"..January ..1941 ..4,000 Jewish prisoners ..placed into railway coaches ..sent ..East. ..brought to Lublin ..handed over to ..SS. ..September or October ..1942 ..only those ..qualified as skilled plant and factory workers ..left in ..camp on No. 7 Lipovaya Street ..rest ..and I among them ..transferred to Majdanek Camp. All of us ..knew ..deportation to Majdanek meant death. Of this party of more than 4,000 ..few individuals ..managed to escape ..remained alive." Joseph Reznik.
The Holocaust has revealed the names of the guilty. The World knows those who committed these most appalling crimes, unprecedented in all of History. The unparalleled nature of the Slaughter of 6,000,000 Human Beings, and all because they were of a Jewish antecedence, evokes a sense of rage no retribution would subside. Nations however have revealed their unwillingness to prosecute them all, these criminal hordes masquerading as ideological preservers of a clannish mythology. These ‘aryans’ have not been singled out and pursued to the ends of the Earth. That the Allied powers professed as much in The Moscow Declaration, show’s the World what Justice does and can mean for some as opposed to other’s. Here, where there is The Death Camp Majdanek, it is a similar tale of a very inactive justice for a determinedly active Slaughter of innocent Jews and other’s. That capacity to Slaughter has been taken wilfully and without hesitation and has left History with the sort of distortion those missing Jewish People cannot afford.
"..to ..uttermost ends of ..earth." The Moscow Declaration.
I have visited Majdanek and am amazed at its very proximity to the City of Lublin. I stood on Lublin Castle and could see clearly where the Camp stood. It was not far, it was not isolated and it was not a secret. Therefore, it cannot ever be countenanced that what was inflicted upon all those within Majdanek could remain ignorant to all of those outside Majdanek! Initially known as Lublin Konzentrationslager, prior to its later designation, the Camp administration was handed over to SS Gruppenfuhrer Odilo Globocnik’s control. A meeting with Himmler in Lublin was convened to iron out the very precise details for the establishment of the Lublin Camp. The coming together of the ‘Aktion Reinhard’ Death Camp programme of destruction was coming together.
Himmler had met with Globocnik on July 20th. 1941 and both SS Gruppenfuhrer Oswald Pohl and SS Gruppenfuhrer Dr Hans Friedrich Karl Franz Kammler were in attendance to ensure an even spread of the spoils of destruction. Kammler had recently transferred over from the Luftwaffe and as an engineer, was instrumental in Majdanek’s construction. This appointment was taken up immediately. The following day, July 21st. Himmler orders that the Majdanek Death Camp plans are to be altered. Majdanek is immediately operational as a Concentration Camp and as part of his brief to rid all of Lublin, and the General Gouvernment of its Jewish Citizens, Globocnik, who was equivalent to the task rings the changes necessary to do so.
"..I was 9 weeks in Majdanek. .. I never washed my face ..whole 9 weeks because ..there was no water. ..Ukraine they got ..quarter of an inch iron pipes and knock us in ..head and every day fall dead. ..When I wash my face ..I was out of Majdanek ..coming to Auschwitz. I just take off ..clothes in 9 weeks what I wear in Majdanek and throw away." Solomon Radasky.
Here in Majdanek though, where such similar scenes of atrocity were played out time and time again, and this was an open space which was all too visible and within sight of those in Lublin who wished to see it. The Camp could be evidenced by any and all who wished to simply pass by and wonder why there were plumes of smoke billowing from the tall crematorium towers. Or there might be a questioning as to why there was the decaying scent of destruction pervading the air for miles around. These questions are at the very centre of the task to come up with any form of resolution which fixes accurately the abundance of those crimes perpetrated here. That there is a severe lack of Justice to be had for the Jews who entered Majdanek, never to return, is criminal in its self. But for as many as the 6,000,000 Jews of The Holocaust who have not qualified their extinction with any sought out Justice, what balance has there been to these scales of justice. Before Majdanek became a Death Camp though, in the proper sense of the word, it was also a Prisoner of War Camp.
"..We kept retreating ..to postpone ..moment of separation. ..Sons ..fathers ..brothers ..husbands ..hastily said goodbye to their womenfolk. ..embraced and kissed.. ..ss brutally pushed them ..fired at those retreating ..beating people blindly. We must have been harder than iron for our hearts did not break with ..pain." Halina Birenbaum.
Majdanek also had a metamorphosis, and grew from a Concentration and then a Labour Camp into what history knows now is a Death Camp. That the Camp itself grew to such proportions, it retains the distinction as being the largest of all the Camps within Hitler’s Final Solution. Majdanek was tantamount to its requirement for what Hitler demanded would be a final resolve with the Jews of Europe. For one who Survived what Majdanek became intended for, Halina Birenbaum is a Survivor whose story requires retelling time and time again. But what is missing is so obviously the requirement that is the suitable form of Justice that Halina too was denied. Halina was amongst a transport of a fortunate few, who had spent the night in Majdanek’s Gas Chamber. With luck, divine intervention or some aspect of great fortune, she awoke the following morning only to find out that the Camp administration had not an ample supply of Gas.
