stutthof construction

Stutthof - Under Construction (USHMM)

Sztutowo is the name of a fisherman's village, located 34 kilometres, northeast of Gdansk, formerly known as Danzig, and 3 kilometres from Poland's Baltic coast. With the German invasion of Poland, Sztutowo became Stutthof, and thus sealed its place in history as one of the Nazi concentration camps. Before the war a wooden home for the elderly was situated in a forest near the village of Stutthof, at the base of the Vistula Sandbank, belonging to the Free City of Danzig. The site was ideal, beautiful fir and pine forests, spotted here and there with silver-birch and oak trees, with extensive plains, which gave the impression of a place of quiet and beauty.

In the middle of August 1939, a group of a dozen or so prisoners were brought to this area by SS-men from the Schiesstange prison in Danzig and they fenced in a small clearing and erected temporary wooden structures. The SS-men supervising the initial construction phase belonged to the SS-Wachtsturmbann Eimann, after its commander Kurt Eimann, a five-hundred strong detachment established to 'solve the Polish question,' in the Danzig area. One group from this detachment under the command of SS- Obersturmbannführer Max Pauly were responsible for organising the camp at Stutthof. The site chosen was conveniently situated with good connections to Danzig and Nowy Dwor. Located in the triangle of the Baltic Sea, the River Vistula and the River Nogat, this meant for all practical purposes, meant it was virtually impossible to escape. The terrain of the camp was marsh-like, the ground was wet, and lacked lime, and this proved deadly to some prisoners.

Based on a list previously drawn up by the police and local Selbschutz units approximately 1,500 people, classed as 'undesirable Polish element' were arrested in Danzig on the night of August 31 - September 1, 1939. They were mostly socially and politically active Poles from the Free City of Danzig. Those arrested were taken to a number of assembly points, such as the Emigration Barracks in Nowy Port, the Victoria School, in the former Holzgasse in Danzig. The following day, after selecting the tradesmen and specialists from among the prisoners, the first transport of approximately 250 civilian prisoners were transported to the area designated for the Stutthof concentration camp on September 2, 1939.

So this marked the beginning of Stutthof's official existence and the camp was rapidly expanded to fully utilise the prisoner manpower, to support the German war effort. According to the camp's accounts, which were scrupulously maintained, by the end of March 1940, 299,459 Reichsmarks had been invested in Stutthof and the camp had so been extended to accommodate thousands of prisoners.

One of those prisoners Wlodzimierz Wnuk recalled:

'To the sounds of striking axes and crashing trees, a huge encampment is taking shape in the forest near the coast. Columns of emaciated men sag under the weight of bricks and iron bars, huge pine trunks cut into their shoulders, crushing them down to the ground. Encircled by barbed-wire, a long row of barracks has grown out of the ground, cleared by the sweat and toil of the prisoners. The barrels of machine-guns glitter where the frozen guards stand by, in the ice-bound world around; even their breath forms icicles. Hovering above the camp are pulsating columns of smoke - as yet, still that normal smoke from burning wood.'   

Stutthof was the first Nazi concentration camp to be established on Polish soil and the last to be dissolved. The camp expanded from 4 to 120 hectares, from 250 prisoners to a maximum of 52,000 prisoners and the SS staff and guards numbered 1,056 at January 1, 1945. The first commandant was SS- Obersturmbannführer Max Pauly, who was born on June 1, 1907, in Wesselburen, and he ran the camp until September 1942. His place was taken by Paul Hoppe, who was born on February 28, 1900, in Berlin. He was in charge of the camp until it was evacuated during 1945.

The camp was organised along normal Concentration Camp structures and other notable camp personnel were:

Franz Christoffel, Alfons Glass, Erich Gust, Otto Haupt, Kurt Mathesius, Fritz Meier, Karl Meinck, Teodor Meyer, Otto Neubauer, Albert Paulitz, Werner von Schenk, Albert Schwarz, Erich Thun, Wilhelm Vogler.

