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fot. BW Pictures
Galleryfot. BW Pictures

During the transformation of occupied Poznań, Nazis put particular emphasis on developing the west green wedge of the city. Its focal point was to be the Elensee, later known as Rusałka Lake, and the whole area was supposed to represent the „more German ambiance” of the city. „The Germanness” in question was styled according to the Nazi imagination, accentuating the importance of the human bond with nature, which – according to the National Socialist Party – was considered a source of power Germans needed to conquer and subjugate subsequent countries.

To build the artificial lake, both Polish forced labourers and Poznań citizens, men and women alike, were forced to work and exploited. However, the main builder of this construction project were the representatives of the minority group most hated by Hitler’s followers and the one seen as the main obstacle in the quest to conquer entire Europe, namely the Jews. They were brought to Poznań in thousands from ghettos in towns from the area delineated by Włocławek, Koło, Sieradz, and Łódź. Their final destination was labour camps in Poznań. The camp that provided the greatest number of Jewish prisoners to dig Rusałka was Arbeitslager Steineck, situated in a school building in Krzyżowniki-Smochowice. These slave-like workers were not only ruthlessly exploited, but the whole operation also, if not primarily, served as a purposeful politics of “extermination by labour”. Every day of work thus meant the uttermost exhaustion, starvation food rations, and every attempt at leaving the site, even to search for food, or any other sign of “insubordination” was punished by beating or even by death.

Few prisoners survived the construction of the lake, and after Poznań camps were liquidated – even fewer made it through the transport to Auschwitz, selection ramp, and another two years of ordeal. Among those, who saw the camp liberation, and gave their testimonies years later, were Benjamin Jacobs, Simon Rozenkier, and Zalman Kłodawski. It is also worth mentioning Poznań citizens who witnessed the tragedy of Jewish prisoners working at Rusałka and offered their empathetic stories – like Alojzy Andrzej Łuczak, Irena Nieznaniec, or Jan Jankowiak. The latter would share his food with the Jews while working at Rusałka, which eventually sent him to a concentration camp.

Jan Kwiatkowski