Here is the difficulty for Historians, Academic’s and those with a keen interest in knowing what The Holocaust is. If Survivor's like Halina have any sense that they have been at all fortunate, and it is all of History which gains from that, Survivor’s place the evidence before us of what they endured. That said, any difficulty Halina states in comprehending what she sustained, what she witnessed and what she has chosen to deliver to posterity, then what the hell chance have we got in understanding. For those of us who even choose to make an attempt to seek any form of comprehension, but are devoid of that reality which existed for these Jewish Survivor’s of The Holocaust, it is an essential that we seek to empathise with what it is the Survivors know! On September 22nd. 1941, Kammler, the Chief of Group C of the SS Economic Administrative Main Office, issued orders that Majdanek was to be constructed as a Concentration Camp with a capacity for detaining 50,000 Prisoners.
Kammler would fully comprehend what Majdanek was established to achieve and when Majdanek became operational from October 1st. 1941, it was fast expanded due to the urgent need to take control of the ever increasing rate of Russian POW’s. In incremental stages, the Camp was enlarged to enclose more than 120,000 mainly Russian prisoner’s in November 1941. That too was revised to accommodate more than 150,000 prisoner’s that December and then by March 1942, that sealing had been brought up to secure the captivity of more than 250,000 prisoner’s, and these too were mainly Russian POW’s. In fits and starts the Jewish Question was partially resolved in the wake of a need to escalate further The Final Solution. Here at Majdanek, at any given time, there was to be a total of 300,000 prisoner’s who entered the realm of Majdanek. Here then is where the confusion as to the Death toll at the Majdanek Death Camp begins.
Given Hitler’s specific demand, there was this penchant for destruction which was to be the penalty for any Jew who entered Hitler’s field of view. That said, none too many Jews could ever hope to emerge from any of the Death Camps, including Majdanek. So we will remain eternally uncertain as to how many innocents were Murdered even here at Majdanek and why there is this latter day assumption that the Jews of Majdanek received differing treatment than Jews entering The Aktion Reinhard Death Camps, or indeed any of The Death Camps. Given the direction Hitler had driven the Final Solution it is unlikely that any of the Death Camps would relinquish its hold over any of those Jews detrained there. Whilst Himmler was integrated fully into Hitler’s conceived and formulated plan and Eichmann organised the transportation, it cannot be confused that the statistical return which History now attempts to unravel here at Majdanek can differ so divergently from that clear intention.
Though estimates have ranged wildly from that initial 1,700,000 figure of those People murdered at Majdanek alone, it is a respected fact that those Jews here at Majdanek are a constituent part of Hitler’s final resolve. Despairing, without any human concern for them, deprived of any and all material worth and finally, while having all their right’s curtailed and their right to life extinguished, they are denied their very existence by sheer twist of fate having been delivered up by Hitler. With that perhaps growing awareness that they finally knew the complicity of those many who sought to deliver them to this point, the final journey would not have been a salutary one. It is no anomaly then that Majdanek provided the Jews the same treatment afforded all Jews entering any of The Death Camps. Likewise, it cannot be the only Camp which, in the rancid nature of self enrichment, even by those of Hitler's entrusted Camp officials, that many sought to even deprive Hitler and the Reich of its plunder. That same detail, exacted against the Jews of Majdanek, and all of those other inmates must have caused ripples throughout the Reich which Hitler would have been incensed over.
"..In Majdanek they took everything. Everything. ..rings were cut off ..earrings were pulled out of ..lobes. Every orifice was checked. All our documents ..everything ..everything was taken away from us." Judith Becker.
Even the destructive cost to the Jews under Hitler’s often mentioned ideological campaign was clearly not enough. During its inception there were elements of the Waffen SS 3rd. Division, Totenkopf garrisoned, stationed and trained at Majdanek and these acted as the Camps formative guards. The main guard force though was made up of the Latvian Schuma battalion, the Trawniki’s, those mainly Nationalist Ukrainians who had been trained at the Trawniki Camp and a Lithuanian battalion. It must be remembered additionally that all Waffen SS units gained their spurs within the Concentration Camp system, under SS Gruppenfuhrer Theodor Eicke. These fledgling Deaths Head units not only went on to compete in War, they rivalled even der Einsatzgruppe in the Slaughter of those Jews Murdered into Killing Sites. In Majdanek, during its more than 3 years of operations, even when some estimates have reduced the incumbent Camp populace to only 500,000 murdered people, there is an enormous displacement of Jewish wealth and goods to be gained that barely suggests the level of extermination here.
"..first Jews to reach Majdanek were ..from Slovakia ..Czechoslovakia. When I was there ..they told me that 10,000 of them had arrived ..and ..of these ..there remained ..100 ..perhaps ..200." Yisrael Gutman.
The responsibility for delivering these Jews, from all of the subjected Nations straight to the gates of Majdanek, as it was for all The Death Camps in Poland, was Eichmann's. Though of the 54 nationalities taken from 28 Countries of Europe who were interned, it is without doubt that Majdanek gained its methodology from the likes of Eicke, Globocnik and those who strode the Camp system as lords over the lives of their victims. Of the Jews who reached Majdanek were those Jewish People from Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Most of those Jews from all of these Nations had been clearly assigned their position within The Holocaust by Hitler and given a one way rail ticket by Eichmann. Can we then doubt that Majdanek was to be barely a reservoir of those Jews to be sent on toward Destruction while the facility to do so was here, within Majdanek itself.
"..in Majdanek ..we did not wear striped clothing. They gave us clothing of people who had been shot. We always knew how many people had worn it before by ..bullet holes." Judith Becker.
