Disabled prisoners in Stutthof concentration camp

How to cite: Jezierska, M.E., Disabled prisoners in Stutthof concentration camp. Kapera, M., trans. Medical Review – Auschwitz. June 29, 2020. Originally published as “Inwalidzi w obozie koncentracyjnym Stutthof.” Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim. 1987: 116–125.


Maria Jezierska (nom-de-guerre Elżbieta) was born on 2 February 1916 and died on 4 June 1994. Jezierska’s family moved in Warsaw in 1919, and in 1935 she graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of Warsaw to study Polish. Starting in autumn 1939, she engaged in anti-Nazi underground activities and as liaison in Union of Retaliation (Polish Związek Odwetu), a branch of the Union of Armed Struggle (Polish Związek Walki Zbrojnej). Arrested on 13 June 1942, she was first detained in the Pawiak prison. On 12 November 1942 she was transferred to KL Auschwitz (receiving prisoner no. 24449), and then, on 13 October 1944, to Ravensbrück (receiving prisoner no. 73038). Jezierska was liberated on 3 May 1943 in the Rostock area and returned to Poland on foot. After the war, she earned a degree in Polish from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and worked for a number of academic publishers. She was an active member of former prisoners’ associations and worked as an archivist for the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland. She retired in 1976, dedicating her time to work on academic publishing. In 1962, Jezierska and T. Hołuj published the results of their research in Kominy: Oświęcim 1940–1945 [Auschwitz chimneys, 1940–1945], Warsaw: Czytelnik; 1962.
Sources: kpbc.ukw.edu.pl/ and auschwitz.org.

The topic of disabled prisoners in Nazi German concentration camps has already been addressed in the concentration camp literature, in more or less detail. Actually, though, it deserves an extended, comprehensive monographic volume. I hope it will find its dedicated researcher who will ose a suitable method of analysis and examine it thoroughly. In the meantime, let me offer my contribution, which is based on Nazi documentation and reports and pertains to just one camp, Stutthof.

First of all, I will define the concepts and terminology I use, after the Polish medical dictionary Polski słownik medyczny. I make a distinction between inwalidztwo, “disability,” the state of being disabled (1981: 440); and kalectwo, “loss or permanent injury of the limb(s), lameness, maimedness or other physical impairment” (1981: 465). “Disability” means the condition of being permanently or temporarily unable to work and provide for oneself due to a permanent or long-lasting malfunction of the body1; while a person who is maimed or lame has lost an important limb or organ or has sustained a functional impairment. In everyday speech, these medical terms are often used imprecisely and interchangeably.

The Nazi Germans deported members of all social groups to their concentration camps, including the disabled. Such treatment of disabled persons violated all the principles of ethics and is generally considered inhuman. The “right” thing to have done would have been to provide for them in prison hospitals, where the conditions were more suitable. The camps could bring them nothing but death, particularly if they were maimed, blind, suffering from a psychiatric disorder, or afflicted with an infectious disease.2

Also, many prisoners became disabled due to the criminal pseudo-medical experiments carried out on them in the camps, while in Germany people who were unfit for work, especially because of intellectual or mental disability, were killed even before the outbreak of the Second World War (there are numerous studies on this and there is no need to refer to them here). A meaningful example of the way the disabled were treated in Nazi German concentration camps is provided by an incident that happened in Auschwitz-Birkenau: a group of disabled prisoners was led to believe a special transport would be arranged to take them to a “sanatorium in Dresden,” while actually they were removed to be gassed. Stanisław Kłodziński (1970: 39–50) has described this atrocity on the basis of the available records and research.3

As we know from studies on the KZ-Syndrome, many survivors became disabled in the course of their imprisonment in Nazi German prisons and camps, or suffered from various conditions as a result of their incarceration. However, that is a different problem, not addressed in this paper.

Researchers working on the Nazi concentration camps have always been posing several questions regarding invalids. Were they deported to concentration camps? Yes, because no disability or other condition, such as pregnancy, precluded imprisonment in a concentration camp. Disabled persons of Jewish origin were sent to the gas chamber immediately. What was the fate of disabled inmates who were not Jewish? Were they admitted to the camp hospital or did they live in a separate block? Were they given appropriate, lighter or sedentary jobs, done indoors?

Such basic questions should be kept in mind during the survey of the extant Stutthof records, which, regrettably, are incomplete.4 Worse still, even when we have a prisoner’s record at our disposal, the information in it is very laconic, to say the least. As the fragmentary data can be misleading, it is hard to draw reliable conclusions from them.

Which Stutthof documents may contain information that a prisoner was disabled? First of all, no medical files have been preserved for individual prisoners, and therefore we do not know how disability was recorded in them. Disability sustained prior to imprisonment was usually noted in a prisoner’s personal data card, and three types of this form were in use at Stutthof. The box labelled “Special identification marks” contained appropriate endorsements if the prisoner was lame or otherwise physically impaired: such notes could be useful if he escaped from the camp. For the same reason, notes of this kind were put on transportation documents.

Disability sustained in the course of imprisonment (and sometimes earlier) was entered in registers of prisoners who were discharged from the camp hospital and went back to work. Of course, these records are incomplete, too, and not all of them say if a prisoner was an invalid. Some are just headed “List of prisoners discharged today,” and contain no information about the health of the patient and his assignment. However, several of them name the disabled people, and sometimes even identify their disability. At this point a reservation has to be made: perhaps the term “disabled” was also used for those detainees who were starved and emaciated, especially if they were elderly. One of the preserved medical documents is the 1941?42 register of patients, which I intend to describe later.

The medical documents also contain information about accidents that occurred in the camp and resulted in a disability, not necessarily a permanent one, but serious enough to be entered in the records when the patient was discharged. Moreover, a number of prisoners’ personal files entailing accident and injury reports have been preserved (cf. Jezierska, “Wypadki w obozie koncentracyjnym na podstawie dokumentów zachowanych z obozu koncentracyjnego Stutthof,” n.d.). Reading them leaves one with an impression that they were composed only to prove that the prisoner himself was to be held liable for the accident. Presumably, the motivation was to turn down any claims he might make in the future for compensation or disability benefit, as well as to conceal the real reason for his condition.

Information on deceased disabled prisoners is to be found in their personal data cards, documents drafted by the doctor when they died, and their vital records. There are only a few full sets of these documents extant. One of the most interesting records issued by doctors is the certificate describing the course of the illness and the cause of death; in practice it is the only relatively good, though regrettably infrequent source of data.

On the grounds of the information in some death certificates, we may assume that the real cause of death was not the one given in the document, which is sure to say the deceased died due to “cardiac failure” or “general exhaustion.”

Generally, the doctors drafted documents for every deceased detainee,5 but the “Vital Records Certificate” column was sometimes left empty, which means that no registry office death certificate was issued. I managed to find out that in such a case the prisoner’s personal card had the mark ·/. instead of the number of an entry in the registry office records. We can surmise that this mark was made when a prisoner was murdered with a phenol injection into the heart or killed in the gas chamber.6 Even if a registry office death certificate was issued, the cause of death entered there is untrue, because it was based on the doctor’s statement7; the real cause, such as “hanged pursuant to an order,” was recorded very rarely.

Sometimes the list of those discharged from the hospital had a note about a prisoner’s disability and a recommendation to employ him indoors, in a job that could be done sitting, a light job or an indoor job in the Gurtweberei (a workshop where rifle straps were woven). The question arises whether the Arbeitseinsatz (employment office) in the camp respected the doctor’s orders. Anyone who knows what life in a concentration camp was like is bound to say “no.”8

Some information about the disabled in the camp can be found in survivors’ accounts. The most interesting one was authored by Aldo Coradello (Archives of Stutthof Museum—hereafter AMSt.—ref. no. RT I, p. 1 ff.; see also Coradello, 2011), a diplomat who used to work for the Italian consulate in Danzig (now Gdańsk). He wrote about Soviet disabled POWs, and I shall use passages from his story later on.

This paper gives many prisoners’ surnames, some of which must have been misspelled by the German clerk who took them down. I have not changed the original spelling, as sometimes it is difficult to establish with any certainty what the correct name really was, e.g. a name recorded as Zugan could have been Cugan, Czugan or even Cygan. Obviously, the misspellings have no bearing on the problems described.9

Now I shall discuss the information I have managed to glean from the documents.

Here are some examples of inmates with a disability sustained prior to their incarceration. An entry in “Identification marks” did not stop the Nazis from transferring them from jail to a concentration camp.

