Stalag Teschen prisoner-of-war camp
Stalag Teschen prisoner-of-war camp
During World War II a prisoner-of-war camp was established on the so-called Kontešinec in the Kamieniec part of Český Těšín. It was established in 1941, marked as Stalag VIII D, and intended for interning non-commissioned officers and privates. For the construction of the camp the German administration used wooden barracks built here during World War I, which served as a field hospital for ill and wounded soldiers from the Galician front. In the interwar period, it was used for the needs of the Czechoslovak army, and after the handing over of that area to Poland – for the purposes of the Polish army. Following the outbreak of World War II the barracks were taken over by the German army which began to use them as garages for Wehrmacht military vehicles.
In the first period of its existence when the camp operated as independent Stalag VIII D Teschen, and from September 1942 to December 1943 as a branch of the prisoner-of-war camp in Łambowice – Stalag VIII B/Z Teschen, around 500 people were incarcerated. The majority of the interned were British, French, Polish and Yugoslavian soldiers. The camp in Teschen also included a range of smaller branch camps, which were mainly used for field work, especially in agriculture and forestry. The total number of prisoners in the camp and its branches ranged from 5000 to 7000 people.
By the end of 1943 until the evacuation of the camp in January 1945, when the Teschen camp became independent again and was marked as Stalag VIII B Teschen, the situation changed as a result of the inflow of Soviet prisoners, and after the fall of Mussolini regime – also Italian prisoners. Stalag Teschen became one of the biggest camps in the territory of the Reich, and up to 75 000 prisoners were placed in its subordinate units. Most people were interned in labour Kommandoes which operated in mining and heavy industry. The number of prisoners in the camp in Cieszyn only was around 1500 men. In this period the military affiliation of the prisoners changed as well, and the largest group included Soviet soldiers, followed by Italians, British (including Canadians, South Africans, New Zealanders, Australians, etc.), French, Yugoslavs and Greeks.
There were six large wooden barracks in the Teschen stalag for lodging prisoners; each of them housed up to 240 people. There was also a field hospital, a watchtower, a prison, a disinfestation barrack, a kitchen, craftsmen workshops and other outhouses as well as a herb garden, an Angora rabbits farm and a sports field. The field hospital was separated by a fence from the rest of the camp. The whole camp was surrounded by double barbed wire and guarded by six watchtowers. Management and office buildings were located behind the fence. Stalag Teschen was able to house up to 1650 prisoners. Contrary to the situation in concentration camps intended for civilians, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, military prisoners were guaranteed certain rights. However, the rule was not always obeyed, especially with respect to Soviet and Italian soldiers. Nevertheless, the prisoners had a library, a sports field, a venue for organising different cultural events, a vegetable garden and the Angora rabbits farm at their disposal. Members of Western armies additionally received food packages from the Red Cross.
The approaching Eastern Front in the last year of the war forced the German administration to evacuate the Cieszyn prisoner-of-war camp to the interior of the Reich. The evacuation took place on 21st January 1945 in the form of a “death march” heading to prisoner-of-war camps in Germany. The prisoners were sent off into this gruelling walk through the territory of the protectorate in columns and in majority of cases, they were sent to the camp in Weiden in Bavaria where those who survived were liberated by the Allied troops at the beginning of May. The camp played a crucial role also after the end of World War II, when for a short period of time Germans living in Cieszyn were interned before their displacement to Germany. After that the camp buildings were demolished and soon a district of detached houses was established here, retaining the original name of this location – Kontešinec.
In place of the former prisoner-of-war camp, to honour the memory of interned prisoners, on 15th September 1979, on the 35th anniversary of the outbreak of Slovakian national uprising, the Monument of the International Solidarity of the Antifascist Coalition, designed by engineer and architect, Koco Krstovský and an academic sculptor, Štěpán Mikula, was unveiled.
The prisoner-of-war camp was the biggest main prisoner-of-war camp in the territory of today’s Czech Republic. It is also an example of a specific type of Allied soldiers internment places and a testimony of the Nazi camp system from World War II, which became one of the most characteristic forms of repression and took a heavy toll on millions of human victims.
Wooden camp barracks in Kontešinec on the map of Český Těšín from 1928. (Muzeum Těšínska Collection)
Stalag VIII D Teschen map with buildings which survived till the end of existence of the camp (only the grey-hatched buildings were not built). Military Construction Office in Opava, 29th August 1942. (VÚA-VHA Praha – the Central Military Archives in Prague)
A view of the camp with the tower of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Masarykove sady in the background. (Muzeum Těšínska Collection)
The watchtower and the barracks in which prisoners were lodged. (Muzeum Těšínska Collection)
The field hospital barrack located in a separate hospital part of Stalag VIII D Teschen. (Central Prisoner-Of-War Museum in Łambowice - Opole)
Prisoners working in a vegetable garden, which was located in the eastern, undeveloped part of the camp. (VÚA-VHA Praha – the Central Military Archives in Prague)
A group of prisoners-of-war in front of wooden barracks. (VÚA Praha – the Central Military Archives in Prague)
A craft workshop in the Teschen camp for sewing and repairing clothes for the whole camp. (VÚA-VHA Praha – the Central Military Archives in Prague)
Construction works performed by prisoners during the renovation of the water draining canal in Teschen Stalag. (VÚA-VHA Praha – the Central Military Archives in Prague)
Demolition of the wooden barracks in the former camp after the end of World War II. (Muzeum Těšínska Collection)