World War II: NAZI Plans for the Occupied East--Poland


Figure 1.--This photograph was taken in Poland during 1940 by an unidentified German soldier. No details are available, but the fact that the victims here are blindfolded suggest that that they are Polish resistance fighters or intelectuals. The NAZIs rarely blindfolded Jews before shooting them. Taking photographs like this wad prohibited by the NAZIs, but many were so enthusiastic about their assignment that they could not keep from using their cameras. Most of the individuals shot were men. Such murders are terrible enough. It should be remembered that the result of execuktions like this were wives and children left without any means of support. Many such orphaned children starved.

The occupation of Poland was one of the most brutal in European history. Occupation aithorities, especially the SS, were under no legal or moral constraints as regards their conduct and the execultion of occupation policies. Poles had no recourse. The NAZI set out to eliminate the Polish intelgencia and reduce the rest of the country to a vast population of slave labor. It is estimated that a quarter of the population of Poland perished during the occupation. Hitler did not view Poland as a legitimate nation. He saw it as a creation of the hated Versailles Treaty ending World War I. Poland had split Germany through the Polish Corridor. He was determined that Poland would never again threaten Germany or limit Germany's drive for lebensraum. The NAZI plan was simple. First they plan to eliminate the Polish inteligencia. Second they would expel Poles and colonize the former Polish areas with Germans. The was given orders to kill Polish prominent civilians and indiviaduals such as government officials, the nobility, teachers, and priests throughout Poland, any would which could promote Polish nationalism or offer leadership. Today their are countless memorial stones and plaques througout Poland where these executions took place. And it was not just men, women and children were also killed. The invasion of Poland brough a much larger area an numbers of foreigners under German control (September 1939). Himmler had asigned the Main Office for the Consolidation of German Nationhood (SS-RKF) the task of preparing a plan for Germanizing Poland. The Chief of SS-RKF Department II (Planning) SS-Oberführer Professor Dr. Konrad Meyer was responsible for preparing the plans. An important part of the program for the program was to reclaim as much suitable generic material as possible which meant kidnapping Polish children and raising them as Germans.

Attitude Toward Poland

Hitler did not view Poland as a legitimate nation. He saw it as a creation of the hated Versailles Treaty ending World War I. Many Germans and not only NAZIs felt similarly. The land problem with Poles becoming more prevalebnt in Eastern German began even before World WSar I in the old German Empire. The Imperial Government adopted policies to promote German land ownership in eastern Germany. It was Versailles, however, that poisoned German attitides toward Poland. The Versailles Treatly gave Poland an accesss to the sea by creating the Polish Corridor. This essentially split Germany, outraging German nationalists. It also left large numbers of Germans in Poland, especially in the Corridor. And the new Polish Government adopted a land reform program which displaced many German landowners. Hitler was determined not only to destroy Poland so that it would never again threaten Germany or limit Germany's drive for Lebensraum.

German Invasion (September 1939)

World War II began with the German invasion of Poland (1939). The Germans more than any other military, correctly assessed the lessons of World War II. The War in Europe began in 1939 when the German blitzkrieg smashed Poland in only a few weeks. The invasion was made possible the preceeding week when Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. The Panzers crossed the Polish frontier on September 1 along with a devestating strike by the Luftwaffe. The Polish Army and Air Force was shattered. Over 1 million German soldiers surged into Poland. Hitler emerged from the Reich Chancellery in a new grey uniform with his World War I Iron Cross. In a speech at the Reichstag before cheering NAZIs he declared, "I myself am today, and will be from now on, nothing but the soldier of the German Reich." Whithin 6 days Cracow, the center of Polish nationhood, fell. Pincer movements began on September 9 to encirle the major remaining Polish forces. Once certain of Polish defeat, Stalin ordered the Red Army to attack from the East. German and Russian forces met at Brest-Litovsk on September 18. Warsaw fell a few days later after a ruthless bombing assault. The Blitzkrieg tactics that were to prove so devestaing in the West during 1940 were all on display in 1939. Neither the British or French showed much attention, abscribing Polish defeat to military incompetance. The French had promissed the Poles an offensive in the West. It never came. [Fest, pp. 602-603.]

