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The Pawiak Prison in Warsaw

Last Update 17 June 2006

The Pawiak Prison in 1945
Pawiak Prison
A decision to erect a new prison in Warsaw was taken in 1829. This prison, later called "Pawiak", was located between Dzielna, Pawia, and Wiezienna Streets. The construction works started in 1830 and were completed in 1836. The buildings were designed by Henryk Marconi, official builder and one of the most outstanding Polish architects of the 19th century. The first inmates were imprisoned in 1835.
The prison had a rectangular shaped plot occupying an area of 1.5 hectares, surrounded by a wall with two turrets on the Dzielna and Pawia Street sides. The main building which contained the men’s section, consisted of four storeys. The women’s prison, known as "Serbia", had three storeys. The complex also included various auxiliary buildings, such as warehouses, workshops, a kitchen, storerooms, baths, a boiler house, potato treatment rooms, and a laundry.

Money order from September 1940, sent to the Pawiak Prison
Money Order from 1940
During the first period under German occupation, until March 1940, the prison was subordinated to the Department for Justice of the Generalgouvernement. From that date Pawiak became a prison under the office of the Commander of Security Police, SD, and Gestapo.
At the beginning of November 1940, permanent German staff took up duties in the prison. This affected the conditions within the prison, as Polish warders had tried to help the inmates in various ways, including permitting contact with the outside world. The Polish warders were arrested in March-April 1942. Pawiak, designed to accommodate 1,000 inmates, housed three times that number. The conditions in the prison were harsh:
"Although a small grated window was open at all times, the air inside the cell was unbearably stuffy – a nasty chill in winter and an equally nagging heat during the summer months. Despite frequent delousing – bedbugs and fleas made inmates’ lives miserable."
GFH: Heinrich Himmler and his aides passing by a row 
of prisoners in the Pawiak prison on Dzielna Street in the Warsaw ghetto.
Himmler Visit on 17 April 1942 *
Postcard from April 1941
Postcard from 1941
Food at Pawiak was insufficient throughout the entire period of the German occupation. The worst situation was in the second half of 1941, and during the whole of 1942. Without aid the prisoners could hardly have stayed alive.
The first public execution in Warsaw was closely linked with Pawiak. The announcement of 3 November 1939 informed the populace about the execution of Ms. Eugenia Wlodarz and Ms. Elzbieta Zahorska who were arrested for tearing down a German propaganda poster reading "England this is your work". They were imprisoned at Pawiak and later executed at Fort Mokotowski.
Postcard from May 1940, sent from the Pawiak Prison
Postcard from 1942

Around 250 Pawiak prisoners were executed from 1939–1944 in Warsaw and its surrounding areas: Bukowiec, Palmiry, Wolka Weglowa, Luze, Laski, Magdalenka, Stefanow, Las Kabacki, Waver, and Anin. The executions reached their climax in 1943 and 1944. From May 1943, after the Warsaw Ghetto had been crushed and the ghetto turned into ruins, executions were carried out in the streets near the prison, such as Dzielna, Gesia, Zamenhoffa, and Nowolipki Streets.

Pawiak became a symbol of the harsh occupation and inscriptions reading "Pawiak Pomscimy" ("Pawiak shall be avenged") appeared on walls, notice boards, and even on the pavements. The prisoner’s most vivid memories are of the interrogations at the Gestapo Headquarters at Aleja Szucha (Straße der Polizei), where many prisoners were tortured to death.
Leon Wanat, a prison office worker:
"Twice a day, at noon and in the evening, the motor car brought back the same prisoners to Pawiak in poor condition. One was under the impression that this was an ambulance carrying victims of an accident. Their faces were pale with blood-stained, black-ringed eyes, clothes crumpled and stained or torn – without sleeves and with the pockets torn off. Some of them slid down slowly from the vehicle – supported by their companions in distress. Their mere appearance told much about the interrogation methods used by the Gestapo."
Around 60,000 inmates from Pawiak were deported to concentration camps. The first transport left the prison on 2 May 1940 for KZ Sachsenhausen, but most went to KZ Auschwitz-Birkenau. 53 transports of men, and 11 of women were sent there from 14 August 1940 until 12 / 13 August 1944.

As they were driven in a prison van from Aleja Szucha after brutal interrogation, on 26 March 1943, as a result of co-operation between a clandestine network inside the prison and the Polish underground, special storm troops of the Grey Ranks rescued Jan Bytnar Rudy, commander of the Grey Ranks of southern Warsaw near Arsenal, at the intersection of Bielanska and Dluga Streets, together with 25 other prisoners.
"During the Ghetto Uprising in April–May 1943 Pawiak became an assault base for the Nazis. Jailers from Pawiak, under the command of Burkl, volunteered to hunt for the insurgents. Captured victims were beaten, humiliated and ill-treated. Then they were shot dead at point blank range in the back of their head. Men and women alike. Also the Ukrainians did the same. Later, like their masters, they returned excited by murder. We looked at their faces with disgust – we were petrified to hear their tales. In Pawiak cells were filled with acrid smoke. We could smell human bodies burning. Iron cupboards and beds were scorching. Rubber soles turned into balloons. Apparently, we would also go up in flames."

The Pawiak Memorial in 1986
The Memorial in 1986
The Pawiak Memorial in 2005
The Memorial in 2005
After the final ghetto liquidation in May 1943, the Jews caught in the "Aryan Quarter" of the city, were brought to Pawiak, marked with a plus sign and immediately placed in dark, dirty, bed-bug infested cells in Section VIII. Executions were carried out nearly every day. The Directorate of the Civilian Struggle, with co-operation of the clandestine prison unit and the Polish Home Army, pronounced death sentences on Gestapo men from Pawiak and Aleja Szucha.
Hans Burkl, deputy commander of Pawiak, a sadist and multiple murderer, was shot dead on 7 September 1943 by soldiers from the Agat detachment at the corner of
Remnants of the Entrance Gate in 2005
Remnants of the Gate
Marszalkowska and Litewska Streets. In 1943 and 1944, soldiers of the Home Army executed other members from Pawiak and Aleja Szucha: SS-Oberscharführer Herbert Schultz (6 May 1943), SS-Rottenführer Ewald Lange (22 May 1943), SS-Rottenführer Ernst Wefels, the jailer from Serbia (1 October 1943), SS-Obersturmführer Jacob Lechner (5 October 1943), and SS-Scharführer Stephan Klein (25 October 1943).
Some other German and Ukrainian SS members who served at Pawiak:
SS-Unterscharführer Otto Wulfes, SS-Rottenführer Albert Müller, SS-Rottenführer Thomas Wippenbeck (also known as "the hangman"), SS-Oberscharführer and Deputy Commandant from 1940 - 1941 Hans Felhaber, SS-Rottenführer Arno Schubert, SS-Oberscharführer Engelberth Frühwirth, and the Ukrainian SS man Michael Kowalenko.

Following the last group executions on 13 and 18 August 1944, German sappers blew up the prison on 21 August 1944.
Today a few remnants of the prison complex are included in the memorial.

Photo: GFH *

Source: Pawiak 1835 - 1944 – The Guidebook Muzeum Niepodleglosci, Warszawa 2002

© ARC ( 2006