Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Key Nazi personalities in
the Camp System
The Labor &
The Labor Camps
The Germans established a concentration camp in Warsaw, following the crushing of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in May 1943 by SS- Brigadefuhrer Jurgen Stroop. The SS and Police Leader suggested to Himmler that the former Warsaw ghetto area could be turned into a concentration camp.
Heinrich Himmler demanded the total liquidation of the Jews of the General Government in January 1943, and that Warsaw was to harshly treated, which led to further deportations to Treblinka and the revolt by the Jewish underground in April 1943, which was not concluded until one month later.
Friedrich Kruger, HSSPF Ost sent a report to Governor Frank on 31 May 1943, stating that the fighting spirit of the ghetto had impressed the German military mind.
Himmler on learning of this report was incensed and he demanded the total liquidation of all remaining Jewish camps and ghettos. Lieutenant – General Schindler, Chief of the Wehrmacht’s Armaments Inspectorate, sought the intervention of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Chief of the RSHA, Schindler declared that the Jews who had been retained in industry were the “best physically speaking, the so-called Maccabeans,” and the Warsaw ghetto uprising had evidenced that the females were even stronger than the males.
General Schindler was successful, although Himmler’s decree of the 11 June 1943 doomed the surviving ghettos the work camps were to continue, but the destruction of the remaining buildings that had not been destroyed during the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
The prison on Gesia Street was retained to house the demolition workers, the area of the ghetto was to be levelled and made into a park after all sewer and cellar openings had been sealed.
The territory of the camp consisted of the former soldier’s prison on Gesia and Zamenhofa Streets and the whole of Zamenhofa, Okopowa and Smocza Streets. Because the former soldiers prison was not big enough to accommodate all the prisoners, barracks were built in the autumn of 1943.
The first group of prisoners were 300 Germans who were destined to be the Kapo’s, came from Mauthausen, along with the notorious SS- Obersturmbannfuhrer Willhelm Goecke, who was later replaced by Captain Herber
In April 1944, the Gesiowska concentration camp was subordinated to the Majdanek concentration camp, over 4,600 inmates were held there, while another 2180 were working at demolition.
During May 1944 about 3,000 Hungarian Jews were brought to Gesiowska to work on the dismantling the buildings and removing the ruins. The prisoner’s hard work permitted the recovery of between 13 February and 10 June 1943 thirty-four million bricks, 6004 tons of iron, and 1,300 tons of useable iron, in addition to the removal of 131,000 cubic meters of debris.
Other work groups were engaged in burning the corpses, a death brigade was formed and a pyre was established in the courtyard of the house at 45 Gesia Street. In the spring of 1944 the SS ordered the building of a crematorium at 19 Zamenhofa Street, however, although the building was completed, it never became operational.
Other prisoners were employed to seek out bunkers where Jews were hiding, and searching for clothing, valuables and money. Any Jews who were discovered were executed and their valuables were shipped to the Majdanek concentration camp, and from there to the Reich.
The living conditions in the camp were in many instances worse than in Majdanek, parcels were not allowed, the work was very exhausting and the discipline particularly harsh.
In June 1944, when the camps’ construction was completed, Gesiowka had a capacity of 5,000 prisoners, the liquidation of the Warsaw sub-camp commenced on 27 July 1944, with the execution of all the persons confined to the camp’s hospital and of the 1,800 prisoners who had declared they were unfit to walk.
The next day about 4,000 were led out of the camp and marched to Lowicz, where four days later they were put on a train bound for Dachau, the remaining 400 prisoners were free by the Zoshka’s Storm Battalion during the Warsaw uprising in August 1944.
Here is the report of the officer commanding Zoshka’s Storm Battalion on the liberation of Goose Farm:
During the rising we did not know the history of the Goose Farm Camp. All we knew was that an extermination camp lay in front of our lines, and that prisoners had to be rescued.
