Majdanek concentration camp, where tens of thousands of people, mainly Jews, were murdered by the Germans during WWII, lies on the outskirts of Lublin – guard towers and barbed-wire fences interrupting the suburban sprawl are a jarring juxtaposition. Allow half a day for the 5km walk around the 270-hectare camp; if pushed for time, visit the historical exhibition in barracks 62 and the photographic display in barracks 45. Majdanek is 4km southeast of the Kraków Gate: take bus 23.
Majdanek was Heinrich Himmler's idea. In 1941 he gave orders for a work camp to be built in Lublin that would use 25,000 to 50,000 people as slave labour for the German war effort. It was a prison for people not just from Poland but from almost 30 countries, plus Soviet prisoners of war. Of the 150,000 people who were imprisoned in Majdanek, 80,000 died, including 60,000 Jews. Many succumbed to disease, starvation and the forced labour. In the summer of 1942, the gas chambers were built as part of Operation Reinhard, the plan to exterminate Polish Jews. Majdanek then functioned more as a death camp as opposed to a labour camp. The surviving crematorium was built in 1943 to handle the ever-increasing number of bodies.
Visiting the camp involves navigating the vast site. The visitor service centre at the entrance is the place to get useful maps of the camp and view exhibitions. Two huge monuments date to 1969 and mark the camp entrance and the place where the ashes of the victims are buried. The historical exhibition in the reconstructed barracks also includes a very good exhibit about Lublin in WWII in barracks 44. Note that the gas chambers are closed for long-term stabilisation of the foundations.