- What was the Holocaust?
- Judaism and Jewish life
- What is antisemitism?
- How did the Nazis gain power?
- Life in Nazi-controlled Europe
- What were camps?
- What was the Final Solution?
- How did people respond?
- Survival and legacy
Majdanek was a concentration and forced labour camp that, for a short time, was also used as a death camp. It was located in a suburb just three miles from Lublin in Poland in the centre of the General Government area.
The camp opened in September 1941, initially for Soviet prisoners of war, and was liberated by the Soviet Army in July 1944. During this time approximately 360,000 victims died or were murdered at Majdanek, 120,000 of them Jews.
The inmates of Majdanek comprised people of 54 nationalities from 28 different countries. They included Soviet prisoners of war and Jews from Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, France, Hungary, Belgium and Greece. In addition, many non-Jews from Belorussia, the Ukraine and across Poland were taken to the camp as political prisoners or slave labourers.
The Majdanek camp covered 667 acres of land. It was surrounded by an electrified barbed wire fence and guarded by the SS in 19 watchtowers. Up to 45,000 prisoners could be housed in the 22 barracks.
The camp also had many satellite camps, and the Nazis planned to expand Majdanek to house up to 250,000 prisoners. However, these plans were never followed through. During its existence Majdanek had seven gas chambers, two wooden gallows, a small crematorium and, from 1943, a larger crematorium.
As in most concentration camps, many Majdanek prisoners died simply from being there. Death due to disease, starvation, exposure to extreme temperatures, overwork and exhaustion, or from beatings by camp guards, were all extremely common. Others were murdered in mass killing actions.
During 1941 and 1942 the Germans shot many thousands of victims. These included sick Soviet prisoners of war, Soviet Army officers, Jews and prisoners of all nationalities. On 3 November 1943, the Germans shot 18,000 Jews in one single day. The victims were shot into large pits, while in the background loud music was played to drown out the noise of the killings.
Many of the prisoners were sent directly to the gas chambers on arrival. Most of those dealt with in this way were Jews, who had been subjected to a similar kind of selection process that was in operation at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The SS evacuated the camp during July 1944, as the Soviet Army advanced eastwards. As they made their escape, the SS demolished and burned down the crematorium chimney and burned much of the evidence. They failed to destroy the gas chambers and prisoners’ barracks in time. On 24 July the Soviet Army liberated the camp, but found just a few hundred prisoners alive.