Feliks Jagodziński, b. 1 Oct. 1914, a Pole, camp no. 32474. His imprisonment was a “corrective measure” to last 54 days. The note said, “blind in the right eye.”10 Julius Kranawitschius, b. 7 Sept. 1926 (so he was sixteen!), a Lithuanian, camp no. 14961, was to be “re-educated” for three months. He was “blind in the left eye” and had “impaired vision in the right eye.” It should be stressed that he was transferred to the camp to work there on the recommendation of the Danzig employment agency. Jan Flak, b. 25 Apr. 1914, arrested in Gdynia on 4 Oct. 1939, a Pole, camp no. 5997, was deaf and dumb. On 22 Jan. 1942 he was punished by a flogging, and died on 7 Sept. 1942. Jerzy Jasiński, b. 22 Feb. 1918, a Pole, camp no. 26466, was “lame due to paralysis of his thigh.” Karl Detlaff, b. 20 Jan. 1906, a German, camp no. 21436, was to be re-educated for 56 days, notwithstanding his “stiff right elbow.” Grigorij Fiodorow, b. 22 Apr. 1913, a Russian (probably a POW), camp no. 55584, had an “unhealed gunshot wound right through the calf, with an entry and exit point,” so no wonder he died (on 13 Dec. 1944). Franciszek Biegajski, b. 15 Jan. 1917, a Pole, camp no. 34081. His health certificate, issued when he left the camp, said, “Old injuries: contusion of thigh following accident in Jan. 1944, not fully healed on release” (in reality he was not released but taken to Danzig to be questioned and returned to the camp on 21 June 1944). August Choszcz, b. 30 Dec. 1898, a Pole, camp no. 22748. His file includes a note, “Identification marks: war invalid.” His health certificate on release says, “Old injuries: permanent dislocation of knee joint.” Franz Gellert, b. 21 Jan. 1881, a German, camp no. 11617. His personal data card says, “General health: gunshot wound in the head, sustained 1914?18.” Clearly, a German war veteran aged 60 could still be incarcerated in the camp.

There are many similar cases,11 especially in the 1944 transport of disabled Soviet POWs, which will be discussed later.

Besides major injuries, some minor ones are mentioned, e.g. a missing finger. I do not include such notes in this paper, and scars are disregarded as well, although some endorsements make it difficult to decide whether the identification mark was a scar or perhaps an unhealed wound.12

It is not known if, following major or minor injuries sustained prior to imprisonment, the prisoner was admitted to hospital or exempted from hard labour. We should consider, first of all, whether Stutthof offered such inmates any chance of hospitalization.

It is necessary to remember that from 1939 to late 1942, when concentration camps were simply places of mass extermination, sick detainees were treated in a completely different way than later on, between 1943 and 1945, when it was imperative for the Third Reich to raise the largest labour force possible. Also, between 1941 and 1942 Stutthof was used as a re-education camp and the detainees served a short time, usually about three months, to be released afterwards; nevertheless, eventually they became so emaciated and starved that they were practically unfit for work.13

Initially, when the camp was being built by prisoners, there was no hospital, and disabled detainees were not treated with special consideration, even if the disability was sustained in the course of their confinement. After a while, a dispensary was arranged, where the staff dressed cuts, wounds, and abscesses using paper bandages. Finally, in the spring of 1940, a small infirmary was established in the “first block situated left of the camp gate. . . . It had . . . folding beds, a table, and a few chairs. In the corner behind the door there was a toilet, that is an old bucket-size jam tin without a lid. . . . There were usually about thirty inpatients.” (Gajdus 1962: 147).

By 1942, the hospital had been moved to a larger block which stood perpendicular to all the other buildings in the old part of the camp. On one side it had a surgical ward, and an internal ward on the other, with a dispensary and pharmacy in the middle. At first, it had 120 beds, and with time the number grew. The hospital expanded, occupying more rooms in neighbouring barracks. Eventually it had five wards: surgery, internal medicine, TB, contagious diseases, and diarrhoea. It had an operating room, a dental surgery,14 and a pharmacy. In the spring of 1942, the camp was afflicted with an outbreak of typhus, so the hospital had to hold as many as 600 patients and had twelve sections (section 11 was for TB patients; cf. Węgrzynowicz, „Wspomnienia”).

In the following years, the hospital still had 600 beds, but sometimes had to admit as many as twice that number. The division into wards often had to be ignored, so it happened that a patient with an infectious disease had to share a bunk with others, for instance ones with phlegmons (inflammation of the soft tissue).

In the first phase of its operations, the hospital was run just by the orderlies, that is prisoners who had had no medical training whatsoever. The SS doctors were not engaged in any treatment, but only decided who should be selected for death, and who would be discharged and sent back to work. In the second period, when prisoner-doctors could be recruited, the situation changed for the better, although medicines and dressings were still in short supply, and all the decisions had to be made by the SS doctors.

The women’s sector of the camp had its own Krankenstube (sickroom); another was opened later in Block 26, which housed female prisoners from Warsaw. It functioned as a branch of the main hospital, so it shared the same staff, helped by two female orderlies. In 1944 a Jewish women’s “hospital” was arranged in Block 30, but in reality it was a place where the patients were left to die, though it had its own staff, recruited from among Jewish female prisoners (see also footnote 20).15

In 1942, the second period of the hospital’s operations, a discharged patient was sometimes allowed to stay in his barrack during the day and not go out to work in the fields, and this permission was dubbed szonung.16 Later a Schonungsblock (a special convalescents’ block) was set up. We may speculate that it was not the same as the K-Block or Krüppelblock for discharged invalids, as the documents list those sent to the Schonungsblock and the K-Block separately. However, we may have some doubts too, because in the case of two prisoners, Franciszek Bielecki and Stanisław Chomicki, the patients’ register says: “moved to the invalids’ block,” while the list of those discharged says szonung (i.e. Schonung), which may mean that two names were used interchangeably for the special block (notably, both cases are for 1942).17

The camp hospital was not housed in a decent building and could offer neither hygiene nor medications. Initially it employed neither doctors to treat the patients nor qualified orderlies. Even in the second period, the prisoner-doctors could do very little, given the inadequate conditions and the frequent decisions of the SS doctors either to kill a patient or to send him back to work. Therefore, we must conclude that the real reason why the hospital was established was to hide the truth, in case the camp happened to be inspected.

The hospital was expanded and prisoner-doctors were brought in only because of the epidemics of typhus, typhoid, and other contagious diseases that affected the SS men too. Since it was necessary to maintain a large and able-bodied labour force, the first step was to admit sick prisoners to hospital and allow them to spend some time in bed. In the first period, when the hospital’s head was an SS physician, Dr Werner von Schenk, hospitalisation tended to be very short, for instance five days for tonsillitis.

So, people with disabilities, sustained either prior to incarceration or in the camp, had to live in highly inadequate conditions without any hospital treatment, even if their disability was permanent and severe.

The register of patients kept in the hospital from April 1941 to 29 June 1942 is a handwritten document which gives the date of the patient’s admission, his first and second name, camp number, date of birth, presenting problem, date of discharge, and either a note about the illness that had been treated (and that his condition “had improved”) or the date of his death. When the prisoner was discharged, a note was added saying that he was moved “back to the camp,” “to the convalescents’ block,” “to the invalids’ block,” or recommended for a “light job.” Hospitalisation lasted from a few days to a few weeks, and convalescence, even with those who had had typhus or a surgery, was kept down to a couple of days.

The register contains 1,445 entries, including 34 cases of disability,18 and one special patient who was not transferred to the invalids’ block. The man in question was Władysław Szeliga (entry 250), camp no. 12373, b. 20 Dec. 1904, admitted on 9 Dec. 1941 with hemiplegia (i.e. at the age of 37). He was discharged on 9 Feb. 1942, and the note said, “not cured of paralysis, might find it difficult to work” (sic!). Szeliga died on 4 March 1943, but we do not know if a registry office death certificate was issued for him.

It should be noted that all the prisoners who were transferred to the invalids’ block were discharged on the same day, 9 June 1942.19 Presumably, it is the date when such a block (or rather an invalids’ room in a block) was established. The register contains no similar endorsement prior to that date (cf. the case of Szeliga).

The patients’ register gives us a rough idea what the medical record of a patient could say, because we know what the diagnosis was when he was referred to hospital and the note on the successfully treated condition, e.g. the patient was referred for flu, but in fact he was treated for typhus. We may wonder why many typhus patients were not moved to the invalids’ block following the treatment; neither were they allowed to stay indoors for a few days afterwards, but were sent back straight to work.

