Akcja Reinhardt. Zaglada Zydów w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie
Warsaw: Instytut Pamieci Narodowej, 2004. 377 pp.

This collective volume contains the papers presented at an international conference in Lublin in November 2002. The articles explore diverse aspects of the National Socialist campaign of murder against the Jews in the Generalgouvernement (GG). The significance of some of these aspects has only recently been understood in historical scholarship. The papers are divided thematically into five groups: the genesis and beginnings of ‘Operation Reinhardt,’ perpetrators, deportations, extermination camps and labour camps, and a residual category centering mainly on reactions to the Judeocide. Among the regions of the GG, the Lublin District is the primary focus. In March 1942, it became the ‘central locus of the murder of the Jews’ (Dieter Pohl, p. 53).

A short introduction by the editor is followed by Bogdan Musial’s reconstruction of the beginnings of ‘Operation Reinhardt.’ Musial proceeds from the thesis that ‘racial antisemitism [played] […] a central role in Nazi ideology, and […] right from the outset, aimed at the total ‘elimination’ […] of the Jews.’ It was thus the ‘driving force behind the program of elimination extending down to the genocide’ (pp. 17, 38). Dieter Pohl deals with the role of the Nazi organs in the Lublin District as precursors of the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question,’ a topic he has investigated in the past. The deplorable situation of the Jewish population in the face of these first deportations, executed with unparalleled brutality, is described by David Silberklang. A more realistic state of knowledge about the destinations of the transports had little benefit for those persecuted, given their very restricted latitude for action, especially since little aid could be expected from the Poles. Dariusz Libionka confirms this observation in his well-researched, balanced and path-breaking study on reactions of the ethnic Polish population to the anti-Jewish murder campaign in the Lublin District. He explores the non-normalcy of their everyday life in the face of the National Socialist program of annihilation in 1942/43 in the small towns and villages. Libionka offers here a very welcome supplement to our current knowledge about extreme manifestations of Polish Jew-hatred, which have recently been ‘rediscovered’ and investigated for Jedwabne and the environs thanks to Jan Gross and others; yet at the same time he points beyond this. Libionka’s article is part of a process of self-criticism engaged in by some Polish historians in regard to the traditional ‘apologetic’ way of presenting Polish-Jewish relations under Nazi occupation. He makes clear here once more that the indigenous non-Jews often did not assume the role of supposedly ‘neutral’ bystanders in the face of the Judeocide, but rather acted as persons themselves directly affected, as curious onlookers, as profiteers. Indeed they often were openly involved as participants in the persecution of the Jews as active helpers, and/or passive beneficiaries of the anti-Jewish crimes. Others were intimidated from giving assistance to individual Jews by draconian threats of punishment by the occupiers, and only few would find the courage to assist nonetheless. Consequently, the concept of the spectator or onlooker is best reserved for genuine outsiders, who looked at the National Socialist war against the Jews from an actual ‘great distance,’ from the vantage of neutral countries or those not occupied by the Nazi forces.

On the thematic complex of ‘perpetrator,’ Patricia Heberer deals in her paper with the ‘continuity of the annihilation,’ extending from euthanasia murders in the Reich to the genocide in the GG; Michael Tregenza (Lublin) already pointed to this nexus in various essays published in the 1990s. Based on a large number of court files, Peter Black investigates a training camp in Trawniki for non-German auxiliary police deployed to aid the occupiers. Recruited mainly among Soviet POWs, they were indispensable as helpers of the National Socialist organs locally in implementing the anti-Jewish murder campaign. Some also experienced ‘good times’ (p. 125) when the Jewish forced residential areas were liquidated, at the expense of those deported and murdered with their help. Klaus-Michael Mallmann examines the Nazi crimes in the southern Polish Kraków District, utilizing the files of Federal German investigative and court proceedings. It becomes clear here that the Judeocide was transfigured in memory for many Nazi security police officers when viewed in retrospect from the 1960s, remembered as a chain of innumerable ‘festive shooting matches’ and ‘victory celebrations’ (p. 95). As Mallmann notes, the murder of the Jews made it possible for them to indulge in violent excesses with little personal risk with a sense of relish. Andrzej Zbikowski reflects on Nazi discourse in Fritz Katzmann’s report on the ‘Solution of the Jewish Question in the Galicia District,’ by comparing it with the ‘solution’ in the so-called Stroop Report (on the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto).

