The Flugplatz labour camp
The work camp established in the area of the pre-war Lublin airport, under the corresponding name of Flugplatz, was one of the biggest work camps in the Lublin District. It operated between 1942 and 1943. Prisoners held there included mainly Jewish women and men from various countries, as well as a group of Polish women. During Operation Reinhard it served the function of a selection square for the arriving human transports. It was also used for sorting and storing goods taken from Jews in the death camps of Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka.
German authorities take over the factory
Flugplatz was located in the area of the Lublin Aircraft Factory (LWS) established in 1936 after E. Plage and T. Laśkiewicz Mechanical Works had been nationalized, having gone through a period of great financial hardship. In the first days after the outbreak of WWII the factory was a target of German air raids as a consequence of which many people were killed or injured. The infrastructure of the factory was damaged, too. When German troops entered Lublin, the aircraft manufacturing ground was converted into warehouses for depositing repossessed weapons, as well as a POW camp in which, by the end of October 1939, approximately 200 people were imprisoned. The camp functioned most probably until the turn of January and February 19401. After its liquidation, the former factory ground was reappropriated to house stables, quarters of the 2nd SS Cavalry Regiment, the Waffen SS Clothing Storehouses as well as the Wehrmacht technical service unit, all of which operated in all likelihood until the summer of 1942. By the end of 1941 German forces commenced the construction of the Central Supplies Warehouse for the Russia-South SS and Police Commander, using the prisoners held in KL Lublin (Majdanek concentration camp) and the Lipowa 7 work camp as labour force.
The history of the camp
By the end of July 1940, a temporary camp for Jews was created in the area of the liquidated aircraft factory. People imprisoned there (571 Jews, in most cases caught during a roundup) were employed to dismantle air docks2. Another roundup was repeated most probably on the night between the 9th and the 10th of August. Prisoner provisioning was imposed upon the Judenrat. Having dismantled the industrial buildings in the area, prisoners were released3. It is a well-known fact, however, that the first Jews were sent to work in the Flugplatz camp already several months earlier. On the 18th of May, a delegated group of Jewish workers issued an official complaint to the Arbeitsamt accusing guards of abusing them:
(…) a group of delegates employed at the Luftplatz (airport) came to the Arbeitsamt to claim the following: today 84 (…) people were sent to work at the airport and everyone, with no exceptions, were beaten and abused horribly during their work. The perpetrators were the same men who come to fetch people from the square every day4.
In 1941 Flugplatz housed the SS Garment Factory which employed Jewish tailors and furriers. Flugplatz was also incorporated into the so-called Pelzaktion aimed at collecting furs and fur articles, as well as woollen clothing. The action which was carried out in the entire territory of the General Government started in Lublin on the 25th of December 1941. Fearing the spread of the typhoid epidemic outside the area of the ghetto, the Nazi authorities imposed confiscation duties on the Judenrat. All stolen goods were transported to the SS Garment Factory to be recycled by Jewish tailors and furriers brought from the ghetto. Initially, the craftsmen were given the possibility of returning home after work but they were soon told to spend nights in barracks situated in the factory area. At the beginning of 1942, workmen were joined by a group of artisans brought from other towns and villages. The SS Garment Factory was closed down in 1942. A sorting facility for goods stolen from Jews during Operation Reinhard was established in its place.
At the turn of January and February 1942 the German authorities commenced with the organisation of a permanent work camp in which Polish and Jewish females from the Lublin ghetto were imprisoned. In the first months of 1942 also German and Czech Jews were brought to the camp. From 1943 onwards, the camp was a place of isolation for Jewish prisoners only.
A commando of about 1200 prisoners (all of whom were brought daily from KL Lublin) was employed at the construction site of the Flugplatz camp. In mid September 1942 all prisoners were confined to the barracks of the camp under construction on a permanent basis. As early as July, Odilo Globocnik suggested the creation of a female camp in Lublin for approximately 500 prisoners. Initially, the camp was to be situated in Field V of KL Majdanek. Such plans were, however, altered and the new idea was to locate the female camp in the newly reconstructed Flugplatz. First female prisoners arrived at the camp by the end of 19425.
Controversy over the control of Flugplatz
The authorities of KL Majdanek expected Flugplatz to become a branch of the concentration camp, which was not what Globocnik envisaged when he planned for the Flugplatz camp to be part of the SS economic empire. He assigned the task of reorganising the camp to Christian Wirth, the first commandant of the death camp in Bełżec, who was the supervisor of Operation Reinhard camps from the August of 1942. His position in the security structures alone allowed him to have an impact on how the Flugplatz camp functioned, even though he was not employed as its commandant until March 1943. Meanwhile, on Globocnik’s initiative, the Ostindustrie (Osti) corporation was created as a capping stone for his plan to consolidate the SS economic empire. These actions resulted in a conflict between Globocnik and Wirth on the one side and the commandant of Majdanek on the other. The disagreement concerned an exclusive control over the camp situated in the area of the former airport and caused the authorities of KL Lublin to lose part of its previous influence. As a consequence, the staff of the Flugplatz camp was entirely renewed – the SS officers from the KL Lublin crew were called back to Majdanek and replaced with Wirth’s subordinates from Bełżec. Only Flugplatz watchmen came from KL Lublin6.
