Lemberg Ghetto Expulsions

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Sobieski School – Lemberg - Collection Point 

12 November 1944

The pogroms, officially called ‘Expulsion actions’ or simply ‘Actions,’ took place partly unofficially, partly officially, i.e. after informing the Jewish Council and with the participation of the Jewish Militia subordinated to it.

Herewith, in chronological order, the official ‘Actions’ in Lemberg. It must be noted however, that the unofficial ‘Actions’ took place much more frequently and an equal number of Jews fell victim to these, as to the official ones.

First Action

The first official ‘Action’ began on 13 March 1942 (before the establishment of the Ghetto) and lasted nearly three weeks, with the participation of the Jewish and Ukrainian Militia, but under the direction of the Gestapo and the Sonderdienst of the SS. The Jewish Council was told or rather ordered, to make available 33% of the Jewish population; supposedly for shipment to various labour camps. A German recruiting board had its seat in the Sobieski School and Dr. Jaffe, Hader and Seidenfrau were representatives of the Jewish Council. Many Jews especially those who were in possession of labour permits were exempted from expulsion. This total number of Jews was 18,000. To make it more credible that they were intended for labour camps, the people were permitted to take with them the barest necessities. The monthly contribution  of the Gouvernment of 100,000 Zlotys at the disposal of the Jewish Council, was used for food parcels for the expelled persons. These people had hardly arrived at the station when they were attacked in groups by the SS, robbed, and even the food parcels taken away. Even then rumours were circulating, that these transports would not go to labour camps, but to execution places at Belzec* and many Jews committed suicide right at the station immediately after they were attacked. The fact should be noted, that the bodies of the suicides and those killed in attempting to escape were transported in the very same cars with the living. It became clear later on, that this was done for economic reasons, so as not to lose any quantity of the precious raw material (fat and bones) of Jewish bodies. It has been confirmed by railway personnel accompanying the party, as well as by the few Jews who saved themselves by jumping from the train, that the party was destined for Belzec to be executed.

Second Action  

A special extermination brigade went through the whole Gouvernment in May 1942 and came also to Lemberg. Here 10,000 Jews were executed on a Wednesday, commencing at 2 p.m. and continuing till the next morning. Some were attacked in their own apartments and killed there (many sick people even in bed), some brought into the camp on Janowska Street, tortured there, and to the accompaniment of a German Military band and the joyous approval of soldiers terribly beaten and shot.

Third Action

The third official ‘Action’ started on the 10th of August and lasted till the 22nd of August. SD, Gestapo and the Ukrainian Militia – in the first few days without the Jewish Militia, later on with their aid – kidnapped about 55,000 Jews, old and young, women and children, transported them first in open street cars to the camp on Janowska Street and from there in box cars to Belzec  where they were executed in the usual manner. In this ‘Action’ also the bodies of suicides and shot persons were sent along at the same time. Only very few were able to save themselves by flight.  All these three ‘Actions’ took place before the establishment of the Ghetto and served the purpose of reducing as far as possible the number of Jews to be confined in the Ghetto of Lemberg. About 14 days after the third ‘Action’ the Ghetto was established and sealed up. The Jewish Council also moved into the Ghetto. Shortly thereafter, on a day when the Jewish Council was assembled and was handing out billeting orders to a great number of Jews, members of the Gestapo attacked the officials present as well as the other Jews, started to beat them and shoot at them, while other SS men prevented the Jews from escaping.

