Polish prisoners

Nazi Germany occupied Poland with extreme violence. Nazi leaders believed that Poles were inferior and had to be enslaved; any resistance would be wiped out. Many Poles were dragged to concentration camps, on German soil and in occupied Poland; in the new camp at Auschwitz (near Cracow), most of the inmates in 1940–1 were Polish political prisoners. As the following testimony from 1945 highlights, Polish prisoners faced murderous conditions from the outset. In autumn 1939, many ordinary Germans and SS guards believed Nazi propaganda lies about Polish atrocities against Germans. They demanded brutal “revenge”. In Buchenwald, hundreds of Poles and Polish-born Jews were forced into a cordoned-off compound, the so-called Little Camp. When it closed in early 1940, two out of three inmates had died.

053 – Two Polish survivors of Buchenwald on the early months of the Second World War

On October 15 and 16 [1939], about 4500 Poles were brought to Buchenwald. Even during unloading we were worked over in the most brutal way, with blows from rifle butts and kicks. Then began our Way of the Cross from Weimar to Buchenwald. Men, women, and children threw stones at us and shouted, “Strike them dead, the Polish pigs, the snipers!” […]

When the camp gate closed behind us […] we went into the so-called Little Camp. Four tents and a wooden shed stood there, surrounded by a tall barbed wire fence. One part the fenced-off space served as our rollcall square; into another part the dead were thrown. […]

Strike them dead, the Polish pigs

Almost every day Deputy Commandant [Arthur] Rödl visited us with his sidekicks; he always brought the “whipping block” along. Comrades were pulled out indiscriminately, strapped to the whipping block, and whipped until the flesh fell off in scraps. When one SS executioner became tired, he was replaced by another. […]

Amidst these unspeakable torments and the starvation, dysentery began to rage among us. Each day demanded new victims, who had to be laid out in rows next to the tents. At the beginning of the camp, the four tents were filled to overflowing [with prisoners], but we were so decimated by the end of December [1939] that all inmates of the camp scarcely filled half a tent.[…]

In mid-January 1940 the evacuation of the Little Camp began at the urging of the prisoner orderlies in the hospital.[…] We joined our comrades in the large camp, where new sufferings awaited us.

Source: D. Hackett, The Buchenwald Report (Boulder, 1995), pp. 275–6