A CAMP WHICH WAS…
‘Przemysłowa street camp’ –this is the name of a Nazis creation which appeared in 1942 in Łódź on the area of the Jewish ghetto, a camp for Polish children. It engulfed thousands of victims at the age from infant period to the age of 16
It is worth using imagination to understand the situation in which the Polish youth was during the Second World War. Nearly every family consisted of many children in the contemporary understanding – all courtyards were full of children and their toys. Fathers used to go to work and mothers used to work for the sake of their families for whole days, and children used to help them with it. The war led to dangers and lacks which were felt by them. As many families, as many tragedies. Husbands went to the army and wives took over the whole care for living. Famine, fear and despair were growing.
A little history
6 million Poles were murdered among whom 90 per cent were killed because of a complex group of terrorist means. When adults were killed (on the frontier, during compulsory work in the Reich, in round-ups and executions), a few – year-old and teenage children had to become heads of families on the following day, in order to provide their younger brothers or sisters with food, clothes, relative safety. They remained alone in the land of unknown fear, with a cold oven and empty pots. The tragedy of the situation, physical inability and natural lack of skills in childhood to force underage children to sell things, steal food and to beg, and these were crimes for the Germans.
The first ideas of establishing a camp for the youth on Polish lands appeared in the year 1941, when the Germans drastically increased repressions and were considering the problem of the fate of the growing group of orphans. It was at that time when, with assumptions identical with the binding ones in building camps for adults, in Łódź a criminal creation was established to the order of Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler, in which there were Polish orphans or children taken away from their parents by force. It was situated on the area of the Jewish ghetto – near the streets: Bracka, Plater, Górnicza and a wall of the Jewish cemetery. About 15 thousand Polish children passed through it, only 900 of them survived, among whom most of them died – because of being exhausted with hunger, body injuries, illnesses and cold, lack of family – shortly after independence.
Mutzenab! Die Augen links!
Polen-Jugendverwahrlager der Sicherheitspolizei in Lizmannstadt (Preventive Camp of Security Police for the Polish Youth in Łódź) – this is a full name of the camp – it stands in one row on a list of the main Nazis conglomerates of the mass extermination: it is shown by documents. It is significant that – according to reports of witnesses – children who got to Przemysłowa street in transports from Oświęcim, having realized the situation, were crying and wanted to return. So, the Auschwitz, which we associate with the hell on earth, was a better place of existence than the one which the SS men caused to Polish children. Nearby children there were adults – beings physically stronger, having knowledge and rational sense of the existing situation. We should remember that the Auschwitz was honoured by such giants of humanism as St. Maksymilian Kolbe, Witold Pilecki or the famous ‘midwife of Oświęcim’, a woman from Łódź, Stanisława Leszczyńska. In other camps, despite terrible conditions, there was always somebody older who cuddled, comforted and explained. In the Przemysłowa street there was nobody. Therefore, some historians call the camp in Łódź - small Oświęcim.
The decree of the Main Safety Office of the Reich said that only ‘criminals or neglected children at the age 8 to 16’ should be sent to the camp. Having reached the age of 16, children were sent to Auschwitz and the indicated lower limit of the age was fully fictional – even today there are witnesses of the presence of very little, two-year-old children in the Łódź camp.
The first prisoners arrived on 11 December 1942 – it is a symbolic date for the historical culture in Łódź. The indicated area was surrounded with a high wooden fence of a crevice-free design, which had been made by the Jewish brigade from the ghetto. Brick buildings were taken away from owners, and wooden barracks were made for children. Every day in the camp there were over a thousand children. The saved ones say that the death rate was very high. Children were grouped into tens, by exhaustion caused by excessive work, untreated illnesses (typhoid, tuberculosis, scurvy, trachoma), hunger, fatal beatings. Nostalgia for parents, deep psychological confusion, constant panic fear and physical pain took away the will to live. The camp was managed by the institution of safety police in Łódź and the team consisted of SS men and volksdeutsche . We do not know the surnames of most ‘educators’.
On the basis of verdict of German courts, underage children were sent here mainly from Silesia, Greater Poland Province, Pomerania, Mazowsze and also from Łódź and nearby areas. Homeless children were taken to Przemysłowa street, who were found in streets, railways stations and by roads, and who were orphaned because their parents had been killed or deported to Germany or other camps for compulsory works. A separate and a big group were children who were connected with the activity of the resistance movement, children of partisans, members of conspiracy organizations helping the Jews of prisoners, mainly from Mosina and Poznań ( a group of dr. Franciszek Witaszek). The Germans called them ‘children of terrorists’. There were also ‘children of Zamojszczyzna’ here, whose history has been very dramatic since then.
