World War II: The Occupied East--NAZI Generalplan Ost/General Plan East

NAZI General Plan East
Figure 1.-Hitler expicitly stated in "Mein Kampf" which he published in 1925 that Germany needed to obtain Lebensraum in Russia. That of course meant war. Thus no one should have been surprised when he invaded the Soviet Union. What he did not say in 'Mein Kampf' was what was to be done with the more than 90 million Slavs and other non-Germans that already occupied the land. That question was answered by Generalplan Ost (1941). This snapshot was taken by a German soldier. Few Wehrmacht soldiers had any idea what the NAZI leadership planned for the people, other than the jews, they encountered as they drove east.

The SS Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA -- Reich Security Office) was the NAZI agency which drafted the Generalplan Ost (General Plan East). This was the NAZI blueprint for the most horrendous 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. And they needed Czech industry for arms production. So the Czechs were left with a puppet government and Germinization was put off least it disrupt arms production. Poland was the next slice of the East. It was much bigger slice and the Poles were Slavs that Hitler despised. Himmler launched into the Germinization process in the Wartergau, 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 NAZI Party officials wanted to pursue a less biologically oriented policy and to accept large numbers of the existing population which was anti-Bolshevik. The debate over Eastern policy raged in NAZI circles for 2 years. With the stunning success of Operation Barbarossa (June 1941), Hitler finally decided. He essentially accepted Himmler's approach and SS planners began preparing Generalplan Ost. It was developed in secret. The principal area covered was the Soviet Union (including the Baltics), but Poland and Czechoslovakia was also included. Himmler and Heydrich was anxious to put it into operation. The major impediment to carrying it out was the Red Army.

Historic Drang nach Osten (Drive to the East)

Germans during the Middle Ages pushed east into lands occupied by the Slavs and Balts. Historians now use the term "Der Drang nach Osten". This term was not used in the Middle Ages. Rather the Germans at the time used the term "Ostsiedlung" or "east colonization". It was the German effort to expand their culture, language, and settlement east. The Germans had been push west by the Huns, Avars, and other nomadic warriors from Central Asia. These pressure from Central Asia subsided and Eastern Europe was settled by Slavs and Balts. With the fall of the Roman Empire, Germanic tribes over ran the West and established medieval kingdoms. These kingdoms, especially the ones in the east began to push east to expand their territory. After the Dark Ages the economies of Europe began to increase as commerce quickened and agricultural technology increased yields. The result was an expanding population. German at the time was the Holy Roman Empire. Germans from the Rhenish, Flemish, and Saxon territories of Empire eastwards began to migrate east into the less-densely populated areas of the Baltic and Poland. This population movements were supported by the German nobility and the medieval Church. It was also supported by Slavic kings and nobility. This is because the increased population and the skills of the German settlers meant increased income and taxes. Much of this migration was peaceful. There were also military campaigns launched against the Poles and still pagan Balts. This is sometimes referred to as the Northern Crusades. One of the Baltic tribes attacked was the Prussei (1018-1285) and the future state of Prussia would take on the name of the defeated tribe. The Teutonic Knights played a major role in the conquest of the Balts. Konrad of Masovia invited the Knights to northern Poland. The Teutonic Knights became a Polish vassal (1466). Der Drang nach Osten is a German term that appeared in the 19th century with the rise of German nationalism. It became a centerpiece of NAZism culminating in Germany's World War II invasion of Poland and the Soviet Union.

German-Polish Conflict

The German-Polish conflict in modern history began with the Polish Partitions (18th century). The Germans had established themselves as the ruling class all along the southern Baltic coast east of Denmark. Most of the cities were founded by Germans and members of the Hanseatic League. Germans also owned large agricultural estates where the Balts labored as serfs. When Prussia acquired areas of western Poland this same basic pattern continued, although Poland was larger population group with an established nobility. Russia acquired most of Poland, but Prussia acquired its smaller share. Polish workers once within the German Empire began to move west and the Polish population began to increase in eastern Germany. German nationalists became increasingly concerned. German landowners ironically were partly responsible. They hired Poles who would work for less than their German workers and in many cases began to acquire land. Other Germans moved west seeking the higher paying jobs in the industrial cities of the Ruhr. Thus the Poles began to displace Germans. This was a sensitive issue because to some Germans there was an almost mystical attachment to the land. Even Chancellor Bismarck lent his name to government efforts to promote German land ownership. These efforts were only marginally successful. After World War I, areas of eastern Germany were transferred to the new Polish republic. This included the Polish corridor to provide Poland and access to the sea. Some areas of the Corridor included substantial German populations. And the Polish Government copied some of the policies of the former Imperial German Government, but to greater effect to promote Polish land ownership.

