The Third Reich at War: 1939-1945

The Third Reich at War: 1939-1945

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by Richard J. Evans
     
 

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An absorbing, revelatory, and definitive account of one of the greatest tragedies in human history

Adroitly blending narrative, description, and analysis, Richard J. Evans portrays a society rushing headlong to self-destruction and taking much of Europe with it. Interweaving a broad narrative of the war's progress from a wide range of people, Evans

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Overview

An absorbing, revelatory, and definitive account of one of the greatest tragedies in human history

Adroitly blending narrative, description, and analysis, Richard J. Evans portrays a society rushing headlong to self-destruction and taking much of Europe with it. Interweaving a broad narrative of the war's progress from a wide range of people, Evans reveals the dynamics of a society plunged into war at every level. The great battles and events of the conflict are here, but just as telling is Evans's re- creation of the daily experience of ordinary Germans in wartime. At the center of the book is the Nazi extermi­nation of the Jews. The final book in Richard J. Evan's three-volume history of Hitler's Germany, hailed "a masterpiece" by The New York Times, The Third Reich at War lays bare the most momentous and tragic years of the Nazi regime.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“…Masterful….Evans demonstrates a fluent style and a sweeping grasp of the Third Reich’s history and of the enormous historical literature….Evans narrates the Reich’s end in gripping fashion as the Allies closed in on Germany. Evans’s fellow historians as well as a broader public will read this work, not quite with pleasure, for there is little joy in this story, but with admiration for the author’s narrative powers.”―Publisher’s Weekly, starred review
This major history is the stand-alone companion to Richard Evans's The Coming of the Third Reich and The Third Reich in Power. A consummate blend of exacting research and fine writing, this narrative history draws on the personal testimony of a wide cross-section of German society, from high-ranking Nazi generals to housewives attempting to stay alive under near-constant Allied aerial bombardment. Like its predecessors, this book reveals the unprecedented national mobilization activated to serve Hitler's war of conquest and racial subjugation.
Walter Reich
The book may well be not only the finest but also the most riveting account of that period. If any work of accurate history has a chance to correct the distortions of public memory, this is it. The story of Germany between its invasion of Poland in 1939 and its collapse in 1945 is a complex one. Its details have been reported in thousands of publications. In this book—the last in a magisterial trilogy covering the entire history of the Third Reich—Evans…brilliantly weaves together the diverse strands of the monumental evil at the heart of that story. The result is a narrative tapestry we can now see whole.
—The New York Times
Benjamin Carter Hett
Evans is clearly up on all the latest research on Nazi Germany, no mean achievement in a field in which tens of thousands of books have been published. But his goal is to appeal to the general reader rather than the professional historian, and he succeeds brilliantly, producing a book that is beautifully written and, despite its length and grim subject matter, easily digestible, even gripping…This is history in the grand style, the kind of large-scale narrative that few historians dare to write these days. It is difficult to imagine how it could be improved upon, let alone surpassed.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Describing the Third Reich from the height of its power to its collapse, Evans concludes the masterful trilogy that began with The Coming of the Third Reich and The Third Reich in Power. As in those works, Evans demonstrates a fluent style and a sweeping grasp of the Third Reich's history and of the enormous historical literature. The account is peppered with insightful anecdotes drawn from diaries, letters and speeches. What comes across most clearly is the supreme arrogance of the Nazis and the utterly rapacious character of their rule. Evans gives the Holocaust the centrality it deserves, while also depicting effectively the suffering of Poles and many others under Nazi domination. Evans offers a nuanced picture of the lives of Germans, but ultimately, he suggests, the Nazis' racial ideology thoroughly corrupted German society. Evans narrates the Reich's end in gripping fashion as the Allies closed in on Germany. Evans's fellow historians as well as a broader public will read this work, not quite with pleasure, for there is little joy in this story, but with admiration for the author's narrative powers. Illus., maps. (Mar. 23)

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Library Journal

In this final volume in a history of Nazi Germany, Evans (modern history, Cambridge Univ.; The Third Reich in Power) focuses on the war years and skillfully moves from analyzing grand strategy to the war's local impact. Interestingly, even during the war Hitler maintained his propensity for having subordinates fight one another for supremacy rather than developing an efficient governmental system. By 1942 Hitler, confident in his military genius and disgusted with his generals, appointed himself commander in chief of the Wehrmacht, necessitating an entirely new management style for a man whose prewar administrative skills were at best lackadaisical. Hitler's micro-management of military affairs, down to the tactical level, contributed to later military disasters. Evans, however, does not accept the postwar myth that Germany's war effort was better organized by its generals. Some of the most compelling sections detail how the Nazi conquest derailed the moral compass of so many Europeans. Local populations-in Croatia, for example-enthusiastically adopted Nazi methods of ethnic cleansing to create racial utopias, demonstrating that you cannot separate the war from Nazi racial ideology. Perhaps the best of an impressive series, this book is recommended for all libraries.
—Frederic Krome

Kirkus Reviews
Superbly written finale to Cambridge University historian Evans's three-volume study of Nazi Germany (after The Coming of the Third Reich, 2004, and The Third Reich in Power, 2005). Hitler had promised, "Give me ten years and you'll see what I've made out of Germany," and early on in the 1940s his subjects had the growing feeling that what he was making was not good. By 1945, one woman recorded, the promise "has for months been his most often-quoted, out of bitterness." Daringly, she burned her Nazi flag, joining a resistance that had been gathering strength since 1943, when, as Evans notes, the French and various Yugoslavian factions, among many other groups, became a real military presence in German-occupied lands. Evans's view is panoramic and thematic. Early in this sprawling book, he recognizes the Nazi "final solution" as a primary motive for war, particularly in the East, and he discusses the Nazi policy of Jewish eradication in chilling detail. Interestingly, the author is always looking for chinks in the armor. He notes, for instance, that Hermann Goring objected to the resettlement of Jews as detrimental to the war economy, even as Nazi typologists were trying to invent categories to admit pro-Nazi poles into the German ethnic ranks. (Uncomfortably for them, Poles in the resistance, by Nazi accounts, tended to have "a significant proportion of Nordic blood.") Evans charts the steadily deteriorating German course of war, from the end of the U-boat campaign in the Atlantic to Stalingrad and the Allied advance into the German homeland. His notes on the denouement-including the incomplete denazification of German government and the arrival into the United States and many SouthAmerican nations of known war criminals-are fascinating as well. But why another book on the Third Reich? Evans closes stirringly: It is necessary to study the Nazi regime as an example of what can happen if-well, let Evans tell that story for himself. A resounding victory in historiography.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143116714
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/23/2010
Pages:
944
Sales rank:
185,727
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Table of Contents

 

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

List of Illustrations

Preface

 

Part 1 - ‘BEASTS IN HUMAN FORM’

LIGHTNING VICTORY

THE NEW RACIAL ORDER

‘A DREADFUL RABBLE’

‘LIFE UNWORTHY OF LIFE’

 

Part 2 - FORTUNES OF WAR

‘THE WORK OF PROVIDENCE’

‘PATHOLOGICAL AMBITION’

OPERATION BARBAROSSA

IN THE TRACKS OF NAPOLEON

 

Part 3 - ‘THE FINAL SOLUTION’

‘NO PITY, NOTHING’

LAUNCHING GENOCIDE

THE WANNSEE CONFERENCE

‘LIKE SHEEP TO THE SLAUGHTER’

 

Part 4 - THE NEW ORDER

THE SINEWS OF WAR

‘NO BETTER OFF THAN PIGS’

UNDER THE NAZI HEEL

TOTAL WAR

 

Part 5 - ‘THE BEGINNING OF THE END’

GERMANY IN FLAMES

THE LONG RETREAT

‘HELL HAS BROKEN OUT’

A NEW ‘TIME OF STRUGGLE’

 

Part 6 - GERMAN MORALITIES

FEAR AND GUILT

CULTURES OF DESTRUCTION

DEADLY SCIENCE

RESISTANCE

 

Part 7 - DOWNFALL

‘A LAST SPARK OF HOPE’

‘ W E ’ L L TAKE A WORLD WITH U S’

THE FINAL DEFEAT

AFTERMATH

 

Notes

Bibliography

Index

THE PENGUIN PRESS

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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R oRL, England

 

Published in 2009 by The Penguin Press,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

 

Copyright © Richard J. Evans, 2008

All rights reserved

 

Maps drawn by Andras Bereznay

 

Illustration credits appear on pages ix-xi.

 

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA

 

Evans, Richard J.

The Third Reich at war / Richard J. Evans. p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

eISBN : 978-1-101-02230-6

1. World War, 1939 -1945—Germany. 2. Germany—Armed Forces—History—World War,

1939-1945. 3. Germany—History—1933-1945. I. Title.

D757.E.53’43—dc22 2008044765

 

 

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrightable materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

 

 

 

For Matthew and Nicholas

List of Illustrations

1. German troops enter Lo’dz’, September 1939 (photo: © Trustees of the Imperial War Museum, London)

2. Ethnic Germans from Lithuania crossing the German border, February 1941 (photo: © SV-Bilderdienst/Scherl)

3. Jewish forced labour, Poland, September 1939 (photo: akg-images)

4. Round-up of Jews in Szczebrzeszyn, c. 1939-41 (photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Instytut Pamieci Narodowej)

5. Still from the film I Accuse, 1941 (photo: © SV-Bilderdienst/Tobis)

6. Interior of the Bürgerbräukeller after the attempt on Hitler’s life, 8 November 1939 (photo: akg-images/ullstein bild)

7. Hess visiting the Krupp-AG factory, Essen, May 1940 (photo: akg-images)

8. German tanks in the Ardennes, May 1940 (photo: akg-images/ ullstein bild)

9. Hitler with Speer and Breker at the Trocad’ro, Paris, June 1940 (photo: akg-images/Heinrich Hoffmann)

10. Fedor von Bock with General Fritz Lindemann in the Crimea, May 1942 (photo: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich)

11. Grenadiers near Smolensk, September 1941 (photo: akg-images/ ullstein bild)

12. Burning of a Ukrainian farm, September 1941 (photo: bpk/Höhle)

13. German soldiers taking photographs of the execution of Russian partisans, January 1942 (photo: akg-images)

14. Red Army prisoners transported in railway wagons, September 1941 (photo: Bundesarchiv, Koblenz)

15. Car being pulled through the mud, Eastern Front, 1941 (photo: akg-images/ullstein bild)

16. ‘Juden Komplott Gegen Europa’ (‘Jewish Conspiracy Against Europe’), poster produced by the Reich Ministry for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment, summer 1941 (photo: © The Trustees of the Imperial War Museum, London)

17. Heinrich Himmler, Reinhardt Heydrich and Heinrich Müller, November 1939 (photo: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich/ Heinrich Hoffmann)

18. Auschwitz after its liberation (photo: akg-images)

19. Richard Baer, Dr Josef Mengele and Rudolf Höss, 1944 (photo: USHMM, courtesy of Anonymous Donor)

20. Albert Speer, 1943 (photo: bpk/Hanns Hubmann)

21. Tiger tanks in production, summer 1943 (photo: Bundesarchiv, Koblenz)

22. Street fighting in Stalingrad, 1942 (photo: akg-images)

23. Captured German soldier, Stalingrad, 1943 (photo: Bundesarchiv, Koblenz)

24. Captured German soldiers in the ruins of Stalingrad, January 1943 (photo: AP/PA Photos)

25. German civilian in the streets of Hamburg, December 1943 (photo: AP/PA Photos)

26. Hamburg’s main railway station in ruins, 1943 (photo: Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte, Hamburg)

27. Hans Guenther von Kluge and Gotthard Heinrici, 1943 (photo: Bundesarchiv, Koblenz)

28. Soviet infantry pursue German soldiers whose tank had been hit, August 1944 (photo: akg-images)

29. German leaflet threatening V-1 attacks (photo: courtesy www.psy-warrior.com)

30. Entrance to underground V-2 factory at Mittelbau-Dora, 1944 (photo: bpk/Hanns Hubmann)

31. Hitler on the Oder Front, March 1945 (photo: bpk/Walter Frentz)

32. The ‘People’s Storm’, Hamburg, October 1944 (photo: Hugo Schmidt-Luchs/Ullstein/akg-images)

33. Goebbels meets teenage soldiers at Lauban, Lower Silesia, March 1945 (photo: Bundesarchiv, Koblenz)

34. Hermann Göring, November 1945 (photo: akg-images)

35. Joachim von Ribbentrop c. 1945/6 (photo: akg-images)

36. German women clearing up the debris on Berlin’s Tauentzienstrasse, 1945 (photo: AP Photo)

 

Note: The views or opinions expressed in this book and the context in which the images are used do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of, nor imply approval or endorsement by, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Preface

This book tells the story of the Third Reich, the regime created in Germany by Hitler and his National Socialists, from the outbreak of the Second World War on 1 September 1939 to its end in Europe on 8 May 1945. It can be read on its own, as a history of Germany during the war. But it is also the final volume in a series of three, starting with The Coming of the Third Reich, which deals with the origins of Nazism, the development of its ideas and its rise to power in 1933. The second volume in the series, The Third Reich in Power, covers the peacetime years from 1933 to 1939, when Hitler and the Nazis built up Germany’s military strength and prepared it for war. The general approach of all three volumes is set out in the Preface to The Coming of the Third Reich and does not need to be repeated in detail here. Taken together, they aim to provide a comprehensive account of Germany under the Nazis.

Dealing with the history of the Third Reich during the war poses two special problems. The first is a relatively minor one. After 1939, Hitler and the Nazis became increasingly reluctant to refer to their regime as ‘The Third Reich’, preferring instead to call it ‘The Great German Reich’ (Grossdeutsches Reich) to draw attention to the massive expansion of its boundaries that took place in 1939-40. For the sake of unity and consistency, however, I have chosen, like other historians, to continue calling it ‘The Third Reich’; after all, the Nazis chose to abandon this term silently rather than repudiate it openly. The second problem is more serious. The central focus of this book is on Germany and the Germans; it is not a history of the Second World War, not even of the Second World War in Europe. Nevertheless, of course, it is necessary to narrate the progress of the war, and to deal with the Germans’ administration of the parts of Europe they conquered. Within the scope even of so large a book as this, it is not possible to pay equal attention to every phase and every aspect of the war. I have chosen, therefore, to focus on the major turning-points - the conquest of Poland and France and the Battle of Britain in the first year of the war, the Battle of Moscow in the winter of 1941- 2, the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942- 3, and the beginning of the sustained strategic bombing of German cities in 1943. In doing so, I have tried to convey something of the flavour of what it was like for Germans to take part in these vast conflicts, using the diaries and letters of both soldiers and civilians. The reasons for choosing these particular turning-points will, I hope, become apparent to readers in the course of the book.

At the heart of German history in the war years lies the mass murder of millions of Jews in what the Nazis called ‘the final solution of the Jewish question in Europe’. This book provides a full narrative of the development and implementation of this policy of genocide, while also setting it in the broader context of Nazi racial policies towards the Slavs, and towards minorities such as Gypsies, homosexuals, petty criminals and ‘asocials’. I have tried to combine the testimony of some of those it affected - both those who survived, and those who did not - with that of some of the men who implemented it, including the commandants of major death camps. The deportation and murder of Jews from Western European countries is covered in the chapter dealing with the Nazi empire, while the reactions of ordinary Germans at home, and the extent to which they knew about the genocide, are covered in a later chapter on the Home Front. The fact that the mass murder of the Jews is discussed in almost every part of the book, from the narrative of the foundation of the ghettos in Poland in the opening chapter right up to the coverage of the ‘death marches’ of 1945 in the final chapter, reflects its centrality to so many aspects of the history of the Third Reich at war. Wherever one looks, even for example in the history of music and literature, dealt with in Chapter 6, it is an inescapable part of the story. Nevertheless, it is important to reiterate that this book is a history of Nazi Germany in all its aspects; it is not in the first place a history of the extermination of the Jews, any more than it is a history of the Second World War, though both play an essential role in it.

The book opens where The Third Reich in Power left off, with the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939. Chapter 1 discusses the Germans’ occupation of Poland and in particular their ill-treatment, exploitation and murder of many thousands of Poles and Polish Jews from this point to the eve of the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. For the Nazis, and indeed for many Germans, Poles and ‘Eastern Jews’ were less than human, and this attitude applied, though with significant differences, to the mentally ill and handicapped in Germany itself, whose mass murder in the course of the ‘euthanasia’ action steered from Hitler’s Chancellery in Berlin forms the subject of the last part of the chapter. The second chapter is largely devoted to the progress of the war, from the conquest of Western Europe in 1940 through to the Russian campaign of 1941. That campaign forms the essential backdrop to the events narrated in Chapter 3, which deals with the launching and implementation of what the Nazis called ‘the final solution of the Jewish question in Europe’. Chapter 4 turns to the war economy, and looks at how the Third Reich ruled the countries it occupied in Europe, drafting in millions of forced labourers to man its arms factories and pushing ahead with the arrest, deportation and murder of the Jews who lived within the boundaries of the Nazi empire. That empire began to fall apart with the momentous German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad early in 1943, which is narrated in the concluding part of the chapter. It was followed the same year by reversals in many spheres of the war, from the devastation of Germany’s towns and cities by the Allied strategic bombing offensive to the defeat of Rommel’s armies in North Africa and the collapse of the Third Reich’s main European ally, the Fascist state of Mussolini’s Italy. These events form the principal focus of Chapter 5, which goes on to examine the way they affected the armed forces, and the impact they had on the conduct of the war at home. Chapter 6 is largely devoted to the ‘Home Front’, and looks at how religious, social, cultural and scientific life interacted with the war. It concludes with an account of the emergence of resistance to Nazism, particularly within the Third Reich itself. Chapter 7 begins with an account of the ‘wonder-weapons’ which Hitler promised would reverse Germany’s military collapse, before going on to tell the story of how the Reich was finally defeated, and to examine briefly what happened afterwards. Each chapter interweaves thematic aspects with an ongoing narrative of military events, so that Chapter 1 deals with military action in 1939, Chapter 2 covers 1940 and 1941, Chapter 3 discusses further military events in 1941, Chapter 4 takes the story on through 1942, Chapter 5 narrates the war on land, in the air and at sea in 1943, Chapter 6 moves the narrative on through 1944, and the final chapter gives an account of the closing months of the war, from January to May 1945.

This book is written to be read from start to finish, as a single, if complex, narrative, interspersed with description and analysis; I hope that the ways in which the different parts of the story interact with one another will become apparent to readers as the narrative proceeds. The chapter headings are intended more to provoke reflection on the contents than to provide precise descriptions of what each chapter contains; in some cases they are intentionally ambiguous or ironical. Anyone who wishes to use the book simply as a work of reference is recommended to turn to the index, where the location of the book’s principal themes, characters and events is laid out in detail. The bibliography lists works cited in the notes; it is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to the vast literature on the topics dealt with in the book.

Much of this book deals with countries in Central and Eastern Europe where towns and cities have a variety of names and spellings in different languages. The Polish city of Lvov, for example, is spelt L’vov in Russian and L’viv in Ukrainian, while the Germans called it something different altogether, namely Lemberg; there are similar variations in the spelling of Kaunas in Lithuanian and Kovno in Polish, Theresienstadt in German and Terez’n in Czech, or Reval in German and Tallinn in Estonian. The Nazi authorities also renamed L’d’ as Litzmannstadt in an attempt to obliterate all aspects of its Polish identity altogether and used German names for a variety of other sites, such as Kulmhof for Chelmno, or Auschwitz for Oswiecim. In this situation it is impossible to be consistent, and I have chosen to use the name current at the time about which I am writing, or on occasion simply the name with which English and American readers will be most familiar, while alerting them to the existence of alternatives. I have also simplified the use of accents and diacriticals in place-names and proper names - dropping the Polish character Ł, for instance - to remove what to my mind are distractions for the English-language reader.

In the preparation of this book I have enjoyed the huge advantage of access to the superb collections of Cambridge University Library, as well as to those of the Wiener Library and the German Historical Institute in London. The University of Melbourne kindly appointed me to a Miegunyah Distinguished Visiting Fellowship in 2007, and I was able to use the excellent research collection on modern German history purchased for the University Library from the bequest of the late, and much-missed, John Foster. The Staatsarchiv der Freien- und Hansestadt Hamburg and the Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg kindly permitted consultation of the unpublished diaries of Luise Solmitz. The encouragement of many readers, especially in the United States, has been crucial in spurring me on to complete the book, though it has taken longer to do so than I originally intended. The advice and support of many friends and colleagues has been crucial. My agent Andrew Wylie and my editor at Penguin, Simon Winder, and their teams have been enormously helpful. Chris Clark, Christian Goeschel, Victoria Harris, Sir Ian Kershaw, Richard Overy, Kristin Semmens, Astrid Swenson, Hester Vaizey and Nikolaus Wachsmann read early drafts and made many useful suggestions. Victoria Harris, Stefan Ihrig, Alois Maderspacher, David Motadel, Tom Neuhaus and Hester Vaizey checked through the notes and saved me from many errors. Andr’s Berezn’y provided maps that are a model of clarity and accuracy; working on them with him was extremely instructive. The expertise of David Watson in copy-editing was invaluable, and it was a pleasure to work with Cecilia Mackay on the illustrations. Christine L. Corton applied her practised eye to the proofs, and provided essential support in too many ways to mention. Our sons, Matthew and Nicholas, to whom this final volume, like the previous two, is dedicated, have cheered me up on innumerable occasions during the writing of a book the subject matter of which was sometimes shocking and depressing almost beyond belief. I am profoundly grateful to them all.

