In the outskirts of Lwów, in which had once been Poland but was then under the fascist rule of Nazi Germany, the Janowska concentration camp for labor and transit stood. In the early days of World War II, the corner of Poland had become Russian territory in Hitler’s deal with Stalin in the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. Knowing the coming persecution from the Nazis, Jews fled the western part of Poland and settled here as refugees, doubling the local Jewish population to 200,000. In 1941, Operation Barbarossa brought Germany east, and the Jews found themselves blamed under propaganda for massacres, then slaughtered and fenced like animals.
With some 13,000 already killed by 1942, the Germans restricted the northern part of Lwów into a ghetto and began deporting thousands more for extermination at Belzec. Others were taken to Nazi SS factories established on Janowska Street, forced to work for the German war machine and live in a nearby concentration camp. Janowska evolved further into a transit and processing camp, sorting victims into usable fodder and those who would simply be exterminated.
Toward the end of 1943, the war began to turn against Germany, and the Russians moved their front westward. As the Germans fell back, they worked to evacuate prisoners to cover their war crimes of mass murder. Under Sonderaktion 1005, systematic clearing of mass graves and execution of witnesses rushed to hide what had been done. In November, evacuation began at Janowska, with prisoners forced to exhume the dead and burn the bodies in hidden fires in the woods. Meanwhile, increased numbers were sent westward to extermination at unprecedented rates.
On November 19, an uprising began among the prisoners. Uprisings had been planned before, such as those by Pilecki at Auschwitz, but none seemed to meet with any hope of success. Janowska may very well have ended as a last desperate strike until a group of men who could have escaped decided to give up their freedom to fight back. Storming the arsenal at high casualties, the prisoners were able to arm themselves and establish a fortress. In the resulting firefight would ultimately result in Nazi crackdown of the camp, but by then some 6,000 well armed prisoners had escaped. While many of them would be recaptured, a majority would fall among the Polish Underground and survive the war.
The stories of the thousands of escaped Jews, Poles, and Russians reached public ears. Minor escapes had happened earlier in the Holocaust, such as Jacob Grojanowski in 1942, which created the Grojanowski Report on the war crimes by German command. While the BBC and New York Times reported on the gassing of Jews, Allied propaganda had downplayed the plight. Jan Karski, who had given testimony repeatedly on the murderous situation, even to Franklin Roosevelt himself in 1943, worked for years to call action against the Germans without much success.
Now with the thousands of freedmen spreading word across Europe, the Holocaust became impossible to ignore. Karski used his connections to give the story greater precedence, and finally the West listened. Candlelight vigils were held in London, New York, and Hollywood, and speeches were presented before Congress and Parliament. Nazi propaganda worked to contain rumors within German borders, though increased insurrection among prisoners dragged thousands of troops from the front.
In 1944, Pope Pius XII announced the condemnation of the Holocaust by the Catholic Church. The religious implications struck many of Germany’s loyal Catholics, causing a political uproar that spun Germany into civil war. With unclear battle-lines and the approach of Allied troops, many Germans simply retreated home and washed their hands of the Third Reich. The war in Europe would be proclaimed an Allied victory December 12, 1944.
In the chaos, many of the perpetrators of the Holocaust would escape abroad, most eventually dragged back as the World Court sought justice. Hitler himself committed suicide while attempting to evade capture by Russian troops. Having gained political voice, the Jewish people would soon establish a new homeland in Israel in 1947 as well as cultural recognition, such as the works of journalist and novelist Anne Frank, who survived the Holocaust as a young girl.
In reality, the uprising at Janowska did not succeed. Few prisoners managed to escape, and pursuit by SS and local forces killed and recaptured many of those. Liquidation at Janowska continued, purging the camp in time for withdrawal. News of the Holocaust did not spread until camps began to be liberated in mid-1944. Troops and embedded journalists reported having no idea what the Nazis had been doing until they saw it for themselves.