The camp consisted of two section, one abutted Trench Street and had been partly captured on the Rising’s first day, but the Germans had retreated to the other section, which was unusually well fortified.
It was surrounded by a high brick wall, and about a dozen watchtowers, armed with heavy machine guns, had been built into the wall. From these towers, German “storks” – as we called them – had an excellent view over the surrounding terrain.
The attack on the Goose Farm began about 2pm on the 5th, Alex’s platoon engaged the watchtowers from a position on Trench Street, drawing the Germans’ attention in that direction.
Felek’s platoon then approached the first watchtower on the left unobserved. The tower was to be destroyed by two rounds from our tank and the second round was to be the signal for the assault.
The tank under my command, was to proceed slowly down Goose Street from the Trench Street end, it was to make a sharp left turn opposite the main entrance to the camp which was blocked by an enormous barricade.
When we approached the barricade, which was built of concrete blocks, railway tracks, and other metal objects and which was at least one storey high, I realised the size of the risk that we are taking. Fortunately we had a fantastic driver, called, “Roar.”
He pressed the accelerator to the floorboard, the engine roared at full rev, and bit by bit the tank edged its way to the top. Suddenly, it tipped over and dropped down on the far side. It wasn’t damaged, though we were all thoroughly shaken.
The Germans hurled a cluster of grenades, but the tracks still held even though the vehicle was momentarily blown off the ground. A quick turn to the right, and we were already standing beside the second barricade.
We fired the agreed two shots, the corner watchtower was demolished and the way was open for the assault. Some of our boys literally jumped the gun, and stormed one of the towers after the first of our shots.
All the watchtowers were under direct fire from our tank, as soon as anything moved we demolished it. At one moment, I saw a lad riding at full speed through the middle of the camp on a bicycle. I was sure that he would be brought down. But he jumped off at the end of the alley, turned around, and started firing his Sten gun at one of the towers.
The Germans had either to run, to surrender, or to perish. Our lads were dressed in captured German uniforms and German helmets, and they shouted in German to the prisoners, who were of various nationalities – the prisoners thought their last hour had come.
It is hard to imagine the emotion when they realised that we brought them freedom not death. I remembered Radoslav’s words:
“The Germans are capable of killing the prisoners even after you capture the camp,” so I threw open the lid of the tank and shouted, “For Gods sake, get down and take cover.” But no one paid any attention whatsoever. The camp had been captured – our nurses appeared.
Since the tank’s ventilation had not been working very well, we were more or less suffocated and I went for a stroll to recover, I saw the most extraordinary sight. In the middle of the camp square, at least one hundred prisoners had been drawn up military-style in two long ranks.
As I went to them, a voice called out “Attention. Eyes left.” And one of them came up to me and saluted, “Sergeant Henryk Lederman, sir, he reported, “ and the Jewish Battalion ready for action.”
My wonder at these people knew no bounds. Not only had they not been broken by Nazi savagery, they had managed to organise themselves, despite the conditions of the camp, and to ready themselves as soon as an opportunity occurred.
Radoslav gave me permission to take these Jewish soldiers into our ranks. Some of them went to Parasol, others to Fila…. Many died in combat.
Our losses were horrendous. But those soldier-Jews left behind them the reputation of exceptionally brave, ingenious, and faithful people. Many of their names or pseudonyms can be seen in Zoshka’s enclosure in Warsaw’s Military Cemetery.
A total of 348 people were liberated, including 24 women, some survived the uprising and the war, whilst KZ-Warschau contained no gas chambers, conditions there were just as brutal in other concentration camps established by the Nazis, but the precise number of people who perished there may never be known.
The Final Solution by Gerald Reitlinger, published by Sphere Books 1971
The Head Office of State Archives in Warsaw
Rising 44 by Norman Davies, published by Macmillan 2003
Majdanek by Jozef Marszalek, published by Interpress 1986
Holocaust Historical Society
Copyright: F.J Frasier, Chris Webb & Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2008