*** war and social upheaval: World War II -- NAZI occupation of Poland

World War II Poland: NAZI Occupation (1939-45)

NAZI occupation Poland
Figure 1.--These two Polish farm children were photographed by a German soldier, probably in 1939 or 40. NAZI plans were to deport Polish families from the occupied areas and replace them with German colonists. The first such colonists were the Baltic Germans ordered home to the Reich. The Poles as a temporary measure were deported to the Government General. Some Polish families were Aryanized, but NAZI policies on this varied.

The occupation of Poland was one of the most brutal in European history. The NAZI occupation of Czecheslovakia had been brutal. The ocupation of Poland was savage. The NAZIs were determined to destroy every vestage of Polish national culture in an effort to wipe out the very idea of Poland. Their plan was first to destroy the entire Polish intelegencia and reduce the Poles not murdered or deported east to a kind of ignorant labor pool of mannual laborers for German industry and agriculture. The eventual goal under Genealplan Ost was to Germanize Poland. Occupation authorities, 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 NAZIs 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 phase: The Germans began eliminating the Polish inteligencia. Einsatzgruppen were given orders to arrest and kill prominent Polish civilians and individuals such as government officials, police, army officers not intened, the nobility, teachers, and priests throughout Poland, any one who could promote Polish nationalism or orhanizw national resistance. 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 in the second phase. Second phase: The Germans began expeling Poles, at first to the General Government (GG), and colonize the former Polish areas with Germans. The expulsions were conducted brutally and the GG had no way of caring for the influx of refugees. 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 kidnappin g Polish children and raising them as Germans. The NAZIs began the process even while fighting was still going on. Some children were actually shot, but many more died in the mass expulssions of Poles and Jews living in the areas of Poland annexed to the Reich. Eventually all of Poland would become Germanized and incorporated into the Greater German Reich.

German Invasion (September 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. About 1.8 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.


The Germans during the September 1939 German invasion of Poland employed special action squads of SS and police (the Einsatzgruppen--EG). The EG were deployed in Czexhosolvakia (March 1939), but were not ordered to kill large numbers of Czechs. Poland was to be different. This was not a job to be given to the Whermacht. Hitler informed his commabders just before the invasion, "things would be done of which German generals would not approve." Field Marshal Fedor von Bock reported that the Föhrer ... "did not therefore wish to burden the army with the necessary liquidatioins, but would have them carried out by the SS." The EG were mobile formations formed from the SIPO (Security Police) abd the SD (Security Service Police). The new SS security operation was named the RHSA (Reich Central Security Office) and placed under the control of Reinhard Heydrich. Eqach EG unit had 400 to 600 men. A EG was assigned to each of the five German armies invading Poland. A sixth EG was unleashed on Poznan, a border province Hitler wanted to incorporate into the Reich as quickly as possible. Their instructiins were to follow front line troops and arrest or kill anyone resisting the Germans or who they considered capable of doing so in the future. This was based on a person's position and social status. The EG units had carefully prepared lists made up of important persons in towns and villages all over Poland. These individuals were confined in rustic reception centers. Most were shots after only a few days. The focus was on intellectuals not Jews in particular. One EG commander, SS General Udo von Woyrch, took the initiative to seek out Jews to kill. Ethnic German self-defense units soon joined the EG in these actiins, but were less coldly efficent. Tens of thousands of Polish civilians were murdered in this process.


The Germans NAZIs moved in to Polish villages and towns with names of scholars, teachers, doctors and dentists, writers and journalists, noted musicians, priests, public officials, prominent businessmen, bankers, members of the nobility, and others. In some cases they were shot outright and in other cases arrested and worked to death in concentration camps. [U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum] Many were arrested and interened in labor camps. In some cases wives and other family members were arested as well. Even if not arrested, the families were deprived of the bread earner and thus evestated. There are countless invidual family accounts. Most are tragic. In some cases families survived. [Serraillier] Boy Scouts in their uniforms were not imune from this wave of killing. An English woman in town of Bydgoszcz witnessed the process. The square of the town was ringed by soldiers with machine-guns The very first victims of the action were a group of Boy Scouts, ranging from 12-16 years of age. The boys stood up in a market place against a wall and shot. The Germans gave no explanation. The boys were not involved in resistance activities. They were shot because they were Scouts. A priest rushed forward to administer the Last Sacrament and was shot as well. A Pole describing the event latter said the sight of the dead boys was the most piteous of all the attrocities he saw during the War. The killing of the Scouts was just the beginning. There were many more murders that week. The Gernmans murdered 34 of the prominent tradespeople and merchants as well as many other leading citizens. [Rhodes] The EG commanders after only a wekk were reporting death tallies to Berlin of 200 Poles daily (September 8). Heydrish was able to report by the end of the month, "Ofthe Polish upper classes in the occupied territories only a maximum of 3 percent are still present (September 28). Much of this was in the border areas to be ammexed to the Reich. Actions in Warsaw and and other areas of the Government General was less intense.