The Occupation

The occupation of Poland was one of the most brutal in European history. Occupation aithorities, especially the SS, were under no legal or moral constraints asregards their conduct and the execultion of occupation policies. Poles had no recourse. The NAZI set out to eliminate the Polish intelgencia and reduce the rest of the country to a vast population of slave labor to feed German industry. The NAZIs immediately set about exterminating the intelegencia (professors, lawyers, scientists, and other educated groups). Government officials and political leaders were also arrested and sent to concentration camps. All educational institutions (schools, colleges, universities) except a few technical schools were closed. Cultural or political activities were prohibited under sentence of death. Radio sets were confiscated and replaced with a network of loudspeakers to make public announcements. Many Polish books werebanned. Art museums were looted. Repressive measure against the Jews began immediately leading to the eventual murder of over 3 million. During the winter of 1939, the entire Polish population of hundreds of villages in western Poland were deported or exterminated. Their property was seized without any compensation to provide for German "colonists". It is estimated that a 20-25 percent of the Polish population perished during the occupation, only a relatively small number were killed in the actual fighting. Overall historians believe that over 6 million Poles died during World WarII, imcluding 2 million children. Parts of Poland were annexed to the Reich. The remainder of the country was Generalgouvernement (General Government) under Reichsrechtsführer Hans Frank. Occupation policies and conditions in the two zones varied greatly, in part because of differences between the NAZI officials in charge. It should also be noted that the Soviets until June 1941 were also engaged in similar genocidal policies and deportions exceeded 1 million Poles, most of whom perished.

NAZI Plan

The NAZI plan was simple. First they plan to eliminate the Polish inteligencia. Second they would expel Poles and colonize the former Polish areas with Germans. The NAZIs began this process, but had to scale back operations because the disruptions involved were disrupting the expolouitation od Polamd and the preparations for the invasion of the Soviet Union. The NAZIs showed in very real terms how they would pursue the blue print for the East that they would later work out--Generalplan Ost.

Eliminate the intelegencia

The was given orders to kill Polish prominent civilians and indiviaduals such as government officials, the nobility, teachers, and priests throughout Poland, any would which could promote Polish nationalism or offer leadership. [Gilbert, p. 265.] Today their are countless memorial stones and plaques througout Poland where these executions took place. And it was not just men, women and children were also killed. The Army Chief of Staff, Genderal Halder discussed the Führer's orders with his senior officers. One a Colonel Eduard Wagner wrote in his diary, "It is the Führer's and Goering's intentions to destroy and exterminate the Polish nation. More than that cannot even be hinted at in writing." [Gilbert, p. 269.] The instructions were secret. Some SS men carrying these instructions were arrested by the Wehremacht accussed of brutality. [Gilbert, p. 278.] Admiral Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, German military intelligence, visited the Polish front on September 10 and was horrified. He went to Hitler's headquarters planning to protest which he told General Keitel, the Chief of the Armed Forces High Command. Keitel advised him, "If I were you I would not get mixed up in this business. This 'thing' has been decided by the Führer himself." Keitel explained that that each army command would have a NAZI civilian chief attached to its military commander. He would have the responsibility for the "racial extermination" effort. [Gilbert, p. 271.] Hitler on October 4, even before the fighting was over, declared an amnesty for the arressted SS men. There were no further arressts of SS men by the Wehremact in Hitler's future campaigns.

Germanizing Poland

The successful invasion of Poland brough a much larger area an numbers of foreigners under German control (September 1939). Himmler had asigned the Main Office for the Consolidation of German Nationhood (SS-RKF) the task of preparing a plan for Germanizing Poland. The Chief of SS-RKF Department II (Planning) SS-Oberführer Professor Dr. Konrad Meyer was responsible for preparing the plans. [Padfield, p. 363.] The idea was to turn these areas into "pure and Germanic provinces".

