Annual 2 Chapter 2

The Forgotten Part of the "Final Solution": The Liquidation of the Ghettos

by Wolfgang Scheffler

Translated from the German by Nina Morris-Farber.


The extermination of the Polish Jews during World War II involved the murder of approximately two to three million human beings. In whatever way one calculates the number of victims of the Nazi "final solution " the number of Polish Jews who perished comes to approximately sixty percent of all who were killed. If one includes the fact that there were millions of victims among the non-Jewish population of Poland also, the question arises, why this happened specifically in Poland, why Polish territory became the "slaughterhouse of Europe."

Various Nazi utopias based on schemes of territorial and racial expansion were the reason behind this eventuality. Polish territory would be the point of departure for the biological-racial policies of a new order throughout all of Eastern Europe. The indigenous population was to be biologically crushed; gradually deported to the East over long periods of time; and, once racially "sifted," available as a pool of labor. The decision to institute the so-called "final solution to the Jewish question" in 1941 basically coincided with the climax of these plans. Hitler's and Himmler's utopias of a racial and biological new order thus presupposed the annihilation of the European Jews.1

Nazi leadership's grasp of population policy, based on an ostensibly scientific theory of race, expanded from the autumn of 1939 as plans for a new order were further developed. It is possible to follow effortlessly the theoretical development of these plans for conquest: from the memorandum on "The Question of the Treatment of the Population of the Former Polish Territories According to Racial Political Viewpoints" of November 1939, composed in the Racial Policy office of the Reich leadership of the Nazi party by Amtsgerichtsrat Dr. E. Wetzel, the head of its advisory board, and Dr. G. Hecht, the head of its Department for Ethnic Germans and Minorities; via Heinrich Himmler's spring 1940 "Thoughts on the Treatment of Racial Foreigners in the East"; up to the culminating discussion of such plans in summer 1941.2 Attempts to transform theory into practice ran parallel to this. Thus began, in the winter of 1939-40, that process of driving out populations by force which characterized Nazi rule in the East. To achieve the racial "cleansing" of the "incorporated eastern territories," from 1 December 1939 to the end of 1942 almost half a million people were deported from the "Reichsgau Wartheland" alone to the General Government.3 While from 1939 to 1941 this "cleansing process" primarily extended to the "incorporated eastern territories," SS and Police Leader (SSPF) of the Lublin District Odilo Globocnik was already excited in autumn 1941 about the creation of a German belt of settlement that would stretch from the Baltic via the Lublin District all the way to Siebenbilrgen. He already conceived of the goal as the "biological crushing" of the Polish people from both east and west.4 The authors of the "General Plan East" ultimately went far beyond this, envisaging, in its various versions (only parts of which have survived), a resettlement of the overwhelming mass of the Polish population in Siberia and even South America.

The "General Plan East," with its utopias of resettled populations heightened to the point of mad delusion, did reveal one thing clearly: A prerequisite for the planned proceedings was the realization of the "final solution of the Jewish question." Thus the aforementioned Dr. Wetzel stipulated in his critical appraisal of the "General Plan East" on 27 April 1942:

A resettlement of the Jews mentioned further on in the plan would be superfluous because of the solution to the Jewish question. The possible transfer of any Jews who may remain after the end of this war to forced labor camps in the north Russian or Siberian area is not all resettlement."

And in another place he stated: 

It must be quite obvious that the Polish question cannot be solved by liquidating the Poles just like the Jews.5

Partial attempts at population resettlement were lost in the chaos of Nazi practice. Other than leading to immeasurable suffering, as for example in the Zamosz settlement area, the methods of forced resettlement that were applied led only to an increase in partisan movements.6

Even while plans for the distant future of Eastern Europe were being developed, the actual situation in late summer of 1941 confronted the Nazi leadership with the fact that the elimination of the Jewish population, that is, its decimation and extermination, could not be realized in the far expanses of Soviet territory. The procedures of murder used by the Einsatzgruppen also taught Himmler the limits of feasibility. The difficulty of reconstructing Nazi ideas and plans in the late summer and fall months of 1941 lies in the fact that all planning on various levels was overtaken by the reality of the actual situation. Since possibilities for projected population displacements had been reduced, i.e., Soviet territory had to be dropped from consideration not only in regard to the annihilation of the Jews but also as a place where the intended plans for population policy could be implemented, Polish territory then moved to the center of racial political policy.

The far-reaching plans for racial policy in regard to Polish territory had been in conflict with the actual chances of their realization since 1939. Thus all anti- Jewish measures from the beginning of the German occupation were directed at concentrating and registering the Jewish population, creating the prerequisites for resettlement, considering methods for future deportations, creating Jewish councils of elders, etc. This was accompanied by the imposition of the Jewish star, economic despoilment, ghettoization, etc. Simultaneously, planned deportation of the Jews who lived in the Greater German Reich to the General Government failed, partial attempts to do so having been made both in 1939 and at the beginning of 1941.7

Likewise the deportations of fall and winter 1941/42, originally destined for Soviet territory, coincided with the increasing necessity for moving the whole plan onto Polish territory. This development, which can only be hinted at here, also determined the location of the extermination camps in the General Government. In conclusion, it is clear that the extermination camps of "Operation Reinhard" in the Lublin area and near Warsaw (Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka) were designated as primary locations for the annihilation of Polish Jews as well as Jews of other nationalities deported into the Lublin area, whereas Auschwitz and Birkenau, with their geographical proximity to the Reich and their use of "selected" forced labor in the industrial center nearby, were chosen in principle as the extermination center for Jews from the rest of Europe. Moreover, the Warmsee protocol revealed with total clarity the principles of economic exploitation, method of selection, and ultimate annihilation.