Richard J. Evans
Cambridge, May 2008

1

‘BEASTS IN HUMAN FORM’

LIGHTNING VICTORY

I

On 1 September 1939 the first of a grand total of sixty divisions of German troops crossed the Third Reich’s border with Poland. Numbering nearly one and a half million men, they paused only to allow newsreel cameramen from Joseph Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry to film the ceremonial raising of the customs barriers by grinning soldiers of the vanguard. The advance was spearheaded by tanks from the German army’s five armoured divisions, with around 300 tanks apiece, accompanied by four fully motorized infantry divisions. Behind them marched the bulk of the infantry, their artillery and equipment pulled mainly by horses - roughly 5,000 of them for each division, making at least 300,000 animals altogether. As impressive as this was, the decisive technology deployed by the Germans was not on the ground, but in the air. The ban imposed by the Treaty of Versailles on German military planes meant that aircraft construction had been forced to start almost from scratch when Hitler repudiated the relevant clauses of the Treaty only four years before the outbreak of the war. The German planes were not only modern in construction, but had been tried and tested in the Spanish Civil War by the German Condor Legion, many of the veterans of which piloted the 897 bombers, 426 fighters and various reconnaissance and transport planes that now took to the skies over Poland.1

These massive forces confronted the Poles with overwhelming odds. Hoping that the invasion would be stopped by Anglo-French intervention, and anxious not to offend world opinion by seeming to provoke the Germans, the Polish government delayed mobilizing its armed forces until the last minute. Thus they were poorly prepared to resist the sudden, massive invasion of German troops. The Poles could muster 1.3 million men, but they possessed few tanks and little modern equipment. German armoured and motorized divisions outnumbered their Polish counterparts by a factor of 15 to 1 in the conflict. The Polish air force was able to deploy only 154 bombers and 159 fighters against the invading Germans. Most of the aircraft, particularly the fighters, were obsolete, while the Polish cavalry brigades had scarcely begun to abandon their horses in favour of machines. Stories of Polish cavalry squadrons quixotically charging German tank units were most probably apocryphal, but the disparity in resources and equipment was undeniable all the same. The Germans surrounded Poland on three sides, following their dismemberment of Czecho-Slovakia earlier in the year. In the south, the German client state of Slovakia provided the most important jumping-off point for the invasion, and indeed the Slovak government actually sent some units to fight their way into Poland alongside the German troops, lured by the promise of a small amount of extra territory once Poland had been defeated. Other German divisions entered Poland across its northern border, from East Prussia, while still more marched in from the west, cutting through the Polish Corridor created by the Peace Settlement to give Poland access to the Baltic. Polish forces were stretched too thinly to defend all these frontiers effectively. While Stuka dive-bombers attacked the Polish armies strung out along the border from above, German tanks and artillery drove through their defences, cut them off from each other and broke their communications. Within a few days the Polish air force had been driven from the skies, and German bombers were destroying Polish arms factories, strafing the retreating troops and terrorizing the people of Warsaw, L’d’ and other cities.2

On 16 September 1939 alone, 820 German aircraft dropped a total of 328,000 kilos of bombs on the defenceless Poles, who possessed a total of only 100 anti-aircraft guns for the whole of the country. So demoralizing were the air attacks that in some areas Polish troops threw down their arms, and German commanders on the ground asked for the bombing to stop. A typical action was witnessed by the American correspondent William L. Shirer, who managed to get permission to accompany German forces attacking the Polish Baltic port of Gdynia:

 

The Germans were using everything in the way of weapons, big guns, small guns, tanks, and airplanes. The Poles had nothing but machine-guns, rifles, and two anti-aircraft pieces which they were trying desperately to use as artillery against German machine-gun posts and German tanks. The Poles . . . had turned two large buildings, one an officers’ school, the other the Gdynia radio station, into fortresses and were firing machine-guns from several of the windows. After a half-hour a German shell struck the roof of the school and set it on fire. Then German infantry, supported - or through the glasses it looked as though they were led - by tanks, charged up the hill and surrounded the building . . . A German seaplane hovered over the ridge, spotting for the artillery. Later, a bombing plane joined it, and they dived low, machine-gunning the Polish lines. Finally a squadron of Nazi bombers arrived. It was a hopeless position for the Poles.3

 

Similar actions were repeated all over the country as the German forces advanced. Within a week the Polish forces were in complete disarray, and their structure of command was shattered. On 17 September the Polish government fled to Romania, where its hapless ministers were promptly interned by the authorities. The country was now entirely leaderless. A government-in-exile, formed on 30 September 1939 on the initiative of Polish diplomats in Paris and London, was unable to do anything. A single, furious Polish counter-attack, at the Battle of Kutno on 9 September, only succeeded in delaying the encirclement of Warsaw by a few days at most.4

In Warsaw itself, conditions deteriorated rapidly. Chaim Kaplan, a Jewish schoolteacher, noted on 28 September 1939:

 

There is no end to corpses of horses. They lie fallen in the middle of the street and there is no one to remove them and clear the road. They have been rotting for three days and nauseating all the passers-by. However, because of the starvation rampant in the city, there are many who eat the horses’ meat. They cut off chunks and eat them to quiet their hunger.5

 

One of the most vivid depictions of the chaotic scenes that followed the German invasion was penned by a Polish doctor, Zygmunt Klukowski. Born in 1885, he was by the outbreak of the war superintendent of the Zamość county hospital in the town of Szczebrzeszyn. Klukowski kept a diary, which he hid away in odd corners of his hospital, as an act of defiance and remembrance. At the end of the second week in September, he noted the streams of refugees fleeing from the encroaching German troops in the middle of the night, a scene that would be repeated many times, in many parts of Europe, in the years to come:

The entire highway was crowded with military convoys, all types of motorized vehicles, horse-drawn wagons, and thousands of people on foot. Everyone was moving in one direction only - east. When daylight came a mass of people on foot and on bicycles added to the confusion. It was completely weird. This whole mass of people, seized with panic, were going ahead, without knowing where or why, and without any knowledge of where the exodus would end. Large numbers of passenger cars, several official limousines, all filthy and covered with mud, were trying to pass the truck and wagon convoys. Most of the vehicles had Warsaw registration. It was a sad thing to see so many high-ranking officers such as colonels and generals fleeing together with their families. Many people were hanging on to the roofs and fenders of the cars and trucks. Many of the vehicles had broken windshields and windows, damaged hoods or doors. Much slower moving were all kinds of buses, new city buses from Warsaw, Cracow, and L’d’ and all full of passengers. After that came horse-drawn wagons of every description loaded with women and children, all very tired, hungry, and dirty. Riding bicycles were mostly young men; only occasionally could a young woman be seen. Walking on foot were many kinds of people. Some had left their houses on foot; others were forced to leave their vehicles abandoned.6

 

He reckoned that up to 30,000 people were fleeing the German advance in this way.7

Worse was to come. On 17 September 1939 Klukowski heard a German loudspeaker in the market square of Zamość announcing that the Red Army, with German agreement, had crossed Poland’s eastern border.8 Not long before the invasion, Hitler had secured the non-intervention of the Russian dictator, Josef Stalin, by signing secret clauses of a German- Soviet Pact on 24 August 1939 that arranged the partition of Poland between the two states along an agreed demarcation line.9 In the first two weeks after the German invasion, Stalin had held back while he extricated his forces from a successful conflict with Japan in Manchuria, concluded only in late August. But when it became clear that Polish resistance had been broken, the Soviet leadership authorized the Red Army to move into the country from the east. Stalin was keen to grasp the opportunity to regain territory that had belonged to Russia before the revolution of 1917. It had been the object of a bitter war between Russia and the newly created Polish state in the immediate aftermath of the First World War. Now he could win it back. Faced with a war on two fronts, the Polish armed forces, which had made no plans for such an eventuality, fought a bitter but entirely futile rearguard action to try to delay the inevitable. It was not long in coming. Squashed between two vastly superior armies, the Poles did not stand a chance. On 28 September 1939 a new treaty laid down the final border. By this time, the German assault on Warsaw was over. 1,200 aircraft had dropped huge quanitites of incendiary and other bombs on the Polish capital, raising a huge pall of smoke that made accuracy impossible; many civilians were killed as a result. In view of their hopeless situation, the Polish commanders in the city had negotiated a ceasefire on 27 September 1939. 120,000 Polish troops of the city’s garrison surrendered, after being assured that they could go home after a brief and formal captivity as prisoners of war. The last Polish military units surrendered on 6 October 1939.10

This was the first example of the still far from perfected ‘lightning war’, Hitler’s Blitzkrieg, a war of rapid movement, led by tanks and motorized divisions in conjunction with bombers terrorizing enemy troops and immobilizing enemy air forces, overwhelming a more conventionally minded opponent by the sheer speed and force of a knockout punch through enemy lines. The achievement of the lightning war could be read from the comparative statistics of losses on the two sides. Altogether the Poles lost some 70,000 troops killed in action against the German invaders and another 50,000 against the Russians, with at least 133,000 wounded in the conflict with the Germans and an unknown number of casualties in the action against the Red Army. The Germans took nearly 700,000 Polish prisoners and the Russians another 300,000. 150,000 Polish troops and airmen escaped abroad, especially to Britain, where many of them joined the armed forces. The German forces suffered 11,000 killed and 30,000 wounded, with another 3,400 missing in action; the Russians lost a mere 700 men, with a further 1,900 wounded. The figures graphically illustrated the unequal nature of the conflict; at the same time, however, German losses were far from negligible, in terms not just of personnel but also, more strikingly, of equipment. No fewer than 300 armoured vehicles, 370 guns and 5,000 other vehicles had been destroyed, along with a considerable number of aircraft, and these losses were only partially offset by the capture or surrender of (usually very inferior) Polish equivalents. These were modest but still ominous portents for the future.11

For the moment such concerns did not trouble Hitler. He had followed the campaign from his mobile headquarters in an armoured train stationed first in Pomerania, later in Upper Silesia, making occasional forays by car to view the action from a safe distance. On 19 September he entered Danzig, the formerly German city placed under League of Nations suzerainty by the Peace Settlement, to be greeted by ecstatic crowds of ethnic Germans rejoicing in what they saw as their liberation from foreign control. After two brief flights to inspect the scenes of destruction wrought by his armies and airplanes on Warsaw, he went back to Berlin.12 There were no parades or celebratory speeches in the capital, but the victory met with general satisfaction. ‘I have still to find a German, even among those who don’t like the regime,’ wrote Shirer in his diary, ‘who sees anything wrong in the German destruction of Poland.’13 Social Democratic agents reported that the great mass of people supported the war not least because they thought that the failure of the western powers to assist the Poles meant that Britain and France would soon be suing for peace, an impression strengthened by a much-trumpeted ‘peace offer’ from Hitler to the French and British in early October. Though this was quickly rejected, the continued inaction of the British and the French kept hopes alive that they could be persuaded to pull out of the war.14 Rumours of a peace deal with the western powers were rife at this time, and even led to spontaneous celebratory demonstrations on the streets of Berlin.15

Meanwhile, Goebbels’s propaganda machine had gone into overdrive to persuade Germans that the invasion had been inevitable in the light of a Polish threat of genocide against the ethnic Germans in their midst. The nationalistic military regime in Poland had indeed discriminated heavily against the German ethnic minority in the interwar years. At the onset of the German invasion in September 1939, gripped by fears of sabotage behind the lines, it had arrested between ten and fifteen thousand ethnic Germans and marched them towards the eastern part of the country, beating laggards and shooting many of those who gave up through exhaustion. There were also widespread attacks on members of the ethnic German minority, most of whom had made no attempt to disguise their desire to return to the German Reich ever since their forcible incorporation into Poland at the end of the First World War.16 Altogether, around 2,000 ethnic Germans were killed in mass shootings or died from exhaustion on the marches. Some 300 were killed in Bromberg (Bydgoszcz), where local ethnic Germans had staged an armed uprising against the town’s garrison in the belief that the war was virtually over, and had been killed by the enraged Poles. These events were cynically exploited by Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry to win maximum support in Germany for the invasion. Many Germans were convinced. Melita Maschmann, a young activist in the League of German Girls, the female wing of the Hitler Youth, was persuaded that war was morally justified not only in the light of the injustices of Versailles, which had ceded German-speaking areas to the new Polish state, but also by press and newsreel reports of Polish violence against the German-speaking minority. 60,000 ethnic Germans, she believed, had been brutally murdered by the Poles in ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Bromberg. How could Germany be to blame for acting to stop such hatred, such atrocities, she asked herself.17 Goebbels had initially estimated the total number of ethnic Germans killed at 5,800. It was not until February 1940 that, probably on Hitler’s personal instructions, the estimate was arbitrarily increased to 58,000, later remembered in rough approximation by Melita Maschmann.18 The figure not only convinced most Germans that the invasion had been justified, but also fuelled the hatred and resentment felt by the ethnic German minority in Poland against their former masters.19 Under Hitler’s orders, its bitterness was quickly brought into the service of a campaign of ethnic cleansing and mass murder that far outdid anything that had happened after the German occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938.20

II

The invasion of Poland was indeed the third successful annexation of foreign territory by the Third Reich. In 1938, Germany had annexed the independent republic of Austria. Later in the year, it had marched unopposed into the German-speaking border regions of Czechoslovakia. Both these moves had been sanctioned by international agreement and, on the whole, welcomed by the inhabitants of the areas concerned. They could be portrayed as justifiable revisions of the Treaty of Versailles, which had proclaimed national self-determination as a general principle but denied it to German-speakers in parts of East-Central Europe such as these. In March 1939, however, Hitler had clearly violated the international agreements of the previous year by marching into the rump state of Czecho-Slovakia, dismembering it and creating out of the Czech part the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. For the first time the Third Reich had taken over a substantial area of East-Central Europe that was not inhabited mainly by German speakers. This was in fact the first step towards the fulfilment of a long-nurtured Nazi programme of establishing a new ‘living-space’ (Lebensraum) for the Germans in East-Central and Eastern Europe, where the Slav inhabitants would be reduced to the status of slave labourers and providers of food for their German masters. The Czechs were treated as second-class citizens in the new Protectorate, and those who were drafted into German fields and factories to provide much-needed labour were placed under an especially harsh legal and police regime, more draconian even than that which the Germans themselves were experiencing under Hitler.21

At the same time, the Czechs, along with the newly (nominally) independent Slovaks, had been allowed their own civil administration, courts and other institutions. Some Germans at least possessed a degree of respect for Czech culture, and the Czech economy was undeniably advanced. German views of Poland and the Poles were far more negative. Independent Poland had been partitioned between Austria, Prussia and Russia in the eighteenth century and had only come into existence again as a sovereign state at the end of the First World War. Throughout that period, German nationalists mostly believed that the Poles were temperamentally unable to govern themselves. ‘Polish muddle’ (Polenwirtschaft ) was a common expression for chaos and inefficiency, and school textbooks commonly portrayed Poland as economically backward and mired in Catholic superstition. The invasion of Poland had little to do with the situation of the German-speaking minority there, which made up only 3 per cent of the population, in contrast to the Czechoslovak Republic, where ethnic Germans had constituted nearly a quarter of the inhabitants. Helped by a long tradition of writing and teaching on the topic, Germans were convinced that they had taken up the burden of a ‘civilizing mission’ in Poland over the centuries, and it was now time for them to do so again.22

Hitler had little to say about Poland and the Poles before the war, and his personal attitude towards them seemed in some ways unclear, in contrast to his long-held dislike of the Czechs, nurtured already in pre-1914 Vienna. What concentrated his mind and turned it sharply against the Poles was the refusal of the military government in Warsaw to make any concessions to his territorial demands, in contrast to the Czechs, who had obligingly caved in under international pressure in 1938, demonstrating their willingness to co-operate with the Third Reich in the dismemberment and eventual suppression of their state. Matters were made worse by the refusal of Britain and France to push Poland into conceding demands such as the return of Danzig to Germany. In 1934, when Hitler had concluded a ten-year non-aggression pact with the Poles, it had seemed possible that Poland might become a satellite state in a future European order dominated by Germany. But by 1939 it had become a serious obstacle to the eastward expansion of the Third Reich. It therefore had to be wiped from the map, and ruthlessly exploited to finance preparations for the coming war in the west.23

The decision as to what should be done had still not been taken when, on 22 August 1939, as final preparations were being made for the invasion, Hitler told his leading generals how he envisaged the coming war with Poland:

Our strength lies in our speed and our brutality. Genghis Khan hunted millions of women and children to their deaths, consciously and with a joyous heart. History sees in him only the great founder of a state . . . I have issued a command - and I will have everyone who utters even a single word of criticism shot - that the aim of the war lies not in reaching particular lines but in the physical annihilation of the enemy. Thus, so far only in the east, I have put my Death’s Head formations at the ready with the command to send man, woman and child of Polish descent and language to their deaths, pitilessly and remorselessly . . . Poland will be depopulated and settled with Germans.24

 

The Poles were, he told Goebbels, ‘more animals than men, totally dull and formless . . . The dirt of the Poles is unimaginable’.25 Poland had to be subjugated with complete ruthlessness. ‘The Poles’, he told the Nazi Party ideologue Alfred Rosenberg on 27 September 1939, consisted of ‘a thin Germanic layer: underneath frightful material . . . The towns thick with dirt . . . If Poland had gone on ruling the old German parts for a few more decades everything would have become lice-ridden and decayed. What was needed now was a determined and masterful hand to rule.’26 Hitler’s self-confidence grew rapidly as days, then weeks, passed in September 1939 without any sign of an effective intervention by the British and the French to help the Poles. The success of the German armies only increased his feeling of invulnerability. In the creation of the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, strategic and economic considerations had played the major role. With the takeover of Poland, however, for the first time, Hitler and the Nazis were ready to unleash the full force of their racial ideology. Occupied Poland was to become the proving-ground for the creation of the new racial order in East-Central Europe, a model for what Hitler intended subsequently to happen in the rest of the region - in Belarus, Russia, the Baltic states and the Ukraine. This was to show what the Nazi concept of a new ‘living-space’ for the Germans in the east would really mean in practice.27

1. Poland and East-Central Europe under the German-Soviet Pact, 1939-41

By early October 1939 Hitler had abandoned his initial idea of allowing the Poles to govern themselves in a rump state. Large chunks of Polish territory were annexed by the Reich to form the new Reich Districts of Danzig-West Prussia, under Albert Forster, Nazi Party Regional Leader of Danzig, and Posen (soon renamed the Wartheland), under Arthur Greiser, formerly President of the Danzig Senate. Other pieces of Poland were added on to the existing Reich Districts of East Prussia and Silesia. These measures extended the borders of the Third Reich some 150 to 200 kilometres eastward. Altogether, 90,000 square kilometres of territory were incorporated into the Reich, along with around 10 million people, 80 per cent of them Poles. The rest of Poland, known as the ‘General Government’, was put under the autocratic rule of Hans Frank, the Nazi Party’s legal expert, who had made his name in defending Nazis in criminal cases during the 1920s and since then risen to become Reich Commissioner for Justice and head of the Nazi Lawyers’ League. Despite his unconditional loyalty to Hitler, Frank had clashed repeatedly with Heinrich Himmler and the SS, who cared a good deal less for legal formalities than he did, and removing him to Poland was a convenient way of sidelining him. Moreover, his legal experience seemed to fit him well for the task of building up a new administrative structure from scratch. More than 11 million people lived in the General Government, which included the Lublin district and parts of the provinces of Warsaw and Cracow. It was not a ‘protectorate’ like Bohemia and Moravia, but a colony, outside the Reich and beyond its law, its Polish inhabitants effectively stateless and without rights. In the position of almost unlimited power that he was to enjoy as General Governor, Frank’s penchant for brutal and violent rhetoric quickly translated into the reality of brutal and violent action. With Forster, Greiser and Frank occupying the leading administrative positions, the whole area of occupied Poland was now in the hands of hardened ‘Old Fighters’ of the Nazi movement, portending the unrestrained implementation of extreme Nazi ideology that was to be the guiding principle of the occupation.28

Hitler announced his intentions on 17 October 1939 to a small group of senior officials. The General Government, Hitler told them, was to be autonomous from the Reich. It was to be the site of a ‘hard ethnic struggle that will not permit any legal restrictions. The methods will not be compatible with our normal principles.’ There was to be no attempt at efficient or orderly government. ‘ “Polish muddle” must be allowed to flourish.’ Transport and communications had to be maintained because Poland would be ‘an advanced jumping-off point’ for the invasion of the Soviet Union at some time in the future. But otherwise, ‘any tendencies towards stabilizing the situation in Poland are to be suppressed’. It was not the task of the administration ‘to put the country on a sound basis economically and financially’. There must be no opportunity for the Poles to reassert themselves. ‘The Polish intelligentsia must be prevented from forming itself into a ruling class. The standard of living in the country is to remain low; it is of use to us only as a reservoir of labour.’29

These drastic policies were implemented by a mixture of local paramilitary groups and SS task forces. At the very beginning of the war, Hitler ordered the establishment of an Ethnic German Self-Protection militia in Poland, which soon afterwards came under the aegis of the SS. The militia was organized, and then led in West Prussia, by Ludolf von Alvensleben, adjutant to Heinrich Himmler. He told his men on 16 October 1939: ‘You are now the master race here . . . Don’t be soft, be merciless, and clear out everything that is not German and could hinder us in the work of construction.’30 The militia began organized mass shootings of Polish civilians, without any authorization from the military or civil authorities, in widespread acts of revenge for supposed Polish atrocities against the ethnic Germans. Already on 7 October 1939 Alvensleben reported that 4,247 Poles had been subjected to the ‘sharpest measures’. In the month from 12 October to 11 November 1939 alone, some 2,000 men, women and children were shot by the militia in Klammer (Kulm district). No fewer than 10,000 Poles and Jews were brought by militiamen to Mniszek, in the parish of Dragass, from the surrounding areas, lined up on the edge of gravel pits, and shot. Militias, assisted by German soldiers, had shot another 8,000, in a wood near Karlshof, in the Zempelburg district, by 15 November 1939. By the time these activities had been brought to an end, early in 1940, many thousands more Poles had fallen victim to the militiamen’s rage. In the West Prussian town of Konitz, for example, the local Protestant militia, fired up by hatred and contempt for Poles, Catholics, Jews and anyone who did not fit in with the Nazis’ racial ideals, began on 26 September by shooting forty Poles and Jews, without even the pretence of a trial. Their tally of Jewish and Polish victims had reached 900 by the following January. Of the 65,000 Poles and Jews murdered in the last quarter of 1939, around half were killed by the militias, sometimes in bestial circumstances; these were the first mass shootings of civilians in the war.31

