It is neither easy to read nor write about the events of 1942 and 1943 in Lublin. The scale is too massive, the brutality too extreme, and the results are beyond tragic. It is an effort to not get lost in the numbers or in the confusion that reigned. While it is true that the scope of the evil that transpired is in itself a reason to remember, we, as witnesses, family, friends, and descendents of the Jewish people of Lublin, have an additional responsibility. The numbers that are in the tens and hundreds of thousands are but one person by one person by one. As we learn and remember what happened during this horrific era, let us go beyond the facts and the historical records and remember that each person truly did have a name.
March 16-17 to April 14, 1942 – Deportations from Lublin
It was late in the evening in Lublin on March 16, 1942, when the heads of the Jewish Council (Judenrat) were called to the Offices of the SS. Upon arrival at SS headquarters, the Nazis announced the beginning of the deportations – to begin immediately.
Hermann Hofle (head of the "Central Office of Operation Reinhardt”), together with employees of the Office of the Commander of the Security Police and the SD in Lublin presented the Jewish Council representatives with the “Directive on the Question of Resettlement” (otherwise known as the “Deportation Order”).
Thus, without warning, the deportations to Belzec began. The next day, March 17, 1942, a plenary meeting of the Jewish Council was convened with 22 members present. The Deportation Order was read to those in attendance.
Deportation Order March 17 1942 – Excerpts
“In the city of Lublin there will remain only those Jews who have a stamp of the Security Police on their work permits. They will remain with their wives and children.
Those who are to be deported may take with them one handbag weighing 15 kg, all their money and valuables
They should be prepared to walk about 3 km on foot; from then on, there will be transport.
The epidemic hospital with its patients and staff will remain.
About 1,400 people will be deported everyday. The deportation will start from the hill, from Unicka Street.
Those Jews who remain after the departure in the empty flats will be shot…”
Details of the deportation described in the Pinkas Hakehilot – Lublin give us some sense of the chaos and fear of the time.
“The ghetto was surrounded by S.S. troops and German and Ukrainian police.
Before dawn the inhabitants of Unicka Street and the adjacent area, in the northern part of the ghetto, were ordered to assemble outside with their families, to have their work permits examined. (Note: just prior to the beginning of the deportations, the ghetto had been divided into section A for workers and B for non-workers.)
Tables had been set up in the street, and German officials examined the permits. Jews from Ghetto A, who held valid permits, were transferred to Ghetto B, which was slightly extended, while those from Ghetto B without such documents were moved to Ghetto A.
Every day the Germans assembled some 1,400 men, women and children in the Maharshal Synagogue in Ghetto A, led them to goods wagons in a siding, near the municipal slaughterhouse, and from there sent them to Belzec.
At first the transports left at night, but after a while they took place also in the daytime.
Among those destined for extermination were also holders of valid work permits who had been rounded up by chance. The confused Jews wandered from street to street in the hope that they might be able to avoid deportation and gain another day of life.
Some sought hiding-places, but the Germans combed the ghetto thoroughly, house by house, street by street. The sick and the weak were killed on the spot.
As each part of the ghetto was emptied the Germans returned and combed it again and again to make sure that no one remained there. Anyone then found was liquidated at once. Only when they were quite sure that the locality was quite free of Jews did the Germans close it and post sentries.
In the shelter in Jatechny Street the Germans murdered 70 old people in their beds; they took 80-100 children from the orphanage, transported them in lorries to outside the town, and there slaughtered them all. A similar fate awaited patients in the ghetto hospitals as well as members of the staff (some of the doctors and nurses were, however, spared).”
A group of SS men, who participated the deportations in Lublin, offer an additional perspective. This testimony was given in Weisbaden Germany, at their trial:
“The fenced-off ghetto was surrounded from the outside by forces of the Order Police and Ukrainian auxiliaries (Trawniki men). Inside the ghetto, along Lubartowska Street, the expulsion commandos operated in accordance with their orders: small units of Trawniki men, under the command of the Germans, woke up the sleeping inhabitants with shouting and ordered them to leave their apartments without delay and to congregate in the street; otherwise they would be shot…
The Aktion was carried out with cruelty. In their surprise, the people would become panic-stricken. The drunken Ukrainians used their weapons indiscriminately, and many were killed on the spot.
No selection was held at this deportation. The people, with no distinction of age or sex, were lined up in marching columns and led under escort to the synagogue. There they had to remain until dawn, when they were taken on foot to the Umschlagplatz (transfer station) near the slaughterhouse, where they embarked for Belzec.”
The deportations lasted 4 weeks. For those who remained alive in Lublin, most of their community had disappeared. For them, the expulsions had occurred to some unknown place “in the east”. There was no thought to the possibility that their entire community had been murdered. David Silberklang, the historian, has drawn the conclusion that… It is clear that the Jews of Lublin had no premonitions of their fate and were taken by surprise by the deportations.
On March 19 1942, Dr. I. Siegfried, a Deputy to Dr. Alten in the Jewish Council reported:
“The “action” proceeds as usual. There is no official news. It appears that the evacuees are being sent to Belzec, District of Zamosc. I have not been able to have this confirmed.”