The designation "Operation Reinhard" was the code word for the annihilation operations under Globocnik's leadership. His jurisdiction extended to the annihilation processes in the districts of Lublin and Warsaw, to the Bialystok area, to the extermination camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, as well as to the management and utilization of properties that had fallen to them, insofar as these did not have to be delivered directly to Berlin offices. Since the plunder from other districts was also delivered partly to the camps of the Lublin district, which were under Globocnik's control, the impression grew in the postwar period that Globocnik was also co-responsible for the extermination of the Jews in these other districts; this was not, however, precisely correct.8

The story of the origin of the gas-van camp Chelmno in what was then the Warthegau likewise showed how long-term goals, which had already miscarried almost at the start, intersected with changed geographical priorities. While Himmler announced the deportation of the German Jews to Lodz as an "intermediate station," Gauleiter Greiser, within a few weeks, forced a decision concerning the annihilation of these arriving Jews as well as the indigenous Jewish population in the Warthegau, during a meeting with Himmler.9

The "geographical" distribution of murder that has been briefly sketched here was essentially determined by the emerging realities, an interaction that can also be perceived in the initial phases of Einsatzgruppen operations in the Soviet Union. Any conclusions proposed in the last few years, about either the accidental or the intentional nature of the process of destruction, that fail to consider these prerequisite developments, must remain purely theoretical.10

The policy of exterminating the Jewish population of Poland was also accompanied by internal conflicts between Nazi offices, which originated in another ongoing conflict of goals. Here we must mention the struggle for power between Governor General Frank and Reich Leader-SS Himmler, which, as far as Jewish matters were concerned, resulted in jurisdiction being vested in Himmler's representatives, yet in practice without the total exclusion of the civilian administration. The same conflict was repeated at the district level between Zorner, the district governor of Lublin, and Globocnik, who was SS and Police Leader there. The main point of contention, among many other smaller conflicts, was as follows. On the one hand, the General Government had to be brought into a quasi-orderly condition if its economy and products were to be made available to the German war economy to the greatest possible extent. On the other hand, this area had become the field of experimentation for the destructive racial ideology that aimed not only at the total elimination of the Jews but at completely despoiling the Poles, using them as slaves for the German war economy, and making the remaining population serve German interests by various measures such as resettlement.11 Similarly, the basic conflict was also reflected specifically in the conflict between the intentions to deport on the part of the security police, and the desire for needed Jewish labor on the part of the Wehrmacht.

Temporal and geographical coincidences and the conflicts of goals just sketched within the German bureaucracy determined, to a much greater degree than previously assumed in the literature, the initial phase and the later course of the process of extermination. Neglect of these considerations is, among other things, the source of the ostensible inconsistencies in the history of the "final solution."


It is against this background I have sketched, which would have to be supplemented in various ways but especially with respect to the destructive climate of the conditions of German occupation in the General Government, that the annihilation of the Jewish population of Poland must be seen. However, most research on the "final solution" has heretofore been concentrated on the activities of the Einsatzgruppen in the Soviet Union, and increasingly on events in the extermination camps. Leaving aside the question of how the activities of the Einsatzgruppen fit into the total picture, this emphasis is disadvantageous because it ignores another aspect of the implementation of the "final solution."

The liquidation of the ghettos preceded transport to the extermination camps. This process, which extended throughout the General Government, has generally been described only with regard to the major ghettos, although it represented a central element in the process of extermination. If one analyzes the liquidations in the individual districts and prefectures (Kreishauptmannschaften), a basic model emerges that shows the absurdity of the principle of "secrecy." Ostensibly top secret, the "final solution," as applied in the liquidations of the ghettos, was so unmistakable that the fate of those being transported could hardly have been a secret for the participants. The way these evacuations were carried out vitiated even the strictest regulations for secrecy, regulations that even after the war often served as alibis. The "Top Secret Matter" had become an open secret in the streets and squares of the ghettos. What Heinrich Himmler ascertained with regret in December 1940 about the events in the euthanasia institution at Grafeneck applied here as well:

"What is happening there is a secret and yet is no longer a secret."12

The deportation of the Jewish population in the General Government, also known by the euphemism "resettlement operations," followed a basic scheme that was constantly repeated.13 Statistical registration of the Jews concentrated in the ghettos served as a prerequisite for future operations. The division into persons capable and incapable of work before and during individual liquidations, the creation of special passes, and the accommodation in correspondingly divided "quarters" (A- and B-ghettos) were to make it easier to survey the population and to insure the eventual ability to take care of production priorities. The original census was still largely initiated by the Department of Population and Welfare in the district administration and was carried out by county administrations. This does not exclude the possibility that in individual counties the security police was also concerned with the regulation of Jewish questions, even before it was generally assigned this task.