While Majdanek’s internees worked to sift through the valuables of the Murdered victims of Hitler's Final Solution, it also acted as a relief valve taking the pressure off the Aktion Reinhard Death Camps. That destructive measure surely amounted to the very attempt to cope with the awesome intake of those Jews destined for a final solution. It is essential therefore to appreciate the depth to which these SS and Waffen SS units of a Hitlerite elite were steeped in the blood of racial ideology and racial cleansing. That any of these SS or Waffen SS would be so considerate as to allow any Jews who entered Majdanek any chance at all of Survival is a nonsense. If any of these SS or Waffen SS, who came through the Camp system, could they then deny what they were tutored and programmed to achieve. That said, with all that these SS and Waffen SS experienced and then brought to bear in the field, could they be allowed to ignore, forget or even deny what they had perpetrated and achieved as part of their indoctrination. It is a graven wrong to accept the paucity of evidence emanating from these SS and Waffen SS as a source of the truth we seek.
"..In Majdanek and everywhere in Poland. They gave what is ..best in humanity. I have it all ..in my soul ..letters written to me by many. Everything is possible ..in spite of other manifestations. I ..myself have never experienced any animosity toward me and what I represent. There is always ..goodwill and hope." Halina Birenbaum.
By December 16th. 1941, there were none of the 20,000 or so builders of the Camp at Majdanek, Jews amongst them, who were left alive. So the tally of destruction we should not ignore had reached such terrifying proportions, and within the space of 3 months, that it cannot be discarded from the narrative of destruction which belongs to Majdanek. With the completion of all building work in March 1942, Majdanek was ready to detain and consume its prey. While this Camp was not only to become a Death Camp in its latter stages, it was in transition from housing Russian POW's and many other citizens and political prisoner's from Byelorussia, Poland and the Ukraine, to murdering Jews. All of these, who had been detained for enforced labour, faced exactly the same rigors and ill treatment as any of those other’s who were resettled in all other of The Death Camps. Majdanek was to become an immense Camp, the largest of Hitler's Concentration Camps in the entire system. Majdanek stretched out over 667 acres of Lublin's suburbs and as was the case of all such spaces, it was surrounded by an electrified and barbed wire fence.
"..a delegation appeared. ..astonished to see SS men. In ..centre ..Eichmann." Ya'akov Friedman.
It was guarded by those of the SS who manned 19 watchtowers. There were more than 220 Barracks which could house up to 45,000 detainees. But it did not lock out the inquisitive nature of those people who travelled backwards and forwards to Lublin. There was no remoteness or isolation to keep people from identifying what was being conducted within Majdanek’s confines. That final detail would eventually lead toward the Camp administration falling into line in the final attempt to conceal the truth. Tragically, Majdanek would in time proceed with the Gassing of all of those Jews, sent there as an accessory to the Aktion Reinhard Death Camps. Majdanek metamorphosed on two separate occasions and moved finally toward its Death Camp status with the arrival of a Gassing Chamber from Sachsenhausen. It is difficult to imagine a scenario that did not subject all of the Jews of Majdanek with destruction. Here too, another role of the Majdanek Camp was to work in tandem with Globocnik’s pet scheme, and this was a larceny of the highest order.
"..There were 8 or 9 trenches. ..one of ..trenches ..a horrible picture. On a woman's body ..there lay a little child 2 ..3 years old ..wearing white shoes ..a white coat ..mother ..lying face to face with ..child. This sight sent a shock through us ..worse than everything else ..we ..too ..were fathers of children ..we imagined our own children thus." Joseph Reznik.
Here, where the inmates sifted and sorted the plunder from those very same Aktion Reinhard Death Camps, and not always exclusively for Hitler’s benefit, riches were to be had. At a stage in its evolution Majdanek had seven operational Gas Chambers, which were fully used. Alongside which, Gassing Vans, which were capable of in excess of those latest and attributable murderous accounts, were utilised. Those Jews, and others who entered here, were Murdered using both Zyklon 'B' in the static Gas Chambers and Carbon Monoxide gas from the Vans occupied for that specifically deadly purpose. The Murdered of Majdanek were buried behind Compound V and were later burned in the x2 Crematoria opened in June 1942. The camp, as we are aware was initially utilised for the containment of Soviet prisoners of war and dealt then with the eventual Murder of the Jews. The Camp was eventually liberated by the forces of Russia. It is both a salient point, that for those of us who choose to research and enter into the Death Camp of History, there is this need to explore the very detail of the Catastrophe. It is also a traumatic exploration of the shock the Jews faced and it is necessary and essential for us all, as we head toward an understanding of all that happened, that we contemplate the nature of the tragedy.
"..I wish to enter ..mind of Eichmann so that I can understand." Otto 'Dov' Kulka.
As Otto Kulka states, we must also enter into the mindset of the perpetrator to comprehend what the destroyed must have known. Otto is a Survivor and if he seeks out the Murderer to seek out comprehension, what chance do I, or we have to then understand? There are many who write of what they know of The Holocaust, and there are Survivor’s who cannot find that level of comprehension we require. Here at Majdanek, there is added a dimension of horror for us to attempt to comprehend. Majdanek also had many satellite camps and Globocnik had subsequently planned for the expansion of its reach to house up to 250,000 prisoners. These plans were never followed through. During its existence Majdanek had 7 operational gas chambers, two wooden gallows, a small crematorium and, from 1943, a larger crematorium in order to destroy the remains of those who entered here. Many Majdanek prisoners died simply from being there, due to disease, starvation, exposure to brutality, extreme temperatures, overwork and exhaustion, or from beatings and bestial treatments by the camp administration.
