DESTROYING THE GENERATION OF THE YOUNGEST POLES
In the beginning of the frosty December 1942 the Germans made the first transport of a few dozen children to the camp Polen-Jugendverwahrlager der Sicherheitspolizei in Litzmannnstadt – a camp for children and youth organized by the Germans on the area of a ghetto in Łódź, in the district of Bałuta. Children from about 2 to 16 years old were imprisoned there. Boys were working in the camp, girls – in Dzierżązna away by over 30 km. The Germans were fighting with the youngest generation of Poles using famine, repressions and giving work to children which was beyond their strength.
As prisoners were mentioning in an interview for the TV in the Archdiocese of Łódź, they remembered every day in the camp, despite the passing 70 years from that time, as a traumatic event. Leon Dziedzic, was taken to the camp with his younger brother in 1943 when he was 12 then. They were there till the liquidation of the camp. Their mother and sister and the older brother were transported for work in Germany. Being imprisoned behind a high, three-meter wooden fence covered with barbed wire connected to electricity, the prisoner Leon was sewing shoes. His younger brother was doing camp-hold works. They were hungry all the time. They were working a few dozen hours a day, sometimes even 16 hours. During summer some boys were transported to pick up beetroots in the German camp-hold.
Krystyna Lewandowska, brought to the camp as a 12-year-old girl, left the camp at the end of the war. Her parents were in the National Army. As a 11-year-old girl she was a liaison. She was arrested and placed in the camp as a ‘banditenkind’, that is a child of bandits. Her being in the camp has been a painful memory for her till now. Every day she sees herself as hungry and barefoot. She was working among the others, in a laundry commandant where she was did the washing of bedding of Wehrmacht soldiers.
Kazimierz Gabrysiak was arrested in 1942. He emphasizes that every day was a difficult experience for him. He was still thinking about his family. – The worst time was at Christmas an at Easter time – he says. – I was crying when praying. In the camp there was a terrible famine. For lunch there was a ladle of soup. For breakfast there was a water coloured dark imitating coffee and 10 grams of dry bread. It was similar in the evening. We used to work 8, often 12 hours a day. Washing oneself was in summer and in winter being pumped with water outside. There was no warm water. It was not permitted to leave the barrack after 10 p.m.. If one wanted to do the physiological needs, it was possible only in the barrack where there was no toilet. The odor was obvious. From 10 to 12 o’clock at night every boy had to be on duty. Later – from 12 to 6 o’clock in the morning. When once I got to sleep, a Gestapo soldier August was holding me by a hot oven. I got skin-burnt so badly that I have had the sign of it on my body till today…
A decision about organizing a camp in Łódź was made by Heinrich Himmler in 1940, but the first transport of children arrived 2 years later. It was allegedly to be a house for the young wandering here and there but, in fact, it was a camp for children of Polish patriots- either murdered by German occupants for their activity in independence organizations or sent for labour to build the Reich. On the area of the ghetto in Łódź a few dozen hectares were allocated. A few production plants were established there where older children were doing various kinds of work, among the others, hay covering for shoes, as well as wicker baskets or parts for soldiers’ bags. Girls were working mainly in agriculture, whereas in winter and spring they were repairing German uniforms. Children aged 2 to 6 were under care of older imprisoned children. They were supervised by criminal police (kripo), German supervisors and a few German folks. Children were tortured for every fault or for not doing plans. The psycho-physical state of over 200 children from the camp, who got to the Care Emergency Service in Łódź soon after the war, was described in 1946 by Maria Niemyska –Hessenowa: ‘According to educators, they differed from other children. They were called ‘the ones from the labour camp’. For them and for educators the first period was the most difficult when they were satisfying their unsatisfied hunger. In the opinion of educators children were similar to little animals there, when attacking the educators and treating them as German guards to take away food from other camp mates. They often stole from the warehouse. No educator was able to put up with them longer than a week. After some time it was getting better slowly. Children enjoyed warmth and clothes. However, they still hated assemblies, walking in pairs, whistles sounds – all that reminded them of the camp. They also found it difficult to believe that their carers – educators had a friendly attitude. They still saw German guards in them’.