In all districts, the resettlement operations began in capital cities: in Lemberg from 14 March, in Lublin from 16 March, in Cracow from 29 May, in Warsaw from 22 July, and in Radom from 5 August 1942. For the districts of Galicia, Lublin, and Cracow, the destinations of the transport trains were the extermination camps of Belzec and Sobibor. Transports from the districts of Warsaw and Radom were brought to the extermination camp of Treblinka.14

Resettlement operations in the districts were generally initiated by the permanent SS and Police Leaders (SSPF), who had the central direction for their own districts. Because of their assignment as SS and Police Leaders, only they were in a position to head the collective effort of all the units subordinate to the Reich Leader-SS and Chief of the German Police. Accordingly, such orders in the individual localities began with the formula:

"About carrying out the resettlement of Jews ... ordered by the SSPF. . . " or
". . . on the orders of the SSPF Jews have been expelled."15

Throughout the General Government intensive discussions with all the participating authorities served as preparation for the resettlements. Especially in larger cities, resettlement operations involved far-reaching dislocations, especially concerning the employment of Jewish workers in armaments and other war-related industries, as well as in various German offices. Very often, conflicts with the industries and with the armaments inspectorates of the Wehrmacht resulted. Thus heads of labor offices had to be informed and in many cases consulted; curfews had to be imposed, neighborhoods had to be sealed off, and warnings against the illegal sheltering of fleeing Jews by the Polish population had to be issued. But it was above all the shortage of German personnel in the General Government that made it necessary for all available forces to be enlisted to carry out these orders.

One example of a preliminary local discussion at a location for a future operation - in this case Przemysl - has been preserved in the documents. The officer responsible for the operation, Hauptsturmffihrer (Captain) Fellens of the SSPF office in Cracow, reported on 27 July 1942:

According to orders, I held a discussion, on Wednesday 22 July 1942, concerning the Jewish resettlement operation planned in Przemysl on 27 July 1942, with all the participating offices: county administrator (Kreishauptmann), municipal administrator, representatives of the order police, security police, and the head of the Przemysl labor office. In this discussion of the operation ... the measures to be used were discussed and determined, based on the orders already issued.16

The way the liquidation operation was prepared by the local administrator (Kreishauptmann) of Przemysl, Dr. Heinisch, was also evident from the following proclamation:

To the Ukrainian and Polish population of the county and the town of Przemysl!

1. On Monday 27 July 1942 a resettlement of the Jews will begin in the county and town of Przemysl.
11. Any Ukrainian or Pole who attempts through any kind of action to disturb this Jewish resettlement operation will be shot.
111. Any Ukrainian or Pole who is encountered plundering Jewish dwellings in the Jewish quarter will be shot.
IV. Any Ukrainian or Pole who attempts to conceal a Jew or aid in such concealment will be shot.
V. It is prohibited to acquire Jewish property, whether paid or gratis. Actions that contradict this order will be most severely punished.

Kreishauptmann Dr. Heinisch

Moreover, after the conclusion of the first deportation, the representative of the SSPF emphasized in his interim report to Cracow that

collaboration with the participating offices, especially with the county administrator, town administrator, and security police, was especially good. In recognition of the correct situation, everyone acted decisively and firmly. The care taken by the county and town administrators in the provisioning of the forces used must be specially emphasized. The units of the order police that were used, under the leadership of Major Binz, served in an exemplary manner.17

Collaboration discussions of this kind in various locations, mostly large towns that were identical with the so-called concentration locations for the Jewish population, were the logical prerequisite for a somewhat orderly implementation of the resettlement. The discussions of representatives of the SSPF (mostly via the Senior Commander of the Security Police and the Security Service [BdS] in Cracow) with the Reich railroad authorities to clear up technical details about rail transport were examples of this. Similar preliminary discussions that took place before all operations at the headquarters of the SSPF in the various districts, with the participation at the very least of the Commanders of the Security Police and the Security Service (KdS) as well as representatives of the order police and the gendarmerie, etc., were further examples.

Even on the level of the General Government itself, there were corresponding basic discussions, as the protocol, dated 18 June 1942, of the working session of the representatives of the police and the administrative authorities makes clear:

... Oberregierungsrat Engler: The Jewish question has been solved in the city of Lublin. What was the Jewish quarter has been evacuated ... SS and Police Leader Katzmann presented the security situation in the district of Galicia ... Jews have already been evacuated in rather large numbers ... In the next few weeks further Jews are to be resettled ... Amtschef Dr. Hummel reports on conditions in the Warsaw district ... He hopes that the city of Warsaw will be freed of the burden of Jews unable to work in a reasonable period of time ... To the question of State Secretary Dr. Buhler as to whether there was a chance of decreas- ing the ghetto population more quickly, State Secretary Kruger re- sponded that a better overview would be available as the month of August progressed. The problem of resettlement of the Jews was a pressing one and demands decision ... Deputy Amtschef Oswald spoke about the current situation in the Radom district: The Radom district had fallen behind in resettling the Jews ... This resettlement of the Jews now depended only on the problem of transport ... State Secretary Kruger indicated that as far as the police were concerned, the Jewish operation had been prepared down to the last detail and that imple- mentation was only dependent on transport .....18

In all districts, the numerous liquidations of smaller ghettos, from which deportations into the extermination camps could not be accomplished for various reasons, served to prepare the general resettlement. This meant that the Jewish population was murdered on the spot. It was usual to seek out suitable persons for the purpose of cleaning up or for other labor that was still necessary; similarly there was a general directive to deport or liquidate employees of Jewish institutions, such as social agencies and the Jewish councils, only at the end of a resettlement operation, if possible.

