Lublin castle massacre saw nearly 300 prisoners exterminated by Gestapo as Hitler’s forces prepared to flee the city
Behind the bustling popularity of Lublin’s medieval castle lies one of the lesser known horrors of WWII.
For it was here, on 22 July 1944, that close to 300 people were massacred by occupying German forces in a final barbaric act before they fled to escape Stalin’s advancing Red Army.
Carried out under the order of SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Koppe, the executions were intended as a final ‘liquidation’ of the prison, so that the remaining prisoners would not fall into the hands of Russians.
Between 1939 and 1944, the castle functioned as a German prison, detaining mainly members of the Polish resistance movement and partisans and anyone thought to be critical of the Nazi regime, but also people gathered during street round-ups, petty criminals and members of diverse nationalities and ethnic minorities.
Estimates by historians suggest that over the course of WWII, between 40,000 and 80,000 people passed through the prison, considered one of the harshest in occupied Poland.
Upon arrival, prisoners were first directed to primitive baths and then to quarantine in dark and airless cells in the castle tower. A few weeks later, they were called for individual interrogation at the Gestapo headquarters on Uniwersytecka street, today’s Museum of Martyrdom “Under the Clock”, where they were tortured before their final fate was decided: imprisonment in cells at the castle, court trial, deportation to concentration camps, execution, freedom or forced secret service work.
The Gestapo’s mass murder of remaining prisoners at Lublin Castle on the 22nd of July took place just a few hours before the occupying army left the city for the last time.
Begun at around 9am on the 22nd of July, the executions were carried out by a special death commando unit with Hauptsturmführer Hermann Worthoff at the helm and was aided by directors of the prison Peter Domnick and his deputy Andreas Hoffman.
At first, prisoners were shot in their individual cells, after which cell number 35, the largest of the cells, was used to gather prisoners en-masse before execution.
Others were gunned down in the castle’s corridors and courtyard.
The horrific incident marked the culmination of a process which began a few days earlier when between the 19th – 21st of July prisoners were sent to the concentration camp at Majdanek where they were either shot or gassed by exhaust fumes in hermetically sealed lorries.
When at noon prison director Dominik received an immediate order for the Germans to evacuate the castle, many prisoners still remained alive in cells. The retreating Germans instructed the remaining Polish guards to open the cells at 3pm, however they did so almost as soon as the German’s left, freeing around 1,000 prisoners.
At the same time, immediately after the German’s had fled, the castle grounds were flooded with crowds of Lublin residents who had been gathering at the foot of the castle since morning and awaiting the freeing of prisoners.
They quickly started looking for survivors and family members, helping to pull out bodies from the surrounding pile and pools of blood.
A few days later, on the 28th of July 1944, 127 of the victims were ceremonially buried in a mass grave at the foot of the castle.
Exhumed in 1954, the bodies were then moved to the cemetery at Lipowa street, where a memorial monument was also placed alongside a board with 266 engraved names of those identified as victims of the July 22 execution.
One of the most tragic moments in the city’s history, the Lublin Castle massacre is remembered each year with official commemoration ceremonies and the laying of wreaths at the monument at Lipowa Street cemetery.