At the turn of September and October the work camps previously constituting Osti labour force were formally converted into the branches of Majdanek. On the 22nd of October 1943 the head of the SS Economic and Administrative Main Office (SS-WVHA), Oswald Pohl, issued a decree according to which each work camp would be from now on subordinate to him. Pohl’s decision, however, was never implemented, because at the beginning of November German security forces carried out the Erntefest Aktion (Operation Harvest Festival), murdering most of the Jewish residents of the Lublin District on Himmler’s orders.
The role of Flugplatz for Operation Reinhard
Flugplatz was a significant element of Operation Reinhard which was underway since the spring of 1942. It had the function of a selection square in which men fit for work were selected from the arriving human transports. These men were later sent to labour camps or KL Lublin (Majdanek concentration camp). Selections were carried out most often on foreign Jews. Women, children, the elderly and the handicapped were deported to transit ghettos or directly to death camps.
Flugplatz was also the main warehouse and sorting facility for goods stolen from Jews murdered in the death camps in Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka. The stolen items were sorted by Jews imprisoned in the camp – mainly women.
Individual acts of plundering would also occur in the Flugplatz area and were carried out by SS soldiers who supplied their families or lovers with stolen valuables. Such dealings were not infrequent among prisoners themselves, because malpractices of this kind allowed inmates to improve their own living conditions. Clandestine trade deals between prisoners and guards were another common practice in the camp – money and valuables were then swapped for food. However, if caught red-handed, prisoners were punished for plundering with death.
In the area of the camp, a separate, local, handy warehouse was established which gave SS officers the possibility to acquire best quality clothing, perfume or cosmetics. Some of its customers found greatest interest in fancy objects, for example postage stamps. Stamp collections were particularly interesting for deputy commandant, Heinrich Birmes, which is mentioned by Wiesław Dobrowolski:
(…) Oberscharführer Birmes was a mad postage stamp collector. There was an entire room for philatelists next to his office – he employed two genuine specialists. One of them was Sokal from Warsaw and the other – Wilf – a Czech Jew. Birmes was not interested in diamonds, dollars or gold, but was covetous of Jewish stamps. He would come to the sorting house to take postal stamp albums (…)7.
Corruption at Flugplatz must have aroused some concern among the SS supreme authorities. When Wirth was appointed the commandant of the camp, a civilian arrived with him and his identity was unknown even to the SS crew. SS officers called him “Sepp” and the prisoners – “the hatter”. It can be assumed that his presence was supposed to have a disciplinary impact on the SS-men as well as the prisoners, and was aimed at restraining wide-scale malpractices in the camp8.
In the autumn of 1941, Polish women from the Gestapo prison at the Lublin Castle were sent to work at the former airport and given the task of weaving straw shoes. At the beginning of 1942 also Jewish women from the Lublin ghetto were imprisoned in the camp. At the same time, a group of approximately 400 Jewish females held at the detention camp in Browarna Street in Lublin were brought to Flugplatz.
Poor alimentation as well as difficult working and sanitary conditions resulted in the occurrence of the first cases of dysentery and typhoid fever which, however, did not entitle prisoners to a leave of absence from forced labour. Infected Jewish women were most probably sent to the Bełżec death camp by the end of March9.
At the beginning of 1942 also men started to be sent to the Flugplatz camp. They were mainly Jews from the local ghetto as well as tailors and furriers inhabiting the nearby towns and villages. Some of them were employed at the camp work houses and the remaining group given tasks at the construction of KL Lublin. By mid March 1942 the number of men in the camp totalled an approximate of 200 prisoners and its increase was caused by the constant influx of human transports with Jews from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany. On the 20th of April a group of Jews without valid J-Ausweis cards, held in the secondary ghetto at Majdan Tatarski, were transferred to Flugplatz. By the late spring of 1942 nearly 1000 men were imprisoned in the camp and in the summer of that year – sent to work in KL Lublin10.
Another significant increase in the number of captives occurred in the autumn of 1942 with the imprisonment of approximately 2,900 Jewish women sent from the ghettos in Bełżyce, Majdan Tatarski, Piaski and Warsaw to the Flugplatz camp11. At the same time about 150 Polish females caught in roundups arrived at the camp together with a little over a dozen German women married to Jews. All of them were employed at unloading trains and the subsequent searching and sorting of the clothes left by the murdered Jews. All of the sorted items were later deposited in the Operation Reinhard storehouses situated at 27 Szopena Street (present-day Catholic University Library) or sent directly to Germany. Imprisoned women were also employed to build barracks and roads in the camp12.