In this connection we must also point out that from autumn 1941 on, any means was justified that contributed to decreasing the ghetto population. Aside from major killing operations by gunfire, offenses against general regulations were used as a pretext to eliminate people, as was non-fulfillment of exorbitant demands for money or goods; for example, during the operation confiscating furs in the winter of 1941/42, or during the wave of arrests of predetermined numbers of supposed communists who were already in hiding and could not be found.

A further preparatory measure was the clearing out of smaller ghettos and the transfer of their populations to the nearest larger place of concentration, whence the deportation then followed. These liquidations were also accompanied by numerous shootings of such persons as were deemed incapable of transport.

At least in the large cities, the Jewish leadership of the ghettos the Jewish councils - had to be informed, as did the civil and police authorities, prior to the start of the resettlements.19 The relation of the Jewish councils to the German authorities is shown by a pertinent section from a diary from the Bialystok ghetto:

The orders of the authorities themselves are chaotic. Within the military and civilian administration there are numerous conflicting authorities. Each acts important and issues all kinds of draconic orders. Very often the orders conflict, one doesn't know whom to obey, and the whole thing poses danger to common safety. Each threatens to put half of the entire Jewish council or a few hundred Jews up against the wall. The Jews themselves are powerless before every institution, regardless of what authority it has, everyone can push them around...20

Two extensive deportation directives imposed upon the Jewish councils have survived; they were contained in the report of "Central Office Section Reinhard" at the SSPF Lublin, Odilo Globocnik. At the beginning of the liquidation of the Lublin ghetto during the night of 16-17 March 1942, Hermann 1-16fle, head of "Central Office Operation Reinhard," and other employees of the office of the Commander of the Security Police and the SD (KdS) Lublin, informed the members of the executive of the Jewish council about the directive, which was communicated to the entire Lublin Jewish Council on 17 March. In part, it stipulated as follows:

Directive on the Question of Resettlement

Only those Jews will remain in the city of Lublin who have a stamp from the security police in their employment passes, together with their wives and children. These Jews are to be instructed that they must fulfill their work obligations promptly.... In the course of the liquidation, the Jews will be collected in the synagogue, inspected, and then sent to receive their stamps; from there, working Jews (with a stamp) will go to Ghetto B. Nonworking Jews without a stamp who live in the area of Ghetto B must move into Ghetto A, but not into the part of it which has already been cleared. Those Jews who have a stamp from the security police, but are nevertheless in Ghetto A, must move from there to Ghetto B.

No Jew is allowed to leave the ghetto by any way other than through the gate on Podwal Street or Cyruliczna Street. ,

Aryans have to leave the ghetto by the 19th of this month.

Provisions from Ghetto A are to be brought into Ghetto B to the extent they are not brought in by the owners themselves.

An infirmary is to be erected in the border zone between Ghetto A and Ghetto B for the seriously ill and those not capable of being transported. Physicians and medical personnel will be determined by the Jewish Council.

The Jews who are subject to the resettlement are to be prepared to walk approximately 3 kilometers on foot, and thereafter transport will be provided. Epidemic infirmaries with patients and personnel will remain behind.

Roughly 1,400 persons will be resettled each day. The resettlement will begin at the upper end, that is on Unicka Street.

Those Jews found in already cleared apartments will be shot. Those Jews with stamps who will move from Ghetto A into Ghetto B can take all their possessions with them. The dead should be buried immediately ...

During the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto, Hofle, because of his experiences in liquidating the Lublin ghetto, was dispatched to Warsaw, accompanied by a unit of troops. He appeared before the Warsaw Jewish Council on the morning of 22 July 1942 and gave instructions for the deportations that were to begin later that morning:

Communications and Injunctions to the Jewish Council

The following is communicated to the Jewish Council:

1 . All Jewish persons, regardless of what age or sex, who live in Warsaw, will be resettled in the East.

2. Expected from the resettlement are ........

3. Every Jewish settler may take with him 15 kilograms of luggage. All items of value gold, jewels, money, etc., can be taken along. Provisions for 3 days should be brought.

4. Beginning of the resettlement on 22 July at 11 A.M.

1. In the course of the resettlement the Jewish Council is charged with the following injunctions, for the exact observance of which the members of the Jewish Council are answerable with their lives:

The Jewish Council will follow orders connected with the resettlement only if they are issued by the person responsible for the resettlement or his representative.

11. The Jewish Council is responsible for the disposition of the Jews who come to the loading each day. To carry out this duty the Jewish Council will use the services of the Jewish police (100 men). The Jewish Council will make sure that daily, from 22 July 1942, by 4 P.m. at the latest, 6,000 Jews appear at the collection point. For the total period of the evacuation the collection point is the Jewish infirmary on Stawki Street. On 22 July, the 6,000 Jews will be presented directly at the transfer place. At first the Jewish Council can take the contingents of Jews that are to be provided daily from the general population, and later the Jewish Council will receive a definite order, according to which certain streets or blocks of houses are to be cleared.