Stutthof was not immediately granted the status of a concentration camp and for three years it came under the Danzig police and initially was a camp for 'civil prisoners,' later a labour camp, under the name Sonderlager Stutthof. Despite all the efforts of the Higher SS and Police Leader Richard Hildebrandt, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, refused to grant Stutthof official concentration camp status. It was only after the RFSS Himmler paid an official visit to Stutthof on November 23, 1941, that this reluctance was overcome, and Stutthof achieved official concentration camp status from January 1942.

stutthof himmler

Stutthof - Himmler visits the camp on November 23, 1941 (USHMM)

From January 1942, the camp which initially held a bare three to four thousand prisoners expanded rapidly. Prior to the expansion the camp , later called the 'Old Camp' had consisted of eight barracks for prisoners, a workshop, stores, baths and a hospital. The camp offices occupied two barracks, there was also a brick built Kommandantur, kennels the 'Rabbit barracks,' a hothouse and to the west of the camp, the commandants villa and accommodation for the SS staff.

The plans for the 'New Camp' foresaw the completion by 1944, of thirty larger barracks, twenty for prisoners and ten for armament workshops, the so-called DAW, (Deutsche Ausrustungswerk). A special camp (Sonderlager) was built, one and a half kilometres from the 'New Camp' at the beginning of 1944. The prisoners incarcerated there were called 'Haudegens.' Many new brick-built blocks were erected between the 'New Camp' and the Sonderlager, many planned installations, such as kitchens, washrooms were never completed.

Towards the end of 1944, huge transports of Jews were brought to Stutthof, and also transports of Gypsies were sent to the camp. The arrival of masses of Hungarian, Greek and Czech Jews compelled the camp authorities to build a further ten barracks to the north of the 'New Camp,' and also east of the 'New Camp,' large factory sheds were erected, establishing branches of the Focke-Wulf airplane parts - sub-marine parts were manufactured in the so-called Delta-Halle. Still further to the east was the so-called Germanenlager, which accommodated among others, Norwegian policeman who had refused to co-operate with the Quisling government and sailors from Finland.

Polish nationals were constantly being sent to Stutthof. After the capture of Gdynia, approximately 6,000 Poles were rehoused in Stutthof on a temporary basis during mid-October 1939 and from the autumn there were systematic influxes of Polish prisoners from the Gestapo prisons in Danzig, Torun, Bydgoszcz, Grudziadz, and Elblag. In addition small groups such as scouts from Gdynia, Polish social workers and those politically active, such as members of the underground resistance movements, such as Gryf Pomorski and the Home Army, as well as pupils from the Polish grammar school in Kwidzyn, were also incarcerated in Stutthof. They all played an important role in the life of the camp, struggling with the group of professional German criminals, who had been brought in during 1941, to take on the role of functionary prisoners.  

Russian Prisoners of War began to arrive in Stutthof after the German invasion of Russia during 1941, and some former members of the Lithuanian and Latvian governments were imprisoned in Block 11, as so-called honorary prisoners. Shortly afterwards these were joined by a dozen or so Lithuanian intellectuals, including Professor Balis Sruoga, and Dr. Antanas Starkus. At the end of 1943, a group of one hundred and fifty Danish communists, including Kaj Moltke, and Paul Nielsen were imprisoned in Stutthof. German communists were also incarcerated in Stutthof.

A unique page in the history of Stutthof was written in 1944, after the Red Army massive offences against the Nazis on the Eastern Front forcing the Germans to abandon their Eastern Empire and to evacuate Concentration Camps and Labour Camps under their control. Mass transports then began to arrive in Stutthof from Riga, Kaunas, Konigsberg, Bialystok and Lublin. The majority of transports to arrive in Stutthof came from Auschwitz Concentration Camp and a number of transports came from the Pawiak prison in Warsaw, and following the Home Army uprising in 1944, from the evacuation camp at Pruszkow.

