Dulag 121 Pruszków

Karol Karwat

 

‘Warsaw passed this way’ – this phrase, which appears on the wall of the former Rolling Stock Repair Plant in Pruszków, seems to be the best representation of the nature of the site that left its mark on the lives of thousands of Varsovians. Based on the order issued by SS-Obergruppenführer Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, the commander of the German forces in Warsaw, the camp in Pruszków, that is Durchgangslager121 (transit camp), was established by the Germans on 6 August 1944 in the grounds of the former railway workshops. At that time Walter Bock, who served as Pruszków’s Commissar, ordered members of the local Central Welfare Council (RGO) to organize aid to people who, expelled from Warsaw, arrived in the camp[1].

 

The Organization of the Camp

The choice of where to establishthe Dulag was affected by the fact that two other camps had already been established on the same site earlier – the POW camp for Polish soldiers organized in the autumn of 1939 and the labor camp for the Jews set up some time later. The place had other advantages too: it was situated in the proximity of a railway line and was equipped with good camp facilities. Located in the Żbików district and enclosed with a concrete wall with six gates, the camp consisted of nine railway halls and a dozen or so smaller buildings. The camp SS was lodged in the green railway car while Wehrmacht soldiers were accommodated in the building of the former railway school.

Those who were deemed unable to work for the Third Reich were lodged in hall no. 1 (pregnant women, women with children up to 15 years of age, women over 50 years of age and men over 60 years of age) and so were those who were to be sent to the territory of the General Government. Hall no. 2 was occupied by the medical board. Tram and car drivers whom the Germans tried to persuade to take their families and go to the Reich stayed in hall no. 3. The people who were to go to the Reich and the General Government were kept in hall no. 4. Hall no. 5 was used to carry out segregations – those who were to become forced laborers, mainly young men and women, were placed in hall no. 6. Following the surrender of Warsaw, the healthy prisoners were taken to hall no. 7 while the injured ones to hall no. 8. Hall no. 9 housed the kitchen and a warehouse[2]. Each barrack was guarded by Wehrmacht soldiers and gendarmerie and each was assigned a supervisor – Hallenleiter. Designated by the RGO, supervisors wore armbands with letters HL[3]. The barrack supervisor, a person trusted by the Germans, took care of the people in the hall. The conditions in the halls, in each of which as many as 10,000 were made to stay, defied all sanitary norms. Overcrowded and deprived of drainage facilities, the halls were stuffy and filled with a foul odor[4].

 

The staff of Dulag 121

SA-Oberführer Stephan and SS-Sturmbannführer August Polland were in charge of the camp in the initial stage of its functioning. The latter also supervised Arbeitsamt. It soon turned out that these men, because of a significant number of the people brought to the camp, weren’t equipped to run the Dulag.

On 10 August 1944 the new camp authorities began to be recruited. The Wehrmacht unit, made up of seven to eight officers, several non-commissioned officers and several dozen soldiers, arrived in Pruszków. The unit was headed by Colonel Curt Sieber. His first order aimed to prevent the arbitrary shooting in the campgrounds. SS-Sturmbannführer Heinrich Gustaw Diehl was appointed to serve as head of the camp SS unit[5]. The unit was required to convoy transports from Warsaw to Germany, to separate, along with Arbeitsamt, those who were able to work from those who weren’t, to break up families, to capture people suspected of taking part in the Uprising, to supervise both Polish and German members of the camp staff and to guard the camp premises. The camp Arbeitsamt was headed by August Polland. His task was to select people able to work and to send them to the Reich as forced laborers. Young people who were suspected of taking part in the Uprising were shot or sent to the concentration camps.

On 14 August 1944 Dr. Adolf König was designated the camp’s chief doctor. He was accompanied by two other doctors, Dr. Peter Klenner and Dr. Venner, all three of them were from Wehrmacht. Dr. Kazimierz Szupryczyński, aided by Dr. Julia Bielecka, was in charge of the Polish medical personnel. Polish doctors, in addition to treating the sick and wounded, were tasked with the selection of those who were unable to work in the Reich and who couldn’t be transported by railway. Owing to the decisions taken by Polish doctors, many Varsovians who were seriously wounded and who were suffering from serious diseases were released from the camp. All the lists provided by Polish doctors were confirmed by their German counterparts[6].

Medical personnel wore Red Cross armbands. There was also a group of Polish medics working in the camp under the supervision of Jadwiga Kiełbasińska – a midwife from Milanówek. She had a very good command of German and enjoyed the trust of the camp authorities. Maria Ewa Bogucka and members of the branch of the RGO (Central Welfare Council) were in charge of the kitchen staff. From 20,000 to 25,000 portions of soup, and sometimes even 35,000, were served every day[7]. The adults were also given bread and ersatz coffee while children received milk soups. The camp relied for its food supply on the local population, farm owners and the warehouses of the Pruszków branch of the RGO. Basic necessities were distributed in the camp canteens. Also in operation was the mail system of collecting and delivering letters and packages.