III

In the course of 1939 Himmler, Heydrich and other leading figures in the SS had been engaged in a lengthy debate about the best way of organizing the various bodies that had come under their control since the beginning of the Third Reich, including the Security Service, the Gestapo, the criminal police and a large number of specialized offices. Their discussions were lent urgency by the prospect of the forthcoming invasion of Poland, in which it was clear that the lines of responsibility and demarcation between the police and the Security Service would need to be redrawn if they were to assert themselves effectively against the mighty power of the German army. On 27 September 1939 Himmler and Heydrich created the Reich Security Head Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt ) to pull all the various parts of the police and SS together under a single, centralized directorate. As elaborated over the following months, the Office came to consist of seven departments. Two of these (I and II) ran the administration in all its various activities, from employment conditions to personnel files. The initial director, Werner Best, was eventually pushed aside by his rival Heydrich in June 1940 and his responsibilities divided between less ambitious figures. Heydrich’s Security Service itself occupied Departments III and VI, covering respectively domestic and foreign affairs. Department IV consisted of the Gestapo, with sections devoted to dealing with political opponents (IVA), the Churches and the Jews (IVB), ‘protective custody’ (IVC), occupied territories (IVD) and counter-espionage (IVE). The criminal police was put into Department V, and Department VII was created to investigate oppositional ideologies. The whole vast structure was in a state of constant flux, riven by internal rivalries, and undermined by periodic changes of personnel. However, a number of key individuals ensured a degree of coherence and continuity - notably Reinhard Heydrich, its overall head, Heinrich Müller, the Gestapo chief, Otto Ohlendorf, who ran Department III, Franz Six (Department VII) and Arthur Nebe (Department V). It was to all intents and purposes an independent body, deriving its legitimacy from Hitler’s personal prerogative power, staffed not with traditional, legally trained civil servants but with ideologically committed Nazis. A key part of its rationale was to politicize the police, many of whose senior officers, including Müller, were career policemen rather than Nazi fanatics. Cut loose from traditional administrative structures, the Reich Security Head Office intervened in every area where Heydrich felt an active, radical presence was needed, first of all in the racial reordering of occupied Poland.32

This now proceeded apace. Already on 8 September 1939 Heydrich was reported as saying that ‘we want to protect the little people, but the aristocrats, the Poles and Jews must be killed’, and expressing his impatience, as was Hitler himself, with the low rate of executions ordered by the formal military courts - a mere 200 a day at this time.33 Franz Halder, chief of the Army General Staff, believed that ‘it’s the aim of the Leader and of Göring to annihilate and exterminate the Polish people’.34 On 19 September 1939 Halder recorded Heydrich as saying there would be a ‘clear-out: Jews, intelligentsia, priesthood, aristocracy’. 60,000 names of Polish professionals and intellectuals had been gathered before the war; they were all to be killed. A meeting between Brauchitsch and Hitler on 18 October confirmed that the policy was to ‘prevent the Polish intelligentsia from building itself up to become a new leadership stratum. The low standard of living will be maintained. Cheap slaves. All the rabble must be cleared out of German territory. Creation of a complete disorganization.’35 Heydrich told his subordinate commanders that Hitler had ordered the deportation of Poland’s Jews into the General Government, along with professional and educated Poles, apart from the political leaders, who were to be put into concentration camps.36

Building on the experience of the occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia, and acting on Hitler’s explicit orders, Heydrich organized five Task Forces (Einsatzgruppen), later increased to seven, to follow the army into Poland to carry out the Third Reich’s ideological policies.37 Their leaders were appointed by a special administrative unit created by Heydrich and put under the command of Werner Best.38 The men he appointed to lead the Task Forces and their various sub-units (Einsatzkommandos ) were senior Security Service and Security Police officers, mostly well-educated, middle-class men in their mid-to-late thirties who had turned to the far right in the Weimar Republic. Many of the older, more senior commanders had served in the violent paramilitary units of the Free Corps in the early 1920s; their younger subordinates had often been initiated into the politics of the ultra-nationalist, antisemitic far right during their university days in the early 1930s. A good number, though not all, had imbibed violent anti-Polish feelings as members of paramilitary units in the conflicts of 1919- 21 in Upper Silesia, as natives of areas forcibly ceded to Poland in the Peace Settlement, or as police officers along the German-Polish border. Best expected his officers not only to be senior, experienced and efficient administrators but also to have military experience of one kind or another.39

Typical of these men in most though not all respects was Bruno Streckenbach, an SS brigade leader born in Hamburg in 1902, son of a customs officer. Too young to fight in the First World War, Streckenbach joined a Free Corps unit in 1919 and was involved in fighting against left-wing revolutionaries in Hamburg before taking part in the Kapp putsch of March 1920. After working in various administrative jobs in the 1920s, Streckenbach joined the Nazi Party in 1930 and then in 1931 the SS; in November 1933 he became an officer in the SS Security Service, rising steadily through its ranks and becoming chief of the State Police in Hamburg in 1936, gaining a reputation for ruthlessness in the process. This recommended him to Best, who appointed him head of Task Force I in Poland in 1939. Streckenbach was unusual chiefly in his relative lack of educational attainments; a number of his subordinate officers had doctorates. Like them, however, he had a history of violent commitment to the extreme right.40

Streckenbach and the Task Forces, numbering in total about 2,700 men, were charged with establishing the political and economic security of the German occupation in the wake of the invasion. This included not only the killing of ‘the leading stratum of the population in Poland’ but also the ‘combating of all elements in enemy territory to the rear of the fighting troops who are hostile to the Reich and the Germans’.41 In practice this allowed the Task Forces considerable room for manoeuvre. The Task Forces were placed under the formal command of the army, which was ordered to assist them as far as the tactical situation allowed. This made sense insofar as the Task Forces were meant to deal with espionage, resistance, partisan groups and the like, but in practice they went very much their own way as the SS unfolded its massive campaign of arrests, deportations and murders.42 The Task Forces were armed with lists of Poles who had fought in one way or another against German rule in Silesia during the troubles that had accompanied the League of Nations plebiscites at the end of the First World War. Polish politicians, leading Catholics and proponents of Polish national identity were singled out for arrest. On 9 September 1939 the Nazi jurist Roland Freisler, State Secretary in the Reich Ministry of Justice, arrived in Bromberg to set up a series of show trials before a special court, which had condemned 100 men to death by the end of the year.43

The hospital director Dr Zygmunt Klukowski began recording in his diary mass executions of Poles in his district by the Germans, carried out on the slightest of pretexts - seventeen people in early January 1940, for example.44 The danger to him as an intellectual, professional man was particularly acute. Klukowski lived in constant fear of arrest, and indeed in June 1940 he was taken by German police from his hospital to an internment camp, where the Poles were put through punishing physical exercises, beaten ‘with sticks, whips, or fists’, and kept in filthy and insanitary conditions. Under interrogation he told the Germans that there was typhus in his hospital and he had to get back to stop it spreading into the town and possibly infecting them (‘In my head I was saying “glory be to the louse”,’ he later wrote in his diary). He was immediately released to go back to what he portrayed as his thoroughly infested hospital. He had been very lucky, he reflected; he had escaped being beaten or having to run round the prison training field, and he had got out quickly. The experience, he wrote, ‘surpassed all the rumors. I was unable before to comprehend the methodical disregard of personal dignity, how human beings could be treated much worse than any animals, while the physical abuses that were performed with sadistic pleasure clearly showed on the faces of the German Gestapo. But,’ he went on, ‘. . . the behavior of the prisoners was magnificent. No one begged for mercy; no one showed even a trace of cowardice . . . All the insults, mistreatment, and abuses were received calmly with the knowledge that they bring shame and disgrace to the German people.’45

Reprisals for even the most trivial offences were savage. In one incident in the village of Wawer, a Warsaw physician reported,

A drunken Polish peasant picked a quarrel with a German soldier and in the resulting brawl wounded him with a knife. The Germans seized this opportunity to carry out a real orgy of indiscriminate murder in alleged reprisal for the outrage. Altogether 122 people were killed. As, however, the inhabitants of this village, for some reason or other, apparently fell short of the pre-determined quota of victims, the Germans stopped a train to Warsaw at the local railway station (normally it did not call there at all), dragged out several passengers, absolutely innocent of any knowledge of what had happened, and executed them on the spot without any formalities. Three of them were left hanging with their heads down for four days at the local railway station. A huge board placed over the hideous scene told the story of the victims and threatened that a similar fate was in store for every locality where a German was killed or wounded.46

 

When a thirty-year-old stormtrooper leader and local official arrived drunk at the prison in Hohensalza, hauled the Polish prisoners out of their cells and had fifty-five of them shot on the spot, killing some of them personally, the only effect that the protests of other local officials had was to persuade Regional Leader Greiser to extract from him a promise not to touch any alcohol for the next ten years.47 In another incident, in Obluze, near Gdynia, the smashing-in of a window in the local police station resulted in the arrest of fifty Polish schoolboys. When they refused to name the culprit, their parents were ordered to beat them in front of the local church. The parents refused, so the SS men beat the boys with their rifle-butts then shot ten of them, leaving their bodies lying in front of the church for a whole day.48

Such incidents occurred on a daily basis through the winter of 1939-40 and involved a mixture of regular German troops, ethnic German militias and units from the Task Forces and the Order Police. While the army had not been ordered to kill the Polish intelligentsia, the view most soldiers and junior officers had of Poles as dangerous and treacherous subhumans was enough for them to target a large number of Polish intellectuals and professionals as part of what they thought of as preventive or reprisal measures.49 Given the fierce if ineffective resistance they encountered from the Poles, German army commanders were extremely worried at the prospect of a guerrilla war against their troops, and took the most draconian retaliatory measures where they suspected it was emerging.50 ‘If there is shooting from a village behind the front,’ ordered Colonel-General von Bock on 10 September 1939, ‘and if it proves impossible to identify the house from which the shots came, then the whole village is to be burned to the ground.’51 By the time the military administration of occupied Poland ended on 26 October, 531 towns and villages had been burned to the ground, and 16,376 Poles had been executed.52 Lower-ranking German soldiers were fuelled by fear, contempt and rage as they encountered Polish resistance. In many units, officers gave pep-talks before the invasion, underlining the barbarism, bestiality and subhumanity of the Poles. Corporal Franz Ortner, a rifle-man, railed in a report against what he called the ‘brutalized’ Poles, who had, he thought, bayoneted the German wounded on the battlefield. A private, writing a letter home, described Polish actions against ethnic Germans as ‘brutish’. Poles were ‘insidious’, ‘treacherous’, ‘base’; they were mentally subnormal, cowardly, fanatical; they lived in ‘stinking holes’ instead of houses; and they were under the ‘baleful influence of Jewry’. Soldiers waxed indignant about the conditions in which Poles lived: ‘Everywhere foul straw, damp, pots and flannels’, wrote one of a Polish home he entered, confirming everything he had heard about the backwardness of the Poles.53

Typical examples of the ordinary soldier’s behaviour can be found in the diary of Gerhard M., a stormtrooper, born in Flensburg in 1914 and called up to the army shortly before the war. On 7 September 1939 his unit encountered resistance from ‘cowardly snipers’ in a Polish village. Gerhard M. had been a fireman before the war. But now he and the men of his unit burned the village to the ground.

Burning houses, weeping women, screaming children. A picture of misery. But the Polish people didn’t want it any better. In one of the primitive peasant houses we even surprised a woman servicing a Polish machine-gun. The house was turned over and set alight. After a short while the woman was surrounded by the flames and tried to get out. But we stopped her, as hard as it was. Soldiers can’t be treated any differently just because they’re in skirts. Her screaming rang in my ears long after. The whole village burned. We had to walk exactly in the middle of the street, because the heat from the burning houses on both sides was too great.54

Such scenes repeated themselves as the German armies advanced. A few days later, on 10 September 1939, Gerhard M.’s unit was fired on from another Polish village and set the houses alight.

Soon burning houses were lining our route, and out of the flames there sounded the screams of the people who had hidden in them and were unable any more to rescue themselves. The animals were bellowing in fear of death, a dog howled until it was burned up, but worst of all was the screaming of the people. It was dreadful. It’s still ringing in my ears even today. But they shot at us and so they deserved death.55

SS Task Forces, police units, ethnic German paramilitaries and regular German soldiers were thus killing civilians all over German-occupied Poland from September 1939 onwards. As well as observing actions of this kind, Dr Klukowski began to notice more and more young Polish men leaving for work in Germany in the early months of 1940. At the beginning of the year, indeed, the Reich Food Ministry, together with the Labour Ministry and the Office of the Four-Year Plan, had demanded a million Polish workers for the Reich economy. 75 per cent of them were to work in agriculture, where there was a serious labour shortage. These, as Göring decreed on 25 January 1940, were to come from the General Government. If they did not volunteer, they would have to be conscripted. Given the miserable conditions that existed in occupied Poland, the prospect of living in Germany was not unattractive, and over 80,000 Polish workers, a third of them women, were transported voluntarily to Germany on 154 special trains in February, mainly from the General Government. Once in Germany, however, they were subjected to harshly discriminatory laws and repressive measures.56 News of their treatment in Germany quickly led to a sharp decline in the number of volunteers, so that from April 1940 Frank introduced compulsion in an attempt to fulfil his quota. Increasingly, young Poles fled into the forests to avoid labour conscription in Germany; the beginnings of the Polish underground resistance movement date from this time.57 In January the resistance tried to assassinate the General Government’s police chief, and over the following weeks there were uprisings and murders of ethnic Germans in a number of villages. On 30 May 1940, Frank initiated a ‘pacification action’ in which 4,000 resistance fighters and intellectuals, half of whom were already in custody, were killed, along with some 3,000 Poles sentenced for criminal offences.58 This had little effect. In February 1940 there were still only 295,000 Poles, mostly prisoners of war, working as labourers in the Old Reich. This in no way made good the labour shortages that had been occasioned by the mass conscription of German men into the armed forces. By the summer of 1940, there were 700,000 Poles working as voluntary or forced labourers in the Old Reich; another 300,000 went to the Reich the following year. By this time, Frank was issuing local administrations with fixed quotas to fulfil. Often the police surrounded villages and arrested all the young men in them. Those who attempted to flee were shot. In towns, young Poles were simply rounded up by the police and the SS in cinemas or other public places, or on the streets, and shipped off without further ceremony. As a result of these methods, by September 1941 there were over a million Polish workers in the Old Reich. According to one estimate, only 15 per cent of them had gone there of their own accord.59

The mass deportation of young Poles as forced workers to the Reich was paralleled by a wholesale campaign of looting unleashed by the German occupation forces. When German soldiers tried to steal from his hospital, Klukowski managed to get rid of them by telling them once again that several of the patients had typhus.60 Others were not so quick-witted, or so well situated. The requirement for the troops to live off the land was not accompanied by any kind of detailed rules of requisitioning. From impounding chickens it was but a short step to requisitioning cooking equipment and then to stealing money and jewellery. 61 Typical was the experience of Gerhard M., whose unit arrived in a Polish town and stood on the street awaiting orders:

A resourceful chap had discovered a chocolate shop with its windows boarded over. Unfortunately the owner wasn’t there. So we cleared out the shop on tick. Our vehicles were piled high with chocolate until there was no more room. Every soldier ran around with his cheeks stuffed full, chewing. We were mightily pleased with the cheapness of the purchase. I discovered a store of really beautiful apples. All up onto our vehicle. A can of lemons and chocolate biscuits on the back of my bike, and then off we went again.62

 

Leading the way in the despoliation of occupied Poland was the General Governor himself. Frank made no effort to conceal his greed. He even referred to himself as a robber baron. He confiscated the country estate of the Potocki family for use as a rural retreat, and drove around his fiefdom in a limousine large enough to attract critical comment even from colleagues such as the Governor of Galicia. Aping Hitler, he built an imitation of the Berghof in the hills near Zakopane. The magnificent banquets he staged caused his waistline to expand so fast that he consulted a dietician because he could barely fit into his dress uniform any more.63

Looting and requisitioning were soon placed on a formal, quasi-legal basis in the territories incorporated into the Reich. On 27 September 1939 the German military government in Poland decreed a blanket confiscation of Polish property, confirming the order again on 5 October 1939. On 19 October 1939 Göring announced that the Office of the Four-Year Plan was seizing all Polish and Jewish property in the incorporated territories. This practice was formalized by a decree on 17 September 1940 that set up a central agency, the Head Office of the Trustees for the East (Haupttreuhandstelle Ost), to administer the confiscated enterprises. In February 1941 these already included over 205,000 businesses ranging in size from small workshops to major industrial enterprises. By June 1941, 50 per cent of businesses and a third of the larger landed estates in the annexed territories had been taken over by the requisitioned Trustees without compensation. In addition, the army took over a substantial number of farms to secure food supplies for the troops.64 Confiscations included the removal of scientific equipment from university laboratories for use in Germany. Even the Warsaw Zoo’s collection of stuffed animals was taken away.65 Metal was at a premium. Along the banks of the Vistula, one German paratrooper reported not long after the invasion, there were great crates ‘full of bars of copper, lead, zinc in enormous quantities. Everything, absolutely everything was loaded up and brought back to the Reich.’66 As had been the case in the Reich itself for some time, iron and steel objects, such as park railings and garden gates, even candelabras and saucepans, were collected to be melted down and used in armament and vehicle production in Germany.67 When the cold winter really began to bite, in January 1940, Dr Klukowski noted, ‘the German police took all sheepskin coats from passing villagers and left them only in jackets’.68 Not long afterwards the occupation forces began raiding villages and confiscating all the banknotes they found there.69

IV

Not all German army commanders, particularly in the senior ranks, where the influence of Nazism was less extreme than lower down the army hierarchy, accepted this situation with equanimity. Some of them indeed were soon complaining of unauthorized shootings of Polish civilians on the orders of junior officers, and of looting and extortion by German troops, and alleging that ‘some of the prisoners were brutally beaten’. ‘Near Pultusk,’ reported a General Staff officer, ‘80 Jews have been mown down in a bestial manner. A court-martial has been established, also against two people who have been looting, murdering and raping in Bromberg.’ Such actions began to arouse concern in the army leadership. Already on 10 September 1939 Chief of the Army General Staff Franz Halder was noticing ‘dirty deeds behind the front’.70 In mid-October, complaints from army commanders led to an agreement that the ‘self-protection militias’ were to be dissolved, though in some areas it took several months for this to be brought about.71 But this did not end the senior officers’ concerns. On 25 October 1939 Walther von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the army, rapped his officers sharply over the knuckles about their conduct in Poland:

A disturbing number of cases, for example of illegal expulsion, forbidden confiscation, self-enrichment, misappropriation and theft, maltreatment or threatening subordinates partly in over-excitement, partly in senseless drunkenness, disobedience with the most serious consequences for the troop unit under command, rape of a married woman, etc., yield a picture of soldiers with the habits of freebooting mercenaries (Landsknechtsmanieren), which cannot be strongly enough condemned.72

 

A number of other senior officers, including those whose belief in Hitler and National Socialism was beyond question, shared this view.73

In many instances, army leaders, concerned that they might be saddled with the responsibility for the mass murders now in progress, were only too pleased to devolve it onto the SS Security Service Task Force leaders by allowing them a free hand.74 Yet instances began to multiply of senior army officers taking action against SS units which they thought to be breaching the laws and conventions of war and causing disturbances behind the front that were a general threat to order. General von Küchler, commander of the German Third Army, ordered the arrest and disarming of a police unit belonging to Task Force V after it had shot some Jews and set their houses on fire in Mlawa. He court-martialled members of an SS artillery regiment who had driven fifty Jews into a synagogue near Rozan after they had finished working on strengthening a bridge, and then shot them all ‘without reason’. Other officers took similar measures, even in one case arresting a member of Hitler’s SS bodyguard. Brauchitsch had met Hitler on 20 September and Heydrich on 21 September to try to sort out the situation. The only result was an amnesty issued by Hitler personally on 4 October for crimes committed ‘out of bitterness against the atrocities committed by the Poles’. Yet military discipline was being threatened, and a number of senior officers were deeply concerned. Rumours spread quickly through the officer corps. At his Cologne base in early December 1939, a thoughtful staff officer in his mid-thirties, Captain Hans Meier-Welcker, heard of the atrocities and wondered, ‘How will something like this avenge itself?’75

The most outspoken criticism of the occupation policy came from Colonel-General Johannes Blaskowitz, who had played a major part in the invasion and was appointed Commander-in-Chief East, in charge of the military administration of the conquered territories, in late October 1939. Military rule was formally brought to an end on 26 October 1939, and authority passed to the civil administration. Thus Blaskowitz had no general powers over the region. Nevertheless he remained responsible for its military defence. A few weeks after his appointment, Blaskowitz sent Hitler a lengthy memorandum detailing the crimes and atrocities committed by SS and police units in the area under his command. He repeated his allegations at greater length in a memorandum prepared for an official visit by the army Commander-in-Chief to his headquarters on 15 February 1940. He condemned the killing of tens of thousands of Jews and Poles as counter-productive. It would, he wrote, damage Germany’s reputation abroad. It would only strengthen Polish national feeling and drive more Poles and Jews into the resistance. It was harming the army’s reputation in the population. He warned of ‘the boundless brutalization and moral depravity that will spread through valuable German human material like an epidemic in the shortest time’ if it was allowed to continue. Blaskowitz instanced a number of cases of murder and looting by SS and police units. ‘Every soldier,’ he wrote, ‘feels himself disgusted and repelled by these crimes that are being committed in Poland by members of the Reich and representatives of its state authority.’76

The hatred and bitterness these actions were arousing in the population were driving Poles and Jews together in a common cause against the invader and needlessly endangering military security and economic life, he told the Nazi Leader.77 Hitler dismissed such scruples as ‘childish’. One could not fight a war with the methods of the Salvation Army. He had never liked or trusted Blaskowitz anyway, he told his adjutant, Gerhard Engel. He should be dismissed. The head of the army, Walther von Brauchitsch, brushed aside the incidents detailed by his subordinate as ‘regrettable errors of judgement’ or baseless ‘rumours’. In any case, he was fully behind what he called the ‘otherwise unusual, tough measures taken against the Polish population in the occupied territory’ that were in his view necessary in view of the need for the ‘securing of the German living-space’ ordered by Hitler. Lacking support from his superior, Blaskowitz was relieved of his command in May 1940. Although he subsequently served in senior posts in other theatres of war, Blaskowitz never gained his Field Marshal’s baton, unlike other generals of his standing.78