In a subsequent report, this time on April 25, 1942, the Chairman of the Jewish Council, Dr Alten reported:
“Out of the 37,000 Jews who had lived in Lublin there remained 4,000 and that nobody knew where the others were.
(Here it should be noted that on October 25 1939, the Jewish population in Lublin was counted by order of the Germans. This registration showed that 37,054 Jews lived in the town.)”
It is estimated that from March 17, 1942 to April 14, 1942:
26,000 to 30,000 of Lublin`s Jews were sent to Belzec.
2,000 to 2,500 people were killed on the spot, in Lublin.
200 children from the Jewish Orphanage and their teachers were executed
in a suburb of Lublin.
Several hundred patients with some of the doctors and nurses from the hospitals were shot 15 km. from Lublin, in Niemce forest.
March 31, 1942 – Jewish Council, J Ausweiss
In the midst of the deportations to Belzec, on March 31, 1942, the Germans set the stage for the next phase of their extermination campaign. For those Jews still in Lublin, one can only imagine the additional panic that set in, coupled with their fear and anxiety over those who had already been deported.
The German authorities ordered the members of the Jewish Council to assemble at 14:00 on March 31, 1942. The SS then gave the following orders:
“The evacuation of the Jewish population will continue in future with the difference that the valid document permitting a person to remain in Lublin will no longer be the Arbeitsausweis (work card) with the stamp of the Sipo (Security Police), but the J.[uden] Ausweis. Those in possession of the J.-Ausweis are entitled to remain in Lublin, all others will be evacuated.
(Note, just several weeks prior to this in early March, there had been another change that required the Jewish workers to get their work permits stamped at the offices of the Security Police.)
The Jewish population is to be informed that those in possession of a J.-Ausweis are required to make certain that in their apartments in the ghetto, which have been inspected or will still be inspected, no persons without a J.-Ausweis are in hiding, as otherwise those who are in possession of a J.-Ausweis will also be evacuated.
As only a small percentage of the former Jewish population will remain in Lublin, the Judenrat will be reduced from 24 to 12 members. (Note, this was based upon the Nazi determination that the number of Jews who remained in the ghetto at that time was less than 10,000.)
Those members of the former Judenrat who were not included in the Judenrat appointed today will be evacuated together with their families and will leave Lublin today together with the first transport.
Those members of the former Judenrat who live outside the ghetto will go to their apartments accompanied by officials of the Sipo, and after they have taken belongings needed for their move, the apartments will be closed and sealed.
The former members of the Judenrat Engineer Bekker and Dr. Siegfried will be given administrative positions in the Judenrat and the JSS (Jewish Social Service agency) in their new place of residence as persons with experience in these fields.”
After the former members of the Judenrat had left the hall, SS Unterstrumfeurer Sturm announced the composition and areas of responsibility for the new Jewish Council.
Majdan Tatarski – April 1942
The consequences of the March 31, 1942 announcement proved severe. As one can imagine, the combination of the deportations, new work cards, and residency moves in the large ghetto, must have exacerbated the panic of the already stricken community.
Seeking a place to hide became an ever more potent option. Toward the end of the deportations, the SS believed that there were about 7,000 to 8,000 Jews hiding in the ghetto. At the end of April 1942 they ordered that all Jews must move to the newly created small ghetto, Majdan Tatarski – which was located on the outskirts of the city about 1 ½ km from Majdanek.
The transfer of the Jews from the large ghetto to Majdan Tatarski, involved thousands of Jews moving into an area that had previously housed 1,500 Poles. It was clear that housing was inadequate, and many people spent the first night on the streets and in the courtyards. Many of the Jews did not possess the J-Ausweiss.
Then, the SS announced a registration of all of the Jews in Majdan Tatarski.
On April 22, 1942, about 2,500 to 3,000 people, mainly women and children, who did not possess the J-Ausweiss, were deported from Majdan Tatarski to Majdanek. From Majdanek, the Jews were taken 15 km south of Lublin to the Krepiec forest where they were shot.
Upon arrival of the 2,500 to 3,000 Jews taken to Majdanek, a selection was conducted, and 200 to 300, mostly young men, were sent back to Majdan Tatarski.
“In addition to the selected young men, at very last moment a small group of women and children was given permission to leave Majdanek. The president of the Lublin Judenrat, Dr Marek Alten negotiated with Hermann Worthoff, who agreed to free several women together with their children. The women were mainly those whose husbands were employed by the Judenrat or who worked for the German administration.”
After this expulsion, Majdan Tatarski was sealed. It was surrounded by barbed wire and was operated as a closed ghetto. Jacob Frank, who was appointed head tailor at the Lipowa work camp, mentions how this affected him:
“After the liquidation of the [large] ghetto, and the establishment of Majdan Tatarski, “we could no more go to our houses in the evening. The men what was working stayed in the camp, and their families stayed in the small ghetto.”
Approximately 4,600 Jews remained Majdan Tatarski.
Prelude to Belzec
In the summer and fall of 1941, the German hierarchy was rife with competing agendas regarding the Jews. While one may view these opposing interests as offering various outcomes regarding the fate of the Jews, one must recognize the single factor that mattered. That is, all of these options were but interim arrangements; some designed to appease, some designed as mere subterfuge, and some for glory and gain. By the summer of 1941, however, there was but one constant certain outcome for the Jews of Europe, and that was death.
