Aktion Erntefest

The Aktion Erntefest (German: Operation Harvest Festival) was a World War II mass shooting action carried out by the SS, the Order police, and the Ukrainian Sonderdienst formations in the General Government territory of occupied Poland. The operation aimed at extermination of Jews pressed into forced-labour at the camps of the Lublin reservation including Majdanek concentration camp and all its subcamps. It was closely linked with the liquidation of the ghetto in Lublin. Aktion Erntefest took place on November 3 and 4, 1943.[1] On the orders of Christian Wirth and Jakob Sporrenberg, approximately 42,000–43,000 Polish Jews were killed simultaneously. Virtually the entire Jewish workforce was eliminated, thus concluding Operation Reinhard.[2][3]

Operation Harvest Festival was the single largest German massacre of Jews in the entire war. It surpassed the notorious massacre of more than 33,000 Jews at Babi Yar outside Kiev by 10,000 victims. It was exceeded only by the 1941 Odessa massacre of more than 50,000 Jews in October 1941, committed by Romanian troops.[4]

Aktion Erntefest
Majdanek - Aktion Erntefest (1943)
One of many mass graves of the
Nazi German Operation Harvest Festival
LocationMajdanek concentration camp, occupied Poland
Coordinates51°15′11″N 22°34′18″E / 51.25304°N 22.57155°ECoordinates: 51°15′11″N 22°34′18″E / 51.25304°N 22.57155°E
DateNovember 3, 1943
TargetPrimarily Jews
Attack type
Shooting
WeaponsRifles, automatic weapons
Deaths43,000
PerpetratorsSS, Order police, Trawniki men

Background

The timing of the operation was apparently in response to several efforts by surviving Jews to resist the Nazis (for example, the uprisings at the Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps, and armed resistance in the Warsaw, Białystok, and Vilna ghettos). The SS feared additional Jewish-led revolts in the General Government,[5] ahead of the Soviet counter-offensive. To prevent further resistance, the SS decided to kill most of the remaining Jews who were employed in forced-labor projects of the Ostindustrie (Osti) enterprise owned by the SS, while imprisoned at the Trawniki, Poniatowa, and Majdanek concentration camps, with subcamps in Budzyn, Kraśnik, Puławy, Lipowa and others.[6] The inmates were ordered to dig "anti-tank trenches", and were therefore unaware of their true purpose as mass graves.[3]

Christian Wirth in uniform
Sturmbannführer Christian Wirth gave the order.

The Germans encountered resistance when they tried to carry out the final liquidation of the Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos, and revolts broke out in the death camps of Treblinka and Sobibór when the work Jews there realized that the camps were about to be closed. Himmler could not expect to liquidate the Lublin work camps gradually, or one by one, without encountering further Jewish resistance born of desperation. The inmates of the Lublin labor camps would therefore have to be killed in a single massive operation that would catch them by surprise. Such was the genesis of Erntefest.[7]

The Orpo Reserve Police Battalion 101 tasked with performing Aktion Erntefest had long-term experience in the area prior to 1943. It was involved with the liquidation of the ghettos in the Lublin district of the General Government from which the same targets originated. Members of the battalion conducted roundups and deportations to Treblinka and Majdanek death camps as part of Aktion Reinhard, but on several occasions they also committed mass murders, including the Józefów Ghetto massacre with 1,500 victims, and the Miedzyrzec Ghetto massacre of late 1942.[8] The men of the Reserve Police Battalion 101 worked hand-in-hand with the Trawniki men from Ukraine, already since August 1942 committing war crimes in a string of other locations in Poland including Łomazy, Radzyń, Łuków, Końskowola (massacre at the hospital), Komarówka, Tomaszów, Serokomla, Talczyn and Kock, among others.[8][9]

The killings

"Erntefest" was the largest single-day, single-camp massacre of the Holocaust under direct German occupation,[10] totaling 43,000 murders in three nearby locations.[2] It began at dawn on 3 November 1943. The main camp as well as the Trawniki and Poniatowa subcamps of the Majdanek extermination camp were surrounded by SS and the Reserve Police Battalion 101 (a unit of the German Order Police from Hamburg) augmented by a squad of Hiwis called "Trawniki men" from Ukraine. The Jews were taken out of the camps in groups and shot layer upon layer inside the pits dug specifically for this purpose. The burial site resembled a "solid mass of women's and men's bodies heaped together... with legs and arms interlinked."[11]

