Source: German Crimes in Poland. Volume 1. Central Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland. Warsaw, 1946

Extermination of the Polish Jews
in the Years 1939-1945

Part I

[Note on Source Material. The text contains numerous inaccuracies of spelling and of grammatical usage, which have been left as in the original. Page numbers precede text.]

Part II

Statistics of the Jewish population in Poland
I. German Occupation
II. Phases and methods of the "solution of the Jewish Problem" under German Occupation.

III. The Period of the "Small terror" and the "Cold pogroms".

IV. The period of the "Liquidation Activities" in Ghettoes and camps.

V. General Conclusions


1. Statistics of the Jewish population in Poland

The number of Jews within the boundaries of Poland before 1 Sep.1939 can be only approximately established. The last official census before the war was on Dec. 9, 1931 and recorded 3,113,900 persons of the Jewish faith and moreover 18681 soldiers in barracks. If we assume an average yearly increase of population of 9 per thousand (or 28,000 in a year), we find that during the eight years (up to the end of 1939) the Jewish population had increased by 224,000. That is to say that the total on Sep. 1, 1939 amounted to more than 3,356,000.

This figure, however, must be considerably increased, for investigations carried out by Prof. St. Szulc, in charge of the Chief Statistical Office, show that the number of births among the Jewish population in Poland was at least 50% larger than that given in the official birth tables1. (1 Prof. Stefan Szulc, "The Accuracy of the Registration of Births and Deaths", Statistics, Series C. Pt. 41, p. 150.)

If the necessary correction is made, we obtain the figure of 3,590,000 for the Jewish population in Poland. If from this we subtract 116,000 for Jews who migrated across the frontier between December, 1931, and September 1, 1939, it results that the actual number of Jews in Poland must have been about 3,474,000.

Assuming therefore as a basis this figure after taking into consideration the above—mentioned changes resulting from natural increase of population and emigration, we obtain the following data for the end of September 1939:


I. German occupation:

1. The General Gouvernement (Provinces of Cracow, Warsaw, Lublin, Kielce, the city of Warsaw, Lwow to the river San)


2. Territories incorporated in the Reich (Provinces of Poznan, Pomerania, Silesia, Lodz, Bialystok)



III. Territories annexed by the U.S. S. R.

1. of Lwow (Eastern part), Tarnopol, and Stanislawow


2. Volhynia


3. Western White-Russia and Lithuania, Provinces of
Polesie, Nowogrodek and Wilno



The above figures represent only theoretically the actual number of Jews. Actually by Sep. 1, 1939, they had been already modified.

The invasion by German motorized tanks and aircraft and their lightning advance caused vast movements of population all over Poland. Great masses of the civil population fled to the East and South. For example during the first days of September about 10,000 people fled from Cracow; among them 5-6,000 Jews. (Bericht über die Tätigkeit der jüdischen Gemeinde in Krakau. Cracow 1940, p. 69. hectograph).

Strictly speaking, already at the outset of the Second World War, after the end of the Polish Campaign in September 1939, great changes ensued in the territorial disposition of the Jewish population. Demographic changes were also caused by the material losses they sustained. In the fight for Poland against


the German invader 32,216 Jewish ,officers and soldiers were killed and 61,000 taken prisoner. (Communique of the Polish General Staff of Oct. 9, 1939 cited by Isr. Cohen. The Jews in the War. London 1943, p. 67).

We must consider these Jewish prisoners-of-war also as casualties because only a few survived till the end of the war; the rest were murdered by the Germans. For instance only 449 Jewish prisoners released by the Germans returned to Cracow, during the period from Sep. 13, 1939 to Sep. 30, 1940 (Bericht der jüdischen Gemeinde in Krakau p. 13).

Some number of Jews perished also in air raids at the time when the Germans were bombing the civil population in the towns and the refugees on the roads (Black Book of Polish Jewry. N. York 1943, p. 200, Hitler’s Ten Years’ War against

the Jews N. York 1943, p. 148).

Immediately before the outbreak of war, in the last weeks before and during the storm, only a few individuals, succeeded in escaping to neutral countries: Hungary, Roumania and the Baltic States, before the Nazi invader. Their number amounted

to 20,000-25,000 (Black Book p. 169, Hitler’s Ten Years’ War, p. 155).