An Expanded Reich

Hitler moved quicklyvto carve up Poland, even while the fighting was still underway. Hitler annexed the western regions of Poland into the Reich. The Polish Corridor was made Greater Danzig. An area to the east, was added to East Prussia and became Greater East Prussia. To the south Posen Warthegau was created. Each of these Gaus had different NAZI Gauliters and thus there were very different approaches toward Germanization. Albert Forster had helped impose NAZI rule on Danzig was assigned the task of Germabizing the occupied areas. He explained in his first speech after his appointment, delivered in Bydgoszcz a newly annexed city "I have been appointed by the Führer as a trustee of the German cause in this country with the express order to Germize it afresh. It will therefore be my task to do everything possible to remove every manifestation of polpnism within the next few years, no matter what the kind." Poles were expelled from their homes, forced to leave behinf almost all theur property, and shipped to the GovernmenT General, where no provision was made for their housing and feeding. Expulsions of Poles began as early as October 22, 1939 whith thousands driveb from Poznan, the largest city in western Poland and located in the Posen-Warthergau. One report indicates a start in the Germinization process was mase with the expelling of 120,000 Poles from the Posen District, 35,000 from Danzig-West Prussia, and 15,000 from East Upper Silesia. [Gilbert, p. 281.] An issue which divided the Gauleitters was which Poles should be expelled and which could be Germanized.

The Government General

The central area of Poland, west of the River Bug and the Soviet occupied zone and to the north of the NAZI protecorate of Slovakia was the Government General--all that remained of pre-War Poland. The name came from the German term for the Polish areas of Russia occupied by the Germans in World War I. The Germans did not want to call in Poland as it might enourage Polish nationalist sentiment in Germany. The Government was ruled by Hans Frank, the former legal adviser to the NAZI Party. He set up his headquaters in Cracow, the ancient capital. Franks orders were to treat Poland as a colony and to use the Poles as "slaves of the Greater German Empire". [Gilbert, p. 278.] Frank announced on October 25 that forced labor camps were being set up for Jews in the Government General. All Jewish males from age 14-60 would have to work at these camps. Before the end of 1939, 75 such camps had veen established. He announced another ordinance on October 27. All Polws were directed to leave the pavement free for Germans to walk on. Polish men were required to raise their hats to German soldiers. Further provisions read, "Whoever annoys or speaks to German women or girls will receive exemplary punishment. Polish females who speak to or annoy German nationals will be sent to brothels". [Gilbert, p. 282.] Frank on January 25, 1940 issued an order to deport Polish workers to Germany for forced labor in factories and farms. Over a million would be deported. As a result of harsh conditions and poor food, thousands would die in Germany. [Gilbert, p. 292.]

Generalplan Ost

Generalplan Ost (Feneral Plan East) was the NAZI blueprint for the most horendous crime ever envisioned in human history. The Holocaust directed at Europe's 11 million Jews was just one part of Generalplan Ost. The basic outline for Generalplan Ost was sketched out by Hitler in Mein Kampf. The invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia gave the NAZIs the first slice of eastern territory to begin their transformation of eastern Europe (March 1939). But the NAZIs considered the Czechs to be the most advanced Slavs. Anbd they needed Czech industry for arms production. So the Czechs were left with a pupet government and Germinization was put off least it disrupt arms production. Polandd was the next slize of the East. It was auch bigger slice and the Poles were Slavs that Hitler dispised. Himmler launched into aminization process in the EWartergau, but Frank protested with Himmler began dumping Jews and Poles in the General Government. So again Germinization and whole-scale deportations had to be delayed. Himmler and NAZI Party officials argued about Eastern policy. Himmler wanted to settle Germans in the East and to carefully select the existing populations for German blood. Some NASZI Party officials wanted to pursue a less biolgically oriented policy and to accept large numbers of the existing population which was anti-Bolshevik. The dbate over Eastern policy raged in NAZI circles for 2 years. With the stunning success of Opperation Barbarossa (June 1941), Hitler finally decided. He essentially accepted Himmler's approach and SS planners began preparing Generalplan Ost. It was developed in secret. Himmler was anxious to put it into operation. The major impediment to carrying it out was the Red Army.

