Place of ordeal in ruin

Why has the former KL Soldau building been completely devastated?

Numerous audits, renovation orders and search for funding did not help save the building where the German concentration camp KL Soldau in Działdowo was located. Also, the inconsistency in executing the administrative decision led the building to complete ruin. NIK’s ad hoc audit revealed that efforts taken both by the preservationist and the Działdowo authorities were insufficient and ineffective. A few thousand Poles could have been murdered in KL Soldau. During the war, tens of thousands of prisoners were shot dead by the Germans in nearby forests. 18th January is the anniversary of the day when Soviets’ entered Działdowo.

The history of the old building in Działdowo goes back to the end of 19th century when barracks for the Prussian army were erected in that location. In the interwar period, the Polish army was stationed there. In September 1939, the Germans occupied that area and founded a camp there. After the war, the facilities were taken over by the Soviets. NKVD established its camp in Działdowo where it placed among others activists of the Polish anti-communist underground. Since 1957, the former barracks played the role of a multifamily residential building. Last families were rehoused at the beginning of the 90s. Then the building premises were leased, rented and lent for use for different purposes.  

NIK audit findings

In 2001, the authorities of Działdowo granted the building as donation to Caritas of Toruń Diocese. The plan was to found a hospice there and the Hall of Memory in the former concentration camp building The rationale of the City Council resolution said that the barracks area is covered by preservationist protection. It also stated that the technical condition of the said facilities is very poor and needs an overhaul but the Municipal Office has no funds for that purpose. 

Devastated former KL Soldau building in Działdowo, collapsed parts of the roof and building walls

It was also underlined that the transfer of property to Caritas will restore the due nature to the former camp and save the threatened facilities from complete damage. It was stated there that the mover (Caritas) had funds to meet its objectives. NIK has pointed out that before signing the donation agreement the Town did not check properly if the donee had sufficient funds to realise the investment and also if it had the technical documentation and the construction permit. From the agreement signing date, i.e. from 2001 to 2012, the Town did not monitor the condition of the property donated to Caritas.

In March 2002, the District Inspector of Construction Supervision in Działdowo informed the Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments (POPM) that it suspended the construction works which the owner performed ”in an unacceptable way, potentially deteriorating the condition of the monument, without any technical supervision, without required consultations and permits”. After the inspection in July 2002, it was confirmed that the construction works were continued. However, the Provincial Preservationist did not apply any legal sanctions to the facility owner. He also did not order the building restoration to the former condition at the contractor’s cost.

The front of the former KL Soldau building in Działdowo, apparent damages of the roof and walls of the building

Greenery on the former KL Soldau building in Działdowo and its surroundings

In 2004, the provincial preservationist gave permit to adapt the building for a hospice. In 2005, it was entered in the register of monuments. It was stated that the facility was in a very poor technical condition. In 2006, it turned out that the scope of works covered by the permit of 2004 was not performed.

A view on the former KL Soldau building in Działdowo, in the foreground a signboard saying: DANGER! KEEP OUT!

In 2008, the Działdowo Caritas Centre requested an opinion on the facility restoration of the Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments. The opinion was essential to request a subsidy from the Minister of Culture and National Heritage. The preservationist issued the opinion saying that the facility condition needed urgent repair and preservation. He also stated that the subsidy should cover 100% of outlays to perform essential works. That opinion was not confirmed by the current data about the facility condition because the building was not audited at that time. The Director of Caritas of the Diocese of Toruń explained that when buying the facility, his institution lacked funds for its repair and adaptation. The Directors of the Działdowo Caritas Centre asked various persons and institutions for financial help but all they got was about PLN 140 thousand from the District Office in Działdowo. The total sum was used to develop the concept design. The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage also refused to subsidise the investment. Therefore, the Caritas Centre returned the donation to the Town of Działdowo.  

So in November 2012, the Town of Działdowo became the building owner again. The Provincial Preservationist presented some recommendations of how the building should be used. He also requested an expert opinion on the facility condition from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The expert stated that the monument was largely damaged, especially its wooden substance. S/he also stated that works were not completed and the roof holes resulted in rising damp. The concentration of fungal spores in the air posed a threat to human health and life, along with the possibility of collapsing some parts of the building.