After the cessation of military operations, and the establishment of a frontier between Germany and the Soviet Union, the exodus of the Jewish population continued. They were fleeing from the Germans, who had begun their rule with a series of unheard-of outrages against the Jews and Poles; the Jews found peace, safety and advantage on the territory of the Soviet Union. As a result of these migrations to the East, which were most intense in the autumn of 1939, the German-Soviet frontier was closed in November. At least 300,000 Jews had fled from the German occupation and settled in Soviet territory.

The question arises how many Jews could remain in German-occupied territory during the period of relatively stable political relations, about Jan. 1, 1940. The losses due to emigration


and military casualties, as well as to the murders among the civilian population during the Polish Campaign, must be divided between the Jewish population in the German area, (66.6%) and that in the Soviet area (33.4%). The losses in German-occupied territory thus amount to some 120,000. If we add to these 300,000 who emigrated to the U. S. S. R., it will be seen that the Jewish population under German occupation fell to 1,900,000.

Very serious changes also occurred in the interior distribution of Jews in the German zone. In the first year of the German occupation large-scale moves to the East took place. About 60,000 Jews fled in September 1939 from the Western parts of Poland to Central Poland (i.e. the so called General Gouvernement) and were unable to return to their own part of the country, where the total expulsion of the Jews had been enacted. So up to July 1, 1940, the Germans expelled a further 330,000 Jews from the territories incorporated in the Reich into the territory of the General Gouvernement (H. H. Seraphim, p. 61).1 (1 ,,Die Judenfrage im G. G. als brennendes Problem", Die Burg Monthly. Vol. X (1940), p. 61

In this way the Jewish population in the incorporated territories was reduced to 250,000 (after emigration and civilian and military casualties). The Jews however from the General Gouvernement made up for these losses; and the figure once more rose to about 1,650,000. Moreover a great many Jewish settlers were brought in by the Germans from the West (mainly from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia; but also from Holland, Belgium and other countries).

About 200,000-300,000 Jews had been deported into the General Gouvernement by the end of 1942. But this expulsion by no means made up for the demographic losses of the Jewish population. Meanwhile, due to hunger, persecution, executions


and "special action", many Polish Jews perished., and the fate of many settlers from the West was no better.

It may therefore be taken that the number of Jews in the General Gouvernement did not surpass one and a half million notwithstanding the immigration from the West. In the Summer of 1941, after the Germans had overrun the territories evacuated by the Soviet Army, the number of Jews in German-occupied Poland amounted to 2,800,000 persons.


The Polish Jews were mostly assembled in the larger and smaller towns. The census of 1931 showed that 77% of the Polish Jews lived in the cities, and only 23% in the country. According to Seraphim, in the middle of 1940 88% of the Jewish population in the General Gouvernement were living in the towns.

This urbanization and concentration of the Jews was very convenient for the Germans, and facilitated their policy of persecution. At the time of the outbreak of war the Jewish population was scattered over the whole of Poland in about 1000 urban and rural localities. It was to the advantage of the Germans that at the end of 1942, when the large-scale exterminations began, the Jews were already concentrated at a number of points in not more than 54 urban settlements, to which they had been deported from the country districts.

This tendency to concentrate the Jews in big urban centres (Zusammenballung) is more obvious if we analyse the growth of several of the larger Jewish communities in Polish territory. The most typical examples is Warsaw, where the Germans organised a super-Ghetto. At the end of October 1939 (the registration carried out by the Jewish community in Warsaw on Oct. 28,1939, according the Black Book p. 32) Warsaw was inhabited by 359,827 Jews, and by the middle of 1942, notwithstanding the high mortality and deportations for forced labour, this


number had risen, according to certain authors, to 540,000 including about 150,000 immigrants from other localities. TheGermans expelled 72,000 Jews to Warsaw from the left bank of the Vistula in the Spring of 1941. (Du Prel: Des General-gouvernement, Cracow 1942, edition, pp. 348-9, Zwei Jahre Aufbauarbeit in District Warschau, Warsaw, 1941, pp. 72-73).

A similar concentration was made, but on a smaller scale, in other cities. So for instance at Cracow, which in 1931 had 56,000 Jews, but in 1939, owing to natural increase, about 60,500. By the Spring of 1940, owing to military events and expulsions (Krakauer Ztg. 14. XII. 1941), this number had risen to 70,000. The official number of registered Jews in the Summer of 1940 amounted to 68,482 (Bericht der Jüd. Gemeinde in Krakau p. 87).