Round-up of Intelectuals: A-B Aktion

The Nazis specifically targeted Polish intellectuals as part of their plan to completely eliminate the Polish nation. After focusing on the annexed areas of Poland, the SS during the summer 1940 began rounding up members of the intelligentsia in the General Government. In this so-called A-B Aktion (Extraordinary Pacification Operation), several thousand university professors, teachers, priests, and others were quickly shot after their arrest. These mass murders occurred outside Warsaw, in the Kampinos forest near Palmiry a well as in Warsaw's Pawiak prison. [U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum] The Germans in making these arrests often had well prepared lists. We do not know, however, at this time just how these lists were prepared. The assault on Polish intellectuals focused on doctors, lawyers, politicians, university professors, or anyone with an advanced education. They were identified and arested. Some were put in the new concentration camps springing up througout Poland/ Otheres were simply executed on the spot. One professor at Krakow University, Mieczyslaw Brozek, writes that he anticipated that the German conquerors would restrit curriculum or possibly dismiss many professors at the University. Instead German soldiers rounded up the professors and savagely beat them with rifle butts before carting them away. The goal was to eradicate Polish higher learning. This would not only help destroy Polish national identity, but aid the Germans exploit the Poles without having to deal with any kind of organized resistance. Estimates suggest that as aresult of NAZI arrests and executiojs or slow death in the camps, Poland lost huge numbers of educated people: teachers (15 percent), clergy (18 percent), technicians (30 percent), university professors (40 percent), doctors (45 percent), and lawyers (57 percent). Notice the especially high portion of doctors, university profesors, and lawyers. Many lawyers were involved in politics.

Government General

Hitler was insistent that Poland should be wiped off the map. After seizing Poland (September 1939), the Nazis created the so-called Generalgouvernement (General Government). This wasNAZI occupied Poland. The term Generalgouvernement was selected as it was the term the Germans used for the administration they set up in the Polish territory seized from the Russians during World War I (1915). The General Government was divided into four districts: Krakow, Warsaw, Radom, and Lublin. The Governor-General, Frank, was located in Krakow. It was an autonomous part of "Greater Germany", similar to the status of occupied Czechoslovakia (Bohemia and Moravia). The NAZI General Government was central Poland. Western Poland (the Polish Corridor, Lodz and Polish Silesia were annexed into the German Reich. Eastern Poland was seized by the Soviets. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler by decree ordered the Polish voivodeships of Eastern Galicia (with a largely Ukrainian population) were added to the Government General as Galicia District. The NAZIs administed the Government General differently than other areas, in part because they could not find ny suitable Polish Quislings. I was not administered as a pupper state like Slovakia and Bohemia-Moravia. The NAZIs were not really interested in finding Poles to collaborate with. The NAZIs avoid even using the term Poland. The purpose of the occupation was to destroy Poland and much of the population that could not be aranized. There were no Polish puppet offucials. The Government was administered by Germans. Hitler appointed Hans Frank Governor-General (October 26, 1939).

Concentration Camps

The extent of the NAZI persecutions in Poland are often not fully understood in the West. Most Americans when asked who were the the groups confined by the NAZIs in concentration camps will list Jews and then usually gypseys and homosexuals. In fact the second largest group in the camps were Polish Catholics. [Davies] This was a reflection of the NAZI determination to destroy the Polish nation once and for all. The NAZIs created concentration camps throughout occupied Europe. A large number and by far the most deadly were located in occupied Poland. The death camps were in Poland, but so were very harsh camps with high death rates that were designed to support the NAZI war effort with slave labvor.