The section ‘deportations’ contains Robert Kuwalek’s description of the so-called transit ghettoes in the Lublin District in three very traditional Jewish small towns: Izbica, Piaski and Rejowiec. He brings together numerous pieces of information on the encounter between indigenous Eastern Jews and the Jews deported there from Central Europe, an encounter replete with prejudices and loaded with conflict. The Eastern Jews were generally deported to their death in the spring of 1942, while the Jews from Central Europe were in the crowded facilities for about half a year until they were shot on the spot in the fall, or sent to the Nazi killing centers Belzec and Sobibór. Janina Kielbon sketches the ‘deportations of Jews to the Lublin District’ between 1939 and 1943 and summarizes the findings of her research in eight tables. The Judeocide in Radom District is dealt with by Jacek Andrzej Mlynarczyk. He describes the preparation and implementation of the murder operations that descended on the ghetto residents unexpectedly and with unimaginable brutality. Among the perpetrators, the same murder squads were deployed in various places. Of the nearly 400,000 persons persecuted as Jews, only a few thousand were to survive. On the basis of her research on the Bialystok Jews, Sara Bender summarizes the current state of knowledge about the course of ‘Operation Reinhardt’ in the Bialystok District. This district, incorporated into the Gau East Prussia in 1941, connected with the GG to the north of Warsaw.

In the section ‘extermination camps and labour camps,’ Mlynarczyk in a second study deals with the genesis and history of the Nazi killing center Treblinka, the most ‘effective’ of all extermination camps, whose number of victims the author estimates to be 781,000. The role of the ‘multi-purpose camp’ (p. 246) Lublin-Majdanek in the Nazi program of Judeocide is examined by Tomasz Kranz, who concludes that the Jews killed in 1942 and 1943 in Majdanek were victims of ‘Operation Reinhardt.’ Felicja Karay looks at the forced labour camps for Jews in the GG, which for numerous staff members in the occupation organs and the beneficiaries of slave labour were a bubbling spring of economic profit. Initially, Jews still seemed to be indispensable as forced labourers in the armaments industry. But the prospect emerged at the end of 1942 of the almost total murder of labour camp inmates when the Jews in the GG were declared to be the ‘labour prisoners’ of the SS and Police Chief (p. 254). They were murdered in November 1943 in the concluding mass executions of ‘Operation Reinhardt’ ordered by Himmler.

Daniel Blatman’s study looks at further reactions to the Judeocide, examining the positions taken by leading representatives of Jewish committees and organizations in Western Europe and North America. The Bund politician Szmul Zygielbojm advocated the most radical approach designed to bring the terrible news from occupied Poland to the attention of the public in a drastic manner, so as in this way to influence important Allied politicians to intervene and take effective action. ‘Caught between indifference and cynical political games by diverse international actors,’ such efforts were however at the end of the day to prove futile (p. 282). Shmuel Krakowski examines Jewish resistance to the anti-Jewish murder campaign in the GG, and proves in reference to numerous brutal Nazi crimes recorded for various regions that resistance had but meager prospects for success. He notes that in view of this fact, the acts of resistance that nonetheless did occur deserve today our recognition and admiration all the more so.

Stephen Tyas’ compilation of radio messages sent from the GG and intercepted and decoded by British intelligence deals only marginally with the topic mentioned in the volume’s title. Nor does Gunnar Paulsson’s study on the ‘Polish-Jewish relation in occupied Warsaw 1940-1945’ look at ‘Operation Reinhardt.’ As the author expressly concedes at the beginning of his paper, Paulsson’s study provides statistical tables whose data, given the state of the sources, describe only ‘approximate values with a substantial margin of error’ (p. 292). In part, Paulsson proceeds based on false assumptions, such as when he doubts that many were unable to make the decision to flee from the ‘ghetto’ since they believed they had only limited chances for survival on the ‘Aryan side.’ Because the reports of those who returned due to the fact that they had been unable to endure life any longer on the other side spread quickly among those ghetto residents who were entertaining the thought of escape. Paulsson also suggests that good contacts to individual Poles, perfect knowledge of Polish and a behaviour and external appearance that were not in keeping with antisemitic stereotypes were relatively unimportant for survival on the other side of the wall. But these prerequisites were among the qualities which had assisted those individuals who wanted to outlast the occupation outside the ‘ghetto,’ getting them out of a jam in numerous ticklish situations. After Paulsson, in the sense of Polish post-war historiography and journalism, attempts to awaken understanding for a less harmful Polish variant of antisemitism, he nonetheless arrives at the conclusion that the extent of help provided for Jews did not differ substantially from that in other countries -- a situation also explainable, according to Paulsson, by reference to the widespread antisemitism.

In his second essay in the volume, a ‘supplement’ on the historical research on ‘Operation Reinhardt,’ Pohl correctly stresses that this research initially was not international, but rather remained limited to Poland; moreover, it did not develop in a continual manner. In Western Europe, Israel and North America, a larger number of publications did not appear until the 1960s. The greatest merit at this time was earned by the quarterly of the Warsaw Jewish Historical Institute Biuletyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, which (here Pohl has a different view) even after the antisemitic campaign by the Polish communists in 1967/68, continued to publish documents and studies on the National Socialist Judeocide. And not until ‘35 years after the events’ was there to be a ‘worldwide ‘rediscovery’ of the Nazi crimes’ (p. 336).

