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A Brief Outline of the History of Women POWs from the Polish Home Army (AK) Held in Stalag VIc at Oberlangen after the Warsaw Uprising
The story of the soldiers of the Polish Home Army (AK) who fought in the Warsaw Uprising in August and September 1944 did not end with the capitulation of 2nd October of that year. Instead what ensued was a new episode in their lives in the POW camps dispersed throughout the territories of the Third Reich.
While the Warsaw Uprising lasted, the fate of insurgents captured by the enemy varied. In its very first weeks those captured were treated as plain ‘bandits’ and, if not immediately shot in Warsaw, they were either deported to concentration camps or to the German interior to do forced labour.
However, the London based Polish Government-in-Exile’s determined interventions did affect the terms and conditions of the act of capitulation, which acknowledged combatant rights to the men and women who had fought in the Uprising. This meant that the insurgents had prisoner-of-war status and were therefore interned in German Stalags or Oflags. Supervision of these prisoners lay exclusively in the competence of the German armed forces called the Wehrmacht. The capitulation document granted equal rights to both male and female prisoners. This was the first case in history where women found themselves behind the barbed wire of a POW camp.
At the start of the Uprising, on 1st August 1944, there were approximately 5,000 women in the Warsaw AK. They had the same rights and duties as the men. They took part in all of the AK’s activities: in the administrative and logistic services, as nurses or couriers, in sabotage as well as in the spreading of information and propaganda. If caught by the Germans, they could expect the same fate as their brothers in arms: the firing squad, prison or the concentration camp.
The insurgents started leaving Warsaw on 5th October. They had to march approximately twenty kilometres to one of two transit camps, either in Pruszków or in Ożarów. The wounded and other patients of Polish resistance hospitals were taken to the Western Railway Station (Dworzec Zachodni) and loaded onto trains bound for a hospital and POW camp at Zeitheim – this transport included 586 women. Another transport of wounded prisoners, including 445 women, departed from Pruszków to Stalag XI A at Altengrabow and Gross-Lübars.
The transports from Ożarów headed in various directions: northwest to Stalag X B in Sanbostal, Stalag XI B in Fallingbostel and a subsidiary camp of Bergen-Belsen, while another transport of 344 prisoners headed southwest to an enormous transit camp at Lamsdorf (Łambinowice). It was from this transit camp that the women POWs were sent on to Stalag IV B in Mühlberg and thence to its sub-camp in Altenburg, while 382 women officers and 38 privates were sent to Oflag IX C in Molsdorf.
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