Camps in Poland during World War II

From Academic Kids

During the Nazi German occupation of Poland during World War II, a system of camps of various kinds was established across the country. These included:


Extermination camps

The Nazis established six extermination camps (Vernichtungslager) in Poland. The primary intention of these camps was the extermination of the Jews from all the countries occupied by the Germans, except the Soviet Union (Soviet Jews were generally killed on the spot). Many non-Jewish Poles and other prisoners of the Nazis were also killed in these camps.

These camps were:

Concentration camps adjoining extermination camps

There were also concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek and Treblinka, distinct from the adjoining extermination camps. An estimated 70,000-200,000 non-Jewish Poles died at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Concentration camps

A concentration camp (Konzentrationslager, KL or KZ) was a camp which was designed to exploit the labour of prisoners, rather than to exterminate them, although the majority of prisoners eventually died from execution, starvation, disease or exhaustion. In Germany before 1939, concentration camps mainly housed Jews, political enemies of the Nazi regime, and other categories such as homosexual men.

There were a number of concentration camps in Poland. They housed Jews, partly as transit points to the extermination camps, and partly so that the Jews could be worked to death. This policy was called Vernichtung durch Arbeit (annihilation through work). Large numbers of non-Jewish Poles were also imprisoned in these camps, as were various prisoners from other countries.

The major concentration camps in Poland were:

Plaszów is the camp near Kraków made famous in the book Schindler's List.

Another camp, Gross-Rosen (now Rogoźnica) was in German Silesia (now part of Poland), but some of its satellite camps (Aussenlager) to which prisoners were sent to work on various projects, were in Poland. There were also several other concentration camps at:

Labour camps

The Germans pressed large numbers of Poles into forced labour. These labourers were confined in camps known in German as Polenlager, such as Gorzyce-Gorzyczki, both in Germany and in Poland. One estimate is that there were about 440 of these camps, where at least 1.5 million Poles were set to hard labour. Many of these camps were transient in nature, being opened and closed according to the labour needs of the occupiers.

Many of the 400,000 Polish prisoners of war captured by Germans during the 1939 invasion of Poland were also confined in these camps, although many of them were also sent as forced labourers in Germany.

Several types of labor camps were distinguished by German bureaucracy.

  • Arbeitslager was general-purpose term for labor camps in the direct sense.
  • Gemeinschaftslager was a work camp for civilians.
  • Arbeitserziehungslager were training labor camps, where the inmates were held for several weeks.
  • Strafarbeitslager were punitive labor camps, originally created as such, as well as based on prisons.
  • The term Zwangsarbeitslager is translated as forced labor camp.

Prisoner of war camps

Main article: List of German WWII POW camps

The Germans established several camps for prisoners of war (POWs) from the western Allied countries in territory which before 1939 had been part of Poland. There was a major POW camp at Torun (Thorn) and another at Lodz, plus a number of smaller ones. Many prisoners of war from the Soviet Union were also brought to Poland, where most of them died in labour camps. The Germans did not recognise Soviets as POWs and several million of them died in German hands.

Relief for victims

The Polish government has issued a number of decrees, periodically updated (see [1] and [2]), providing for the surviving Polish victims of wartime (and post-war) repression, and has produced lists of the various camps where Poles (defined both as citizens of Poland regardless of ethnicity, and persons of Polish ethnicity of other citizenship) were detained either by the Nazis or by the Soviets.

See also:

External references


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