The official statistics of the Jewish community at Cracow show that on June 1, 1940 (first incomplete census of the Jewish population), there were 54,517 in Cracow, of whom about 11,000 were new-comers. (Berichf d. Jüd. Gemeinde p. 99). In Lublin, which in 1931 had 38.900 Jews, and in the year 1939 had 37,034 (according to the Official Register of the Jewish Community of Oct. 25, 1939), the Jewish population amounted in round numbers to 50,000 in 1940 (Seraphim p. 61, Du Prel, G.G. 1st ed., p. 169).

In Czestochowa, which had about 25,600 inhabitants in 1931, the Jewish population increased to 30,000. (Du Prel, GG., 1st ed. p. l00), including of course the many who had been expelled. The records of the Municipality of the town of Czestochowa at the end of 1940 give the following data: in January 1940 28,714 Jews, in December of the same year 33,635. 1) (1 Statistical Annual of the Town Council of Czestochowa vo. II p. 134. Archives of the Municipality of Czestochowa, .section III No. 5044/689, Bur.)

Of the 13,800 Jews in Piotrkow, 3,625 were exiled (Jewish Gezette, June 30, 1940).


At the end of 1941 23,035 Jews were deported to Lodz, among them about 20,000 from Germany, Vienna, Prague and Luxemburg, and 3,082 from Wlocawek and its vicinity. In the first part of 1942 7,649 Jews were expelled from the so called Warthegau Districts of Lodz and Poznan, and part of the district of Warsaw.1) (1 Non edited printed proof sheets "Statist Jahrb. d. Juden in Litzmannstadt" as well as other statistical material possessed by the Central Arch. of the Jewish Histor. Comm..of.Lodz)

Kielce, which had 18,000 Jews in 1931, had about 25,400 Jews in 1940 (Du Prel, GG., 1st ed., p. 100).

Bialystok, which had 39,165 Jews in 1931, had about 56,000 Jews in the years 1942- 1943 (Dr. Simon Datner: The Fight and Extermination of the Ghetto in Bialystok, published by Centr. Jew. Histor. Comm. Lodz, 1946.)

These examples suffice to prove what an influence German policy had on the changes in the distribution of the Jewish population,

In normal conditions the statistical outline of the demographic development would not be complete without the registration of population movements. But in our case, Jewish migrations have a special character; these migrations were compulsory, and were accompanied by loss of property, health, and often life. We cannot speak of any natural movement of the Jewish population, as the number of deaths rose to an incredible degree, and the birth-rate fell catastrophically till finally there were no more births at all.

II Phases and methods of the "solution of the Jewish problem" under the German occupation.

In the political programme of Nazi Germany not only the military conquest of Poland, and other countries on her Eastern


border were included, but also a partial extermination of the native population in order to facilitate German colonization of the depopulated areas. Simultaneously with the programme for the destruction of a larger number of Slavs (according to the testimony of witnesses at the Nuremberg Trial, Hitler planned the destruction of 30,000,000 Slavs) the Nazi authorities purposed the total extirpation of the Jews.

According to evidence given by witnesses at the Nuremberg Trial (evidence of Lahausen concerning the plan accepted by Ribbentrop and Keitel at the conference in Hitler’s car on Sep. 12, 1939), as well as to official German documents,1) and the pronouncements of Hitler and Streicher, and the articles of Goobbels2), this policy of physical extirpation had already been decided upon at the outbreak of war in 1939.
(1 Particularly the order issued by Chief-of-Police Heydrich at Berlin on Sep. 21. 1939 to the Chiefs of all the special-service Groups of the Security Police concerning the Jews in the Occupied Territories. This document sets forth both the final aim of anti-Jewish policy, and the gradual phases of its execution.

2 Hitler’s speeches of Dec. 31, 1939. Jan. 30, 1941, Jan. 30, 1942. A Speech of Streicher of Oct. 31, 1939 (Records of the Nuremberg Trial No. 2583 PS.), Articles by Goebbels in Das Reich of July 20, 1941, and June 14, 1942.)