The generals, now more concerned with military events in the west, knuckled under.79 General Georg von Küchler issued an order on 22 July 1940 banning his officers from indulging in ‘any criticism of the struggle being waged with the population in the General Government, for example the treatment of the Polish minorities, the Jews, and Church matters. The achievement of a final solution of this ethnic struggle,’ he added, ‘which has been raging for centuries along our eastern frontier, requires particularly tough measures.’80 Many senior army officers subscribed to this view. What they were concerned about in the main was indiscipline. Given the prevailing attitude of the troops and of junior and middle-ranking officers towards the Poles, it was scarcely surprising that the incidents where officers intervened to prevent atrocities were relatively few in number. The German army hierarchy did not, for example, intend to break the Geneva Convention of 1929 in relation to the nearly 700,000 prisoners of war they took in the Polish campaign, but there were numerous cases of military guards shooting Polish prisoners when they failed to keep up with a forced march, killing prisoners who were too weak or ill to stand, and penning prisoners into open-air camps with inadequate food and supplies. On 9 September 1939, when a motorized German infantry regiment took 300 Polish prisoners after a half-hour exchange of fire near Ciepiel’w, the colonel in charge, angered by the loss of fourteen of his men during the clash, lined all the prisoners up and had them machine-gunned into a ditch by the side of the road. A later Polish investigation identified a further sixty-three incidents of this kind, and many more must have gone unrecorded.81 In formal military executions alone at least 16,000 Poles were shot; one estimate puts the figure at 27,000.82

THE NEW RACIAL ORDER

I

Hitler had announced before the war that he intended to clear the Poles out of Poland and bring in German settlers instead. In effect, Poland was to serve the same function for Germany as Australia had for Britain, or the American West for the USA: it was to be a colony of settlement, in which the supposedly racially inferior indigenous inhabitants would be removed by one means or another to make room for the invading master race. The idea of changing the ethnic map of Europe by forcibly shifting ethnic groups from one area to another was not new either: a precedent had already been established immediately after the First World War with a large-scale exchange of minority populations between Turkey and Greece. In 1938, too, Hitler had toyed with the idea of including in the Munich agreement a clause providing for the ‘repatriation’ of ethnic Germans from rump Czecho-Slovakia to the Sudetenland. And the following spring, with the annexation of the rump state, he had briefly considered an even more drastic idea of deporting 6 million Czechs to the east. Neither of these notions came to anything. But Poland was a different matter. As the prospect of an invasion loomed, the Race and Settlement Head Office of the Nazi Party, originally set up by Richard Walther Darr’ to encourage the movement of urban citizens on to new farms within Germany itself, began to turn its attention to Eastern Europe. Under the slogan ‘One People, One Reich, One Leader’, Nazi ideologues started to think about bringing back ethnic Germans from their far-flung settlements across Eastern Europe into the Reich, now, from the autumn of 1939, extended to include large areas inhabited by Poles.83

On 7 October 1939 Hitler appointed Heinrich Himmler Reich Commissioner for the Strengthening of the German Race. The previous day, Hitler had declared, in a lengthy speech delivered to the Reichstag to celebrate the victory over Poland, that the time had come for ‘a new ordering of ethnographic relations, which means a resettlement of the nationalities so that, after the conclusion of this development, better lines of demarcation are given than is the case today’.84 In the decree of 7 October 1939, Hitler ordered the head of the SS

(1) to bring back those German citizens and ethnic Germans abroad who are eligible for permanent return to the Reich; (2) to eliminate the harmful influence of such alien parts of the population as constitute a danger to the Reich and the German community; (3) to create new German colonies by resettlement, and especially by the resettlement of German citizens and ethnic Germans coming back from abroad.85

 

Over the winter months of 1939-40 Himmler set up an elaborate bureaucracy to manage this process, drawing on preparatory work by the Racial-Political Office of the Nazi Party and the Race and Settlement Head Office of the SS. Two enormous forced population transfers began almost immediately: the removal of Poles from the incorporated territories, and the identification and ‘repatriation’ of ethnic Germans from other parts of Eastern Europe to replace them.86

The Germanization of the incorporated territories began when 88,000 Poles and Jews were arrested in Posen in the first half of December 1939, taken by train to the General Government and dumped there on arrival. Fit and able-bodied men were separated out and taken to Germany as forced labourers. None of them received any compensation for the loss of their homes, their property, their businesses or their assets. The conditions of their deportation, in the middle of winter, with inadequate clothing and supplies, in unheated freight trucks, were murderous. When one trainload arrived in Cracow in mid-December 1939, the receiving officials had to take off the bodies of forty children who had frozen to death on the journey.87 Dr Klukowski treated evacuees from Posen in his hospital at Szczebrzeszyn in the second week of December 1939: 160 of them, ‘workers, farmers, teachers, clerks, bankers, and merchants’, had been given twenty minutes’ notice then were ‘loaded into unheated railroad cars . . . The German soldiers were extremely brutal. One of the sick that I received at the hospital, a bookkeeper, had been so severely beaten that he will require long hospitalization.’88 Another group of 1,070 deportees who arrived on 28 May 1940 were, he reported, in a ‘terrible condition, resigned to their fate, completely broken, in particular those whose children had been taken to the labor camps’.89 The deportations continued, with Klukowski and others like him desperately trying to organize food, medical care and accommodation for the victims on their arrival. By the time they had finished, early in 1941, a total of 365,000 people had been deported from Posen. The same actions took place in other parts of the former Polish Republic. Altogether over a million people were involved, a third of them Jewish. They lost all their property, assets and possessions. ‘Hundreds of them who were farmers,’ Klukowski wrote, ‘became beggars in one hour.’90

One of those who observed the arrival of the Polish deportees in the General Government was Wilm Hosenfeld, a German army officer whose relatively poor health had prevented him from taking a direct part in the fighting. Born in 1895 in Hesse, Hosenfeld had spent most of his life to this point not as a military man but as a schoolteacher. His involvement in the German youth movement had led him to join the brownshirts in 1933, and he had also become a member of the National Socialist Teachers’ League and, in 1935, the Nazi Party itself. But Hosenfeld’s strong Catholic faith was beginning even in the mid-1930s to outweigh his commitment to Nazism. His open opposition to Alfred Rosenberg’s attacks on Christianity caused him problems within the Party, and after he was called up on 26 August 1939 and sent to Poland a month later to build a prisoner-of-war camp, the deep religious faith of the Polish inmates began to arouse his sympathy. When he encountered a trainload of Polish deportees in mid-December, he found a way to talk to some of them, and was shocked by the story they had to tell. Surreptitiously he gave them food, and handed some of the children a bag of sweets. On 14 December 1939 he noted in his diary the disturbing effect the encounter had on him:

 

I want to comfort all these unhappy people and ask their forgiveness for the fact that the Germans treat them the way they do, so terribly without mercy, so cruelly without humanity. Why are these people being torn away from their dwellings when it is not known where else they can be accommodated? For a whole day long they are standing in the cold, sitting on their bundles, their meagre belongings, they are given nothing to eat. There’s system in it, the intention is to make these people sick, poor, helpless, they are to perish.91

Few Germans thought along these lines. Hosenfeld recorded numerous arrests and atrocities against Poles. A fellow officer told him how he had asked a Gestapo official rhetorically: ‘Do you think you can win these men over for reconstruction by these methods? When they come back from the concentration camp they will be the Germans’ worst enemies!!’ ‘Yeah,’ replied the policeman, ‘do you think then that even one of them will be coming back? They’ll all be shot trying to escape.’92

Overriding objections from Göring, who was worried that the resettlement programme was disrupting the war economy, Himmler also deported over 260,000 Poles from the Wartheland in the course of 1940, as well as thousands more from other areas, particularly Upper Silesia and Danzig-West Prussia. Brushing aside the Ministry of the Interior’s bureaucratic view that all that was necessary was to enrol the remaining Poles in an inferior category of German nationality, the SS leadership in the Wartheland persuaded Regional Leader Greiser to set up a German Ethnic List. Poles deemed suitable for Germanization would be enrolled in it under a variety of headings such as pro-Nazi ethnic Germans, Germans who had come under Polish influence and so on, and given different levels of privileges accordingly; on 4 March 1941 this system was extended to the whole of the occupied territories.93

A whole bureaucracy soon sprang up to assess these people for Germanization along ethnic, linguistic, religious and other lines. The SS saw a problem in the fact that, as it judged, Poles who led the resistance were likely to ‘have a significant proportion of Nordic blood which, in contrast to the otherwise fatalistic Slavic strains, has enabled them to take the initiative’. The solution that presented itself was to remove the children from such families to help them escape from the bad influence of their Polish nationalist parents. In addition, all Polish orphanages in the incorporated territories were closed in the spring of 1941 and the children taken off to the Old Reich. As Himmler remarked in a memorandum written on 15 May 1940 and approved by Hitler, this would ‘remove the danger that this subhuman people of the east might acquire a leader class from such people of good blood, which would be dangerous for us because they would be our equals’.94 Thousands of Polish children deemed suitable for Germanization were sent to special camps in the Reich. Here they were given German names and identity papers (including forged birth certificates) and were put through a six-month course of learning the German language and imbibing the rudiments of Nazi ideology. Many of the children were effectively orphans, whose parents had been shot or deported as forced labourers; a number were simply identified on the street by German police or SS patrols, or by women volunteers for the Nazi People’s Welfare organization, which dealt with the minority of these children who were between the ages of six and twelve (the majority, under the age of six, fell under the aegis of the SS ‘Well of Life’ homes). Eventually they were assigned to ideologically approved German foster-families. All of this led to a kind of officially sanctioned black market in babies and small children, in which childless German couples acquired Polish infants and brought them up as Germans. 80 per cent of the deported children never returned to their families in Poland.95

Aware that both Hitler and Himmler wanted the incorporated territories Germanized as fast as possible, Regional Leader Forster in Danzig-West Prussia indiscriminately enrolled whole villages and towns on the official German Ethnic List. One resettlement officer remembered after the war that when a local mayor or Nazi Party branch leader rejected an order by Forster to enrol 80 per cent of the people in his district as Germans on the grounds that 80 per cent of them were in fact Polish, Forster himself came to the village to enforce the enrolment personally. On receiving their papers, the vast majority of those enrolled in this way sent the mayor written rejections. They were enrolled anyway. By the end of 1942, as a result of such actions, 600,000 new applications for Germanization had been received in Danzig-West Prussia.96 Arthur Greiser, Regional Leader of the Wartheland, disapproved of such ploys by his neighbour and rival, telling Himmler: ‘My ethnic policy is . . . being imperilled by that being carried out in the Reich District of Danzig-West Prussia . . .’97 But arbitrary Germanization continued, not only in the incorporated territories, but increasingly in the General Government too. Early in 1943, faced, like many other Poles in his town, with the demand to fill in a form, entitled Application for the Issuing of an Identity Card for People of German Descent, Zygmunt Klukowski crossed out the heading with red ink, and signed himself ‘Polish National’.98

General Governor Frank became increasingly irritated at the way in which his province was being used as a dumping-ground for unwanted Poles. Already at the end of October 1939 it was estimated that the population of the General Government would have increased from 10 million to 13 million by the following February.99 From May 1940, in agreement with Hitler, Frank abandoned his initial policy of regarding the General Government as the basis for a rump Polish state and began to prepare for its incorporation in the medium-to-long term into the Reich. In accordance with this new purpose, Frank began to think of his province as a German colony run by settlers with cheap and expendable labour supplied by uneducated Poles. ‘We’re thinking here in the greatest imperial style of all times,’ he declared in November 1940.100 For all his resentment against the independent power of the SS, Frank made sure that Poles were explicitly excluded from the protection of the law. ‘The Pole,’ he said in December 1940, ‘must feel that we are not building him a legal state, but that for him there is only one duty, namely to work and to behave himself.’ Special legal provisions were introduced for Poles in the incorporated territories too, gradually though never completely replacing the arbitrary terror of the early months of German occupation. Poles were subjected to a draconian legal order that prescribed harsher punishments (labour camp, corporal punishment, or the death penalty) for offences that would lead only to imprisonment for German citizens. Appeal was ruled out, and offences such as making hostile remarks about Germans were made punishable by death in some cases. Introduced in December 1941, these measures codified what in fact had been widely carried out in practice in more arbitrary ways, and paralleled the harsh legal measures already introduced in the Reich to deal with Polish and other foreign workers. Poles were second-class citizens, whose inferior position was underlined by a host of local police regulations ordering them to stand aside and remove their hats if Germans passed them on the street, or to serve Germans first in shops and markets.101

The Germanization programme began with the Wartheland, on the basis that it had been part of Prussia before 1918, although only 7 per cent of the population consisted of ethnic Germans in 1939. Already under Bismarck in the nineteenth century, strenuous efforts had been made to foster German culture in Prussian Poland and to suppress the Poles’ own feelings of national identity. But they did not go nearly as far as the policies implemented from 1939 onwards. Polish schools, theatres, museums, libraries, bookshops, newspapers and all other Polish cultural and linguistic institutions were closed down, and the use of the Polish language was forbidden. Poles were banned from possessing gramophones and cameras, and any Pole found attending a German theatre was liable to arrest and imprisonment. The names of administrative districts, towns and villages were Germanized, sometimes by translating directly from the Polish, sometimes by using the names of prominent local Germans, but wherever possible, in the areas formerly ruled by Prussia, by reverting to the old German names used before 1919. Street names and public notices were similarly Germanized. Regional Leader Greiser launched a radical attack on the Catholic Church, the institution that more than any other had sustained Polish national identity over the centuries, confiscating its property and funds and closing down its lay organizations. Numerous clergy, monks, diocesan administrators and officials of the Church were arrested, deported to the General Government, taken off to a concentration camp in the Reich, or simply shot. Altogether, some 1,700 Polish priests ended up in Dachau: half of them did not survive their imprisonment. Greiser was encouraged in these policies not only by Heydrich and Bormann, but also by the head of his administrative staff, August Jäger, who had made a name for himself in 1934 as the official charged with Nazifying the Evangelical Church in Prussia. By the end of 1941, the Polish Catholic Church was effectively outlawed in the Wartheland. It was more or less Germanized in the other occupied territories, despite an encyclical issued by the Pope as early as 27 October 1939 protesting against this persecution. 102

Polish culture was assaulted in the General Government too. On 27 October 1939 the mayor of Warsaw was arrested (he was later shot), and on 6 November 182 members of the academic staff of the university and other higher education institutions in Cracow were arrested and taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.103 Universities, schools, libraries, publishing houses, archives, museums and other centres of Polish culture were closed down.104 ‘The Poles,’ said Frank, ‘do not need universities or secondary schools: the Polish lands are to be changed into an intellectual desert.’ ‘For the Poles,’ he declared on 31 October 1939, ‘the only educational opportunities that are to be made available are those that demonstrate to them the hopelessness of their ethnic fate.’105 Frank only allowed Poles cheap, undemanding entertainment such as sex shows, light opera and drink.106 Music by Polish composers (including Chopin) was banned, and Polish national monuments were blown up or pulled down.107 The Germans’ assault on Polish educational standards began at the same time as their attempt to suppress Polish culture. In Szczebrzeszyn, following a wider pattern, the German military authorities closed the two local high schools on 20 November 1939.

They did not reopen. Soon after, the German administration began to attack standards of education in the local elementary schools. Dr Klukowski noted on 25 January 1940: ‘Today the Germans ordered all school principals to take from the students handbooks of the Polish language as well as history and geography texts. In every Szczebrzeszyn school, in every classroom, children returned books . . . I am in shock and deeply depressed.’108 Worse was to come, for on 17 April 1941, he reported, ‘the Germans removed from the attic of the grammar school buildings all books and teaching supplies. They were piled up on the playground and burned.’ Polish intellectuals and teachers did their best to organize advanced lessons informally and in secret, but given the mass murder of so many of them by the German occupiers, such efforts met with only limited success, even if their symbolic importance was considerable.109 Day after day, Zygmunt Klukowski recorded in his diary the murder of Polish writers, scientists, artists, musicians and intellectuals, many of them his friends. ‘Many have been killed,’ he noted on 25 November 1940, ‘many are still dying in German camps.’110

II

Not only were supposedly suitable Poles reclassified as German, but large numbers of ethnic Germans quickly began to be moved in to take over the farms and businesses from which the Poles had been so brutally expelled. Already in late September 1939, Hitler specifically requested the ‘repatriation’ of ethnic Germans in Latvia and Estonia as well as from the Soviet-controlled eastern part of Poland. Over the following months, Himmler took steps to carry out his wishes. Several thousand ethnic Germans were moved into the incorporated areas from the General Government, but most were transported there from areas controlled by the Soviet Union, under a series of international agreements negotiated by Himmler. So many German settlers arrived in the General Government and the incorporated territories in the course of the early 1940s that another 400,000 Poles were thrown out of their homes from March 1941 onwards, without actually being deported, so that the settlers could be provided with accommodation. Over the course of the following months and years, 136,000 ethnic Germans came in from eastern Poland, 150,000 from the Baltic states, 30,000 from the General Government and 200,000 from Romania. They were persuaded to leave by the promise of better conditions and a more prosperous life, and the threat of oppression under Soviet Communism or Romanian nationalism. By May 1943 some 408,000 had been resettled in the Wartheland and the other incorporated parts of Poland, and another 74,000 in the Old Reich.111

In order to qualify for resettlement, all but a lucky 50,000 of the half-million immigrants were put into transit camps, of which there were more than 1,500 at the height of the transfer, and subjected to racial and political screening, a process personally approved by Hitler on 28 May 1940. Conditions in the camps, which were often converted factories, monasteries or public buildings seized from the Poles, were less than ideal, though an effort was made to keep families together, and compensation was paid in bonds or property for the assets they had been forced to leave behind. Assessors from the SS Race and Settlement Head Office based at the police immigration centre in L’d’ descended on the camps and began their work. With only four weeks’ training in the basics of racial-biological assessment, these officials were equipped with a set of guidelines, including twenty-one physical criteria (fifteen of them physiognomical) that could never be anything other than extremely rough. The immigrants were x-rayed, medically examined, photographed and questioned about their political views, their family, their job and their interests. The resulting classification ranged from ‘very suitable’ at the top end, where the immigrants were ‘purely Nordic, purely phalian or Nordic-phalian’, without any noticeable ‘defects of intellect, character or of a hereditary nature’, to ‘ethnically or biologically unsuitable’ at the bottom end, where they were considered to be of non-European blood, or to possess a malformed physique, or to be from ‘families who are socially weak or incompetent’.112 This inevitably meant that the programme of resettlement proceeded only very slowly. Altogether, by December 1942, settlers had taken over 20 per cent of the businesses in the annexed territories, Reich Germans 8 per cent, local Germans 51 per cent, and trustees acting on behalf of the military veterans of the future another 21 per cent. Out of 928,000 farms in these districts, 47,000 had been taken over by settlers; 1.9 million out of a total of 9.2 million hectares of land had been seized from Poles and given to Germans. Yet out of the 1.25 million settlers, only 500,000 had actually been resettled by this point; the vast majority were in camps of one kind or another, and thousands of them had been there for well over a year. 3 million people had registered as Germans in the incorporated territories, but there were still 10 million Polish inhabitants of the Greater German Reich. Clearly, the Germanization programme was far from complete as it entered its fourth year.113

The programme continued throughout 1943, as more Polish villages were compulsorily evacuated. Himmler started to use the scheme as a way of dealing with supposedly untrustworthy groups in the borderlands of the Old Reich such as Luxembourg. Families where the husband had deserted from the German army were rounded up in Lorraine and shipped off to Poland as settlers. In 1941 54,000 Slovenes were taken from the border regions of Austria to camps in Poland, where 38,000 of them were found racially valuable and treated as settlers.114 Travelling through the evacuated villages of Wieloncza and Zawada in May 1943, Zygmunt Klukowski noted that ‘German settlers are moving in. Everywhere you can see young German boys in Hitler Youth uniforms.’115 He continued to list villages in his area that were forcibly evacuated, their Polish inhabitants taken off to a nearby camp, well into July 1943. Visiting the camp in August 1943, Klukowski noted the inmates, behind barbed wire, were malnourished and sick, ‘barely moving, looking terrible’. In the camp hospital there were forty children under the age of five, suffering from dysentery and measles, lying two to a bed, looking ‘like skeletons’. His offer to take some of them to his own hospital was brusquely rejected by the German officials. In his own town of Szczebrzeszyn, too, Poles were increasingly being turfed out of their homes to make way for incoming German settlers.116

The Germanization of the Zamość area, pushed through by Himmler in the teeth of opposition from Frank, was in fact intended to be the first part of a comprehensive programme affecting all of the General Government in due course, though it never got that far. Even so, some 110,000 Poles were forcibly expropriated and expelled from the Lublin region in the process, making up 31 per cent of the population, and between November 1942 and March 1943, forty-seven villages in the Zamość rea were cleared to make way for incoming Germans. Many of the Polish inhabitants fled to the forests, taking as much as they could with them, to join the underground resistance.117 By mid-July 1943 Klukowski’s home town of Szczebrzeszyn had been officially declared a German settlement and demoted to the status of a village.118 ‘On the city streets,’ noted Klukowski, who refused to accept this insult to his home town, ‘you can see many Germans in civilian clothing, mostly women and children, all new settlers.’ New facilities were opened for them, including a kindergarten. Soon he was noting that ‘stores are run by Germans; we have German barbers, tailors, shoemakers, bakers, butchers, and mechanics. A new restaurant was opened with the name Neue Heimat (New Home).’ Those Poles who had not signed themselves on to the register of ethnic Germans were second-class citizens, used for forced labour, and treated as if their lives meant nothing. On 27 August 1943 Klukowski reported the case of an eight-year-old Polish boy who was found ‘lying in an orchard with gunshot wounds. He was taken to the hospital where he died. We learned the boy went there for apples. The new owner, a German locksmith, shot him and left him to die, without telling anyone.’119

2. Population Transfers of Ethnic Germans, 1939-43

The Germans who moved into the Wartheland had few reservations about the expulsion of the region’s Poles to make way for them. ‘I really like the town of Posen,’ wrote Hermann Voss, an anatomist appointed to a chair in the Medical Faculty of the new Reich University of Posen, a foundation put at the apex of the German educational system in the occupied territories, in April 1941, ‘if only there were no Poles at all, it would be really lovely here.’ In May 1941 he noted in his diary that the crematorium in his university department had been taken over by the SS. He had no objections, however - rather the contrary: ‘There is a crematorium for burning corpses in the cellar of the Institute building here. It’s for the exclusive use of the Gestapo. The Poles they shoot are brought here at night and cremated. If one could only turn the whole of Polish society into ashes!’120 In addition to the immigrants from the east, some 200,000 Germans moved into the incorporated territories from the Old Reich. A number of these were children and adolescents evacuated from Germany’s cities to avoid the dangers of aerial bombardment: thousands were put into military-style camps, where they were subjected to harsh discipline, bullying and a rough, decidedly non-academic style of education.121

But many adults went voluntarily to the incorporated territories, seeing them as an ideal area for colonial settlement. Often they regarded themselves as pioneers. One such was Melita Maschmann, sent as press officer for the Hitler Youth in the Wartheland in November 1939. Noticing the absence of educated people amongst the Polish population, she concluded that the Poles were a miserable, poverty-stricken, underdeveloped people who were incapable of forming a viable state of their own. Their high birth-rate made them a serious threat to the German future, as she had learned from her ‘racial science’ lessons at school. She sympathized with the poverty and wretchedness of many Polish children whom she saw begging on the streets or stealing coal from the depots, but, under the influence of Nazi propaganda, she later wrote:

I told myself that if the Poles were using every means in the fight not to lose that disputed eastern province which the German nation required as ‘Lebensraum’, then they remained our enemies, and I regarded it as my duty to suppress my private feelings if they conflicted with political necessity . . . A group which believes itself to be called and chosen to lead, as we did, has no inhibitions when it comes to taking territory from ‘inferior elements’.