Mein Kampf (1925)

The basic outline for Generalplan Ost was sketched out by Hitler in Mein Kampf which he published (1925). Hitler devoted more verbiage to castigating the Jews than the Slavs, but his intentions toward the Slavs were very clear. Many were surprised with what Hitler did because they dismissed what he wrote in Mein Kampf. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that the Slavs were not capable of creating real civilization -- only copying it from truly creative peoples like the Germans. He pointed to the role of the Rus (Swedish Vikings) in creating the first Slavic state. For Hitler, any real culture coming from Russia was the product of German blood. Hitler in Mein Kampf adopted the geopolitical concept of "Lebensraum" or the living space needed for the German people and nation. He wrote, "Only an adequately large space on this earth assures a nation of freedom of existence." The larger a nation, according to Hitler, the larger its influence and power in international affairs. He believed that the greatness of a nation was decided by territorial expansion. He wrote, "what is refused to amicable methods, it is up to the fist to take." He saw that it was in the East that Germany's future lay and in Mein Kampf he made it very clear. The need for living space in Europe for the expanding German population "could be obtained by and large only at the expense of Russia, and this meant that the new Reich must again set itself on the march along the road of the Teutonic Knights of old, to obtain by the German sword sod for the German plow and daily bread for the nation." This of course meant war. Russia was not about to turn land over to Germany. What Hitler did not address in Mein Kampf was what to be done with the Slavs and other non-German people already on the land.

Himmler's Romantic German Mysticism

One might think that hearkening back to the medieval Germanic Drang nach Osten and German mysticism was unrealistic in the 20th century. The only thing is that such concepts were very important to some German nationalists. One of those nationalists was SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler. He believed the backbone of the German nation was the small, peasant farmer. And he founded the Schutzstaffeln (SS) which grew into a multi-headed hydra. The SS he fashioned was a kind of medieval brotherhood--a modern version of the Teutonic knights. He was next to Hitler the most powerful man in Europe. He in essence had the power to make medieval fantasies come true. Hitler was more practical and did not share his attachment to German mysticism. The two men did, however, share a Germanic vision for the East. They saw German settlers founding agricultural settlements in the East. And the SS that Himmler constructed provided an instrument carry out that vision.

Preliminary Steps (1939-41)

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. And they needed Czech industry for arms production. So the Czechs were left with a puppet government and Germinization was put off least it disrupt arms production. There were other even more favored Slavs (the Slovakians and Croatians). Poland was the next slice of the East seized by Germany (September 1939). It was a much bigger slice and the Poles were Slavs that Hitler despised. Himmler launched into Germinization process in the Wartergau, but Frank protested with Himmler began dumping Jews and Poles in the General Government. So again Germinization and whole-scale deportations had to be stopped and delayed.

NAZI Debate Over Eastern Policy

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 NAZI Party officials wanted to pursue a less biologically oriented policy and to accept large numbers of the existing population which was anti-Bolshevik. The debate over Eastern policy raged in NAZI circles for 2 years. This plan was not viable in Poland as the Germans were intent on destroying the Polish state. It did have considerable potential in the Baltics and the Ukraine. An astute politician would have pretended to offer independence, much as the Japanese did in their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Zone. Hitler in his early phase was willing to make such bargains. But after the victory over France, no longer thought such bargains and compromises were necessary. He was convinced that he had won the War the Red Arny would be destroyed in a quick summer campaign. He did not think he needed the Ukrainians. And he thought if he armed them to fight the Soviets that he would essentially be granting them independence. He certainly did not want an independent Ukraine even if it was anti-Soviet. The land and resources of the Ukraine was what he wanted for the Reich and one of the primary reasons hd launched the War in the first place. The Jews because they existed in large numbers in the East also entered the debate. Some NAZIs wanted to make use of them for work to support the German war economy. This was a popular position, in paft money could be made by exploiting slave labor. While NAZI officials like Rosenberg debated about East policy, the discussions had little real importance. The decisions were made by Hitler in his own mind with little meaningful input from NAZI think tanks or political philosophers like Rosenberg.