The NAZis not only set out to eliminate cultured Poles, but sought to erradicate culture itself. Warsaw which was seen as a Polish city was especially targeted. The most revered landmark in Poland was the Royal Castle in Warsaw built in the 16th century. It was the historic seat of the Polish parliament. The NAZIs shelled and bombed the building during the invasiin and siege of Warsaw. After taking control of Warsaw, the NAZIs in 1940 set charges in the building, holding it essentially as a hostage. There was extensive looting of art treasures from museums and private collections. Here the NAZIs were not interested in Polish works, but focused on other important works. Polish libraries were targeted. German experts, in many cases noted librarians rifeled important libraries searching for German books of historic value. The remaining books in the Polish language were turned over to Fire Teams to be burned. Poland lost much of its lvaluable collection of early books in Polish. Crakow is historically the second most important city in Poland. It was treated differently because the Germans saw it as Germanic in origin. The NAZIs were deportoing Poles to the Government General and replacing them with ethnic Germans. NAZI policy on Polish culture was basically set uring a meeting of the General Government Govenor, Hans Frank, and Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at Łódź (October 31, 1939). Goebbels stimpulated that "The Polish nation is not worthy to be called a cultured nation". He and Frank agreed that cultural opportunities for the Poles should be severely restricted:. There would be no theaters, cinemas or cabarets; no access to radio or press; and no education beyond very basic instruction. Frank suggested that the Poles should periodically shown showing the achievements of the Third Reich and should eventually be addressed only by megaphone. NAZI occupation authorities closed schools beyond middle vocational levels, Theaters and other cultural institutions were also closed. Polish-language newspapers were also shut down. The security services began arresting intelectuals. Many were suumarily shot as part of A-B Aktion.

NAZI Plans for Poland

The long term NAZI goal was to annex the Government General as they had western Poland as turn it into a nuther German province. [Bullivant, Giles, and Pape, p. 32.] First the NAZIs had to kill the Jews. Next the Poles were to be converted into slave laborors, killed or expelled. Some of the Poles could be Aryanized. But Germans had to be found to replace the expelled Poles. 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.

Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has since the conversions of the Slavs been a major force in Polish nationalism. With the destruction of the Polish state during the Polish Partitinons (1772-95), the Church became the primary Polish natinal institution. This again became the case during the NAZI occupation (1939-44) and Soviet occupation (1939-41). It also became virtualy the only national institution that effectively resisted the Communists after the War. The Church had a anti-Semetic streak, but notably Poles did not play a major role in the Holocaust, unlike several other European countries. The Church past of anti-Semtism surelyw a factor in the lack of sympathy many Poles showed toward the Jews. There were Baltic and Ukranian guards at the concentration camps, but not Polish guards. Clerics throughout the country to vary degrees hid Jews. There was greater cooperation with the resistance. And indefinance of NAZI regulations, the Church operated a secret seminary. (Pope John-Paul II was one of the seminarians.) As a result, the NAZIs arrested many priests and many died in the camps. The NAZIs did not, however, move as forcefully against the Church as the Soviets did in their occupation zone. This was undoubtedly because many Germans were Catholic. including Wehrmacht soldiers.


The NAZI objective in Poland was to destroy the Polish nation and Polish nationalism. The long term objectives was to substantially reduced the Slavic population in Poland and other areas of Eastern Europe. Some were to be killed, others deported, and the remainder converted into slave labor for menial tasks. The enormity of these terrifying plans would have far eclipsed the Jewish Holocaust. These national and racial policies of course affected the NAZI approach to education. The NAZIs in the areas of Poland annexed to the Reich was total "Germanization". This policy was was most rigorously executed in western annexed territories which the Germans called Wartheland. We do not yet have detailed information on what happened to schools in Poland and are just beginning to piece together what occurred. We believe that the Germans closed all schools, even elementary schools where Polish was used. The population was divided into different categories which assessed Poles who were racially suitable for Gwerminization. Many Poles were deforted ton the Government General. In the Government General schools, museums, libraries, and scientific laboratories were closed or destroyed. I know that universities and secondary schools were closed. Some technical schools were allowed to function. I'm not yet sure about primary schools. There were also Jewish schools which operated briefly in the Gettos. Eastern Poland was seized from the Soviet Union after the launch of Operarion Barbarossa (June 1941). We do not know what happened there as the NAZIs were in control for a shorter period if time.