It was an accepted custom that when each group of new arrivals entered the camp through the main gate, the so-called 'Death Gate,' the first formality completed by the political department (camp Grstapo) was a brutal welcoming by an SS officer. Zbigniew Raczkiewicz recalled what was said to new arrivals:

'From now on you are no longer a person, just a number. All your rights have been left outside the gate - you are left with only one and that you are free to do - leave through the chimney.'

Newly arrived prisoners were grouped in the 'Old Camp' square. Here they sometimes waited a whole day, or even longer, irrespective of the weather or time of year. Prisoners were beaten before they were entered in the camp register. They were forced to strip on the camp square, and they had to hand over all personal belongings to the camp stores. This was followed by the shaving of both men and women, then came the body-search for hidden valuables, and then finally a bath. The prisoners were then issued with camp clothing and a camp number, and their personal details recorded. This was followed by a period of quarantine in Blocks 17-19 of the 'New Camp,' which lasted two to four weeks. The prisoners did not work whilst in quarantine, in the morning they performed drill under the supervision of the block or barracks chief, whilst in the afternoon there were various records to be completed, particularly for the Arbeitseinsatz, who controlled the allocation of forced labour.

After quarantine the prisoners were assigned to barracks where he or she was to sleep and they were also assigned to a particular work commando. The male prisoners lived in fifteen barracks in the 'New Camp.' Each barrack was divided into two equal parts A and B. Each part had a vestibule, washroom, lavatory, day-room and sleeping quarters. The latter was furnished with three-storey bunks which had paper mattresses filled with wood shavings, similar pillows and cotton blankets. The living conditions in the barracks depended to a large extent on the barracks chief, and overcrowding that featured prominently with levels of three or four times more prisoners than originally planned.

Some prisoners did not even make it to the quarantine phase, they arrived unknowingly already earmarked for death, for committing offences against the Nazi regime. Krzystof Dunin- Wasowicz recalled:

'In the afternoon, when Ludtke wearing his ironic smile arrived at the Rapportabteilung with a card in his hand, we all knew what was to come. The condemned who had been brought to the Rapportabteilung waited about half an hour, then just before the roll-call Chemnitz and Foth arrived and took them towards the crematorium. There, they were either shot in the back of the head or hanged.'

Sometimes transports arrived from Danzig and people were immediately taken and locked in underground window-less cells, in a small building at the side of the 'Old Camp.' These prisoners were usually executed by shooting before the evening roll-call.

Another killer was typhus, there were several epidemics during 1942, and the spring of 1943, with the worst epidemics occurring in the summer and autumn of 1944. Even if the medical staff of the camp wanted to help the prisoners to regain their health, they were, to all intents and purposes helpless in the face of these outbreaks. Those who fell sick did not just die from the illness, the incurables or chronically sick, such as those with tuberculosis were murdered by means of injections of phenol, or by being drowned in the bath at night. The camp doctor had the power to undertake selections for the gas chamber.

Tragic games were also organised, during which the SS staff dressed up as doctors, received the sick, keeping up appearances and formalities, then when measuring their height, the prisoners were shot in the back of the head from a specially constructed appliance. The corpses were taken outside, the blood wiped up and the next victim was politely requested to enter.

When the new hospital was opened the living conditions of the sick greatly improved, but the mortality rate increased rapidly during 1943. The new hospital accommodated on average 600 to 1,000 sick prisoners. In addition to this, the outpatients section treated some 500 persons a day. In 1944, a Jewish hospital (Judenkrankenbau) was isolated in Barrack 30. The conditions were dreadful and Jewish doctors received no medicines or dressings. The camp authorities believed they were all destined for extermination, therefore treatment was un-necessary. Barrack 30 became known as the 'finishing off barrack,' where food was frequently not distributed, and prisoners died of starvation and disease.

