The Umschlagplatz of Lublin
The Lublin Umschlagplatz (formerly also known as the Lublin Death Square) is a name given to the site from which human transports with Lublin Jews were sent by the German Security Police to the death camp in Bełżec in March and April 1942.
- Significance of the name
- The creation of the side railway track and train platforms
- Railway infrastructure in the area of the slaughterhouse and marketplace
- Deportations of Jewish citizens from the area of the slaughterhouse
- The choice of the slaughterhouse area for the site of the Umschlagplatz
- After WWII
- First attempts at commemoration
Significance of the name
The Lublin Umschlagplatz stands for the area from which Nazi forces sent transports with Lublin Jews to the death camp in Bełżec in March and April 1942. The word ‘Umschlagplatz’ itself comes from German and denotes a ‘shipment square’. The word is also used to refer to an area with a railway siding. In Poland it is most frequently associated with the Warsaw and Łódź Umschlagplatz. However, it is not a proper name, but a technical name.
In the case of Lublin, the area was used by the municipal slaughterhouse and it now marks the site where the events leading to the tragedy of Lublin Jews were set. For many decades after WWII the dramatic history of the location was forgotten. Up until the year 2016 the area was regularly called the Lublin Death Square (under this name it was also referred to in the competition for a permanent memorial site project, dedicated to the area in question, which was announced in 2009).
According to Izabela Skórzyńska: “The name ‘Umschlagplatz’ is directly related to the Warsaw Umschlagplatz which has become assimilated into the Polish language and rooted in Polish collective memory. It has also successfully entered foreign expressions connected with the Jewish topos of the place, by both commemorating the Holocaust victims as well as reminding us of the perpetrators. [...] The correlation between the word ‘Umschlagplatz’ with the Jewish topos reaches as far as [...] the dictionary of Holocaust synonyms, which is used not only in Polish but also world literature devoted to the Shoah”1. For this reason ‘Umschlagplatz’ – once an innocent word denoting shipment squares – has now become, similar to many other words applied by the Nazis to describe their industry of death, an expression which is forever contaminated, stigmatised and punished. A word which can never mean what it meant originally”2.
The creation of the side railway track and train platforms
The earliest references to the railway siding and platform situated in the area of the municipal slaughterhouse date to the period of their planned construction. In a letter sent to the city mayor, Czesław Szczepański, from the 10th of July 1925, the Chief Veterinary Officer, Stanisław Górski, expressed a number of objections regarding the preliminary projects proposed by Ulen & Co3. Among other things, Dr Górski expressed criticism of the idea to construct two gangways which were to be used for loading and unloading freight cars. However, the remark was rejected by investors either because of the fast pace of construction already underway (which made alterations to the initial project impossible) or in their hope for profits which exporting goods might bring.
The creation of the railway infrastructure in the area of the slaughterhouse was initiated when the first industrial buildings were constructed on the site in the period between 1926 and 1928. The railway siding was already in existence at the beginning of February 1929, in the very first days of the company’s functioning4. However, fees for using tracks appear in the accounts of the slaughterhouse 17 months later which makes one believe the railroad was not yet ready for use. The construction of the railway siding as well as platforms was probably finished in May or June 1930. According to local newspapers, construction delays were caused by “unnecessary formalities and the disapproval of the slaughterhouse expressed by the National Rail authorities” and might have additionally resulted from lack of appropriate funding5.