Youth Organizations

NAZI authorities prohibited all youth groups for Polish children in the Government General. (In the Polish areas annexed to the Reich only the Hitler Youth could operate, but this was only for Ferman boys.) The prohibition included the Boy Scouts which had been very popular in pre-War Poland. Even so, the Scouts continued to operate clandestinely. Violation of such regulations in the Government General could have catestrophic consequences. The Gestapo in January 1940 arrested Andrej Kott who was leading a cladestine youth group. Kott's parents were converted Jews and he was a practicing Catholic. As a warning to others, the Gestapo on January 18 rounded up 255 prominent Jews (including businessmen, chemists, engineers, industrialists, musicians, teachers, and others). They were taken outside Warsaw and shot in a woods. [Gilbert, p. 292.]

Polish Quizling

The NAZIs in most occupied countries sought to find a coolaborator who would do their bidding. These man have become known as Quislings, after Vidkun Quisling who served the NAZIs in Norway. They approached several Poles, including an eminent jurist, Professor Stanislas Estreicher, at Cracow University. He and the others refused. Subsequently, aspart of the German effort to wipe out the Polish inteligencia, he and aroup of 167 professors at Cracow's Jagellonian University were arrested and interned at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. There 17 including Professor Estreicher died under torture. [Gilbert. p. 285.]

The Lebensborn Program

An important part of the program for the program was to reclaim as much suitable generic material as possible which meant kidnapping Polish children and raising them as Germans. Eindeutschung was first persued in Poland after the NAZI invasion launching World War II (September 1939). Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 and defeated the Polish Army in a few weeks, introducing the world to Blitzkrieg warfare. They divided Poland woth the Soviet Union which after tghe German success invaded from the east. The SS conducted kidnappings take children children who matched NAZIs racial criteria by force. Thousands of Polish children were transferred to special Lebensborn centers in order to be "Germanized". Most sources estimate over 0.2 million Polish children were kidnapped.

The Holocaust in Poland

Poland had the largest Jewish popularion in Europe with the exception of the Soviet Union. It was in Poland that mass murder of the Jews began and was perfected. The death camps were located in Poland not Germany. And in Poland the Germans found many willing to help them and few Poles intersted in protecting the Jews. Einsatzgruppen began killing Polish Jews with the German invasion (September 1939). Most Polish Jews were forced into Ghettos. These ghettos were liuidated by the SS in 1942 following the Wannsee Conference: Lublin (March 1942); ghettos of Eastern and Western Poland (Spring 1942); and the Warsaw Ghetto (July-September 1942)

Jewish Workers

German policy in Western Poland occupied at the begiining of the War (September 1939) was different than in Eastern Poland and the Soviet Union occupied with the Barbarossa offensive (June 1941). In Eatern Poland the NAZI Einsatzgruppen sought out to kill all Jews, both the able body as well as children and the elderly. At the death camps there was no significan selection for healty workrr Jews. Thus in Western Poland the Germans had a labor force which could be exploited for the war effort. And at the time of the invasion, the NAZIs had not yet taken the decesion to exteminate the Jewish people. NAZI officials, however, evebntually made it clear what the priority was. "In principle, economic considerations arenot to be taken into accountin the settlement of the [Jewish] problem (December 18, 1941). [Bräutigam] The situation for Jew in Poland varies from place to place and oiver time. The Germans had at their disposal a huge labor force, both the 3 million Polish Jews as well as the Jews deported from the Reich and other areas oif occupied Europe. During the period from with the goal was expulsion of the Jews from the Reich to the pont when the gial became murder, some Germans did attempt to use the Jewish force. For some this meant a slow death through malnutition and inadequate sheter and clothing, but this was not always the case. Finally Himmler not satisfied with the speed of 'destruction through labor' decided on immediate murder of all Jews. [Browning, p, 59.] Forced Jewish labor began early in the NAZI occupation of Poland. Local ad hoz razzias were often more for the amusement of the Germans than any productive labor and ofen resulted in brutalization of the Jews rouded up. The German appointed Jewish Council in Warsaw to regularize the situation offerecto form a labor battalion and other councils follow suit. After Hans Frank was appointed to head the Government General he issued a forced labor edict and assigned HSSPFv Friedrich Wilhelm Krüger to oversee the forced labor effort (late-Octber 1939). Krüger took his assignment seriously. There were in Poland many skilled Jews that could have played a valuable role as workers in the German war effort. He ordered Jewish councils in the Government General to register males Jews by profession. Himmler and Heydrish were also interested in Jewish labor, especially the Ostwall border defenses, the demarcation line in the East btween NAZI and Soviet control (1940). Working out a decesion in how to use the Jews and implementing an administrative system was a comlicated matter. Frank's labor chief, Max Frauendorfer issued guidelines (summer 1940). [Browning, p. 61.] The fall of France, however, changed the German perspective. And soon the shift toward murder undid the plan to use German labor. The NAZIs opebed the first death ca,p at Chelmo in the Warthegau (December 1941) and had completed the bulk of the clearing of the ghettos (February 1943), they had largely destroyed Polish Jewery. Only about 0.3 million survived in various ghettos and work camps. And Himmler ininiated steps to kill the surviving work Jews. [Browning, p. 89.] Thus the Germans not only committed one of the most horendous crimes in history, but they destroyed a huge work force that could have contributed to their flagging war effort.

