To The Aid Of The Expellees
Durchgangslager 121 was the largest transit camp in Poland, and also the only one where the Germans allowed Polish personnel to work. The Germans ceded responsibility for feeding and medical care entirely to the Pruszków branch office of the Polish-run Central Welfare Council. On August 6, 1944, two of Pruszków’s parish priests – Father Edward Tyszka from St Casimir’s and Father Franciszek Dyżewski from the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Żbików, a district of Pruszków – alerted the inhabitants of Pruszków and surrounding localities to the arrival of Varsovians at the camp. Support was organized at lightning speed. Pruszków’s doctors, nurses, nuns, and people with any medical training at all volunteered to help. Assistance also came from the Polish Home Army, which dispatched members of the Women’s Military Service to work at the camp. Supplies of food and medicine were issued from the Home Army’s provisions stored in Obroza District for use by Polish personnel at the camp.
The opportunities for access and free movement around Durchgangslager 121 gave Poles working at the camp favourable conditions in which to provide material, medical, and spiritual aid. The Central Welfare Council immediately opened a field kitchen which gave out bread and coffee in the morning and evening, and hot soup at midday. Special meals were also prepared for the sick and for children up to the age of 5. This was possible thanks to the generosity of the inhabitants of Pruszków and surrounding localities, among them the towns of Komorów, Brwinów, Reguły, Duchnice, Parzniew, Moszna, and Pęcice – each of which provided essential food to the camp every day. Nonetheless, food rations remained insufficient. The Central Welfare Council, moreover, was unable to gain access to all those in need. Lack of kitchenware also turned out to be a significant problem, as it hindered the collection and consumption of meals. But Varsovians showed great creativity in finding objects to serve as dishes and plates. Food tins, lampshades, and vases were worth their weight in gold.
The camp’s Polish personnel also organized escapes from Durchgangslager 121, making avail of all possible opportunities: guards were bribed, passes were provided, lay people were dressed up as priests or nuns, or assistance was given via temporary employment in the kitchens – this entitled people to go outside the camp. Escapes were also carried out by using the carts used to deliver food to Dulag 121. Polish women employed at the camp as interpreters for the German medical commission played an important role, obtaining false certificates by using their knowledge of the realities at the camp. They would stealthily add names to the lists of those being set free, often suggesting diagnoses to the German doctors and explaining to prisoners how to most effectively feign illnesses. This involved considerable risk, because the Polish service providers were under the constant supervision of Gestapo officers. Those accused of organizing escapes faced expulsion from the camp area without right of return, and even deportation to forced labour or a concentration camp. Particular care was extended to young people, with the Uprising’s insurgents and those with records of achievement for Polish culture, education, and science being hidden, enabled to leave the camp, or packed away on transports going to relative safety within German-administered Poland.
The International Red Cross was also involved in assistance for prisoners, and began sending deliveries of medicines and food to the camp on September 12, 1944. But these donations were insufficient to satisfy the need for medicines, bandages and surgical instruments, and so it was impossible to help huge numbers of people on the spot. The most severely ill and wounded were normally set free from the camp by the German medical commission and ended up at hospitals in neighbouring Tworki, Pruszków-Wrzesin, or at one of the provisional hospitals created in the vicinity, which included those in the towns of Podkowa Leśna, Brwinów, Piastów, Grodzisk Mazowiecki, and Milanówek. Many prisoners nonetheless died from exhaustion and from wounds before a decision could be taken to free them. The exact number of people who died at Dulag 121 and in nearby hospitals or during transport is impossible to determine.