The “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre is a local government cultural institution based in Lublin. It works towards the preservation of cultural heritage and education. Its function is tied to the symbolic and historical meaning of the Centre’s location in the Grodzka Gate, which used to divide Lublin into its respective Christian and Jewish quarters, as well as to Lublin as a meeting place of cultures, traditions and religions.

Part of the Centre are the House of Words and the Lublin Underground Trail.

The “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre is a local government cultural institution based in Lublin. It works towards the preservation of cultural heritage and education. Its function is tied to the symbolic and historical meaning of the Centre’s location in the Grodzka Gate, which used to divide Lublin into its respective Christian and Jewish quarters, as well as to Lublin as a meeting place of cultures, traditions and religions.

Part of the Centre are the House of Words and the Lublin Underground Trail.

„Operation Reinhard” in Lublin – The Liquidation of Ghetto

The nickname "Operation Reinhard" was first mentioned at the beginning of June, 1942 and was a kind of tribute to Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) and Deputy Protector of Bohemia and Moravia1. It was the name of a plan of exterminating European Jews, over 11 mln people2. It was to be performed in General Government territory. The name "Operation Reinhard” was introduced after the beginning of the action. Before, the euphemism "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" was used.

"Operation Reinhard" took place mainly in Lublin and Warsaw districts, where concentration camps and death camps were located. In Lublin, the "Operation Reinhard" staff was situated (in the building which today is Collegium Iuridicum of The Catholic University of Lublin at Spokojna St. , headquarters of Odilo Globocnik– chief of police and SS in Lublin region (corner of today Wieniawska St and Czysta St) and his private villa (the building at Boczna Lubomelska St, usually photographed from the side of Leszczyńskiego St), as well as warehouses, where stolen property was segregated and stored (today the The Catholic University of Lublin library at Chopina 27 St).

"Operation Reinhard” was one of the most horryfing events in the history of mankind. There was no single institution which would plan and control the action. The whole Nazi administration was involved in the process. Its each element was necessary for the operation. Good workflow organization allowed the Nazis to eliminate no less than 1.5 million Jews in 1.5 year. They were murdered in "death factories" in a large-scale, "industrial" process. During "Operation Reinhard", no less than 600 thousand Jews were killed.

"Operation Reinhard” and "Euthanasia Program”

In years 1939 – 1941, in German Reich, the Nazis organized a program under a cryptonym "T4" (after the name of the street where the operation general staff was situated, Tiergartenstraße 4).The cryptonym was another name for the "Euthanasia Program", whose aim was to eliminate individuals physically or mentally unable to function in German society. The Euthanasia Program was not a racial program, although Jews could also be its victims.

The experience from this action was ruthlessly used by the Nazis in later "Operation Reinhard". There are several identical elements in both programs:
 
  1. Their aim was the physical elimination of socially redundant "elements", accordingly the "disabled" - "Euthanasia Program”, and Jews- "Operation Reinhard";
  2. in both programs, their organizers reported directly to the Führer's Office;
  3. the personnel from "T4" operation was allocated to "Operation Reinhard" (all death camp commandants were involved in "T4" operation);
  4. "Operation Reinhard" personnel reported to "T4" staff3- formally, thry were employed by "T4" and delegated to perform "Operation Reinhard";
  5. the same elimination methods (gas chambers) and victims' treatment (keeping them fully unaware of their fate)4;
  6. depositing part of valuables and currency pillaged in "Operation Reinhard" in headquarters at Tiergartenstraße 4 St5.
  7. an obligation to sign a secrecy form6.

 

"Operation Reinhard” and the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question"

Taking the decision on the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question” was rather a process than a single event. While Polish territory was under German occupation, the Nazis gradually aggravated their policy toward Jews. At first, it took a form of bans and obligations rather than an organized extermination. In years 1939 -1941, the authorities in occupation considered "displacement" of Jews (to Madagascar and Byelorussia swamps - "Nisko Plan”) in order to isolate them from the Polish society7.