Barbarossa (June 1941)

The Battle of Britain in many ways changed the course of the War. An invasion of Britain was impossible without air superiority. Hitler, fearing a cross-Channel invasion, decided that the only way to force the British to seek terms was to destroy the Soviet Union. He began shifting the Wehrmacht eastward to face the enemy that he had longed to fight from the onset--Soviet Russia. The nature of the War changed decisively in the second half of 1941. The Germans invaded Russia in June 1941, launching the most sweeping military campaign in history. It is estimated that on the eve of battle, 6.25 million men faced each other in the East. The Soviets were surprised and devastated. Stalin ignored warnings from the British who as a result of Ultra had details on the German preparations. Stalin was convinced that they were trying to draw him into the War and until the actual attack could not believe that Hitler would attack him. The attack was an enormous tactical success. The Soviets were surprised and devastated. The Soviet Air Force was destroyed, largely on the ground. The Germans captured 3.8 million Soviet soldiers in the first few months of the campaign. Not knowing the true size of the Red Army, they thought that they had essentially won the War. German columns seized the major cities of western Russia and drove toward Leningrad and Moscow. But here the Soviets held. The Japanese decision to strike America, allowed the Soviets to shift Siberian reserves and in December 1941 launch a winter offensive stopping the Wehrmacht at the gates of Moscow--inflicting irreplaceable losses. The army that invaded the Soviet Union had by January 1942 lost a quarter of its strength. Hitler on December 11 declared war on America--the only country he ever formally declared war on. In an impassioned speech, he complained of a long list of violations of neutrality and actual acts of war. [Domarus, pp. 1804-08.] The list was actually fairly accurate. His conclusion, however, that actual American entry into the War would make little difference proved to a disastrous miscalculation. The Germans who months before had faced only a battered, but unbowed Britain now was locked into mortal combat with the two most powerful nations of the world. The British now had the allies that made a German and Japanese victory virtually impossible. After the Russian offensive of December 1941 and appalling German losses--skeptics began to appear and were give the derisory term " Gröfaz ".

The Holocaust

The Holocaust was a crime without precedence in modern history. The Holocaust was directed at Europe's 11 million Jews and was just one part of Generalplan Ost. The NAZIs agreed that the Jews had to go, although murder was not at first envisioned. After extensive debate, Hitler gave the orders for the Final Solution. Mass killings of Jews began first behind the front lines by especially prepared Einsatzgruppen as German armies swept East. Once this precedent was set and it looked like the War was won, the fate of the Jews in NAZI hands was sealed. Eliminating the Jews was just one part of a much larger plan to remake the ethnic map of Europe by Germanizing the East. The NAZIs agreed over Germanizing the East. They were not in such agreement as to what should be done with the Slavs and other non-German people alreading living in Eastern Europe. Niot fully understoodc or articulated, even by many historians, is that the NAZI war on the Jews was to some extent a trail run for the much larger task of murdering tens of millions of Slavs and other unwanted souls in the vast East.

German Administration

Part of the mythology of the NAZI state was the efficiency of the Führer Principle. A highly centralized state which acted on the instructions of the Führer was seen as the height of efficency. The actual situation was very different because to oprotect his position, Hitler divided power amonh his supporters and would compromise (but not fully resolve problems) when conflicts, as was inevitable, developed between them. In the occupied East, the suituatiin was almost Byzantine. The administration and policy in the East was fought over by the Wehrmacht, the traditional civil service, the new Reichsministerium für die besetzten Ostgebiete (RMBO) Ministry for the occupied Eastern Territories), the SS, and the NAZI Party through powerful Gauleiters (district heads/governors) that Hitler appointed to govern the East. In World War I it was the German Army that governed the occupied Eastern territories. In World War II the SS and the Party were the two major bodies that struggled for control. Hitler did not want the Wehrmacht or the civil service to control the occupied areas, believing that they would not act with the needed decisiveness. It might be though that Rosenberg's RMBO would have controlled the East. (Ironically, Rosenberg is a common Jewish family name.) As the situation developed, Rosenberg found rgat he had little real authority in the East. Rosenberg anf his RMBO did not have armed security forces to enforce decrees. When conflicts developed between the Party Gauleiters (who Hitler appointed personally) or the SS, Hitler ordered Rosenberg, who he did not take seriously, not to interfere.