Germans in Poland

Poland was formed after World War I, primarily out of the Russian Empire. Areas of Western Poland came from the German and Austro-Hungarian Empire. There was considerable mixing of peoples within both Empires. The result was a substantial number of ethnic Germnas found themselves in new independent Poland. There was no way to draw the new border without leaving some Poles in Germany and some Germans in Poland. To provide Poland an outlet to the sea, some largely Germn areas were included in Poland. The Germans were not forced to leave, but most were unhappy about living in a foreign country. NAZI propaganda complained that the Germans in Polnd were mistreated. We do not yet have details as to how the Germans inn Poland were treated. They were one of the largest minorities with also included Jews, Ukranians, Lthuanians, and White Russians. Most of the Germans lived in Western Poland. After the NAZI invasion (September 1939), NAZI authorities annexed Western Poland and began a terrible repression of the Poles there. They deported many Poles, including whole communities en masse, to the Government General. Germans from the Baltics which had following Hitler's orders had cone "Home to the Reich" were resettled in the areas cleared of Poles. It is likely that most of the Germans in Poland welcomed the arrival of the NAZIs. We are unsure at this time to what degree the Germans in occupied Poland cooperated in NAZI crimes.

Expulsions from Annexed Areas

This was just the first step. Hitler after the victory in Poland assigned Himmler the task of expelling to the east more than eight million non-Germans (meaning primarily Jews and Poles) from NAZI annexed western Poland. Ethnic Germans were to be moved westward out of the Baltic states that the Soviet Union would occupy in 1940 to replace the expelled Poles. The evicted were limited to fifty kilos of luggage, based on the experience of the Germans expelled from Alsace after World War I. By November 1939 the railway ststem in the affected areas was reserved for the resettlement process. Whole trainloads of these unfortunate people were moved east to the Government General in winter weather with no provision as to caring for them. Large numbers perished of exposure or starvation. NAZI head of the General Government, Hans Frank, publically decalred, "What a pleasure, finally to be able to tackle the Jewish race physically. The more that die, the better." [Rhodes] The SS began these expulsions in October 1939, concentrating on Poles and Jews in the Wartheland and the Danzig corridor. The SS by the end of 1940, the SS had succeeded in expelling 325,000 people without warning and stealing their property. Many elderly people and children died en route or in makeshift transit camps such as those in the towns of Potulice, Smukal, and Torun. Other areas were also cleared, but by 1941 the Germans were beginning to focus more on preparations for the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union and the pase of the expulsions slowed, but did not stop. There were also such actions within the Government general. It was children and the elderly that were most vulnerable in these expulsions and many died. In some cases children were taken from their parents ans screened for the Lebensborn Program. [U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum]

Forced Labor

Poland was the second country occupied by the NAZIs. The first was Czechoslovakia (March 1939). At the same time they also seized Memel, a Lituanian city. Under the the Generalgouvernement, the German occupation authorities required all Jewish and Polish males to perform unpaid forced labor. The German authorities soon after the occupation required required Polish Jews to live in ghettos and deployed them at forced slave labor, much of it manual. This evolved into a policy of "annihilation through work" and when Jews did not die fast enough to please the NAZIs, outright murder. The policy toward Christian Poles was more varied. Poles were expected to support the war effort. If they did not have jobs supporting the German war effort, they could be concripted for force labor. The NAZIs had before the War used forced labor in Germany for a variety of purposes: 1) to both punish political opponents, 2) to utilize Jews driven into poverty, and 3) to fill labor shortages that developed in the country. With the advent if the War and the occupation of Poland, the NAZIS began building a sprawling forced and slave labor system that encompassed most of Europe and consisted of several thousand camps created for various purposes and periods of time. The forced labor was used for awide range of projects: road-building, military instalations (such as the Atlantic Wall), industry (chemical, construction, metal, mining, and munitions industries), agriculture, repairing city bomb damage and damage to the railroads. The NAZI slave and forced labor system included concentration camps and their subcamps, farms, ghettos, labor battalions, religious institutions, prisoner-of-war camps, and industries (in Germany and other Axis countries). Poles were affected by forced labor in a number of ways. Some but not all were confined to camps as well as deported to the Reich. It is believed that German occupation authorities deported about 1.5 million Poles to the Reich for forced or skave labor. Somes estimates are even higher. The vast proportion were deforted against their will. Most were were teenaged boys and girls or youths who did not have jobs supporting the war effort. The NAZIs obtained forced abnd slave labor from other occupied countries as well. The treatment of these people was affected by their national origins and race. Poles were among the non-Jewish people that were most harsly treated. The Poles were Slavs and part of the NAZI war effort was to substantially reduce the Slavic population of Eastern Europe to make room for German colonists. This and the general view that Eastern Europeans were inferior resulted in especially harsh treatment. Poles were required to wear an identifying purple "P" badge on their clothes. They were subjected to a curfew and not permittedv to use public transportation. The treatment affirded Poles varied widely depending on their work assignments. Here the variation depended largely on the humanity of the supervisor in charge. Poles were employed in both factories and on farms. They were often forced to work especially long hours. The Poles not employed as slave labor received lower wages than Western workers. Poles employedin larger groups in major cities were commonly housed in segregated barracks behind barbed wire.