 

Though she distanced herself from those Germans who had no doubt that Germans were a ‘master race’ and Poles destined to be slaves, still, she wrote later: ‘My colleagues and I felt it was an honour to be allowed to help in “conquering” this area for our own nation and for German culture. We had the arrogant enthusiasm of the “cultural missionary”.’

Maschmann and her colleagues were charged with clearing out and cleaning up Polish farms in readiness for their new German inhabitants, and took part in the SS-led expulsions without asking where the expelled Poles were going.122 She unashamedly joined in the extensive looting of Polish property during this process, as the departing Poles were obliged to leave furniture and equipment behind for the German settlers. Armed with a forged requisition order and a pistol (which she did not know how to use), she even robbed beds, cutlery and other items from Polish farmers in areas where resettlement had not begun, to give them to incoming ethnic Germans. All this she considered completely justified; the whole experience of her work was entirely positive.123 These feelings were shared by many other German women who came into the incorporated territories as volunteers or were posted there as newly qualified teachers, junior officials in Nazi women’s organizations, or aspiring civil servants. All of them, both at the time and in many cases when interviewed about their work decades later, saw their activities in occupied Poland as part of a civilizing mission and recorded their horror at the poverty and dirt they encountered in the Polish population. At the same time they enjoyed the beauty of the countryside and the sense of being on an exciting mission far from home. As middle-class women they evidently gained fulfilment from cleaning up farms left behind by deported Poles, decorating them, and creating a sense of homeliness to welcome the settlers. For virtually all of them, the suffering of Poles and Jews was either invisible or acceptable or even justified.124

III

Melita Maschmann’s rosy vision of a new German-dominated civilization rising in Eastern Europe was belied by the realities on the ground. Murder, theft, looting and deportation were only part of the picture. Bribery and corruption were also rife under the German administration of the General Government. In Warsaw in 1940 it was said to cost a Jew a bribe of 125 zloty to an official to obtain exemption from compulsory labour. 500 would purchase dispensation from wearing the yellow star, 1,200 would buy a certificate of Aryan descent, 10,000 release from prison, and 150,000 a fully organized emigration to Italy (this last-named arrangement came to an abrupt end when Italy entered the war on Germany’s side in June 1940).125 Such corruption was made possible not least by the institutional chaos into which the General Government rapidly descended after its creation in 1939. General Governor Hans Frank issued grandiloquent proclamations from his lavishly furnished headquarters in the old royal palace at Cracow, but his authority was constantly undermined by his rival, the SS and police chief for the east, Friedrich Wilhelm Krüger. Krüger was actively encouraged not only by Himmler and Heydrich but also by Hitler himself, who here as elsewhere preferred his subordinates to fight each other for supremacy rather than creating a smoothly efficient, top-down hierarchy of command.

Krüger’s area of competence included not only policing but also the implementation of Himmler’s population transfer programme. His terrorization of the Polish population of the General Government was carried out more or less without reference to Frank, who became concerned by the hatred and unrest it was arousing amongst the Poles. In 1942 the ambitious Krüger even seemed on the point of displacing Frank altogether. When the former civil governor of Radom was arrested on corruption charges after an official car driven by his father was found transporting carpets, silks, spirits and other goods from the General Government to the Reich, an investigation set in motion by Himmler quickly revealed this to be the tip of an iceberg. Many if not most officials engaged in practices of this kind. The tone was set by the General Governor. Himmler’s investigation established that Frank himself had been enriching members of his own family from state funds and looted property. Two large warehouses were discovered, full of goods such as furs, chocolate, coffee and spirits, all intended for use by Frank and his family. In November 1940 alone Frank had sent back to his homes in the Old Reich 72 kilos of beef, 20 geese, 50 hens, 12 kilos of cheese and much more besides. The General Governor was summoned to Berlin for a dressing-down by Hans-Heinrich Lammers, Reich Minister in the Reich Chancellery and thus the effective head of Germany’s civil administration. As the police uncovered further cases of corruption, Frank sought to strike back with a series of speeches in German universities condemning the growing power of the police (headed, of course, by his enemy and chief critic Himmler) only to find himself banned from public speaking and stripped of all his Party offices by a furious Hitler. Yet Frank survived, and by May 1943, with the support of Göring’s Four-Year Plan office, he had persuaded Hitler, somewhat late in the day, that the ruthless violence of the police in the General Government was causing so much resentment amongst the Poles that they were refusing to work properly, failing to deliver their quotas of food supplies and disrupting the economy through sabotage. On 9 November 1943, Krüger was replaced by a more amenable police chief. The corruption continued.126

Further down the social scale, a huge black market had emerged as a result of the increasingly dire circumstances under which Poles lived. According to one estimate, more than 80 per cent of the Polish population’s daily needs were supplied by the black economy. Polish employers circumvented German-imposed wage regulations by paying their workers in kind or by tolerating mass absenteeism, estimated at 30 per cent overall by 1943. Workers in any case could not afford to turn up to their jobs more than two or three days a week because the black market made such demands on the rest of their time. A popular Polish joke from this time recounted two friends meeting each other after a long time: ‘What are you doing?’ - ‘I am working in the city hall.’ - ‘And your wife, how is she?’ - ‘She is working in a paper store’ - ‘And your daughter?’ - ‘She is working in a plant.’ - ‘How the hell do you live?’ - ‘Thank God, my son is unemployed!’127 Black-marketeers were not only in the business to survive. A few could make huge profits in a few weeks. The dangers of being caught were high. But most risked it because they had no alternative. Besides, they were doing little more than following the example of their German masters, for whom bribery, corruption and profiteering were normal aspects of daily life.128

The black market was particularly rampant in the area of food supplies. Food shortages began to occur almost immediately after the invasion, exacerbated by the burning of crops by retreating Polish army units. Conditions were particularly severe in the General Government, which contained Poland’s poorer farming areas. In 1940 the German occupation forces in Klukowski’s district began registering pigs and other livestock on local farms and ordered that they could only be slaughtered for the German army, not for local inhabitants.129 Queues outside food stores became commonplace.130 The Germans began to impose quotas on farmers for delivery of food supplies to them, and punished those who failed to fulfil them.131 Altogether from 1940 to 1944, 60 per cent of Polish meat production was taken off to feed Germans in the Reich, 10 per cent of grain production, and much else besides.132 So bad was the food supply situation that even Frank became alarmed. He managed to secure deliveries of grain from the Reich in the first few months of 1940, but here too, the bulk of the supplies went to feed the German occupiers, with Poles working on key installations like the railways coming second, Ukrainians and ordinary Poles next, and Jews bottom of the list. The rations allotted to Poles in Warsaw were down to 669 calories a day by 1941, in comparison to 2,613 for the Germans (and a mere 184 for the Jews).133 Nobody could live on these quantities. Health deteriorated rapidly, diseases associated with malnutrition spread, death rates soared. Most Poles did their best to provide most of their food intake by other means, and this meant once more the black market.134

Dr Klukowski noted with despair the rapid disintegration of Polish society under the impact of such horrifying levels of violence, destruction and deprivation. Bands of robbers were roaming the countryside, breaking into people’s houses, terrorizing the inhabitants, looting the contents and raping the women. Poles were denouncing each other, mainly for possessing hidden weapons. Many were volunteering for work in Germany, and collaboration was rife. Polish girls were consorting with German soldiers, and prostitution was spreading; by November 1940 Klukowski was treating thirty-two women for venereal diseases in his hospital, and noted that ‘some are young girls also, even as young as sixteen, who were first raped and later started prostitution as the only way to support themselves’. ‘Drunkenness is growing,’ he reported in January 1941, ‘and naturally there are more drunken fights, but it appears that the Germans are rather pleased about it.’ Poles were joining in the looting of Jewish shops, and officers of the prewar Polish police were now working for the Germans. ‘I never expected the morale of the Polish population to sink so low,’ he wrote on 19 February 1940, ‘with such a complete lack of national pride.’135 ‘We are lacking a uniform stand against the Germans,’ he complained two months later: ‘all the rumours, intrigues, and denunciations are growing.’136

I V

Poland’s troubles were scarcely any less dire in the area occupied from 17 September 1939 by the Red Army, as a consequence of the Nazi- Soviet Pact.137 The Soviets occupied 201,000 square kilometres of Polish territory, with a population of 13 million. The 200,000 Polish prisoners of war in the hands of the Red Army were partly released to go home, particularly if they lived in the German part of the country, or transferred to labour camps in south-eastern Poland to work on construction projects. The officers among them, however, were deported to camps in the Soviet Union, where they were joined by Polish customs officials, police, prison guards and military police until they numbered 15,000 in all. During April and early May 1940 some 4,443 of these men were taken in batches by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, on orders from Moscow, to the Katy’ Forest near Smolensk, where they were individually shot in the back of the head and buried in mass graves. The rest of the Polish officers were also killed. Only about 450 out of the 15,000, who were Communists, or deemed capable of being converted to Communism, were spared. The others were shot in a variety of locations or killed in the camps, along with some 11,000 alleged counter-revolutionaries. Some estimates put the total killed at around 20,000; the exact number may never be known. Most of these men were reserve officers, professionals, doctors, landowners, civil servants and the like.138

Their extermination was part of a much larger campaign by the Soviets to eradicate Polish national culture. It was accompanied by massive intercommunal violence in which many thousands of Poles were slaughtered by paramilitaries from Ukrainian and Belarussian national minorities in the Polish east, encouraged by the Soviet occupiers. Following a rigged plebiscite, the occupied territories were annexed by the Soviet Union and the economic and social system accommodated to the Soviet model, with businesses and estates expropriated and taken over by the state, and Ukrainians and Belarussians brought in to run them. Polish monuments and street signs were destroyed, bookshops and cultural institutions were closed down. Half a million Poles were imprisoned within Soviet-occupied Poland. Many of them were subjected to torture, beatings, killings and executions. A campaign of mass deportations began. Those singled out included members of political parties, Russian and other exiles, police officers and prison guards, officers and volunteers of the Polish army, active lay members of the Catholic Church, aristocrats, landowners, bankers, industrialists, hoteliers and restaurateurs, refugees, ‘persons who have travelled abroad’ and even ‘persons who are esperantists or philatelists’. Almost all Polish professionals in the occupied area were arrested and deported as well. In many cases their families were sent with them. Altogether the deportees numbered an estimated 1.5 million people. In the first half of 1940, they were packed into cattle-trucks, with standing room only, and taken off in vast train convoys to collective farms in Kazakhstan and other distant locations. Tens of thousands of Poles who had served the previous government or shown themselves unwilling to conform to the occupiers’ Marxist-Leninist ideology were arrested, tried on trumped-up charges and sent to labour camps in Siberia. Perhaps a third of the deportees died before the survivors were released after the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. By this time, Soviet policy in occupied Poland had become marginally more lenient, as growing concern in Moscow about the danger of Ukrainian support for a possible German invasion led to a limited encouragement of Polish national identity, which was indelibly anti-German in sentiment. Nevertheless, the outcome of the Soviet occupation was scarcely less disastrous for the Poles than that of the German occupation.139

For the 1.2 million Jews who lived in the Soviet-controlled part of Poland, and the 350,000 or so Jewish refugees who had fled there from the advancing Germans, the Soviet takeover of the territory initially provided welcome relief. They would be protected, they thought, not only from the exterminatory racism of the Germans but also from the native antisemitism of the Poles. Even conservative and religious Jews welcomed the Soviet takeover. A substantial, though subsequently disputed, number of Jews took on administrative positions in the Soviet Communist ruling apparatus; however many they were, their number was sufficient to convince many Polish and Ukrainian nationalists that the entire Jewish community was working for the hated Soviet Communists. In fact, the arrest and deportation of wealthy Jews and others, particularly intellectuals and professionals, who refused as Polish patriots to sign on for Soviet citizenship, soon dispelled the Jewish population’s illusions about the true nature of Soviet rule. As many as one in three of the Polish citizens deported to Siberia and other remote areas of the Soviet Union was Jewish; 100,000 are estimated to have died in the process. Still, the damage was done; those who remained would pay dearly for their initial enthusiasm for the Soviet invasion when the Red Army was eventually driven out by the Germans. In the meantime, conditions deteriorated so rapidly that Jews who had fled from German-occupied Poland began going back there.140

There were, however, crucial differences between the two occupations. Unlike the western part of Poland, annexed by the Nazis, the eastern part contained a majority of non-Poles. These were Ukrainians and Belarussians, mainly peasants whom the occupying power urged to rise up against the supposedly fascist Polish landowning class, and Jews. In pursuit of a social revolution, the Soviet administration expropriated Polish property, nationalized banks and divided up the big estates among peasant smallholders. Formal civil rights were extended to everybody, and younger Jews in particular welcomed their liberation from the antisemitic discrimination practised by the regime of the Polish colonels. When these Jews joined the Communist Party in their enthusiasm for the new regime, they threw off their Jewish identity in the process. The Polish elites were seen as the leaders of Polish nationalism by both occupying powers, to be crushed and eliminated by force; but the main concern of the Soviets was to destroy them politically, and so they were deported not from the Soviet Union altogether, but deep into its interior. From Stalin’s point of view, what was being carried out in occupied Poland was a social revolution for the benefit of the majority; from Hitler’s point of view, what was being carried out in occupied Poland was an ethnic revolution for the benefit of a small minority, that of the ethnic Germans; capitalism, property and private enterprise were left in place, but the Poles and Jews were to play no part in them.141

‘A DREADFUL RABBLE’

I

If Poles were second-class citizens in the General Government, then Jews scarcely qualified as human beings at all in the eyes of the German occupiers, soldiers and civilians, Nazis and non-Nazis alike. The Germans brought with them a fear and contempt for the Jews that had been instilled into the great majority of them by incessant Nazi propaganda over the previous six and a half years. During this time, the Jews of Germany itself, less than 1 per cent of the population, had been subjected to growing government discrimination, dispossession and periodic bouts of violence from Nazi activists. Half of them had emigrated. Those who remained had been deprived of their civil rights and their livelihoods, removed from social interaction with other Germans, drafted into forced labour schemes and effectively cut off from the rest of German society. In November 1938 they had been subjected to a nationwide series of pogroms in which virtually all of Germany’s synagogues had been destroyed, thousands of Jewish-owned shops smashed, Jewish flats and houses ransacked, and 30,000 Jewish men arrested and put in concentration camps, where over a period of several weeks they were beaten and terrorized until they were eventually released after giving assurances that they would emigrate. Following this, the remaining Jewish population of Germany was robbed of its last assets. The process by which non-Jewish Germans came to regard their Jewish compatriots as a race apart, despite the fact that Germany’s Jews shared all the central aspects of German culture, and looked and dressed no differently from other Germans, had been gradual and uneven, but by 1939 it had gone a long way.142

When the Germans invaded Poland, however, they encountered a very different situation. Poland in 1939 contained the largest proportion of Jews living in any European state, numbering almost three and a half million, or 10 per cent of the population, measured by religious affiliation. More than three-quarters of them lived in Poland’s towns and cities. There were over 350,000 in Warsaw alone, making up nearly 30 per cent of the capital’s population. More than 200,000 lived in L’d’, fully a third of its inhabitants. In more than 30 per cent of towns in the General Government Jews actually formed a majority. 85 per cent of them spoke Yiddish or Hebrew as their first language rather than Polish. The overwhelming majority of them practised Judaism. Many dressed differently from Christian Poles and wore beards or sidelocks on religious grounds. They formed a distinctive national minority against which the antisemitic Polish military government had increasingly discriminated in the second half of the 1930s. Most Polish Jews were small traders and shopkeepers, artisans and tradespeople, or wage labourers; fewer than 10 per cent were professional or other successful members of the middle classes; many of them were very poor, and in 1934 more than a quarter of them had been living off benefits. Just over 2 million Jews lived in the areas taken over by Germany in September 1939, of whom up to 350,000 fled immediately to the eastern part of Poland, to Lithuania or to Hungary. To the incoming Germans these were ‘Eastern Jews’, a wholly alien and despised minority regarded by most of them as non-European, to be treated with even greater contempt and mistrust than the Jews of Germany itself.143 Indeed, 18,000 Polish Jews had been forcibly expelled from Germany across the Polish border in October 1938, followed by another 2,000 in June the following year.144

In Poland the Nazis’ policies of racial suppression and extermination were applied in full for the first time, in a gigantic experiment that would later be repeated on an even larger scale in other parts of Eastern Europe. German rule in Poland was ruthlessly and exclusively designed to further what the Nazis perceived as Germany’s interests, including Germany’s racial interests. The deliberate reduction of Poland to a state of nature, the boundless exploitation of its resources, the radical degradation of everyday life, the arbitrary exercise of unfettered power, the violent expulsion of Poles from their homes - all of this opened the way to the application of unbridled terror against Poland’s Jews. Moreover, the chaotic situation of the country, and Hitler’s repeated insistence on the primacy of racial policy in Poland, facilitated from the very beginning the autonomous exercise of power there by the most fanatical and determined elements in the Party and the SS.145 The Special SS Security Service Task Force under Udo von Woyrsch was particularly active in attacks on Jews. In Bedzin on 8 September 1939 it murdered a number of Jewish children and burned down the local synagogue with flame-throwers, setting light to nearby houses in the town’s Jewish quarter; the Task Force troops indiscriminately shot Jews they encountered on the streets. By the time they left, some 500 of the town’s Jewish inhabitants were dead. Meeting with Heydrich and Streckenbach in Cracow on 11 September 1939, Woyrsch was told that Himmler had ordered the harshest possible measures to be taken against Jews so that they would be forced to flee to the east and out of the area controlled by the Germans. The Special Task Force redoubled its efforts to terrorize the Jewish population into flight, burning a group of Jews alive in the synagogue at Dyn’w and carrying out mass shootings in a variety of locations across the land.146

Ordinary soldiers and junior officers shared many of the antisemitic prejudices against ‘Eastern Jews’ encouraged by Nazi propaganda since 1933.147 German attitudes were well exemplified by the Chief of Staff of General Blaskowitz’s Eighth Army, Hans Felber, who on 20 September 1939 described the Jews of L’d’ as ‘a dreadful rabble, filthy and sly’. They had to be deported, he said.148 He was echoing the impressions gained by Hitler himself in a visit to the Jewish quarter of Kielce on 10 September 1939: his press chief Otto Dietrich, who accompanied him, noted: ‘The appearance of these people is unimaginable . . . They live in inconceivable filth, in huts in which not even a tramp would pass the night in Germany.’149 ‘These are no longer people,’ remarked Goebbels after visiting L’d’ at the beginning of November 1939, ‘these are animals. So the task is not humanitarian but surgical. Steps have to be taken here, and really radical ones too. Otherwise Europe will perish from the Jewish disease.’150 Goebbels sent film crews in to take pictures for the weekly newsreel show in German cinemas, and Jewish congregations and rabbis were forced to stage special religious services for the German film crews, who also went into Jewish slaughterhouses to get pictures of the ritual slaughter of cattle. All of this material was collected under Goebbels’s personal direction and with Hitler’s personal involvement for a feature-length documentary entitled The Eternal Jew, which was eventually screened a year later, in November 1940.151

The general atmosphere of racial hatred and contempt encouraged by Hitler’s instructions to the generals before the outbreak of the war gave soldiers clear encouragement to take whatever they wanted from Poland’s Jews. As the German army entered Warsaw, the troops immediately began looting Jewish shops and robbing Jews at gunpoint in the street.152 The Jewish schoolmaster Chaim Kaplan recorded in his diary on 6 October 1939 that German troops had broken into his flat and raped his Christian maid (they were not raping Jewish women because of the Nuremberg Laws, he thought - although in practice this did not prove much of a hindrance). Then they beat her to try to get her to reveal where he had hidden his money (he had in fact already removed it). Kaplan recorded how even officers were manhandling Jews in the street and roughly cutting off their beards. They forced Jewish girls to clean public latrines with their blouses, and committed innumerable other acts of sadism against Warsaw’s Jewish inhabitants.153 Zygmunt Klukowski recorded many instances of theft and looting by German soldiers, often aided and abetted by local Poles, particularly where Jewish shops and premises were concerned. Theft was often followed by arson and wanton destruction, in which local people, their prejudices fed by years of antisemitic propaganda and indoctrination from Polish nationalists, including senior figures in the Polish Catholic Church, participated with enthusiasm.154

On 22 October 1939 German troops brought up lorries to cart away the contents of Jewish stores in Zamość the nearest large town to where Klukowski lived. Eight days later, German army officers began taking away cash and jewellery from Jewish houses in the town.155 Increasingly, looters and robbers used violence against their Jewish victims.156 When the Germans settled into Zamość in mid-October 1939, noted Zygmunt Klukowski in his diary, they ordered the Jews to ‘sweep the streets, clean all the public latrines, and fill all the street trenches . . . They order the Jews to take at least a half hour of exhaustive gymnastics before any work, which can be fatal, particularly for older people.’ ‘The Germans are treating the Jews very brutally,’ he noted on 14 October 1939: ‘They cut their beards; sometimes they pull their hair out.’157 On 14 November 1939 the town’s synagogue was burned down, along with neighbouring Jewish houses. All of this was in direct imitation of the pogrom of 9-10 November 1938 in Germany and its aftermath. The Jewish community was ordered to pay a massive fine as ‘compensation’.158 And from 22 December 1939 all Jews aged ten years and over had to wear a yellow star on their sleeve, and shops had to display signs indicating whether they were Jewish or not.159 Jews were barred from medical treatment except by Jewish physicians. Called to see a sick Jewish man, Dr Klukowski ‘went to him wondering whether anyone was spying on me. I feel terrible,’ he wrote in his diary on 29 March 1940. ‘On my prescription I even omitted the name of the sick man. So now we come to this: the main goal of every physician is to give medical help, but now it becomes a crime, punishable by imprisonment.’160

