In a small town called Poniatowa just under fourty kilometres west of Lublin, the German armed forces established in the autumn of 1941 a prisoner of war camp (Stalag 359) for Soviet prisoners of war in former factory premises. About 22,000 prisoners of war died during the winter of 41/42 as a result of starvation, disease, forced labour or were murdered by camp guards. These were buried on the outskirts of the camp in 32 mass graves. About 500 prisoners of war who survived signed up as volunteers to, among others, the German armed forces and SS. Those who signed up for the SS were sent to Trawniki for training.

In October 1942, the camp was taken over by the SS who set up a labor camp for about 1,500 Jews who came from the ghetto in Opole. The camp was called SS Arbeitslager Poniatowa and was placed under the Lublin district’s supreme SS and police chief Odilo Globocnik. In May 1943 as a consequence of the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, another 15,000 Jews were deported from various quarters to Poniatowa. The prisoners were housed in about 30 barracks and the majority of the prisoners were forced to work within a textile factory moved from the ghetto in Warsaw to Poniatowa. The main task of the prisoners was to make clothing for the German armed forces. Other prisoners were forced to work with various jobs both inside and outside the camp.

The first commandant of the camp was Gottlieb Hering, who later became commander of the Belzec extermination camp. Hering was succeeded by Otto Hantke who had about 600 (mostly Ukrainian) guards at his disposal to guard the camp. The camp’s administration, however, consisted of about 40 German SS officers. A resistance movement was established within the camp which, in the event of a possible dismantling of the camp, would resist. In September 1943, some weapons were discovered within the camp, which led to a more brutal attitude towards the prisoners.

As a consequence of the uprisings in. The Warsaw and Bialystok ghetto and the uprisings in the Treblinka and Sobibor extermination camps killed some 14,000 Jewish prisoners on November 4, 1943, in what has been called the Erntefest (Farvest festival). In addition to Poniatowa, about 18,000 Jews were murdered in Majdanek and about 10,000 Jews in Trawniki. All three camps were located in the Lublin district and under the control of Odilo Globocnik. After the murders in Poniatowa, the SS tried to force about 200 prisoners to cremate the corpses but these refused and were murdered. The camp was abandoned in July 1944 as the Soviet army approached. A few prisoners survived Poniatowa.

Current status: Partly preserved/demolished with monument (2010).

Location: 51°10'34.06"N 22°04'18.86"E

Get there: Car.

My comment:

The camp was strangely not destroyed by the SS and after the war the premises were taken over for industrial purposes and the premises where the SS administration was located became housing. After the fall of communism, the area fell into disrepair and is today a combination of dilapidated industry and residential area. Several of the former factory premises are now empty and around the entire former camp area there is still a fence left. After the fall of communism, there had been good opportunities to establish a museum in the remaining factory premises, but I know that such a thing has never been relevant. There seems to be a hope that the industrial area will once again attract companies.

Until 2008, there was no monument dedicated to the camp, which created protests considering that about 14,000 Jews were murdered on the site. The only monument that existed was that which was erected in memory of the Soviet prisoners of war who died in the camp. But in 2008, a memorial monument was established next to the former camp entrance for the Jews and others who were murdered or sat in the camp. The monument to the Soviet prisoners of war is located at the place where they were buried and is more or less in disrepair. It is easy to orient yourself on the site if you have a camp map with you because several of the buildings are still there. There are also photographs from the existence of the camp that can be compared with.

Follow up in books: Kogon, Eugen: The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them (2006).