Thursday, February 9, 2017

Visit to Stutthof Concentration Camp Museum

Last November, during our visit to Poland, we also went to see the Stutthof Concentration Camp Museum. It is definitely not a typical tourist destination at all.

If you do not know - a quick reminder on some history matters.

Nazi Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.  The Nazis' plan was to annex Poland and get new living space for German citizens there. To make it possible, the idea was to annihilate all the Poles. Therefore, very soon after the invasion, the massive extermination of Polish people began, and the Stutthof concentration camp was created on Sept. 02, 1939. Prisoners were transported to the camp by trains.

What they found in the place is difficult to put in words. Starvation, extremely hard, slavery labor, the horrifying cruelty of Nazi guards, inhuman living conditions, exposure to extreme cold in the winter and many more horrible things and situations. Mentally disabled persons were killed with lethal phenol injections. It is not possible and I do not intend to describe it all in this short post.

'Death gate' leading to the camp

Prisoners' shoes

Since 1942, people from other parts of Poland and Europe were sent to Stutthof as well. All in all, 110,000 prisoners, citizens of 28 countries (including the USA) were registered at the camp. During the war, about 63,000 - 65,000 were killed there (28,000 of Jewish origin).


Gas chamber 

In January 1945, when the war front (and the Russians) was coming closer to the camp area, Nazis evacuated it. Prisoners had to walk in the freezing winter weather, no proper clothes, barefoot in the snow, exhaustion, and beating by guards - about 23,000 prisoners perished during the evacuation of the camp.

#1 camp surgery/death room, #2 art by a prisoner

We went to the museum by bus - Stutthof museum is situated near Sztutowo village (50 km from Gdańsk). The entrance to the museum is free. In November, due to the colder season, there were very few people visiting the place beside us. The weather was perfect as for that part of the year in Poland. It was cool but there was no wind, snow or rain either. We could walk around the area not being disturbed by anything or anybody.

My husband had never been to a concentration camp museum, I had been to the Stutthof museum quite a few times, with groups of my older students as such a field trip is also part of the Polish school curriculum (the museum is not recommended for children under 13 years old). However, when I had happened to be there with my students, I had to stay focused minding the teenagers more than watching the museum itself. So, although in different ways, it was the first type of such  'tourist experience' to both of us.

We visited the Stutthof museum on Thanksgiving Day. Learning what had happened there, we had so many things to be grateful for. More than one could usually think of.

Stutthof Museum website:

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