It was striking that these acts were carried out not by the SS but by regular German army officers and men. Groups of grinning German soldiers fired randomly into houses they marched past in the Jewish quarters of the towns they entered, or gathered around Jewish men in the street, forcing them to smear each other with excrement, setting their beards on fire, compelling them to eat pork, or cutting the Jewish star into their foreheads with knives.161 For many ordinary soldiers this was their first confrontation with Polish Jews, many of whom in their whole appearance seemed to bear out all the clich’s of the propaganda to which Germans had been subjected for the previous six years. These, as one corporal wrote in August 1940, were ‘genuine Jews with beards, and filthy, to be precise, even worse than the Stormer always describes them as being’.162 Here, as another corporal wrote in December 1939, were ‘Jews - seldom have I seen such unkempt figures wandering around, wrapped in tatters, filthy, greasy. These people seemed to us like a plague. Their nasty way of looking at you, their treacherous questions and deceitful fussing about have often prompted us to reach for our pistols, to recall these over-curious and prying subjects to reality.’163

As soon as the war broke out, one Jewish scholar in particular determined to record as much of this behaviour for posterity as he was able to. Born in 1900, Emanuel Ringelblum had trained as a historian, gaining his Ph.D. in 1927. An active left-wing Zionist, he determined to record everything that was happening to the Jews of Warsaw under German rule and kept an extensive diary of daily events. Ringelblum’s exact and voluminous notes recorded robberies, beatings, shootings and humiliations of Jews by German troops and SS men on a daily basis. The rape of Polish and Jewish women by German soldiers was common in the early months of the occupation. ‘At 2 Tlomackie Place,’ he recorded early in 1940, ‘three lords and masters ravished some women; screams resounded through the house. The Gestapo are concerned over the racial degradation - Aryans consorting with non-Aryans - but are afraid to report it.’164 Bribery and corruption quickly spread. ‘Only poor people go to the camps,’ he noted.165 Sometimes, Ringelblum reported, Polish Christians came to the defence of Jews attacked by young Polish hooligans; but they were powerless to do anything against the Germans. 166 As the situation of the Jews deteriorated, Ringelblum began to record the bitter humour with which they tried to lighten their burden. A Jewish woman, so one joke related, woke her husband up when he started alternately laughing and yelling in his sleep. ‘I was dreaming someone had scribbled on a wall,’ the husband said: ‘ “Beat the Jews! Down with ritual slaughter!” ’ ‘So what were you so happy about?’ asked his wife. ‘Don’t you understand?’ he replied: ‘That means the good old days have come back! The Poles are running things again!’167 Familiar acts of persecution by Poles they could deal with, but not the inhumanity of the Germans: ‘A police chief came to the apartment of a Jewish family and wanted to take some things away. The woman cried that she was a widow with a child. The chief said he’d take nothing if she could guess which one of his eyes was the artificial one. She correctly guessed the left eye. She was asked how she knew. “Because that one,” she answered, “has a human look.” ’168

In many parts of Poland apart from Warsaw, army units seized Jews as hostages, and in many places there were shootings of Jews as individuals or in groups. The 50,000 Polish prisoners of war whom the army classified as Jewish were drafted like other prisoners on to labour schemes but starved and maltreated to such an extent that 25,000 of them were dead by the spring of 1940.169 Chaim Kaplan noted on 10 October 1939 that Jewish men were being arrested and taken away to labour schemes.170 Frank had indeed already ordered the introduction of compulsory labour for the Jews within the General Government and begun to set up labour camps, where Jewish men arrested on the streets or in police raids on their apartments were kept in miserable conditions. A medical report on a group of labour camps at Belzec noted in September 1940 that the accommodation was dark, damp and infested with vermin. 30 per cent of the workers had no shoes, trousers or shirts, and they slept on the floor, 75 to a room measuring 5 metres by 6, so overcrowded that they had to lie on top of one another. There was no soap and no sanitation in the huts: the men had to relieve themselves on the floor during the night, since they were barred from going out. Rations were entirely inadequate for the heavy physical labour the men were required to carry out, mostly on road works and the reinforcement of river banks.171

The deteriorating situation was calmly recorded by the Jewish schoolboy Dawid Sierakowiak in his diary. ‘The first signs of German occupation, ’ he noted on 9 September 1939. ‘They are seizing Jews to dig.’ Although school was starting, his parents stopped him attending because they feared he would be arrested by the Germans. Two days later he was reporting ‘beatings and robbings’ and noting that the store where his father worked had been looted. ‘The local Germans do whatever they wish.’ ‘All basic human freedoms are being destroyed,’ he noted, as the Germans closed the synagogues and forced stores to be open on a Jewish religious holiday. As his mother was obliged to queue for two hours at the bakery at five o’clock every morning to get bread, Sierakowiak reported that the Germans were taking Jews out of food queues. His father lost his job. Then the Germans closed Sierakowiak’s school and he had to walk five kilometres a day to another one because his family no longer had the money to pay his tram fare. By 16 November 1939 Sierakowiak was being forced, along with other Jews, to wear a yellow armband when he went out; in early December this was changed to a yellow, 10-centimetre Star of David that had to be worn on the right chest and the back of the right shoulder. ‘New work in the evening,’ he recorded, ‘ripping off the armbands and sewing on the new decorations. ’ As the first snows of winter began to fall, his school was closed down, and the textbooks were given to the pupils: ‘I got a German history of the Jews, a few copies of German poets, and Latin texts, together with two English books.’ Dawid Sierakowiak began to witness Germans beating Jews on the streets. The situation was deteriorating on an almost daily basis.172

By the autumn of the following year, shocking scenes of violence against the Jews were taking place on the streets of many towns in Poland, including Szczebrzeszyn. On 9 September 1940 Klukowski noted:

 

This afternoon I was standing by the window in my room when I witnessed an ugly event. Across from the hospital are a few burned-out Jewish homes. An old Jew and a few Jewish women were standing next to one when a group of three German soldiers came by. Suddenly one of the soldiers grabbed the old man and threw him into the cellar. The women began lamenting. In a few minutes more Jews arrived, but the soldiers calmly walked away. I was puzzled by this incident, but a few minutes later the man was brought to me for treatment. I was told that he forgot to take his hat off when the Germans passed by. German regulations require that Jews must stand to attention and the men have to take their hats off whenever German soldiers pass.173

 

What Klukowski was witnessing was not just the arbitrary exercise of power by an invading force over a despised minority; it was the end-product of a prolonged process of policy-making in Berlin, aided by new institutional structures at the centre of the Third Reich that would play an increasingly important role in the coming years.174

II

The Nazi plan for Poland initially envisaged three belts of settlement - German, Polish and Jewish - in three blocks, roughly western, central and eastern. Its implementation was by no means the exclusive prerogative of the SS: already on 13 September 1939, the Quartermaster-General of the Army Supreme Command ordered Army Group South to deport all Jews in the eastern part of Upper Silesia into the area that was shortly to be occupied by the Red Army. But it soon took on a more centrally directed form. The next day, Heydrich noted that Himmler was about to submit to Hitler an overall policy for dealing with the ‘Jewish problem in Poland . . . that only the Leader can decide’. By 21 September 1939 Hitler had approved a deportation plan that was to be put into effect over the next twelve months. Jews, especially those engaged in farming, were to be rounded up immediately. All Jews - over half a million of them - were to be deported from the incorporated territories along with the remaining 30,000 Gypsies and Jews from Prague and Vienna and other parts of the Reich and Protectorate. This, said Heydrich, was a step in the direction of the ‘final aim’, which was to be kept totally secret, namely the removal of the Jews from Germany and the occupied eastern areas to a specially created reservation.

In charge of the operation was the head of the SS Central Office for Jewish Emigration (Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung) in Prague, Adolf Eichmann, who set to work energetically, securing the agreement of the relevant regional officials to the deportation plan, and setting up a transit centre at Nisko on the river San. A trainload of more than 900 Jewish men left Ostrava, in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, on 18 October 1939, followed by another transport of 912 Jewish men from Vienna two days later. At Nisko, however, there were no facilities for them. While a few were detailed to start building barracks, the rest were simply taken a few kilometres away by an SS detachment and then driven off by the guards, who fired their guns and shouted at them, ‘Go over there to your Red brothers!’ The agreement reached by Himmler with the Soviet Union on 28 September 1939 for the transfer of ethnic Germans to the incorporated territories then put a stop to the whole action, not least because the transport facilities and personnel were needed to deal with German immigrants from the east. In any case, as Hitler pointed out, the creation of a large Jewish reservation in the Nisko area would undermine the future function of the area as a military bridgehead for an invasion of the Soviet Union. Eichmann’s grandiose scheme had come to nothing. The stranded Jews stayed where they were, supported by the Jewish community in Lublin, and living in makeshift shelters, until April 1940, when the SS told them to disband and find their own way home: only 300 eventually managed to do so.175

The scheme was not regarded as a failure, however. It showed that it was possible to deport large numbers of Jews from their homes in the Reich and the Protectorate to the east, not least by disguising the murderous undertones of the action through the use of euphemisms such as ‘resettlement’ to self-governing ‘colonies’ or ‘reservations’. Eichmann was promoted to head Department IVD4 of the Reich Security Head Office, in overall charge of ‘evacuation’ and ‘resettlement’.176 His failure to provide adequate facilities for the proposed reservation at Nisko was no product of organizational incompetence: it was intentional. Essentially, the Jews of Germany and German-occupied Central Europe were simply to be dumped there and left to fend for themselves. As Hans Frank remarked: ‘A pleasure finally to be able to tackle the Jewish race physically. The more that die, the better; to strike at the Jews is the victory of our Reich. The Jews have to feel that we’ve arrived.’ A report on a visit of leading officials of the General Government to the village of Cyc’w on 20 November 1939 commented: ‘This territory, with its strongly marshy nature, could serve as a reserve for the Jews according to District Governor Schmidt. This measure would lead to a major decimation of the Jews.’ After all, as a member of the German Foreign Affairs Institute reported from Poland in December 1939, ‘the annihilation of these subhumans would be in the interests of the whole world’. It was best, he thought, that this should be achieved by ‘natural’ means such as starvation and disease.177

During the next few months, various alternative plans for the resettlement of the Jews of Central Europe were canvassed in the Reich Security Head Office, the German Foreign Office and other centres of power: all of them involved, implicitly or explicitly, the murder of large numbers of Jews by one means or another. In February and March 1940, virtually the entire Jewish community of Stettin, numbering over a thousand, was deported on Heydrich’s orders under such appalling conditions that almost a third of them died of hunger, cold and exhaustion en route. In the course of 1939, 1940 and the first four months of 1941, a series of uncoordinated actions led to the deportation of more than 63,000 Jews into the General Government, including more than 3,000 from Alsace, over 6,000 from Baden and the Saar, and even 280 from Luxembourg. None of these deportations had led to any systematic policy implementation on a larger scale; most of them were the result of the initiatives of impatient local Nazis, most notably the Regional Leader of the Wartheland, Arthur Greiser, whose ambition it was to rid his territory of Jews as fast as possible. The Nisko plan had been aborted, and the size and speed of population transfers in Poland scaled down under the impact of wartime pressures and circumstances. Yet despite all this, the idea of forcing the Jews of Central Europe into a reservation somewhere in the east of the country remained under discussion. As a first step, Hitler envisaged the concentration of all the remaining Jews in the Reich, including the newly incorporated territories, into ghettos located in the main Polish cities, which, he agreed with Himmler and Heydrich, would make their eventual expulsion easier.178 The American correspondent William L. Shirer concluded in November 1939 that ‘Nazi policy is simply to exterminate the Polish Jews’, for what else could be the consequence of their ghettoization? If the Jews were unable to make a living, how could they survive? 179

3. Jewish Ghettos in German-occupied Poland, 1939-44

III

Ghettos had already been discussed in Germany in the immediate aftermath of the pogroms of 9-10 November 1938.180 Because few thought that the ghettos would have a long-term existence, no central orders were issued from Berlin for how they were to be managed. Heydrich proposed that Jews should be confined to certain districts of the main cities, but he did not suggest how. Conscious that his administration was far from prepared to accept and administer such a large influx of penniless refugees, Hans Frank tried to block the deportation of Jews from the Wartheland into the General Government, so Greiser took action on his own, within this general policy framework.181 He ordered the concentration of the remaining Jews in the Wartheland into a ‘closed ghetto’ in the northern part of the city of L’d’, a poor district in which a considerable number of Jews were already living. On 10 December 1939, the regional administration drew up plans for the boundaries of the ghetto, the resettlement of non-Jews living there, the provision of food and other supplies and utilities, and other arrangements. On 8 February 1940 guards arrived at the boundaries and began erecting barriers to seal the area off. As Dawid Sierakowiak noted, mass arrests of Jews began in the city as early as December. ‘Everyone everywhere,’ he recorded, ‘has their backpacks ready packed with underclothes and essential clothing and domestic equipment. Everyone is extremely nervous. ’ Many Jews fled the city, taking what they could with them on handcarts.182 By the time the ghetto was finally sealed off, on 30 April and 1 May 1940, it contained some 162,000 of the city’s original Jewish population of 220,000.183 These people had to live in a district that was so poorly provided with basic amenities that over 30,000 dwellings were without either running water or a connection to the sewage system.184 As a result, they soon seemed to confirm Nazi associations of Jews with dirt and disease.

On 21 September 1939 Heydrich had laid down the general principle that each ghetto was to be run by a council of senior Jewish figures, headed by an Elder. They were to be treated as hostages to ensure they prevented any kind of unrest or rebellion in the ghetto; they were to create a Jewish police force to keep order; they were responsible for community life; they had to draw up lists of the inhabitants; they had to arrange the distribution of supplies; and above all they had to carry out the orders of the German administration.185 As Elder of the L’d’ ghetto the Germans chose Chaim Rumkowski, a man who after a series of business failures had ended up as chief administrator of the Jewish orphanages in the city. Now in his seventies, Rumkowski certainly looked the part: white-haired, fit, energetic, with a face and expression that contemporaries often described as noble, majestic or even regal; he quickly took command, becoming in effect the ghetto’s dictator. He printed a special currency for exclusive use in the ghetto, he created a system of canteens, nursery schools and social services, and he bargained with the German administration to allow productive work in the ghetto. This involved the import of raw materials for processing, the providing of unskilled Jewish labour for construction work outside and the earning of income that would purchase essential supplies of food and other goods and so allow the ghetto’s population to survive. By October 1940 he had largely succeeded, in collaboration with the pragmatic German mayor of L’d’ and his ghetto manager, a businessman from Bremen, who wanted to reduce the burden on the public purse of sustaining the Jews, 70 per cent of whom had no other means of feeding themselves. Overcoming opposition within the German administration that saw the ghetto mainly as a means of reducing the Jewish population by a process of attrition, they succeeded in introducing industries and workshops into the ghetto and making it into an element of the German war economy.186 But power also went to Rumkowski’s head. He went round the ghetto surrounded by a retinue of bodyguards, on one occasion throwing sweets to the watching crowds. Making himself indispensable to the Germans as long as the ghetto lasted, he attracted widespread criticism, even hatred, from the Jewish community; yet on the other hand, he could with some plausibility present himself as essential to its survival.187

In the General Government, Hans Frank, for all the brutality of his rhetoric, was soon forced to confront the problem of establishing some sort of order, as thousands of destitute Polish and Jewish expellees arrived with no preparations having been made to receive them. While he applied strong and to a large extent successful pressure in Berlin to have the influx stopped, he also began to create ghettos in which the Jewish population would be concentrated prior to their further expulsion to a reservation in some undefined area further east. The first ghetto in the General Government was created at Radomsko in December 1939, followed by many others. Some were small, some lasted only a few months; but the largest quickly took on a more permanent air as, like the ghetto in L’d’, they became important centres of economic exploitation. This was particularly the case after January 1940, when Frank announced that the General Government was no longer to be seen merely as an object of plunder, but had instead to make its contribution to the economy of the Reich.188 On 19 May 1940 Frank ordered the Jews of Warsaw to be concentrated into an exclusively Jewish area of the city, initially justifying the move with the cynical claim that Jews spread diseases like typhus and had to be quarantined for public health reasons; he also blamed them, in characteristic Nazi fashion, for causing price inflation through their black-marketeering.189 During the summer, construction work on the ghetto walls was suspended as Frank began to hope that the Jews would be taken to Madagascar instead. But in October it began again.190 By the time it was sealed off on 16 November 1940, the majority of Jews in the city had been herded, along with many others from outside, into the ghetto area.

The operation was accompanied by scenes of terrifying brutality, as Emanuel Ringelblum reported:

At the corner of Chlodna and Zelazne Streets, those who are slow to take their hats off to Germans are forced to do callisthenics using paving stones or tiles as weights. Elderly Jews, too, are ordered to do push-ups. They [i.e., the Germans] tear paper up small, scatter the pieces in the mud, and order people to pick them up, beating them as they stoop over. In the Polish quarter Jews are ordered to lie on the ground and they walk over them. On Leszno Street a soldier came through in a wagon and stopped to beat a Jewish pedestrian. Ordered him to lie down in the mud and kiss the pavement. - A wave of evil rolled over the whole city, as if in response to a nod from above.191

 

The ghetto area had been created, as a German administrator reported, ‘by the utilization of existing walls and by walling up streets, windows, doors and gaps between buildings. The walls,’ he added, ‘are three metres high and are raised a further metre by barbed wire placed on top. They are also guarded by motorized and mounted police patrols.’ There were fifteen checkpoints where Polish and German police regulated traffic in and out of the ghetto, which was divided into a larger and a smaller section separated by an ‘Aryan’ street crossed by a wooden bridge.192

Inside the walls, the ghetto was run, on lines already established in L’d’, by a Jewish Council headed by an Elder, the engineer Adam Czerniak’w, a leading member of the local Jewish community now in his mid-sixties. Working long hours, Czerniak’w did his best to obtain small concessions by exploiting divisions within the German occupation authorities, and constantly brought the poor conditions in the ghetto to their attention. He was highly critical of the imperious attitude and corrupt practices of the L’d’ ghetto Elder Rumkowski (‘a conceited and witless man. A dangerous man too since he keeps telling the authorities that all is well in his preserve’).193 Czerniak’w’s attitude led to his arrest by the SS on 4 November 1940 and again in April 1941. He was tortured and humiliated, but refused to modify his stubborn attempts to defend the interests of the ghetto’s inhabitants. Only occasionally was he able to record any success in winning concessions from the Germans. Many of the promises they made to him at the end of lengthy negotiation sessions remained unfulfilled. ‘All this toil, as I see it,’ he wrote on 1 November 1941, ‘bears no fruit. My head spins and my thinking is getting muddled. Not one single positive achievement.’194

The creation of the Warsaw ghetto involved the concentration of nearly a third of the city’s population into 2.4 per cent of its territory. After a further 66,000 Jews from the surrounding district were brought in during the first three months of 1941, some 445,000 people were crammed into an area of about 400 hectares in extent, with an average density, according to an official German estimate, of over 15 people per apartment or between 6 and 7 to a room, double the density of the population living in the rest of the city. Some rooms no more than 24 square metres in area had to provide living accommodation for as many as 25 or 30 people.195 Fuel was so scarce that few apartments were heated, even in the coldest winter. The death rate among Warsaw’s Jewish population rose from 1 per thousand in 1939 to 10.7 in 1941; in L’d’ it was even higher, at 43.3 in 1940 and 75.9 the following year. Children were particularly vulnerable; one in four children in the Warsaw ghetto shelters died in June 1941 alone, and so bad was the situation of children overall that a number of families tried to give their offspring away to non-Jewish families in the surrounding city.196 Orphaned children began to roam the streets of the ghetto in growing numbers. ‘A terrifying, simply monstrous impression is made,’ Emanuel Ringelblum confessed, by ‘. . . the wailing of children who . . . beg for alms, or whine that they have nowhere to sleep. At the corner of Leszno and Markelicka streets,’ he reported, ‘children weep bitterly at night. Although I hear this weeping every night, I cannot fall asleep until late. The couple of pence I give them nightly cannot ease my conscience.’197

Death rates reached a new high in the spring of 1941 as typhus spread amongst the overcrowded, lice-ridden population of the Warsaw ghetto. ‘One walks past corpses with indifference,’ confessed Emanuel Ringelblum in May 1941. ‘The corpses are mere skeletons, with a thin covering of skin over their bones.’198 Passing through the ghetto, Stanislav Royzicki saw its inhabitants as ‘nightmare figures, ghosts of former human beings’ and noted ‘the prominent bones around their eye sockets, the yellow facial colour, the slack pendulous skin, the alarming emaciation and sickliness. And, in addition, this miserable, frightened, restless, apathetic and resigned expression.’ Patients were lying two or three to a bed in the hospitals.199 In the autumn of 1941 the hospitals were treating around 900 typhus cases a day, with 6,000 more ill in their homes. Tuberculosis spread as well, and contamination of the water supply led to many cases of typhoid. Malnutrition weakened people’s resistance to disease, and medical services were unable to cope. Death became an inescapable feature of the ghetto experience in Warsaw; during its whole period of existence, some 140,000 people died inside the ghetto.200 Travelling through the Jewish ghetto in a tram in early September 1941, Zygmunt Klukowski noted the terrible living conditions and high mortality rate of the Jews. ‘It is almost impossible to figure out how something like this can happen,’ he wrote.201 While all this was going on, as Ringelblum recorded, a German film crew visited the ghetto, staging scenes for cinema audiences back home in which kindly German soldiers stepped in to protect Jews from the cruelty of the Polish police.202

Hunger led to a deterioration in social relations, and people fought over scraps, forged ration cards, or snatched food from passers-by, eating it as they ran away. Families began to quarrel over rations, and new arrivals sold everything they had to pay for black market food. Small children slipped out of the ghetto where it was only fenced off with barbed wire, risking being shot by the guards as they went off into the surrounding city to scavenge for food. Labourers on work details outside the ghetto often managed to smuggle food back in, while organized gangs of smugglers waged a kind of guerrilla warfare with the German guards.203 Some 28,000 Jews of all ages managed to find hiding-places outside the Warsaw ghetto, mostly with the aid of non-Jewish Poles, using social contacts, friendships and acquaintanceships that had existed before the Germans came. Parents frequently tried to send their children across the ghetto boundary to safety. Sometimes concealed in attics or cellars, sometimes passed off as ‘Aryan’, the children lived a precarious life; many were arrested and if, as was often the case, their parents were no longer alive, they were put into prison-like orphanages. Some Poles helped conceal Jews for financial gain, some out of nothing more complicated than human sympathy; others still betrayed them to the German police if they discovered that they were Jewish. A few even employed Jews on work that they succeeded in getting classified as essential, then took more on than they really needed, defending them against all attempts by the Germans to take them away. Most of the 11,000 Jews who survived the war in the Polish capital owed their lives to Polish helpers. The Poles who aided Jews in this, and many other ways, were a small minority, however, far outweighed by the antisemites who willingly participated in, and profited from, the creation of the ghetto and the removal of the Jewish population from the city at large. Neither the Polish nationalist underground ‘Home Army’ nor the Polish government in exile in London nor, finally, the Polish Catholic Church took a clear stance against the Germans’ murderous policies towards Polish Jews; if anything, the opposite was the case, with all three institutions regarding Poland’s Jewish population as supporters of ‘Bolshevism’. As a semi-official report of the Polish Church to the exiled government declared in the summer of 1941, the Germans ‘have shown that liberation of Polish society from the Jewish plague is possible’.204

Polish police too played their part in keeping the ghetto sealed off from the rest of the city as far as possible. Walking past the ghetto in September 1941, Wilm Hosenfeld noted:

There are water culverts at the ghetto wall, and Jewish children who live outside the ghetto smuggle potatoes in through them. I saw a Polish policeman beating a boy who was trying to do this. As I caught sight of the emaciated legs under the child’s coat, and his face filled with fear, I was seized by an enormous pity. I’d very much have liked to have given the boy my fruit.205

 

But the penalties for such a gesture, even for a German officer, were too severe for him to risk it. Even silent sympathy like Hosenfeld’s was extremely rare. German officials, troops, police and SS men frequently came into the ghetto, beating and clubbing the Jews they encountered at will. Looking out of his window one day in February 1941, Chaim Kaplan saw crowds running in wild panic through the street below, before ‘a Nazi murderer with a face as red as fire, whose every movement expressed burning wrath, came striding with a singularly heavy step in search of a victim. In his hand was a whip.’ When he came across a beggar he started beating him mercilessly, then, when the beggar fell to the ground, the German stamped on him, and kicked and punched him ‘for twenty minutes’, until long after the man was dead. ‘It was hard to comprehend the secret of this sadistic phenomenon,’ wrote Kaplan in his diary:

After all, the victim was a stranger, not an old enemy; he did not speak rudely to him, let alone touch him. Then why this cruel wrath? How is it possible to attack a stranger to me, a man of flesh and blood like myself, to wound him and trample upon him, and cover his body with sores, bruises, and welts, without any reason? How is it possible? Yet I swear I saw all this with my own eyes.206

 

For many among the occupying German forces, the ghetto offered the opportunity to vent almost unimaginable violence upon the helpless Jews without the slightest threat of retribution.