It was allegedly to be a camp for children and criminal youth – says Grzegorz Wróbel, a custodian of the Museum of Independence Traditions in Łódź. – In fact it was a camp which was absolutely repressive. Destructive. I talked to those who, being in the camp, were teenagers. They said how badly they had been treated by the Germans; how they had been beaten, kept in frost and humiliated. They had been tortured with work beyond their strength. That time is such a trauma for them that they are unwilling to talk about it. I remember that one of those boys who was taken to Dachau after he turned 16 and said that it was somehow a holiday- as young prisoners were under care of the older ones. In Przemysłowa street he was not treated as a young prisoner, but was responsible for little kids. Unfortunately, he was often beaten for them as they often got wet. The Germans thought that they had done it on purpose and maliciously but they were still little, after all, deprived of necessary care. They often caught a cold and had urinary tract or kidney disease. The Germans treated their behavior as…..anti-German. They were deprived of food for getting wet, within repression. In the 60s of the 20th century there were investigations carried among children imprisoned in the camp in Łódź. Lots of them were ill. They were suffering from lots of illnesses resulting from their being in the camp. All of them were experiencing a deep trauma after their time in the camp. After all those were children who did not have any defensive systems like adults.
Long silence of real history
After the war very little was spoken about the camp. Some people wanted to forget about their nightmare in the camp quickly, others were even hiding their traumatic experiences. In 1965 a book ‘A report from an empty field’ by Wiesław Jażdżyński came out in which the author describes the nightmare of the childhood in the camp, on the basis of reports of witnesses and documents available then. Ten years later a book of the former prisoner of the camp, and later officer of the Security Office Józef Witkowski came out – that is why, the knowledge registered by the Security Officer had been binding for years in communist Poland. Only after the time of the Third Republic of Poland was it possible to get to know the truth.
According to the latest investigations carried out by scientists of the National Remembrance Institute, about 3 thousand people experienced the camp, about 150 of them died. During the epidemic of typhus a few dozens of children were placed in a hospital situated on the area of the ghetto. A lot of those ‘Polish bandits’ were saved by Jewish doctors.
The camp had existed till the Soviet and Polish armies entered Łódź, that is, till 19 January 1945. It was not possible for the main repressors of the camp to escape – they were caught and arrested. Edward August and Sydom Bayer, responsible for torturing and death of children, were sentenced to death penalty and killed. However, a lot of German guards managed to escape. A few of them were used as collaborators of the Security Office. Among them – Eugenia Phol who, as a collaborator of the Security Office, and later the Security Service, was protected by the services. She changed her surname into Pol and worked in various plants in Łódź. She was also an activist in the Union of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy in Łódź, in which she was a cook for the children’s camp in Łódź helping children. However, in the 70s of the last century the security services took the ‘protective umbrella’ off her. Why? Because today it is not known. She was recognized as a cruel repressor. According to testimonies of lots of imprisoned children, she bullied them, whereas she caused death of 2 girls. During a court trial she did not deny that she had worked in the camp, but she claimed that she had mainly helped. In a report by Zbigniew Ostrowski on the radio, she insisted on being innocent and the fact that she had been made a scapegoat. She was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment in 1975. She was acquitted at the beginning of the 90s.
In the 50s and later on the area of the camp, an estate housing was built. Barracks where children were imprisoned, were pulled down. Only a few buildings remained – including the workplace of the commander of the camp – which are a private property today. In 1971 a monument of Children’s Martyrdom was created, commonly called a monument of a Broken Heart. Also a fence from concrete was put up which symbolizes the fence of the camp, although it is, similarly as the monument, out of its area. It is 6 years since the archdiocese Łódź has been organizing prayers in the intention of murdered children. There is also a remembrance march to the camp which begins in various churches every year. It is attended by those who survived the camp as children and inhabitants of Łódź: children and youth as well as adults. In a nearby primary school, situated on the area of the former camp, there is a remembrance chamber devoted to the camp children.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 5/2019 (3 II 2019)