Railway infrastructure in the area of the slaughterhouse and marketplace
Initial plans for the spatial development of the slaughterhouse and marketplace assumed that 18,400 m² would be designated for the railway siding, which constituted 28% of the entire area of the plot used by the company6. However, the degree to which the original design was realised is impossible to be determined without full records including documents and plans. The oldest reference source allowing for the partial reconstruction of the railway infrastructure on the site dates back to 1931. It is a drawing of the north-western part of the plot where a shed and butchery for poultry were situated7. The drawing bears markings of a track running alongside the shed, in the distance of 30 metres from its front wall. The site plan attached to the project of the rendering plant from July 1932 provides more information8. The plan shows an approximately square plot of land. Along its north-eastern limits, not far from the wall surrounding the area, a street is marked (Turystyczna) and on the south-western side – tracks are visible (railroad no. 30 from Lublin to Łuków) from which a railway siding parted, turning gently to the left. According to the plan, the track ran parallel to the side elevation of the main building of the slaughterhouse, right next to its wall. The same location is evident from the project of the sanitary slaughterhouse and horse butchery from 19349. On the 9th and 10th of May 2006 opencast archaeological research was conducted on the site which unambiguously confirmed the course of the railway line, previously determined on the basis of iconographic documentation10. Evidence supporting the location of the tracks behind the slaughterhouse can be also found in recorded oral testimonies:
Zdzisław Suwałowski: “On the road to Hajdów there was a platform. Łęczyńska Street went straight to the slaughterhouse, which was in that street. There is a railway track Warszawa–Lublin–Białystok just behind the slaughterhouse. And turning right from the track towards Hajdów, just behind the slaughterhouse, there was a platform. It was not in the slaughterhouse itself but behind it. It was a siding, we would not say it was in the slaughterhouse but next to it”11.
For unknown reasons, the siding situated in the area of the slaughterhouse is not marked on the plans from 193112, 193513 and 193814. It is probable that while the plans were being prepared, the track was modified or temporarily out of use; however, there is no evidence to prove or rule out such hypotheses.
The railway infrastructure of the company included both tracks as well as platforms. The initial idea to construct two gangways was eventually realised by Ulen & Co, despite criticism from the local authorities. The plans from 193115 and 193916 unanimously determine the location of the railway platform relative to the tracks (situated at the far end of the siding) as well as its position in relation to the main building, the elevation of which was located in the distance of no more than several hundred metres. Some discrepancies appear while determining the position of the building on the north-southern axis since in the earlier drawing the structure is marked level with the shed (later used for poultry feedlot) and in the later one – on the level of the butchery for poultry. The differences are most probably a result of the construction of a cannery by Poels & Co between 1937 and 1938 during which the siding was extended and the platform might have been modified. Construction-wise, the building was presumably built with bricks, rectangular in plan, with stairs on both sides. Traces of the building were discovered during opencast probe research conducted in 200617.
The second railway platform, situated in the southern part of the market place, was drawn in great detail in 1935 as part of a pigpen design18. The platform was located 1.7 km away from the rail track, and its back wall was adjacent to the building of the existing pigsty. It was 13.6 m long and 10.2 m wide and had steps leading to it on both sides. Iconographic sources from the period between 1939 and 1944 confirm the information on the position and design of the gangway, additionally broadening the knowledge of its surroundings19. The platform was located in the butchery marketplace and could be reached from the side of the street later called Zimna (the name given after WWII). The slaughterhouse had direct access to the street, too.
Both the siding and the platforms were connected to the main railroad and used for exporting products from the slaughterhouse and the marketplace, thus ensuring external transport for the needs of the company which was also provided with an internal transport system (a web of connections between its different units). Slaughtered animals were transported for analysis, processing and deep-freezing by means of cable cars. Meat destined for transport was loaded onto carts which were then taken via special tracks straight to freight cars20. It was taken directly to the wagons which were being shunted and rolled into a complete train by a shunter locomotive.
It is worth mentioning that the railway siding was a facility used not only by the slaughterhouse and the marketplace. Cargo trains operated there were also used by the Lublin sugar refinery to circulate between Bystrzyca and Łęczna. The freight cars were additionally in the service of the wire and nails factory as well as the mill in Jakubowice Murowane21.
Deportations of Jewish citizens from the area of the slaughterhouse
The siding and the railway platform were given their tragic function during the liquidation of the Lublin ghetto when they were used by the German Security Police and Operation Reinhard headquarters as a dispatch point for Jewish transports sent from the ghetto to the death camp in Bełżec. Deportations started on the night between the 6th and 7th of March 1942 with Unicka Street and subsequently covered other streets of the Podzamcze ghetto22. The action was carried out by German police officers from the SS units as well as supporting troops of watchmen trained in Trawniki. The operation was supervised by the SS and Police Commander for the Lublin District, Odilo Globocnik.
