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The Holocaust History Project.
The Holocaust History Project.

Who Was Odilo Globocnik?

While Auschwitz is probably the most enduring concentration camp name in Holocaust historiography, the Operation Reinhard camps (Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor), which operated for a far shorter period of time (early 1942 to late 1943) than Auschwitz, claimed the lives of 1.7 million human beings during their operation. The "success" of these camps can largely be attributed to Odilo Globocnik. Globocnik's name is hardly the first to come to mind when speaking of the Holocaust, but his crucial role in the events at the three Reinhard death camps, and later in Italy, makes him a pivotal figure of the period.

Globocnik was born in Trieste in 1904. The city was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was dissolved at the end of World War I. Sovereignty over Trieste was awarded to Italy in the treaty of St. Germain. The Globocnik family, which was of Slovenian, Hungarian, and German ancestry, moved to Klagenfurt, Austria less than five years after the end of the war.

After the war, beginning as a teenager, Globocnik was a member of right-wing paramilitary organizations in Austrian Carinthia, near the Slovenian border, akin to the Freikorps roaming German streets between 1918 and 1933. While still an Austrian citizen, Globocnik joined the Deutsche Nationalsozialistische Arbeiterpartei, the analogous National Socialist party in Austria to the NSDAP in Germany, eventually receiving an appointment as regional leader of the party in Carinthia. He joined the SS in 1934. As both organizations were illegal in Austria until the Anschluss, Globocnik was in and out of jails for several months during this period for crimes ranging from suspected treason to the murder of a Jewish jeweler in June 1933.

Between Hitler's appointment as Chancellor of Germany in January 1933 and the Anschluss of March 1938, Globocnik was an instrumental figure in bringing down Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg's government. For his efforts, Hitler appointed him Gauleiter of Vienna in May of that year. It was in this office that Globocnik's greed first manifested itself, and he soon ran afoul of Hermann Göring, who had effective control over the economy of Germany during this period. Göring successfully lobbied to have Globocnik fired as Gauleiter in January 1939. A secondary reason for his firing was the dislike of him by Catholic members of the Nazi Party. Though Globocnik had been baptized as a Catholic, the Church's opposition to Nazism in Austria had turned him against his faith.

Globocnik, now without official duties, joined the Waffen-SS and took part in the September 1939 invasion of Poland. The Reichsführer-SS, Heinrich Himmler, recognizing Globocnik's abilities, appointed Globocnik SS and Police Leader of Lublin two months later. Globocnik took command of the POW (and later death camp) at Majdanek, as well as dozens of smaller labor camps in the Lublin area. Upon the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Globocnik was also named "Plenipotentiary for the Construction of SS and Police Bases in the Former Soviet Areas." With the beginning of extermination as official Reich policy toward the Jews in late 1941 and the subsequent inauguration of Aktion Reinhard, Globocnik was chosen by Himmler to oversee construction of Belzec. He was then put in charge of the administration of all three Reinhard camps.

Globocnik took the initiative to suggest that once the Jews in the Generalgouvernement had been "relocated," the Poles in the Zamosc region should be deported east to make room for German settlers. While the settlement plan itself (Generalplan Ost) never proved effective, thousands of Poles were deported, sent to slave labor camps, or shot. The Polish Resistance's reaction to the ethnic cleansing in Zamosc, which consisted of armed resistance as well as sabotage, forced Himmler to call off the resettlement plan. This caused a rift between Globocnik and the Reichsführer.

The techniques of mass murder implemented in the Generalgouvernement were planned and overseen by Globocnik, who tapped personnel from the T4 euthanasia program to carry out gassings of Jews in the three Reinhard camps. It was during this period that he made the acquaintance of Christian Wirth, who was made commandant of Belzec; Franz Stangl, who received his commission as commandant of Treblinka; and Franz Reichleitner, who was given control of Sobibor. In addition, according to his adjutant Max Runhof, Globocnik suffered a nervous breakdown while in Lublin. If true, it must not have been too serious, since Globocnik continued to hold responsible positions until the end of the war.

While his administration of the Reinhard camps alone would be enough to earn him a hanging at Nuremberg, the greed shown by Globocnik while Gauleiter of Vienna reared its head again while he was stationed in the Generalgouvernement. Though primarily the overseer of the mass murder of Jews in the Generalgouvernement, Globocnik was also put in charge of plundering the wealth of the victims. Aktion Reinhard was a financial windfall for the Nazis in general and Globocnik in particular. The SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS-WHVA, or SS Chief Bureau for Economic Administration) did the accounting of the loot.

The Reinhard camps netted nearly 180 million Reichsmarks in stolen property, tallying everything from currencies of native countries of deportees to shaving kits and handbags. At the wartime rate of exchange of 4.0 Reichmarks to the U.S. dollar, this amounts to $45 million, or over $530 million in 2005 dollars. However, not all of this wealth was returned to Berlin. SS men, including Globocnik, confiscated money and personal possessions for themselves.

In March 1943, Globocnik was appointed by Himmler as head of Ostindustrie GmbH (East Industry, Inc., or OSTI), a corporation under the auspices of the SS-WHVA. OSTI controlled 45,000 slave laborers in the Generalgouvernment, and Globocnik was not above exploiting them for his personal benefit as well. The position put him in charge of the Trawniki concentration camp, where SS guards were trained and where the camp's liquidation (Aktion Erntefest) took the lives of 10,000 Jews. Before finally leaving the Generalgouvernment in September 1943, Globocnik was instrumental in the liquidations of the ghettoes in Bialystok and Warsaw.

The completion of Aktion Reinhard nearly coincided with the deposal of Mussolini in Italy. As a result, Globocnik received a promotion to Höherer SS- und Polizeiführer (Higher SS and Police Leader) for the Adriatic region, based in his birthplace of Trieste. Here he fought partisans and helped in the persecution and deportation to Auschwitz of the remaining Italian Jews. Around this time, Globocnik married for the first and only time.

With an Allied victory assured in Italy, Globocnik fled Trieste for Austria, where he hid out at Möslacher Alm, near Weissensee Lake in Carinthia. The war ended on May 8, 1945. The British found Globocnik in his hideout and arrested him on May 31, 1945. Transferred to Paternion, Austria, the same day, he committed suicide upon arrival using the cyanide capsule given to every SS man.


There is very little scholarship available on the rather large role that Odilo Globocnik played in the Holocaust. The principal text is:

Joseph Poprzeczny. Odilo Globocnik: Hitler's Man in the East, Jefferson, N.C., McFarland, 2004.

The primary expert on the Reinhard camps in general is Yitzhak Arad. Much information on Globocnik can be found in:

Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Camps, Bloomington, Ind., Indiana UP, 1987.

Deeper research can be conducted in scholarly journals. See:

Bogdan Musial, "The Origins of 'Operation Reinhard': The Decision-Making Process for the Mass Murder of Jews in the Generalgouvernement", Yad Vashem Studies 28: 113-153.

Peter R. Black, "Rehearsal for 'Reinhard'? Odilo Globocnik and the Lublin Selbstschutz", Central European History 25(2): 204-226.

Yitzhak Arad, "'Operation Reinhard': Extermination Camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka", Yad Vashem Studies 16: 205-239.

And on the economic aspects of Operation Reinhard, in German:

Zygmunt Mankowski, "Odilo Globocnik und die Endlösung der Judenfrage", Studia Historiae Oeconomicae [Poland] 21: 147-155.

Last modified: July 22, 2005
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