Political Division of the East

The first step in redrawing the map of the Slavic lands of Eastern Europe occurred after the the seizure of the largely German populated Sudetenland as a result of the Munich Agreement (October 1938). Czechs had their property seized. Hitler next invaded the Czech lands in which there were few Germand (March 1939). This then became the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. During the War, SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich was appointed Governor. He was preparing plans for deporting the Czech population east when he was assassinated. At the time Czechoslovakia was invaded, the Slovaks were allowed to establish a pro-NAZI puppet state. Monsignor Jozef Tiso ruled Slovakia. As a result of complying with Hitler's orders, there were no NAZI actions against Slovaks during the War. The Slovaks obediently deported Jews to the General Government where they were killed. Hitler also invaded the Memel area of Lithuania which was annexed to East Prussia (March 1939). The next target was Poland. After the invasion (September 1939), western Poland was annexed to the Reich. A new gau was created--Wartheland. (A gau was the administrative division of NAZI Germany, essentially a province or state.) Other areas were annexed into existing Reich gaus. Central Poland became the General Government--the World War I term for occupied Poland. Hitler chose NAZI jurist and close associate Hans Frank to be the Governor General. Frank was a party official. SS Reichführer Himmler appointed Odilio Globocnik SS and Police Leader in the Lublin district of the GG. He played a key role in Operation Reinhard as well as actions against Poles. The SS and other military and para-military formations deported Jews in the annexed areas to the General Government under horrendous conditions in which many died. There were also incidents of actual killing. Jews in the General Government were then murdered as part of Operation Reinhard (1942-43). The death camps located in the GG and nearby eastern areas which Globocnik helped establish were also used to kills Jews from all over occupied Europe. The SS also began deporting Poles from the annexed areas to the General Government, but this process had to be slowed as preparations for Barbarossa took precedence. Polish national life was suppressed and the Poles were turned into essentially a slave labor force. There were also Slav lands to the south. Hitler invaded Yugoslavia (April 1941). The Germans divided Slovenia with Italy and the German sector was annexed to the Reich. The Croatians were allowed to form a puppet state. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Italy were allowed to annex areas of the country. A puppet Serb state was established. Within that state, the Banat populated by ethnic Germans became largely independent. As Barbarossa unfolded, the Baltic Republics, Soviet-occupied eastern Poland, and the western Soviet Union, including Byelorussia and the Ukraine came under German control (June 1941). This huge area was divided into two large territories. Both territiories were theoretically under Alfred Rosenberg's Reichsministerium für die besetzten Ostgebiete (Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories--RMBO). The Baltics, eastern Poland, and Byelorussia became the Reichkomissarriat Ostland which was ruled by Reichskommissar für das Ostland Hinrich Lohse, who was already the Oberpräsident and Gauleiter of Schleswig-Holstein. The Ukraine became the Reichkomissarriat Ukraine and came under the control of Reichskommissar Erich Koch. A slice of Soviet occupied southeastern Poland was attached to the General Government. This was apparently as a reward to General Governor Frank. Rosenberg planed two other Reichkomissarriats: Moskau (Moscow and Russian areas east of Byelorussia) and Kaukasuus (the Caucasus area).


After Hitler ordered Himmler to cease his radical plan to deport Jews and Poles from the western areas of Poland into the General Government, Himmler did not give up on his desire to ethnically cleanse western Poland. He began a major planning and study effort with the SS during 1940. This study effort was coordinated by SS-Standartenführer Dr. Hans Ehlich, a high official in the RSHA. The study groups created the Ostforschung, studies, and research projects, Various academic centers were involved. The research effort drew on work begun even before the War. Himmler was obsessed with the whole idea--the final completion of the ancient Germanic Drang nach Osten (Drive East). He must have discussed this with Hitler even before the War. He also discussed the work being done with the SS study groups with trusted SS colleagues. One such colleague was SS-Obergruppenführer Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski. (After the War Bach-Zelewski testified at the trial of officials of the SS Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt RuSHA (SS Office of Race and Settlement). Ehlich and SS Standartenführer Professor Konrad Meyer drafted a series of plans for administering Germany's vast new eastern colony. The Lebensraum Hitler had dreamed of in Mein Kampf. They drew on the work of the various study groups. Generalplan Ost which was essentially ready in 1940, but Himmler did not get the go ahead from Hitler. Hitler hesitated not because he disagreed with the objectives of the OSP. Rather it was all the havoc Himmler had created in 1939 which Hitler saw a disrupting the War effort.

Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA)

The SS agency which drafted the Generalplan Ost (GPO) was the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA -- Reich Security Office). This was the SS unit responsible for combating the enemies of National Socialism and the German Reich. Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's most powerful subordinate and with direct access to the Führer, headed the RSHA. Under Himmler's deft hand, the RSHA was created (1939). It combined the NAZI security apparatus under one command. It included the Sicherheitsdienst (SD -- Security Police), Kriminalpolizei (Kripo, the state criminal police), and the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo the state secret police). Many authors refer to the Gestapo as the NAZI secret police. In fact the Gestapo was only one part of the NAZI security apparatus. In fact the correct term is the RSHA. Because of the highly biological/racial concept of Germandom, the Jews were one of the groups considered to be enemies of the Reich. A unit of the RSHA was Amt VI headed by SS Colonel Adolph Eichmann who oversaw the mechanics of the Holocaust. Other groups, especially the Slavs were seen as enemies of the Reich. Thus the planning for GPO was another undertaking of the RSHA.