VI. The Jewish Council is further responsible for seeing that Jews who die during the period of the resettlement are buried on the same day.

VIII. Penalties: a) any Jewish person who leaves the ghetto at the beginning of the resettlement without belonging to the groups described under numbers 2a and c, will be shot;
b) any Jewish person who undertakes an action designed to avert or disturb the resettlement measures will be shot;
c) any Jewish person who assists in an action that is designed to avert or disturb the resettlement measures will be shot;
d) all Jews encountered in Warsaw after the conclusion of the resettlement who do not belong to the groups described under 2a to h will be shot.

It is communicated to the Jewish Council that in case the orders and duties incumbent upon it are not carried out 100 percent, in each case a corresponding number of hostages, who have meanwhile been taken, will be shot.

Dictated by the officer responsible for the resettlement.

These orders reflect the basic concept of the security police, by means of which the authorities wanted to make the Jewish councils tractable and coopt them in the liquidation process; they do not reflect the chaotic reality of actual events. In any event, outside the big cities, the leading functionaries were, like the chiefs of the Einsatzkommandos in the Soviet Union, "independent" and "flexible" in the implementation of the liquidation procedures.

The question of who directed the resettlement on the spot, a matter frequently argued in postwar trials, can only be answered on the basis of specific local conditions. In general, leadership was dependent on the number of units involved, on the status of the agency on the spot, on the number of Jews to be deported, and above all on the importance of the participants representing the various Nazi agencies. An additional consideration is that in numerous instances representatives of the relevant SSPF were present on the spot throughout the operation and were not without power. In many localities, however, the local representatives of the security police were the sole commanders; or units from outside bolstered the local agencies and assumed central direction when they provided the majority of troops carrying out the liquidation. Depending on the attitude of the particular commissioner (Kreishauptmann), he too could play an important role. It must not be overlooked, in any general analysis of the deportations, that the prob1em of leadership was not central at that time, although this issue was extensively explored during postwar trials; what was central at the time was the "success" of the total operation.

To understand this process, we should realize above all that in concrete situations the Nazis proceeded by division of labor. Each took over the part assigned to him and fulfilled the demands made of him. Not only the liquidation of the ghettos but also the success of the total Nazi program of exterminating the Jews depended on this principle. This is why it is so easy for the individual participant to claim afterward that he did not know the extent and aim of all the measures involved in the "final solution." No further explanation is required here to show that the decisive question of how much any individual knew depended on where he was and with what job he was entrusted. The circumstances of ghetto liquidation left no room for doubt that Jewish lives were absolutely worthless and that it was, in principle, a matter Of extermination.

During the night prior to the resettlement, or on the early morning of the resettlement day, the ghettos in question were blockaded. In addition to the security police and the security service, the following units were also used: members of the order police; the gendarmerie; the SS auxiliaries, known as Hiwis (Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians); the Polish labor service and sometimes the Polish police; the ethnic German special services and members of Waffen-SS units called in for this purpose. The residents of the ghetto had to "gather" at suitable points with a minimum of baggage; this procedure took place with extreme brutality. Depending on the number of Jews, the procedure often lasted the whole day, since at the collection points those persons not suitable for transport, as well as the labor units required for the liquidation and other tasks, had to be selected. Since no water was provided for those waiting, this caused great privation during the hot summer days of 1942; the deportees had been driven to the loading station in a totally exhausted condition. Finally, they were cruelly packed into the waiting freight cars, and once again neither water nor food was provided for the trip.

These circumstances alone made it clear that absolutely no value was placed on preserving the strength for work of those deported. Upon analysis of the events in the Polish territory of the General Government, the facile claim that the Jews were being sent to work in the armament industries proved to be an easily penetrated sham. The circumstances of the departure, as well as the catastrophic conditions during the journey to the extermination camp, insured that those who had been deported arrived in the camp in a totally demoralized condition and were easy prey for the killers awaiting them there. The comment that the Jews let themselves be led like sheep to the slaughter reveals a total ignorance of the circumstances of deportation.

If the concomitant circumstances of the collection of the inhabitants - the selection, the waiting of thousands of people for the transports, their being loaded like cattle - were accompanied by the most extreme brutality and cruelty (the use of whips and attack dogs, etc.), then the clearing of the ghettos, the emptying of hospitals, infirmaries, old age and children's homes, which was often but not exclusively carried out by the Hiwis, represented the utmost in human brutality. Thrown out of windows, mistreated in their beds, thrown like goods onto trucks or carts, the old, the ill, and to some extent also the children, were taken to nearby woods and shot, next to prepared graves, in cemeteries, or in the ghetto itself. The corpses were removed by Jewish clean-up squads. These inconceivable events were certainly not exceptions. Scenes such as this took place in most of the districts of the General Government and were generally the norm accompanying the liquidation of the ghettos. Finally, after the deportation, there followed a systematic search for those who had fled and those in hiding, as well as for bunkers and other places of refuge; anyone found was shot on the spot.