The Nazi Germans began to carry out their programme for the destruction of the Jews as early as the first day after the outbreak of war; but it is not quite certain if the plan for the complete extermination of the Jews existed at that time. It appears that there were differences of opinion among the leaders of the Third Reich regarding this problem, in 1939 and 1940 and even at the beginning of 1941 (speech by A. Rosen-berg of March 28, 1941, and at the opening of the Research Institute for Jewish Problems - Institut zur Erforschung der Judenfrage at Frankfort on Main). In some circles plans for a less cruel solution of the Jewish problem were put forward: by way of emigration and the assembling of all Jews in a land


outside Europe, far from any white people, but near to the black races, under strict police supervision1).(1 Speech by A. Rosenberg: Die Judenfrage als Weltproblem - Dokumente der deutschen Politik. H. Erich Seifert: Der Jude zwischen den Fronten der Rassen, der Völker, der Kulturen. Berlin 1942. p. 154-155.)

While these plans were being debated and discussed, the slow and gradual extermination of the Jews by all possible means had already been undertaken. The Jews were put outside the law.

Though the Poles were considered as citizens of an inferior class (Schutzangehörige des Reiches) in the districts incorporated in the Reich, the Jews and Gipsies were excluded even from this category; i. e. they were deprived of the protection of the State2). (2 Order dated March 3, 1941, Reichsgesetzblatt. .I, 118 7 an order dated Jan. 31, 1942, Reichsgesetzblatt I, 51.)

This contempt for the Jews and their exceptional legal situation was manifested in a series of regulations. By an order dated Nov. 23, 1940 they were compelled to bear special marks. By an order dated Jan. 26, 1940, they were deprived of the right to travel or to change their place of residence. By an order of Jan. 24, 1940 (Vdgbl. T. VII. 5), their right to hold property was limited, and it was finally abolished by orders of Sep. 22, 1939, and Jan. 24, 1940, and, for the incorporated area, by an order of Sep. 17, 1940.

Further, the Jewish communities had to make contributions of gold, silver, furs and other precious objects. The ration of food allowed to the Jewish population was much smaller and far worse than that of the other inhabitants of the country.

From 1940 onwards ghettoes or Jewries were instituted in different Polish cities and towns. For this purpose the worst districts of the towns were chosen without gardens and squares, and there was consequent overcrowding, dirt and disease.


The German authorities were easily able to control the import of food into the enclosed ghettoes, as well as their property, hygiene, etc. The Jewish population, thus massed in one place, was an easy target for persecution of every kind, and could the more easily be exterminated. Accordingly the ghettoes in the hands of the German authorities became the main instruments whereby the destruction of the Jewish population was carried out.

Besides the ghettoes Nazi Germany created other instruments of extermination: the forced labour camps, and training camps (Zwangsarbeitslager, Erziehungslager).

At the very beginning of its occupation, an order was issued on Oct. 26, 1939, providing that Jews from the age of 14 to 60 must perform forced labour. The first camps were organised at the end of 1939, and in them Jews, regardless of age, education or profession were forced to do heavy work of all kinds, such as cultivating the fields, or damming rivers, in excessively bad working conditions, and under Draconian discipline, with frequent corporal punishment. The whole scheme was merely another means of exterminating the Jewish population; some of the workers, owing to the terrible conditions, perishing in the camps; while those who returned home were in most cases sick and unfit for further employment.

During the whole of this period, from the beginning of the German occupation, the Jewish population were constantly terrorized and severely punished for minor offences. Sometimes huge fines were levied; sometimes there were mass executions. Leaving the ghetto was punished with death. Hundreds of death sentences were passed for this offence by the German Special Courts, and all of them were carried out. The same penalty was exacted for not wearing the Jewish markings, for buying food illegally, for using means of transport forbidden to the Jews, as well as for absenteeism and sabotage.

The Jewish population, being outside the law, no one was held responsible for killing, wounding or robbing a Jew.


All these measures - restriction of rights, ghettoes, starvation, labour camps and terrorism, were causing large casualties among the Jewish population, but did not result in their complete extirpation. A plan had already been hatched in the minds of the leaders ,of the Third Reich before the outbreak of war with Russia. At the outset of the Russian Campaign Hitler and his advisers decided first of all to destroy the Jewish population in the area overrun. Later this plan was extended to the Jews of Poland, and afterwards to those of Europe in general.