In September 1941 Hitler had made the decision to allow the deportation of Germany’s Jews to the General Government. This exacerbated the chaos already created by the massive expulsion of Poles from the territory of western Poland (which had been annexed to Germany) to the General Government. The crisis caused severe overcrowding and was compounded by a poor harvest, food shortages, and disease.
Of particular significance was the slow pace of the campaign against the Soviet forces. This had reduced the ability of the Germans to use Soviet resources to sustain them during the war. The military setbacks created shortages, both in raw materials and agricultural products. It also eliminated the possibility of sending all Jews into the Soviet Union.
Reinhardt Heydrich had been Hitler’s point man for planning and executing the anti-Jewish policies of the Third Reich. The June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union brought with it his brutal killing machine, the Einsatzgruppen which he commanded. From then on, the outright killing of Jews became normative. Operation Reinhardt was given its name after-the-fact when on May 27 1942, Reinhardt was assassinated in Czechoslovakia.
Operation Reinhardt was initiated and planning commenced in October 1941. The decision was made to construct 3 death camps; Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Odilio Globocnik was appointed SS and Police leader of the Lublin District by Himmler. He was given the responsibility to head the program. which had 4 primary objectives:
The extermination of Polish Jewry
The exploitation of manpower – forced labor and slave labor
The seizure of immovable property from the liquidated Jews
The seizure of hidden valuables and moveable property
Globocnik was given a cadre of staff. It’s lead personnel were 92 men from the earlier T-4 Euthanasia program in Germany. There were 20 to 30 Germans assigned to each camp, together with 90 to 130 Ukrainian auxiliaries trained at Trawniki.
Globocnik was not in charge of many of the resources necessary to complete his mission. The German civilian authorities throughout the General Government, as well as SS and Police from outside the Lublin District were also instrumental in carrying out the aims of the operation, although with many rampant conflicts between the organizations.
Belzec March 17, 1942 to April 14, 1942
The first transport of Jews from Lublin arrived at Belzec on March 17, 1942. This date marks the onset of Operation Reinhardt. The deportations continued until April 14, 1942. Approximately 26,000 of the Jews of Lublin were murdered in Belzec during this time.
The Lublin Jews were the first large community in the General Government to be annihilated.
Belzec was a small town in the southeast of the district of Lublin, close to the border of the district of Lvov and on the Lublin- Zamosc-Rawa Ruska-Lvov railroad line. The area specified for the camp was a railroad siding half a kilometer from the Belzec railroad station.
Work began on the camp on November 1, 1941 with a group of local Poles, and followed by a group of Ukrainians who had been recruited from German POW camps and trained at the SS camp Trawniki. On December 22, 1941 Jewish workers were brought in from Lubzcza and Mosty Male. In February 1942, these 150 Jewish construction workers were killed in the first test of the gas chambers.
In late December 1941 Christian Wirth was appointed Camp Commandant of Belzec. Wirth developed his own ideas on the methods of killing based upon his prior experience in the "T4 Euthanasia" program. In developing the extermination methods at Belzec, he was concerned, not only with the effectiveness of the process, but with the necessity for secrecy and security. In general, he considered that using readily available local supplies would reduce suspicion of the activities in the camp. Thus, in regards to the actual means of killing, he decided to supply the fixed gas chambers with readily available gasoline and diesel as fuel to produce the gas for use in the internal-combustion engine of a motorcar.
After the death of the Jewish construction workers in February 1942, Wirth departed the camp and returned in March 1942 with a camp commando, composed almost entirely of former T4-Euthanasia personnel.
In less than 5 months (October 1941 to March 1942) Belzec, the death camp, had become a reality and the first trains from Lublin arrived. The Jewish Virtual Library offers a description:
“When the train entered Belzec station, its 40-60 freight cars were rearranged into several separate transports because the reception capacity inside the camp was 20 cars at the most. Only after a set of cars had been unloaded and sent back empty was another section of the transport driven into the camp. The accompanying security guards as well as the German and Polish railroad personnel were forbidden to enter the camp. The train was brought into the camp by a specially selected and reliable team of railroad workers.
The camp looked "peaceful." The victims were unable to discern either graves, ditches or gas chambers. They were led to believe that they had arrived at a transit camp. An SS-man strengthened this belief by announcing that they were to undress and go to the baths in order to wash and be disinfected. They were also told that afterwards they would receive clean clothes and be sent on to a work camp.
Separation of the sexes, undressing, and even the cropping of the women's hair could not but reinforce the impression that they were on their way to the baths. First the men were led into the gas chambers, before they were able to guess what was going on; then it was the turn of the women and children.
The gas chambers resembled baths. A group of young and strong Jews, a few dozen, occasionally even a hundred, was usually selected during the unloading of a transport. Most of them were taken to Camp II. They were forced to drag the corpses from the gas chambers and to carry them to the open ditches. Several prisoners were employed in collecting the victims' clothes and belongings and carrying them to the sorting point. Others had to remove from the train those who had died during the transport and to take those unable to walk to the ditches in Camp II. These Jews were organized into work teams with their own Capos. They did this work for a few days or weeks. Each day some of them were killed and replaced by new arrivals.”
