Human Rights in Poland 2013

Sixteen SMU students, faculty and staffers, along with DFW community members, will be in Poland Dec. 18–30 to visit Holocaust sites. Led by SMU Embrey Human Rights Program Director Rick Halperin, the group will visit cities and death camps where, during World War II, some 4,375,000 people were murdered during the country’s Nazi, Germany, occupation.

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Stutthof: Do not look away

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An update from Jazmin, a senior majoring in human rights and Spanish:

CONCENTRATION CAMP: STUTTHOF
GEOGRAPHICAL AREA: NEAR THE CITY OF GDANSK AND THE BALTIC SEA
NUMBER OF PRISONERS: 110,000
DEATHS: 65,000

Unfortunately, the thought of establishing concentration camps had long been decided since before WWII by Nazi officials. Since 1936, the Nazis had kept a close eye on citizens and developed a  document called “the white book,” which compiled the names of hundreds of innocent Poles to be arrested. Stutthof became the first German concentration camp established on Polish soil. By September 2, 1939 (the day after WWII was declared), the camp officers had assembled over 1,500 prisoners, yet it was designed to have a capacity of 200 detainees. At the beginning, the camp only contained Poles who were active in social and economic life or members of Polish organizations, but later, as “the Final Solution” was presented by Hitler in 1944, Jews were also transported to this mass extermination camp.

IMG_2292By 1939, the site for Stutthof had been selected and the developments had commenced. The camp was far enough from the city and also extremely well hidden by forestry. Hence, it would not only be very difficult to find Stutthof, but it was also nearly impossible to escape. Another reason for the geographical selection of the camp was because it was close to the Baltic Sea, which would also hinder the decisions of the prisoners to escape. The camp was very humid, and when people dug and worked on the land, if they dug more than 60 centimeters, the water would rise from the ground. During times of extremely cold winters, prisoners would suffer tremendously as the cold and wet climate would cause many health problems.

IMG_2297Men, women, and children all died gruesome and terrible deaths! The causes of death varied, but were not limited to asphyxiation purposely caused by the carbon monoxide in vehicles transporting people to Stutthof, terrible sanitation, mental and physical torture, malnutrition, disease, gas chambers, poison, and lethal injections. For the detainees, it is calculated that a working person should consume roughly 4,000 calories a day, but the workers were given only 1,000 calories or less a day to survive. Sadly, people were killed faster than they could be burned. Within 5 years of its existence, Stutthof grew from 4 hectares, which allowed for 3,500 prisoners, to 120 hectares, which allowed for 57,000 prisoners. Somehow, Stutthof developed to hold captive an overcrowded population of 110,000 men, women, and children from 28 countries and over 30 nationalities. At the end, 65,000 innocent people died as a result of the camp. Stutthof was finally freed on May 9, 1945.

My experience at Stutthof was unbelievable! I saw shoes from children who were brutally murdered, uniforms with blood stains, beds (if you can even call them that) where many people were piled together, transferring diseases to one another, and simply a place where thousands of innocent civilians were unjustly executed. At the presence of this scenery, I could finally put a face to all the research and readings that I had previously done. I am extremely distraught to know that such torture occurred.

Walking through the camp, I felt the most unbelievable sadness when I saw the memorial of bones and ashes from the many people who were killed at the camp. Some bones were still clearly visible where they were not decomposed properly. I want to expose such mishaps to the world and hope to impact the lives of others in order to promote humanity and peace because such ruthless incidents should have never happened then, nor now in history. We have the ability to speak for those who do not have a voice! I only ask, DO NOT LOOK AWAY… BE THANKFUL AND LET YOUR VOICES BE HEARD.

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