Preliminary selections were carried out wherever victims were at the time located – the ill, the handicapped and the elderly were killed in their own apartments and the remaining people were taken to a square in Targowa Street and had their documents examined. People destined for deportation were gathered in the Maharshal synagogue from which they were taken along Kalinowszczyzna Street to the area of the slaughterhouse, a fact which is confirmed by many witnesses.
Efraim Krasucki, who survived the liquidation of the ghetto in Podzamcze, describes it in the following way: “The captured Jews were gathered by Germans in a big prayer house (the Maharshal synagogue) from which they were taken in groups to the freight terminal situated behind the municipal slaughterhouse and sent to an unknown destination”23.
Wiesława Majczak, who watched Jews being marched to the railway siding as a girl, recalls:
“Jews were being led to the railway platform, to the slaughterhouse, right outside our windows. It always started around 10 or 11 in the evening. We knew it to be the beginning of the march, because they would start to shout and shoot. And to this day I have a rustling ringing in my ears, because it’s difficult to call it anything else. It was the rustle of feet dragged over cobblestone and this sound of talking, more like a buzzing noise. And then there was the obvious shouting and shooting”24.
Initially, Jews driven out of the ghetto had no knowledge of the fate awaiting them. According to the official information given, they were to be “resettled” to a different location. Over the course of time, however, as the resettlement progressed, rumour spread of the dramatic events taking place in the area of the railway platform and about the real destination Jews are sent to: “The most widespread one was that they were taken to Kalinowszczyzna, to the municipal slaughterhouse, where freight cars arrive. Everyone is loaded onto wagons. The weak are shot on the site. The sounds of machine guns can be heard incessantly. Someone heard a railwayman say that loaded cars are shut tight and people are left inside with no food or air somewhere on the sidetrack for days. From the inside of the wagons monstrous screams and pleading to God can be heard. One young boy who managed to escape said that everyone is taken to Bezea (Bełżec) where they are electrocuted”25.
Today, the information passed at that time is indeed difficult to be confirmed for lack of eyewitnesses and original German documentation. The general information concerning the manner in which the deported Jews were loaded onto trains is however validated thanks to the existing reports of the Home Army: “The majority of Jews were loaded onto freight cars and taken in the direction of Bełżec. A hundred people at a time were pushed inside cargo cars, which were additionally filled with corpses, and then sealed. After several days of standstill, the death train was sent on its way. Wagons returned some time later to be loaded again without being previously cleaned”26.
It is also due to the lack of surviving documents that the exact number of people deported from the Lublin Umschlagplatz is impossible to be determined. Additionally, no deportation lists were drawn up in the course of the operation. Nevertheless, on the basis of research carried out by Jakub Chmielewski an approximate number of people taken to the Bełżec death camp can be estimated to around 28,000 women, children and men27.
The choice of the slaughterhouse area for the site of the Umschlagplatz
There were several reasons the area of the slaughterhouse was chosen for the Umschlagplatz. One of the main ones was the secrecy around the way the deportations were carried out. Moreover, Kalinowszczyzna Street, along which groups of Jews were escorted, was very sparsely populated before the war28, which additionally guaranteed a limited number of eyewitnesses to the operation. Also the surroundings of the slaughterhouse had very few buildings standing in the proximity at that time. It was for these reasons that Jews were not deported from the main public train station which was situated in a similar distance from the Maharshal synagogue as the slaughterhouse. To avoid witnesses, groups of Jews were escorted to the railway platform at night and the Nazis ordered the local inhabitants to have their windows screened and gates closed29. What is more, the area of the slaughterhouse was surrounded with a wall separating it from the street which made it impossible for any bystander to see what took place in the vicinity of the railway siding and platform. The fence hindered any attempts at escape, too.
The decision to locate the Umschlagplatz in the area of the slaughterhouse was most probably a logistics issue as well. It was a place situated close to the ghetto and was at the same time connected to the main railroad. An additional argument for choosing this specific location was the fact that already in 1940 the area housed buildings used for military purposes30. What is more, the water tower standing by the main edifice could serve the function of a watchtower for transport supervision perfectly.