The data concerning the 34 disabled prisoners and those who were categorized as disabled on the discharge lists are discussed below. Altogether, I found 255 such notes, so the total number of people who were termed “disabled” amounts to 289. In this group, there were 187 Poles (including one of Jewish origin), 47 Russians, 2 Germans, 13 Latvians, 11 Estonians, 5 Lithuanians, 2 Danes, 1 Czech, 1 Frenchman, and 1 Italian. Their names are provided at the end of this paper.

No documents have been preserved that relate to Block 30, i.e. the Jewish hospital, so the following discussion concerns only the “Aryan” hospital, which could not admit Jewish patients.20 The special case described above was an exception: this veteran prisoner had spent a long time in the camp, as he had a low number. Perhaps the badge that he was wearing was not the Jewish star, but a triangle, normally worn by Poles; or perhaps he was taken in by the hospital, because he had good connections in the camp.21

We do not know what ultimately happened to 174 disabled prisoners out of the total number of 289. 14 were discharged from the camp, and 6 were transferred to other camps. 95 of them died. For 38 of the deceased, we have a note that a registry office death certificate was issued. There are no data for 32. In 17 cases, we have a ·/. mark, and in 8 cases just a dash. Some of the 174 prisoners whose fate is unknown may have stayed in the camp until the day of evacuation and in January 1945 joined the death march, in the course of which the SS men shot weak and sick prisoners unable to keep up with the trudging column.

For 17 or 25 disabled prisoners, where we see a ·/. mark or a dash, no registry office death certificate was produced, so their death was concealed. They may have been murdered with a phenol injection or gassed, although the doctor’s statement gives “a heart condition” as the cause of death. The ·/. mark replacing the death certificate number in the personal data card seems to indicate that the prisoner was killed (this will be further discussed in the section concerning the disabled Soviet POWs).

A suspiciously short time elapsed between the day a disabled prisoner left the hospital and his date of death. This held for all the prisoners designated as disabled on discharge and with the ·/. mark in their records. Józef Juchniewicz, b. 1893, was discharged on 10 Nov. 1944 and died of “heart failure” on 24 Nov. 1944 (after just 14 days). Władysław Ptak, b. 1902, was discharged on 10 Nov. 1944 and died on 20 Nov. 1944 (after 10 days). Piotr Rachmanow, b. 1889, was discharged on 10 Nov. 1944 and died on 6 Dec 1944 (after 26 days). Kirył Solski, b. 1908, was discharged on 10 Nov. 1944 and died on 23 Nov. 1944 (after 13 days).

It would be wrong to conclude that only 95 disabled prisoners died in the camp; the lack of data for 174 disabled prisoners means we do not know what happened to them, perhaps some of their records may have carried the ominous ·/. mark. The only information we have about several of the disabled detainees is that they were imprisoned in Stutthof and admitted to its hospital; for 70 of them, even their age is unknown.

We do not have data for the death of some of the elderly prisoners, either:23 Jan Andrzejczyk, aged 78; August Drewa, aged 75; Franciszek Kiersznikiewicz, aged 71; Jan Strumski, aged 67; Stanisław Jóźwiak, aged 62; and others a few years younger. Their fate remains unknown. However, we have some information on the death of other elderly prisoners, such as Antoni Kiebort, aged 73; Franciszek Dupik, aged 70; Jan Haase, aged 68, who was admitted with oedema and described in the medical record compiled by the SS doctor as a “weak old man;” Jan Brzeziński, aged 68, whose “abscess healed,” but “had a heart condition;” Dominik Zaremba, aged 66, described as “exhausted;” Karol Pocha, aged 65, who “died of old age;” Teodor Masuruk, aged 64; Mikołaj Bilida, aged 62; Waldemar Schakun, aged 61; and Aleksanders Lebedjews, aged 61. A registry office death certificate was issued for all of them; the deaths of two others, Leopold Slonczewski, aged 70, and Stefan Bober, aged 63, were recorded with the ·/. mark.

All of them were described as “elderly,” but we should not forget that over four decades ago23 life expectancy was not as high as it is today and that confinement in a concentration camp was a terrible ordeal, especially for the elderly.

Given that disability is a common occurrence in the elderly, we may assume that the term “disabled” was used not only for disabled or injured prisoners when they were discharged from the hospital, but also for those who were utterly exhausted (and may have been young). For instance, the medical and death record for Bronislaws Lescinkas, who died on 23 Nov. 1944, that is on the day he was readmitted to the hospital, says that he was a “starved man, aged 35.”

We know for certain that a few of the prisoners who died were definitely disabled, because their identification marks were put down in their personal data card on arrival in the camp: Stanisław Grendziński, had “two broken ribs;” Piotr Lipiński had “no right arm;” Edward Kasan had “four fingers missing on his left hand;” and Jakow Petunow, “wore glasses.” In a few other personal data cards, we have notes on hernias (not surprisingly, as Stutthof prisoners’ jobs usually involved heaving and carrying felled logs) or a “weak constitution.”

The doctor described three prisoners as “exhausted” or “starved” upon admission to hospital; two of them died on the day of their readmission.

Two of those who died were aged 18 and 19.

Three of the prisoners whose documents have the ·/. mark also have entries of identification marks testifying to their disability: Wasilij Bobkin had “no fingers on the left hand,” Stanisław Dutkiewicz had a “dented forehead,” and Andrzej Żuk was “short-sighted” and had “gunshot scars on the right forearm and hand.”

The records of discharged prisoners include several disability entries in “Identification marks.” Leo Baske had a “postoperative neck scar;” Gustaw Borrmann, a German, was described as a “disabled milkman;” Kazimierz Chomicki had an injured knee; Kazimierz Jonczyński’s left arm was “broken in three places” and the right side of his chest was injured;” Georg Koschinski, a German, had a “scarred back and buttocks following a grenade explosion;” Jan Kruber’s left hand was “injured;” Aleksy Krywiec had a “shorter left leg;” Jan Laskowski had a “broken right leg;” Franciszek Nijakowski was “short-sighted,” but the next two notes describe him as “fit for work;” Hans-Walter Nietsche was a German war invalid: he had been “shot in the knee;” Florian Ostrowski had “fractured and bandy legs;” Friedrich Podzuweit, a German, was “registered in the camp as a war invalid” (this note was made on his discharge); Zygmunt Sarwiński’s right hand was “injured;” Iwan Sdaniewitsch was registered as an invalid upon his arrival in the camp, on 17 Nov. 1942, when discharged, on 4 Aug. 194224 his disability was ascribed to “fractures in the lower and upper arm,” and he was recommended for “light work”; Johannes Stole, a Dane, had a “shorter left leg;” Kirył Swiagin’s left arm had been amputated; Czesław Traczyk had a “fractured left leg;” Józef Wardziński had a “postoperative scar on the back;” and Włodzimierz Zugan was “deaf and dumb” but was “able to write” (he must have found it hard in the camp, if he could not hear the orders he was given).25

Those who were described as “disabled” on discharge also include prisoners who had sustained an accident during their imprisonment. Iwan Kowal (or Koszal), b. 1919, was admitted to hospital five times and one of the entries says, “broken arm, light work recommended” (see below for details of Robert Fortin’s similar accident). Wacław Popławski, b. 1921, had six readmissions following his first hospitalisation after an accident in the woodwork shop of the DAW (Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke, a German armaments factory), where he abraded the skin on his hand. On his seventh time in hospital, he had an accident report filled in, and after his fifth stay was given a recommendation for the Gurtweberei, i.e. a lighter job weaving rifle straps. It was only after his sixth readmission that he was recognized as “an invalid.” Henryk Tuszyński, b. 1902, was described as an “invalid” as he had “phalanges 3 and 2 as well as the fourth finger of the right hand amputated.” Given that the note recognizing his disability was made in 1940, his hand must have been seriously maimed.

Different numbers of prisoners were classified as invalids in particular years, but when we look at the figures, we should remember that only fragments of the earliest documents have survived. For 1939 we have no data, as there was no hospital; in 1940, 4 disabled persons were registered; none in 1941 (although some of the discharge lists include notes such as “light indoor work recommended”); 37 patients were registered as invalids in 1942; 50 in 1943; and 195 in 1944. This tendency clearly shows that prisoners were treated primarily as labourers, so those who were disabled could be made useful in the Gurtweberei, or even transferred to the invalids’ block.

Pro memoria. Marian Kolodziej. Photo by Piotr Markowski. Click to enlarge.

The human individual was viewed in purely mechanistic and utilitarian categories, which was a reflection of the antihumanitarian Nazi German ideology and the dogmatic and unrelenting implementation of its criminal practices.