Furthermore, we should not overlook the substantial economic advantages that were gained by these operations. Levies imposed before the resettlement, and systematic theft of all possessions at the deportation, were the rule. The staffs of the extermination camps rejoiced when transports from Western countries reached them, because there was then some hope of enriching themselves with the provisions and personal possessions that had been brought along, while usually nothing like this could be expected from Polish transports. The accounting and delivery of the stolen properties took place via the appropriate SSPF, unless the SSPF had already sent agents to the field to take possession of the spoils at the end of the operation. This also means that the notorious settlement of accounts submitted by Globocnik at the conclusion of "Operation Reinhard" on 15 December 1943, which yielded a sum of over 178 million Reichmarks, did not include all spoils seized in the General Government. Valuables were sent directly to the Berlin offices by individual SSPF of other districts of the General Government, especially in the districts of Cracow and Radom, where Globocnik had no jurisdiction.

After the provisional cessation of the major deportations of 1942, Higher SS and Police Leader (HSSPF) Kruger issued a police order on 28 October (for the districts of Radom, Cracow, and Galicia), according to which Jewish quarters were permitted to exist only in selected localities. These ghettos were intended as collection points for labor commandos and for remnants of the Jewish population:

- 2 (1) All Jews in the sense of the regulation about the definition of the concept "Jew" in the General Government of 24 July 1940 (VBIGG 1, p. 231) in the districts of Warsaw and Lublin have to take up residence by 30 November 1942 in a Jewish quarter specified in - I for the districts of Warsaw and Lublin. All other persons have to leave the Jewish quarter by this date unless they have received permission to stay by the police. More detailed regulations will be issued by the responsible governor (SS- and Police Leader).

(2) After 1 December 1942, no Jew in the districts of Warsaw and Lublin may remain outside the Jewish quarter or leave it without police permission. Other persons may stay in a Jewish quarter area or enter it after I December 1942 only by permission of the police. The permit will be issued by the Kreishauptmann (county administrator) or Stadthauptmann (city administrator) responsible for the Jewish quarter.

(3) Those Jews who work in defense and armaments factories and are accommodated in closed camps are exempt from the obligation to reside in a Jewish quarter.

- 3 (1) Jews who do not follow - 2 will be punished by death under the existing regulations.

(2) Likewise those who knowingly grant refuge to a Jew, i.e., whoever specifically shelters, feeds, or hides a Jew outside the Jewish quarter, will be punished.

(3) Anyone who has knowledge that a Jew is staying outside a Jewish quarter, and does not report this to the police, is subject to measures of the security police. . .21

Further concentrations of Jewish inhabitants were found, according to decree, in a series of forced labor camps, in the industries that were important for the production of armaments, and in other selected places of work. Furious struggles took place, especially with the armed forces in autumn 1942, over these Jewish armaments workers, which ended with significant losses for the Wehrmacht. Despite this, in the armaments industries Jewish workers were often able to hold out surprisingly long, despite all measures to the contrary.

Finally, the so-called "Operation Harvest Festival" in the district of Lublin, where most of the still existing forced labor camps were located, represented the climax of liquidations of the camps, as 42,000 Jews in various camps (Trawniki, Poniatowa, Maidanek) fell victim to it at the beginning of November 1943. It is revealing that these executions essentially were not permitted to be carried out by camp personnel, but were carried out by police- and Waffen-SS units brought from other areas of the General Government for this purpose alone. In these camps were also to be found, to the extent they had not already been deported further to Auschwitz, the survivors of the Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos, who, in April and May as well as August 1943, had been brought into the Lublin district along with the workshops of the ghettos.

In contrast, the final cleanups of the populations that still existed in the various ghettos of the General Government extended throughout 1943. Increasing resistance activity in the ghettos and camps formed the background to the mass executions at the beginning of November 1943, with which Himmler destroyed his own construction plans. Let us recall the revolts in the Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos (April and August 1943) and the escapes from the extermination camps of Treblinka and Sobibor (August and October 1943). The events in Treblinka and Sobibor marked the end of both the eastern Polish extermination camps and the attempts to allow larger Jewish forced labor camps to continue to exist in the Lublin area.


This brief overview simply indicates the general forms in which ghetto liquidations in the General Government occurred. It cannot go into more detail about the particular local circumstances that accompanied them in the various districts. There were, for example, the activity of the security police clearing units who moved from place to place; the special ghetto clearing operations of the police batallions; the technique of deportation agreed on for a certain time and place, which varied from district to district and was also coordinated with the extermination periods in the individual extermination camps; the connection between the timetable of the Reichsbahn and the liquidation periods in the individual districts, etc. But I would like to direct attention to certain aspects that often fail to receive due consideration when the "final solution" is publicly discussed:

1. The annihilation of the Jewish population did not take place only in the area where the Einsatzgruppen operated and in the extermination camps. The ghetto liquidations, especially in the small locations to which attention is rarely given, were accompanied by the murder of tens of thousands of human beings.

2. The liquidations occurred in such a way as to make the intended secrecy prove a farce. Liquidation operations touched many offices and authorities. Even if people were often not informed about the exact details of how the extermination camps functioned, the ghetto operations could not leave any doubt that there was absolutely no interest in preserving the life and labor of the people being deported.

3. Any closer examination of the ghetto liquidation in all districts of the General Government reveals an abyss of brutality and cruelty that in no way fell short of the occurrences in the extermination camps. Aside from the general orders, the particulars of how the operations were carried out were left to the judgment of the individual leader. Aside from the participation of the security police and the SID, these procedures also prove the important role played by the assigned municipal police (Schupo) and gendarmerie units. The "normal" police, municipal police and gendarmerie, along with the Hiwis and other units, were among those who directly executed the "final solution"; the role of the police batallion in this framework has not even received special attention.