Documents concerning the municipal slaughterhouse and the animal market which were prepared in the first years after the war do not contain any information whatsoever pertaining to the use of the siding and the platform as the Umschlagplatz. The only annotation included in the files refers to numerous signs of damage caused by ammunition (i.e. bullet holes in the wall surrounding the slaughterhouse) which date back to WWII31. Documents contain references to the railway siding constructed in the area. Minutes drawn up during external audits conducted on the 18th of June 1945 provide information that “the railway siding is out of use because Osobtorg32 changed the track to a broad gauge one, conforming to the Soviet railway system”33. Also the railway platform situated in the animal market was out of use in 1945 due to an entirely rotten wooden footbridge34.
In subsequent years, the infrastructure of the company has become greatly modified because of construction work carried out on the site, which encompassed the area of the former Umschlagplatz. The pre-war railroad and platforms, made again serviceable between 1945 and 1947, were however not in use for very long. By the end of 1940s the unused terrain was levelled to expand the poultry feedlot. The railway siding constructed at that time was situated closer to Zimna Street and was equipped in only one gangway for loading and unloading goods which was directly related to the growing significance of motor transport. As a result of the fast-paced development of the slaughterhouse, the tragic memory of this site was neglected.
First attempts at commemoration
Since 1998, continuous efforts have been made to grant the Lublin Umschlagplatz an appropriate status as a memorial site. At first, the endeavours took the form of personal activities initiated by Zbigniew Dobkowski who, in time, managed to engage local and national institutions in the process. The first commemoration had the form of a small memorial plaque funded by the Jewish Community of Warsaw. In 1999, a rectangular tinplate plaque was placed on the interior side of the wall adjacent to Zimna Street containing the following words inscribed in black type: FROM THIS SITE / IN MARCH 1942 / NAZIS SENT / MORE THAN 30,000 / LUBLIN JEWS / TO THE DEATH CAMP IN BEŁŻEC. / JEWISH COMMUNITY OF WARSAW35.
Further activities were undertaken by the voivodeship authorities in 2005 after an intervention of Andrzej Przewoźnik who was at that time general secretary of The Office for Commemorating the Struggle and Martyrdom. As a consequence, in the course of over a year a series of meetings was held with the representatives of the City Council, the Voivode and the Art Conservator who discussed the commemoration with historians, museum experts and culture animators. The meetings led to a decision to purchase the square area from the Meat-Processing Plant, Lubmeat SA, and attempt erecting a monument, entrusting activities regarding the Umschlagplatz commemoration to Tomasz Pietrasiewicz, head of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre.
After two years of ongoing negotiations with various subsequent owners of the former slaughterhouse area, the Lublin Voivode procured the plot of land in Zimna Street (444 m²) and bequeathed it to the municipality (the City of Lublin). In 2008, the plot was let out on lease to the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre. On the 7th of July 2009, the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre announced a “Competition for a permanent Memorial Site project – named the Lublin Umschlagplatz – including designs for the area's spatial development”.
The results of the competition were settled on the 9th of November 2009. However, the Competition Jury, chaired by Jan Stanisław Wojciechowski, artist and art critic, did not grant the main award to any of the 26 submitted works. The second place was awarded to Karol Badyna’s project (Sculpture Studio FORMA from Cracow), and the project by Stelmach & Partners Architecture Studio received a distinction in the competition and was officially chosen for the commemoration. Unfortunately, the launch of the realization of the project was held due to administrative and financial issues.
Finally, in February 2012, the area in question was given the status of a memorial site and received appropriate legal protection. In 2016, the City Council gave an official consent for a monument to be erected on site36, which enabled specialists to commence construction work for the art installation entitled Mis/Remembrance of the Place which is part of the Memory Trail “Lublin. Memory of the Holocaust”.
- A. Dominko. “Zarys przemysłowo-handlowy Rzeźni Miejskiej w Lublinie.” Technik Lubelski, no 2/3, 1930.
- E. Górecki. “Rzeźnia Miejska w Lublinie.” Technik Lubelski, no 12, 1930.
- “Rozwój lubelskiej Rzeźni Miejskiej.” Gazeta Handlowa, no 224, 1929.
[Akta dot.] nowej rzeźni na Tatarach. Lublin State Archive [Archiwum Państwowe w Lublinie, henceforth referred to as: APL], ref. no 1434.
[Projekt rzeźni drobiu w Lublinie]. APL, ref. no 1401.