From autumn 1939 to the beginning of 1942 a policy of closing Jews in ghettos, confiscating their property and using them as unpaid workforce. The policy line agains Jews changed at the beginning of 1942. It was then when the beginning of the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" in Europe was decided. Its foreword was the decision to eliminate all male Jews in the Soviet Union territory (June and July 1941), later extended to Jewish women and children (August and September). The decision to murder all European Jews was probably taken at the beginning of October, 1941. It was Adolf Hitler's oral order. Earlier, on 31 July, 1941, Hermann Göring gave Reinhard Heydrich an order to prepare plans for extermination of all European Jews. The decision on the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" could not have been takenlater, as at the beginning of November 1941 the construction of thefirst of three "Action Reinhard"camps, in Bełżec started.

The Wansee conference (20 January, 1942) can be considered as the last chapter of decision chain on the "Final Solution" process. Last details concerning cooperation between different institutions involved in Jews extermination were discussed there. The elimination of Jews was not a centralized process, as there was no single institution responsible for decision-taking and activity control. Each office was a part of the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" process. The extermination was to be carried out in stages. First, Jews from the Soviet Union were to be eliminated, then from the General Government, and then from other European countries occupied by Germans. Jews considered as necessary for industry were to be temporarily left alive.

The beginning of "Operation Reinhard” - the liquidation of the ghetto in Lublin Podzamcze

In Lublin, the planned extermination of Jews in "Operation Reinhard" started with the liquidation of ghetto in Podzamcze (region at the foot of Castle Hill). The night from 16 to 17 March, 1942 was the beginning of "Operation Reinhard" - the holocaust of Jews in General Government. The liquidation of the ghetto was performed by SS members and Hiwis from Trawniki training camp. In the morning of 17 March, the first transport of people from Lublin Umschlagplaz was sent to the death camp in Bełżec. About 1.4 thousand people were removed. The "displacement" action continued until 15 April, and to that time no less then 26 thousand Jews were transported to Bełżec.

During the "displacement" of Jews from Podzamcze many of them died, shot in the streets of the ghetto, in their apartments or hideouts. Old, ill or disabled people were liquidated in the first place. Those who manged to survive the first hours of the operation were taken to Maharszal synagogue, and later Umschlagplaz situated behind the city butchery in Kalinowszczyzna. It was the last stage before deportation to the death camp in Bełżec.

In half of April, when "displacement to the east" was stopped, those Jews who remained alive were moved to the new ghetto in Majdan Tatarski.

"Model" ghetto in Majdan Tatarski

According to the authorities in occupation's orders, about 4 thousand Jews who had not yet been transported to Bełżec were to be put in the ghetto. This was due to the Nazi's reassurance that they would create a "model" ghetto where Jews could live peacefully. The reality turned out to be different. The number of Jews moved to the ghetto reached over 7 thousand people, and in the whole period of the closed Jewish residential district in Majdan Tatarski the Nazis were organizing selections, until the last liquidation action on 9-11 November 1942.

Death camps in "Operation Reinhard”

In "Operation Reinhard" the structure and functioning of the whole holocaust mechanism were defined. The Nazis established three localizations for immediate elimination. They were Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka. The first two were established in the eastern part of Lublin district, the last in Warsaw district. First, Bełżec was established (March 1942). Mass deportations there started with the liquidation of Lublin ghetto in Podzamcze in mid March 1942. The camp in Bełżec functioned, at intervals, probably until mid Decmber 1942. The Nazis murdered no less than 430 thousand Jews from Lublin, Galitia and Cracow districts in that period.

Another death camp was Sobibór, which was fully operational from May 1942 to October 1943, when a revolt broke out there. No less than 170 thousand Jews from General Government, Holland, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Germany, Byelarussia, France, Austria and Slovakia died in Sobibór.

A characteristic feature of "Operation Reinhard" camps was their small surface area. It resulted from the fact that their only destination was mass extermination. Everything was performed in a hurry. The whole procedure, from unloading to removing corpses from gas chambers, took less than 2-3 hours.

Personnel of "Operation Reinhard" death camps consisted of a dozen or so SS members, helped by about 120 Hiwis from the training camp in Trawniki. Most of the SS members were recruited among the personell of "T4" programme.

The death camp in Bełżec was liquidated as first (June 1943). The decision to put Sobibór camp to a halt was taken in October, 1943, and was a direct result of the revolt and escape of many prisoners. In place of the liquidated camps, the Nazis organized farms where Ukrainian camp guards with their families settled. They stayed in those locations until the summer of 1944, when they escaped to the west from the aproaching front. Left unguarded, the areas of the former death camps were delved by local people, who sought valuables.