"..After removing ..bodies. Chloride was spread in ..pit. ..an operation to obliterate ..traces ..they did not want it to be known what was there. They spread chloride ..we filled in ..pit ..put soil on top. Over those pits ..after filling them up ..we also sowed grass." Joseph Reznik.
Many of the killings were conducted in mass murder actions and cannot be dismissed by any of the later examinations. Surely the choice of Kommandanteur, for the period the Camp was operating, was comprised of the very personnel necessary to conduct Hitler’s Final Solution. At various times and in respective order the Camp administration was ruled over by:
1) SS Standartenfuhrer Karl Otto Koch, commanded from October 1941 till August 1942. Koch was executed by the SS on April 5th. 1945 for theft from the Reich of Jewish gold and money.
2) SS Sturmbannfuhrer Otto Max Koegel, commanded from August 1942 to November 1942. Koegel committed suicide in his prison cell a day after his arrest on June 27th. 1946.
3) SS Standartenfuhrer Hermann Florstedt, commanded from November 1942 to October 1943. Florstedt was shot by the SS on April 15th. 1945 for theft from the Reich of Jewish gold and money.
4) SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Martin Gottfried Weiss, commanded from November 1st. 1943 to May 5th. 1944. Weiss was hanged on May 29th. 1946.
5) SS Sturmbannfuhrer Arthur Liebehenschel, commanded from May 5th. 1944 to July 22nd. 1944 . Liebenschel was hanged on January 28th. 1948.
"..Beginning with Lublin ..Jews are now being deported ..East. ..a fairly barbaric process is being employed ..one not to be described more precisely ..and of ..Jews themselves ..not much is left over. On ..whole ..one can confirm that 60% of them have to be liquidated ..while only 40% are able to be put to work." Joseph Goebbels.
Here too the supposed ideological fixation Hitler had with the Jewish People was exposed as both Koch and Florstedt were executed by an SS tribunal for their larceny. SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Hermann Hackmann too was also indicted on the same charge as Koch and Florstedt. Nor, I might add, was their larceny for the profit of the Reich, which was Hitler's demand, but a theft from the victims they were overseers of, which they kept for themselves. Subsequent to the supposed ideological nature of The Final Solution was the amassing of Jewish wealth for Hitler. Any and all expropriations gained would not be allowed to profit other than Hitler and his Reich. Any theft from such an ideologically based position could not be countenanced.
"..Lublin (Majdanek) 24,733 ..Belzec 434,508 ..Sobibor ..101,370 ..Treblinka ..713,555." SS Sturmbannfuhrer Hermann Hoefle.
Highlighted here though is the immense task of assessing the overall Jewish Catastrophe and that dispute, concerning the exact account of those Jews Murdered. The extent to which we can assess the overall tragedy for the Jews who entered Majdanek, is no where near established. Particularly here though at Majdanek, it is safe to say, we will never know the true level of the Catastrophe for the Jews who entered this Camp system of Hitler's realm. I sincerely doubt that the World will ever heal from the knowledge that it has no way of ascertaining the level of destruction meted out to the Jews of Europe. Within this particular Extermination Camp, which was operational from the July 21st. 1941 until July 1944, firstly as a Concentration and then Forced Labour Camp, delivering for Hitler its exterminating status as it evolved, that assessment is radically reduced. During this period it was fully utilised, and in its familiar guise, as one of the 6 Death Camps which Hitler had established in Poland.
"..Mother was amongst ..condemned. ..at that time none of us knew of ..existence of gas chambers and crematoria in Majdanek." Halina Birenbaum.
Majdanek is located only some 5 kilometres from the City of Lublin in one of its Southern Districts. What remains extraordinary is the very proximity of the Camp to such a large conurbation. This Camp is unique in the realm of the Death Camps. All but Sobibor can support that sought after, even illusive, isolated and secretive site. With that, and where it has been previously suggested that more than 235,000 Jews were Slaughtered in Majdanek, any suggestion that the slightest detail of the atrocity could have gone unnoticed is absurd. The camp did indeed have the capacity to achieve what was Hitler's ultimate aim. It is also suggested that during this time it was that very capacity which allowed for the approximated 360,000 victims that died or were murdered at Majdanek. Of that number, it is suggested that 120,000 of these were those Jewish People of The Holocaust. It is a monumental task then to even come close to being accurate in the detail of the destruction here.
"..we were taken to a building ..known in Majdanek as ..Red House. I was with a group of Jews from Slovakia. I had a friend who slept next to me. He knew them. He also indicated a further number of names of all ..officers he had seen ..amongst them ..Eichmann." Ya'akov Friedman.