An SS officer then asked all sick to form on one side of the street so that they could be spared. That had hardly happened – and it was evident that this group was a large one – when they were shot to the last man in the middle of the street on orders of the chief Willhausen. This Mr. Willhausen, a German officer, a refined sadist , was with two other officers Rekita and Ingwar, leader of these ‘Actions’ and often took a personal part in the executions out of pure lust of killing. On this occasion he chose 12 young Jewish Militia soldiers and ordered one of them to bring the President of the Jewish Council, the lawyer Dr. Henric Landesbeg (Henryk Landsberg), who had been held by them for the last few days, and this done, he hung all 12 Militia men from the balconies of the Lokietkagasse and took the personal honour of being the hangman of Dr. Landesberg. He hung him personally from the balcony and as the rope broke and the poor devil fell, still living, into the street, this man Willhausen hung him for a second time, this time successfully. After this heroic deed he called for his wife, who shortly thereafter arrived by car with other ladies and watched with lust this terrible spectacle accompanied by joyous cheers of the Germans and Ukrainians present. This Mr. Willhausen always carried an automatic weapon hung from his neck so as to be able to perform executions personally at any time. At about this time the Jewish orphanage was attacked, the attendants killed and the children murdered, partly by beating their heads against the walls, partly by putting them into sacks and throwing them  out of the window.

Fourth Action

A new ‘Action’ started on 18 November 1942 and lasted three days, 10,000 Jews were the victims. Commencing 15 December 1942 the working Jews were allowed to leave the Ghetto only in groups and not singly to reach their places of work located in the city. They had to return in groups to the Ghetto for the night.

Fifth Action

The next ‘Action’ started on 5 January 1943 and lasted several days. As commencement was suspected a day or two before, several women who went to work took their children with them, believing that they would be spared in this way. But already at that time the groups leaving the Ghetto for work were attacked and kidnapped, the children torn away from the mothers and killed there and then. The same took place in the Ghetto. The total number of Jews killed at that time was about 10-12,000, including about 5,000 of the workers in spite of the fact that they wore the letters ‘R’ (Armament Industry) and ‘W’ (for Wehrmacht).   

On the fifth day of the ‘Action’ the functionaries and members of the Council were asked to assemble with their families on the ‘Klopperplatz’ (Kleparow) to protect them in this manner from the ‘Action.’ Fully believing in this, a public and official order signed by the German authorities about 2,000 persons assembled there, and were shot immediately. They went from house to house; everybody was called out and killed. If nobody was found, the house was set afire by throwing hand-grenades and all Jews hiding therein were killed that way. It was a special pleasure of these murderous to throw little Jewish children into the raging fire and watch their agony. One was aware of the smell of burned human flesh for weeks emanating from the ruins of the burned houses. The Ghetto was reduced in  size in  this manner, whole streets were blocked or destroyed, people who escaped death in the flames were chased and killed some on  the spot, some on the Sandberg (Plaskowmia Janowska).  These unofficial ‘Actions’ lasted for several weeks. A military band played daily at the gate of the Ghetto and Jews were tortured, killed, shot and kidnapped.

Sixth Action

A new official ‘Action’ started on 21 of May 1943. This time about 5,000 Jews were brought into the camp Janowska. There they were all totally stripped and put naked into the box cars destined for Belzec (note: as Belzec was now closed – it is more likely this transport went to Sobibor death camp), so that no time was lost at their execution with taking off their clothes. In Belzec the victims were stripped and 50 men put naked into single cabins, apparently a bath, and executed there by electrocution. One young woman known to me, did not want to disrobe prior to her transportation and asked rather to be shot on the spot. This favour was granted. Besides the 5,000 Jews taken from the city and transported to Belzec, about 4,000 young and strong men were shot in the labour camp on Janowska Strasse.

Seventh Action

A new ‘Action’ began on 2 June 1943, with the intended purpose of liquidating the Ghetto. The Ghetto was set afire. Thousands of Jews were brought into the camp on Janowska Strasse and shot, some there some at the Jewish cemetery, the bodies being burned. No transport went to Belzec after this. Already in May 1943 the entire construction at Belzec was disassembled, the buildings destroyed and this place of tragedy ploughed over and converted into a pasture. This was the reason why the victims of the liquidation of the Ghetto were not sent there, but shot and burned, where found. The Ghetto in Lemberg is no more, 3 or 4,000 Jews may still be at the labour camp on Janowska, besides the few hiding in the Aryan quarters.  


National Archives Kew FO 371/ 50971

Photograph – Chris Webb Archive  

© Holocaust Historical Society 2014