 

The role of Majdanek Concentration Camp in "Operation Reinhard”

At first, a camp in Majdanek was planned to be a camp combining different functions: work camp, workforce reservoir and place where property could be ransacked. Later, the Majdanek camp became a place of mass extermination, especially of Jews.

Since the establishment of the camp in 1941, people of many nationalities were put there, among others Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, Italians, Germans, but above all Jews from occupied European countries. They were used as slave workforce. The biggest transports of Jews reached the Majdanek camp in the spring of 1942 and spring - summer 1943. This was caused by the "Operation Reinhard", which strated in the middle of March 1942.

At first only Jewish men were brought to the camp, later - whole families. Because there was no loading ramp in Majdanek, transports were first directed to Flugplaz camp. From there, the victims walked to the concentration camp in Majdanek, where the primary selection - the choice of "unproductive element": children, the ill, the disabled and the elderly for elimination was performed.

At first, the prisoners were executed in Krępiec forest. To improve the extermination process, gas chambers were built in Majdanek. They functioned till the autumn of 1942. Carbon dioxide was most frequently used to kill victms. Their bodies were then burnt in crematories or pyres.

On 3 November 1942 the Nazis performed „Operation Erntefest" ("Operation Harvest Festival”) in Majdanek camp, during which more than 18 thousand Jewish prisoners of Majdanek and other camps situated in Lublin were murdered."Operation Erntefest” was the final stage of "Operation Reinhard".

Acording to recent historical researches we can assume that altogether about 80 thousand prisoners of different nationalities died in the concentration camp in Majdanek. About 60 thousand of them were Jews8.

In the night from 22 to 23 July 1944 the camp was captured by Red Army soldiers.

Work Camps for Jews in Lublin Region

One element of "Operation Reinhard" was Jewish people work obligation, sanctioned by the General Governor Hans Frank's regulation in October1939. All Jews aged between 16 and 60 could be forced to unpaid work. This regulation was a legal basis for establishing labour camps. There were 491 labour camps in General Government, of which 154 were situated in Lublin district.

Jewish labour camps in Lublin district were being established during the whole occupation period. One of the first was set up at Lipowa 7 St as early as in the autumn of 1939. Next ones were established in Poniatowa, Trawniki, Budzyń, Ossowa, Dorohucza and other places.

Laour camps for Jews and industrial complexes established in their vincinity were the basis for Ostindustrie (Osti) Co. established at the beginning of 1943. Its aim was to improve SS's economic stand. Its creator was Odilo Globocnik, at that time head of police and SS in Lublin district.

Due to uprisings in Warsawa and Białystok ghettos and revolts in Treblinka and Sobibór death camps, as well as internal conflicts among the Nazi institutions, the plan of creating SS'seconomic empire was realised only to small extent. It was completely abandoned after "Operation Erntefest”.

 

Temporary ghettos in Lublin district

Another issue directly related with "Operation Reinhard" was the establishment of temporary ghettos, which were set up in Lublin Region towns with large percentage of Jewish citizens. They were set up in provincial towns, where a lot of Polish Jews lived (e.g. in Izbica, Piaski, Krasiczyn, Rejowiec, and many others). These towns lied along railway lines, so it was easier to gather people and tansport them to death camps there. Most of people deported to the ghettos were poor Jews, who were indirectly exterminated in the first place (due to lack of food or epidemics). After local Jews were removed from the ghettos, Jews from abroad were put there, mainly from Germany, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and Slovakia. Transports from abroad had come there until half of June, later they were sent directly to death camps.

In the autumn of 1942 temporary ghettos were replaced by so-called residual ghettos. They were established when most of the Jews had already been "deported" to death camps. They were finally liquidated in the spring of 1943, and all the Jews located in them were murdered.

 

"Operation Erntefest" as the last stage of "Operation Reinhard”

The decision to start "Action Erntefest" was made by Reichsführer SS Himmler at the end of August, 1943. The person directly responsible for the whole operation was the chief of police in Lublin district, Jakob Sporrenberg. Its aim was to make General Government a Judenfrei - "free from Jews" region.