The execution of the task of finally "liquidating" the Jews was entrusted to the XIVth Section of the RSHA1) (1 Reichsicherheitshauptamt) , at the head head of which stood Adolf Eichmann. In order to carry out this work on the Eastern Front four special groups (Einsatzgruppen) were organized from the members of the SS and SD, distinguished by the successive letters of the alphabet A, B, C, D, and created in agreement with the Headquarters of the German Army. The A-group was entrusted with the destruction of the Jews in the Baltic countries. The D-group was given a wide field of activity, extending from Cernauti in Roumania to the Caucasus. The B-and C-groups were active in the central sector of the eastern front and its rear, including Poland. One of these groups, the Reinhard group famous for its crimes, dealt with the province of Warsaw, Lublin, Cracow and Lwow, in the General Government2).(2 Data based on the statements of major-general Otto Ohlendorf, chief of the Office No. III in the Chief Security Court of the Reich (Nuremberg trial Jan. 3, 1946))

All this action against the Jews went on from the middle of 1941 to the end of 1942. Besides Polish Jews, the Germans brought .to Poland for extermination hundreds of thousands of Jews from other countries in Europe. In the years 1943 and I941


activity began gradually to decrease, the bulk of the Jewish population having by that time been exterminated.

The orders of the Chief Commanders of the SS provided quite clearly for the extirpation of the Jews, with the exception only of such as were to work. These men and women were sorted out and taken to camps. This did not mean, however that their lives were saved. The regime in the camp grew more and more severe during the progress of liquidation outside the walls of the camps. For the aim of labour camp policy was not so much to squeeze the last ounce of work out of the Jews as to kill them by overwork and physical torture.

But besides the original type of labour camp, a new type was organised - the extermination camp, designed only for the quick killing of the victims who were brought there, and provided with special technical arrangements in the form of gas-chambers and crematoria.

We may accordingly divide the gehenna of the Jews under the German occupation into two periods: In the first the Germans used different methods to speed up the process of extermination of Jews; while in the second afterwards for contrast called the small terror period, no more than a few {hundreds being murdered the Germans proceed to the extirpation of the Jews in the ghettoes and camps.

III. The Period of the "Small terror" and "Cold pogroms".

At the very outbreak of war, after the German armies had crossed into Polish territory, the fate of the Jews who were unable to escape from the onrushing Nazi armies was indeed wretched.

The soldiers got up exhibitions of Jewish refugees, often beating and robbing them, and in many cases shooting them.

Often they would drive together a great crowd of Jewish refugees, several thousands in number, and put them in quarantine. After being detained in locked premises without food or


drink, the Jews were finally released, with rude mockery, bare-footed and nearly naked When they at last returned home, new troubles awaited them. In most cases their shops and flats had been plundered, and in consequence they sank to the lowest depths of misery. In some localities the Germans re-arrested them, for trying to escape, and treated them as enemies of the "New Order" (see Kalisz Black Book p. 6).

Although the idea of exterminating the Jewish population was accepted by the Nazis clearly and without any ambiguity long before the outbreak of war, the Germans persisted in hypocrital attempts to deceive their victims. They tried to lull the vigilance of the Jews, giving lavish promises which they did not intend to keep. Thus the German officers sent to discuss terms for the capitulation of. Warsaw gave a promise that not a single hair should fall from the heads of the Jewish population. This assertion was repeated by wireless in good faith by the Mayor of Warsaw, St. Starzynski. Even Field-Marshall and Commander-in-Chief Walter von Brauchitsch in his speech delivered over the wireless on Sep. 4, 1939, assured the Polish Jews that they need have no anxiety about their fate; and General Blaskowitz, Commander of the forces besieging Warsaw, issued a proclamation on Sep. 30, 1939, which was posted up in the streets of Warsaw, repeating the same assertion and ordering the Jews to return quietly to their occupations.

None of these promises was kept by the Germans, even temporarily.

From the first moment of the German invasion fierce attacks on the Jews began. In the first weeks of the German occupation their outrages already showed all the elements of the future German extermination policy, save only perhaps the gas-chambers and crematoria. There were already robberies, "searchings", contributions, confiscations, the taking of hostages, beating and torture, mockery and derision, humiliation,

organizations of insulting .performances and shows and then


their reproduction for the cinema, Jew-hunts, compulsion to do hard and humiliating labour, violation of women, the desecration of objects held sacred by the Jews, the burning of synagogues and Jewish libraries, expulsions, executions, and murders individual and collective.