With a mixture of Carbon Monoxide and the use of Zyklon ‘B’, Gassings and the destruction of those Jews detained here commenced. It has been assessed that within the space of a year, between May 1943 and May 1944, SS Obersturmfuhrer Karl Friedrich Hoecker, who had become Weiss’s adjutant in May 1943, had acquired more than 3,600 kilograms of Zyklon ‘B’ for use in Majdanek. This acquisition was timed with the building of a second Gassing Chamber, there would be 7 in all. Zyklon ‘B’ was the killing agent of preference for Hoess also, who perfected its use at Auschwitz-Birkenau. With such an amount of Zyklon’B’, this alone qualified Majdanek as a destructive force with an immense capacity. The amount of Zyklon ‘B’ therefore, for the Gassing of the Jewish People interred there, would be in the region of at least 180,000 persons based on the kill rate of 50 persons per kilo of the Gas.
"..Sincerity wakes up in others good feelings ..which turn to closeness and understanding. I experienced it in all my meetings ..in different countries ..cities ..schools ..synagogues ..churches ..and lately also in Majdanek." Halina Birenbaum.
With Globocnik’s Aktion Reinhard coming toward an end, this was at the beginning of November 1943, an escalating concern that Jews were still alive, and while no reprieve was to be afforded the Jewish People, Majdanek took on a newer role. With Hans Franks Generalgouvernment having been given clear instructions for the clearance of the last vestiges of Jewish existence, a final assault upon the integrity of any Jewish presence in the Generalgouvernment was made. On November 3rd., what remained of Majdanek’s Jews, some 18,000 in number, were mostly murdered as part of that detail called Operation Erntfest, or Harvest Festival. It was a shooting spree barely evidenced since the massacre of Kiev’s Jews in Babi Yar. Of the remainder of those Jews who had been kept aside to finalise the eradication of the evidence, these were eventually murdered in one of the Camps Gas Chambers.
"..They had to lie down ..SS from Sonderkommando ..at ..top of ..ditch ..machine gunned them. ..batches ..run along ..bottom of ..ditch ..had to lie down on ..corpses of those already shot. Men ..executed ..separate from women. Action lasted without ..break till 17:00. ..SS men shooting changed ..left for meals ..but ..executions continued incessantly." Erich Muhsfeldt.
The analysis contention gets somewhat lost in a statistical malaise, and while I attempt to avoid conjecture, when we could be possibly losing sight of the many Jews who are consigned here to eternity, it is an analysis which has stressed a decrease in the formerly established Murderous assessment. What is certain though is that between April 29th. 1942 and November 3rd. 1943 the largely Jewish presence in Majdanek was Murdered. Then, all traces of this evidence was obliterated, and all in accord with what Hitler's Final Solution would seek to conceal. Here at Majdanek though, and no matter what criticism can be made of the Russian early assessment of the Catastrophe, it was fundamentally a positive step in ensuring the World knew what places like Majdanek had been intended for. To assist with this dissemination of facts, The Illustrated London News published photographs of Majdanek immediately after it had been liberated.
"..corpses were burned 1,000 at a time. ..2 stacks for burning. ..a mound of corpses burned for 2 or 3 days." Joseph Reznik.
The unfortunate headline read though that there was ‘irrefutable proof’ that between 600,000 and 1,000,000 persons were murdered here. It also stated that those too ill to walk to their Death’s were thrown alive into the flames. While estimates have suggested that more than 180 people were Murdered here every day, we cannot afford the risk of there being any omission! With that suggested estimate, which is close on 200,000 Murdered over a x3 year span, we enter a further figure into the detail of uncertainty. The recent studies which have suggested that barely 60,000 Jews were Murdered at Majdanek, needs closer inspection. While we can never Ever have a definitive number, and we are still shy here of even that 74,000 assessed figure, or even the suggested 90,000 Jews who were Murdered, all of these figures add to an implied loss which cannot be assured. But while we attempt to come to terms with facts and figures, we should never lose sight of the human tragedy. We can never be certain either of what it must have been like for any Jew who entered the Camp system let alone comprehend what it was to feel so isolated, abandoned and alone.
"..After I had looked at everything ..I returned to Lublin ..following day. On Florstedt's orders ..I and ..unit assigned to me began to cremate ..bodies that had been buried in ..[Krepiecki] forest towards Lwow. At first I excavated a pit ..but because cremation did not proceed quickly enough in this pit I devised ..following set up for cremation. ..I spread old truck tarps over rocks piled to a considerable height ..ordered ..bodies placed on these ..poured methanol over them. I had wood stacked beneath ..tarps and set on fire. In this way about 100 bodies could be burned at one time. Some of them had been dug up ..some were fresh ..just brought in from ..camp. After such a load had been reduced to ashes ..these were pounded to powder and dumped into ..pit whence we had removed ..bodies in ..first place. To pound ..ashes we used iron sheets and pounders. These tools were supplied by an SD functionary from Kommando 1005 who supervised my work. In this way I managed by ..end of October to cremate all ..bodies buried in ..forest and in ..region behind Compound V [Majdanek]. According to ..pertinent calculations I cremated approximately 6,000 bodies in ..forest and approximately 3,000 behind Compound V. These figures also include .. fresh corpses of inmates who died in ..camp during this time." Erich Muhsfeldt.
Here though are x4 key Facts which might spur the objective need to further investigate what is known!
1) 730 Kilograms of Human Hair was dispatched to Paul Reimann's firm at Kostrze near Wroclaw, a Felt and Hair Material Maunfacturer. This would represent, from both Female and Male, those whose Hair would be considered a commodity, an amount of hair that would have been taken from anywhere in the region of 70,000 Murdered Persons? This consignment of hair too, shorn and weighed over the period October 1942 and October 1943 wont have been the only consignment? The liberating Russian Army found bundles of Hair ready for transportation back to the Reich.
