Definitions

labour camp

Central Labour Camp Jaworzno

Central Labour Camp Jaworzno (Centralny Obóz Pracy w Jaworznie, COP Jaworzno) was a concentration camp in Jaworzno, Poland. It operated from 1943 until 1956, run first by Nazi Germany and then by the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of Poland. Estimated over 9,000 people died in the camp, and several thousand more prisoners were executed elsewhere.

German occupation

Opened on June 15, 1943, as one of 28 subcamps of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Jaworzno, the SS-Arbeitslager "Neu-Dachs" Nazi concentration camp provided forced labour for German companies, including coal mining in Jaworzno and construction of the "Wilhelm" power plant (later "Jaworzno I") for the German company EnergieVersorgung Oberschlesien AG (EVO) founded by Albert Speer. Among the builders of the camp were British prisoners of war from the Stalag VIII-B at Lamsdorf (Łambinowice).

The prisoners, up to 5,000 inmates at a time, were composed of various nationalities, including Germans, Jews (about 80%), Poles and others, including Soviet POWs. There were 14 reported successful escapes, including several Soviet POWs who joined the local Polish partisans. Conditions in the camp were lethal, the labour hard, and the survival rate low, as every month about 200 Muselmänner were driven out to the Birkenau gas chambers. It is also estimated some 2,000 people lost their lives in the camp itself. About 200 to 300 SS staff, madeup of Volksdeutsche from Poland and other countries, was commanded by Bruno Pfütze and his deputy Paul Weissman. Prisoners at work were overseen by brutal civilian employees, mostly members of the SA.

On the night of January 15, 1945, the camp was bombed by the Soviet Air Force as the front approached. On January 17, during the evacuation of the camp, the SS guards executed some 40 prisoners unfit for transportation, leaving about 400 alive, and marched away the remaining 3,200. Hundreds of them died on the way to the Buchenwald concentration camp (including about 300 shot dead in a massacre which occurred on the second night of the death march).

The abandoned camp was liberated on January 19, 1945, by the fighters from the local unit of the Armia Krajowa Polish resistance organization. Some 350 prisoners were still alive when the Red Army arrived a week later.

Stalinist era

Since February 1945, the camp initially served the NKVD and then MBP as a prison camp for so-called "enemies of the nation" (wrogowie narodu). Some of them were German POWs (separately members of the Waffen-SS) and the Nazi collaborators from all of Poland, while others were thousands of local German, Volksdeutsche, and Silesian civilians from Jaworzno, Chrzanów, and elsewhere in Silesia. There were also Poles who were arrested for their opposition to Stalinism, including members of the AK and BCh non-communist and WiN anti-communist Polish resistance organizations.

The camp was soon renamed "Central Labour Camp", and the prisoners mostly worked at the construction of the then-built Jaworzno power plant or in other nearby factories and mines. All of them were interned in separate subcamps, and the guards were soldiers of the Internal Security Corps (over 300 at first). One of the commandants (since 1949), was a Polish Jew Solomon Morel, who previously gained a reputation for cruelty in the camp in Świętochłowice. Others included Stanisław Kwiatkowski, Ivan Mordasov and Teofil Hazelmajer.

According to the (incomplete) official figures, about 1,535 people died between 1945 and 1947 as a result of murder, torture, inhuman treatment, unsanitary conditions, exhaustive work, and hunger (972 of them in a typhus outbreak), out of 6,140 who died in all camps and prisons. Unofficial figures are much higher. According to 1990s research, 6,987 people died in COP Jaworzno, compared to 3,932 in the other major Polish camps (Oświęcim, Potulice, Sikawa, Świętochłowice and Warsaw).

On April 23, 1947, after a decree of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Polish Workers' Party, COP Jaworzno was selected for detention of Lemko and Ukrainian civilians. The first transportation of 17 Operation Wisła prisoners reached the special subcamp of Jaworzno on May 5, 1947, from Sanok. The number of these prisoners until March 1949 totalled 3,936 (3,760 of them arrived in 1947 alone), including 823 women and dozens of children. Most prisoners at that time were Lemko intelligentsia, people suspected of sympathy towards the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, priests and people otherwise selected by Polish communist forces from Operation Wisła transports. About 15% of those captured in the operation are estimated to have died in the camps.

The Lemko and Ukrainian prisoners were gradually released from the spring of 1948 until the spring of 1949, when the last of them left the camp. The camp continued to be used as a prison for Polish political prisoners, including a "Progressive Prison" for children and adolescents between 1951 and 1956 of which 15,000 passed through. The final closure happened during the wave of general post-Stalinist reforms, after the prison rebellion in 1955.

There were also two subcamps of Jaworzno at Chrusty and Libiąż.

Aftermath

The former Jaworzno camp was turned into a school and apartment complex, with the housing buildings made from the camp barracks. A prominent memorial to the victims of the German camp was erected in the place of the January 1945 massacre, joined by a small memorial for the inmates of the political prison in the nearby grounds of the primary school after the fall of Communism in Poland.

On April 15, 1996, the Polish authorities started an official investigation into the crimes committed in the camp against Polish citizens of Ukrainian ethnic descent. In 1998, Polish and Ukrainian Presidents Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Leonid Kuchma erected a memorial on the previously unmarked site of a mass grave of 162 persons in the nearby forest, dedicated to "the German, Polish, and Ukrainian victims of communist terror who perished in the Central Labour Camp".

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