The Majdanek Concentration and Death Camp, located approximately three miles (five kilometers) from the center of the Polish city of Lublin, operated from October 1941 to July 1944 and was the second largest Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust. An estimated 360,000 prisoners were killed at Majdanek.
Although it is often called "Majdanek," the official name of the camp was Prisoner of War Camp of the Waffen-SS Lublin (Kriegsgefangenenlager der Waffen-SS Lublin), until February 16, 1943, when the name changed to Concentration Camp of the Waffen-SS Lublin (Konzentrationslager der Waffen-SS Lublin).
The name "Majdanek" is derived from the name of the nearby district of Majdan Tatarski and was first used as a moniker for the camp by residents of Lublin in 1941.*
The decision to build a camp near Lublin came from Heinrich Himmler during his visit to Lublin in July 1941. By October, an official order for the establishment of the camp had already been given and the construction had begun.
The Nazis brought in Polish Jews from the labor camp on Lipowa Street to start building the camp. While these prisoners worked on the construction of Majdanek, they were taken back to the Lipowa Street labor camp each night.
The Nazis soon brought in approximately 2,000 Soviet prisoners of war to build the camp. These prisoners both lived and worked at the construction site. With no barracks, these prisoners were forced to sleep and work in the cold outdoors with no water and no toilets. There was an extremely high mortality rate among these prisoners.
The camp itself is located on approximately 667 acres of completely open, nearly flat fields. Unlike most of the other camps, the Nazis did not try to hide this one from view. Instead, it bordered the city of Lublin and could easily be seen from the nearby highway.
Originally, the camp was expected to hold between 25,000 and 50,000 prisoners. By the beginning of December 1941, a new plan was being considered to expand Majdanek in order to hold 150,000 prisoners (this plan was approved by the camp commandant Karl Koch on March 23, 1942). Later, designs for the camp were discussed again so that Majdanek could hold 250,000 prisoners.
Even with the increased expectations for a higher capacity of Majdanek, construction came to a near halt in the spring of 1942. Construction materials could not be sent to Majdanek because supplies and railways were being used for the urgent transports needed to help the Germans on the Eastern front.
Thus, with the exception of a few small additions after the spring of 1942, the camp did not grow much after it reached the capacity of approximately 50,000 prisoners.
Majdanek was surrounded by an electrified, barbed-wire fence and 19 watchtowers. Prisoners were confined in 22 barracks, which were divided into five different sections. Working also as a death camp, Majdanek had three gas chambers (which used carbon monoxide and Zyklon B gas) and a single crematorium (a larger crematorium was added in September 1943).
It is estimated that approximately 500,000 prisoners were taken to Majdanek, with 360,000 of those killed. Around 144,000 of the dead died in the gas chambers or from being shot, while the rest died as the result of the brutal, cold, and unsanitary conditions of the camp. On November 3, 1943, 18,000 Jews were killed outside of Majdanek as part of Aktion Erntefest -- the single largest death toll for a single day.
- Karl Otto Koch (September 1941 to July 1942)
- Max Koegel (August 1942 to October 1942)
- Herman Florsted (October 1942 to September 1943)
- Martin Weiss (September 1943 to May 1944)
- Arthur Liebehenschel (May 1944 to July 22, 1944)
* Jozef Marszalek, Majdanek: The Concentration Camp in Lublin (Warsaw: Interpress, 1986) 7.
Feig, Konnilyn. Hitler's Death Camps: The Sanity of Madness. New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1981.
Mankowski, Zygmunt. "Majdanek." Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. Ed. Israel Gutman. 1990.
Marszalek, Jozef. Majdanek: The Concentration Camp in Lublin. Warsaw: Interpress, 1986.