In a number of localities, immediately after the German invasion, the Jews were ordered to reopen their shops (not only at Warsaw or Lublin, but even in such small towns as Belzyce and Gorlice). This was to make it easier for them to be plundered. Any traders who disobeyed this order were severely punished.

Methods, however, differed in different places. Sometimes, immediately after the Germans arrived, all Jewish shops were sealed and put at the disposal of the authorities (in Wloclawek, Radziejow, Czestochowa, Przemysl. Central Arch. of the

Jewish Hist. Comm. rep. No. 375, 30, 32, 676). At Rzeszow the German commander ordered the confiscation of Jewish shops, at the same time, according to the principle divide et impera, promising non-Jewish pensioned employees managerial posts in them. In the larger estarblishments the expropriation of Jewish property was at once put on an organized basis. All the larger Jewish factories were immediately taken over by the State.

The German army confiscated Jewish stocks of textiles, leather and ironware. Large military lorries drove up to Jewish stores in Warsaw, Lodz, and other manufacturing towns and carried away all the goods. They often ordered even the owners and employees to act as porters, while frequently they were aided by the mob and the Volksdeutsche abetted by the German police and army. In almost all localities the

demolition and robbery of Jewish flats, as well as plundering under the pretext of searching for incriminating evidence without any pretext at all, were everyday occurrences. Gold rings were often violently torn from their wearers fingers and

ears (see Protocol from Oksza Centr. Arch. of the Jew. Hist.


Comm. No. 43; Prot. from Belchdow C.A. of the J. H. C. No.8 4 ).

Jewish flats were often taken over. In many cases a Volksdeutscher would rush into a Jewish-owned flat and with watch in hand would order the owner to leave within from 5 to 20 minutes. Sometimes the latter would be allowed to take some small hand-baggage with him, but generally even this was forbidden. In rare instances the time allowed for leaving the flat was extended to several hours, or even longer.

Again, contributions were levied from the Jews on every possible pretext or sometimes without any pretext at all.

The amount and conditions of payment and the penalties if they were not paid were enormous. Each local authority demanded its own according to its individual whim. In some localities contributions had to be paid in instalments. Sometimes they were very high, amounting to tens of millions of zlotys.

Besides money the Germans demanded gold, and articles of value, silver and jewellery, which they extorted by terrorism, beating and tortures. Hostages were taken, but were not released after the contribution had been paid. If the sum demanded was not raised in time, employees and members of the Jewish Council would be shot, and hostages taken; or the defaulters were sent to concentration camps. From the findings of the local German authorities there was no appeal, for there was no law to protect the Jews.

The Germans did not limit themselves to the theft of Jewish property. During the first weeks of their invasion they organised pogroms in almost every Polish town and city, giving model lessons in the market places before audiences which were gathered by force from the non-Jewish population. During these lessons the Jews were ill-treated, derided .and finally killed (at Siedliszcze, Minsk Mazowiecki, Wegrow, Radziejow etc.).


In other places the Jews were forced to dance and sing, to shout and recite silly self-accusations (at Belzyce, Belchatow, Wegrow, Oksza, Zgierz etc.).

There were organized Jew-hunts in the streets, the hunters pretending to take them for work. They were ordered to assemble at an appointed hour in large numbers, and then were driven to another town, or to an improvised camp.

Jewish rabbis were particularly derided. Their beards were cut or torn, often even with strips of skin attached; or they were set on fire and the owners were not allowed to extinguish them (for instance at Warsaw in the Garden of the Diet, at Oksza, Zgierz, Wegrow, or Piotrkow). The rabbis and orthodox Jews were forced to dance and sing in public, or were driven mockingly along the streets in their liturgical vestments. At Cisna the Germans burnt their vestments and sacred books in the market place; they forced the Jews to set fire to the pile, and then to dance round it singing and repeating in chorus: "Wir freuen uns, wie das Dreck brennt". ("How glad we are the filth is burning"). They were forced to sweep the streets wearing their vestments, or to scrub floors and clean latrines with them.

At Kalisz the Jews were forced to jump over a fire of books and vestments (Black Book, p. 7).