Bearing in mind that the data are incomplete, we may consider whether disabled prisoners were really readmitted to hospital and if so, whether on each occasion they were categorised as invalids. The extant information renders the following figures: we have a single admission for 165 prisoners described as invalids; two admissions for 70 prisoners (but only 11 of them were categorised as invalids on both occasions); three admissions for 31 prisoners (including 10 who were registered twice as invalids, and only 2 with an invalidity note made three times); four admissions for 13 prisoners (including 11 who were registered as invalids once and 2 who were registered twice; none of them was registered as an invalid three or four times); five admissions for 6 prisoners (including 4 whose disability was noted down once, 2 registered twice, and none registered three, four or five times); six admissions for 3 prisoners (and one of them was put down as an invalid on one occasion only); and seven admissions for one prisoner, who was registered as disabled only once.

However, some of these disabled prisoners were categorised as “class C workers,”26 fit only for Sitzarbeit (sedentary work). Some of them were transferred to the Gurtwerberei or even to the Schonungsblock. To explain these terms, I shall quote excerpts from survivors’ accounts.

The Schonungsblock was the convalescents’ block, but it would be wrong to think the prisoners were moved there to rest or to enjoy a better diet. Quite on the contrary, even the convalescents were victims of absurdly malicious harassment, such as making them “take a stroll in the fresh air.” Here is a description by Martin Nielsen:

Opposite the extremely long hospital block, there was another, small block. . . . When its door was opened, we could see some human beings leave it limping or crawling out. We had never seen such emaciated creatures. They were men and boys with wizened, beaky heads on beanstalk necks sticking out of shrivelled shoulders, wrapped in dirty, ragged blankets. Below you could see their spindly legs. . . . When they collapsed, they were unable to rise unaided. . . . And so they plodded along, into the sunshine . . . which was supposed to heal them. They had survived the last typhus epidemic in the camp. . . . They were forced to venture outdoors, which was their only convalescence after the illness.

(Nielsen, 15)

In 1944, Stutthof had a special K-Block for disabled prisoners, the letter K standing for Krüppel. Antoni Rzyszkiewicz described this block in the following words:

I became a Muselmann (a completely emaciated prisoner) and was so weak I could not even walk. So I was referred to the camp hospital, where I stayed for two months. After being discharged, I had to go back to work as a lumberjack . . . . So after a while I was a Muselmann again, and was readmitted. Afterwards, they moved me to the Krüppelblock, the place for those who were unfit for work. I owe it to a friend that I got out of that place.

(Rzyszkiewicz, 141)

Jan Kostrzewa, who was on the hospital staff for a long time, gave the following account:

The room was occupied by the Krüppelkommando, convalescents who had been discharged but were still unfit for work. Their supervisor was Orłowski [a functionary prisoner—author’s note], who made them exercise and march in the yard. There were 60–70 convalescents. When they got better, they were discharged. . . .

(Kostrzewa, 115)

But was strenuous exercise really a good type of treatment for them?

Here is Martin Nielsen’s description of work in the Gurtweberei, where exhausted and disabled prisoners were transferred:

The labourers had to weave rifle straps, using strips of rags, leather and textile. “Both workshops [also a second workshop where old shoes were unstitched—Author’s note] were staffed with those detainees who were being “spared,” that is given light sedentary jobs, since they were too exhausted and weak for any other employment. When transports arrived with carloads of such worn-out cargo, the “spared” prisoners had to unload the shoes and move them to the workshops. . . . They staggered along in groups of 200 or 300, whipped by the Kapos . . ., whose main objective was to finish off the weakest. Hardly a day went by without those scrawny labourers marching back from their workshops and carrying a number of corpses into the camp.28

(Nielsen, 23)

Survivors’ accounts clearly show how much physical effort was required to perform this “light indoor work,” which was definitely too much for incapacitated convalescents.

So, there was no follow-up treatment and care even for those who were lucky enough to be admitted to the hospital and discharged to a “light job” or a transfer to the Krüppelblock; instead, they were forced to “take some fresh air” also on cold and rainy days, or had to do work that went beyond their physical strength.

However, were injured prisoners always referred to the hospital and then moved to the convalescents’ block? The answer to that question is to be found in the descriptions of two incidents which left prisoners maimed: one was an accident at work, and the other an arm fracture the prisoner sustained when he was beaten. Stefan Stachyra, a carpenter, wrote:

We were building a barrack. . . . A rope snapped and a beam fell down. Fortunately, it was just an injury. I was taken to hospital and looked after by Dr Julian Węgrzynowicz, a Pole. . . . I stayed there for two weeks . . . and after discharge . . . I worked in the woodwork shop.

(Stachyra, 238)

So after the accident and hospitalisation he was not moved to the convalescents’ block.

Jean Maitre wrote:

Robert Fortin,[43][OR22] a Frenchman, camp no. 19317, was beaten with a wooden club and his arm was broken. He was taken into hospital for a month, but before he was admitted, he had been reporting to the hospital every day for seven days in a row and in the meantime had to work in spite of the fracture. . . . Another French inmate tried to skip the general roll call. He was discovered by the Kapos and SS-men in a barrack outside the camp. They battered him so brutally that his arm was broken. . . . For the next fortnight he was not admitted to the hospital despite the injury. . . and had to continue to work.

(Maitre, 17)

No need to comment.

Survivors’ accounts contain information on disabled prisoners who were never referred to the hospital or the convalescents’ block. Jerzy Jarzębowski, b. 21 Sept. 1898, a former Polish Army officer, sustained a gunshot wound in 1939 during the Polish defence of the Baltic coast against the German invasion. One of his legs was 4.5 cm shorter than the other. He was arrested by the Germans for his involvement in underground resistance activities and deported to the camp, where he arrived on 2 Dec. 1942 and was registered as no. 17498. At this time the hospital was in operation, but he was not referred there, although an endorsement in his personal data card says “Invalide, re. Oberschenkel kürzer” (invalid, right thigh shorter). His own account is as follows:

It helped a lot to have a good and sound grasp of the situation. You really had to feel it in your bones where you should stand during the roll call and . . . whether to make off as the first or the last, out the door or the window, or perhaps not to duck out at all. I owe it to my steady nerves that I survived Stutthof, what with being disabled. I doubt whether any other invalid could have survived that hell. Of course, I never used a walking stick, because then I would have been immediately picked on and would never have made it.

(Jarzębowski, 163)

A prisoner in the working unit who caught the unwelcome attention of the supervisor was likely to be harassed more. Disability did not involve any privileges, on the contrary, it attracted more maltreatment. It was enough to wear glasses to become an object of violent attacks.

The blind were especially vulnerable. Even if they were lucky enough to be admitted to the hospital, their existence depended on the goodwill of fellow prisoners and care provided by other patients. Czesław Majewski described the following case:

Barrack 21 used to have several residents who were Catholic priests. One of them, aged about 35, was a fairly vigorous man and always helped his bunk-mate, who was weak and blind, to find his way to the toilet. One day, passing the blind man’s bunk, I saw that actually both of them were blind now and unable to move around. The priest had gone down with erysipelas. His face was so swollen and deformed that you could hardly make out his eyes. Both men died on the same night.

(Majewski, 41)

The life or death of disabled and utterly exhausted prisoners was decided by the SS doctor, who was all too fond of “euthanasia” practices. Invalids were either killed by lethal injections or in the gas chamber. Here is a survivor’s account:

Section 9[29 always had about 100–200 inpatients, two or three to a narrow bunk. . . . Dr Otto Heidl wasn’t bothered by the overcrowding. His rounds were done from a distance and he never approached the patients, so as not to catch a disease. He would just ask a prisoner doctor or Pfleger [a prisoner serving as an orderly–Author’s note] how long the patient had been hospitalised. If he had been in hospital for six weeks or two months, and was a disabled or emaciated person, Heidl would point his finger at the man, sentencing him to death. He would never spare an invalid. . . . After each selection, Section 9 sent 10–15 inpatients to their deaths, and the total number was 50–60 people for the entire hospital. . . . Smaller groups, up to 20 prisoners, were killed with phenol injections, while larger groups were sent to the gas chamber.

(Majewski, 42–43)

The author of this passage was Czesław Majewski, whom I have mentioned above. Jan Kostrzewa explained the procedure of “jabbing.”

As soon as the Dachau orderlies arrived [in June 1942—Author’s note], mass killings of the patients began with the use of mercuric chloride injections. I cannot remember phenol injections being used at Stutthof. . . . I carried away the bodies of those who . . . had been killed with an injection. Mercuric chloride works in an instant, and the man has about 15 seconds to go. Mathis, and later Breit, would dress up as a doctor. The patients could not know they were not really doctors. They were either walked or carried into the room on the pretext of a medical examination. They got an intravenous injection in the arm . . . and I can remember the exact area, because a bruise always formed there. . . . Heidl selected especially those patients who had TB or some other contagious disease. He did it during his rounds. . . . Injections were also administered to those whose condition was serious, such as a phlegmon (severe bacterial skin infection).

