Military history



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 G̈ring, 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, entitledApplication 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 J̈ger, 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.’105Frank 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


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


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 Kr̈ger. Kr̈ger 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.

Kr̈ger’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 Kr̈ger 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 G̈ring’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, Kr̈ger 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


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

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