Work was another method of extermination; the prisoners worked in groups called 'commando's,' each under the supervision of a Kapo. The prisoners were not only employed to cover the camp's requirements, but also those of German firms, located inside and outside the camp. Sub-camps were established to supply cheap labour for various firms located some distance from the main camp.

Similar exhausting work was also the case in many of Stutthof's sub-camps. The most severe was at Politz, near Stettin , a synthetic petrol plant where Kozlowski, who was a room supervisor and later a Camp Elder gained notoriety. Likewise, the work was very hard at Schichau in Elblag, the Danziger Werft shipyard at Przerobka in Danzig, and in the brick-works of Graniczna Wies. The Jewish sub-camps consisted of working on five airfields in East Prussia, in wagon factories and the building of fortifications for the Organisation Todt, in Elblag and Torun. Thousands of Jews lost their lives, serving the Nazi war aims. Altogether 25,000 prisoners worked in forty-plus sub-camps.

Many prisoners were executed by hanging in public, to serve as a warning to others, on a scaffold initially erected by the crematorium, which was later moved to the parade ground in the 'New Camp.' Executions usually took place just before dinner on a scaffold set up between Barracks twelve and thirteen. The scaffold consisted of two vertical beams, connected by a cross-beam, on which two rings were hung, through which the nooses were pulled. The condemned victims had to climb up a small ladder onto a plank set one metre above the ground. The plank was snatched from under the victims by means of a rope. Particularly memorable was the hanging of a young Pole alleged for carrying out sabotage. He was hanged besides a Christmas Tree, which had been provided by the SS, in an exceptional gesture, on December 28, 1944. Also the execution of two Russian boys, who were brothers. Both were very young, the younger one was crying, the older brother was consoling him and uttering loud threats of revenge against the Germans by the Red Army.

There were a few successful escapes by Poles. Those who escaped included Marcjan Czarnecki, Karol Viola, Wlodzimierz Steyer, Stanislaw Jankowski and two Englishmen, whose names are not known.

A gas chamber was built in the autumn of 1943, at first it was used to disinfect clothes, but in June 1944, the Germans started to murder prisoners in it, using the gassing agent 'Zyklon B.' Transports of Hungarian, Greek and Czech Jews, mostly transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp were murdered in Stutthof's gas chamber. Maria Suszynska witnessed the arrival of one such transport:

'They arrived in a terrible physical state, usually from other camps, mainly Auschwitz, to die here. They plodded on and on, fatigued, with black faces, hair growing from their skin in bristle. They plodded on and on staring with their huge black eyes, with what seemed like an inhuman expression. They wore neither sweaters or jackets, only torn summer dresses, through the tears in which their grey bodies could be seen. They were without vests, gaunt, with their pointed shoulders, sunken chests - they were more like some weird, ugly birds. In their hands they gripped pieces of bread, but were unable to eat. Were they aware where they were once more being taken?' A total of approximately 50,000 Jews from various European countries passed through Stutthof during 1944, some of them were immediately directed to the gas chamber, whilst some of the stronger prisoners were crammed into the sub-camps, and then sent to Germany when the Red Army approached.

During the initial stages of the camp's existence, the bodies of prisoners who had died in the camp were transported to Danzig and buried in common graves at the Zaspa cemetery. In September 1942, the Berlin firm Kori erected two brick stoves and raised an 18 metre high chimney. Over the stoves a wooden roof was built, which quickly burnt down, and after that a brick structure was built. A Red Army commission described the crematorium, after the camp was liberated:

'The furnace is built of firebrick, with an opening at the front - through which the bodies were placed, also at the front, was an opening through which to remove the ashes, there are two hearths on the left of the furnace. At the front there was also a small opening -20 cm in diameter- closed by means of a small door, with which to regulate the draught. All the openings were closed by means of iron doors 7-9 mm thick.'

