In this part, we will take a closer look at the process of carrying out Himmler’s orders, which we mentioned in the previous article. The reader will have an opportunity to see with what zeal the criminal plans of the SS high command were carried out.
The transit camp in Pruszków
The transit camp in Pruszkow, called Durchgangslager 121 (abbreviated as Dulag 121), was in operation from the beginning of August to October 1944. It was located on the site of old rolling stock repair workshops on the northeastern outskirts of Pruszków (18 km from Warsaw). The average population of the camp was about 50 thousand people.
Expelled Warsaw inhabitants were placed in nine factory halls full of dangerous garbage and debris. Individual buildings, which housed from two to five thousand, sometimes even more people, were fenced with barbed wire entanglements, leaving only narrow passages between them. People slept on concrete floors, in mud and dirt. Initially, there was no water or sanitary facilities. It was not until mid-August that temporary latrines were built near the halls.
The process of displacement of civilians from the insurgent Warsaw lasted continuously from August 4th to the first weeks of October 1944.
In August, September and October about 550 thousand Warsaw inhabitants passed through the camp in Pruszkow, as well as about 100 thousand displaced people from the nearest vicinity of the city. Over 150 thousand of them were transported to forced labor in the Reich, and over 50 thousand to concentration camps, such as Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Flossenbürg, Gross-Rosen, Mauthausen, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, and Stutthof. After signing the capitulation agreement transports of Warsaw citizens to concentration camps were stopped. Almost 350 thousand people were then deported to other places in the General Government, where they were left to their fate.
The total number of evacuated Warsaw residents, who in 1944 were deported from the Pruszków camp to Auschwitz in August (12-13) and September (4, 13, 17,) was almost 13 thousand (at least 12868) men, women, and children. This number constituted almost half of the total number of Poles deported from the whole Warsaw district between August 1940 and September 1944. They ranged in age from newborns to 88-year-olds, and in social status from professors, teachers, civil servants, people from the arts and culture to shopkeepers and laborers. Among the Poles, in a few cases, there were also people of other nationalities, as well as Polish Jews hiding among the inhabitants of Warsaw (e.g., Julek Goldman under the name Jurek Staniszewski, who had been hiding with his nanny Celina Ceglewska since 1942).
This is how a former prisoner Stanisława Mikołajczyk recalled her transport to Auschwitz from Pruszków on September 4th:
When we first saw the train sign „Auschwitz,” we knew where we were going. The sixty people in the train car became quiet and focused, and then everyone began to look through their documents. Many of the diplomas and certificates, especially those for studies, were torn to shreds.
On the hot afternoon of September 4th, our Warsaw transport was released at Oświęcim, divided into a column of men and women. The more quickly groomed women were led through the woods and sand to the barracks, where our data was recorded and documents, money and valuables were collected for deposit. Piles of this were lying on tables at that time. […].
The fate of the Varsovians in the camps
SS documents indicate that a new category of prisoners, the „Zivilhäftlinge”, was introduced in the concentration camps for the civilian population of Warsaw. This did not in any way improve their fate. The only difference from other Auschwitz prisoners was that they did not have numbers tattooed on their left forearm. Instead, they received numbers imprinted in ink on a piece of white linen along with a red triangle, the so-called „vinculum,” (the designation for political prisoners) with a large letter P painted in black in the center. The civilian clothes they received after bathing had rectangular patches of the camp striped cloth sewn onto their backs and a red line painted in oil on their backs.
After waiting several days for bathing, disinfection, and initial registration (which took place in the so-called Central Sauna in Birkenau), women with children, including young boys up to the age of 14, were moved to the women’s camp (sector BIA), and men and older boys to the men’s quarantine camp (sector BIIa). Initially, mothers with children were placed in barrack 17, but after a few days, children of both sexes were moved to a separate barrack 16a. However, a selection was soon carried out in this barrack as well, after which a group of more than 100 older boys (aged 9 and over) were moved to the men’s camp for quarantine. In the children’s block, some pregnant women from the Pruszków transports were placed, who were also included in the transports destined for concentration camps. According to available documents, the first births took place in Birkenau in the first half of September. Sick children were placed in barracks no. 10 of the camp hospital for women.
The most numerous transports arrived in August, numbering about 6 thousand people (almost 4 thousand women and girls (over 600 of whom were younger than 18) and 2 thousand men and boys. They were mostly inhabitants of the Wola and Ochota districts. Among them, there were many sick, wounded, and invalids, who were separated from the others and directed to the camp hospital, called „revir”.
Some of the Warsaw population, both adults and young people, were deported from Auschwitz-Birkenau as early as the end of August 1944 to camps in the Reich, such as Natzweiler (August 21 for men) or Ravensbrück (August 29 for women), and were employed in the armaments industry. The initial evacuation of male and female prisoners began at Auschwitz at this time. Many of those transferred there, especially the men, died or were killed already in October and November.
From then on, the people of Warsaw shared the fate of all the other unfortunate people imprisoned in Auschwitz.