Guard Forces of the SS and Police Leader in Lublin
Functionaries from the Guard Forces of the SS and Police Leader played very significant role in "Operation Reinhardt” implemented from March 1942. This formation was given the auxiliary role in the process of extermination of Jewish people. It was used during the liquidation of ghettos, for guard duty in forced labor, concentration and extermination camps, as well as to perform numerous executions.
Reasons for creation of Guard Forces
Growing territorial influences of the Third Reich, and constantly decreasing possibilities regarding staff were one of the reasons of the order given on 25th July 1941 by Reichsführer of SS and Police Heinrich Himmler, that local population and soviet prisoners of war (first of all Ukrainians, who were considered to be loyal) should take part in securing the backs of the front and the occupied areas. That is how Guard Forces were created. They were used very widely in the process of extermination of Jews, but also in pacification campaigns and actions against Polish people.
Various nomenclature was used in reference to functionaries serving in Guard Forces of SS and Police LEader in the Lublin district. Germans called them Hiwis, an abbreviation from Hilfswilliger, which means “willing to help” or “voluntary assistant”, or Trawnikimänner which is „men from Trawniki”. They were also called black - which derived from the color of their uniforms, Ukrainians - because the significant part of them had such an origin, and the locals called them askaris, what derived from the name of auxiliary troops formed out of local people by Germans in their colonies before the WW1.
The Trawniki training camp
Training camp for the Hiwis was located in the village of Trawniki, forty kilometers on the south-east from Lublin. The camp was created in fall of 1941 r, and on the end of October SS-Hauptsturmführer Karla Streib was appointed camp commandant. Formal name of Hiwis was Guard Troops of the Representative of the SS and German Police Reichsführer for Creating Bases of SS and Police in New Eastern Areas. In March 1942 the name was changed into Guard Forces of the SS and Police LEader in the Lublin District, and in autumn 1943 the name was changed again for the SS Training Camp.
In the beginning of March 1942 there was 1250 Hiwis in the training camp. Until autumn they were recruited mainly from POW soviet soldiers, but in smaller part from Russians, what resulted from research of people with negative attitude towards the Stalin regime. Recruitment was conducted mainly in POW camps in Biała Podlaska, Białystok, Chełm, Grodno, Równemo and Żytomierz. Physical fitness and health condition were primary factors during the selection of candidates. In the autumn of 1943 the Askaris numebr was about 3.7 thousand people. Training took three to four months. Decision about delegation to the service was taken by SS-Standortverwaltung der Waffen SS in Lublin, not a camp commandant.
During first months of implementation of the ”Operation Reinhardt” approximately 2.5 thousand of Askaris were sent to the extermination camps. In the Trawniki training camp there were two battalions commanded by SS-Untersturmführer Johanna Schwarzenbacher and SS-Untersturmführer Will Franz, who came from the headquarters of the “Operation Reinhardt” or the Order Police in Lublin. A system of degrees was elaborated for the purposes of this formation: Oberzugwachmann / company deputy commander/, Gruppenzugwachmann /platoon commander/, Zugwachmann /squad commander/ and Wachman1.
Guard Forces in the beginning wore Polish army uniforms dyed black, and then Belgian army uniforms. In some cases different elements of various uniforms were put together.
Functionaries of the auxiliary service
According to the disposal issued by the Reichsführer of the SS and Police Heinrich Himmler recruitment was supposed by reach those POWs, who had been classified as loyal towards Germans.
Recruitment was held predominantly among POWs of USSR origin, for whom collaboration might have been the only way to survive, what is confirmed by the testimony given after the ear by one of the watchmen:
[...] I can emphasize that I entered the German service because of cowardice. I was afraid that I would die from starvation. All my service in Trawniki, Bełżec, Auschwitz and Buchenwald was connected to the fear that I would lose my life [...]2.
Living conditions in POW camps were very bad and were reflected in high mortality rate. Until the beginning of January 1942 approximately 2 millions of USSR POWs died in camps, among them there was high percentage of soviet soldiers taken into captivity. In addition, in Guard Forces served also small number of Poles and some highlanders. Those who were especially wanted were German speakers and Volksdeutsche, who came from the parts of USSR and Baltic states occupied by German army. Many functionaries were characterized by their outstanding brutality.