2) 7,700 Kilograms of Zyklon 'B' had been ordered and dispatched toward Majdanek over its period of operating. Given the capacity to kill people with this gas, at x2 Kilograms of Zyklon 'B' per 100 Gassed, this would present to the researcher a figure in the region of 385,000 People having been Murdered?
3) Within the Majdanek State Museum there is an exhibit which has 500,000 Shoes that had been removed from their former owners. This is all part of the permanent display of evidence at Death Camp Majdanek. If this represents merely x1 year of Majdanek's destructive capacity, were there 750,000 pairs of Shoes already distributed amongst the Germans of the Reich over that x3 year period? Would this be representative of x3 pairs of shoes per 250,000 of those Murdered?
4) When Russian forces entered to liberate the Camp there was more than 1,350 Cubic Metres of Human Ash in one of the 'fields'. This would suggest that more than 300,000 bodies had been cremated. Fragments of bone also was found on liberation in many parts of the Camp.
It is all too simplistic to measure the amounts of plunder and assess the level of destruction that was meted out to those who entered here. But it is important to state that while there remains this physical evidence of what remained after Jews and other’s had been sent toward oblivion, this can only be a clear indicator as to how there was such an a demand for the abundance of plunder to be had. The fact that 9 crates of gold and valuables were dispatched to the Reich from Majdanek would also suggest that an atrocious implication is to be measured from what this represents.
"..Each furnace had only one retort ..independent ..fuelled by oil. ..could hold 2 to 5 corpses. ..daily capacity of 1 furnace was about 100 bodies ..burning round ..clock. ..burning of one load ..lasted about 1 hour." Erich Muhsfeldt.
By the end of June 1944, with the Russian offensive fast approaching Lublin, the SS saw fit to abandon its stake in Majdanek. With more than 1,000 prisoners forced along on a Death March, the SS fled the area and headed toward Auschwitz. The Majdanek Death Camp had finally ceased its murderous enterprise and was eventually liberated by the Russian Forces on July 22nd. This was the first Death Camp to become liberated by any of the Allied Forces and the terrible scenes which gripped the World, move us to despair even today. Here, where 1,000’s of ill, incapacitated, starving inmates still lay where they had Survived, too sick, too ill, too feeble to get up and march out toward freedom, this shone a very bright light on what had been Hitler’s most dark and hideous nature.
"..These mass murders are solely ..result of ..Fuhrer's policy." Adolf Eichmann.
A Canadian journalist, Raymond Arthur Davies, made the overall and correct assessment of Polish Jews who had been Murdered throughout the period of The Holocaust. He clearly assessed that at least 3,000,000 Jews of Poland had been murdered. But he wrongly contested that of this number, 1,000,000 of these Jews of Poland were Murdered within Majdanek alone. He has made one assertion however which has proved correct, and it is that no one will ever know the truth of what transpired here within Majdanek. As no statistical records were kept of those Jews transported here, there remains no record of the overall resettlement program for Majdanek.
"..Recognition of ..truth ..whole truth and opening ones heart and sharing ..experiences is necessary to stop ..evil ..to gel rid of ..aggression ..hate and ..prejudice. To convey ..Auschwitz truth is a great lesson. " Halina Birenbaum.
So on August 28th. 1944 we are simply adding to the confusion in relation to not only how many were Murdered within Majdanek, but who were they that were Murdered here. Once the sheer horror of what had transpired at Majdanek had been publicised, this should have better shamed the World for what it had already known, what was suspected, what was feared and what had been in evidence for a very long time. Soon after The Majdanek State Museum was constituted, and within the Majdanek compound itself, it became self evident that in order to preserve for History the extent of Hitler’s barbarity, and played out on Polish soil, this Museum would be an essential Historical tool. Also that year, from November 27th. till December 2nd. 6 of Majdanek’s guards, 4 SS Camp personnel with 2 of their Kapos were tried by the Russian Polish Special Criminal Court. Each of these were indicted on War Crimes charges and for their committal of Crimes Against Humanity. They were all found guilty and sentenced to death.
1) SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Wilhelm Karl Gerstenmeier was found guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, convicted of atrocities committed at the Majdanek Concentration Camp, sentenced to Death on December 2nd. and hanged December 3rd. 1944 within Majdanek’s perimeter, beside the Crematorium and Gas Chambers..
2) Edmund Pohlmann was a Kapo responsible for maintaining order and was found guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, convicted of atrocities committed at the Majdanek Concentration Camp, sentenced to Death on December 2nd. Pohlmann committed suicide that same Night December 2nd.
3) SS Rottenfuhrer Theodor Scholen was found guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, convicted of atrocities committed at the Majdanek Concentration Camp, sentenced to Death on December 2nd. and hanged December 3rd. 1944 within Majdanek’s perimeter, beside the Crematorium and Gas Chambers.
"..At first sight of ..crematorium I was ashamed. ..I got accustomed to it." Theodore Scholen.
4) Heinrich Stalp was a Kapo and was found guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, convicted of atrocities committed at the Majdanek Concentration Camp, sentenced to Death on December 2nd. and hanged December 3rd. 1944 within Majdanek’s perimeter, beside the Crematorium and Gas Chambers.
