Military history



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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