SS Karl Alfred Schluch, a former “Euthanasia” worker, who was at Belzec from the beginning offered some additional details of what happened next:
“After the unloading, those Jews able to walk had to make their way to the assembly site. During the unloading, the Jews were told that they had come for resettlement but that first they had to be bathed and disinfected. The address was given by Wirth
Immediately after this, the Jews were led to the undressing huts. In one hut the men had to undress and in the other the women and children. After they had stripped, the Jews, the men having been separated from the women and children, were led through the tube. I cannot recall with certainty who supervised the undressing huts… Since I was never on duty there I am unable to provide precise details about the stripping process. I just seem to remember that in the undressing hut some articles of clothing had to be left in one place, others in a different one, and in a third place valuables had to be handed over…
My location in the tube was in the immediate vicinity of the undressing hut. Wirth had stationed me there because he thought me capable of having a calming effect on the Jews. After the Jews left the undressing hut I had to direct them to the gas chamber. I believe that I eased the way there for the Jews because they must have been convinced by my words or gestures that they really were going to be bathed.
After the Jews had entered the gas chambers the doors were securely locked by Hackenholt himself or by the Ukrainians assigned to him. Thereupon Hackenholt started the engine with which the gassing was carried out. After 5 – 7 minutes — and I merely estimate this interval of time — someone looked through a peephole into the gas chamber to ascertain whether death had overtaken them all. Only then were the outside gates opened and the gas chambers aired.
The corpses were pulled out of the chambers and immediately examined by a dentist. The dentist removed rings and extracted gold teeth when there were any. He threw the objects of value obtained in this manner into a cardboard box which stood there. After this procedure the corpses were thrown into the large graves there.”
The Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbles, kept a diary during the war.
On March 27, 1942, only 10 days after the beginning of Operation Reinhardt, he wrote:
“Beginning with Lublin, the Jews in the GG are now being evacuated eastward. The procedures is a pretty barbaric one and not to be described here more definitively. Not much will remain of the Jews…”
The deportation of the Jews of Lublin to Belzec ceased on April 14, 1942, 4 weeks after they began. However, this was not the end of the killing operations in Belzec.
It is estimated that a total of 600,000 Jews were murdered at Belzec, as well as thousands of Gypsies. The extermination operations lasted 9 months. It began on March 17, 1942 and ceased in mid-December 1942.
Belzec – Removing the Traces – “Sonderaktion 1005”
By March of 1942, the Germans recognized the need to remove of all traces of the mass murders. One can attribute this to a number of possibilities; the Germans were aware that the Allies had obtained information about the exterminations; in light of the military setbacks, they were less convinced of their winning the war and sought to eliminate the nature of their regime; the pits in which the victims of the mass killings had been buried were creating health issues; and the desire to protect the perpetrators by eliminating evidence.
Yitzhak Arad provides information on this aspect of the extermination – “Sonderaktion 1005”:
“In March 1942 Heydrich met with SS Stasndartenfuher Paul Blobel, the former commander of Einsatzkommando 4a, who had carried out the killings in Kiev and other places in the Ukraine. Heydrich discussed with Blobel the matter of his appointment to lead the operation of erasing all traces of the mass murders and the ways it would be implemented.
Blobel’s appointment was postponed for 3 months after the assassination of Heydrich, but in June 1942, Heinrich Muller, the head of the Gestapo formally appointed Blobel the task of covering up the traces of the mass executions carried out by the Einsatzgruppen in the east. This task was Top Secret and Blobel was instructed that no written correspondence should appear on the subject. The operation was given the code name “Sonderaktion 1005”. Blobel’s duty was to find the proper technical means and system for destroying the victim’s bodies, to coordinate and supervise the entire operation and to issue the verbal orders for its implementation.
The opening of the mass graves in Belzec and the cremating the corpses removed from them began in mid December 1942. At that time there were about 600,000 corpses in the pits of the camp.”
SS Scharfuher Heinrich Gley, who served at that time in Belzec testified:
“From the beginning of August 1942 until the camp was closed in September 1943 I was in Belzec… As I remember, the gassing stopped at the end of 1942, when snow was already falling. Then the unearthing and cremation of the corpses began. It lasted from November 1942 until March 1943. The cremation was conducted day and night, without interruption.
After the camp buildings were dismantled and the German and Ukrainian staff had left, people from the neighboring villages and townships started digging in the area of the camp, searching for gold and valuables”.
A Pole, Edward Lucynski, who lived in Belzec, testified:
“After leveling and cleaning the area of the extermination camp, the Germans planted the area with small pines and left. At that moment, the whole area was plucked to pieces by the neighboring population, who were searching for gold and valuables. That’s why the whole surface of the camp was covered with human bones, hair, ashes from cremated corpses, dentures, pots, and other objects.
However, these diggings and searches endangered the German intent to erase the traces of their crimes and hide the very fact of the existence of a death camp in Belzec. Germans and Ukrainians from Sobibor and Treblinka were sent back to Belzec to prevent further diggings and to restore the “peaceful-looking” character of the place. To prevent future searches and digging, Operation Reinhardt authorities decided to keep a permanent guard on the spot. A farm was built for a Ukrainian guard who would live there with his family.”
In Belzec, when the cremation of the victims was completed in March of 1943, the Jews performing this work were sent to Sobibor where they were killed.