5) SS Obersturmfuhrer Anton Thernes, the Deputy Commander, was found guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, convicted of atrocities committed at the Majdanek Concentration Camp, sentenced to Death on December 2nd. and hanged December 3rd. 1944 within Majdanek’s perimeter, beside the Crematorium and Gas Chambers.
6) SS Oberscharfuhrer Herman Vogel was found guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, convicted of atrocities committed at the Majdanek Concentration Camp, sentenced to Death on December 2nd. and hanged December 3rd. 1944 within Majdanek’s perimeter, beside the Crematorium and Gas Chambers.
"..I was reprimanded because I could not comply with various restrictions. ..Here ..there were enormous crimes committed against humanity and no punishment for it. People being killed ..burned and ..voice of God kept silent. ..I in view of ..atrocities against mass murderers. No illusion was left. Nothing happened that would shudder ..world to ..core." Halina Birenbaum.
Controversy has always followed Majdanek, the largest though weakest sibling of The Death Camp system. Ever since its Liberation and with the very detail of the Catastrophe, its analysis and the detail of the Slaughter that has fully eluded History, this camp is rather a weak link in assessing exactly where its component part constitutes the overall Catastrophe that is 6,000,000 Murdered Jews of Europe. With the total number of victims being assessed by the Russians early on, almost immediately after the liberation, research of the facts were made known. Tragically for all of History, Russia played politics with that assessment of losses, and especially if they were attributable to Jewish losses, they were scantily regarded. Initially overestimating the number of deaths, claiming at the Nuremberg Trials, which ran from November 1945 that there were no fewer than 400,000 Jewish victims. This contrasted wearily alongside what the official Russian count now was, of 1,500,000 victims in total. This had been revised down from a year earlier when they assessed this figure at 1,700,000 victims.
"..we had been brought to ..Chelm forest. ..called Borki. ..They brought a mill for grinding ..bones. Our people sifted ..bones ..so that ..gold could be extracted ..if there was any in ..teeth. ..bones were brought to ..grinding machine ..ground bones ..brought to ..fields ..scattered there." Joseph Reznik.
Ironically, as with much of the evidence that would corroborate what the Russians had discovered, this was all removed from History and secreted in Russian vaults. In 1947 the Polish Government enacted a decree which acknowledged Majdanek as a Monument to the Martyrology of the People Murdered there. That same year the Majdanek Mound was created to bring as much of the ash of the Cremated Murdered to a housing that measured some 1,300 cubic metres. In 1948, Judge Zdzislaw Lukaszkiewicz had been asked to procure the evidence that Majdanek too had secured for Hitler a certain legacy of destruction toward The Final Solution.
"..I was 15 years old by ..time I was out of 4th. camp in Germany. My diplomas ..scars were equipped only with those experiences and my recollections. I had to start a new life. I had to cover my wounds with a smile ..as well as my orphan hood and poverty." Halina Birenbaum.
It beggars belief that those like Halina would lend us their assessment of a Catastrophe we are responsible for and we have treated that evidence shoddily. That Survivor's would impart the telling of a terrible atrocity for us to gain an insight into a trauma we are at least culpable of inflicting upon them, is a stain upon out moral compass. While we need to marvel at the generosity of so many of these Survivor’s, who lost and saw so much and for what was taken by those perpetrators who abandoned all self respect, we need to proceed with reverence. While the dignity of these Jews of Europe was maintained while their number was decimated, decapitated and driven toward extinction, we look back in horror at what we allowed to happen. Halina Birenbaum is not the only Survivor to gift us with her toleration of the Facts of what The Holocaust cost her. But we now share with her that essential to learn which was always meant to ensure, this could never happen again. It would appear that all too many did not heed Halina's warnings!
Judge Lukaszkiewicz, a member of the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes forensically assessed then that the killing, which amounted to some 360,000 victims could be verified. The Judge attested to the fact that Mass Murder had taken place there within Majdanek. His report was finalised on November 11th. This same Judge had already been to Treblinka in 1945, sent by the Polish Government to supervise and have excavated the site to assess the reliability of claims made about it being a Death Camp and attributable to Aktion Reinhard. The Judge had confirmed what the Governments of the World surely knew already. The concern of History, especially with regards to the assessment of the Catastrophe within The Death Camps has been the reliance upon the capacity of these Death Camps to deliver its destructive force.
In many cases the assumed Catastrophe, which had not been properly scrutinised, investigated, substantiated or corroborated has been left to later Historians, Academics and Scientists to supply a more accurate picture of who was Murdered, where they were Murdered and just how many Jews were Murdered with regard to The Holocaust. We acknowledge first and foremost that some 6,000,000 Jews of Europe are missing from the pantheon of all existence, and we will arrive at the Killing Sites, Death Camps, Ghetto’s of their Destruction to place individual assessments before them.
The evidence, which should have been fully taken into account and would have been from the Nazi’s own records of the deportations. We should have examined more closely The Reichsbahn records which not only correspond to the detail of the Slaughter, they are the corroboration of these transports into Jewish extermination. We have eye witness Testimony and the Evidence of those who Survived and those who Perpetrated these brutal crimes. All added to this now, we have the population census which all together adds to what we have, the most exacting tool that could be applied in assessing the sheer weight of numbers killed at given places. Later on still, in our search all of this, History has been given a more accurate record which fully aligned itself with what Hitler’s experts had already assessed were the available numbers of Jews within Europe.