(Kostrzewa, 11–113)

Dr Julian Węgrzynowicz, a prisoner doctor I have mentioned before, wrote that “Starting in April or May 1942, the daily quota of people on whom ‘euthanasia’ was performed oscillated between 15 and 30, while the number of inpatients was about 600. In 1944 fewer patients were killed in this way” (Węgrzynowicz, 26).

Apart from “jabbing,” there was also killing in a gas chamber which operated in a sealed railway car. Aldo Coradello writes that

This kind of death was reserved for elderly women. During the morning roll call, those who were proficient at knitting and darning stockings were required to step forward. The knitting and darning needles were dutifully dispensed to the women, who marched off, taking these needlework tools with them. The stockings were to be darned somewhere outside Stutthof. . . . The railway car had been donated by the German army. It was coupled with either an engine or a cargo train and departed. . . . The terminal was close to the crematorium, where the branch line ended. This “death train” passed a station or two on the main line, and then turned straight for the crematorium, where the bodies of those poor women were unloaded from the “modified” railcar.

(Coradello, 45)

The stationary gas chamber was next to the crematorium. From August 1944, disabled prisoners were killed there.

A tragic end awaited disabled POWs from Riga, Latvia, dispatched to Stutthof by the local Sicherheitspolizei on 15 August 1944. They were Russians [or other Soviet citizens], probably detained earlier at Salaspils, which was a special camp for disabled prisoners of war. Aldo Coradello has described the circumstances of the arrival of that transport in his account entitled “Co się działo w Stutthofie” [What went on at Stutthof]. Coradello had just been brought back from another interrogation in Danzig and was waiting to be allowed into the camp.

In the small camp square, which was called the delousing square, there were about 50–60 Russian POWs. Most of them had one leg missing, but some had both legs amputated and found it difficult to move around using crutches. Some of them had lost an arm or an eye. They had only one thing in common: they were so starved that their “gear,” made up of tattered rags, was hanging on them quite loosely. None of them had shoes to speak of. The majority went barefoot, and their feet were swollen and wounded. They were so weak they could hardly stand up. . . . They had been kept like that, out in the open, for three days, with no provisions. The only water or food they were getting was smuggled to them surreptitiously by fellow prisoners, who had to give up some of their rations to help them out. The camp’s commandant, apparently, was reluctant to take in the Russian invalids. Such a burden: so many mouths to feed and no labour in return. Therefore they were just left to die.

On arrival to the camp we had to wait from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., in the scorching sun [in August 1944] for the formalities to be completed. Commandant Obersturmbannführer Hoppe, Schuzhaftlagerführer Mayer, and Rapportführer Chemnitz were strolling around, past our group. As they were walking to and fro and talking, I gathered the problem was the Russian POWs. Chemnitz said the easiest solution was to get rid of that Russky rabble. His words were accompanied by a telling glance towards the crematorium. . . .

After their midday meal, Chemnitz and Liedtke addressed the Russian invalids, promising they would be transferred to a veterans’ sanatorium, where they would be taken care of. I saw how happy those poor things were to hear that, after the prolonged torment, they were going to be treated decently. Which was their due, by the way, as they were POWs, and disabled at that. Using the small amount of water they still had, they were trying to wash and spruce themselves up in order to look tidy, and hurrying up about it. I will never forget one of them using a piece of broken glass to shave his fellow, an armless man. They had neither soap nor a brush, nor a knife. The sight could have been funny if it had not been for the pain. . . .

Indeed, they were soon taken away, not through the main camp gate though, but a side one, right of the SS shoemakers’ shops. The side gate was used for the transport of dead bodies, which were taken from the camp and the hospital to the crematorium. . . . It was clear to us, veteran prisoners who had spent some time in camps already, that the dispatched Russians were going to be killed in some cruel way within the next few hours. . . .

I was sent back to my old barrack . . . . Meeting my old fellows . . ., I suddenly saw Wilhelm Patsch and Franciszek Knitter. The former was the crematorium Kapo, and the latter was his right hand. . . . That evening, they were completely drunk. I learned some details of their day’s work at the crematorium. . . . The Russian POWs were killed in the gas chamber at about 6 p.m. In order to prevent any turmoil, the SS men put on a special show of appearances.

The narrow-gauge side-line next to the crematorium branched off the regular Danzig–Stutthof line. On the afternoon of that day, two third-class carriages could be seen there. The prisoners were ordered to board them. Expecting the promised humane treatment, they concurred. About thirty minutes later Chemnitz, Liedtke, and Mayer arrived, complaining that the engine driver was late: if he had come on time, the Russians would have already covered some of their travelling distance. The three Germans told the POWs they had to wait another hour for the engine driver, so they could just as well have their supper. Everybody got off and Chemnitz led them into the “waiting room.” As soon as all the POWs were inside, the iron door was locked and the room started to fill up with gas, coming through a special opening. . . . After over an hour the door was opened, the corpses were carried out and thrown on the ground in front of the crematorium furnace. Then the bodies were stripped and the clothing piled up to be collected on the following day: it was to be taken to the clothes warehouse and dispensed to other prisoners. . . . A few days later, the rags of the Soviet POWs were on the backs of new arrivals to the camp.

(Coradello, AMSt., 37, 39–51, 55)

If we find Coradello’s and other survivors’ accounts30 of the tragic fate of the Russian invalids hard to believe, we have an extant document to confirm them. In the register of new arrivals, the Riga transport is entered for 15 August 1944. Presumably, since the transport was registered, initially the camp’s officials could not have been sure that the POWs were to be exterminated straight away, in the manner described by Coradello. The transport was large, but the important thing is that as many as 77 prisoners of Russian origin (if we judge by the names) died after a week, all on the same day, 22 August 1944. For none of the men in this group was a registry office death certificate issued, as no certificate number was entered in the book. Neither was a registry number quoted in the prisoners’ personal cards, all of which have a disability endorsed in “Identification marks.” As many as 47 such records have been preserved and the particular entries say: “shot in the leg,” “shot in the knee,” “leg missing,” “shot in the leg and head,” “shot in the leg and back,” “shot in the leg and arm,” “shot in the face,” “three gunshot wounds,” or “shot in the head, leg, and arm.” We can be absolutely sure when the wounds were sustained, because the records say each of the detainees was a “former POW.” The documentation gives no other reason for their imprisonment in the concentration camp.

In my opinion, on the basis of the extant documents and facts, we can formulate several conclusions on the fate of disabled prisoners at Stutthof and other concentration camps.

  1. Disability, even if it was serious, did not stop Nazi German authorities from deporting a person to a concentration camp.
  2. When a prisoner became disabled or his mobility was seriously impaired in the camp, he would neither be released nor even referred to the camp hospital.
  3. Appearances were kept up, because discharge lists of those who were leaving the hospital included several recommendations: “transfer to the convalescents’ block,” “fit for light work,” “indoor work recommended,” “work according to qualifications” etc. However, the realities were different, as we can see the same prisoners were soon readmitted and significantly, even though their disability had been registered upon their arrival in the camp, no recommendations regarding “transfer to the invalids’ block” were repeated. At most, a disabled prisoner could become a class C worker, as I have explained in the foregoing, and was given a slightly lighter job (but was still made to work) in the Gurtweberei. Even hemiplegia was described as just a “hindrance.”
  4. As in their treatment of the incurably ill, TB patients, senile persons, and the mentally ill, the Nazis resorted to “euthanasia” in their concentration camps as well. A person who did not work did not deserve to be fed. Therefore disabled prisoners, war invalids, the elderly and decrepit, and utterly exhausted detainees were killed by lethal injections or in the gas chamber.

These facts are corroborated by the survivors’ testimonies and, significantly, by the Nazi German documents.