July to November 1942
While on a visit to Operation Reinhardt Headquarters in Lublin on July 19, 1942, Himmler issued the order that the deportation of Jews to the extermination camps must be completed by December 31, 1942. It is likely that this December 31, 1942 deadline was the impetus for increasing the killing capacity of Belzec during the summer of 1942.
The text of the order contains both the euphemisms for murder, i.e. “resettlement”, as well as the antisemitic images and descriptions that became so familiar during the Nazi era:
“Resettlement” Order – July 19, 1942.
I hereby order that the resettlement of the entire Jewish population of the general government be carried out and completed by December 31 1942.
From December 31 1942, no persons of Jewish origin may remain within the GG, unless they are in the collection camps in Warsaw, Krakow, Czestochowa, Radom and Lublin. All other work on which Jewish labor is employed must be finished by that date, or in the event that this is not possible, it must be transferred to one of the collection camps.
These measures are required with a view to the necessary ethnic division of races and peoples for the New Order in Europe, and also in the interests of security and cleanliness of the German Reich and its sphere of interest. Every breach of this regulation spells a danger to quiet and order in the entire German sphere of interest, a point of application for the resistance movement and a source of moral and physical pestilence…”
Although the December 31, 1942 death warrant for the Jews was the primary objective of the July 1942 order, the second objective is also significant. Himmler’s intent had been to speed up the process of the extermination of the Jews in the General Government by eliminating their exploitation as workers. This however, caused complaints by the military. At the time the military claimed that out of the 1 million workers employed in its factories in the General Government, 300,000 were Jews and, of those, 1/3, or 100,000 were skilled craftsmen.
Himmler wanted to avoid any serious objections to his overall extermination goals and, in particular did not want any repercussions or interference from the military who, until that time found the exploitation of Jewish forced laborers advantageous. So, after a number of months, Himmler offered a compromise. This compromise was issued on October 9 1942 to General Kurt von Gienanth, the Commander of the Military District of the General Government. It essentially allowed the continuation of the use of Jewish forced labor, but in SS controlled camps (rather than private industrial facilities) and for specified military efforts. Only a few Jews were to be allowed to remain, whose retention was necessary for the war effort, and these would be held in special work camps in Warsaw, Krakow, Czestochowa, Radom and Lublin.
On November 10, 1942, Fredrich Kruger, the Supreme SS- and Police Chief of the General Government, decreed the places where the employed Jews and their families were to remain in the ghettoes and camps. The text of the compromise reads as follows:
“I have given orders that all so-called armament workers who are actually employed solely in tailoring, furrier, and shoemaking workshops be collected in concentration camps on the spot, i.e., in Warsaw and Lublin, under direction of SS Obergruppenfurer [Fredrich] Kruger and SS Obergruppenfurer [Oswold] Pohl. The Wehrmacht will send its orders to us, and we guarantee the continuous delivery of items of clothing required. I have issued instructions, however, that ruthless steps be taken against all those who consider they should oppose this move in the alleged interest of armaments needs, but in reality only seek to support the Jews and their own businesses.
Jews in real war industries, i.e. armament workshops, vehicle workshops, etc., are to be withdrawn step by step.
Our endeavor will then be to replace this Jewish labor force with Poles and to consolidate most of these Jewish concentration-camp enterprises into a small number of large Jewish concentration camp enterprises – in the eastern part of the GG, if possible. But there, too, in accordance with the wish of the Fuhrer, the Jews are some day to disappear.”
As a result of these decisions, the murderous aims of the Nazis in Lublin continued.
On September 2 1942 a selection was made in Majdan Tatarski and about 2,000 Jews were sent to Majdanek.
August to September 1942 – Krepiec Forest
Action Reinhardt Camps source provides the background to the Krepiec forest executions:
“A typhus epidemic broke out during August and September 1942 in Majdanek. The SS doctors in the camp selected prisoners who were sick or unable to work. Because there were not yet gas chambers at Majdanek, the selected prisoners were loaded onto trucks and transported to the Krepiec forest where SS-men executed them.”
On September 24, 1942 about 1,000 Jews from Majdan Tatarski were deported to the ghetto in Piaski near Lublin.
On October 24, 1942 a selection of Jews from Majdan Tatarski was taken to Majdanek. Included in this selection were the officials of the ghetto Arbeitsamt and workers from the Victor Kremin’s company who had previously been exempt from deportations and selections.
Liquidation of Majdan Tatarski – November 9 1942
With the July 1942 order of Himmler to eliminate all of the Jews of the General Government by December 31, 1942, the fate of the Jews remaining in Majdan Tatarski was doomed.
On November 9th 1942, the last group of 2,000 to 3,000 Jews from Majdan Tatarski was deported to Majdanek. It was the first time that a selection of entire families was sent to Majdanek.
About 180 people were shot in the streets of the small ghetto – most of them were children and people who tried to hide in the cellars.
A very small number of Jews were left in Majdan Tatarski after November 9, 1942. After a few days, they were transferred to several workcamps in Lublin including; Lipowa, the Flugplatz and the Sportzplatz where they worked for the SS.
