New interactive map gives chilling insight into horrors of Hitler’s concentration camp for children
The dark history of a German concentration camp for Polish children that operated in Łódź during World War Two has been recreated in granular detail in an immersive multimedia experience.
The interactive map prepared by the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) offers a chilling insight into the hell that vulnerable Polish children had to endure and the shocking barbarism of the Germans who ran the camp.
During the war, the Germans established what they called the Security Police Prevention Camp for Young Poles in Litzmannstadt, which the Germans named Łódź after the annexed the city into the Third Reich.
Up to 3,000 Polish children aged from 2 to 16 years old were imprisoned in the camp from December 1942 to January 1944. To hide it from the world, it was set up in a section carved off from the Litzmannstadt ghetto.
It was the only camp set up by the Germans in occupied Europe specifically for children.
Many of the children died of hunger, cold and disease. Those who remained alive were subjected to unrelenting hunger, constant dehumanising and brutal punishments by sadistic German guards and forced labour in primitive conditions.
To reconstruct the camp, the IPN used court testimonies, aerial photographs and witnesses accounts.
The layout and shape of the buildings and barracks have been accurately recreated. Testimonies from the child prisoners have been pinned to locations around the camp.
One such account is pinned on a low wooden barrack which the Germans called Haus IX. It comes from Tadeusz Raźniewski, who was just 7 when the camp opened:
“[…] At night in the silence of the barrack, childish steps can be heard. The boy on duty must be on alert. He is not allowed to lie down, because every hour he has to report to the Gestapo officer who checks the barrack that everyone is sleeping and quiet, that no one has escaped and no one plans to escape.
“If he falls asleep, he will be beaten at the morning roll call or placed in solitary confinement. But not all the boys are asleep. Some of them think about their parents, some of them lie still.”
The camp was set up by the Germans to imprison Polish children arrested for petty theft, smuggling and street trading, as well as children whose parents had been killed or arrested.
The camp area was separated from the ghetto with a high wooden fence made by Jewish work units. The camp was operated by the SS. The guards were Germans or Volksdeutsch.
All the children had to work in the workshops and they were given daily quotas that had to be met under threat of punishment.
The boys straightened needles and stitched straw linings for winter boots for German soldiers on the eastern front. The girls worked in the laundry, kitchen, tailor's workshop and in the garden.
In a text accompanying the interactive map, the IPN described the conditions in the camp.
“The children worked under stress in very bad conditions. They were often beaten, starved, and humiliated by the guards.
“Sleep offered little respite because the rooms of the buildings and barracks were cold, the bunks were overcrowded, and the lack of proper sanitary facilities resulted in skin diseases and a plague of lice and fleas,” it reads.
Children who fell short of the guards’ sadistic regime were flogged. Poorly-working children were stigmatised with a red cross painted with oil paint on the back of their coat and they were given less food.
Despite being unique as the only SS-run camp specifically for children, the camp has remained relatively unknown in Poland and abroad.
Many people after the war refused to believe that the camp had existed. The children often felt ashamed that they had been imprisoned there and did not speak about it.
The IPN hope that that this visual tool will help visitors better understand the camp.