The Gestapo Headquarters at Aleja Szucha
The construction of the impressive classicistic building at Aleja Szucha25, designed byZdzisław Mączeński, was completed in 1930. Built with a view to housing the Ministry of Religious Denominations and Public Enlightenment, the building, with a functional Art Deco style interior, remained home to the Ministry until the outbreak of the Second World War.
On 1 October 1939 it was taken over by the Wehrmacht unit and then by the Fourth Operational Group of the Security Police (Ger. Einsatzgruppe IV der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD). A few weeks later, the latter was transformed into the Office of the Commandant of the Security Police and the Security Service of the Warsaw District. The furniture found in the former Polish Ministry offices was removed from the building, and so were the documents and the library collection. Three storeys of office space were taken up by the largest department of the Command of the Security Police and the Security Service, that is, the State Secret Police (Ger. Geheime Staatspolizei) known as Gestapo. The Gestapo detention center was established in the underground of the edifice. The third floor was home to the Security Service (SD). Consisting of five sections, Gestapo had complex structure. Its activity involved fighting the Polish resistance, gathering information, performing intelligence and counterintelligence tasks and dealing with the Church and Jewish matters.
A Tram from Szucha
The basements of the former Polish Ministry were adapted to the needs of the detention center. In addition to ten isolation rooms equipped with iron beds, four collective cells with wooden benches were set aside for prisoners, usually about 15 in number, waiting to be interrogated. Adjoining the interrogation room, the cells were referred to as ‘trams’. Prisoners were brought in trucks from Pawiak Prison and from other district prisons. Transports of prisoners arrived even twice a day. Among those who ended up in AlejaSzucha were the people whom the Germans arrested during street round-ups or during operations targeting the Polish resistance. People who were believed to be important were placed in isolation rooms for periods of up to several months. The Government Delegate for Poland Jan Piekałkiewiczwas tortured to death during his three months of solitary confinement. Interrogations of prisoners, which were referred to as ‘examinations’, usually took place on the second and third floors. Up to one hundred prisoners were interrogated per day. In the course of the interrogations Gestapo functionaries behaved in a cruel and sadistic way. During their detention prisoners suffered torture and ill-treatment. They were suffocated with broken gas masks, burned with hot irons and beaten with batons, whips, springs and gun butts. The Germans subjected them to electric shocks, poured water into their noses, hung them by their hands twisted behind their backs or with their heads down, damaged their eyeballs, knocked out their teeth and pulled out their fingernails.
Working at Aleja Szucha as a laborer, Antoni Podgórski offered the following description of the situations which he had the opportunity to witness: ‘I saw people who were in good health when entering the building and who no longer looked like themselves when leaving it. I saw people crawling the stairs on their knees. Those who, because of the brutal torture to which they had been subjected, were unable to walk were beaten and kicked by Gestapo men. People suffered excruciating torture and it was next to impossible to stand their screams. There is no way of describing the scenes which took place there’.
As a way of exerting pressure on those who had been arrested, their loved ones were often brought to the Gestapo station and subjected to torturous interrogations. There were cases of the Germans torturing people to death. The corpses of the victims were taken to unknown places. Some prisoners died upon their return to Pawiak prison and some, harmed, humiliated, and unable to withstand the torture any longer, committed suicide. About 1,260 prisoners’ inscriptions containing prayers, information for families and calendars are preserved on the cell walls.
Some of those who were brought to the Gestapo station at AlejaSzucha were active in the underground movement. The group included Krzysztof Dunin-Wąsowicz (a Home Army soldier, he worked closely with the Council to Aid Jews ‘Żegota’; after the war he became historian), Hanna Czaki (liaison officer, she worked at the Information Department of the Home Army’s Bureau of Information and Propaganda), Tadeusz Szturm de Sztrem (a socialist activist, one of the leaders of the Polish Socialist Party – Freedom, Equality and Independence) or Wanda Ossowska (a nurse who worked at the Home Army’s offensive intelligence). Jan Bytnar alias ‘Rudy’, commandant of the North Scout Assault Group of the Grey Ranks was taken from Pawiak Prison to Aleja Szucha for a series of interrogations. Beaten to unconsciousness after two days of ‘examinations’, he was freed on 26 March 1943 while being transported from Aleja Szucha to Pawiak Prison during what is known as the Arsenal Action. A short time later, in May 1943, Abrasza Blum was taken from the prison at Daniłowiczowska Street to Aleja Szuchato be interrogated. Blum took part in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and was active in the leadership of the underground committee of the Bund and Cukunft. He was probably murdered at the Gestapo station.
The building was well guarded. To get inside, one had to pass through a number of checkpoints. Apart from about 300 functionaries of the German police and the Poles, who did the cleaning, worked as janitors or were simply employed as laborers, about 50-60 Jews were brought in every day to perform heavy physical labor. They were used to carry coke and to do different types of construction work. After the liquidation of the Ghetto they were lodged in the barracks near the Gestapo building.
At the beginning of 1940 the area around the Gestapo station was transformed into something of a German district. In 1941 Aleja Szucha was rechristened Policyjna Street (Ger. Strasse der Polizei). The neighboring building housed the Ordnungspolizei(Order Police) Orpo and the Gendarmerie Command Office. The Poles were expelled from many surrounding buildings. Taken over by the police and the SS, the buildings were used to accommodate the functionaries of these organizations. The outpatient room was established nearby and there was a casino operating at Na Rozdrożu Street.
During the Uprising 1944 and After the War
During the Warsaw Uprising the Germans, in fighting the insurgents, used prisoners as human shields. At that time the segregation point, from which people were sent to the concentration camps, was established in the Gestapo station for the inhabitants of the southern districts of the capital. Mass execution of the Poles are known to have been carried out by the Germans in the ruins of the General Inspectorate of Armed Forces at Aleje Ujazdowskie and in the surrounding squares and courtyards. The corpses were burned on the square at Aleje Ujazdowskie and in the surrounding buildings.
In September 1944 the commandant and the functionaries of the Commandant Office of the Security Police and Security Service evacuated themselves to Sochaczew. Before their departure they managed to burn official records. The building at Aleja Szucha 25 survived undamaged until the end of the war.
Soon after the end of the war the former Gestapo building was recognized as the site of Polish martyrdom and heroism. It was opened to visitors in the form in which it had been left by the Germans. In the 1950s and 1960s the prison was set in order. The exhibition featuring the activity of the German police apparatus and the fate of prisoners was organized and the Mausoleum of Struggle and Martyrdom was established. Today the former Gestapo building at Aleja Szucha is affiliated to the Museum of Pawiak Prison which in turn is part of the Museum of Independence.
Informator Mauzoleum Walki i Męczeństwa. Aleja Szucha 25, Warsaw 2007.
Szarota Tomasz, Okupowanej Warszawy dzień powszedni. Studium historyczne, Warsaw 1988.
Urzykowski Tomasz, Aleja Szucha 25: historia gmachu polskiej edukacji,Warsaw 2014.
Aleksandra Król, a graduate of the Institute of History of the University of Warsaw. Author of texts popularizing history, she collaborates with Museum of the History of Polish Jews POLIN.