Appendix. Names of disabled prisoners

Mieczysław Adamiak, Jan Albinowicz, Paulus Alminauskas, Jan Andrzejczyk, Edmund Badzidło, Henryk Balcer, Stefan Baldyga, Aleksander Balta, Józef Baluta, Nikolai Baselew, Leo Baske, Edward Bielasz, Leon Biernat, Nikolai Bilida, Helmut Bistrow, Johann Blank, Martin Blumberg, Stefan Bober, Wasili Bobkin, Fernand Boethora, Jan Borejsza, Wiktor Borkowski, Gustaw Borrmann, Franciszek Brdak, Władysław Brodzik, Ewald Brodziński, Johann Brzeziński, Ernest Brunis, Jan Bryszka, Josef Brzezicki, August Busch, Aleksander Charina, Iwan Chritonow, Jan Choiński, Kazimierz Chomicki, Stanisław Cichoń, Karol Cydzik, Albert Czerwionka, Josef Czochra, August Dargatz, Juchim Djaczenko, August Drewa, Janis Ducis, Franciszek Dupik, Stanisław Dutkiewicz, Jadda Faumow, Adolf Feilhauer, Karl Fritz, Giorgio Gabrieli, Erwin Glawe, Jerzy Goetz, Feliks Goral, Leon Grabek, Zachariasz Gratunik, Stanisław Grendziński, Eligiusz Groblewski, Zygmunt Gruszka, Jan Haase, Jan Hajdukiewicz, Aleksander Hildebrandt, Stanisław Horlowski, Kazimierz Hupka, Wacław Iłowiecki, Władysław Jagiełłowicz, Otto Jak, Janis Jokobsons, Stasis Jankauskas, Janis Jansens, Rein Järvine, Stanisław Jasinowski, Józef Jasiński, Stanisław Jastrzęmski, Walenty Jendrzejczuk, Kasimir Jonczynski, Stanisław Kaczanowski, Wasili Kalanitschin, Sergiej Kaljnikow, Arturs Kaminskis, Henryk Kapoczewski, Eduard Kasan, Michaił Kawelenok, Dominik Keller, Alfons Aleksander Kerpert, Antoni Kiebort, Franciszek Kiersznikiewicz, Aleksander Klawinowski, Janis-Robert Klinklaus, Johann Klunder, Edward Kobesko, Grigorij Komorow, Jan Kondziewski, Jakob Konkol, Feliks Kopicki, Georg Koschinski, Leon Kotlowski, Michaił Kotow, Iwan Kowal, Jan Kowalczuk I, Jan Kowalczuk II, Faustyn Kowalczyk, Franciszek Kowalski, Friedrich Krause, Jan Kruber, Aleksiej Krywiec, Włydysław Kubik, Czesław Kulajewicz, Teofil Kulis, Aleksiej Kuzniecow, Maks Kullas, Karl Laanemetz, Johann Laskowski, Aleksanders Lebedjews, Bronisław Lescinkas, Piotr Lichostajew, Boris Likin, Leonhard Lilipua, Peter Lipiński, Stanisław Lipnicki, Teofil Lonski, Stanisław Luba, Jan Luczyk, Edward Lukomski, Henryk Luty, Jan Lyszcz, Stefan Macukiewicz, Pawels Majorow, Edward Mallow, Julian Małyszko, Stanisław Marcinkowski, Teodor Masuruk, Piotr Mieczkowski, Rudolf-Hans Miller, Stanisław Minigewicz, Józef Młynarczyk, Stanisław Mrówka, Nikolai Mukosiej, Wiktor Naugolnij, Franciszek Nijakowski, Hans-Walter Nitsche, Józef Nowicki, Aleksander Orzełek (Orzolek), Florian Ostrowski, Antanas Paldauskas, Józef Paliwoda, Michał Panasewicz, Jan Papusewicz, Bolesław Parda, Wacław Pawełko, Jakow Putunow, Ludwik Piasecki, Jan Pillar, Stanisław Piszecki, Karl Pocha, Leopold Podczarski, Friedrich Podzuweit, Feliks Polejewski, Otto Pomorin, Wacław Popławski, Andrzej Potwitsch, Franciszek Franczuk, Stanisław Prusik, Wincenty Przybylski, Władysław Ptak, Piotr Rachmanow, Janis Radzynic, Nikolai Ragesin, Megens Rahr, Arseni Reibar, Ernst Reimer, Wincenty Romanowicz, Kazimierz Romanowski, Jefim Roszko, Ryszard Roszko, Antoni Rybakiewicz, Władysław Rzepiński, Jan Sadowski, Fiodor Sajtzew (Zajcew?), Antoni Samorowski, Kazys Sanaras, Zygmunt Sarwiński, Witold Sawicki, Paweł Sawadskoj (Zawadzki?), Nestor Sawricki, Waldemar Schakun (Szakun?), Jewgienij Schebrikow (Szebrykow?), Iwan Schelmin (Szelmin?), Józef Schnidt, Władysław Schordikowski (Szordykowski?), Stefan Schwiezkow (Świeczkow?), Iwan Sdanniewitsch (Zdaniewicz?), Aleksej Sedow, Wincenty Siemienowicz, Stanisław Sieniawski, Stanisław Sierzeniewski, Józef Sikora, Grigorij Simonow, Bronisław Siwik, Józef Siwik, Feliks Skobodziński, Leopold Slonczewski, Wacław Smitrowicz, Feliks Smosarski, Zbigniew Smoszyński, Zygmunt Sobiński, Stanisław Sobótka, Kirył Solski, Teodor Sołtan, Jan Sopiński, Władysław Stachelek, Jan Staniszewski, Rudolfs Sterns, Johannes Stolle, Jan Strumski, Józef Studniarek, Michaił Supronowicz, Paweł Swiacki, Kirył Swiagin, Józef Szczyko, Józef Szmidt, Kazimierz Szumowski, Franciszek Szwarc, Józef Szylkiewicz, Franciszek Talaska, Ewald Tammulaan, Szczepan Taranowski, Theodor Tihane, Czesław Traczyk, Fiodor Trofimow, Wacław Trojanowski, Wilhelm Trumpa, Henryk Tuszyński, Jan Uchański, Edward Waldowski, Józef Wardziński, Konstanty Wejkuzner, Franciszek Widomski, Jan Winczak, Bronisław Wnorowski, Jan Wojciechowski, Alfred Wolf, Tomasz Wypych, Mateusz Wyrębkowski, Bronisław Zaleski, Dominik Zaremba, Wincenty Zbrzeźniak, Szczepan Zielski, Trofim Zilin, Włodzimierz Zugan, Andriej Zuk.

No reference numbers of archival materials are given in which the above listed names can be found, yet just the name is all that is needed to locate a relevant document in the archives of the Stutthof museum.