Erich Muhsfeldt 1
Executioner Erich Muhsfeldt at the Auschwitz Trial of 1947 in Kraków
1942 German issued ID to a Jewish man from the area of Lublin who was a slave worker at the Trawniki camp. The holder was murdered during Aktion Erntefest
1942 German issued ID to a Jewish man from the area of Lublin who was a slave worker at the Trawniki camp. The holder was murdered during Aktion Erntefest.

At Majdanek, Jews were first separated from the other prisoners. They were then taken in groups to long and deep trenches and shot one-by-one under the leadership of Erich Muhsfeldt (described by Anton Thernes as a "pathological killer").[12] At the main camp, 18,400 Jews were killed on 3 November 1943.[11] Jews from those other labor camps in the Lublin area were also taken to Majdanek and shot simultaneously. Music was played through loudspeakers at both Majdanek and Trawniki to drown out the noise of the mass shooting. The killing operation was completed in a single day at Majdanek and Trawniki. At Poniatowa, the shootings took two days, because in one of the barracks Jews staged a revolt. To stamp it out, the SS set it on fire and the killings went on as planned.[13]

At the conclusion of the Erntefest massacres, the district of Lublin was for all practical purposes judenfrei. The murderous participation of Reserve Police Battalion 101 in the Final Solution came to an end... For a battalion of less than 500 men, the ultimate body count was at least 83,000 Jews. — Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men [14]

Notes

  1. ^ Browning 1998, p. 138.
  2. ^ a b Gruner, Wolf (2006). Jewish Forced Labor Under the Nazis: Economic Needs and Racial Aims, 1938-1944. Cambridge University Press. p. 271. ISBN 0521838754. On November 3 and 4, 1943, the SS launched one of the largest murder operations ever against Jewish forced laborers, the notorious "Aktion Erntefest" (Operation Harvest Festival) – 42,000 to 43,000 Jews were killed.[p.271]
  3. ^ a b "Aktion Erntefest". Interrogation of Sporrenberg – National Archives Kew WO 208/4673. Holocaust Research Project.org. 2007. Retrieved 2013-04-17.
  4. ^ Browning 1998, p. 135, Reserve Police Battalion 101 participation in the Final Solution culminated in the great "harvest festival" (Erntefest) massacre, the single largest German killing operation against Jews in the entire war. With a victim total of 42,000 Jews in the Lublin district, Erntefest surpassed even the notorious Babi Yar Massacre of more than 33,000 Jews.[p.135]
  5. ^ Holocaust Encyclopedia 2007.
  6. ^ ARC (2004). "Erntefest". Occupation of the East. ARC. Retrieved 2013-04-26.
  7. ^ Browning 1998, p. 137.
  8. ^ a b Robertson 2013, section 12 & 14.
  9. ^ Browning 1998, pp. 135–142.
  10. ^ USHMM (May 11, 2012). "Soviet forces liberate Majdanek". Lublin/Majdanek: Chronology. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC. Retrieved 2013-04-13.
  11. ^ a b Lawrence, Geoffrey; et al., eds. (1946), "Session 62: February 19, 1946", The Trial of German Major War Criminals: Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany, 7, London: HM Stationery Office, p. 111, retrieved 2013-04-26.
  12. ^ Narration (2013). "Anton Thernes answers questions at the Majdanek Trials. Historical film footage". Majdanek concentration camp. Part 2 of 5. Google+: real life sharing (from Official archives of the Republic of Poland). Retrieved 2013-04-22.
  13. ^ Jakub Chmielewski (2013). "Obóz pracy w Poniatowej". Obozy pracy w dystrykcie lubelskim (Labor camps in the Lublin District). Leksykon Lublin. Retrieved 2013-04-26.
  14. ^ Browning 1998, pp. 141–142.