4. The excesses during all the ghetto liquidations throughout the General Government clearly indicate that the occurrence cannot be explained solely by the automatism of orders and obedience, as is often assumed. The events were also the consequence of the destructive climate that had prevailed since the beginning of the occupation of Poland. joined to the anti-Semitic component was a milieu of colonial ideas, cultural arrogance, permanent repression, pillage, and corruption, which, despite all attempts to create "orderly" conditions, had left deep marks on all participants. An SS judge expressed it as follows, in 1942: "In addition our men have the following widespread system of beliefs: that the East, as a future area for German settlement, is to be made free for Germandom by the extermination and annihilation of the native population, and that as a consequence the population is to be treated and considered - for the present - as a necessary evil. "22 The underestimation of such basic attitudes is one source of the present difficulty in comprehending those events of more than forty years ago, so difficult to describe.


This contribution is an expanded version of a lecture given by the author at the meeting of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in cooperation with the Ernst Strassmann Foundation. This meeting took place from 27-29 May 1983 in Bergneustadt (Federal Republic of Germany) on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the revolt in the Warsaw ghetto. See Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, "Die Vergangenheit mahnt! - Zum 40. Jahrestag des Aufstandes im Warschauer Getto," (Bonn, 1983).

1. The temporal and thematic connections between extermination of the Jewish population on the one hand and racial-political utopias with their attempted realization on the other are often underestimated in general discussions. It is clear that the fanatical antisernitism of National Socialism and the monstrosity of the genocide committed against the Jewish population, among other things, conceal these connections. The same is true for the connections between the extermination principle of "euthanasia" and the methods used in the extermination camps.

2. Documenta Occupationis, vol. 5 (Poznan, 1952), pp. 2ff.; "Denkschrift Himmlers uber die Behandlung der Fremdvolkischen im Osten," Vierteljahrshefte fur Zeitgeschichte 5 (1957): 194ff.

3. See the documentation in Biuletyn Glownej Komisji Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce, vol. 12, Warthegaustatistik doc. 33.

4. Berlin Document Center, Dossier Globocnik: Letter of SS-Hauptsturmftihrer Muller about the activity and plans of SSPF Odilo Globocnik, 15 Oct. 1941.

5. Helmut Heiber, "Der Generalplan Ost, " Vierteljahrshefte fur Zeitgeschichte 6 (1958): 300 and 305. Within the framework of our discussion, only the planned measures for the subjugation of the Polish population are mentioned. The aims with regard to the peoples of the Soviet Union are not included here. For a discussion of the "General Plan for the East," see Rolf-Dieter Muller, "Industrielle Interessenpolitik im Rahmen des 'Generalplans Ost.' Dokumente zum Einfluss der Wehrmacht, Industrie und SS auf die wirtschaftspolitische Zielsetzung fur Hiders Ostimperium," Mulitargeschichtliche Mitteilungen 29 (1981): 101ff.; Dietrich Eichholtz, " 'Der Generalplan Ost.' Ober eine Ausgeburt imperialistischer Denkart und Politik (mit Dokumenten)," Jahrbuch fur Geschichte (Berlin [DDR], 1980), pp. 217ff.

6. See here the documentation of Czeslaw Madaiczyk, Zamojszczyzna- Sonderlaboratorium SS, 2 vols. (Warsaw, 1979).

7. The deportation attempts of the Nisko operation in October 1939 were early "trial deportations" for future measures, which were carried out by the SS leaders Stahlecker and Eichmann on the orders of the Reich Security Main Office; they quickly failed in the face of the realities. See Zev Goshem, "Eichmann und die Nisko-Aktion in Oktober 1939," Vierteljahrshefteffir Zeitgeschichte 29 (1981): 74. Goshem overestimates, to be sure, the role of Eichmann, who could only act with the express permission of his superiors and by no means undertook the operation on his own. For 1941, see Hans GOnther Adler, Der verwaltete Mensch. Studien zur Deportation der Juden aus Deutschland (Tubingen, 1974), pp. 147ff.

8. The name "Operation Reinhard" refers to Reinhard Heydrich. For Himmler it was a symbolic act that the extermination program of Lublin's SSand Police Leader Odilo Globocnik bore the name of the former SS Obergruppenfiihrer and chief of the Reich Security Main Office, who had died on 5 June 1942 as a result of an assassination attempt made on him on 27 May 1942 in Prague. The reasons for thus naming this operation have hardly been investigated until now. A few clues: On 26 May 1942, Himmler conducted a final telephone conversation with Heydrich, during which a decision was made about the so-called hostage shootings of Berlin Jews. Heydrich's last orders for the Berlin offices on the same day had to do with the planned murder of 154 Berlin Jews, who on 27 May were arrested in the city and shot, along with 96 Jewish prisoners already in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. On 19 July 1942, in Lublin, Himmler gave the order for the final liquidation of the Polish ghettos and the destruction of their inhabitants, after he had just been witness to a total extermination procedure in Auschwitz. Simultaneously, during these summer months, the designation "Operation Reinhard" emerged for the murder activities of Globocnik. Himmler's conversations in Auschwitz were moreover also the source for the information that surfaced in Switzerland in July 1942 about Hitler's order for the destruction of the Jews. For the Berlin events at the end of May 1942, see Wolfgang Scheffler, "Der Brandanschlag im Berliner Lustgarten im Mai 1942 und seine Folgen," in Berlin in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Jahrbuch des Landesarchivs Berlin 1984 (Berlin, 1984).

