The German concentration camp in Lublin, called Majdanek, was initiated by Heinrich Himmler’s decision. Visiting Lublin in July 1941, Himmler entrusted Lublin district SS and police commander, Odilo Globocnik, with building a camp “for 25-50,000 inmates who would be used to work in SS and police workshops and at construction sites”. The camp was going to be the source of a free workforce for the realization of the plans to build a German empire.
In the initial period of the camp’s operation, its temporary offices, SS quarters and barracks of the camp staff were located in the city of Lublin. Camp command headquarters were located at 12 Ogrodowa street, the guards were quartered inside the building of A & J Vetter school in Bernardyńska street, and higher ranking officers in houses located in the vicinity of the camp itself.
Larger prisoner transports usually arrived at Majdanek on cattle trains while smaller ones, usually from the Lublin District, were brought in on trucks. During the transports, the deportees were not provided with any food or water, and the harsh conditions resulted in appallingly high mortality rates. Bodies of the dead would not be removed from the carriages until the arrival in Lublin.
A total of 150 thousand men, women and children of various nationalities were imprisoned at Majdanek. In the first period of the camp’s operation, most of the prisoners were Soviet POWs deported to the camp to provide forced labor. Most of them died due to the primitive living conditions, rampant typhus epidemics, and brutal treatment by the camp staff.
The chief authority over the KL Lublin rested in the hands of the camp commandant. He was responsible for the overall control over all matters related to the camp’s operation, coordination of its particular organizational structures, as well as security and isolation.
Majdanek was seen as one of the most primitive of all Nazi camps and the living conditions here were atrocious. Wooden barracks, especially the stable-type ones, provided hardly any protection against weather conditions. In the winter, two small heaters would be placed in each barrack but they were highly insufficient to effectively heat such large and draughty spaces.
Depending on the season, the day at KL Lublin started at 5 or 6 am. Prisoners were required to quickly get dressed, make their plank beds and eat their morning meal which consisted of a cup of black chicory coffee without sugar, infusion of weed or watered down soup with some wholemeal flour.
Work at Majdanek, similarly to other camps, was a key means of oppression and extermination employed by the Germans. The prisoners were treated as a source of free, slave labor.
The terror that prevailed in the prisoner fields was a deliberately introduced element of the camp’s disciplinary system. Even the slightest transgression was likely to meet with harassment and swift punishment by the camp command and prisoner functionaries.
Prisoners were registered in barracks no. 43 and received individual numbers and designations reflecting the particular prisoner categories. Those fit for work were taken to the baths where they were washed and disinfected. Prisoners under the age of 14 were treated as children, recorded in their mothers’ clothing files and placed in the woman’s field. Next, each new arrival received a prisoner designation and individual number.
Prisoner functionaries played an important role in the structure of the camp. For their assistance in keeping the other prisoners under strict control, they were rewarded with considerable privileges. On the authority granted to them by the camp command often hinged the life or death of their fellow inmates. The brutality of these functionaries, exacerbated by their constant fear of losing their privileged position, met with strong disdain.
From late 1941, prisoner physicians from other concentration camps were sent to Majdanek. In February 1942, they were tasked with establishing an infirmary, the camp hospital. As Majdanek continued to grow and the spread of typhus contagion continued to exacerbate, in the first quarter of 1943 a branch of the infirmary was established in every field. An infirmary building could typically accept around 200 patients and the conditions within were l
The direct and indirect extermination at Majdanek resulted in the deaths of nearly 80 thousand people, approximately 60 thousand of whom were Jews. The high mortality was exacerbated, apart from the general harshness of the living conditions, work and disease, by direct forms of murder such as drowning in sewage pits, hangings, beatings, or phenol injections.
The resistance movement in the context of Majdanek can be understood as any form of defiance of the camp regime and attempts to relieve the overwhelming terror of its reality.
In the face of the quickly advancing offensive of the Red Army, preparations for liquidation begun at the camp. In March 1944, the Concentration Camps Inspectorate ordered the evacuation of KL Lublin. In April, first prisoner transports left Majdanek and headed for other camps including Natzweiler, Gross–Rosen, Auschwitz, Płaszów, Ravensbrűck and Mauthausen. It is estimated that the ten completed transports carried 12-15 thousand people.
From May 1944, a Wehrmacht work camp was set up in field 5. It was exempt from the authority of KL Lublin command and consequently its prisoners were not registered as concentration camp inmates.
The NKVD camp operated on the grounds of the former concentration camp since August 1944. It served as internment for the captured Home Army and Peasants’ Battalions soldiers. The detainees were held in the former prisoner field 3, in stable-type barracks.
Already during the camp’s operation, two commandants of Majdanek: Karl Otto Koch and Arthur Hermann Florstedt, were arrested, convicted and sentenced to death for abuse of authority.