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January 31: The Last Camp Liberated

January 31, 2015

holocaust_handFive thousand prisoners, mostly Jews, in the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland were evacuated by forced march to the Baltic Sea, driven into the water, and gunned down on this date in 1945. Stutthoff was the first camp established by the Nazis outside Germany, and the last one liberated by any of the Allied forces (in this case, the Soviets). More than 85,000 people died there, although its gas chamber was small, able to kill only 150 prisoners at a time. Stutthoff was primarily a slave labor camp for non-Jews until the waning days of the war, when the great majority of its 50,000 inmates were Jews. It was also the concentration camp where human remains were processed into soap, according to witnesses and researchers. Four war crimes trials conducted in post-war Poland sent scores of officials and guards from Stutthof to prison or the gallows, including more than two dozen women guards.

“Some prisoners worked in SS-owned businesses such as the German Equipment Works (DAW), located near the camp. Others labored in local brickyards, in private industrial enterprises, in agriculture, or in the camp’s own workshops. In 1944, as forced labor by concentration camp prisoners became increasingly important in armaments production, a Focke-Wulff airplane factory was constructed at Stutthof. Eventually, the Stutthof camp system became a vast network of forced-labor camps; 105 Stutthof subcamps were established throughout northern and central Poland.” —U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum