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Majdanek - Extermination camp


Tower and barbed wire fence. The simplicity of the fence shows inmates weren´t expected to stay long.

       Majdanek, also spelled Maidanek, was a concentration and extermination camp on the south-east border of the town Lublin in Poland. Hence this killing center earned the name of Lublin-Majdanek. Camp Majdanek, originally intended for prisoners of war, was initiated on 21 July 1941. The first transport directed toward Majdanek consisted of five thousand Soviet POWs. Arriving in the fall of 1941 they soon died of starvation and exposure to the harsh climate of the season. All subsequent transports were made up mainly of Polish Jews, although it is a known fact that also Polish prisoners were shipped to Majdanek. In the autumn of 1942 the camp was converted into a death camp for Jews, imported first from Slovakia and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (15,000) and next from rural Poland (36,500), but also from the Netherlands (6,000), and from Greece. These were followed by seventy-four thousand Polish Jews from the Warsaw, Bialystok, and Lublin areas. Like other camps, because of scant information and lack of documentation found, the number of Jews exterminated varies. The number of Jews killed at Majdanek is estimated at 125,000. Of these, 100,000 were Polish. Estimates of the total number of people who died at Majdanek, whether through execution or simply by having the very basics of life denied, ranges widely from 200,000 to 1.5 million. It may never be known how many Soviet prisoners of war were executed at Majdanek or at any of the other extermination centers. Their number must run into the multi hundreds of thousands.

 

Crematory ovens at Majdanek with piles of human ashes still in front, as seen after liberation.


       Initially, victims were killed by mass gunfire in a nearby forest and the bodies were buried in mass graves. A particularly deadly day for the Jews occurred in November 1943. In reprisal for resistance actions in the ghettos and the uprising and escape from both Sobibor and Treblinka, the Nazis decided to expedite the murder of Jews in the Lublin district calling this action Aktion Erntefest - Operation Harvest Festival. The method of killing as used in Aktion Reinhard - Operation Reinhard was implemented later (Majdanek was not part of this action, yet as deathcamp it worked with equal efficiency). Gas chambers were built for mass executions using Zyklon B pellets. These pellets produced quick-killing hydrogen cyanide fumes. Afterwards, the bodies of the victims were cremated.

       As recorded above, a strong partisan movement had been developed in the Lublin district. Moreover, in both Sobibor and Treblinka death-camps, Jewish inmates rose up against the SS barbarians. In retaliation, following the rebellion at Sobibor and Treblinka, most of the Jewish prisoners at Majdanek, some 42,000, were annihilated in a massacre which was euphemistically referred to as Aktion Erntefest - Operation Harvest Festival. This action included the machine-gunning of 18,000 Jews in a single day. They were shot on the 3rd of November 1943. They were made to line up in front of ditches the victims had to dig themselves. Toward the end of the war the SS tried to obliterate all traces of this massacre, using prisoners who had been brought in from nearby labor camps. When Russian soldiers liberated Majdanek on 24 July 1944, only a few hundred prisoners of various nationalities were alive.