A few additional Jews who worked for the Gestapo also remained and were transferred to the Gestapo prison in the Zamek / Castle. There they worked as Hofjuden, doing private jobs for the officers of the Lublin Gestapo and their families.
Jacob Frank tells of his wife, Dora, and young son, Numyek, who were hiding in a cellar:
“Majdan Tatarski was burning. Frank managed an arrangement for a Gestapo man to bring them out. They were brought to the house of this man, but he had already left Lublin that day and failed to tell his replacement that there was also a little boy there. The replacement prepared to send Numyek to Majdanek. Dora choose to remain with her son, and they went together.
Subsequently Frank managed to get a POW uniform (from Roman Fisher) and under the guise of a POW work group that daily went to Majdanek from Lipowa, he managed to see her. He was able to throw her a package, but was shot in the arm by a Ukrainine guard – who was stopped from shooting him by an SS man who yelled that he was the master tailor in Lipowa and he was returned to Lipowa.”
1943 – The Last Remnants
Labor, that is, forced labor, was a driving need for Germany throughout much of the war. Competing goals, i.e., the extermination of the Jews versus their exploitation for labor, created conflicts between Himmler’s SS, Gestapo and Police empire, and the civilian / private industrial sector, as well as with the military. Himmler, early in 1941 (and as clearly stated by Heydrich at Wansee in January 1941), supported the “destruction through labor” policy, as it assuredly led to the ultimate aim, death. As Christopher Browning, the historian states; “The official SS vision for the use of Jewish labor was therefore quite clear. Jews capable of labor were to work productively and die in the process.”
During the war, there were times and circumstances, where Jewish productivity did in fact sustain them in life – but always only temporarily. This became especially true after the Soviet counter-offensive began in December 5, 1941 (and the attack upon Pearl Harbor as well). As Poles were removed to the Reich as forced laborers (in addition to the many Soviet POWs already there), Jewish labor became increasingly attractive to some in the General Government. Christopher Browning provides this relevant example:
“On March 9, 1942 the first planned act of substitution took place in the course of the expulsion of the Jews from Mielec to the Lublin district. Those Jews capable of work were sent to a nearby airplane factory. The military deemed this a success, so much so that in early May 1942, the Armaments Inspectorate endorsed employment of a further 100,000 skilled Jewish workers, this freeing Polish and Ukrainian workers to be sent to the Reich.”
In March of 1943, it is estimated that 300,000 Jews remained in the General Government. In Lublin, Globocnik had claimed that that there were 45,000 Jews working throughout his enterprises. By that time, most of these Jews were not originally from Lublin. There were many from Warsaw. By the summer of 1943, Lublin was considered by Himmler and Globocnik as the location where the remnants of the Jews would be employed in the SS controlled labor camps. On a visit to Lublin in March 1943, Himmler made the decision to close the death camps of Operation Reinhardt.
Himmler was becoming impatient with the lack of progress on closing the ghettos. He considered that increasingly, German employers were utilizing Jewish forced labor for their own benefit, rather than for simply serving the needs of the military. With the revolts and escapes in Warsaw, Sobibor, and Treblinka, security matters also increasingly became a concern. Christopher Browning cites several examples reflecting these issues of concern:
“In January 1943, on a visit to Warsaw, Himmler was furious to learn that no further progress had been made in shifting Jewish workers out of the [Warsaw] ghetto to SS camps. Himmler ordered that under Globocnik’s supervision, the work Jews were to be transferred to SS camps in Lublin, after which the ghetto was to be torn down completely.
In a fit of pique, Himmler also ordered that the factory proprietors who had allegedly arrived in Poland without anything and had made themselves wealthy on “cheap Jewish labor” be sent to the front.
On May 10 1943 Himmler discussed police reinforcements to the General Government and particularly the use of SS units. “I will not slow down the evacuation of the rest of the some 300,000 Jews in the General Government, but rather carry them out with the greatest urgency.
After a meeting on June 19 1943, Himmler stated: “To my presentation on the Jewish question, the Fuherer spoke further, that the evacuation of the Jews was to be carried out radically and had to be seen through, despite the unrest that would thereby arise in the next 3-4 months”.
Between March and the autumn of 1943, Himmler’s wave of exterminations in the General Government accelerated. The thinly disguised shield of “safety” for the remnant of the working Jews was torn away. By the end of October 1943 many of the remaining labor camps, including those in Krakow and Galicia, had vanished. The stage was set for the last assault upon the Jews in Lublin.
Erntefest – November 3 1943
In late October 1943, Himmler made the decision to liquidate the last of the Jewish labor camp workers in Lublin. At the time 42,000 to 45,000 Jewish forced laborers remained in the Lublin District. The operation was named Erntefest (Harvest Festival). Erntefest is considered the largest single Nazi killing operation against the Jews.
1943 had seen a number of revolts and resistance actions; Sobibor (October), Treblinka (July), Warsaw (April) and Bialystok (August). With the decision to complete the extermination of the Jews in the labor camps of Lublin, the Nazis recognized the potential for similar resistance. They decided that maximum secrecy, surprise and overpowering force would be needed. The Jews in the camps would be eliminated in one single, massive operation.
