The Witch of Łódź: Harrowing new biography reveals horrifying details of sadistic guard at ‘little Auschwitz’ concentration camp for children
The Nazi German concentration camp set up specifically for Polish children in Łódź is known as Little Auschwitz for good reason.
While there was no Zyklon B, gas chamber or crematorium, the children were expected to die from a carefully calibrated regime of starvation, beatings, torture and exhausting work. It is estimated that as many as one third did not survive.
Overseeing this regime of terror was a group of exceptionally brutal guards. In the numerous testimonies of the surviving children, one woman stood out for her extreme sadism – Eugenia Pol, who went under the name Genowefa Pohl during the war.
The children claimed that her punishment beatings led directly to the deaths of many children. After the war she lived openly in Łódź and even worked in a kindergarten.
She escaped justice for decades and only answered for her crimes before a court in the 1970s.
A book published this week, Kat Polskich Dzieci. Opowieść o Eugenii Pol (The Executioner of Polish Children - The Story of Eugenia Pol) is the first biography about this war criminal.
Author Błażej Torański spent several years in the archives of the Institute of National Remembrance in Łódź IPN analysing thousands of pages of trial files, testimonies and photographs.
“She murdered in instalments,” he told TFN in a telephone conversation.
“The accumulation of beatings, denial of food, drenching in ice-cold water and gruelling forced labour all contributed to the murder of these children.”
Torański is in no doubt that Eugenia Pol was part of what was effectively an extermination camp - a cog in a machine that was part of Hitler’s plan to eliminate the Slavs.
He said, “It was a system in which the deaths of the children was planned. At that time, Nazi Germany was at war with Poland and the very idea of Polishness. What better way to attack it than to strike at the most vulnerable part, the children.”
The Germans set up the camp, which they called Polen-Jugendverwahrlager der Sicherheitspolizei in Litzmannstadt (Preventive Camp of the Security Police for Polish Youth in Łódź), for children aged 3-16 who in their eyes had committed or were likely to commit a crime. Some of the children were as young as six months.
Children could find themselves imprisoned in the camp if, for example, their parents had either been sent for forced labour in Germany or to a concentration camp. Others ended up their because they were caught stealing coal, selling matches or had simply been caught in a street round-up.
They had to work breaking stones, pulling road rollers, making shoes out of straw, straps for gas masks, leather parts for rucksacks or straightening needles used in textile factories.
Failure to meet the high daily standard was punishable by beatings. There were also penalties for speaking Polish or stealing bread. Children would be deprived of their daily food ration – a slice of dry bread and a cup of black coffee for breakfast and watery, insect-infested soup for lunch.
The camp did not have a bathhouse and the children could not wash their clothes. Despite this, they would be beaten if fleas were found on them.
Children who wet their beds, which was common, would have to sleep on bare planks and continue to wear their rotten, urine-soaked clothes. Because of the stench, they had to work outside in all weathers, which often accelerated their decline and eventual death.
All those who reached the age of 16 were taken to adult concentration camps.
Eugenia Pol started to work at the camp when it opened in 1942. She was born in 1923 in Ozórków to the north of Łódź and she attended elementary school in Księży Młyn in Łódź.
Her father was from Upper Silesia and, according to his testimony after the war, he was pressured into signing the Volksdeutsche lise, which meant that the rest of the family also had to sign it.
In 1942, she was sent to the German Criminal Police, part of the SS, in Łódź for her work assignment.
There, she signed an oath of loyalty to the Third Reich, though she would claim later that she did not understand what she was signing as her German was not very good.
She was delegated to work at the camp, but she said later that she thought it was a correctional home.
The question of the extent of Pol’s Germanness and Polishness and her knowledge of German takes up much space in the book.
In 1948 she said “I accepted the Volksliste under duress. My father is from Opole Silesia, so the German authorities forced us to accept the Volksliste. They threatened to destroy the whole family. I did not belong to any Nazi organisations. I did not wear uniforms or badges. I did not socialise with Germans. At home I spoke Polish. I do not speak German.”
However, Jan Sierpień, a driver at the camp, said after the war: “She was German (...). She addressed the Germans in German (...). In the tram, I got into the carriage for the Poles and she got into the carriage for the Germans”.
Camp prisoner Zygmunt Kaźmierczak said: “She spoke perfect German (...). She gave commands in German. Sometimes she also spoke in Polish”.
“From time to time she wore a green uniform and a cap with a death head symbol”. “She spoke whole sentences in German and used German when administering punishments”.
According to the testimonies of the children, Pol treated them with severe and deliberate cruelty.
Gertruda Skrzypczak said: “Evil, cruel. She beat with whatever she could get her hands on. I never saw her without a whip. We lost consciousness.”
Wiesława Skibińska-Skutecka recalled: “Beating gave her joy. While beating, she would laugh.”
One of Pol’s punishments was to force children to eat their own faeces.
Julian Fabisiak remembers carrying waste in buckets to the latrine with a boy called Leduchowski. “Leduchowski tripped and spilled the contents of the latrine. (..) They made us eat the contents of the toilet and Eugenia Pol smeared it on us, holding us by the collar, and they beat us and put us in the punishment cell.
“After we got out of the punishment cell, I slept on a shared bunk with Leduchowski and he died during the night as a result of the beating and was taken to the cemetery in the morning."
At the end of the war, she changed her name from Pohl to Pol, which meant that investigators looking for war criminals from the camp could not find her in the population register and she lived in Łódź unhindered for the next 25 years.
Incredibly, she maintained contact with some of the girls from the camp who had been her informers, having bribed them with extra bread and softer beatings.
Later, she even joined a group for former concentration camp prisoners and helped those from the camp seeking compensation by confirming that they had in fact been prisoners in Łódź.
The situation changed when, in the early 1960s, Wiesław Jażdżyński published a book about the camp.
The case attracted the interest of war crime investigators in Łódź and Pol was arrested on 12 December 1970.
At her trial, she pleaded not guilty. “I swear before God that I did no harm to anyone. That I did not beat the children much. If I did beat them, I was only following orders and so as not to do them great harm.
“I carried a stick every day, but only so that the Germans would not see that I was too good. I hit lightly with it so it wouldn't hurt.”
“The girls wanted me to be the one to carry out the caning punishment, because I would tell them to put something on themselves, such as a jumper, or even give them a pillow. The girls pretended to be in pain, shouting to make everyone think I was beating them. I made them wet their eyes with water so that others could see them supposedly crying.”
At the first trial Pol was found not guilty of the murder of two children Urszula Kaczmarek and Danuta Jakubowska.
The case of Kaczmarek was particularly tragic. Caught by Pol stealing food, she beat her so badly that her intestines spilled out.
As Kaczmarek lay covered in her own faeces and urine, Pol tortured her by probing her open wound with a stick. She died soon after.
At the second trial in 1974, Pol was finally found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Her sentence was commuted and she was released in 1989.
She never admitted her guilt and lived out the rest of her life in peace in Łódź, never marrying or having children. She died in 2003 and is buried in a family plot in a cemetery in Łódź alongside her mother, father and brother.