Identity Cards

The identity cards that had been issued by the Polish Government were replaced by the "Kennkarte" (identifying card) issued by the German occupation authorities. This was a good way of locating individuals soughout by authorities. Unlike some occupied countries, the Polish Government never surrendered to the NAZIs who were unable to create a Quisling regime. The Germans did not try very hard due to their plans to annex much of the country and eliminate the Polish people. Poland was a kind of testing ground for Generalplan Ost. Poles who applied for their Kennkarte had to fill out an affidavit affirming that they were not Jews.

Economic Exploitation

Weigl Institute

Hitler after the fall of France controlled most of Western and Central Europe and he would control Euroe for about 4 years. The NAZI exploited the economies of the occupied countries, but fortunately for the Allies, not very efficently. The scientific capaabilitis of the occupied countries was never harnassed. The various universities and research institutes were never used to any extent. This was in part because the foreign scientists and tchnicuans were not politically reliable. It ws also because of NAZU ideology/ Gernan science was seen as superior and not tainted by destructive Jewish influences. And the NAZI vision for the future was that it would be Germans that would do science. Foreign people would either be destroyed like the Jews and Slavs (some Slavs would be spared for slave labor) or relegated to a secondary role which did not include work in advanced science. In Poland educatd people including college professors and scientists were targeted for death as part of Aktion A-B and scgools closed so there would no longer be an educated elite. A rare foreign research insitute allowed to operate in Poland was a small labortory opeeratd by Rudolf Weigl an ethnic German and Polish patriot--a rare combination. Weigl was an Austrian of German ethnicity. He was born in Prerau (modern Přerov in the Czech Republic)then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father died in a tragic accident while Rudolf was stll a child. His mother, Elisabeth Kroesel, married a Polish secondary-school teacher, Józef Trojnar. They raised Weigl in Jasło, Poland. Subsequently the family moved to Lwów, a city in eastern Poland (now Lviv in the Western Ukraine) with which Weigel is most identified with. Wigel became a noted zoologist specializing in parasitology. He began working on typhus with the Austrian Army during World War I. And during the inter-War era at his small lab he did important work on typhus, a disease spread by lice. He developed the first effective vaccine for the disease. When the Germans and Soviets invaded Poland launching World War II, Weigl found himself in the Soviet occupation zone (September 1939). The Soviets allowed him to continue his work. When Hitler launced the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Germans artived in Lviv (June 1941). As far as we know, the Weigel Institute was the only research institute in Poland that the Germans did not close down and the only place where Polish scienists were not only not arrested, but allowed to continue working. This was primarily due to two factors. One, Weigl was an ethnic German. Two, the Whermacht had a great interest in Weigl's work on typhus. The diseae had been a deadly killer, affecting German troops in World War I and the Whermacht saw it as a major health concern for its troops in World War II. This concern was so intense that they even tolerated Weigl's open defiance of NAZI occupation authorities when he refused to register for the Volksliste. The Whermacht's concern only increased when the Red Army held before Moscow (December 1941) and the war in the East became an extended, brusing conflict. Thus the Whermacht not only did not allow NAZI occupation authorities, intent on destroying all vestiges of Polish nationhood and civilization, to close down Weigl's institute, but protected the scientists and workers there abd gave Weigl added resources to continue his work and produce vaccine. This gave Weigl the opportunity to save othr wise doomed scientists, matameticians, doctors, as well as intelectuals with no scientific background--an opportunity he sized upon. His institute became a haven for Poles and Jews that otherwise would have been arrested and either killed or condemned to slave labor that thy would ptrobably not have survived. Not only this, but Weigl undertook to send vaccine sureotiously to the nfamous German ghettoes whre Jews wer confined and he shipped weakened doses to the Whermacht. Jewish immunologist Ludil Fleck secretly immunized inmates at the Buchenwald concentration camp. [Allen]



Wheremacht units and "self-defense" forces made up of Volksdeutschealso also participated in executions of civilians. In many instances, these executions were reprisals for resistance actions. Often unable to find the partisans responsible for a specific act, the NAZIs held entire villages located near an action responsible for the killing of Germans.


