While the Nazis made a grim name for themselves in what are now well-known killing fields around Poland – Auschwitz, Dachau and even Łódź’s own Litzmannstadt Ghetto comes to mind – the atrocities at Radogoszcz prison were similar in their unflinching brutality despite its relatively unknown status outside of Łódź. What remains today of Radogoszcz, which was created by the Nazis to house Poles who were deemed “dangerous,” is a stark insight into the evil mechanics of the Third Reich. As if to bring the horror into even sharper focus is Radogoszcz’s location, smack in the centre of residential Łódź, and a visit to this often forgotten camp proves extremely sobering.
The buildings of Radogoszcz prison were originally constructed in the 1930s at the behest of the industrialist Samuel Abbe. At the outbreak of WWII the factory complex was requisitioned by the Polish Army before passing into the hands of the German invaders. For the first month it functioned as a Wehrmacht barracks before being turned into a transit camp for Polish prisoners deemed a threat to Nazi ideology. As time marched on the camp grew to operate as a prison and labour camp, processing an estimated 40,000 inmates – a quarter of which are thought to have been killed. From the outset conditions were harsh; Radogoszcz was a factory first and foremost, and this was reflected in the facilities. Beds, kitchens and bathrooms took months to be added, and while it’s hard to put an exact figure on the number who perished here disease, mistreatment and executions were common. However the grimmest chapter of Radogoszcz’s history was to come on the night of January 18, 1945. With the Red Army approaching and liberation just hours away, Nazi wardens embarked on the summary execution of all prisoners. The inmates rose in spontaneous rebellion, forcing the guards to flee the premises but not before locking the prisoners into the factory and setting fire to the grounds – an estimated 1,500 people were incinerated, with only thirty surviving to see peace.