9. "Himmlers Schreiben an Gauleiter Greiser vom 18 September 1941," in Adler, Verwaltete Mensch, p. 173.

10. See Martin Broszat, "Hitler und die Genesis der 'Endlosung'. Aus Anlass der Thesen von David Irving," Vierteljahrshefte fur Zeitgeschichte 25 (1977): 739ff.; Christopher Browning, "A Reply to Martin Broszat Regarding the Origins of the Final Solution," SWC Annual 1 (1984): 113ff; Hans Mommsen, "Die Realisierung des Utopischen: Die 'Endibsung der Judenfrage' im 'Dritten Reich'," Geschichte and Gesellschaft 9 (1983): 381ff.; Wolfgang Scheffler, "Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der 'Endlosung'. Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte. Beilage der Wochenzeitung das Parlament (30 Oct. 1982), 43/82; Idem, "Rassenfanatismus und Judenverfolgung," in Deutschland 1933 ed. W. Treue and J. Schmadeke, (Berlin, 1984), pp. 17ff.

11. On Polish policy, see Martin Broszat, Nationalsozialistische Polenpolitik 1939- 1945 (Stuttgart, 1961); Gerhard Eisenblatter, "Grundlinien der Politik des Reichs gegenuber dem Generalgouvernement, 1939 - 1945," Ph.D. diss., Frankfurt, 1969; Czeslaw Madajczyk, Polityka III Rzeszy w okupowanej Polsce, 2 vols. (Warsaw, 1970); Diemut Majer, "Fremdvolkische" im Dritten Reich (Boppard, 1981).

12. Helmut Heiber, ed., Reichsfuhrer! ... Briefe an und von Himmler (Stuttgart, 1968), p. 83.

13. The following discussion is based on various expert reports (Gutachten) that the author prepared in numerous criminal proceedings before courts of the German Federal Republic for the clarification of crimes committed at ghetto liquidations in the districts of the General Government.

14. The destination of the transports can be seen from a systematic analysis of the deportations in the individual counties (Kreishauptmannschaften) of the various districts of the General Government. The author has presented this data during the past twenty years, for all districts of the General Government, in many criminal proceedings before German courts, and this data was reflected in the indictments and verdicts. General overviews were presented by the author both in the trials regarding individual extermination camps as well as in the trial against former Secretary of State in the Reich Transportation Ministry, Dr. Ganzenmidler. Thus the total geographical and statistical structure in the text of the indictment against Dr. Ganzenmuller is based on the author's research. Looking back at the various critiques of German trials, I find it not without irony that in the course of time the historians have had to base their work ever more intensively on the investigations of the German judiciary because of the absence of their own precise investigations; the German judiciary often did the job that was not done by the historians.

15. See, among others, the communique of the Kreishauptmann in Pulawy to the governor of the district of Lublin on 13 May 1942, in Faschismus, Getto, Massenmord. Dokumentation uber Ausrottung und Widerstand der Juden in Polen wahrend des zweiten Weltkrieges (Berlin [DDR], 1961), p. 438.

16. Bundesarchiv Koblenz, NS 19.

17. The occurrences in Przemysl were extensively investigated in various court proceedings, including the unpublished proceedings of the Landgericht Kiel against Martin Fellenz (see verdict of 27 Jan. 1966, 2 Ks 6/63, 1 7/63, p. 51) and the Landgericht Hamburg against Walter Stegemann (see verdict of 23 July 1981, (37) 8/78, p. 21).

18. Werner Prag and Wolfgang Jacobmeyer, eds., Das Diensttagebuch des deutschen Generalgouverneurs in Polen 1939-1945 (Stuttgart, 1975), pp. 508ff.

19. The best-known orders that have come down to us are from the ghettos of Warsaw and Lublin. For Warsaw, see Faschismus, Getto, Massenmord, pp. 305ff.; for Lublin, see Nachman Blumental, Documents from the Lublin Ghetto. Judenrat Without Direction (Jerusalem, 1967), pp. 310ff.

20. Nachman Blumental, Conduct and Actions of a Judenrat. Documents from the Bialystok Ghetto (Jerusalem, 1962), p. 146 (note 2: citation from Pesakh Kaplan, Der Judenrat in Bialystok).

21. Police order about the formation of dwelling areas for Jews in the districts of Warsaw and Lublin, 28 Oct. 1942, in Documenta Occupationis, vol. 6, pp. 605ff. For the other districts the directives took force on 10 Nov.

22. See Wolfgang Scheffler, "Der Beitrag der Zeitgeschichte zur Erforschung der NS- Verbrechen-Versaumnisse, Schwierigkeiten, Aufgaben," in Vergangenheitsbewtiltigung durch Strafverfahren?, ed. Juergen Weber and Peter Steinbach (Munich, 1984), p. 125.

Sign Up for E-News

Facebook  Twitter  Google Plus  Instagram  pintrest