At the time there were about 8,000 Jewish prisoners in Majdanek. SS Oberscharfuher Erich Musfelt gave the following statement to Polish Authorities on August 16, 1947:
“One day late in October 1943, the excavation of pits was begun in Majdanek behind Compounds V and VI, approximately 50 meters behind the structure of the new Crematorium. 300 inmates were put to this work. They dug without interruption for 3 days and nights, in 2 shifts of 150 each. In the course of these 3 days, 3 pits were excavated; they were more than 2 meters deep, zigzag shaped and each about 100 meters long. [Note, this was done in order to fool the workers that the trenches were to be used as anti-tank measures.]
During these days, special commandos from the concentration camp Auschwitz as well as SS and Police commandos from Krakow, Warsaw, Radom, Lwow and Lublin gathered in Majdanek. Altogether some 100 SS men arrived from the cities I mentioned, and these SS men made up the special commando. On the fourth day – it may have been November 3 – reveille was sounded at 5AM.
Therefore I went to the part of the camp where I usually stayed. The entire camp was surrounded by the Police. I would estimate that there were about 500 Policemen. They stood guard with their weapons at the ready. They were armed with heavy and light submachine guns as well as with other automatic weapons”.
In Majdanek, the roll call was held early that morning. It was short. The Jewish prisoners, who were intermingled in line with the others were ordered to step out of line. Yitzhak Arad continues:
“They were brought to sub-camp V, which was close to the shooting site, and from there they were taken in groups of 100 to a barrack and forced to undress.
A passage was cut in the fences of sub-camp V and through it, naked Jews were driven to the shooting site in separate groups. They were forced to lie down in the trenches and were shot by SS men standing on the edge of the pit. After the first groups were shot, the bottom of the trenches were full and all the others were forced to lie on top of those who had already been shot before.”
Action Reinhardt Camps source continues:
“Whilst columns of thousands of people marched to their death, loud music was played from two loud-speaker cars, marches and waltzes by Johann Strauss. The music was used to drown the noise of the shots and screams of the murdered people.
This day at Majdanek became known as "Black Wednesday" and was described by non-Jewish prisoners who were in the camp at that time. Although the music was played, Polish prisoners heard the shots and screams. Also people who lived within a short distance of around 3-4 km from the camp on the eastern suburb of Lublin, heard the music, shots and screams.”
At the same time that the shootings were occurring within in Majdanek, thousands of more Jews were being forced marched from their camps in Lublin to Majdanek.
Lipowa Camp, Alter Flugplatz (Old Airfield Camp) and the Sportzplatz
On November 3, 1943, the prisoners of the work camps in Lublin were brought to Majdanek. The 3 main camps were Lipowa, the Flugplatz and the Sportzplatz. However, Jewish workers from other smaller workshops throughout the city were also collected and brought to Majdanek.
The Old Airfield Camp in Lublin had been the primary camp for sorting the clothing and valuables taken from Operation Reinhardt victims.
By the early morning, the Alter Flugplatz (Old Airfield) had been cordoned off by SS and Police Forces, including Police Regiment 25 and the infamous Police Battalion 101.
Additionally, the police stood guard, 5 meters apart, on both sides of the streets that led from the main road to the entrance of Majdanek. Women guards on bicycles escorted the 5,000 to 6,000 women prisoners on their march to Majdanek.
Although earlier in the war, the Lipowa Camp had housed many specialized workshops, by the fall of 1943, the camp primarily contained about 2,500 Jewish POWs (Prisoners of War). As in the other camps in Lublin, on November 3 1943, it was surrounded by SS, and the prisoners marched to Majdanek.
In the midst all the horror and confusion, there was an act of resistance. When the women prisoners being held in Majdanek’s Barrack V recognized the Jewish POWs arriving at Majdanek, they began to scream. Simultaneously the Jewish POWS began fighting with their escorts. Three of the SS were injured or killed. The Jewish POWs who resisted were shot on the way to the pits.
After 1942 the Sportzplatz camp was converted into a special storehouse and distribution center for medication, surgical supplies, artificial limbs, and cosmetics taken from the victims of Operation Reinhardt. Some of the material was transferred to the German hospital in Lublin, a portion was sent to the Reich.
There is minimal information relating to the numbers of Jews that were taken from the Sportzplatz.
After the completion of the executions at Majdanek, a selection of women and men was made, and they were transferred to Barrack IV.
The women were assigned to sort the belongings of the Erntefest victims. This was completed in March 1944, after which they were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The men were assigned to the Sondercommando and ordered to cremate the bodies of the victims. After this was completed in Majdanek, they were sent to other mass gravesites where they had to exhume and cremate the bodies as well.
The number of Jews killed at Majdanek on November 3, 1943 was between 16,000 and 18,000.
In 1942, a brush factory, located in the Miedzyrzec Podlaski Ghetto, was transferred, together with its workforce to Trawniki. In 1943, the Fritz Schultz factory in Warsaw had also been brought to Trawniki with its 10,000 workers. The transferred factory consisted of workshops for tailors, furriers and broom makers. In 1943, the production of uniforms became important in the camp as well as earth-moving and peat mining operations outside of the camp.