Akta nieruchomości położonej w Lublinie przy ul. Łęczyńskiej 107 pt. I. APL, ref. no 2829.
Pamiętnik Idy Gliksztajn. Archive of the State Museum at Majdanek [Archiwum Państwowego Muzeum na Majdanku, henceforth referred to as: APMM], ref. no VII-643.
Projekt kanalizacji i wodociągu domu administracji Rzeźni Miejskiej miasta Lublin. APL, ref. no 1988.
Projekt Rzeźni sanitarnej i stajni dla koni na Rzeźni Miejskiej w Lublinie. APL, ref. no 511.
Projekt topiarni tłuszczów przy fabryce bekonów przy rzeźni miejskiej w Lublinie. APL, ref. no. 1397.
Projekt zakładu utylizacyjnego przy rzeźni miejskiej w Lublinie. APL, ref. no 1396.
Protokół komisyjnego ustalenia wartości czynszowej budynków i lokali oraz planów na terenie Rzeźni Miejskiej w Lublinie użytkowanych przez różne instytucje i osoby z dn. 5 grudnia 1940 r. APL, ref. no 26.
Protokół zeznania świadka. APMM, ref. no VII-1253.
Protokół z kontroli zewnętrznej dokonanej przez Głównego Księgowego Miejskiej Rady Narodowej w Rzeźni Miejskiej w dniu 18.06.1945 r. APL, ref. no 13.
Sprawa rzeźni miejskiej – budowa chlewni. APL, ref. no 1838.
Urządzenie tymczasowego targowiska. APL, ref. no 2644.
Zestawienie informacji dotyczących historii Rzeźni Miejskiej w Lublinie (dotyczące lat 1926–1939). APL, ref. no 2.
- Go back to the reference Sławomir Buryła. “Topika Holokaustu. Wstępne rozpoznanie”, „Świat Tekstów.” Rocznik Słupski, no 10, 2012, p. 135.
- Go back to the reference Cf. Eleonora Jedlińska. “Prawda jest w pamięci. Rozważania o artystycznych realizacjach Rafała Jakubowicza.” [Accessed on: 23 Nov 2016].
- Go back to the reference Urządzenie tymczasowego targowiska. Lublin State Archive [Archiwum Państwowe w Lublinie, henceforth referred to as: APL], ref. no 2644.
- Go back to the reference See [Akta dot.] nowej rzeźni na Tatarach. APL, ref. no 1434.
- Go back to the reference A. Dominko. “Zarys przemysłowo-handlowy Rzeźni Miejskiej w Lublinie.” Technik Lubelski, no 2/3, 1930.
- Go back to the reference Zestawienie informacji dotyczących historii Rzeźni Miejskiej w Lublinie (dotyczące lat 1926–1939). APL, ref. no 2.
- Go back to the reference [Projekt rzeźni drobiu w Lublinie]. APL, ref. no 1401.
- Go back to the reference Projekt zakładu utylizacyjnego przy rzeźni miejskiej w Lublinie. APL, ref. no 1396.
- Go back to the reference Projekt Rzeźni sanitarnej i stajni dla koni na Rzeźni Miejskiej w Lublinie. APL, ref. no 511.
- Go back to the reference See Agnieszka Stachyra, Marcin Fedorowicz, editors. "Lubelski Plac Śmierci – badania sondażowe w 2006 roku." [Accessed on: 10.08.2018].
- Go back to the reference Testimony of historical witness Zdzisław Suwałowski from 21 Oct 2009 r. Ed. by Tomasz Czajkowski, Piotr Lasota. Oral History Archive of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre" Centre.
- Go back to the reference The Plan of the Great City of Lublin from 1931. Biuro Regulacji Magistratu m. Lublina.
- Go back to the reference Projekt topiarni tłuszczów przy fabryce bekonów przy rzeźni miejskiej w Lublinie. APL, ref. no. 1397.
- Go back to the reference Projekt kanalizacji i wodociągu domu administracji Rzeźni Miejskiej miasta Lublin. APL, ref. no 1988.
- Go back to the reference [Projekt rzeźni drobiu w Lublinie]. APL, ref. no 1401.
- Go back to the reference Akta nieruchomości położonej w Lublinie przy ul. Łęczyńskiej 107 pt. I. APL, ref. no 2829.