References

1033 Fez massacre

In 1033, following their conquest of the city from the Maghrawa tribe, the forces of Tamim, chief of the Zenata Berber Banu Ifran tribe, perpetrated a massacre of Jews in Fez in an anti-Jewish pogrom. The city of Fez in Morocco had been contested between the Zenata Berber tribes of Miknasa, Maghrawa and Banu Ifran for the previous half century, in the aftermath of the fall of the Idrisid dynasty.

Tamim's forces killed over six thousand Jews, appropriated their belongings, and captured the Jewish women of the city. The killings took place in the month of Jumaada al-Akhir 424 AH (May–June 1033 AD). The killings have been called a "pogrom" by some recent writers. Sometime in the period 1038-1040 the Maghrawa tribe retook Fez, forcing Tamīm to flee to Salé.

22nd SS Police Regiment

The 22nd SS Police Regiment (German: SS-Polizei-Regiment 22) was initially named the 4th Police Regiment (Polizei-Regiment 4) when it was formed in 1939 from existing Order Police (Ordnungspolizei) units for rear-area security duties during the invasion of Poland. It then became Police Regiment Warsaw (Polizei-Regiment Warschau). It was redesignated as the 22nd Police Regiment in mid-1942 before it received the SS title in early 1943.

25th SS Police Regiment

The 25th SS Police Regiment (German: SS-Polizei-Regiment 25) was initially named Police Regiment Lublin (Polizei-Regiment Lublin) when it was formed in late 1939 after the German invasion of Poland from existing Order Police (Ordnungspolizei) units for security duties there. It was redesignated as the 25th Police Regiment in mid-1942 before it received the SS title in early 1943.

Anton Thernes

SS-Obersturmführer Anton Thernes (8 February 1892 – 3 December 1944) was a Nazi German war criminal, deputy commandant of administration at the notorious Majdanek concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland in World War II. He was tried at the Majdanek Trials and executed on 3 December 1944 along with five other war criminals near the gas chambers and the Majdanek crematorium.

Babi Yar

Babi Yar (Ukrainian: Бабин Яр, Babyn Yar; Russian: Бабий Яр, Babiy Yar) is a ravine in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and a site of massacres carried out by German forces and local Ukrainian collaborators during their campaign against the Soviet Union in World War II. The first, and best documented, of the massacres took place on 29–30 September 1941, killing approximately 33,771 Jews. The decision to kill all the Jews in Kiev was made by the military governor, Major-General Kurt Eberhard, the Police Commander for Army Group South, SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln, and the Einsatzgruppe C Commander Otto Rasch. Sonderkommando 4a soldiers, along with the aid of the SD and SS Police Battalions backed by the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police carried out the orders.The massacre was the largest mass killing under the auspices of the Nazi regime and its collaborators during its campaign against the Soviet Union and has been called "the largest single massacre in the history of the Holocaust" to that particular date, surpassed only by the 1941 Odessa massacre of more than 50,000 Jews in October 1941 (committed by German and Romanian troops) and by Aktion Erntefest of November 1943 in occupied Poland with 42,000–43,000 victims.Victims of other massacres at the site included Soviet prisoners of war, communists, Ukrainian nationalists and Roma. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 people were killed at Babi Yar during the German occupation.

Dorohucza

Dorohucza [dɔrɔˈxut͡ʂa] is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Trawniki, within Świdnik County, Lublin Voivodeship, in eastern Poland. It lies approximately 23 kilometres (14 mi) east of Świdnik and 33 km (21 mi) east of the regional capital Lublin.

The village has a population of 753.

Kunmadaras pogrom

The Kunmadaras pogrom was a post-World War II anti-Semitic pogrom in Kunmadaras, Hungary.

The pogrom resulted in the killing of two and wounding of fifteen Jews on 22 May 1946. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, four Jews died.The riot started in the marketplace as a spontaneous protest against a suspected profiteer. Since traditional occupation of the Jews in the area was trading, the image of a profiteer was conflated with that of a Jew. Therefore the riot grew into an anti-Jewish pogrom. The frenzy was further instigated by the rumors that the Jews were stealing Christian children. The historian Péter Apor made a peculiar observation about the subsequent trial of the pogromists: "The People's Tribunal managed to produce a narrative of an anti-Semitic pogrom without involving the Jewish victims." The pogrom was portrayed as a resurgence of fascism pitched against the nascent people's democracy.