The Germans set the synagogues on fire or forced the Jews to do it themselves. During this period several hundreds of synagogues were burnt or blown up. In the first fortnight after their arrival the Germans burnt all the synagogues at Bielsko (in the middle of September, 1939). The first building which was burnt by the Germans at Bydgoszcz was the local synagogue. From the 5th to the 10th of September the Germans burnt synagogues at Piotrkow and Aleksandrow. At Zgierz after the burning of the synagogue they forced the rabbi to sign a certificate to the effect that the Jews themselves had burnt their house of prayer. On Dooms day (Sep. 24, 1939) the Germans burnt the Jewish synagogues at Wloclawek; the


fire was filmed; and then 25 Jews were arrested and forced to sign a declaration that they had burnt the synagogue themselves. A fine of 100,000 zl was then imposed on the Jewish population. At the same time the synagogues were burnt at Gruriziadz, Torun, Zamosc, Mielec, Czestochowa, Tarnow, and Katowice. At Grojec the Jews were forced to bum their synagogue, and afterwards some of the "incendiaries" were murdered. At Radziejow the Germans set fire to the synagogue and afterwards arrested the Jews as incendiaries, because a match-box had been found in the pocket of one of them.

Between Nov. 11 and 15, 1939, about 10 synagogues were burnt at Lodz. At Sosnowiec the Germans burnt three synagogues and arrested 250 Jews. At Siedliszcze they placed a bomb in the synagogue. At Poznan they burnt several synagogues and desecrated the chief one ceremoniously during the festivities of the Hitler Jugend and the Nazi party, and laid out a swimming-pool on its site. At Cracow and Bedzin the destruction and burning of Jewish synagogues and beth-hamidrashes

was assigned to special brigades, called Brennkommandos. The Germans deliberately picked the most solemn Jewish holidays for this kind of activity. (At Wloclawek, Plonsk, Bel-zyce, and Mielec.) In many cases the Germans turned the

synagogues into stables (At Gniewoszow and Makow), into factories (at Przemysl), into swimming-pools (at Poznan), into places of entertainment (at Nowy Tomysl), into health centres (at Gora Kalwarya), into prisons (at Kalisz), and even into public latrines (at Ciechanow) (Krakauer Ztg. of June 16, 1942 Brenner: Chronicle of the town of Czesfochowa, ms. at the Centr. J. H. C. Black Book p. 226, 29, 7, Jews in Europe p. 26, Jews’ Survivors Report No. 1. The German New Order in Poland, London 1941 p. 246); Centr. J. H. C. Prot, No. 2BO.458, 826, 818,372, 133).

The ill-treatment and abuse of the Jews applied not only to the male population, but also to the female. Notwithstanding the Nuremberg Act there were violations of Jewish women


and young.girls by the Germans (Belzyce, Centr. Arch. J.H.C.

Diary of Mrs. Ferstmann, Black Book p. 8).

The work which the Germans forced the Jews to do had in most cases the character of penal servitude. The hardest and most humiliating labour was assigned to them: the removal of corpses, removal of rubble from the streets, carrying of loads, digging of ditches, and cleaning of water-closets. The amount and kind of labour demanded of an individual was usually too much for his strength, and if he found it impossible to finish, he was beaten unmercifully. (Jews were harnessed to carts and ordered to draw loads).

Sadistic orders were often given, Jews being made to clean out latrines with their hands (at Cisna, Kalisz and other localities); to collect horse-droppings in the market-place with their hands and to put them into their caps and pockets (at Cisna); or to clean out latrines with their hands and then to smear their faces with the excrement (at Kalisz, Black Book, p.6).

In towns situated in the area which the Germans intended immediately to incorporate in the Reich the expulsion of Jews began as soon as the Germans arrived. This was chiefly in the provinces of Poznania, Pomerania, and Silesia, and on the borders of East-Prussia (Bielsko, Wysokie Mazowieckie, Kalisz, Torun, Bydgoszcz, and Suwalki. Centr. Arch. J. H. C. Prot. N o. 969).

Expulsions also took place on the Soviet-German border, the Germans trying to .drive the Jews across to the Soviet side. For instance, they were driven from Chelm and Hrubieszow to Sokal near the Soviet frontier, and during a march of several. days many were shot (Jews in Europe, 26: New Order 220, evidence of S. Turteltaub, Centr. Arch. J. H. C. No. 640). Also at Jaroslaw, Lancut, Przemysl, Tarnobrzeg and other towns on the frontier the Germans drove the Jews over it, and then boasted in .their newspapers that these places had been ren-,


dered completely judenrein (Krakauer Ztg. Nov. 16, 1939 and July 17; 1940. Centr. Arch. 1. H. C, Ret, No. 694 and 840).