The conception of this collective volume would be more convincing if the Lublin conference had included several of the questions raised at the time in connection with the debate on Jedwabne. It seems unusual that at least six of the essays here were published already earlier in a similar or identical form in English, Polish or German. As a whole, however, the volume provides a clear picture of the Nazi German campaign of murder against the Jews, largely in keeping with the present state of research, and several authors stress the key role played by the Lublin SS and Police Chief Odilo Globocnik in starting the process of the mass murders in the GG. The volume has useful indices for places and persons.

Klaus-Peter Friedrich (Marburg) Institut für Zeitgeschichte München - Berlin
Translated by Bill Templer

1A selection, which for reasons unknown excludes some important essays, was published in parallel likewise in German in the Publication Series of the German Historical Institute Warsaw (Vol. 10): Bogdan Musial (ed.), ‘Aktion Reinhardt’. Der Völkermord an den Juden im Generalgouvernement 1941-1944, Osnabrück: fibre Verlag 2004. 454 pp.

2See also Musial’s essay in English on this topic: ‘The Origins of ‘Operation Reinhard’. The Decision-Making Process for the Mass Murder of the Jews in the Generalgouvernement,’ Yad Vashem Studies 28 (2000), pp. 113-153.

3Dieter Pohl, Von der ‘Judenpolitik’ zum Judenmord. Der Distrikt Lublin des Generalgouvernements 1939-1944, Frankfurt/M.: Peter Lang Verlag 1993.

4More recently, see for example Jacek Chrobaczynski, ‘Nie okryl sie nieslawe naród polski’. Spoleczne aspekty Wrzesnia 1939 roku, Kraków 2002, p. 140, where the author contradicts the commonly held view that the Poles had been a people without quislings: there were ‘dramatic antisemitic excesses’ (dramatyczne ekscesy antysemickie) --- ‘and thus the genesis of a [Polish] attitude which was substantially closer to the German occupiers, making it harder for them to have been conceived as opponents’ (a wiec postawa znacznie blizsza nazistowskim okupantom niz jej przeciwna); Jan Grabowski, ‘Szmalcownicy warszawscy, 1939-1942’, Zeszyty Historyczne, 2003, No. 143, pp. 85-117; idem, ‘Ja tego zyda znam!’ Szantazowanie Zydów w Warszawie 1939-1943, Warsaw: Wydawn. Inst. Filozofii i Socjologii PAN, 2004.

5With essays on Great Britain, Sweden and Switzerland, see David Cesarani and Paul A. Levine (eds.), Bystanders’ to the Holocaust. A Re-evaluation, London 2002.

6The trial of the Ukrainian-born American John Demjanjuk in Israel in 1987-88, allegedly trained at the Trawniki camp, brought Trawniki, situated southeast of Lublin, into the international spotlight.

7Published under the title ‘Mensch, ich feiere heut’ den tausendsten Genickschuss.’ Die Sicherheitspolizei und die Shoah in Westgalizien’ in: Gerhard Paul (ed.), Die Täter der Shoah. Fanatische Nationalsozialisten oder ganz normale Deutsche?, Göttingen: Wallstein-Verlag 2002, pp. 109-136.

8On Izbica, see Robert Kuwalek, Die letzte Station vor der Vernichtung, in: Deutsche – Juden – Polen. Geschichte einer wechselvollen Beziehung im 20. Jahrhundert, eds. Andrea Löw et al. (Wissenschaftliche Reihe des Fritz Bauer Instituts, Vol. 9), Frankfurt/M.: Campus Verlag, 2004, pp. 157-179.

9See also his recently published study Judenmord in Zentralpolen. Der Distrikt Radom im Generalgouvernement 1939 – 1945, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2007.

10See Sara Bender, Mul Mavet Orev. The Jews in Bialystok 1939-1943, Tel Aviv 1997 (in Hebrew).

11See also an English version of this article: The ‘Reinhardt Action’ in the ‘Bialystok District’, in: Bialystok in Bielefeld. Nationalsozialistische Verbrechen vor dem Landgericht Bielefeld, 1958 bis 1967, hrsg. von Freia Anders et al., Bielefeld: Verl. für Regionalgeschichte 2003, S. 186-208.

12See in greater detail: Aleksander Rowinski, Zygielbojms Reise. Eine Spurensuche. Trans. from Polish by Agnieszka Karas. 2nd. rev. and exp. ed.., Osnabrück: fibre Verlag 2004. 369 pp.

13The author already introduced the most instructive reports on ‘Operation Reinhardt’ into research discourse earlier on: Peter Witte, Stephen Tyas, A New Document on the Deportation and Murder of Jews during ‘Einsatz Reinhardt’ [in] 1942, Holocaust and Genocide Studies 15 (2003), 3, pp. 468-486.