- Go back to the reference See footnote 10, op. cit. .
- Go back to the reference Sprawa rzeźni miejskiej – budowa chlewni. APL, ref. no 1838.
- Go back to the reference Op. cit., Akta nieruchomości położonej w Lublinie....
- Go back to the reference E. Górecki. “Rzeźnia Miejska w Lublinie.” Technik Lubelski, no 12, 1930, pp.12-14.
- Go back to the reference “Rozwój lubelskiej Rzeźni Miejskiej.” Gazeta Handlowa, no 224, 1929.
- Go back to the reference See Jakub Chmielewski. “Ghetto in Podzamcze – the displacement action.” [Accessed on: 15 March 2017].
- Go back to the reference Minutes from the testimony of witness Efraim Krasucki, Archive of the State Museum at Majdanek [Archiwum Państwowego Muzeum na Majdanku, henceforth referred to as: APMM], ref. no VII-1253.
- Go back to the reference Testimony of historical witness Wiesława Majczak from 8 April 1999 r. Ed. by Marta Kubiszyn. Oral History Archive of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre" Centre.
- Go back to the reference Pamiętnik Idy Gliksztajn. APMM, ref. no VII-643.
- Go back to the reference M. Tyszkowa. “Eksterminacja Żydów w latach 1941–1943. Dokumenty Biura Informacji i Propagandy Komendy Głównej Armii Krajowej ze zbiorów Oddziału Rękopisów Biblioteki Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego.” Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, no 2–3 (162–163), 1992, p. 57.
- Go back to the reference Jakub Chmielewski. “Zagłada żydowskiego miasta – likwidacja getta na Podzamczu.” Kwartalnik Historii Żydów, no 4 (256), 2015, p. 735.
- Go back to the reference See Róża Fiszman-Sznajdman. Mój Lublin, Lublin, 1989, pp. 98–100.
- Go back to the reference 29. Testimony of historical witness Jolanta Kędzior from 19 Oct 2010 r. Ed. by Tomasz Czajkowski. Oral History Archive of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre" Centre.
- Go back to the reference Protokół komisyjnego ustalenia wartości czynszowej budynków i lokali oraz planów na terenie Rzeźni Miejskiej w Lublinie użytkowanych przez różne instytucje i osoby z 5 grudnia 1940 r. APL, ref. no 26.
- Go back to the reference See a.o. Sprawozdanie komisji finansowo-technicznej..., op. cit. & Targowisko Zwierzęce w Lublinie. APL, ref. no 11. & Opis stanu budynków w Rzeźni Miejskiej w Lublinie sporządzony w wyniku badań Komisji Techniczno-Budowlanej wyznaczonej przez p. Przewodniczącego Miejskiej Rady Narodowej do stwierdzenia stanu majątkowego Rzeźni Miejskiej, 1945. The date of the demolition is, however, uncertain. .
- Go back to the reference Osobtorg – USSR Trade Commission.
- Go back to the reference Protokół z kontroli zewnętrznej dokonanej przez Głównego Księgowego Miejskiej Rady Narodowej w Rzeźni Miejskiej w dniu 18.06.1945 r., APL, ref. no 13. What is more, according to Protokół z kontroli weterynaryjnej Rzeźni Miejskiej w Lublinie przeprowadzonej przez Szefostwo Służby Weterynaryjnej D.O.W. Lublin from 1945 the side track “has not yet been moved to the proper tracks within the slaughterhouse”– see Akta Miasta Lublina, APL, ref. no 97, Akta dotyczące Rzeźni Miejskiej w Lublinie..., op. cit.
- Go back to the reference Opis stanu budynków w Rzeźni Miejskiej w Lublinie..., op. cit.
- Go back to the reference Faulty assessments were caused by incomplete historical research. See more: Robert Kuwałek. “Żydzi lubelscy w obozie koncentracyjnym na Majdanku.” Zeszyty Majdanka, vol. XXII, 2003, pp. 86–87.
- Go back to the reference Projekt uchwały w sprawie wyrażenia zgody na wzniesienie na terenie Miasta Lublin Pomnika „Lubelski Umschlagplatz”, Rada Miasta Lublina, 17 Nov 2016.