Every day thousands of cars travel along national road number 92 passing two small towns in Greater Poland district, StrzaÅ‚kowo and SÅ‚upca, which are on the former border of two partitioning powers – the Prussian Empire and the Russian Empire. A dirt road leads off this road towards the village of ÅÄ™Å¼ec. The beautiful, well-cultivated fields do not indicate that one of the largest and cruellest prisoner-of-war camps was established there during the First World War. The only sign that the camp existed is a cemetery where more than 8,000 victims of various nationalities are buried.
In 1914, the Germans set up a camp in which they imprisoned about 30,000 prisoners of war, mainly Russians, but also Romanian, French, Belgian and British prisoners. After the war ended in 1918, the prisoners were released.’
On the other hand, the newly independent Poland continued fighting for its survival against the Bolsheviks and others. Already at the beginning of 1919, during the Greater Poland Uprising, the camp was used to intern German soldiers and German civilians.
In the same year, the camp was activated by the Ministry of Military Affairs, which gave it the name “Prisoner Camp No. 1 near StrzaÅ‚kow”. The camp soon began to be filled with prisoners from the Red Army, mainly of Russian descent, but also Cossacks and others. After the August 1920 Battle of Warsaw, there were already over 37,000 Red Army prisoners in the camp. Camp conditions, especially in winter, were very difficult. There was a shortage of food and basic sanitary requirements. The newly created Poland was not resourced to fight the epidemics of typhus, cholera and flu that raged that year. There was a hospital in the camp with the capacity to look after 1,000 patients but in winter there were over 4,000 people hospitalised there. In addition, the physical condition of many prisoners sent to the camp was poor before arriving in the camp. In just one year, from August 1920, more than 4,000 prisoners died of epidemics, malnutrition and cold. It should be mentioned that the local population did not avoid these epidemics either.
After the Treaty of Riga in 1921, which ended the war with Soviet Russia, prisoners were exchanged. The Polish authorities gave prisoners the option of returning or remaining in Poland. Some of them decided to stay and settle in the Great Poland district on former German farms. They received Polish citizenship. Unfortunately, some of them met a tragic fate when in the winter of 1945 the Red Army entered this area. Numerous arrests were made and entire families were deported to the USSR.
After 1921, the camp continued to function for internment of approximately 4,000 soldiers and 3,000 civilians, including children and women, from the Ukrainian People’s Republic, who in November 1920 evacuated to Poland after losing the war with Soviet Russia. But then the situation in the camp was radically different than during the war. Ukrainian choirs, theatre groups, schools and workshops operated in the camp.
The interned lived in camp barracks but were able to move freely and work in the SÅ‚upca county. Over time, most of them mixed with the local population.
The camp was finally closed at the end of August 1924.
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This post was written by Andrew Balcerzak