Poland

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Jews from Lodx being taken to Chelmno.jpeg

Jews from the Lodz ghetto being loaded onto cattle trucks before being taken to their deaths at Chelmno extermination camp.

The Final Solution

Very soon the German’s began their campaign of mass slaughter within occupied Poland. On 20th January 1942, the Nazis held a secret conference at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, to discuss the logistics of implementing the Final Solution

Chelmno, the first of six extermination camps was established in Poland on 7 December 1941.

In the spring of 1942, three other extermination camps at SobiborBelzec, and Treblinka were established as part of Aktion Reinhard, the plan to liquidate all Jews in the General Government. The Concentration Camps at Auschwitz and Majdanek were also expanded and developed into extermination centers.

Jews who had previously been held in ghettos within occupied Poland were transported to their fate in the death camps. The ghettos within the General Governement were liquidated. By the summer of 1944 only the Lodz ghetto remained. 

By the time Heinrich Himmler ordered a halt to the murders in Auschwitz, 90 per cent of Polish Jewry, three million people, had been murdered by the Nazis. In addition, three million non-Jewish Poles had died at the hands of the Germans.

German invasion

The German Army attacked Poland on 1 September 1939. Poland was defeated by the 28 September 1939. The Polish government fled to France, then, in May 1940, to London, after the German invasion of France.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact, agreed and signed in August 1939, paved the way for Germany and the Soviet Union to divide Poland between them. The western area, containing 600,000 Jews, was annexed into ‘Greater Germany’. The Soviet Union took the eastern section, adding 1.2 million Jews to its population. On 23 October 1939, the area not annexed to Germany or the Soviet Union, containing around 1.5 million Jews, was placed under the control of a German administration; the General Government.

Whilst the majority of the Polish population were brutally suppressed, two million Poles of German blood (Volksdeustche) were given special privileges. Many Poles were forced to move in order to make room for ethnic Germans. Thousands of Polish leaders and resisters were killed or captured.

Star of David

Antisemitic attacks and measures began immediately. Around 300,000 Jews fled to Soviet controlled territories. On 21 September 1939, Reynhard Heydrich, head of the Gestapo, issued an order that the remaining 1.8 million Jews living within the area of Poland annexed to Germany should be expelled to the General Government. The Jews were to be concentrated in large cities near major railway junctions. Forced deportations began as early as 21 November 1939. 

On 23 November 1939, Hans Frank head of the General Government decreed that all Jews residing in the General Government should wear a white armband with a blue Star of David. He had previously ordered that Jewish males be sent for forced labour. The Nazi regime began seizing Jewish owned businesses, whilst Jews were allowed only a small amount of money. From January 1940, Jews were forbidden to use trains, except by special permit. Jews were also ordered to register their property with the Nazi authorities.

The first ghetto was established on 8 October 1939, in Piotrakow Trybunalski, 16 miles south of the central Polish town of Lodz. The first large ghetto, was established at Lodz during February 1940. Throughout 1940 and 1941, the Nazis established hundreds of ghettos as the German armed forces invaded lands accross Europe.

Mass slaughter

The Nazis continued developing their network of concentration and forced labour camps across Europe. Many of these were established within occupied Poland in order to exploit the Jews living within the General Government; most notably the 40 plus camps that made up the Auschwitz camp complex. 

In June 1941, the German armed forces invaded eastern Poland in order to attack its ally the Soviet Union. Whilst the German Army fought its way eastwards, mobile killing units, Einsatzgruppen carried out the mass extermination of Jews living in these newly conquered areas.