  1. For Jezierska and her Polish readers the term “disability” had a social aspect and implied that the disabled person was entitled to claim a disability pension from the state.a
  2. Kłodziński gives a broader background, discussing the implications of Nazi German ideology, providing examples pertaining to other places, and describing the situation in Auschwitz.b
  3. The most frequently discussed aspects of the problem, as reflected in the publications, have been the facts that disabled and lame Jews were taken to the gas chamber straight from the ramp, and that even a young and healthy person imprisoned in a camp could turn into a Muselmann, that is a completely exhausted creature, powerless and passive, confused and desperate: outside the camp such an individual would have been considered disabled. It is very often stressed that such emaciated prisoners were sent to the gas chambers. However, topics which have not been addressed so often include the treatment of inmates who were disabled already on arrival, their life in the camp, and the way they were handled by SS doctors. Such issues have been discussed in specialist journals (such as Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim), in the survivors’ accounts, and various monographs on concentration camps. For instance, Pilar, a Mauthausen survivor, writes (in Ludzie w pasiakach [Men in striped gear], Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1958, pp. 42 and 53) that a group of disabled people was killed straight on arrival in the camp. The volume Sachsenhausen. Dokumente, Aussagen, Forschungsergebnisse und Erlebnisberichte über das ehemalige Konzentrationslager Sachsenhausen (Berlin: Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften, 1974, p. 49) informs readers that “euthanasia” was performed on 269 prisoners with missing limbs on 4, 5, and 7 June 1941. Teodor Musioł (in Dachau 1933-1945, Opole: Instytut Śląski, 1971, 2nd edition) says that “disabled people had to give up their artificial limbs, corrective shoes, hernia belts, and walking sticks” (p. 121). He describes the conditions in the camp hospital: “In the invalids’ and epidemic blocks, two bunks often slept seven or more people” (p. 133), and writes the following about “euthanasia:” “The disabled men, who were unfit for work, were sent to the gas chambers at Hartheim” (p. 172). Similar crimes were committed in many other secret places in the Third Reich). Musioł also quotes some figures showing that the last two items of information (pp. 174?5) refer to the killings of prisoners who had become disabled through emaciation, not only to prisoners who had lost a limb, such as a “young Russian, who had lost his leg in an air raid.”b
  4. Jezierska was well acquainted with the collections of the Stutthof Museum Archives, having carried out a number of queries there and made in-depth notes on the materials. The effect of this work were the comprehensive articles, still retaining their academic value, which were published by the Stutthof Museum in Zeszyty Muzeum—see References.c
  5. There are some exceptions, though, such as death certificates issued by an SS doctor for a group of Jewish women prisoners. Of course no cause of death is identified on them.b
  6. Cf. M.E. Jezierska, “Straceni w obozie koncentracyjnym Stutthof,” Stutthof, Zeszyty Muzeum, no. 7. For comparison, we can have a look at the data for Iwan Soria, b. 5 Feb. 1924, d. 6 Dec. 1944. His personal data card gives no number of the registry office death certificate, only the ·/. mark. A dash is to be found in the same place in the documents of those prisoners who died in the Pölitz sub-camp (where death certificates were issued by the local registry office), e.g. for Jerzy Słoński, b. 10 Feb. 1922, d. 25 Aug. 1944.b
  7. Here is a typical example: Petro Kleeniuk-Filipowicz, b. 1920, a Russian, camp no. 13810, was brought to the hospital on 17 July 1942 because of “concussion, a petechia in the right eye and a contusion to the right arm.” He died on the following day, 18 July 1942, and the certificate identifies his “weakened heart muscle” as the cause of death.b
  8. In the statement made by H. Wróblewski (Archiwum Muzeum Stutthof. Relacje [Archives of Stutthof Museum: Statements], hereafter referred to as AMSt., RT, vol. VII, pp. 150?1) we read: “I had pneumonia and was discharged from hospital on 1 May 1940, and then transferred to the Matzkau sub-camp, where there was no light work. . . . We were clearing the grounds for the construction of a penal camp for SS men.” The list of discharged prisoners who went back to work on 4 March 1942 provides astounding examples of light work: “8 days of any light work or work in the blacksmith’s shop,” “due to a whitlow in the left hand, the prisoner is to work at the timber depot, using his right hand,” “8 days of any light work or work at the timber depot.” AMSt., ref. no. 1 V 10, 14.
  9. We have left the names of the Russians and Soviet citizens in the spelling given by Jezierska, some of them in a German transcription.a
  10. The original version of the article gives the full bibliographical data for the archival materials referenced in the text in Oxford-style footnotes. Due to the volume of addtional footnotes needed for this translation, the references have been reformatted to suit the Harvard-style referencing method. Archival sources for information on particular prisoners can be found in the References section.d
  11. Some prisoners arrived in the camp injured, due to “investigation techniques” used by the Gestapo. An example is provided by Martin Nielsen (a Danish survivor; see typescript “Raport ze Stutthofu” [A Stutthof report], p. 115, AMSt.). He said: “For a long time I shared a bunk with a high-ranking customs officer from Gdynia. He was about 50. The Danzig Gestapo beat him for three days, then put a helmet on his clean-shaven head and passed an electric current through it. Following the procedure, he lost consciousness. . . . When he returned to the camp, he was able to walk only on crutches.” Sometimes it is not clear whether an injury put down under “Identification marks” was an old or a new one. For instance, we learn that Andrzej Sawalischew, b. 15 Sept. 1912, a Russian, camp no. 24501, had a “broken right calf,” but we do not know if the fracture had healed before, or was broken during a brutal interrogation, during the transport, or while getting off the train in the camp.b
  12. Hans Geneit, injury of index finger, right hand (AMSt., ref. no. I  III 26507). Bernard Eder, “Kriegsverletzung li. Oberschenkel”(war wound on left thigh)—was it a scar or a fresh combat wound? Given his age (45), he could have fought in both world wars (AMSt., ref. no. I III 26267).
  13. For example, Mieczysław Panasiewicz, b. 1910. In his personal data card, the box “Health condition” reads, “Verletzung beim li. Unterschenkel” (injury on left shin). The problem is the same as that described in footnote 21. Panasiewicz stayed in hospital from 9 Sept. to 21 Oct. 1941 because of an abscess in the left leg. At discharge, a note was made in the patients’ register, “Kriegsverletzungen – für sitzende Arbeit geeignet” (war wounds—can do a sedentary job), so he was not recognised as a disabled person and had to take at least a sedentary job. When his “re-education” was completed, he was released and referred to an employment agency at Rippin (now Rypin). The Arbeitsamt confirmed the released prisoner had reported in their office, but was deemed unfit for work. Document in the file of M. Panasiewicz, AMSt., ref. no. I III 52395.b
  14. The main task of the dental surgeons was to register the prisoners’ gold teeth and to extract them from dead bodies. The gold was sent to the Reichsbank (cf. J. Jarzębowski, AMSt., RT I, p. 65).b
  15. The Stutthof camp hospital is described, among others, by M. Gliński, “Organizacja obozu koncentracyjnego Stutthof,” Stutthof, Zeszyty Muzeum, 1971, no. 3, p. 89, 144 ff; and by A. Wołoszyk, “Rewir szpitalny w obozie koncentracyjnym Stutthof,” typescript of MA thesis, AMSt., ref. no. VII I B 9 a.b
  16. The name was derived from the German verb schonen, that is to spare, to preserve.b
  17. We read in the account of Father Józef Bystroń (AMSt., RT IX, p. 8) that “Block 4 in the new part of the camp was occupied by the Muselmänner. Those people were unable to work, and they were so weak and debilitated that some of them could not even walk.”b
  18. The 34 disabled prisoners were: Kazimierz Bandkowski, Kurt Baumann, Nikodem Beltycki, Franciszek Bielecki, Stanisław Chomicki, Jan Cybulec, Alojzy Drewenski, Jan Gohr, Wacław Gramburg, Jan Grossmann, Franciszek Gromada, Robert Grosz, Tadeusz Gruca, Marcin Jackowiak, Józef Dawid Jedwab, Konstanty Kapszul, Marian Krajewski, Władysław Kubera, Teodor Kukliński, Alojzy Kurtkowski, Hieronim Kurpiewski, Tadeusz Oleszyński, Leon Panka, Jan Romatowski, Tadeusz Schwarz, Jan Siciński, Feliks Skraburski, Antoni Szczehowski, Henryk Szewc, Bolesław Środa, Władysław Tomczyk, Józef Trybe, Mieczysław Ziemiański, and Michał Zuchowski.b
  19. The discharge notes in the patients’ register (AMSt., ref. no. I V 12) say the men were transferred “to the invalids’ block,” but the list of the 34 discharged patients (AMSt., ref. no. I V 10, 50) has an identical note for all of them: “Zur amb. Behandlung – dem Schonungsblock zugewiesen” (to be treated as outpatient, transfer to convalescents’ block). Cf. the problem of the K-Block, which is discussed above, in the main body of the text.b
  20. Martin Nielsen (cf. file of F. Biegajski, AMSt., ref. no. I III 1288.) stated that Jewish prisoners could not have their injuries dressed in the hospital. He also described the hospital for Jewish women prisoners: “When I entered the barrack, I saw lengthwise rows of naked women lying prostrate on the floor. All the floor space, except for a narrow aisle in the middle, was covered by their bodies. In order to take up as little room as possible, each had to draw up her legs and put her head on the crutch of her neighbour in the next row. And so they were lying, cramped. Many of them were already dead, and some had typhus or diarrhoea—the excrement was spilling onto the floor” (p. 142). The survivors Alfons Kienler and Paul Weil, in their book De l’université aux camps de concentration (Paris, 1954, typescript of translation AMSt., p. 7), write that “sick Jewish prisoners had no right to be examined by a doctor.”b
  21. Józef Dawid Jedwab, b. 9 June 1922, was registered as no. 3019, which means that he had been deported to Stutthof during the campaign of “cleansing” the Polish Baltic coast in September 1939. He stayed in hospital from 10 May to 9 June 1942, as he had typhus. Then he was moved to the invalids’ block. On 8 Feb. 1943 he was transferred to Auschwitz, and survived. It was one of those miraculous cases (Jedwab’s file is marked as AMSt., ref. no. I III 46232).b For For more on this prisoner and such cases of the first Jews directed to Stutthof, see Drywa, 2001.c
  22. We have no information about the age of 70 out of the 289 disabled prisoners. The three youngest were Zbigniew Smoszyński, aged 15 (sic!); Teofil Loński, aged 16; and Eligiusz Groblewski, aged 17 (their fate is unknown). There were 13 disabled prisoners aged 18?20, 132 aged 21?49, 30 aged 50?59, 37 aged 60?69, and 7 disabled prisoners aged over 70.b
  23. The article was originally published in 1987.a
  24. Erronous date.e
  25. Presumably, Włodzimierz Zugan is the prisoner described by M. Filipowicz (AMSt., RT IX, p. 40): “The latrine supervisor was a deaf and dumb Pole. He was assigned this function by the camp authorities and was the only one to enjoy the privilege of not being beaten. His responsibility was to keep the latrine clean. It was scoured by the Jews at night, but it continued to be used normally while they were cleaning it.b
  26. In 1944, the prisoners were given particular categories upon arrival, depending on their state of health, as we can read in one of the accounts: “It was probably as a result of some medical examination, which I cannot remember, that we were given a work class. The letter A meant ‘fit for hard manual labour,’ B—‘fit for light physical labour,’ C—‘fit for short periods of very light manual work,’ D—‘unfit for manual work.’ The author of these words was Witold Nowicki, who described a transport from Pawiak jail in Warsaw, which arrived on 24–25 May 1944 (Mój pobyt w Stutthofie [Serving my time at Stutthof], typescript, AMSt., p. 12). He added: “I got a red badge with the letter B. It had to be sewn on the chest of my jacket, over the number.” We do not know if Helena Gieysztor was right, stating in her account that “prisoners were selected for the gas by a special board who inspected the Jewish blocks. Other prisoners who were selected were Poles with the letter i, that is invalids. There were few of them, because those who were unfit for work were bound to be killed. The letter i stood for one of the Arbeitsklassen, and was used only for a short time” (AMSt., RT II, p. 145). It is the only testimony that names class i workers as well as class D.b
  27. Those who could not work were killed in the gas chamber.b
  28. Leon Staśkiewicz (AMSt., RT XVI, p. 4) “as a convalescent, was given a job in the weaving shop, where rifle straps were made of impregnated twine.”b
  29. Probably a reference to the number of the ward and the room in the hospital barrack.c
  30. Also Nielsen describes the disabled Russian POWs (op. cit., p. 147): “From another camp, we had a transport of about 100?150 Russian officers who were locked up in the cramped barracks in the old part of the camp, where they had to spend four of five days with no food, water, or toilet. Some of them had been wounded, some had no arms or legs. They were in tattered army uniforms and completely starved. All of them, with no exceptions, were herded into the gas chamber.” Another corroborator is Gerard Knoff (AMSt., RT XVI, pp. 236?7), who says: “One of the smaller transports that summer brought about 70 Soviet POWs, mostly invalids. It could have been in August. A Russian fellow prisoner, having talked to them, confirmed they were prisoners of war. Apparently they were promised to be transferred somewhere else, to be given light work and treatment. . . . They roughed it in the open air day and night, for three or four consecutive days, and were completely starved. Later we learned they had been cheated and, before the supposed departure of their train, were led into a waiting room, which turned out to be a gas chamber.” See also the accounts of S. Knopkiewicz, AMSt., RT XVIII, p. 3; A. Rzyszkiewicz, RT XVIII, p. 144; and Ł.B. Sienkiewicz, RT V, p. 206.b
  31. A simple search engine and database of prisoners is also available at the website of the Stutthof Museum: www.stutthof.org.