"Operation Erntfest" took place between 3 - 4 November,1943. On the first day, the Jews remaining in Lublin and Majdanek, as well as in labour camp in Trawniki, were exterminated. The next day the Jews from the labour camp in Poniatowa were murdered. During "Operation Erntfest" over 42 thousand people were murdered. "Operation Erntfest"was the last stage of "Operation Reinhard”.

 

Pillage of Jewish property during "Operation Reinhard”

An additional aim of "Operation Reinhard” was to take over Jewish property. Everything of any value for the Nazis: valuables, currencies, clothing,everyday items, but also hair or golden teeth, was pillaged. The central institution where all the clothing and everyday items were directed was the Economics and Administrative Department of the SS (WVHA), and valuables were deposited in the Reichsbank.

Taking all their belongings from the Jews started during their loading in a concetration point, and finished in a death camp. Before it reached WVHA, the pillaged personal property was segregated, all labels were removed from it, and it was transported to"Operation Reinhard" warehouses at Chopina 27 St. in Lublin (at present The Catholic University of Lublin Library). From there they were taken to the central warehouse in Berlin. According to a report by Globocnik from the beginning of January, 1944, the pillaged property was worth about 179 mln RM.

In addition to the institutional pillage, also individual one should be taken into acount. We can assume that corruption was a common thing among SS members.
 

Edited by Jakub Chmielewski
Translated by Piotr Wojcieszuk

 

Przypisy

1 Archiwum Państwowego Muzeum na Majdanku (APMM), Witte P.,„...zusammen 1 274 166” – radiotelegram SS– Sturmbannführera Hermanna Höflego kluczowym dokumentem dotyczącym Holocaustu, „Die Zeit”, nr 3, z dn. 10 – 01 –2002, sygn. 1225.
2  Berenstein T., Rutkowski A., Eksterminacja Żydów na ziemiach polskich w okresie okupacji hitlerowskiej, Warszawa 1957, s. 274– 275.
3 Heberer P., Ciągłość eksterminacji. Sprawcy „T4” i „akcji Reinhardt”, Akcja Reinhardt, [w:] Libionka D. (red.), Zagłada Żydów w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie, Warszawa 2004, s. 76.
4 Sereny G., W stronę ciemności. Rozmowy z komendantem Treblinki, Warszawa 2002, s. 47; Reder R., Bełżec, Kraków 1999, s.52.
5 Heberer P., Ciągłość eksterminacji. Sprawcy „T4” i „akcji Reinhardt”, Akcja Reinhardt, [w:] Libionka D. (red.), Zagłada Żydów w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie, Warszawa 2004, s. 76.
6 Berenstein T., Rutkowski A., Eksterminacja Żydów na ziemiach polskich w okresie okupacji hitlerowskiej, Warszawa 1957, s.295; Sereny G., W stronę ciemności. Rozmowy z komendantem Treblinki, Warszawa 2002, s. 47; Reder R., Bełżec,Kraków 1999, s. 47.
7 Eisenbach A., Hitlerowska polityka zagłady Żydów, Warszawa 1961, s. 165 – 182; Mańkowski Z., Między Wisłą a Bugiem, Lublin 1978, s. 100.
8 Kranz T., Zagłada Żydów w obozie koncentracyjnym na Majdanku, Lublin 2007, s. 71 – 76.

 

Literature

Berenstein T., Rutkowski A., Eksterminacja Żydów na ziemiach polskich w okresie okupacji hitlerowskiej, Warszawa 1957. 
Heberer P., Ciągłość eksterminacji. Sprawcy „T4” i „akcji Reinhardt”, Akcja Reinhardt, [w:] Libionka D. (red.), Zagłada Żydów w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie, Warszawa 2004. 
Kuwałek R., Żydzi lubelscy w obozie koncentracyjnym na Majdanku, "Zeszyty Majdanka", t. XXII (2003).
Kuwałek R., Akcja Reinhardt na Lubelszczyźnie - początek zagłady lubelskiego getta, "GazetaWyborcza", 11. 12. 2007. 
Radzik T., Żydowska dzielnica zamknięta, Lublin 1999.
Reder R., Bełżec, Kraków 1999. 
Sereny G., W stronę ciemności. Rozmowy z komendantem Treblinki, Warszawa 2002.
Wysok W., Kuwałek R., Lublin. Jerozolima Królestwa Polskiego, Lublin 2001.

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