately, in separate groups.

This operation went on without a pause until 5:00 p.m. The SS-men in charge of overseeing the execution took turns; after their replacements arrived they went to the local SS barrack to eat, and the execution continued without respite. Music was blaring from the two radio transmitters the entire time. I observed these events from the new Crematorium, where I had my own room for myself and the inmates assigned to my unit.

That day all the Jews in the Majdanek camp were shot, also those who were quartered with various enterprises such as the DAW and the Clothing Works as well as all those in the units working outside the camp. Jews who had been brought in from the Castle were also shot.


The entire operation was organized along military lines: a radio transmitter was used to keep in contact with the Chief of the SS and Police in Lublin and with other higher officers. The SD officer supervising the operation on-site (I don't recall his name) used this transmitter to give updates on the progress of the operation by periodically announcing the number killed. I heard that a total of more than 17,000 Jews of both sexes were shot that day.


This also included all the Jews from my own commando. In the morning, after I had arrived in the camp, I had made inquiries as to what was going on, and I had asked Commander Thumann to please leave me my commando. He told me that was impossible; the operation, he said, was being conducted by Globocnik and the SD, and all the Jews of Lublin were to be killed, on the order of Governor General Frank. He added that instead of the Jews I would be assigned a unit of Russians.

However, 300 Jewesses were left alive that day; they were needed to sort the things that had been piled up in the barrack where the unfortunate victims had undressed before being led to the slaughter. Another 300 Jews were kept in the camp, at the disposal of the so-called Special Commando 1005.

They were all quartered on Compound V. The women from this group had arrived in Majdanek in March and April 1943. A couple dozen days later the men were gradually incorporated into the Special Commando. After all the Jews had been shot on November 3, the pits were covered over with a thin layer of soil.

On the day this operation was carried out, the camp received a new Commandant. SS-Sturmbannführer Florstedt was recalled, and SS-Sturmbannführer Weiss of Amtsgruppe D took over his post. Florstedt was relieved of duty because he had appropriated Jewish possessions.

The matter was investigated by a Special Unit of the Reich Criminal Police led by SS-Sturmbannführer Morgen. To try and save his neck, Florstedt pretended to be insane. Even before he was relieved of office he had ordered me to remove the bodies of those murdered on November 3. Commandant Weiss later repeated this order. I was assigned 20 Russians for this purpose. The fourth day I gathered wood and boards, and on November 5, 1943, I began to burn the corpses.


Since a section of the pits (that end at which the victims had climbed down into them) was not filled with bodies, I piled a bit of soil there so that a small incline was formed, making it easier to climb down. The following day I set up a sort of wooden grate in the pit; that's where the inmates placed those bodies that were in the farthest part of the pit. When the pyre was ready I poured methanol over it and set it on fire. I set up the next pyres closer towards the far end of the pits, on those spots where the bodies had lain that were already cremated.

Once the ashes cooled off after the pyre burned down, the inmates from my unit brought it up, and then the bones were pulverized in a special, gasoline-powered mill. This powder was then put into paper bags and taken on cars to an SS-factory near the camp, where this bone meal was later used to fertilize the soil. My work was supervised by an SD functionary from Lublin who saw to it that all the bodies were cremated, that no unburned bodies remained in the pits, that any gold teeth were pulled from the bodies prior to cremation, and that all jewels they wore were removed .

By Christmas 1943 I had finished cremating the bodies of the more than 17,000 Jews murdered on November 3. After cremation was concluded, the pits were filled with earth and leveled off .


Construction of the new Crematorium was completed after New Year 1944. I cremated the bodies of those who had died in the camp up to that time, together with those of the victims of November 3, 1943."


Hermann Worthoff, commander of the SD and SIPO in Lublin, the same man who commanded the mass deportations from the Lublin ghetto to Belzec. A selection was organised in accordance with the list already prepared by the Judenrat, approximately 3,000 Jews who did not possess a J-Ausweis, were taken to Majdanek concentration camp.


All the members of this group was incarcerated in two filthy barracks and subsequently taken by trucks in batches to the Krepiecki forest. The SS men told the prisoners that there was a big manor behind the forest where they would work in the fields. Many of the prisoners believed what the SS –men told them, until they stood on the path leading to the forest and started to hear the shots and screams of the first batch of victims.


Approximately 300 young men from the group imprisoned at Majdanek concentration camp, were admitted into the camp, thus these young men were spared from this brutal massacre. In addition to the young men thus spared, at the very last minute a small  group of women and children was given permission to leave Majdanek, the president of the Lublin Judenrat Dr Marek Alten negotiated with Hermann Worthoff, who agreed to release several women with their children.


Site of mass shootings in the Krepieki forest

The women were chiefly those whose husbands were either employed by the Lublin Judenrat or who worked for the German administration. Among this number was Anna Bach, the widow of Aron Bach, who was a famous advocate from Lublin, who died in 1940.


She and her daughter Diana returned to the ghetto in Majdan Tatarski, and having witnessed the events in Majdanek decided to escape from the ghetto, which they did, and both survived the holocaust and the war.  There were also several witnesses who saw the mass execution of Lublin’s Jews in April 1942, these were Poles who lived in the vicinity of the Krepiecki forest.


Shortly after the Germans were driven out of the region, a Polish –Soviet Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes at Majdanek, visited the forest and they took statements from the Polish inhabitants who described the mass executions.


