janowska - bone crushing machine631

Janowska Bone Crushing Machine

The Janowska forced labour camp was located on 134 Janowska Road in the suburbs of the city of Lvov, known as Lemberg, during the German occupation, in the Galicia district, where thousands of Jews were murdered. The Germans established the labour camp in Janowska during September 1941, as an arms factory. Soon it was expanded into a complex of factories that served the Deutsche Austrungswerke (DAW - German Armaments Work). These factories employed Jews as forced labourers and by October 1941, there were 600 prisoners who worked mostly at carpentry and metalwork; whilst some were given meaningless tasks designed to exhaust them before their deaths. Janowska consisted of three sections. The first consisted of garages, workshops and offices, with a separate villa for the camps staff of SS and Ukrainians and in the centre stood the commandants villa. The second section was the camp proper, barracks each housing 2,000 prisoners were constructed. The third section of the camp consisted of the DAW factories. Barbed- wire fences separated the three sections from one another. The entire camp was surrounded with a double barbed-wire fence, illuminated by searchlights, and watchtowers were placed all around the camp at 50 metre intervals, with armed SS and Ukrainians patrolling the perimeter.

The first Commandant of the camp was Fritz Gebauer, and his deputies were Gustav Wilhaus and Wilhelm Rokita. In May 1942, Fritz Gebauer took over the command of the DAW camp, and Gustav Wilhaus was appointed Commandant of Janowska. A staff of between 12 and 15 SS officers administered the camp, and the majority of the guards were Ukrainians who had volunteered for service with the SS. At the beginning of November 1941, the Nazis asked the Chairman of the Lvov Jewish Council (Judenrat), Dr Joseph Parnes, to provide more workers for the camp. He refused and was executed. The camp underwent a change in March 1942, when the mass deportation of Jews from Eastern Galicia to the Belzec death camp began, Janowska was used as a transit camp, and some Jews were kept there, whilst others were deported to Belzec, and its murderous gas chambers. Continual selections took place at Janowska and those deemed unfit for work were also deported to Belzec. Later in the spring the Nazis expanded Janowska and the Lvov Judenrat tried to help the prisoners there by sending to them food packages, but hardly any of the packages reached the inmates. By the summer of 1942, thousands more Jews arrived in Janowska.   

The living conditions in the camp were exceptionally harsh. Many prisoners committed suicide by hanging themselves in the barracks, rather than go on living. When the prisoners returned from work, the prisoners were made to run into the camp, Wilhaus and his assistant Freidrich Warzok singled out those Jews who showed signs of fatigue. These Jews were placed between the rows of barbed-wire and left there to die.Each morning there was a roll-call for all prisoners, who were personally inspected by an SS officer, any prisoner who failed this inspection was immediately shot. Wilhelm Rokita had a special habit when passing through rows of prisoners on the parade ground, if he did not like the look of a prisoner, he would shoot him in the back of the neck. Every SS man had his favourite way of killing Jews; Jews in the camp were murdered for the slightest misdemeanour, for working slowly, for not paying attention , and some for no reason at all. The manner in which a Jew was killed, varied, on the mood of the executioner. The victims were shot, flogged, choked or were hanged. Some Jews were fixed to crosses upside down, whilst some were killed with knives and axes. Women were brutally murdered; they were mostly flogged to death, or killed by stab wounds. The Nazis conducted their tortures to the accompaniment of music. For this purpose they organised an orchestra from amongst the prisoners, led by Professor Stricts, and the well-known conductor Mund. Composers were ordered to write a special tune, which was called ‘The Death Tango.’ Shortly before the camp was liquidated the Nazis shot all the members of the orchestra.

By mid-1943, fewer prisoners were used as forced labourers and their time in the camp was shortened, the Nazis started to execute more and more Jews, on the so-called Piaski sand hills behind the camp. There were two slopes on which the Jews were shot, and then buried in mass graves. During May 1943, over 6,000 Jews were murdered here. The prisoners in Janowska tried to organise resistance actions, prisoners who worked outside Janowska were able to smuggle weapons into the camp, to be used in the event of the camps’ liquidation. However, the date of the liquidation was moved up to November 1943, catching the prisoners unaware.

One revolt did break out among the prisoners forced to exhume and burn the corpses, to conceal the evidence of the mass killings. On Friday, 19 November 1943, the rebels killed some guards, but most of them were caught and killed. One of the prisoners who escaped from this group of prisoners, who were part of Sonderkommando 1005, was Leon Weliczker, who gave evidence at the Adolf Eichmann Trial in Jerusalem during 1961.  

The Soviets liberated Lvov on 26 July 1944 and carried out a number of investigations into the war crimes committed at Janowska; however, the precise number of victims murdered in Janowska will never be known, but estimates range from 100,000 to 200,000


Robert Rozett and Shmuel Spector,  Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust , Yad Vashem , Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers Chicago –London 2000

Leon Weliczker Wells, The Janowska Road, Holocaust Library, USHMM Washington DC, 1999

Photograph – USHMM Archive

© Holocaust Historical Society 2016