Potulice Concentration Camp

Potulice, Poland

The Potulice concentration camp was established by Nazi Germany during World War II. It is estimated that a total of 25,000 prisoners went through the camp during its operation before the end of 1944. It became notable also as a detention centre for Polish children that underwent the Nazi experiment in forced Germanisation.

Initially the Potulice camp was one of numerous transit points for Poles expelled by the German authorities from territories of western Poland annexed into the newly created Reichsgau Danzig-Westpreussen. The forcible displacement of Polish nationals known as Lebensraum; was meant to create space for German colonists (the Volksdeutsche) brought in Heim ins Reich from across Eastern Europe. The facility quickly expanded to include a slave-labor subcamp of the Stutthof concentration camp nearby, supplying free workforce for the Hansen Schneidemuehl machine shop set up on premises.

The camp served as place for detention of Polish children; of the 1,296 people who died there, 767 victims were minors. In 1943 a special unit in the camp was created especially for children and the name Ostjugendbewahrlager Potulitz or Lebrechtsdorf started to appear in German documentation. Racist theories and a policy of Germanisation that sought to Germanise children who tested for racial purity of the supposed Aryan race traits led to organised kidnappings by German officials in occupied Poland. The children from the camp were placed there as a result of this policy. If the tests were positive and it was believed the child had lost emotional contact with their parents, then it could be sent to German families for Germanisation.

Formally designated a labour camp, the camp was not controlled by concentration camp authorities. However, the conditions in it were comparable to those at the Stutthof concentration camp. As part of camp life the children were forced to perform slave work. Children who reached thirteen years old were sent to work outside the camp, even working night shifts. Under the supervision of kapo they usually were used to carry building materials or stones, or used to load coal, wood, and potatoes at the railway station.

As the war went on, conditions in camp became even more brutal and harsh, and penalties such as standing on broken glass were introduced. In 1943 a transport of 543 children from the regions of Smolensk and Vitebsk arrived. Some of the children were treated as normal prisoners, even when they were as young as two years old. As the children were ill from Typhoid fever, the Germans placed them in separate, primitive-condition barracks that were separated by barbed wire. In 1944 the conditions in the camp reached their most brutal phase. Children were regularly called 'children of bandits', were beaten and kicked by camp personnel, and were forced to dig trenches. Most of the children had fallen ill, and many died out of exhaustion, mistreatment, hunger or disease. Infants were cared for by the older children. There are also witness statements about the deliberate murder of children by camp personnel.

Out of acts listed as genocide by The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1948, almost all were implemented in Potulice camp; the sole exception was the act regarding preventing births among members of the group being subjected to genocide. The number of children kidnapped by German authorities during their occupation of Poland in World War II in order to be Germanised ranges from over 20,000 (Heinemann) to 200,000 (Polish government). It's estimated that at least 10,000 of them were murdered as captives, and only 10-15% returned to their families after the war.

Following World War II, the site of the camp was used as a detention centre by Polish Communist authorities, mainly for 'ethnic Germans' from the Volksliste including settlers and some 180 prisoners-of-war, as well as the anti-communist Poles from the Home Army and the National Armed Forces. Renamed as the Central Labour Camp in Potulice under the management of the Stalinist Ministry of Public Security, the camp managed workshops and farms with the total area of 1,174.60 ha. According to records of the MBP Department of Corrections, some 2,915 Germans died there before the end of 1949, mainly as a result of the typhus and dysentery epidemics. According to German sources, about 3,500 ethnic Germans died in the camp in the years 1945 to 1950.

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