The NAZIs in their occupation of Ruropean countries usually found willing collaborators. These collaborators were often drawn from right-wing or Fascist political parties. They were used to create puppet governments and to form security forces. The term Quizling is often used because he was the right-wing politican the NAZIs installed as the Norwegian puppet government. They were also sources of information on local individuals of interest to the Gestapo and SD security police. NAZI policies in Poland were so extreme and racialy based that even right-wing politicans wanted nothing to do with the NAZIs. As a result, there were fewer available collaborators. Some cooperation was achieved by offering monetary or other rewards. Another source of information was the ethnic Germans living in Poland at the time of the invasion. Here we do not have details on the level of copperation with the NAZI authorities.

The Holocaust in Poland

Poland had the largest Jewish population 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. Heydrich in September 1939 layed out the NAZI plan for the Jews to SS officers. 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). As in all courties, it was the children that were the least likely to survive the Holocaust.

Lebensborn Children

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. 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 populatopn of Poland perished during the occupation. 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. They were subjected to a "arische" racial classification using the Arier tables. The most important criterion was the distance between forehead and back of the head. The result determined the child's fate. Himler reasoned that the education process would be relatively easy because the German ideals "would reverberate in the sprit of the children who resemble is racially". With the younger children, the education process was relatively easy. They were sent to Lebensborn homes. The SS nurses there reportedly persuade the children that their parents had abandoned them. The children 6-12 years of age were sent to boarding schools. The older children were more of a problem. The older children who rejected the NAZI education program were often beaten. These children were not returned home. When it was determined that they would not accept Germinization, they were usually transferred to concentration camps. Other children who upon closer examination were not sufficently Aryan were also sent to concentration camps. The children that proved more receptive were adopted by SS and other German families. The non-SS familes were often not aware of where the children had come from and the circustances under which they had been obtained. As with the German Lebensborn children, the SS normally falsified the child's birth and other documents.


The Germans in Poland conducted one of the most horendous occupations in modern history. Children were especially vulnerble. This was obviously the case of Jewish children. Non-Jewish Polish children also suffered . Large numbers of Polish chilren tht had blond hair and blue eyes were collected under the Lebensborn progrm. Children also suffered as a result of NAZI programs expelling Poles from the areas of western Poland annexed to the Reich. And they suffered as a result of food shortages in the Government General and eastern Poland seized during Barbarossa (June 1941). NAZI policy during the War was to ship food to the Reich regardless of the local food situation. Food shortages tended to affect children and the elderly more than the general population because of their more tenuous health situation. We do not fully understand the attitude of Polish children toward German children. We see some photogrphs taken by German soldiers showing friendly relations with children. These are not propaganda photographs, but snapshots taken by individual soldiers. Many of these photographs turned up in albums compiled by the soldiers. We are not sure how to evaluate these photographs and how represenative they are. Nor do we know how this relationshp changed over time.