Lublin Ghetto

The Lublin Ghetto was a World War II ghetto created by Nazi Germany in the city of Lublin on the territory of General Government in occupied Poland. The ghetto inmates were mostly Polish Jews, although a number of Roma were also brought in. Set up in March 1941, the Lublin Ghetto was one of the first Nazi-era ghettos slated for liquidation during the most deadly phase of the Holocaust in occupied Poland. Between mid-March and mid-April 1942 over 30,000 Jews were delivered to their deaths in cattle trucks at the Bełżec extermination camp and additional 4,000 at Majdanek.

Lublin Reservation

The Lublin Reservation (German: Lublin-Reservat) was a concentration camp complex developed by Nazi German Schutzstaffel (SS) in the early stages of World War II, as the so-called "territorial solution to the Jewish Question". The idea for the expulsion and resettlement of the Jews of Europe, into the remote corner of the Generalgouvernement territory bordering the cities of Lublin and Nisko, was devised by Adolf Hitler and formulated by his SS henchmen as the so-called Nisko und Lublin Plan named alternatively after both locations. The plan was developed in September 1939 after the invasion of Poland and implemented between October 1939 and April 1940, in contrast to similar Nazi "Madagascar" and other Jewish relocation plans drawn up before the attack on Poland at the onset of World War II.Adolf Hitler devised the idea with the help of Nazi chief ideologist Alfred Rosenberg and Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, including active participation of SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann ("architect of the Holocaust"); as well as Heinrich Müller of the Gestapo, Hans Frank (Hitler's personal lawyer), and Arthur Seyss-Inquart of the Generalgouvernement administration. Gruppenführer Odilo Globocnik, the former Gauleiter of Vienna – appointed the SS and Police Leader of the new Lublin District – was put in charge of the reservation. During early implementation of the plan, the Nazis set up a system of ghettos for Jewish civilians to utilize them as the German workforce. The first forced labour camps were established for the Burggraben project intended to fortify the Nazi-Soviet demarcation line, and to supply the local SS units at Lublin from Lipowa.In total, about 95,000 Jews were deported to the Lublin Reservation. The main camp of the entire complex was set up in Bełżec initially (before the construction of death camp) for the Jewish forced labor. In March 1942 it became the first Nazi extermination camp of Operation Reinhard, with permanent gas chambers arranged by Christian Wirth in fake shower rooms. Though the Burggraben camps were temporarily closed in late 1940, many of them were reactivated in 1941. Two other extermination camps, Sobibor and Majdanek, were later set up in the Lublin district also. The Lipowa camp became a subcamp of the latter in 1943. The Nisko Plan was abandoned for pragmatic reasons; nevertheless, the Zwangsarbeitslagers (German for "forced labor camps") already established for DAW became the industrial base of other SS projects such as Ostindustrie. A number of them functioned until Aktion Erntefest, others beyond the massacres.In 1942, the so-called "Territorial Solution to the Jewish question" was abandoned in favour of the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question".

Majdanek concentration camp

Majdanek, or KL Lublin, was a German concentration and extermination camp built and operated by the SS on the outskirts of the city of Lublin during the German occupation of Poland in World War II. Although initially purposed for forced labor rather than extermination, the camp was used to kill people on an industrial scale during Operation Reinhard, the German plan to murder all Jews within their own General Government territory of Poland. The camp, which operated from October 1, 1941, until July 22, 1944, was captured nearly intact, because the rapid advance of the Soviet Red Army during Operation Bagration prevented the SS from destroying most of its infrastructure, and the inept Deputy Camp Commandant Anton Thernes failed in his task of removing incriminating evidence of war crimes. Therefore, Majdanek became the first concentration camp discovered by Allied forces. Also known to the SS as Konzentrationslager (KL) Lublin, Majdanek remains the best-preserved Nazi concentration camp of the Holocaust.Unlike other similar camps in Nazi-occupied Poland, Majdanek was not in a remote rural location away from population centres but within the boundaries of a major city (see also: Nisko Plan preceding the formation of the Ghetto). The proximity led the camp to be named Majdanek ("little Majdan") by local people in 1941 because it was adjacent to the suburb of Majdan Tatarski in Lublin. The Nazi documents initially called the site a Prisoner of War Camp of the Waffen-SS in Lublin because of the way it was operated and funded. It was renamed by Reich Main Security Office in Berlin as Konzentrationslager Lublin on April 9, 1943, but the local Polish name is usually still used.