Some Germans, indeed, regularly drove through the ghetto singling out victims. Others merely came to watch, to take photographs, or on occasion to take posed pictures for propaganda purposes. It was even claimed by the Polish government-in-exile that the Nazi leisure organization ‘Strength Through Joy’ organized tourist visits to the ghetto, where the conditions the Germans themselves had created confirmed visitors in their sense of superiority over the ragged, starving and disease-ridden Jews they encountered.207 Passing a Jewish ghetto in Kutno, Melita Maschmann was shocked to see the lethargic poverty of the people penned in behind the high wire fence. Some children were begging, their hands stretched out through the wire.

The wretchedness of the children brought a lump to my throat. But I clenched my teeth. Gradually I learned to switch off my “private feelings” quickly and utterly in such situations. This is terrible, I said to myself, but the driving out of the Jews is one of the unfortunate things we must bargain for if the “Warthegau” is to become a German country.

She saw some German railway officials going to the fence and gawping at the Jews as if they were animals in a zoo.208 What they saw, though it was the result of German oppression, confirmed their prejudices against ‘Eastern Jews’. As one army NCO wrote on 30 June 1941:

We drove through the quarter of the Jews and the epidemics. I cannot describe the condition of this area and its inhabitants . . . Many hundreds of people were queuing at groceries, tobacconists and liquor stores . . . As we drove by, we saw a man fall over for no obvious cause; it must have been hunger that made him fall, for a number of these riff-raff starve to death every day. A few are still well dressed in prewar clothes, but the most are shrouded in sacks and rags, a terrible picture of hunger and poverty. Children and women run after us and scream ‘bread, bread!’209

 

Rare indeed was a German officer like Wilm Hosenfeld, who found ‘terrible conditions’ in the ghetto when he visited it on business early in 1941, ‘all an indictment against us’.210

Despite these miserable and often terrifying conditions, the ghetto inhabitants managed to keep some kind of cultural, religious and social life going, even when the pressures imposed by working to survive made observation of the Sabbath difficult, and the desperate state of hygiene and sanitation prevented most Jews from keeping to traditional norms of personal cleanliness. In Warsaw actors and musicians staged theatrical productions and concerts, while in L’d’, true to form, Rumkowski organized all cultural activity himself. Adam Czerniak’w recorded in his diary regular visits to chamber music recitals, and as late as 6 June 1942 he was considering having an opera staged - Carmen, or perhaps The Tales of Hoffman. One of the most important projects in the Warsaw ghetto was devised by the young historian Emanuel Ringelblum, who gathered together people of many different political persuasions to collect an archive of diaries, letters, memoirs, interviews and documents, and to keep a record of the ghetto’s history for posterity. He even managed to write a serious study of Polish-Jewish relations during the war while simultaneously trying to survive in the increasingly intolerable conditions of life in the ghetto.211

IV

In Germany itself, conditions for the remaining Jewish population continued to deteriorate steadily in the first two years of the war. Numbering 207,000 in September 1939, according to the official racial classification of the Nazis, it was mostly middle-aged or elderly. Germany’s Jews had been despoiled of almost all their assets. They were effectively ostracized from German society and dependent on their own organizations for the maintenance of any kind of collective life. Many of those younger Jewish men who stayed in Germany had already been drafted into forced-labour schemes well before the outbreak of war. Compulsory labour, often in hard and dirty physical jobs such as digging ditches or shovelling snow, continued through 1940. In the spring of that year, however, the shelving of plans to create a Jewish reservation in the Lublin area, coupled with serious labour shortages in the arms industry, led to a change of policy. Jewish men of military age were banned from emigrating, in case they took up arms against Germany, and all Jews between the ages of fifteen and fifty-five for men and fifteen and fifty for women were ordered to register for labour. By October 1940 there were 40,000 Jews working on forced labour schemes, increasing numbers of them in war-related industries. Indeed, Goebbels noted in his diary on 22 March 1941 that 30,000 Jews in Berlin were working in arms factories (‘who would ever have thought that possible?’). Jewish labourers could be got very cheaply, and they did not require the provision of special accommodation or the hiring of translators, as did Polish or Czech workers.212

Emigration, which had seen more than half Germany’s Jewish inhabitants leave since the beginning of 1933, thus became a lesser priority under the impact of the demand for Jewish labour. Only perhaps 15,000 or so more Jews managed to find refuge in a neutral country in the course of 1940. Around 1,000 got to Brazil with the help of visas arranged by the Vatican in 1939, funded by American donors. Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, a Japanese consul stationed variously in Lithuania, Prague and Königsberg in 1939- 41, Chiune Sugihara, whose main function was supposed to be observing military matters, began on his own initiative to issue transit visas to Japan to any Jews who approached him, even though they had no permission to enter the country; out of perhaps 10,000 Jews who obtained these documents, possibly half managed to find their way illegally eventually to Canada, the USA or other destinations.213 Illegal emigration to Palestine continued, encouraged by the Gestapo, but the British mandate authorities in the country began to put obstacles in its path, fearing that it would alienate the Palestinians: in November 1940 they turned away a shipload of Jewish refugees who had come via the Danube and the Black Sea; the refugees were transferred to another ship to take them back to Romania, and only after the ship had exploded and sunk, killing 251 passengers, did the British authorities allow the rest to disembark and settle. The international treaty port of Shanghai, by contrast, imposed few restrictions on immigration, and remained open until December 1941, when the war in the Pacific broke out; by the summer of 1941, over 25,000 Jewish refugees from a variety of European countries including Germany had managed to flee there, travelling through Hungary or Scandinavia via the Trans-Siberian Railway and thence by sea.214

Those who remained in Germany were now overwhelmingly concentrated in Berlin. Despite their extremely difficult situation they were able to continue some sort of social and cultural life not least because of the existence of the Jewish Culture League, which published books and periodicals, staged concerts and plays, arranged lectures and put on film shows. Everything of course had to be approved by its Nazi head, Hans Hinkel, who banned ‘German’ cultural heritage from being disseminated by the League. Under the restrictive conditions of wartime, it was also more difficult to keep going than before, especially outside Berlin.215 The overall interests of the Jewish community in the Reich were represented by the Reich Association of Jews in Germany, which was given the task by the regime, on Hitler’s explicit orders, of dispensing charity, organizing education and apprenticeships, arranging emigration and finding jobs for members of the Jewish community where possible. In January 1939 the Culture League had been effectively integrated into the Association by order of the Nazis, not least in order to make its financial resources available to the latter to assist Jewish emigration. A new executive committee was installed, consisting of representatives of the Association and the Jewish religious congregations of Berlin and Vienna. Nevertheless, despite its depleted funds, the quality of the League’s offerings continued to be high, with performances of classic French plays by Molière and others, symphonies by Mahler and Tchaikovsky, and chamber music groups playing in provincial cities for Jewish audiences. Religious life, for those who belonged to the Jewish faith, continued too, though after the destruction of Germany’s synagogues in the pogrom of 9-10 November 1938, it was obviously on a restricted scale.216

No ghettos as such were set up inside the Reich, but in the course of 1940 and 1941, Jews began to be evicted from their dwellings and moved into ‘Jews’ houses’, where they were forced to live under increasingly overcrowded conditions, an echo of what was simultaneously happening on a much larger scale and in a far more brutal manner to Jews in occupied Poland. Basing their actions on a law of 30 April 1939 that allowed landlords to evict Jewish tenants if alternative accommodation was available, municipalities began to concentrate the Jewish population, using further powers created in the same law to compel Jewish homeowners to take in Jewish tenants. In many cases the alternative accommodation was found in disused barracks and similar buildings: in Müngersdorf, near Cologne, 2,000 Jews were put into a dipalidated fort, twenty to a room. Some thirty-eight such ‘residence camps’ were created after the outbreak of war. War also brought the confiscation of all radio sets from German Jews, followed in 1940 by telephones. New taxes were imposed on their now-meagre incomes. Ration cards for shoes, clothing and fabrics were withdrawn from the Jews. A host of new police regulations and decrees made their lives more difficult and increased their chances of falling foul of the law. Immediately after the outbreak of hostilities, German Jews were subjected to a curfew, and severe restrictions were imposed on the hours during which they could go shopping. They were only allowed to buy supplies in designated, Aryan-owned shops at particular times (there were no more Jewish-owned shops). They were allotted lower rations for food and clothing than non-Jews were and banned from buying chocolates. Himmler announced in October 1939 that any Jew who contravened any regulation, failed to obey any instruction, or showed any kind of resistance to the state and its dictates was to be arrested and put into a concentration camp. The powers of the police and other authorities to harass and persecute Jews grew correspondingly: in the Rhenish town of Krefeld, for instance, cases involving Jews, which had made up 20 per cent of all cases handled by the Gestapo before the war, rose to 35 per cent after the war had started. And in the spring of 1941, Himmler announced that any Jew imprisoned in a concentration camp would remain there for the duration of the war.217

Already in October 1940 Hitler personally ordered the deportation of two particular groups of German Jews who lived in the south-western states of Baden, the Saarland and the Palatinate. The Reich Security Head Office was put in charge of the operation. The Jews were rounded up on the basis of detailed lists compiled by the police and put on to buses. They were allowed one 50-kilo suitcase each, bedding and food supplies. They could take a maximum of 100 Reichsmarks each; their dwellings, furniture and valuables had to be left behind and were taken over by the Reich. The same fate had already befallen the Jewish population of Alsace-Lorraine on 16 July 1940, when it was occupied by the Germans after the defeat of France. The Saar, the Palatinate and Alsace-Lorraine were to be put together to form a single new Nazi Party District, which was to be entirely ‘Jew-free’. All these people were driven across the French border and dumped into camps in the unoccupied zone; later, more were taken to the General Government. The French authorities promised that the rest would shortly be deported to the French colony of Madagascar. For the time being, these were the only Jews deported from German territory, along with the Jewish inhabitants of Schneidemühl and Stettin, who had been forcibly taken to Lublin the previous February, and the Jews taken from Vienna and the Reich Protectorate to Nisko.218

Alongside the remaining Jewish population in the rest of Germany, there was also a significant group of people defined as ‘mixed-race’, that is, half-Jewish or quarter-Jewish. They were subjected to some of the discriminatory measures introduced by the Nazis over the previous six years, but not all of them. They could not work in state-funded jobs, including schoolteaching and local administration, but they could, until 1941 at least, serve in the army; if they were half-Jewish they were not allowed to marry a non-Jew, and if they practised the Jewish religion they were classified as fully Jewish. On the other hand, a Jew who was married to a non-Jew could escape most of the regime’s antisemitic policies provided the couple had children who were not brought up in the Jewish faith; and even if they had no children, they were to some extent exempt, so long as they did not practise the Jewish faith themselves. 219 One such couple were Victor Klemperer, a retired Jewish professor of French literature, and his non-Jewish wife, Eva, a former pianist, whose lives in this period can be reconstructed in great detail thanks to the survival of Klemperer’s voluminous diaries. Klemperer had lost his job ostensibly not because he was Jewish but because his post had been declared redundant, so he had a small pension to live off. By 1939, he was no longer allowed to use the libraries in Dresden, where he lived, he was barred from most public facilities in the city, and he had to carry a Jewish identity card with the name ‘Israel’ added to his own. Writing his memoirs and his diaries and tending his house and garden in the Dresden suburb of Dölzschen were virtually the only remaining activities open to him. He also devoted himself to compiling a list of the linguistic expressions of Nazism, which he called LTI - Lingua Tertii Imperii, the language of the Third Reich. His manuscripts and diaries he deposited regularly with a non-Jewish friend, Annemarie Köhler, a doctor who ran a clinic in Pirna, outside Dresden.220

The war at first had little impact on Klemperer. His house was raided by the Gestapo, looking for radios and for forbidden literature, but the officers were polite enough, and the main problem he faced was the exorbitant burden of special taxes which the government levied on him as a Jew. On 9 December 1939, however, he was informed that he and his wife would have to rent out their house to a local greengrocer, who would open a shop in it, and move to two rooms in a special house in the city reserved for Jews, which they would share with other families. Under the terms of the rental agreement, which took effect on 26 May 1940, the Klemperers were not allowed to go near their old house, and the greengrocer had first right of refusal on its sale, which was fixed at 16,600 Reichsmarks, a sum Klemperer considered ridiculously low. It was not to be long before the new occupier began to search for a pretext to put the sale into effect. Meanwhile, in the Jews’ House, at 15B Caspar David Friedrich Strasse, a detached villa ‘stuffed full of people, who all share the same fate’, Klemperer was irritated ‘by the constant fussing interference of strangers’ and the absence of his books, most of which he had been obliged to put into storage. Nerves and tempers became frayed, and he became embroiled in a ‘terrible argument’ with another inhabitant of the house, who accused him of using too much water.221

The Klemperers went out for long walks as much as they could, though shopping was a continual humiliation (‘it is always horrible for me to show the J card’). Deliveries from non-Jewish firms were stopped, however, so he now had to go to shops to buy everything, including milk. The Klemperers’ life continued in this way for the best part of a year, until, in June 1941, disaster struck. Pedantic, with an attention to detail that was one of the qualities that make his diaries so valuable, Klemperer had survived to this point not least because of his extreme punctiliousness in observing all the rules and regulations to which Jews in the Third Reich were subjected. ‘Throughout 17 months of war,’ he noted, ‘we had always blacked out with the greatest care.’ But one evening in February he had come back from a walk after dark and realized he had forgotten to put up the blackout shutters; neighbours had complained to the police about the light coming from his room, the police had reported the incident, and Klemperer was sentenced to eight days in prison. He had never heard of anyone being imprisoned for a first-time offence against the blackout regulations. ‘I undoubtedly owed it solely to the J on my identity card.’ On 23 June 1940, after his plea for leniency had been rejected, he reported to the police station to begin his sentence. Down in the subterranean world of the cells, the books he had brought with him to while away the time were confiscated, along with his reading glasses, and the warders, shouting at him roughly to hurry up, ushered him into Cell 89, furnished with a fold-up bed and table, some cutlery and crockery, a washbasin, towel and soap, and a WC (flushed twice a day from the outside). The time weighed endlessly upon him, ‘the awful emptiness and immobility of the 192 hours’. Conscious of the fact that he was there not least because he was a Jew, he began to wonder if he would ever get out alive.222

V

Jews and Poles were not the only objects of the radicalization of Nazi racial policy and practice in the first two years of the war. Germany’s 26,000 or so Gypsies were also included in the plans developed by the Nazis for the racial reordering of Central and East-Central Europe in the course of the invasion of Poland. By September 1939, Himmler, persuaded by the criminologist Robert Ritter that mixed-race Gypsies in particular were a threat to society, had instructed every regional criminal police office to set up a special desk dealing with the ‘Gypsy problem’. He issued an order banning Gypsies from marrying ‘Aryans’, and placed some 2,000 Gypsies in special camps 223 On the outbreak of war, Heydrich banned Gypsies from plying their itinerant trades near Germany’s western borders. Even before this, some local authorities in these areas had taken the initiative and expelled Gypsies from their districts, expressing a traditional wartime fear of Gypsies as spies; Gypsies who had been conscripted into the army were also now cashiered because of the same fears.224 In November 1939 Gypsy women were legally prevented from fortune-telling, on the grounds that they were spreading false predictions about the end of the war (the date of which was obviously a matter of intense interest to many of Germans who consulted them). A number were incarcerated in the women’s concentration camp at Ravensbrück in consequence. Already in December 1938 Himmler had spoken of ‘the final solution of the Gypsy question’, and in pursuit of this aim Heydrich informed his senior underlings on 21 September 1939 that as well as the Jews, the Gypsies would also be deported from Germany to the east of Poland. Germany’s Gypsies were ordered to remain where they were on pain of being taken off to a concentration camp while a census was taken; subsequently some limited mobility was permitted, essential if Gypsies were to continue to make a living, but it was not much of a concession.225

Meanwhile, in January 1940, Himmler began detailed planning for the expulsion of the Gypsies, who were rounded up and placed in collection camps. In May 1940 some 2,500 of them were put on trains and taken to the General Government from a total of seven embarkation centres in the Rhineland, Hamburg, Bremen and Hanover. They were allowed to take a limited amount of luggage, and they were supplied with food and medical care, but the property and possessions they left behind were eventually seized and confiscated. On arrival in the General Government, they were dispersed to towns, villages and work camps; one train even stopped in the middle of the countryside, where the guards threw the Gypsies out and left them to fend for themselves. Many Gypsies died of malnutrition or disease, particularly in the harsh conditions of the camps, and some perished in a massacre near Radom. However, in most cases they were able to move about freely, and a large number found work of one kind or another. Many used the opportunity to return to Germany, where they were generally arrested but not sent back to Poland. Like the planned deportations of the Jews, however, the expulsion of the Gypsies was soon halted; Frank had objected to yet further mass deportations into the General Government, and the supposed military necessity for removing them from the western borders of the Reich disappeared after the conquest of France. For the time being, the Gypsies who remained in Germany were left where they were. Increasing numbers of the fit and able were drafted into forced-labour schemes.226

Like the Jews, Germany’s Gypsies had experienced a drastic deterioration in their situation since the beginning of the war. It had been made plain to them that their long-term future did not lie in Germany, and that when their deportation en masse finally happened it would be achieved through violence, brutality and murder. Conflicting interests in Poland, coupled with the rapidly changing war situation, had put a temporary halt to the expulsions and given them a respite. Yet Hitler’s declared intention of ridding the Reich of all its Jews and Gypsies was in no sense abandoned. Its full realization could only be a matter of time.