During the typhus epidemic in 1944, the crematorium could not keep up with the disposing of the corpses, and a crematory pyre was set up north of the 'New Camp.' The pyre was constructed so that there were alternate layers of corpses and logs or boards, which was splashed with mazut, a heavy, low quality fuel oil, to ensure it burned better.

On January 12, 1945, the Russian Red Army started their Winter Offensive, and the camp authorities started their planning for the evacuation of the prisoners from Stutthof, and the liquidation of the camp. They doubled the guard detachment, and started to burn incriminating documents and transport equipment out of the camp.

During January 23- 24, 1945, the Russian forces advanced closer to Elblag and Malbork, some 40 -50 kilometres from Stutthof. In view of this the Gauleiter Albert Forster and the Higher SS and Police Leader Fritz Katzmann decided to evacuate Stutthof, with the prisoners having to embark on a 'death march' to Lebork, which was some 140 kilometres distant from the camp. The formal order of evacuation was issued by Camp Commandant Paul Hoppe. This order - Einsatzbefehl No. 3 was dated January 25, 1945, at 05.00 hours in the morning.

The evacuation which commenced at 06.00 hours, under the command of SS- Hauptsturmführer Teodor Meyer, the march was expected to last seven days. 25,000 prisoners in nine columns commenced the march, and the last two groups left the camp on January 26, 1945. The conditions in which the evacuation took place has been vividly described:

'How many of them fell down on the road, they were marching so long, until their legs could be pulled forward; when they fell down, a blow with the rifle butt tried to lift them up. An SS-man's kick removed the body to the side of the road. Sometimes one kick was enough or one knock with a rifle butt in the face, to finish the life. We hardly passed Stegna, when one prisoner fell down, after that others were falling.'  

The march actually lasted for ten days, not the seven days forecast, but the Germans had only provided food for two days. The sounds of artillery fire from the advancing Red Army's guns could be heard from the east and south. The columns marched on through snow drifts, with the SS guards murdering anyone who could not keep up. After reaching Lebork the decimated columns of survivors dragged out a miserable existence until they were liberated by the Red Army in March 1945.

Those still left behind in Stutthof were evacuated on Himmler's order of April 14, 1945. The only route now open to the Germans was by sea. Many small scale evacuations by sea took place. The evacuation of the main camp, combined with the evacuation of the Gdynia sub-camp took place by sea to Hamburg, Flensburg and Neustadt on April 25, 1945. Some 5,000 prisoners in five old barges set off, and only half this number survived the evacuations by sea.

Following these evacuations, the camp practically ceased to exist. Only about 100-150 prisoners remained and the SS guards started the final liquidation of the camp. The Jewish barracks were set on fire, in which some sick prisoners were still inside, and were tragically burnt alive. The SS-men under the command of Paul Ehle left the camp, which was then taken over by the German Army.

Stutthof Concentration Camp was liberated by Red Army soldiers of the 48th Army under the command of Colonel S.C. Cyplenkow on May 9, 1945.

A number of war crimes trials were held after the end of the Second World War and the first commandant of Stutthof Max Pauly was tried by a British Court for his crimes at Neuengamme Concentration Camp and executed on October 8, 1946. The second commandant Paul Hoppe, who succeeded Max Pauly in September 1942, was tried and given a sentence of 5 years and 3 months imprisonment in Germany. This was increased to 9 years by a court of appeal.

In Poland during April and May 1946, more trials of camp personnel were held, and death sentences were passed on 6 members of staff, and 5 Kapo's. One caretaker received a 5 year prison sentence and a barrack supervisor was given a 3 year sentence. Those sentenced to death were executed on June 4, 1946.

The second trial in October 1947, saw death sentences passed on 9 members of the camp staff, and one Kapo. These included Jakob Meyer, Ewald Foth, Friedrich Rach, and Paul Wellnitz. Other members of the SS personnel received lesser sentences.


www. - online resource

French L. Maclean, The Camp Men, Schiffer Publishing Ltd 1991

All Photographs - USHMM

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