Ostindustrie

The SS Ostindustrie GmbH ("East Industry", abbreviated as Osti) was one of many industrial projects set up by the Nazi German Schutzstaffel (SS) using Jewish and Polish forced labor during World War II. Founded in March 1943 in German-occupied Poland, Osti operated confiscated Jewish and Polish prewar industrial enterprises, including foundries, textile plants, quarries and glassworks. Osti was headed by SS-Obersturmführer Max Horn, who was subordinated directly to Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS-WVHA), the SS economic administration department. At its height, some 16,000 Jews and 1,000 Poles worked for the company, interned in a network of labor and concentration camps in the Lublin District of the semi-colonial General Government territory.SS-Gruppenführer Odilo Globocnik hoped to make Ostindustrie into an armaments company, but gave up the idea to pursue Operation Reinhard instead. The company was dissolved ahead of the Soviet counter-offensive of 1944. The entire slave-labor workforce of Osti was exterminated in the process of the company's dissolution, during the deadliest phase of the Holocaust in Poland.

Pinsk Ghetto

The Pińsk Ghetto (Polish: Getto w Pińsku, Belarusian: Пінскае гета) was a Nazi ghetto created by Nazi Germany for the confinement of Jews living in the city of Pińsk, Western Belarus. Pińsk, located in eastern Poland, was occupied by the Red Army in 1939 and incorporated into the Byelorussian SSR. The city was captured by the Wehrmacht in Operation Barbarossa in July 1941; it was incorporated into the German Reichskommissariat Ukraine in autumn of 1941.

In the 5–7 August 1941 massacre, 8,000 Jews were murdered just outside of Pinsk. The subsequent creation of the ghetto was followed – over a year later – by the murder of the imprisoned Jewish population of Pińsk, totalling 26,000 victims: men, women and children. Most killings took place between 29 October and 1 November 1942 by Police Battalion 306 of the German Order Police, and other units. It was the second largest mass shooting operation in a single settlement to that particular date during the Holocaust, after Babi Yar where the death toll exceeded 33,000 Jews. The Babi Yar shootings were surpassed only by the Nazi Aktion Erntefest of 3 November 1943 in the Lublin district with 42,000–43,000 Jews murdered at once over execution pits, dug specifically for this purpose.

Poniatowa concentration camp

Poniatowa concentration camp in the town of Poniatowa in occupied Poland, 36 kilometres (22 mi) west of Lublin, was established by the SS in the latter half of 1941 initially, to hold Soviet prisoners of war following Operation Barbarossa. By mid-1942, about 20,000 Soviet POWs had perished there from hunger, disease and executions. The camp was known at that time as the Stalag 359 Poniatowa. Afterwards, the Stammlager was redesigned an expanded as a concentration camp to provide slave labour supporting the German war effort, with workshops run by the SS Ostindustrie (Osti) on the grounds of the prewar Polish telecommunications equipment factory founded in the late 1930s. Poniatowa became part of the Majdanek concentration camp system of subcamps in the early autumn of 1943. The wholesale massacre of its mostly Jewish workforce took place during the Aktion Erntefest, thus concluding the Operation Reinhard in General Government.

Proskurov pogrom

The Proskurov pogrom took place on 15 February 1919 in the town of Proskurov during the Ukraine Civil War, (now, Khmelnytskyi) which was taken over from under the Bolshevik control by the Haidamacks. In mere three and a half hours at least 1,500 Jews were murdered, up to 1,700 by other estimates, and more than 1,000 wounded including women, children and the old. The massacre was carried out by Ukrainian People's Republic soldiers of Ivan Samosenko. They were ordered to save the ammunition in the process and use only lances and bayonets.