Candidates had to give their personal data, submit a thumbprint and sworn witness to the lack of Jewish ancestry, not belonging to the Communist Party and any other related structure. They also had to make a statement obliging them to keep discipline and perform service duties during the wartime. Every candidate was photographed, his photo was attached to his personal files together with individual identification number. Before being sent to the extermination camps the watchmen most likely were not aware of their future function there.
Watchmen were guaranteed relatively good treatment. German authorities provided uniforms, accommodation, food and pay (0,50 mark per day) that functionaries could spend on their own needs. Usually they spend them on alcohol and prostitutes. Apart from that they had a right to obtain a benefit for losing a possibility to take up a job, what is mentioned by Peter Black:
[...] As functionaries of auxiliary service in the German Order Police, they had a right to apply for a family benefit within compensate for losing a possibility to take up employment. Members of their families applied to local authorities, and they addressed Trawniki camp authorities for a service certificate. Authorities of given county [...] determined the basis for estimating the benefit, according to the needs, and local authorities determined the value of the benefit. In case of desertion or dismissal, the headquarters in Trawniki were obliged to inform the local administrative authorities to withhold payment [...]3.
Names of some of the watchmen, who had been given special privileges are known. Among them are:. Wasyl Chłopecki, Fiodor Jaworow, Aleksiej Milutin. In addition, there was a military funeral ceremony, organized with the approval of the camp commandant, Karl Streibl, for those who died on duty4.
Function of auxiliary troops
From the very beginning the askaris took part in the "Operation Reinhardt”. They participated in the liquidation of the ghettos and escorts of the victims to the extermination camps. They played very important role in the extermination camps, taking part in every stage of extermination, from unloading the transports to supervision of emptying the gas chambers. Hiwis participated in the liquidation of the Podzamcze ghetto in Lublin. Ida Gliksztajn-Rapaport noted it in her memoirs: [...] In the night between 16th and 17th March 1942 the displacement began. Experienced eye could easily recognize its signs few days before. Several hundreds of Ukrainians were brought to the camp in Lipowa Street [...]. On the above mentioned night they surrounded the part of quarter that was not fenced, and they started the selection [...]5. Askaris secured also transports, waiting on the sidetrack before entering the camp.
Between 1942 and 1943 two battalions of Hiwis were delegated to the Majdanek concentration camp tp perform there guard service. They served also in labor camp created by the SS and Police LEader in the Lublin district Odilo Globocnik. For example many of the watchmen were involved as guards in labor camps for Jews in Poniatowa and Trawniki, where the shops (szops) of German industrialists Walter Casper Többens and Emil Schultz were partially transferred from the Warsaw ghetto. In addition they were delegated to perform guard duties in the labor camps of Budzyń, Kraśnik and SS estate in Rachów.
Most likely the Askaris were used also in the guard service in the labor camp in 7 Lipowa Street and storehouses of the "Operation Reinhardt” in 27 Chopina Street in Lublin. Companies delegated to Lublin and Poniatowa were directly subordinated to the headquarters in Trawniki.
Guard Forces were also delegated outside of the Lublin district to Białystok, Częstochowa, Cracow, Lviv, Radom and Warsaw, where they were used to liquidate the local ghettos. Watchmen were also in service of the camps in the III Reich in Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Sachsenhausen and Stutthof.
Functionaries of the Guard Forces were not a disciplined group. It was common to violate the regulations in spite of the threat of flogging, imprisonment, and even death, depending on the offence made. One of widely practiced offenses was stealing Jewish belongings. This practice facilitated clandestine trade with local people. watchmen used to spend their money mainly on food, cigarettes, alcohol and prostitutes. Another significant problem was abuse of alcohol:
[...] It was often to see members of the crew of the SS Training Camp in Trawniki, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, heavily intoxicated and staying in the village of Trawniki [...]6.
Repeated abuse of alcohol became a cause of fights with locals and even with the Germans. Another common example of insubordination were desertions. One of the most brave and breathtaking was the one that took place in spring 1943, when group of watchmen led by Ivan Woloszyn escaped from the Bełżec death camp. In result 16 of those askaris who stayed were shot on the mass graves and the rest of the group of askaris present in the camp was sent back to the Trawniki camp (collective responsibility)7.
In addition some of the askaris were guilty of minor offences such as sleeping on duty or violating the curfew. Every form of insubordination was stigmatized and severely punished. Among those watchmen who violated the camp rules were for example: Gerhard Blendowski, Fiodor Duszenka, Paul Fessler, Iwan Kostinow, Aleksander Potczynok, Iwan Szałamow, Wasyl Szyndekewskij, and Aleksander Wizgunow8.