Andrzej Wojcik who lived on the edge of the Krepiecki forest observed the executions for a whole day in April 1942:


“On the 22 April 1942 I was at home and suddenly I noticed that six or seven trucks, full of children between 2 and 14 years of age arrived at the forest. The children were driven down to the pits and the Germans shot them.


From the place of the murder the cries and screams of the children could be heard. In all, this lasted from 2am until 6am. The Germans were in helmets and blue uniforms. It is difficult for me to say from which formation they were.


Visibility was difficult because at the beginning it was still dark. I observed the massacre from a distance of about 50 m. I don’t know how many children were killed. They were transported by trucks, completely over-crowded. About 8 a.m. nine trucks full of Jews arrived at the forest. The area was surrounded by Lithuanian soldiers. I know this because people described them to me as Lithuanians.


The Jews were driven down from the trucks and they were led to the same place where the children were murdered. Some of the Jews held their children in their arms. I observed the massacre from a distance of about 150 m but from a different direction than before. Germans drove the Jews down to the pits. There were horrible screams. A group of six SS officers and Lithuanians shot into the Jews who were already in the pits. I’m sure that they were SS men because on their caps they had death’s head insignia and on their sleeves the signs of SS.


The execution lasted from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. I observed these murders the entire time. I heard from people that a Jewess escaped from the mountain of bodies but that later, attempting to escape, she was shot in a field.


The next day I went to the place of the executions and I noticed that the pits were covered partially by earth and partially by bushes. Legs, hands and heads stood out from the pits. The earth around the pits was covered in blood. I was there about 20 minutes.” Two or three days after the mass executions, Soviet Prisoners of War and several Slovakian Jews of the Sonderkommando from Majdanek – were taken to the forest to bury the bodies of the murdered Jews from Lublin.


During the burying of the bodies in the forest, several members of the Sonderkommando revolted, a number of Soviet Prisoners of War attacked drunken Lithuanian guards and several prisoners escaped, but their eventual fate is unknown. The belongings, clothes, money and valuables were transferred to Majdanek concentration camp, and the fate of the victims was soon known in the ghetto, as Polish eyewitnesses spoke about the mass executions.


The next wave of executions in the Krepiecki forest took place in the late summer and autumn of 1942. A typhus epidemic broke out at that time in Majdanek. The SS doctors in the camp organised a general selection of prisoners who were sick or unable to work. The selections took place at the end of August and throughout September 1942 and the selected prisoners, approximately several hundreds, were loaded onto trucks and transported to Krepiecki forest, where they were executed by SS-men.


The executions in Krepiecki forest ceased in October 1942 following the construction of the gas chambers at Majdanek concentration camp, but because the crematoria could not cope, the Germans used the forest as a place where murdered Jews were burned.


Monument to the victims murdered in the Krepiecki forest

Primitive pyres were constructed from railroad tracks and virtually every day from January 1943 until the summer of that year early each morning trucks containing corpses arrived in the forest.  A horrible stench permeated the whole area adjacent to the forest and the fire and smoke was visible from a great distance, the Nazis ordered the Sonderkommando from Majdanek to exhume the bodies of those murdered in 1942 and burn them on pyres.


One of the eyewitnesses of the mass cremations was Jozefa Lutynska who lived at Krepiecki:


“I remember also how I travelled to Lublin in 1942 and 1943 and I saw maybe 12 trucks carrying human bodies covered by sheets. There was snow and wind that tore the sheets off and we saw the naked bodies, one on top of the other. There was much blood, fresh, red blood which was proof that these people had to have been alive not long before.


The bodies transported to the forest in Krepiecki were burned by the Germans on pyres specially prepared from railways. My uncle who was a forester, Adam Nowak lived in Krepiecki and guarded the forest in which Germans burned the bodies.


He told me one time, “Come, so you will see what the Germans have done there and they burn the bodies. I went once with my uncle and I saw rail tracks at a distance about 0.5m from each other. The railways comprised something like a grate.


Under each grate the traces of burning were visible with a lot of ashes and fragments of hands and legs that had not been totally burnt. I did not look at it in great detail because I was frightened of this place and I did not want to see it any more.”


The burning of the bodies of those murdered in Majdanek lasted until the autumn of 1943 in the Krepiecki forest, until a new bigger crematorium was constructed in the camp. The execution and cremation sites in the forest were not totally destroyed and were visible even in 1946 when the Polish – Soviet commission visited the site.


In 1970 a memorial was built in the Krepiecki forest, the memorial bears the statement that there were about 30,000 people killed or burned there, but in fact it is impossible to determine with any certainty whether this figure is correct.




Sources : 


Institute of National Remembrance in Lublin – Collection of the Regional Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Lublin. 

Investigation about the Crimes in Krepiecki Forest 1966-67. 

Archive of the Majdanek State Museum in Lublin: Documents of the Polish – Soviet Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes at Majdanek 1944, collection of testimonies and memoirs by survivors.  

Piec lat na muszce. Wspomnienia wieznia Majdanka by W. Dobrowolski  Lublin 1994. 

Zbrodnie w lesie Krepieckim w swietle zeznan swiadkow by Robert Kuwalek – Zeszyty Majdanka” Vol XXI (2001).

Listy z Majdanka – Z. Wojcikowska, Lublin 1962. 

Majdanek Archive. 

Holocaust Historical Society 



Cameron Munro – photographs  




Copyright. Robert Kuwalek, Chris Webb, & Carmelo Lisciotto HEART 2008



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