Reserve Police Battalion 101

Reserve Police Battalion 101 was a Nazi German paramilitary formation of Ordnungspolizei (Order Police, abbreviated as Orpo), serving under the control of the SS by law. Formed in Hamburg, it was deployed in September 1939 along with the Wehrmacht army in the invasion of Poland. Initially, the Police Battalion 101 (German: Polizeibataillon 101) guarded Polish prisoners of war behind German lines, and carried out expulsion of Poles, called "resettlement actions", in the new Warthegau territory around Poznań and Łódź. Following the personnel change and retraining from May 1941 until June 1942, it became a major perpetrator of the Holocaust in occupied Poland.

Rintfleisch massacres

The Rintfleisch or Rindfleisch movement was a series of massacres against Jews in the year 1298. The event, in later terminology a pogrom, was the first large-scale persecution in Germany since the First Crusade.

Trawniki concentration camp

The Trawniki concentration camp was set up by Nazi Germany in the village of Trawniki about 40 kilometres (25 mi) southeast of Lublin during the occupation of Poland in World War II. Throughout its existence the camp served a dual function. It was organized on the grounds of the former Polish sugar refinery of the Central Industrial Region, and subdivided into at least three distinct zones.The Trawniki camp first opened after the outbreak of war with the USSR, intended to hold Soviet POWs, with rail lines in all major directions in the General Government territory. Between 1941 and 1944, the camp expanded into an SS training facility for collaborationists auxiliary police, mainly Ukrainian. And in 1942, it became the forced-labor camp for thousands of Jews within the KL Lublin system of subcamps as well. The Trawniki Jewish inmates provided slave labour for the makeshift industrial plants of SS Ostindustrie to work in appalling conditions with little food.There were 12,000 Jews imprisoned at Trawniki as of 1943 sorting through trainsets of clothing delivered from Holocaust locations. They were all massacred during Operation Harvest Festival of November 3, 1943 by the auxiliary units of Trawniki men stationed at the same location, helped by the travelling Reserve Police Battalion 101 from Orpo. The first camp commandant was Hermann Hoefle, replaced by Karl Streibel.

Trawniki men

Trawniki men (German: Trawnikimänner) were Central and Eastern European collaborators recruited from prisoner-of-war camps set up by Nazi Germany for Soviet Red Army soldiers captured in the border regions during Operation Barbarossa launched in June 1941. Thousands of these volunteers served in the General Government territory of occupied Poland until the end of World War II. Trawnikis belonged to a category of Hiwis (German abbreviation for Hilfswilliger, literally "those willing to help"), Nazi auxiliary forces recruited from native subjects.Already between September 1941 and September 1942, the German SS and police trained 2,500 Trawniki men known as Hiwi Wachmänner (guards) at a special Trawniki training camp; for the total of 5,082 men on active duty before the end of 1944. Trawnikimänner were organized by Streibel into two SS Sonderdienst battalions. Some 1,000 Hiwis are known to have run away during field operations. Although the majority of Trawniki men or Hiwis came from among the prisoners of war, there were also Volksdeutsche from Eastern Europe among them, valued because of their ability to speak Ukrainian, Russian, Polish and other languages of the occupied territories. All the officers at Trawniki camp were Reichsdeutsche, and most of the squad commanders were Volksdeutsche. The conscripted civilians and former Soviet POWs included Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Tatars, Georgians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The Trawnikis took a major part in Operation Reinhard, the Nazi plan to exterminate Jews. They also served at extermination camps and played an important role in the annihilation of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (see the Stroop Report) among others.

Többens and Schultz

Többens and Schultz (German: Többens und Schultz & Co) was a Nazi German textile manufacturing conglomerate making German uniforms, socks and garments in the Warsaw Ghetto and elsewhere, during the occupation of Poland in World War II. It was owned and operated by two major war profiteers: Fritz Emil Schultz from Danzig, and a convicted war criminal, Walter C. Többens (i.e. Walther Caspar Toebbens, from Hamburg).

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