In 1961 with Raul Hilberg’s ground breaking analysis in The Destruction of European Jews, he took full account of all of these tools of population shifts and the clear device of what deportation on resettlement transports meant for the Jews. Hilberg has formulated the Facts more accurately. That figure for those Murdered in Majdanek was severely cut to just 50,000 Jews of Europe even when other sources suggested it was more likely to have been 100,000 Jews Murdered here. However, that figure which had been assessed by Judge Lukaszkiewicz for Majdanek, was maintained. Largely though the assessment has once more been rounded down, and more than 20 years later we are far short of the assessment that appears plausible. In 1965 Majdanek became a National Museum and today it has Belzec and Sobibor as part of its National status.
"..near ..Mausoleum ..were ..ashes of ..murdered lay. ..I can hardly comprehend how this could happen." Halina Birenbaum.
The ash mound was turned into a Mausoleum in July 1969 and was designed to give added protection to the remnants of bone and ash that had been preserved from the killing of those sent to Majdanek. Between 1975 and 1981 West German courts at Dusseldorf arraigned 16 of Majdanek’s SS Guard members from Majdanek out of the total of over 1,000 service personnel who had served there. These had been charged with the murder of 200,000 people in the camp. No more than 170 Camp officials were ever charged with participation in any of the crimes perpetrated within Majdanek. This was as a consequence of West German Court rulings that only those directly involved, those who pulled the trigger, could be prosecuted.
"..78,000 deaths over ..course of 3 years is a crime on an enormous scale ..not only in comparison with ..camps like Buchenwald ..where about 56,000 people died over 8 years. ..It must be remembered ..that ..number of victims only gives an idea about ..scale of genocide ..it does not convey ..measureless pain and suffering experienced by ..people imprisoned and murdered at Majdanek." Tomasz Kranz.
A newer analysis which showed that a tally of about 235,000 victims was forwarded by The Majdanek Museum’s representative, Dr. Czeslaw Rajca in 1992. Rajca based his findings on the key figure, 300,000, for those who had arrived at the Camp. He then assessed that some 65,000 individuals had either escaped, were released or had been transferred to Belzec and other’s of The Death Camps of Aktion Reinhard. History though held with this assessment until more recently when in 2005 the new Director of the Research Department of the State Museum of Majdanek, Tomasz Kranz suggested the number Murdered was in the region of 78,000. There is further research on going, involving the figure for those who were omitted from the transport records. As with all such research, a more thorough examination might never yield a more conclusive assessment than any of the ones we have so far been presented with.
On May 3rd. 1989 a district court in the Germany city of Bielefeld sentenced Karl Friedrich Hoecker to four years imprisonment for his culpability in the gassing operations against those mainly Polish Jews, in the concentration Death Camp at Majdanek. In 2005 the Majdanek Museum conducted research into all previous assessments, and the historian Tomasz Kranz, as Head of the Museum’s Scientific Department, suggested that there had been 59,000 Jews Murdered here and a further 20,000 victims. The Camp has a data base of 56,000 of those names, and as it stands today, Majdanek is as it was when captured, a wholly intact Camp. Majdanek, with a well concealed catalogue of the destruction of those who entered here, tests the spirit of history. To all intents and purposes this was a fully functional apparatus of destruction, it was a Death Camp and remains as a preserved statement of Hitler’s clear intention for the Jews and all those Jews who never emerged from the grasp of the Death Camp system. This fact alone clearly is in evidence as to what Hitler had always stated would become of the Jewish People.
"..I was told ..I was a lucky man ..only a short time before I came to Majdanek ..they were not admitting Jews to ..hospital at all. A Jew who fell ill was shot." Yisrael Gutman.
However, I do not propose here to drift from what History requires is the objective nature of that which establishes Truth. For that, Truth requires Proof, Testimony and Evidences which ensures a veracity we can all rely upon. With what Hitler had always proposed was to be the Slaughter of 11,293,300 Jews of Europe, as documented at The Wannsee Conference of 1942, intention became expressed in Genocidal terms. Given too that Goebbels was privy to so much information which the access to Hitler provided, Goebbels confirms Hitler comes pretty close to the eventual Catastrophe which is The Holocaust. What Hitler clearly established for The Jews of Europe, and in real time we can visit and see for ourselves its device of annihilation at Majdanek, was a mechanised and industrial scale killing apparatus. Tragically too, the detail of the account is not known, and this World will never know the magnitude of the Destruction faced by the Jews who entered Majdanek, or any other of the 5 Death Camps Hitler had placed in Poland. Nor for that fact can we ever be certain as to those losses properly assessed but incurred by the Jewish People after it had been originally delivered. For decades after the 6,000,000 Jews of Europe were made deceased, 1,000’s of Jews succumbed to the effects of having Survived. These alone, sucked into the maelstrom that shuck the World during WWII, could not countenance any form of life that reminded them of what they had endured..
"..teachings ..about ..world ..people ..ethics ..faith ..I had to learn ..by myself in ..hell of concentration camps ..without my Mother who was put to death in ..Gas Chambers in Majdanek ..my Father ..put to death and burnt in ..crematorium in Treblinka ..my Brother ..my Sister in law ..so young ..but cared for me like my Mother ..tormented and burnt in Auschwitz. " Halina Birenbaum.