Stutthof was the first Nazi concentration camp established outside of Germany during World War II, located in a wooded area near a small town called Stutthof (now named Sztutowo) and 34km east of the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk).
The camp was established directly after the invasion of Poland and was initially designated as a civilian internment camp prior to becoming a labour education camp in November 1941 and finally a regular concentration camp in January 1942.
Before the war even began, the German Selbstschutz (ethnic-German self-protection units) had created lists of people that were to be arrested and detained. The Nazi authorities had also secretly started to review suitable locations to establish concentration camps in the area.
Stutthof was the last camp liberated by the Allies on 9th May 1945 and it is estimated that between 63,000 and 65,000 prisoners of the camp and its subcamps died as a result of execution, hunger, disease, extreme labour conditions, and a lack of medical attention. As many as 28,000 of those who died were Jews. Other inmates of Stutthof included citizens from 28 different countries.
The conditions in Stutthof were incredibly harsh, those who were not gassed, shot, clubbed to death, drowned in mud or given a lethal injection of phenol could just as easily die during one of the two typhus epidemics that swept through the camp.
Initially the camp consisted of eight barracks to house the prisoners in addition to buildings for the SS guards and was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. Stutthof was enlarged in 1943 with a new camp constructed alongside the earlier one containing thirty new barracks, a crematorium and a gas chamber, all surrounded by an electrified barbed-wire fence. Stutthof was included in the “Final Solution" in June 1944 and mass executions began assisted by mobile gas wagons to complement the maximum capacity of the gas chamber.
Many prisoners were used as forced labourers working in an armaments factory located inside the camp next to the prisoner barracks or in a Focke-Wulf aircraft factory, which was constructed nearby.
The evacuation of 50,000 prisoners from the Stutthof camp and subcamps began on 25th January 1945. Thousands died marching in severe winter conditions combined with brutal treatment by SS guards. Around 5,000 were marched to the Baltic Sea coast, forced into the water, and machine-gunned. It has been estimated that around half of the evacuated prisoners, over 25,000, died during the evacuation from Stutthof and its subcamps.
The camp itself was liberated by Soviet forces on 9th May 1945, rescuing about 100 prisoners who had managed to hide.
Today, there is a museum at Stutthof. During a tour of the camp, you can see a narrow gauge railway line that runs around the camp, the camp commandant’s villa, kennels, the main entry to Stutthof concentration camp, better known as the ‘Death Gate’, guard towers, barracks, gas chamber, crematorium, the original dual-layer barbed-wire fence and various exhibitions.
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