Economic Explotation of Poland

The Germans possessed areas of Polabd from the first weeks of the War (September 1939). Large areas of western Polabd weee annexed to the Reich. The Government General was established in central Poland as an occupation regime. Eastern Poland only came into their possession after Barbarossa (JUne 1941). German policies in these areas and the economic consequences varied. One gial was to exploit Poland economically to support the war effort. This was not the only goal, however, as can be seen in the use of Jewish workers. The subject of how effectively the the Germans made use of occupied Poland to support the War effort is a subject that we have not yet been able to persue. We know that Polish agricultural production was confiscated and shipped to the Reich causing food shortages in Poland and in the case of the Jews, starvation. German policies probably reduced the productivity of the country's farms, but we do not yet have details on this. We are less sure about how effectively the Germans used Polish labor and factories. Unlike the situation in the Soviet Union, much of the Polish indistrial plant survived in tact abnd was seized by the Germans. Warsaw was heavly damaged, but the situation in other Polish cities was better. We are not sure just how effecticely the Germans took advantage oif this. Later in the War large numbers of Polish workers were rounded up for slave labor in the Reich.

Use of the Baltic Germans

The Baltic Germans were one of the Volksdeutche whose rights Hitler had championed. After signing the Non-Agression Pact with the Soviets (August 1939), Hitler realized that the Baltic Germans would fall under Soviet control. Hitler immediately made plans to repatriate them to the Reich. Many were used as colonizers to Germanize the territory seized from Poland and from which Poles were being expelled to the Government General.

Baltic Germans

The Volksdeutsche were part of the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but there history there was considerably different than in other areas that came to comprise the Russian Empire. These Baltic countries until World War I (1914-18) and the Russian Revolution (1917) were part of the Tsarist Russian Empire, although the German presence predated their absortion by the Russians. Germans started colonizing northeastwards along the Baltic Sea at the end of the 13th century. First the noblemen of the Teutonic Order built fortresses and castles all along the Baltic coast, including Danzig (Gdansk), Memel (Klaipeda) and Reval (Tallin). Later merchants followed and settled in the ports and cities under the Hanseatic League. It is ironic that the original Prussians were a Baltic people, who were conquered by the Germans and actually wiped out completely--but not before giving those Germans their name: Borussians (Prussians). The rural population always remained Estonian, Latvian, or Lithuanian, but in the cities there was a large German minority. The Baltic people were conqured by the Tsar Peter the Great (1622-1725) during the Great Northern War (1700-21) with Sweden. Peter at the Battle of Poltava (1709) achieved one of the great military victories in Russian history. The "Baltic Barons" (the German knights) afterwards supplied an enormous amount of officers and administrators in the service of the Russian czars throughout the centuries. For example: several geographical names in Alaska derive from German-Baltic explorers when that part of the United States was still Russian: Wrangell Mountains, Kotzebue Sound, Hagemeister Island, etc.