In the beginning of July 1942 a group of new watchmen from the training camp in Trawniki arrived to the Bełżec death camp. After a couple of days four of them: Jakow Ananiew, Michaił Gorbaczow, Siergiej Poprawka and Timoszenko were denounced by one of their colleagues, and were sentenced to be shot. Execution resulted from the denunciation of the planned escape9.
Service in the death camps
Auxiliary formation was divided into companies and platoons, called also Zugs (German Zug). Commander was always a German from the crew of the death camp. watchmen could have only non-commissioned officer grades. Any contact with locals or Jews was forbidden, although this rule was usually violated. Restrictions were introduced for fear of spreading the information about functioning of the camps.
In the end of 1941 Hiwis were delegated to the Bełżec extermination camp, where in the beginning 60 of them were on duty, and just before the opening of the camp the number of them was increased to 90-100 people. When the extermination was the most intensive two companies of askaris were on duty, it meant 120-130 people. In the moment of liquidation of the camp the number of watchmen was limited to 60-70 people. In the Bełżec extermination camp commanders over askaris were (chronologically): Josef Oberhauser, Kurt Franz and Reinhold Feix. There was one man, who distinguished himself from the crew – Edward Własiuk – who was a driver of the first commander of the camp - Christian Wirth and helped Lorenz Hackenholt in the service of gas installation.
Among various tasks of the watchmen was also guard duty and supervision of the JEwish working commandos. Rudolf Reder in his testimony given after the war stated: [...] There were no towers around – the guards were askaris [...]10. Hiwis were involved also in the Jewish population extermination process. They squeezed victims in the gas chambers, and then supervised the emptying. People who defended themselves against being pushed inside the gas chambers were heavily beaten by them:
[...] askaris counted people – 750 to each chamber. To the bodies of women, who refused to enter, the askaris stubbed bayonets, blood was pouring and that is how they were driven to the torture.[...] door was drawn aside by the askaris on the outside[...]11.
The black, as they were called, were on duty also in the Sobibor extermination camp in the number of approximately 120 people. One of them, Emil Kostenkow, helped SS-Oberscharführeri Erich Bauer to service the combustion engine that produced fumes which were pumped into the gas chambers. In the period when the Sobibor camp was active at least 400 of watchmen performed a guard services there. Their tasks were described by a former prisoner of the Sobibor camp Jules Schelvis:
[...] apart from the fact that they were severe, they have been trained to be unscrupulous and merciless when it was needed. the truth is, however, that they were not trusted, because only when they were on duty they had been assigned several cartridges. They had various occupation in Sobibor. They secured the entrances to different parts of the camp, including the main gate. Day and night they patrolled the area around the camp, between the double barb-wired fence and secured the watchtowers. In the camp area they watched Lager 3 [the part with the gas chambers – J. Ch.], in order to disable Jews to communicate between this area and other parts of the camp. They were guards of commandos which worked under the SS commands outside the camp. After arrival of transport they fenced all the area in order to disable newcomers’ escape. Sometimes they formed also firing squads [...]. Ukrainians were usually zealous and fanatic guards. Even without any order, they used whips and rifles’ butts to drive naked Jews from the place where they got undressed to the gas chambers. In reality they took active part in the process of extermination [...]12.
The confession by Ignat Danilczenko is a direct testimony of the crime committed in Sobibor with the collaboration of askaris. He blamed all the Ukrainian watchmen, but named only one of them - Iwan (John) Demianiuk: [...] Demianiuk, as all the other guards of Sobibor, participated in the mass murder of Jews [...]13.
Guard Forces troops trained in Trawniki undoubtedly played a significant role in the Operation Reinhardt, it can be testified by Odilo Globocnik’s note. He praises Karl Streibel for managing the Trawniki camp: With high discrecy and understanding of special leading, required by this institution. His troops proved to be great in anti-partisans operations, but particularly in actions of displacement of Jews14. The word displacement is used as a synonym of extermination. Guard Forces were used in all camps which formed a structure of the Operation Reinhardt and all the process of extermination. We can assume with high dose of probability that implementation of the Operation Reinhardt was possible due to the involvement of Soviet POWs.