Only in January 2014, the Provincial Preservationist audited how the monument protection law was complied with in relation to the former barracks. It was the first audit since 2005 when the former concentration camp building was entered in the register of monuments. Following the audit, the building owner, that is the Town of Działdowo, was requested to carry out repair and construction works, taking into account the historic value of the facility. Due to the threat of the building damage, the decision was given the order of immediate enforceability. Before the decision was issued, the Mayor informed the Provincial Preservationist that the Town could not manage the facility using its own resources, as recommended by the Preservationist. The national or the EU support was crucial.

Former KL Soldau building in Działdowo - one of the walls covered by greenery on higher floors of the building

       Former KL Soldau building - apparent roof damages

The Mayor of Działdowo appealed against that decision to the Minister of Culture who revoked it as a whole and remanded the case. The reasons included formal errors and gaps in the Preservationist’s decision. Two subsequent orders to perform construction and preservationist works issued by the Provincial Preservationist in 2015 were also revoked by the Minister, for the same reasons. As early as in 2014, the Mayor informed the preservationist that some parts of the roof and the ceiling collapsed. The District Inspector of Construction Supervision in Działdowo informed the Provincial Preservationist about that fact and recommended the building demolition. In response the Preservationist wrote that the demolition was not justified and that some protective works were necessary to prevent the facility destruction. In the meantime (2016), the Provincial Preservationist issued the forth decision ordering immediate preservation and construction works. Again, the Mayor of Działdowo appealed against the decision to the Minister of Culture who did not consider the complaint this time. The authorities of Działdowo appealed against the Preservationist’s decision to court. In 2017, the Provincial Administrative Court dismissed the decision. It resolved that the lack of funds alleged by the Mayor of Działdowo may not exclude supervisory activities of the Provincial Preservationist. Despite the court judgement and previous decisions of the Minister of Culture, the Town failed to execute valid decisions of the Preservationist. In the course of the NIK audit, the Mayor explained that he believed that only an overhaul of the building could meet the Preservationist’s order, not ad hoc works securing the facility. Besides, in spite of numerous efforts he did not manage to acquire any funds from external sources.

Main entrance to the building with two memorials on both sides, commemorating two bishops Nowowiejski and Wetmański who were killed in the concentration camp in Działdowo          

In the course of time the building degradation was deepening. In its annual budgets the Town of Działdowo started to reserve funds to secure the facility. According to the information obtained from the Mayor of Działdowo, PLN 1 million was earmarked from the Town budget to restore the building. In September 2020, the Town requested the President of the Council of Ministers to subsidise the building reconstruction from the Covid-19 Prevention Fund for local government units. The investment cost defined in the request was PLN 23 million, whereas the requested subsidy amount was PLN 22 million. The investment was to be realised in 2020-2021. As of 6 October 2020, that request was under review. Previously, the Town requested subsidies to restore the former KL Soldau as many as four times. Out of three requests to the Provincial Preservationist, two were rejected because of formal mistakes and one was declined due to the lack of funds. The only request to the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage was not qualified as it did not receive enough points.

The authorities of Działdowo stood in a position that ad hoc works were irrational and the facility needed to undergo an overhaul for which there was no money. Therefore, despite the constantly worsening condition of the building, in 2012-2020 the Town earmarked only PLN 6.8 thousand to ring-fence the area. Also due to the lack of funds the Town of Działdowo did not execute orders of the Provincial Preservationist. S/he did not spend much on the protection of the former barracks. In 2006, it was PLN 18 thousand and in 2012, it was only PLN 5 thousand.

NIK’s recommendations

Examining the case of the former concentration camp KL Soldau, NIK has made a number of recommendations:

  • to the Minister of Culture - to comply with the statutory deadlines in the appeal proceedings;
  • to the Provincial Preservationist:

-       to take all measures to support the efforts of Działdowo Mayor to acquire funds to subsidise the monument,

-       to discipline the building owner to take proper care of the building;

  • to the Działdowo authorities:

-       to take effective measures to manage the building, considering valid decisions of the Preservationist,

-       to develop the communal programme of monument care,  pursuant to the Monument Protection Act.  

We would like to bring back the memories of three former prisoners of the concentration camp KL Soldau: Ms Wiktoria Cendrowska, Ms Henryka Taube and Ms Teresa Krowicka.

An old, abandoned building of the former German concentration camp in Działdowo

 

Article informations

Date of creation:
12 February 2021 14:45
Date of publication:
12 February 2021 14:45
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
12 February 2021 15:42
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
A photo collage: on the left - an unkempt building of the former KL Soldau in Działdowo; on the right - NIK President Marian Banaś lays flowers at the memorial on the fence of the former concentration camp

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