Extermination camps

Kulmhof Extermination Camp

kulmhof extermination camp
Kulmhof – Monument. (Fot. Jan Mehlich)


Kulmhof was the first extermination camp founded by the Nazis on the territory of Poland, it was founded in 1941 in Chełmno on the riverside of Ner river.

The Nazis adopted a town park with a palace as a main camp base, while a few surrounding buildings were converted into barracks for the prisoners. The inhabitants of the town were displaced. From the very beginning the only purpose of the camp was mass extermination. The main method of extermination was chemical gas. Almost all the people brought to Kulmhof were trasnported straight to gass chambers and killed immediately, the only ones who could hope to live a while longer were the prisoners working in crematories – segregating clothes and other items stolen from the victims – and burying the corpses. They all knew that their death was only a matter of time – the Nazi did not wish to let any witnesses of their crimes live.

The total number of Kulmhof victims is estimated to be around 300-350 thousand. Reportedly only 4 prisoners managed to escape from the camp. In April 1943, when the Nazi decided to abandon the camp and dispose of all the ‘evidence’, the whole camspite was blown up. The bodies of the victims, buried previousely near the camp, were dug out and burned to ashes. For around a year the campsite remained neglected, however, in March 1944 a new camp was erected – this time there were two creamtoriums. They served to exterminate the Jews relocated after liquidation of the Nazi camp in Lodz. Kulmhof extermination camp finally ceased to exist on the 17th January 1945, the day before the arrival of the Red Army. The campsite was burned to the ground.

What reminds us today about the tragic history of Kulmhof is a museum and a great memorial dedicated to the memory of Kulmhof victims: it is an enormous plate made of concrete adorned with a bas-relief presenting martyrdom of the prisoners. The sign next to it reads: „We remeber”. On the reverse side there is a harrowing inscritption, a fragment of a letter written by one of the victims:”We’ve been taken all, old and young, to the place between Dabie and Kolo towns. We’ve been taken to the forest to be murdered with gas, shot down and burned. We beg our brothers to punish our murderers. We beg the witnesses of our torment, those who live in this country, to spread the word about this crime throught the world…”. You can pay tribute to the extermination victims by the Memory wall, erected in 1990 in the depth of the forest, next to the reconstructed remains of the crematorium.

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