In German juridical documents there are justifications: ‘he got food cards illegally’, ‘father at works in the Reich, mother in Oświęcim, children are in danger of negligence’, ‘he steals fruit from gardens with other children’, ‘found at the age of 3, is disabled, difficult in upbringing, shakes his head, gets wet in bed, is prone to theft’, ‘uselessness of the further upbringing’, ‘he smuggled bread to the ghetto’. But the most frequent argument was that ‘it was a Polish child’. There were punishments for Polishness, in fact, for innocence.
Against the law, also the German one, all imprisoned children had to work from the morning till the evening and do the norm defined by the invader. Boys made shoes from hay, baskets from willow, belts for gas masks and leather parts for rucksacks, they worked in gardens and straightened needles. Be or not to be depended on an adult, who managed a workshop. The curse was the work of pulling a 2-tonnes roller which evened an area. Boys were small and weakened from hunger, and they were beaten with a whip painfully. They worked regardless of the weather.
Little girls worked in a laundry (they were disabled till death because of burnings with water or leaching compounds damaging limbs), in the kitchen, in the tailor’s workshop and in the garden. The youngest children glued bags , made flower pots and artificial flowers. Children received a slice of stale, sour bread and a mug of sugar-free black coffee for breakfast and supper, soup with pieces of vegetables for dinner. Vegetables were often rotten, which caused indigestion and typhus epidemics. Parcels from families were stolen. There was never milk; it was given only to a garrison and pigs kept there. On the area of the camp a few fruit trees grew, but picking up a fruit from the ground or its picking from a tree was punished with beating and depravity of a meal. Antagonisms among little children increased as a result of rewarding reports against friends.
Clothes and all private things were taken away from children. They got grey, denim uniforms and usually too big wooden clogs. They often bare-walked. On every occasion they were beaten severely and they had to count each time in German. They had no right to speak Polish. They were not allowed to walk, because they had to run, stopping only to bow to SS men. For 25 months of functioning of the camp, they had not had a soap and had not had an access to warm water. They could write only one letter in a month on one piece of paper, and each of them was censored by a German woman, a director of girls’ department and small children – Sydomia Bayer. It was her who had an idea of the most humiliating department which was not in other camps – a department for children getting constantly wet. Kidney illnesses, nervousness , emotional immaturity, cystitis… Very few children returned from the department. Two SS men used to cut out testicles of these children with a knife. One of prisoners wrote after the war: An old hut, door made of boards, some broken windows, a long bunk along the wall, one blanket for everybody, bare boards. Snow danced around a hall in winter. Those who were half-dead lived there. Children walked like corpses, holding to the wall. There were groans of the dying, that it was impossible to sleep. Most children died from hunger and exhaustion with winter there. I remember one child dying for three days. (…) He was calling for his mother, and everybody was crying. A doctor came, a German woman in a uniform and she threw a blanket off him, which stuck to his breast, because he had festering wounds, she tore off his body and his bones were visible. He was still alive. He was wrapped in the blanket and taken to a mortuary’. The evidence for the image of the crimes in this camp are post-war trials of two most cruel executioners – Sydomia Bayer and Edward August. Many their murders were proven and they were sentenced to death penalty. Another murderer Eugenia Pohl (vel Genofewa Pol), was found in the mid of the 70s of the last century and was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment (she regained freedom after 2 years). What is interesting, before she was arrested, she had worked in a …….hospital in Łódź.
On 19 January 1945 the Germans ran away, leaving an open gate. Some children ran to unknown cities to find help and food, and most of them stayed in the camp. They were very ill and scared. 233 children got to the quickly formed care emergency – they were described and photographed. Terrifying testimonies.
When in the beginning of the 70s of the XX century, the former prisoner Józef Witkowski, undertook an unusual attempt of arranging knowledge about the camp in Łódź and describe it in a book, about 300 people responded to his appeal. They might have returned to their houses changed into ruins, they might have lost memory because of beatings on their heads, they might have got frozen on their ways, they might have thrown the tragedy out of their souls and bodies, which had lasted for long months in the camp…..
Memory is culture
Łódź, January 2013, a meeting with the former prisoners. ‘If there is at least on journalist in the room – I appeal! Give the information about our camp to the nationwide media’ – this was the call said by Kaziemierz Gabrysiak then. There is a place in Łódź, changed into an estate area, where, during the war, there was the big tragedy of Polish children. If somebody from Łódź does not know about it, it is like somebody from Ośwęcim would not hear about Auschwitz. The crossroads of Bracka street and Przemysłowa street. This is a holy place for many people. The last witnesses of those terrible events are still alive, asking for a prayer and placing this camp onto historical maps.