The end of the war and the annihilation of Jews
The concentration camp in Stutthof was initially founded to eliminate and persecute Poles. Later in the war the role of Stutthof changed as it became an integral part of the planned extermination of European Jews. Before the Soviet Army could liberate Stutthof, the surviving prisoners were send on horrible “death marches”.
The concentration camp of Stutthof is quite unknown, compared to camps like Auschwitz, Dachau or Buchenwald. Right after the outbreak of the war Nazi leaders from Pomerania imprisoned and killed many male Polish citizens in Stutthof, all according to plans devised years before the war. The Nazi’s regarded Poles as “subhumans”, to be exterminated in order to germanise the region.
During the war, the role of Stutthof changed. It became an important place within the system of concentration camps established all over Europe. Thousands of Jews (mostly women) from Auschwitz and many more from ghettos and camps in the Baltic states were brought here. They were imprisoned in the so called “Jewish camp” where they were decimated by hunger, disease and the stress of forced labour. In addition, thousands of other women were killed in the gas chambers.
Because of its location near East Prussia, already at the beginning of 1945 Stutthof was within reach of the advancing Red Army. The prisoners who had managed to survive till then, were forced to take part in an extremely brutal evacuation. Already in bad condition, in the middle of a severe winter and half-starved, they were forced to march to the West. Those unable to walk were killed by German guards.
The Stutthof camp was planned long before the war broke out. It was built as a regional prison camp, but during the war the Nazi’s enlarged Stutthof and incorporated it in their overall camp system. Finally, Stutthof became a concentration camp that contributed in the attempted extermination of all European Jews.
Museum Stutthof is located in the former German Stutthof concentration camp. The museum preserves, researches and displays archival records and historical artefacts. Exhibitions and videos offer visitors a haunting insight into the lives of the 110.000 people that were imprisoned here during the Second World War.
Nervous about the approaching Soviet Army, the Germans decided to evacuate the Stutthof concentration camp in January 1945. The prisoners, already hungry and weak, had to walk for days in severe winter conditions, almost without food. Thousands of them died from exhaustion or were killed by the German guards.
On 1 September 1939 German SS troops took possession of Polish buildings and institutions in the city of Gdańsk. Some 1.500 members of the Polish minority were arrested to be imprisoned, deported or executed. Many others were expelled from their homes and directed to central Poland. That same day the Nazis proclaimed the reunion of Gdańsk with the German Reich.
The story of Petronela Brywczyńska proves that no one was safe during the war. Petronela’s father, a Polish farmer, was captured while defending his country. After many wanderings, the Brywczyńska family ended up in the Stutthof concentration camp. Yet they were lucky: they suffered, but survived.
Stella Czajkowska is one of the relatively few Jews who survived the war, despite the ghetto, the gas chambers in Auschwitz, hunger and disease in Stutthof and a gruesome death march. Her story is symbolic of the horror in which the victims of Nazi regime had landed.
The Reifeisen family was an ‘ordinary’ Jewish family, whose fate is exemplary for the destruction of European Jewry during the Second World War. Ilse Reifeisen, the daughter, luckily survived, but her parents, Simon and Gertrud Anna Reifeisen, shared the fate of many other victims of ghettos and camps. Gertrud died in Stutthof whereas Simon’s death is unknown.