In the spring of 1943 a renewed process of establishing the male camp started which meant the expansion of the camp structure. Initially, prisoners brought from Majdanek were given tasks at the construction site, together with Jews selected from the continually arriving transports. A particular section of prisoners were Jews selected in the death camps themselves – like a group of Dutch Jewish women who came to Flugplatz straight from Sobibór. All prisoners were housed in stable-like barracks, with men and women placed on separate camp fields13.
In the summer of 1943 the construction of the camp was officially finished, which most probably coincided with the time of the deportation of Jews from the liquidated ghetto of Białystok. 17,000 people arrived at Flugplatz at that time – a thousand of them stayed in the camp and about 12,000 were moved to KL Lublin. The remaining people were sent to the Radom District. However, many Jews expecting to be deported to the Treblinka death camp committed suicide. Having arrived at Flugplatz, mainly craftsmen were selected, often employed in other professions. Merely over two weeks after the last transport from the Białystok ghetto arrived at the camp, 700 tailors and shoemakers were sent to the work camp in Bliżyn14.
On the 8th of November 2017 a memorial plaque commemorating the victims of the Flugplatz labour camp was disclosed on the site. It bears the following inscription:
During the German occupation a labour camp for Jews and, initially, small groups of Poles, was located in the area of the former factory airfield. Between 1942 and 1943, as part of the Third Reich’s plans to exterminate the Jews (“Aktion Reinhardt”), the site was the central sorting facility for property of the victims murdered in Nazi death camps in Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka. On November 3, 1943, the Jewish prisoners of Flugplatz were shot at the concentration camp at Majdanek.
- Go back to the reference The above text was prepared on the basis of the following article by Wojciech Lenarczyk: "Obóz pracy na Flugplatzu w Lublinie. Historia, funkcjonowanie, więźniowie". Zeszyty Majdanka, vol. XXVI, 2014, pp. 66–69, which provides the only comprehensive study on the Flugplatz labour camp. .
- Go back to the reference Akta w sprawie getta w Lublinie – protokoły zeznań świadków, korespondencja 1948–1949, file 11, Archive of the Institute of National Remembrance [Archiwum Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej, henceforth referred to as: AIPN], ref. no. GK. 175/186.
- Go back to the reference Protokoły plenarnych posiedzeń Rady Żydowskiej od 1 stycznia 1940 r. do 1 listopada 1942 r., file 62, Lublin State Archive [Archiwum Państwowe w Lublinie, henceforth referred to as: APL], zesp. 891, Jewish Council of Lublin [Rada Żydowska w Lublinie, henceforth referred to as: RŻL], ref. no 3; ibid., Sprawozdania wydziałów, file 72, ref. no 6; ibid., Korespondencja z Zarządem Miejskim w Lublinie w sprawie przydzielenia środków dezynfekcyjnych, żywnościowych, powiększenia ilości punktów rozdzielczych i in., file 33–34, ref. no 27; Wojciech Lenarczyk. "Obóz pracy na Flugplatzu", pp. 68–69.
- Go back to the reference Arbeitsamt (Judeneinsatstelle) – sprawozdania, wykazy osób zatrudnionych w urzędach i instytucjach, spisy Żydów zostających bez pracy i in., file 10, APL, RŻL, ref. no 40.
- Go back to the reference Wojciech Lenarczyk. "Obóz pracy na Flugplatzu", pp. 74–75.
- Go back to the reference Ibid., pp. 75–78, 79–80.
- Go back to the reference Wiesław Dobrowolski. "Pięć lat na muszce (wspomnienia więźnia Majdanka)", Lublin 1994, p. 61.
- Go back to the reference Wojciech Lenarczyk. "Obóz pracy na Flugplatzu", pp. 81–85.
- Go back to the reference Ibid., pp. 85–86; Tatiana Berenstein. "Obozy pracy przymusowej dla Żydów w dystrykcie lubelskim", Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, no 24, 1958, p. 11.
- Go back to the reference Wojciech Lenarczyk. "Obóz pracy na Flugplatzu", pp. 87–88.
- Go back to the reference Ibid., p. 93.
- Go back to the reference Ibid., pp. 93–94.
- Go back to the reference Henryk Bryskier. "Żydzi pod swastyką czyli getto w Warszawie w XX wieku", Warszawa 2006, pp. 266–270; Jules Schelvis, "Inside the Gates. A report of two years in German extermination and concentration camps", Elzenhorst-Amstelveen 2008, pp. 54–62; Wojciech Lenarczyk. "Obóz pracy na Flugplatzu", pp. 97–98.
- Go back to the reference Wojciech Lenarczyk. "Obóz pracy na Flugplatzu", pp. 99–100.