Among those who had important roles to fulfill were the nurses who served as interpreters. They were involved in drawing up lists of people to be released from the camp based on doctors’ certificates. Some of those whom they selected for release actually didn’t deserve to be included in these lists. Kazimiera Drescher known as ‘Zula’ was the camp’s main interpreter. The group of interpreters included, among others, Janina Urbańska vel. Jakubowska, Alicja Tyszkiewicz, Danuta Leśniewska-Stawińska (after Drescher’s arrest she became the camp’s main interpreter)[8]. Thanks to their efforts, from 60,000 to 100,000 people were released from the camp. Denounced by the nurse Janina Jodzewicz, Kazimiera Drescher and Janina Jakubowska-Urbańska were arrested by Gestapo. They were accused of being part of the Home Army and of getting people released from the camp in violation of the existing regulations. They refused to plead guilty and on 16 September 1944 were sent to KL Auschwitz.

There were various ways of helping people slip out of the camp. Some put on white uniforms and Red Cross armbands and left the camp disguised as members of the medical staff – in time, however, the Germans required the personnel to use passes with photographs. Some escaped on carts, covered by sacks used for bringing food and some, carrying shovels and other tools, pretended to be outside laborers working in the camp.

 

Varsovians’ Ordeal

The Dulag 121 in Pruszków was a transit camp. Those who were taken to the camp had been expelled from the parts of Warsaw which the German troops took over during the fighting against the insurgents. The first transport of about 3,000 people from the Wola district, mostly mothers and children, arrived on 7 August 1944. After walking for 15 kilometers, they were in a state of physical and mental exhaustion[9]. St. Adalbert’s Church at Wolska Street 76 served as the largest assembly point where the people to be sent to Pruszków were brought together. About 90,000 of Warsaw inhabitants passed through the church during the Warsaw Uprising. About 60,000 people who appeared in Pruszków were taken from the marketplace in the Ochota district known as Zieleniak – another large assembly point.The first group arrived in the Dulagon 9 August 1944; the last one on 20 August 1944.People were marched from ‘Zieleniak’, and so were those gathered in the sawmill in Okęcie and in the horse racing tracks in Służewiec. The Praga inhabitants were taken to Pruszków in freight cars[10]. Among those whom the Germans brought to the camp were the people living in the surrounding area – in Anin, Wawer, Zielonka, Kobyłka, Ożarów, Milanówek, Tłuszcz, Włochy, Ursus and Komorów.

The Dulag’s prisoners who were released from it included, among others, the former President of the Polish Republic Stanisław Wojciechowski; writers: Tadeusz Breza, Stanisław Dygat, Wilam Horzyca, Maria Rodziewiczówna, Jerzy Zawieyski; columnist Stefan Wiechecki; graphic artist Eryk Lipiński; professor at the AGH University of Science and Technology Walery Goetel, film director Antoni Bohdziewicz and actor Marian Wyrzykowski.

 

International Aid

When word got out about the conditions existing in the camp, new people began to arrive in it, including bishop Antoni Szlagowskiwho appeared in Pruszków on 20 August 1944. Following the conversations he held with some of those who were kept in the Dulag, he intervened with the SS head Gustav Diehl on the issue of breaking up families and releasing priests and nuns. As a result, three priests, and it was the only concession he obtained, were allowed to perform priestly service in the camp[11]. On 25 August 1944 the insurgent radio station broadcast an appeal to the International Red Cross to aid people who were expelled from Warsaw. In this connection, on 5 September Diehl ordered the representatives of the RGO in Pruszków to sign a document confirming that the camp conditions were good and the people were provided with food, basic health care and spiritual service. The refusal to sign the document would have resulted in the dismissal of the Polish personnel from the camp[12].

On 13 September 1944 two freight cars of food and medicines from the International Red Cross arrived in the camp. At the same time the Dulag saw the arrival of Paul Wyss, the Red Cross delegate, accompanied by the Swedish pastor Sven Hellqist. Upon his return to Switzerland, Wyss prepared a report from his visit. However, neither the brutality with which the people in the camp were treated nor the poor living conditions were reflected in the report because the Germans improved the situation in the camp just before the arrival of the delegation in question. They put railway carts for those who were to be brought out of the camp, supplied the camp kitchen with a greater amount of food and even ordered the cleaning of the camp halls.