Liquidation of the extermination camps didn’t influence the Trawniki training camp. Auxiliary formations were assigned some other tasks, including participation of the smaller clusters of Jewish population.
After the end of the war many of watchmen escaped. Some of them changed their identity, started families. Involvement of soviet POWs in the auxiliary forces trained in Trawniki was not secret. After the war they were hunted by many countries. One of the biggest trials of askaris took place in the ‘60s in Kiev. Some of them were condemned to death.
Edited by Jakub Chmielewski
Translated by Magdalena Dziaczkowska
1 P. Black, Prosty żołnierze „akcji Reinhard”. Oddziały z Trawnik i eksterminacja polskich Żydów, [w:] Akcja Reinhardt. Zagłada Żydów w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie, red. D. Libionka, Warszawa 2004, s. 110; M. Bem, Sobibór niemiecki ośrodek zagłady 1942 – 1943, Włodawa/Sobibór 2011, s. 239.
2 R. Kuwałek, Obóz zagłady w Bełżcu, Lublin 2010, s. 77 – 78, 88.
3 P. Black, Prosty żołnierze „akcji Reinhard”. Oddziały z Trawnik i eksterminacja polskich Żydów, [w:] Akcja Reinhardt. Zagłada Żydów w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie, red. D. Libionka, Warszawa 2004, s. 111.
4 R. Kuwałek, Obóz zagłady w Bełżcu, Lublin 2010, s. 80 – 81.
5 APMM, Pamiętniki i relacje, sygn. VII – 643, pamiętnik Idy Gliksztajn, k. 29; M. Wardzyńska, Formacja Wachmannschaften des SS – und Polizeiführers im Distrikt Lublin, Warszawa 1992, s. 28.
6 P. Black, Prosty żołnierze „akcji Reinhard”. Oddziały z Trawnik i eksterminacja polskich Żydów, [w:] Akcja Reinhardt. Zagłada Żydów w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie, red. D. Libionka, Warszawa 2004, ss. 123, 126 – 127; R. Kuwałek, Obóz zagłady w Bełżcu, Lublin 2010, s. 84, 89 – 90.
7 R. Kuwałek, Obóz zagłady w Bełżcu, Lublin 2010, ss. 86 – 87.
8 P. Black, Prosty żołnierze „akcji Reinhard”. Oddziały z Trawnik i eksterminacja polskich Żydów, [w:] Akcja Reinhardt. Zagłada Żydów w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie, red. D. Libionka, Warszawa 2004, s. 123; R. Kuwałek, Obóz zagłady w Bełżcu, Lublin 2010, s. 84.
9 R. Kuwałek, Obóz zagłady w Bełżcu, Lublin 2010, ss. 85 – 86.
10 P. Black, Prosty żołnierze „akcji Reinhard”. Oddziały z Trawnik i eksterminacja polskich Żydów, [w:] Akcja Reinhardt. Zagłada Żydów w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie, red. D. Libionka, Warszawa 2004, ss. 123 – 126; R. Kuwałek, Obóz zagłady w Bełżcu, Lublin - Bełżec 2005, s. 23.
11 AŻIH, Relacje. Zeznania ocalałych Żydów, sygn. 301/594, Zeznania Rudolfa Redera, k. 1; R. Reder, Bełżec, Kraków 1999, s. 49; R. Kuwałek, Obóz zagłady w Bełżcu, Lublin 2010, s. 80 – 83.
12 M. Bem, Sobibór niemiecki ośrodek zagłady 1942 – 1943, Włodawa/Sobibór 2011, s. 242.
13 T. T. Blatt T., Sobibór. Zapomniane powstanie, Włodawa 2003, s. 145.
14 P. Black, Prosty żołnierze „akcji Reinhard”. Oddziały z Trawnik i eksterminacja polskich Żydów, [w:] Akcja Reinhardt. Zagłada Żydów w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie, red. D. Libionka, Warszawa 2004, s. 122.
Archiwum Państwowego Muzeum na Majdanku
Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego
Bem M., Sobibór niemiecki ośrodek zagłady 1942 – 1943, Włodawa/Sobibór 2011.
Blatt T., Sobibór. Zapomniane powstanie, Włodawa 2003.
Kuwałek R., Obóz zagłady w Bełżcu, Lublin 2010.
Libionka D. (red.), Akcja Reinhardt. Zagłada Żydów w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie, Warszawa 2004.