At Jaroslaw, a week after their invasion, the Germans ordered the Jews to leave the town within half an hour (Centr. J. H. C. Rec. No. 837). How the crossing of the river San was made is described in a report by a witness, deposed at Lancut:

"We arrived at the river San on the third day of our exile, What happened there is difficult to describe. On the bank of the river Gestapo-men were waiting and driving people into a boat, or rather raft of two unbalanced boards, from which women and children fell into the river. We saw floating corpses everywhere; near the bank women stood in the water, holding their children above their heads and crying for help, to which the Gestapo-men answered by shooting. Blood, masses of floating corpses. It is impossible to describe the despair, shouts and helplessness of people in such a situation (Documents of crime and martyrdom, Cracow, 1945 p. 143 p. 143 publ. by Centr. J. H. C.).

Yet the Germans invented still crueller ways than these of cleaning out the Jews.

According to a report by an English journalist, Miss Baker-Beall, in the vicinity of Bydgoszcz this "cleaning" took the form of extermination; several thousands of Jewish men, women and children were driven into Bydgoszcz and there shot in a stable which was converted into a latrine (New Order, p. 137, Black Book, p. 6).

A report by the S. D. Einsatzkommando Bromberg of Nov. 14, 1939, to the Headquarters of the Security Police and to the Security Service in Berlin says: "The Jewish problem does not exist any longer at Bydgoszcz, as the city is quite free from Jews, During the cleaning up all Jews who did not think it suitable to disappear before were removed". The style of this report gives a good idea of the spirit of the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) in relation to the Jews (quoted from the Illustrated Polish Courier, Bydgoszcz Dec. 25, ..1945);.


During these first weeks there was hardly a single town in Poland where the Germans did not shoot or torture Jews. Here are a few examples: in the small town of Wieruszow immediately on entering the Germans killed 20 Jews in the market place. (Bl. Book p. 5); at Czestochowa on Sep. 3, 1939, and the following day they killed over a hundred Jews; at Aleksandrow after their entrance on Sep. 7, 1939, they shot 60 Jews: and on Sep. 14, 1939, after torturing them they shot 45 more. At Ostrow Mazowiecki they murdered five hundred men, women and children (Jews in the War, p. 36; New Order, 200). At Trzebinia 150 Jews were killed; at Laskarzew almost every male; at Warta and Sosnowiec a certain number of Jews were arrested and afterwards decimated. (The Jews in the war, p. 35-37). At Przemysl in 1939 several hundred Jews were shot. At Lodz on the occasion of a visit by Goebbels on Oct. 8, 1939, a pogrom was organised, many Jews were murdered, and children were thrown by the SS-men from windows into the streets. At Wloclawek the Germans organized a pogrom on Doomsday, and afterwards the wounded were buried alive together with the dead at 69. Dluga Street. At Zgierz 7 Jews perished, one of them (Zysman) being burnt alive, as having probably offered resistance (Bl.B., p.10, Jews in the War, p. 36).

At Lipsk (district of Ilza, near Kielce) a whole group of Jews was burnt alive in a synagogue. In Mielec on the Eve of the Jewish New Year, Sep. 13, 1939, the Germans drove 35 naked Jews from the bath, locked them in an adjoining butcher’s shop, and then burnt it down. This was stated by eye-witnessess (Jews and Poles Centr. Arch. J. H. C. Prot. No. 217; Bl. B., p. 12).

In 1941 after the occupation of Bialystok by the Germans the same kind of events were repeated, only on a larger scale and with greater cynicism. The Germans burnt about a thousand Jewish men and boys June 27 1941. (Centr. Arch. J. H. C. N .


546; Dr. S. Datner: Fight and Destruction of the Ghetto at Bialystok).

Witnesses mention pogroms on a larger scale in the following towns: Chmielnik, Konskie, Kutno, Lask, Lowicz, Lukow, and Sieradz. (Jews in the War, p. 35; Jews in Europe, p. 26).

In several cities such as Cracow, Lodz, Warsaw, Tarnow, and Kielce the Germans arrested or murdered outstanding Jewish social workers and representatives of the intelligentsia.

In the German-occupied area in 1941, immediately after the entrance of the German Army, pogroms were organised everywhere on a scale larger than that of the "blitz-pogroms" of 1939. They will be described in the next chapter.

Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 07/02/2000
©S D Stein

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