The German concentration camp in Lublin, called Majdanek, was initiated by Heinrich Himmler’s decision. Visiting Lublin in July 1941, Himmler entrusted Odilo Globocnik, the SS and police commander in the Lublin district, 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 Third Reich's expansion in the East.
In the initial period of the camp’s operation, the SS offices and camp garrison members' quarters were organised in the city of Lublin. The camp commandant headquarters were located at 12 Ogrodowa Street, the sentry guards were quartered inside the building of A & J Vetter school in Bernardyńska Street, while the higher ranking officers lived in some houses located in the close vicinity of the camp itself.
Larger prisoner transports were usually sent to Majdanek in cattle cars while smaller groups, usually from the Lublin district, were brought by trucks. During the transports, the deportees were not provided with any food or water. The harsh conditions resulted in high mortality rate. Bodies of the deceased were not be removed from the cars until the train's arrival in Lublin.
A total of 130,000 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 be exploited as forced labour force. Most of them died due to the primitive living conditions, rampant typhus epidemics, and brutal treatment by the camp garrison members.
The supreme authority over KL Lublin was held by the camp commandant. He was responsible for the overall control over all matters related to the camp’s operation, the coordination of its particular organisational structures, as well as the security and the prisoners' isolation.
The camp survivors perceived Majdanek as one of the most primitive of all the German Nazi camps, where the living conditions 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 barracks 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.
Similarly to other German camps, labour at Majdanek was a key means of oppression and extermination employed by the Germans. The prisoners were treated as a source of free, slave workforce.
The terror that prevailed in the prisoner fields was a deliberately introduced element of the camp’s disciplinary system. Even the slightest violation of the rules imposed by the SS-men resulted with severe punishments executed either by the garrison members or the functionary prisoners.
Prisoners were registered in barracks no. 43 and received individual numbers and designations reflecting the particular prisoner categories. Those considered by the SS-men as "fit for labour" were taken to the bathhouses, where they were subjected to bathing and disinfection.
Functionary prisoners played an important role in the camp organisation. For their assistance in keeping the other prisoners under strict control, they were rewarded with considerable privileges.The use of that authority granted to the functionaries by the camp command often determined the fate of the numerous subordinate inmates.
From late 1941, prisoner-doctors were transferred to Majdanek from other concentration camps. In February 1942, they were tasked with establishing an infirmary, the camp hospital called Revier.
The German concentration camp at Majdanek was a site of mass extermination. The high mortality was exacerbated, apart from the general harshness of the living conditions, arduous work and diseases, 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 opposing 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 the camp liquidation began. In March 1944, the Concentration Camps Inspectorate ordered the evacuation of KL Lublin. In April, the first evacuation transports left Majdanek and headed for other camps including Natzweiler, Gross–Rosen, Auschwitz, Plaszow, Ravensbrűck and Mauthausen. It is estimated that around 12,000-15,000 inmates were evacuated until July 22, 1944.
From May 1944, a Wehrmacht labour camp was functioning in field V. 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 in August 1944. It served as internment for the captured Home Army and Peasants’ Battalions soldiers. The detainees were held in the former mechanical workshop barracks at field III.
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.