‘LIFE UNWORTHY OF LIFE’

I

On 22 September 1939, in occupied Poland an SS unit from a paramilitary SS and police group, some 500 to 600 strong, founded in Danzig by Kurt Eimann, a local SS leader, loaded a group of mental patients from the asylum at Conradstein (Kocborowo) into a lorry and drove them to a nearby wood, a killing field where many thousands of Poles had already been shot by the Germans. The SS made them line up, still dressed in their asylum clothing, some of them even wearing straitjackets, on the edge of a ditch, where Gestapo officers from the Old Reich shot them, one by one, in the back of the neck. The mental patients fell into the ditch as they were executed, and the paramilitaries covered their bodies with a thin layer of soil. Over the next few weeks, more lorry-loads from the asylum arrived, to suffer the same fate, until around 2,000 mental patients had been killed. Relatives were told that the victims had been transferred to other asylums, but the reverse was the case, as mentally and physically handicapped children from institutions in Silberhammer (Srebrzysk), Mewe (Gniew) and Riesenburg (Probuty) were taken to Conradstein for execution. The same thing was happening elsewhere too. In Schwetz (Swiece) and Konitz (Chojnice), German police units and ethnic German ‘Self-Protection’ squads carried out the killings, while in November 1939 patients from Stralsund, Treptow an der Rege, Lauenburg and Ueckermünde were taken to Neustadt in West Prussia (Wejherowo) and shot.227

In the Wartheland, Regional Leader Greiser emptied three major psychiatric hospitals of their inmates and had all the Poles and Jews among them killed. Most of them were shot by members of the SS Task Force VI. A special fate, however, was reserved for the patients of the hospital at Treskau (Owi’ska). They were taken to Posen and crammed into a sealed room in the fort that served as the local headquarters of the Gestapo. Here they were poisoned with carbon monoxide gas, released from canisters. This was the first time in history that a gas chamber had been used for mass killing. Further murders took place in the fort; on one occasion in December 1939, Himmler himself came along to observe. Early in 1940 this murder campaign finished with the transportation of more asylum inmates to Kosten (Ko’cian) in the Wartheland, where they were loaded into gas chambers mounted on the back of lorries, taken out into the countryside and asphyxiated. All in all, by the time the initial action was over, in January 1940, some 7,700 inmates of psychiatric hospitals and institutions for the mentally and physically handicapped had been killed, along with a number of prostitutes from Gdingen (Gdynia) and Bromberg (Bydgoszcz), and Gypsies from Preussisch-Stargard (Starograd).228 Such events could hardly be kept secret. Dr Klukowski heard of the killings in February 1940. ‘It is hard to believe anything as terrible as this,’ he wrote.229

The murders continued during the following months. In May and June 1940, 1,558 Germans and 300 or so Poles were taken from an East Prussian mental institution at Soldau and killed by mobile gas wagons in an action organized by a special unit under the command of Herbert Lange, which went on to murder many hundreds more patients in the incorporated territories in the same way. Lange’s men received a special bonus of ten Reichsmarks for every patient they killed. The killings even extended to mental patients in the L’d’ ghetto, where a German medical commission took away forty to be shot in a nearby wood in March 1940 and another batch on 29 July 1941. So terrible were the conditions in the ghetto by this time that Jewish families still begged the hospital to admit their mentally ill relatives even though they were fully aware of the risks this involved. Altogether well over 12,000 patients were killed in these various actions by Eimann, Lange and their men.230 Although these murders took place in the context of a war in which many thousands more Poles and Jews were being shot by German army units, SS Security Task Forces and local ethnic German militias, they none the less stand out in some ways as qualitatively different. In Posen the need to free up space to quarter Military SS units may have played a role, and in some cases the accommodation released by the murders was made available to Baltic German settlers. But for the most part, such practical considerations were only of secondary importance or indeed merely served as a way of justifying these actions in seemingly rational terms. The space made available by the killings stood in no relation at all to the numbers of settlers arriving from the east. The real reasons for the killings were not practical or instrumental, but ideological.231 There was no convincing justification for the murders in security terms either. Unlike Polish intellectuals, the victims could not be regarded as posing a threat to the German occupation or the long-term Germanization of the region. Significantly, those few inmates of asylums deemed capable of work were spared and taken off to Germany. The rest were ‘social ballast’, ‘life unworthy of life’, to be killed as quickly as possible.232

II

As Himmler’s visit to the Posen fort killings suggests, the Nazi leaders in Berlin were well aware of what was going on, and indeed provided the ideological impulse for it to begin. From the mid-twenties at the latest, influenced by the writings of radical eugenicists, Hitler had considered that it was necessary for Germany’s racial health and military effectiveness to eliminate ‘degenerates’ from the chain of heredity. ‘If Germany got a million children every year,’ he had declared at the 1929 Nuremberg Party Rally, ‘and removed 70,000 to 80,000 of the weakest, then the end result would perhaps actually be an increase in its strength.’233 On 14 July 1933 the regime had introduced compulsory sterilization for Germans considered to be suffering from hereditary weaknesses, including ‘moral feeble-mindedness’, a vague criterion that could encompass many different kinds of social deviance. Some 360,000 people had been sterilized by the time the war broke out.234 In 1935, in addition, abortion on eugenic grounds had been legalized.235 Already, however, well before this time, Hitler had begun to plan for even more radical action. According to Hans-Heinrich Lammers, head of the Reich Chancellery, Hitler had considered putting a provision for the killing of mental patients into the Law of 14 July 1933, but shelved it because it would be too controversial. In 1935, however, as his doctor Karl Brandt recalled, Hitler had told the Reich Doctors’ Leader Gerhard Wagner that he would implement such a measure in wartime, ‘when the whole world is gazing at acts of war and the value of human life in any case weighs less in the balance’. From 1936, SS doctors began to be appointed in growing numbers as directors of psychiatric institutions, while pressure was put on Church-run institutions to transfer their patients to secular ones. At the end of 1936 or the beginning of 1937, a secret Reich Committee for Hereditary Health Matters was established within the Chancellery of the Leader, initially with a view to drawing up legislation for a Reich Hereditary Health Court. By this time, too, the SS journal The Black Corps was openly urging the killing of ‘life unworthy of life’, while there is evidence that a number of Regional Leaders began to prepare for the murder of institutionalized patients in their areas. All of this suggests that serious preparations for the killing of the handicapped began around this time. It only needed the imminent prospect of war to put them into effect.236

Such a prospect finally became real in the summer of 1939. Already in May, as preparations for the war with Poland were under way, Hitler had set up administrative arrangements for the killing of mentally ill children under the aegis of the Reich Committee for Hereditary Health Matters, now renamed more precisely the Reich Committee for the Scientific Registering of Serious Hereditary and Congenital Illnesses. A precedent, or excuse, was found in a petition to Hitler from the father of a baby boy who was born in February 1939 lacking a leg and part of an arm and suffering from convulsions. The father wanted the infant killed, but the Leipzig hospital doctor whom he had first approached had refused to do this because it would have opened him to prosecution for murder. Presented by the Chancellery of the Leader, his personal secretariat, with a dossier on the matter, Hitler ordered Brandt to visit Leipzig and kill the child himself after confirming the diagnosis and consulting with his medical colleagues there. Soon after, Brandt reported back to Hitler that he had got the local doctors to kill the infant on 25 July 1939. Hitler now formally asked Brandt, together with the head of the Leader’s’ Chancellery, to undertake active preparation of a major programme for killing mentally or physically handicapped children. Hitler’s personal physician, Theo Morell, who was closely involved in the planning process, suggested that the parents of the murdered children would prefer it if their death was reported as resulting from natural causes. As a final phase of the planning process, the head of the Leader’s Chancellery, Philipp Bouhler, a thirty-nine-year-old long-time Nazi who had built up the office over the years and gradually extended its influence into many of the areas of government touched on by the thousands of petitions addressed to Hitler that it was its job to deal with, invited fifteen to twenty doctors, many of them heads of psychiatric institutions, to a meeting to discuss the planned programme of killing. Although it was to begin with children, Hitler, Bormann, Lammers and Leonardo Conti, the head of the Party’s Health Office and ‘Reich Health Leader’ since the death of the Reich Doctors’ Leader Gerhard Wagner on 25 March 1939, decided that Conti should be commissioned with its extension to cover adults as well. Now that the decision had been made to kill the mentally ill and handicapped, a decree dated 31 August 1939 officially brought the programme of sterilizing them to an end in all but a few exceptional cases.237

The Leader’s Chancellery was from Hitler’s point of view the ideal location for the planning and implementation of the killing programme. His own personal office, it was neither subordinate to the Party, like the Party Chancellery, nor part of the civil service, like the Reich Chancellery, so it would be far easier to keep the deliberations over ‘euthanasia’ secret than it would have been had they taken place in the more formal bureaucratic setting of either of these other two institutions. Morell submitted to Hitler a memorandum on the possibility of formally legalizing the killing of the handicapped, and Hitler gave his personal approval to the idea. Under instructions from Bouhler’s office, the Ministry of Justice’s official Commission on the Reform of the Criminal Law prepared draft legislation removing penal sanctions from the killing of people suffering from incurable mental illness and confined to institutions. Lengthy discussions within the legal, medical and eugenic bureaucracies continued for many months as the draft was amended and refined. But for Hitler these seemingly endless deliberations were too slow and too pedantic. Like all the rest of the Commission’s drafts, the proposed legislation was eventually shelved.238 Impatient with these delays, Hitler acceded to pressure from Bouhler to transfer responsibility for the killings back from Conti to the Leader’s Chancellery, and signed an order in October 1939 charging Bouhler and Brandt ‘to extend the powers of doctors to be specified by name, so that sick people who by human estimation are incurable can, on the most critical assessment of the state of their illness, be granted a merciful death’. Although not a formal decree, this order effectively possessed the force of law in a polity where leading constitutional experts had long since been arguing that even Hitler’s verbal utterances were legally binding. As a precaution, none the less, the order was shown to Reich Justice Minister Gürtner, to forestall any possible prosecutions; but apart from being made known to a few selected individuals involved in the programme, it was otherwise kept secret. To make clear that it was being introduced as a consequence of the heightened need to purify the German race imposed by the war, Hitler antedated it to 1 September 1939, the day the war broke out.239

By the time Hitler signed the order, the murder of adult patients was already under way in Poland; but it would not have begun there had the Regional Leaders in Pomerania, Danzig-West Prussia and East Prussia not been aware of the decisions already taken in Berlin. In Germany itself, the programme was initially directed at children. The secret Reich Committee for the Scientific Registering of Serious Hereditary and Congenital Illnesses, located in Bouhler’s Chancellery, ordered the compulsory registration of all ‘malformed’ newborn children on 18 August 1939.240 These included infants suffering from Down’s syndrome, microcephaly, the absence of a limb or deformities of the head or spine, cerebral palsy and similar conditions, and vaguely defined conditions such as ‘idiocy’. Doctors and midwives were paid two Reichsmarks for each case they reported to their superiors, who sent lists of the infants in question to a postal box number in Berlin, next to Bouhler’s office. Three doctors in the Leader’s Chancellery processed the reports. They then marked the registration forms with a + if the child was to be killed, and sent them on to the nearest public health office, which would then order the child’s admission to a paediatric clinic. To begin with, four such clinics were used, but many more were established later on, bringing the eventual total up to thirty.241

This whole process of registration, transport and killing was initially directed not at infants and children who were already in hospitals or care institutions, but at those who lived at home, with their parents. The parents were informed that the children would be well looked after, or even that removal to a specialist clinic held out the promise of a cure, or at least an improvement in their condition. Given the hereditarian bias of the diagnoses, a large proportion of the families were poor and ill-educated, and a good proportion of them were already stigmatized as ‘asocial’ or ‘hereditarily inferior’. Those who raised objections to the removal of their offspring from the family home were sometimes threatened with withdrawal of benefits if they did not comply. In any case, from March 1941 onwards, child allowances were no longer paid for handicapped children, and after September 1941 the children could be compulsorily removed from parents who refused to release them. In some institutions parents were banned from visiting their children with the excuse that this would make it more difficult for them to get used to their new surroundings; others found it difficult to visit in any case, since many of the centres were located in remote areas and far from easy to get to by public transport. Once admitted by the social and medical services, the children were put in special wards, away from the other patients. Most of the killing centres carried out their task by starving the children to death or administering overdoses of the sedative Luminal in their food. After a few days the children would develop breathing problems and eventually succumb to bronchitis or pneumonia. Sometimes the doctors left these diseases untreated, sometimes they finished the children off with lethal injections of morphine.242

A teacher taken on a tour of the killing ward at the Eglfing-Haar asylum in the autumn of 1939 later testified that the director, Hermann Pfannmüller, a long-time Nazi and an advocate of involuntary euthanasia for many years, told him openly that he preferred to let the children die naturally rather than killing them by injections, because this might arouse hostile comment abroad if news of it ever got out:

 

As he spoke these words, [Pfannmüller] and a nurse from the ward pulled a child from its crib. Displaying the child like a dead rabbit, he pontificated with the air of a connoisseur and a cynical smirk something like this: ‘With this one, for example, it will still take two to three days.’ I can still clearly visualize the spectacle of this fat and smirking man with the whimpering skeleton in his fleshy hand, surrounded by other starving children. Furthermore, the murderer then pointed out that they did not suddenly withdraw food, but instead slowly reduced rations. 243

 

The programme continued for much of the rest of the war along similar lines, killing an estimated 5,000 children in total. Gradually, the upper age limit for removal and murder was raised, first to eight, then to twelve, and finally to sixteen. In practice some were even older. Many of these children and adolescents suffered from little more than developmental difficulties of one kind or another.244

A large number of health officials and doctors were involved in the scheme, whose nature and purpose thus became widely known in the medical profession. Few of them objected. Even those who did, and refused to take part, did not put forward any criticisms on grounds of principle. For many years, and not merely since 1933, the medical profession, particularly in the field of psychiatry, had been convinced that it was legitimate to identify a minority of the handicapped as living a ‘life unworthy of life’, and that it was necessary to remove them from the chain of heredity if all the many measures taken to improve the health of the German race under the Third Reich were not to be frustrated. Virtually the entire medical profession had been actively involved in the sterilization programme, and from here it was but a short step in the minds of many to involuntary euthanasia. Their views were well represented by an article that appeared in the leading German physicians’ journal in 1942 on ‘The New German Physician’, arguing that it was the task of the medical profession, particularly in wartime, when so many of Germany’s best and bravest were dying on the battlefield, ‘to come to terms with counter-selection in their own people’. ‘Infant mortality,’ it went on, ‘is a process of selection, and in the majority of cases it affects the constitutionally inferior.’ It was the doctors’ task to restore this balance of nature to its original form. Without the killing of the incurable, the healing of the maj ority of the sick and the improvement of the nation’s health would be impossible. Many of those doctors involved spoke with pride of their work even after the war, maintaining that they had been contributing to human progress.245

III

Hitler’s retrospective ‘euthanasia’ order of October 1939, putting a pseudo-legal gloss on a decision already taken at the end of July, applied not only to children but also to adults in hospitals and similar institutions. Planning for this extension of the killing programme also began before the war. The programme, codenamed ‘Action T-4’ after the address of the Leader’s Chancellery, Tiergartenstrasse 4, from where it was run, was put into the hands of a senior official in the Chancellery, Viktor Brack. Born in 1904, and so in his mid-thirties, Brack, the son of a doctor, was a trained agronomist who had run the estate attached to his father’s sanatorium. He joined the Nazi Party and the SS in 1929, and benefited from the fact that his father knew Heinrich Himmler and had delivered one of his children. In the early 1930s he frequently acted as Himmler’s driver, before being appointed adjutant and then chief of staff to Bouhler and moving with him to Berlin. Brack was another enthusiast for involuntary euthanasia, declaring after the war that it was based on humane considerations. Such considerations were not powerful enough at the time to overcome his awareness that what he was doing might be regarded as tantamount to murder, so he used the pseudonym ‘Jennerwein’ when he dealt with the killing programme, just as his deputy, Werner Blankenburg, who succeeded him in 1942 when Brack went off to fight at the front, also disguised his identity (with the pseudonym ‘Brenner’).246

Brack soon created a whole bureaucracy to administer Action T-4, including front organizations with harmless-sounding names to run the registration, transport, personnel and financial sides of the operation. He put Dr Werner Heyde in charge of the medical side of the programme. 247 Born in 1902, Heyde had fought in a Free Corps unit in Estonia before taking up his medical studies, graduating in 1926. He clearly enjoyed strong connections with the far right, and in 1933 it was Heyde whom Himmler had asked to carry out a psychological assessment of the later commandant of Dachau concentration camp, Theodor Eicke, after the latter’s violent quarrel with the Regional Leader of the Palatinate, Josef Bürckel, who had committed him to an asylum. Heyde’s positive assessment had gratified Himmler, whose backing he now enjoyed. Following this encounter, Heyde had joined the Nazi Party in May 1933. He became an SS officer in 1936. During the 1930s Heyde had acted as an expert medical referee in sterilization cases and he also carried out assessments of concentration camp inmates. Appointed to the staff of Würzburg University in 1932, he became an adviser to the Gestapo in psychiatric matters, lectured on hereditary diseases (or those that were supposedly hereditary) and headed the local branch of the Racial-Political Office of the Nazi Party. In 1939 he became a full professor at the university. Here was an example, then, of a medical man who had built his career in the most ideological areas of Nazi medicine rather than in a more conventional manner. He seemed ideally suited to administer the killing programme.248

Already at the key meeting with Bouhler in late July 1933, Heyde, Brandt, Conti and others involved in the planning of the adult involuntary euthanasia scheme had begun to discuss the best method of carrying it out. In view of the fact that Hitler wanted around 70,000 patients to be killed, the methods used to murder the children seemed both too slow and too much likely to arouse public suspicion. Brandt consulted Hitler on the matter, and later claimed that when the Nazi Leader had asked him what was the most humane way of killing the patients, he had suggested gassing with carbon monoxide, a method already put to him by a number of physicians and made familiar through reports of suicides and domestic accidents in the press. Such cases had been investigated in depth by the police, and so Bouhler’s office commissioned Albert Widmann, born in 1912, and an SS officer who was the top professional chemist in the Criminal-Technical (or, as we would say, Forensic Science) Institute of the Reich Criminal Police Office, to work out how best to kill large numbers of what he was told were ‘beasts in human form’. He worked out that an airtight chamber was required, and had one built in the old city prison at Brandenburg, empty since the construction of a new penitentiary at Brandenburg-Görden in 1932. SS construction workers built a cell 3 metres by 5, and 3 metres high, lined with tiles and made to look like a shower-room so as to dull the apprehensions of those brought into it. A gas pipe was fitted along the wall with holes to let the carbon monoxide into the chamber. And as a last touch, an airtight door was installed, with a small glass window for viewing what was happening inside.249

By the time it was finished, probably in December 1939, the gassings in Posen had already taken place, and had been personally observed by Himmler: undoubtedly the method had been suggested by Widmann or one of his associates to local SS officers in Posen, at least one of whom had a chemistry degree and was in touch with leading chemists in the Old Reich.250 Himmler’s subordinate Christian Wirth, a senior official in the Stuttgart police, was one of those who attended the first demonstration of gassing in Brandenburg, along with Bouhler, Brandt, Conti, Brack and a number of other officials and physicians from T4 headquarters in Berlin. They took their turn to watch through the window as eight patients were killed in the gas chamber by carbon monoxide administered by Widmann, who told them how to measure the correct dose. All approved. Several other patients, given supposedly lethal injections by Brandt and Conti, had failed to die immediately - they were later gassed too - and so it was concluded that Widmann’s procedure was quicker and more effective. Soon the gas chamber in Brandenburg, which now went into regular service and continued to be used for killing patients until September 1940, was joined by other gas chambers built at the asylum in Grafeneck (Württemberg), which operated from January to December 1940, Hartheim, near Linz, which opened in May 1940, and Hadamar, in Hesse, which began operating in December 1940, replacing Grafeneck. These were former hospitals taken over by T-4 for exclusive use as killing centres; other gas chambers also came into use at hospitals that continued their previous functions, at Sonnenstein, in Saxony, which opened in June 1940, and Bernburg, on the river Saale, which opened in September the same year, replacing the original facility at Brandenburg.251

Each centre was responsible for killing patients from a specific region. Local mental hospitals and institutions for the handicapped were required to send in their details to the T-4 office, together with registration forms for long-term patients, schizophrenics, epileptics, untreatable syphilitics, the senile and the criminally insane, and those suffering from encephalitis, Huntington’s disease and ‘every type of feeble-mindedness’ (a very broad and vague category indeed). At least to begin with, many physicians in these institutions were unaware of the purpose of this exercise, but before long it must have become clear enough. The forms were evaluated by politically reliable junior medical experts approved by their local Nazi Party offices - very few who were recommended to the T-4 office refused to play their allotted role - and then vetted by a team of senior officials. The key criterion was not medical but economic - was the patient capable of productive work or not? This question was to play a crucial role in future killing operations of other kinds, and it was also central to the evaluations carried out by T-4 physicians when they visited institutions that had failed to submit registration forms. Behind this economic evaluation, however, the ideological element in the programme was obvious: these were, in the view of the T-4 office, individuals who had to be eliminated from the German race for the sake of its long-term rejuvenation; and for this reason the killings also encompassed, for example, epileptics, deaf-mutes and the blind. Only decorated war veterans were exempted. In practice, however, all these criteria were to a high degree arbitrary, since the forms contained little real detail, and were processed at great speed and in huge numbers. Hermann Pfannmüller, for instance, evaluated over 2,000 patients between 12 November and 1 December 1940, or an average of 121 a day, while at the same time carrying out his duties as director of the state hospital at Eglfing-Haar. Another expert, Josef Schreck, completed 15,000 forms from April 1940 to the end of the year, sometimes processing up to 400 a week, also in addition to his other hospital duties. Neither man can have spent more than a few seconds to take the decision on life or death in each case.252

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Meet the Author

Richard J. Evans is Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University. His previous books include In Defense of History, Lying About Hitler, and the companions to this title, The Coming of the Third Reich and The Third Reich in Power.

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The Third Reich at War, 1939-1945 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Willp More than 1 year ago
This magnificent book completes Evans¿ trilogy on the Third Reich. It covers all aspects of the war including the home front: morale, the role of women, the effect of the bombing, food, wages and conditions. He also examines the roles of the air force, navy and army, and gives us shrewd portraits of the leading personalities in the Nazi state.

Nazi ideology blamed the Jews for all ills, including the Second World War itself, and saw communism and socialism as essentially Jewish. Hitler created a genocidal mentality and justified a genocidal policy.

The Nazis committed countless atrocities. They killed thousands of handicapped children. They killed as many Gypsies as they could. They deported Jews from all the countries they occupied to death camps like Auschwitz. They murdered six million Jews and four million Soviet prisoners of war. The war they started killed 50 million people.

Evans nails the lie that Nazism was in some sense socialist; he shows how ¿Germany was still a capitalist economy, dominated by private enterprise.¿ Hitler¿s policies were not `autarchic¿, which means `self-sufficiency as an economic system¿. Nazism was not contained in one country but expansionist, predatory and aggressive. It never relied on its own national resources but on stealing other people¿s equipment and materials. Nazi Germany extracted more than 30% of the wartime national production in the occupied countries of Western Europe.

Nazi Germany ¿invaded Russia, unprovoked, and caused an almost unimaginable degree of death, suffering and destruction.¿ But Hitler¿s invasion of the Soviet Union caused his downfall.

The battle of Stalingrad was the decisive turning-point of the whole war. As Evans writes, ¿What happened on the Soviet Front dwarfed anything seen in France, Denmark, Norway or the Low Countries. From 22 June 1941 onwards, at least two-thirds of the German armed forces were always engaged on the Eastern Front. More people fought and died on and behind the Eastern Front than in all the other theatres of war in 1939-45 put together, including the Far East¿ It was in the end on the Eastern Front, more than any other, that the fortunes of war were decided.¿
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Well researched, gripping, terrifying telling of WWII.
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Bosshog More than 1 year ago
Evans final third book of his series on The Third Reich is a masterpiece!!! Evans explains in detail of the nazis military succeses and ultimate deat in WW2. Anyone studying or loves WW2 history has to read Evans three part series. In this particular book, Evans brings you into the heart and minds of the Nazis, ordinary German citizens, and victims of the nazis. I came away with a real understanding of WW2 from reading from a great professor and author as Evans!!!
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