The camp also had another important function. It was the training location for former Ukrainian Soviet Army prisoners and local Ukrainians from West Ukraine who volunteered for service in Operation Reinhardt. Approximately 2,000 – 3,000 guardsmen were trained in the camp. One or two companies (about 200 to 400 men) were stationed permanently in Lublin performing security duties. The remaining Trawnikis (or Askiris as they were called by the local population) carried out guard duties in various institutions and labor camps throughout the Lublin District. In addition, each Operation Reinhardt camp had 90 to 130 Trawnikis assigned.
On November 3, 1943, 10,000 Jews were taken out of the camp and nearby Dorohucza, and executed in pits that had been dug previously.
A small Jewish labor detachment remained at Trawniki until the transfer of its approximately 50 prisoners to Majdanek in May 1944.
At the time of Erntefest, there were about 15,000 Jews, including women and children in the Poniatowa labor camp. Scharfuher Heinrich Gley testified to the events of that day:
“I was called to Hering [the Commandant]. When I entered the room, there were 2 Police Offices with him…The officers informed Hering that the whole camp was surrounded by a police unit… This police unit was under orders to liquidate all the Jews in the camp, without exception… according to my estimate the strength of the police unit was between 1000 to 1500 men”. In the meantime all the Jews were ordered to concentrate in some specified places… From my room I could see how the Jews, entirely nude, were taken from the hall to the trench. This trench was zig zag. It was about 300-500 meters from the main hall.
In the Poniatowa camp there was a Jewish Underground group that had even succeeded in obtaining a few weapons. In the afternoon when the killing action was approaching its end, a group of Jews closed in on the barracks, members of the Underground group resisted being taken to the trenches and opened fire on the SS men. They burned some of the nearby barracks that contained clothing. But the Germans set the barrack with the resisting Jews on fire, and all of them were burned alive. Polish firemen from the town of Opola Lubelski arrived to put out the fire in the clothing barracks, and some of these firemen testified that wounded Jews were also thrown into the burning barracks,
About 150 Jews were left to clean the area and cremate the corpses of the killed. 50 Jews who succeeded in hiding themselves during the shooting joined them. But 2 days after the massacre these 200 Jews were shot because they refused to cremate the corpses. In their place 120 Jews were brought from other camps to carry out this
The Zamek (Castle) in Lublin held about 300 skilled Jewish craftsmen working for high-ranking German officials. These Jews remained in the Zamek until July 23 or 24, 1944, the days just before the Soviets entered Lublin, when all but 13 were executed.
Jacob Frank relates how, on that day, he was taken out of the Zamek, together with 12 other Jews, put on a truck and brought to Radom. He remembers seeing the remaining Jews on the lot, crowded and tied together by wire. As he was being driven away he heard the unmistakable shots. Jacob Frank survived the war.
In a final ironic twist of events, the Jewish labor camps that were associated with the Luftwaffe or in the building of airfields were not included in the Erntefest Operation. Ultimately though, these Jews were also murdered.
Budzyn was a camp housing a Heinkel aircraft parts factory. The 3,000 Jews avoided death on November 3, 1943 but by May 1944, the last 1,000 of them were transferred to sent to Majdanek.
Krasnik was a small camp holding about 300 Jews. Its prisoners were transferred to Majdanek in March 1944.
Pulawy was evacuated in July 1944; the fate of its small Jewish labor detachment is not known.
In 3 towns, Deblin, Biala Podliaska, and Malaszewicze, Jewish forced laborers working for the Luftwaffe in several camps in these 3 towns survived until the end.
Erntefest – the Tally
42,000 Jews were executed in the Lublin District during the 2 days of Operation Erntefest. Out of the 45,000 Jews who had remained alive in March 1943, 9 months later only about 2,000 to 3,000 remained.
Within the entire General Government, out of the 300,000 Jews in the spring of 1943, only about 25,000 Jews remained alive.
In total, approximately 1,700,000 Jews were killed in Operation Reinhardt. An unknown number of Poles, Gypsies and Soviet Prisoners of War were also annihilated. In this article, which is a recounting of the major events, I have tried to give as accurate and complete an accounting as possible. Many aspects of what happened were not included; the greed, the plunder, what happened to the perpetrators, what the world knew, and resistance, for example. As much as readily available, individual accounts and witness testimonies were used to cut through the fog of numbers and incomprehensible acts.
There are a limited number of words that one can use to express “extermination”. This repetition of words can desensitize us, and the difficult-to-fathom numbers can soon blur the pain and horror of those years. On the other side, through this litany of telling, we gain a sense of the endless despair of the time. The never-ending years of terror and the fragility of existence were their reality. Let us remember them with reverence.
Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka
Nachman Blumenthal, Documents from the Holocaust
Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men, The Path to Genicide
Mark Lewis, Jacob Frank – Himmler’s Jewish Taylor
Robert Kuwalek, The Ghetto Lublin
Robin O’Neal, Belzec, The Forgotten Camp
Joseph Poprzeczny, Hitler’s Man in the East – Odilio Globocnic
David Silberklang, The Holocaust in the Lublin District of Poland
Mark Roseman. The Wansee and the Final Solution
Encyclopedia of the Holocaust
U.S. Holocaust memorial Museum
Simon Wiesenthal Center – web source
The Jewish Virtual Library – web source
Action Reinhardt Camps – web source
HEART (Holocaust Education Archive Research Team) – web source
Pinkas Hakehilot, Lublin
Jewishgen – web source