Harrowing letters from WWII concentration camp children reveal deprivation and starvation

While examining documents in private collections, historians from the Museum of Polish Children - Victims of Totalitarianism found eight letters written by children who had been imprisoned in what was called the Preventive Camp for Young Poles of the Security Police in Łódź (Jugendverwahrlager der Sicherheitspolizei in Litzmannstadt). Muzeum Dzieci Polskich - ofiar totalitaryzmu/IPN

“Please send me some grey soap and a spoon, because I have nothing to eat with [...] Please send me some saccharine [...] Mummy, make me 20 pancakes...”

These are just some of the shocking pleas made by children imprisoned in a German concentration camp for Polish children in newly discovered letters.

Each letter was censored and written under the dictates of the guards. However, even what the children managed to describe is still shocking.Muzeum Dzieci Polskich - ofiar totalitaryzmu

While examining documents in private collections, historians from the Museum of Polish Children - Victims of Totalitarianism found eight letters written by children who had been imprisoned in what was called the Preventive Camp for Young Poles of the Security Police in Łódź (Jugendverwahrlager der Sicherheitspolizei in Litzmannstadt).

Dr. Ireneusz Maj, head of the new museum, said: “This camp and the tragic story of the small defenceless victims of German crimes were forgotten for years. Now we are uncovering the truth about the camp on Przemysłowa Street in Łódź. We will reveal all the facts, show the whole truth about the camp.”

The Nazi rounded up Polish children with the first child prisoners being registered by the Germans on 11 December 1942.Public domain

Each letter was censored and written under the dictates of the guards. However, even what the children managed to describe is still shocking.

Twelve-year-old Halinka Cubrzyńska wrote on 15 February 1944: "Dear parents, if you can, get me some leather boot tops and give me both number 37 wooden soles, and send them to me, because I have nothing to walk in (...) I ask for some grey soap and a spoon, because I have nothing to eat with.”

On 16 October 1944, twelve-year-old Jaś Spychała asked his mother: “Mummy, make me 20 pancakes [...]. Send me a pencil and a rubber. An onion, and mustard. And stampsMuzeum Dzieci Polskich - ofiar totalitaryzmu

In a letter to her aunt, a girl with the surname Konarska wrote that she was sorry she could not be with her relatives: “I miss you so much. I so long to see someone from the family.”

On 16 October 1944, twelve-year-old Jaś Spychała asked his mother: “Mummy, make me 20 pancakes [...]. Send me a pencil and a rubber. An onion, and mustard. And stamps".

A letter written by one girl says that her little brother “has recently suffered from pneumonia and water is collecting in his side.”Muzeum Dzieci Polskich - ofiar totalitaryzmu

Some of the content of the letters from the children read literally could suggest that the conditions in the camp were good.

Andrzej Janicki, a historian from the museum said: “The children were taught that including any true information would be censored by the Germans.”

Complete camp documentation has not survived, so it is unknown how many children passed through the camp and how many of them died there but historians estimate that between 3,000 and 5,000 children were imprisoned in the camp and that there were about 2,000 prisoners at one time.Kalbar/TFN

He added that in such a case the letter would not reach the addressee and its author would be punished.

“The letters are full of assurances that the children are well, that everyone is healthy. However, between the lines of handwriting, a tragic picture emerges,” he said.

In a letter to her aunt, a girl with the surname Konarska wrote that she was sorry she could not be with her relatives: “I miss you so much. I so long to see someone from the family.”Muzeum Dzieci Polskich - ofiar totalitaryzmu

A letter written by a girl says that her little brother “has recently suffered from pneumonia and water is collecting in his side.”

Another letter says that the situation in the camp is very good, even like “at auntie’s”, while in the last sentence, the child writes that her mother must visit her, because “otherwise you will not understand anything.”

Soon after Germany occupied Poland, the Germans decided that orphaned and homeless Polish children, or those related to ‘political prisoners’ would have a bad influence on German children.

The children in the camp were theoretically aged between 6 and 16, but the youngest prisoner was two years old. After the age of 16, a child would be sent to a regular concentration camp.Kalbar/TFN

They were rounded up with first child prisoners being registered by the Germans on 11 December 1942.

It was a concentration camp, where children had to work beyond their strength and were given starvation rations. Every transgression was met with harsh beatings or punishments such as pouring water on them in winter and forcing them to stand in the freezing cold.

The children in the camp were theoretically aged between 6 and 16, but the youngest prisoner was two years old. After the age of 16, a child would be sent to a regular concentration camp.

Another letter says that the situation in the camp is very good, even like “at auntie’s”, while in the last sentence, the child writes that her mother must visit her, because “otherwise you will not understand anything.”IPN

Complete camp documentation has not survived, so it is unknown how many children passed through the camp and how many of them died there but historians estimate that between 3,000 and 5,000 children were imprisoned in the camp and that there were about 2,000 prisoners at one time.

The content of the letters written by the children to their parents or immediate family does not show the whole truth about the hunger, beatings and illness.

Dr. Maj said: “The letters were written by Polish children in 1944. They were addressed and sent to their loved ones.”

Twelve-year-old Halinka Cubrzyńska wrote on 15 February 1944: "Dear parents, if you can, get me some leather boot tops and give me both number 37 wooden soles, and send them to me, because I have nothing to walk in (...) I ask for some grey soap and a spoon, because I have nothing to eat with.” IPN

The documents are now being examined and preserved as fragments of the correspondence have been partly destroyed.

An exhibition of the letters and other documents from the camp will go on display this December in Łódź.

The Museum of Polish Children - Victims of Totalitarianism is currently under construction. It plans to be a modern, multimedia museum and educational institution showing what happened to Polish children during and after the war. In particular, it will commemorate the children's concentration camp in Łódź.