Soviet Occupation

Most World War II accounts of Poland deal with the German invasion and horific NAZI occupation. In fact, Poland was invaded by two countries in 1939, NAZI GErmany and Soviet Russia. Although England and France decalred war on Germany, they did not declare war on the Soviet Union. For many Poles, the Soviet invasion and occupation was also disatrous as the Soviets had the same goal of wiping out Polish nationality. In fact the Soviets at this stage had more experience in repression than the NAZIs and set about repressing the Polish nation more forecfully at first than the NAZIs. [Davies] The murder on Stalin's orders by the Soviet NKVD of the Polish army officers in the Katyn forest was part of this process. The Soviets, however, did not have the added racial dimension that made the NAZI occupation so deadly. The Soviets sett about moving large numbers of Poles in an effort to Russify areas of eastern Poland. (This area had been a matter of a territorial dispute and war between Russia and Poland following World War I.) More displaced children resulted fromthe Soviet occupation. Many children were caught up into the mass relocations as the Soviets moved whole families into Central Asia and Siberia. Because of the primitive conditions and lack of preparations, many of those transported perished. There are many tragic accounts. One Polish boy, Stefan Wassilewski, remembers being dragged from his bed in the middle of the night by a Russian soldier, herded onto a crowded refugee train along with his mother and younger brother, and transported thousands of miles across Europe to Kazakhstan. He was separated from him family and never saw them again. [Hicyilmaz] Some of the children somehow made it to Allied occupied Iran where the Polish Government in Exile with Allied assistance were able to care for them. Stalin after the NAZI invasion (June 1941) also allowed Polish soldiers in POW camps the choice of fighting with the Red Army or joining the fight in the West. These men were released to travel to Iran and eventually joined the British 8th Army in the Western Desert campaign.

Escaping Poland

Poles after the NAZI and Soviet invasions for the most part were trapped with very limited escape options. The NAZIs and Soviets in effect turned the country into a giant prison. As long as the two giant powers intent on destroying the Polish nation (and in the NAZI case the Polish people) were allied, the Poles were trapped. The Germans seized Danzig and the Polish Corridor, thus blocking access to the Baltic and Scadinavia. The Soviets seized eastern Poland thus blocking escape for Polish nationalists. Some Jews and left-wing Poles crossed the border to Soviet occupied Poland, but as the Soviets interned the Polish Army and began arresting Poles associated with the Polish Government as well as other prominent individuals, this was not an attractive option for most Poles. To the west was the Reich. And to the south was Slovakia, a staunch NAZI ally. The one possible escape route for Polish nationalists was a tiny sliver of Hungary between the Slovak and Soviet borders. This was the former Ruthenia (Carpathian Ruthenia/Carpatho-Ukraine) and awarded to Hungary by Hitler when he invaded and partitioned Czechoslovakia (March 1939). Hungary was friendly to Germany and would join the Axis, but did not strongly patrol the border or seek out Polish refugees. The Germans did, however, patrol the border. Some Poles in the General Government were able to make it out in the early phase of the occupation, although it was dangerous. One of those individuals recalls his experiences. "A visit by three German officers to our house in German-occupied Warsaw prompted me to plan a trip to France, where the Polish army-in-exile was being formed. One of our friends worked for the City of Warsaw and had access to stationery, seals and other paraphernalia. After learning of my plans, he brought me what looked like an official letter requesting that I proceed to Cisna, which was very close to what was then the frontier between Poland and as-yet-unoccupied Hungary. The initial leg of the journey was easy, a second-class seat on a train going south to Krakow. The rest of the trip had to be on foot -- a distance of approximately 50 miles. I started walking. Then two men joined in. I did not know who they were and did not ask any questions. Neither did they. By the time we got close to the frontier, there were 26 of us. We stopped to regroup and figure out how to continue the last segment, the most dangerous one. At this very moment, a young man, almost a boy, emerged from nowhere. "I know where you plan to go," he said. 'I know the region. I live here. You cannot go alone. German patrols are all over the place. They have dogs and high-powered rifles. Will you let me lead you through safe ways?' He did. We landed safely on the Hungarian side. The boy, who never gave us his name and refused to accept any reward from us, led former soldiers to safety for many months thereafter, as we learned later. During one of his trips, a sniper killed him. The unknown, heroic boy remains in my memory as someone to whom I owe my life." [Nagorski]


Allen, Arthur. The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two Brave Sciebtusts Battles Typhus and Sabotaged the NAZIs (2014), 400p.

Bullivant, Keith, Geoffrey J. Giles, and Walter Pape. Germany and Eastern Europe: Cultural Identities and Cultural Differences (Rodopi 1999).

Davies, Norman. Book TV, C-Span 2, October 20, 2004.

Hicyilmaz, Gaye. And The Stars Were Gold (1997).

Nagorski, Zygmunt. "A brave boy at the border," The Washington Post May 28, 2004, p. W11.

Rhodes, Richard. Masters of Death (Knopf, 2002).

Serraillier, Ian. The Silver Sword (1956).

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Poles: Victims of the Nazi Era".


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Created: June 25, 2002
Last updated: 9:08 PM 7/31/2014