The Plan

With the stunning success of Operation Barbarossa (June 1941), Hitler finally decided on the future shape of the NAZI dominions in the East and the fate of the people there. He essentially accepted Himmler's approach. SS planners had been hard at work since 1940 on preparing Generalplan Ost (GPO). It was developed in absolute secrecy. The final plan was never released to the public or even widely distributed to the NAZI leadership. It was know by only those in the highest level of the NAZI leadership. We do not have details as to just who werev informed or to what extent the Whermacvht was informed. OKW much ave known, but hoe war down the chain of command GPO was desiminated we are notb yet sure. The principal area covered was the Soviet Union (including the Baltics), but Poland and Czechoslovakia was also included. Himmler and Heydrich was anxious to put it into operation and the SS provided the organization capable of putting it into action. The major impediment to carrying it out proved to be the Soviet Red Army, which unlike Hitler's expectations did not collapse, and the small number of Germans available to settle the vast East.

Ethnic Assessments

Generalplan Ost envisioned the murder of 30-45 million people, mostly Slavs. As the SS staffs developed the Plan, the numbers to be eliminated on paper began to exceed 50 million people. These numbers are in addition to the Jews for whom the preparation for killing operations were already underway. The precise numbers to be murdered depended on the demographic estimates and the different iterations of the Plan. The basic approach was to kill one-third of the Eastern population, deport another third, and enslave the remaining one third, but this was apparently just the immediate plan after victory in the East. Some of the population would be needed to maintain harvests until Germans had colonized the East in sufficient numbers. The SS planners envisioned substantial differences among the various ethnic groups in the East. In some cases such as the Czechs quite a substantial portion of the population was to be assimilated. With other groups, most of the population was to disappear, meaning killed or deported beyond the Urals. Given conditions at the time, many of the deportees would also have died. The rest of the population would have been assimilated or reduced to Helot-like slavery. SS planners carefully developed numerical ratios for each of the main ethnic groups. As we do not have the working group papers, we do not know on what basis the various percentages were arrived at. The Czechs, Latvians, and Estonians were the most favored groups, albeit still 50 percent were to be eliminated. The Poles were to be the most severely treated major group. Here we are not entirely sure why. We suspect it was more because the Poles had annexed areas of the Reich after World war I and were seen as the greatest threat rather than any assessment of their genetic 'worth'. One curious decision was to completely eliminate Latgalians, a group in Latvia. We suspect this was because the SS planners concluded they had been contaminated by the Poles. Given the vicious way that the Poles were treated during the NAZI occupation, these ratios are not surprising. Generalplan Ost does not spell out how the determinations about assimilation, slavery, killing, and deportation were to be taken, but the SS in Poland was doing just this and thus Poland would have been a template. What is rather surprising is the plans to eliminate the Balts in large numbers, many of whom welcomed the Germans as liberators and even joined various military formations to fight the Soviets. These plans would have come as a surprise to many of the German soldiers crashing into the Soviet Union. They had been taught to hate the Jews and to a lesser extent the Poles, but they had not been taught to hate the Ukrainians and Balts.


An actual complete copy of Generalplan Ost (GPO) has never been found. Unlike the Holocaust, GPO was never fully implemented as a result of the course of the War shifting against the Germans in the East. Thus there is much less documentary evidence for GPO than the Holocaust. And as much of the documentation was in RSHA offices in Berlin, the paperwork involved was more easily destroyed. RSHA officials succeeded in destroying the documentation in the final weeks of the War. [Poprzeczny, p. 186.] There is no doubt, however, that such a plan existed and used as an organizational guide by NAZI security and occupation authorities. SS officials like Ehlich's mentioned OSP. And documents survived which refer to OSP. It is thus possible to reconstruct OSP from the testimony of SS officials and the many surviving documents. One of the most important of these documents is a memorandum written by Dr. Erich Wetzel, the director of the Central Advisory Office on Questions of Racial Policy at the National Socialist Party (Leiter der Hauptstelle Beratungsstelle des Rassenpolitischen Amtes der NSDAP). The memorandum was titled Stellungnahme und Gedanken zum Generalplan Ost des Reichsführers SS ("Opinion and Ideas Regarding the General Plan for the East of the Reichsführer-SS") (April 27, 1942). It was apparently written to inform Reichsminister Rosenberg of what Himmler was planning. The two had very different visions of the East, but Rosenberg despite the ministerial post and gaudy uniforms was a light-weight in the NAZI hierarchy and it was Himmler's vision which prevailed in GPO.


Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf (1925).

Poprzeczny, Joseph. Odilo Globocnik: Hitler's Man in the East (McFarland: 2004).


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