a—notes by Teresa Bałuk-Ulewiczowa, PhD, Head of Translating Team; b—M.E. Jezierska‘s original notes; c—notes by Marcin Owsiński, PhD, Expert Consultant for the Medical Review Auschwitz project on the history of concentration camp Stutthof; d—Website Editor’s note; e—note by the translator, Marta Kapera, PhD.


Archival sources

Prisoners’ relations

  1. Bystroń, J. AMSt. [Archives of Stutthof Museum], RT IX, p. 8.
  2. Coradello, A. AMSt., RT I.
  3. Filipowicz, M. AMSt., RT IX, p. 40.
  4. Gieysztor, H. AMSt., RT II, p. 145.
  5. Jarzębowski, J. AMSt., RT I.
  6. Knoff, G. AMSt., RT XVI.
  7. Knopkiewicz, S. AMSt., RT XVIII, p. 3.
  8. Kostrzewa, J. AMSt., RT IX, p. 115.
  9. Majewski, C. AMSt., RT V, p. 41.
  10. Rzyszkiewicz, A. AMSt., RT XVIII, p. 141.
  11. Sienkieiwcz, Ł.B. RT V.
  12. Stachyra, S. AMSt., RT XXI, p. 238.
  13. Staśkiewicz, L. AMSt., RT XVI, p. 4.
  14. Węgrzynowicz, J. “Wspomnienia” [Recollections], AMSt., RT VI, pp. 246?55.
  15. Wróblewski, H. AMSt., RT, vol. VII.

Prisoners‘ files

  1. Biegajski, F. AMSt., ref. no. I III 1288.
  2. Choszcz, A. AMSt., ref. no. I III 26127.
  3. Detlaff, K. ref. no. I III 25771.
  4. Eder, B. AMSt., ref. no. I III 26267.
  5. Flak, J. AMSt., ref. no. I III 43425
  6. Fiodorow, AMSt., no ref. no.
  7. Fortin, R. AMSt., ref. no. I III 3899.
  8. Gellert, F. AMSt., ref. no. I III 26504.
  9. Geneit, H. AMSt., ref. no. I  III 26507.
  10. Jagodziński, F. AMSt., ref. no. I III 45776.
  11. Jasiński, J. AMSt., ref. no. I III 6358, I III 46099.
  12. Jedwab, D. AMSt., ref. no. I III 46232.
  13. Kranawitschius, J. AMSt., ref. no. I III 36682.
  14. Panasiewicz, M. AMSt., ref. no. I III 52395.

Transcripts and other documents

  1. Discharge notes in the patients register. AMSt., ref. no. I V 12.
  2. Kienler, A., and Weil, P. De l’université aux camps de concentration. Paris; 1954: 7. Typescript of translation.
  3. List of prisoners discharged from the medical ward on 4 March 1942. AMSt., ref. no. 1 V 10, 14.
  4. Maitre, J. Obóz koncentracyjny Stutthof [Stutthof concentration camp], AMSt., pp. 12, 13, and 17. Transcript of translation.
  5. Nielsen, M. Raport ze Stutthofu. AMSt., no ref. no. provided.
  6. Nowicki, W. Mój pobyt w Stutthofie [Serving my time in Stutthof]. AMSt., typescript, no ref. no.
  7. Wołoszyk, A. Rewir szpitalny w obozie koncentracyjnym Stutthof. Typescript of MA thesis, AMSt., ref. no. VII I B 9 a.

Other sources

  1. Coradello, A. Co się działo w Stutthofie. Sztutowo: Wydawnictwo Muzeum Stutthof; 2011.
  2. Drywa, D. Zagłada Żydów w obozie koncentracyjnym Stutthof 1939–1945. Gdańsk; 2001: 23, 33, 65, 367 and 379.
  3. Gajdus, W. Nr 20998 opowiada [The story of prisoner no. 20998]. Kraków: Znak; 1962.
  4. Gliński, M. “Organizacja obozu koncentracyjnego Stutthof,” Stutthof, Zeszyty Muzeum. 1971(3): 89, 144 ff.
  5. “Inwalidztwo.” In: Adonajło, A. Aleksandrow, A., Heller, J., Rożniatowski, T., et al. Polski słownik medyczny. Warsaw: Państwowy Zakład Wydawnictw Lekarskich, 1981: 440.
  6. Jezierska, “Straceni w obozie koncentracyjnym Stutthof,” Stutthof, Zeszyty Muzeum, no. 7.
  7. Jezierska, M.E. “Wypadki w obozie koncentracyjnym na podstawie dokumentów zachowanych z obozu koncentracyjnego Stutthof.” Typescript owned by Główna Komisja Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce, Instytut Pamięci Narodowej; now the Institute of National Remembrance; n.d.
  8. “Kalectwo.” In: Adonajło, A. Aleksandrow, A., Heller, J., Rożniatowski, T. et al. Polski słownik medyczny. Warsaw: Państwowy Zakład Wydawnictw Lekarskich, 1981: 440.
  9. Kłodziński, S. “Pierwsza oświęcimska selekcja do gazu. Transport do ‘sanatorium Dresden.’” Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim. 1970: 39?50.
  10. Komitee der Antifaschistischen Widerstandskämpfer in der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik. Sachsenhausen. Dokumente, Aussagen, Forschungsergebnisse und Erlebnisberichte über das ehemalige Konzentrationslager Sachsenhausen. Berlin: Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften; 1974: 49.
  11. Musioł, T. Dachau 1933–1945. Opole: Instytut Śląski; 1971.
  12. Pilar, J. Ludzie w pasiakach. Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza; 1958: 42–53.

A publication funded in 2020–2021 within the DIALOG Program of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education in Poland.

We use cookies to ensure you get the best browsing experience on our website. Refer to our Cookies Information and Privacy Policy for more details.