Following Wyss’ visit, there was a significant increase in the number of transports to Pruszków. The medical personnel was forced to work 24 hours a day. The rear part of the hall 2 served as the camp hospital. Established in its front part was the admission room. The Russian doctor Anikiejew served as the hospital head. He was aided by doctor Julia Bielecka. The hospital consisted of six rooms. Three of them were equipped with bunks. Those who were admitted to the hospital stood a better chance to be released from the camp and to avoid deportation as forced laborers. Afraid of the outbreak of the typhus epidemic, the Germans often allowed the sick to be sent to local Polish hospitals – for example, to Tworki, headed by Edward Gustaw Steffen[13].

 

The Liquidation of the Camp

On 27 September 1944, after the Germans seized control of the Mokotów district, the unit of the Home Army soldiers, about 12,000 people in number, was brought to the camp. Soon later transports of civilians from Mokotów arrived. The Home Army soldiers were placed in hall no. 7[14]. After 2 October 1944, following the agreement which put an end to the fighting in Warsaw, about 150,000 people from the Śródmieście district got to the Dulag. Trains shuttled every 60 minutes between the Western Railway Station and Pruszków. As many as 40,000 people a day passed through the camp in Pruszków during the last days of the Uprising[15].

Towards the end of 1944 the Dulag began to be liquidated. On 12 December 1944 Wehrmacht left the camp grounds. Barracks were shut down and so was the infirmary. The camp area began to be used as the site of the detention of those whom the Germans had captured during the round-ups. Of the Polish personnel only doctor Bielecka and several nurses were left. On the night of 15 to 16 January the Germans abandoned the camp altogether. Dulag 121 ceased to exist.

The Dulag’s characteristic feature was that the Germans allowed the Polish personnel to work in it. The German administration wasn’t up to the task of providing detainees with basic health care and a sufficient amount of food. According to Ludwig Fischer’s report, the total of 350,000 people passed through Dulag. By the estimates of the camp branch of the RGO the number came to as many as 685,000 people from Warsaw and the surrounding area. Of this number, 90,000 were sent to the Reich as forced laborers, 60,000 ended up in the concentration camps, 100,000 were released and between 300,000 and 350,000 were sent around the territory of the General Government.

 

Bibliography

Zbrodnie okupanta hitlerowskiego na ludności cywilnej w czasie powstania warszawskiego w 1944 roku, selected and compiled by Szymon Datner and Kazimierz Leszczyński, Warsaw 1962.

Dunin-Wąsowicz Krzysztof, Warszawa w latach 1939–1945, Warsaw 1984.

Getter Marek, Straty ludzkie i materialne w Powstaniu Warszawskim, „Biuletyn Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej” 2004, no. 8–9 (43–44), pp. 62–77.

Kołodziejczyk Edward, Tryptyk warszawski,Warsaw 1984.

Serwański Edward, Dulag 121 – Pruszków. Sierpień – październik 1944 roku,Poznań 1946.

Serwański Edward, Trawińska Irena, Zbrodnia niemiecka w Warszawie. Zeznania, zdjęcia, Poznań 1946.

Wawrzyński Mirosław, Solidarność ludzka w czasach pogardy, „Biuletyn Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej” 2006, no. 1–2 (60–61), pp. 76–92.

Wiśniewska Maria, Sikorska Małgorzata, Szpitale powstańczej Warszawy, Warsaw 1991.

Zaborski Zdzisław, Durchgangslager 121. Niemiecka zbrodnia specjalna, Pruszków 2010.

Zaborski Zdzisław, Tędy przeszła Warszawa. Epilog Powstania Warszawskiego. Pruszków Durchgangslager 121, 6 VIII–10 X 1944,Warsaw 2004.

 

Karol Karwat – a sport historian, a graduate of the Institute of History of the University of Warsaw, he works at the Branch Archive of the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw.

 

[1] Cf. the account of Władysław Mazurek.

[2] Cf. the account of Julia Bielecka.

[3] Cf. Zaborski, Durchgangslager 121. Niemiecka zbrodnia specjalna, Pruszków 2010, p. 45.

[4] Cf. the account of Władysław Mazurek.

[5] Cf. the account of Marian Sikora.

[6] Cf. the account of Julia Bielecka.

[7] M. Wawrzyński, Solidarność ludzka w czasach pogardy. Oni ratowali warszawiaków 1944–1945, „Biuletyn Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej” 2006, no 1–2, p. 79.

[8] Cf. the account of Julia Bielecka.

[9] Cf. the account of Władysław Mazurek.

[10] Cf. the account of Marian Sikora.

[11] Cf. the account of Władysław Mazurek and Marian Sikora.

[12] Cf. the account of Władysław Mazurek.

[13] M. Wiśniewska, Szpitale powstańczej Warszawy, Warsaw 1991, pp. 248–249.

[14] Cf. the account of Władysław Mazurek.

[15] Cf. the account of Stefan Cichoński