Well, it’s been a month again…this little endeavor hasn’t gone so well the last year or two. This month, it was a project at work that took nearly every waking minute (and several minutes that should have been non-waking). Regardless, it seems that when I want to write, things conspire against me. I think it’s “decision time”. I need to figure out if I want to continue, or maybe go in another direction, or simply stop. I’ll use the next month to work it out. By the end of February, if I haven’t picked it up, I’ll call it a day.
But since I’m here this evening, let’s at least share something.
Stutthof concentration camp isn’t nearly as well-known as several of its more famous counterparts (say, Treblinka or Auschwitz), but as I soon as mention it in concert with those others, students of history will immediately see images come into their minds. They include the rows of huts, the emaciated prisoners, gas chambers (yes, Stutthof had one), and crematoriums. The images will also include those of incredible suffering and death.
This particular camp was located in a rather marshy forested area, roughly 20 miles from Gdansk, Poland and a 20-minute walk from the Baltic Sea. It was the first camp built in Polish territory, and it grew large enough to house more than 50,000 prisoners. Conditions there were probably typical of most camps, which is to say appalling. And while it wasn’t strictly a “death camp” like the six biggies, there was suffering and pain and death aplenty there.
Like most of these camps, Stutthof’s existence lasted while the fortunes of war were in Germany’s favor. When things turned sour and the Russians began pushing the Germans back, it was time to vacate. Many of the camps were razed in an effort to hide the crime, while others were simply abandoned. And by January of 1945, the retreat was running at full speed, thanks to the Russian offensive that began on the 12th.
Stutthof was abandoned on the 25th, with nearly 50,000 prisoners beginning a death march of nearly 90 miles…it’s cold in Poland in January. As they marched, those that fell were executed. Eventually, the Russians cut off the German escape, so the prisoners were forced to retrace their steps back to Stutthof. Nearly half of the prisoners would die.
But for several thousand – the numbers, depending on the source, range from 3,000 to 5,000 – the end came more quickly, and just as brutally. They were the survivors of more than 13,000 prisoners that had fled one of Stutthof’s sub-camps. On the evening of January 31, 1945 (the night after the Wilhelm Gustloff was torpedoed), they were marched to the edge of the frigid Baltic Sea and forced into the water under rifle and machine-gun fire. There were only a handful of survivors.
Recommended Reading: The Holocaust Research Project – A lot of good information and a detailed write-up of Stutthof.