Fright Night: The scene of the world’s ‘scariest video’ has become a magnet for ghost hunters
Attracting teenage drinkers, prowling paintballers and trainee search and rescue teams putting their dogs through their paces, during daytime the Zofiówka sanatorium feels much like any number of derelict complexes found across the country – at least it would were it not for the dark residual energy that unmistakably swirls around it. Indeed, by the time it was closed in the mid-90s, spooky goings-on were well underway.
Founded in 1908 under the patronage of Zofia Endelman, a Jewish benefactor hailing from nearby Warsaw, it specialized in caring for Jews with both nervous and psychiatric conditions. Embracing state-of-the-art technologies such as electroshock therapy, sources claim that at its inter-war peak up to 1,000 staff were employed in the treatment of 370 patients both young and old.
The German occupation saw it installed as the only Jewish mental health facility in Nazi-controlled Poland, which in reality meant it became a dumping ground for psychiatrically troubled Jews. Sealed off in 1941, those inside endured starvation conditions, overcrowding and next to nothing by way of medicine and heating. The death rate soared.
This though was just a precursor to more chilling times: on August 19th, 1942, orders were issued to liquidate the sanatorium. Forewarned of their fate, many patients and staff killed themselves the night before. Those that didn’t were machine-gunned on the grounds or deported to the gas chambers of Treblinka.
For the remainder of the war Zofiówka, however, still carried purpose. Firstly, as a birth centre for ‘racially pure’ children, and secondly, as a ‘reeducation camp’ for kidnapped Polish children that the Nazis saw as candidates for ‘German-ization’. Peacetime saw further chapters of its grim history written, with Zofiówka’s sprawl of buildings utilized to serve as a tuberculosis hospital, an asylum and, finally, a rehabilitation facility for drug addicted youths. By the time it was closed in the mid-90s, spooky goings-on were well underway.
“A nun working at the hospital was discharged with schizophrenia,” says Michał Mizura from NPN, an organization that documents paranormal events, “and she hung herself a few weeks after.” Following that, a chain of events unfolded that went beyond logical explanation. “Paintings hanging on the walls were moving around,” continues Michał, “screams would be heard, and night watchmen refused to work alone.”
Filled with devastated and disintegrating buildings that have long been swallowed by the forest, and despite its tragic history, Zofiówka’s eerie spirit has made it a hotspot for ghost hunters across the country, with unexplainable happenings a regular occurrence. “One time I was filming a documentary,” says Michał, “so the crew and myself approached a rundown house on the fringes of the complex. There we spoke to an old woman who told us of numerous strange stories. She asked us to return later on, but when we did there was no-one to be seen – speaking to the locals, they told us that the house we had visited had sat empty for years…”
The mysterious episodes have not abated. In 2015 a package with a Warsaw postmark was delivered to the Swedish tech-blog GadgetZZ. Inside was a DVD that, when uploaded to YouTube under the title of 11B-X-1371, quickly went viral. Featuring a cloaked plague doctor and lots of discordant background noise, it was dubbed by some as “the world’s scariest video”.
Said to contain ciphers and subliminal footage of mutilated bodies, the internet community eventually tracked the location of the video’s filming to Zofiówka. As for its meaning, that remains the source of richly contested dispute. Some claim it to be a prank, an art project or a marketing stunt, while more lurid explanations suggest it to be a message from a serial killer, a warning from a bio-terrorist organization, or, even, the work of a time traveller. The truth, it appears, will never be known.