Heim ins Reich

Hitler in 1939-40 after seizing Poland ordered the Baltic Volksdeutsche "heim ins Reich". He proceeded to negotiate a treaty to bring the Baltic Germans back to the Reich. This was different than the apprch taken with the Sudenten Germans, but the difference was that Hitler was not yet in control of the Baltic Republics. As early as September the Soviets began forcing treties on the three Baltic republics which would lead to full annexation in 1940. But in 1939-40 Hitler wanted an accomodation with Stalin so he could focus on the West. [Gilbert, p. 277.] They also provided a suitable population conviently available to Germaize Poland. The Baltic Germans had lived outside of Germany for centuries. Even so, most obeyed the Führer's orders, leaving their homes. The first group arrived in Danzig from Estonia October 20, 1939. They and the other Baltic Germand were assigned areas in occupied Poland to the south. The NAZIs inthe Warthegau and other areas of occupied Poland were expelling the Polish population in order to make room for them. From there the Baltic Germans were later expelled themselves, this time by the Poles at the end of the War. Most of them finally settled in West Germany. [Bade]

Osteinsatz

NAZI Germany annexed Western Poland to the Reich and the NAZIs began the process of forcibly expelling Poles to the Government General. To support this effort the BDM initiated a new program called the Osteinsatz (eastern action). This was Reichsgaue Wartheland and Danzig-West Prussia. These were areas that had been part of the German Empire before World war I. Poles were expelled from their business, homes, and farms and deported to the Government General. These expulsions were often extreemly brutal. [Kweit] Few German farmers wanted to move east so the NAZIs moved in Germans from the Baltics that had been ordered home to the Reich. While ethnically German, the Baltic Germans had lived away from Germany sometimes for centuries. Thus as part of the Osteinsatz effort, BDM girls were set out to teach the settlers what it meant to be German. Initially Osteinsatz appears to be the term for deporting Poles from the annexed areas. Gradually NAZI officals appear to have begun using the term for deportment of Jews from Western Europe to the death camps. An example here is the Security Police plan for rouding up Belgian Jews. "On the night of 3-4 September 1943, a large-scale operation will be carried out for the first time for the seizure of Belgian Jews, for posting to the East (Osteinsatz), as required by the Head Office for Reich Security." [T519] Other NAZI commanders have used the term essentially to mean actions in which Jews were murdered. EK commander SS-Ostuf KK Joachim Hamann (Gestapo) boasted of having executed 77,000 Jews during his Osteinsatz.

The Future

Had the NAZIs won World War II, the future for the Poles would have been bleak and the German plan would have been expanded into the areas seized from the Soviet Union. The Racial Policy Office in Berlin distributed a policy document to Himmler and other NAZI leaders on November 23, 1939. Gerhard Hecht and Eberhard Wetzel of the Racial Policy Office suggest policies for the Poles. "Medical care from our side much be limited to the prevention of the spreading of epidemics to the Reich territory." As to the Polish Jews under German rule, numbering 2½ million: "We are indifferent to the hygenic fate of the Jews. Concerning future generations of Poles: "... their propagation must be curtailed in every possible way". [Gilbert, p. 286.]

Sources

Bade, Klaus J. ed. Deutsche im Ausland. Fremde in Deutschland (C.H.Beck Verlag: Munich, 1992).

Bräutigam, Otto. Mmo toHinrich Lohse, December 18, 1941. Nuremberg Document PS-3666. in Yitzhak Arad, Yisrael Gutman, and Abraham Margoliat, eds. Documents oin the Holocaust (Jerusalem: 1981), p. 395.

Browning, Christopher R. Nazi Policy, Jewish Woirkers, German Killers (Cambridge University Press).

Fest, Joachim C. Hitler (Vintage Books: New York, 1974), 844p.

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.

Koehl, Robert L. RKFVD: German Resettlement and Population Policy 1939-1945 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1957), 263p.

Kwiet, K. "Auftakt zumHolocaust. Ein Polizeibatallion im Osteinsatz’, in Der Nationalsozialismus," Studien zur Ideologie undHerrschaft, ed. W. Benz et al. (Frankfurt/M., 1993), pp. 191–208.

Padfield, Peter. Himmler: Reichsführer-SS (Henry Holt: New York, 1991), 656p.

Pospieszalski, Karol Marian. Documenta Occupationis: Nazi Occupation Law in Poland Vol. VI (Poznan: Intitut Zachodni, 1958), 652p.

T519. This is one of the documents presented at the Eichmann trial.






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Created: December 30, 2002
Last updated: 8:45 AM 6/19/2010