German Police Battalion 101

police battalion 101 -lodz ghetto

Police Battalion 101 - Guard Duty Litzmannstadt Ghetto (USHMM)

When Nazi Germany invaded Poland during September 1939, Police Battalion 101 from Hamburg was one of the initial battalions attached to a German army group. The unit crossed the border from Oppeln in Silesia, and passed through Czestochowa, to the Polish city of Kielce. There it was involved in rounding up Polish soldiers and military equipment behind the German front-lines and guarding a Prisoner-of-War camp. On December 17, 1939, the battalion returned to Hamburg, where about one hundred of its career policemen were transferred to form additional units, and they were replaced by middle-aged reservists drafted in the autumn of 1939.

During May 1940, following a period of training, the battalion was sent from Hamburg to the Warthegau, in western Poland annexed to the Third Reich. Initially, it was based in Posen (Poznan) until late June 1940, when it was sent to Litzmannstadt (Lodz) to carry out resettlement actions for a period of five months. It was part of the Nazi plan to 'Germanise' the so-called newly annexed territories, and the Police Battalion 101, evacuated 36,972 people into the General -Gouvernement.

On November 28, 1940, Police Battalion 101, took up guard duty around the Litzmannstadt ghetto, which had been sealed seven months earlier, at the end of April 1940. The ghetto inhabitants, some 160,000 Jews were cut off from the rest of the city by a barbed wire fence. Guarding the ghetto became the major task of the unit, which had a standing order, to shoot, 'without further ado' any Jews who ignored the posted warning signs and came too close to the ghetto fences.

In May 1941, the unit returned once more to their home base of Hamburg and were more or less dissolved. During 1941 and 1942, the battalion was reformed and underwent extensive training but the most notable events the members of Police Battalion 101 was involved in, were three deportation aktions, of Hamburg Jews. The first took place on October 25, 1941, to the Litzmannstadt ghetto and the second was on November 8, 1941, to Minsk and the last one was on December 4, 1941, to Riga.

The collection point for the deportations was the Freemason Lodge house on the Moorweide, which had been taken over by the Security Police. Flanked by the University Library and an apartment block, within several hundred yards of the busy Dammtor train station, this collection point was hardly a secret. Some members of the Police Battalion 101 provided guard duty at the Freemason Lodge house, where the Jews were collected, registered and loaded onto trucks that conveyed them to the Sternschanze railroad station. Other members of the unit guarded the train station where the Jews were loaded on trains destined for the East. Finally, Police Battalion 101 selected members provided the escort for the journey itself.  

In June 1942, Police Battalion 101, was assigned to another tour of duty in Poland. They departed from the Sternschanze railroad station on June 20, 1942, and arrived in Zamosc five days later on June 25, 1942. The battalion consisted of 11 officers, 5 administrative officials in charge of financial matters, provisions and lodgings, and 486 non-commissioned officers and men. In order to reach full strength, some contingents were added from Wilhelmshaven and Rendsburg, as well as from more distant Luxembourg.

The battalion was divided into three companies, each of approximately 140 men, when at full strength. Two companies were commanded by police captains, the third by the senior reserve lieutenant in the battalion. Each company was divided into three platoons, two of them commanded by reserve lieutenants and the third by the platoon's senior sergeant. Each platoon was divided into four squads, commanded by a sergeant or corporal. The men were equipped with carbines, the NCO's with sub-machine guns. Each company also had a heavy machine-gun detachment. Apart from the three companies, there was the personnel of the battalion staff, which also included the five administrative officials, a doctor and his aide, as well as drivers, clerks, and communication specialists.

The battalion was commanded by fifty-three year old Major Wilhelm Trapp, a World War One veteran and recipient of the Iron Cross First Class. After the Great War ended he became a career policeman and rose through the ranks. Though Trapp had joined the Nazi Party in December 1932, he had never been taken into the SS.

The two police captains, were both young men, in their late twenties. Wolfgang Hoffmann, who was born in 1914, and in 1932, he joined the Hitler Youth, and the SS, one year later. In 1934, he joined the Police force in Breslau and two years later in 1936, joined the Nazi Party during 1937. In the same year he completed officer training and was commissioned with the rank of lieutenant in the Schutzpolizei. He joined Reserve Police Battalion in the spring of 1942. The following June, at the age of twenty-eight, he was promoted to the rank of captain. He commanded Third Company.

The second captain,Julius Wohlauf was born in 1913, and in April 1933, he joined the Nazi Party and the SA. In 1936, he joined the SS, and in the same year he began his training to become a police officer. He was commissioned as a lieutenant of the Schutzpolizei during 1938. He was assigned to Reserve Police Battalion 101, in early 1942, and was promoted to the rank of captain in June 1942, just prior to the units departure for Poland. He commanded the First Company and served as the Battalion's deputy commander under Major Trapp.

Reserve Police Battalion 101 arrived in the Polish town of Zamosc in the southern part of the Lublin district on June 25, 1942. Five days later the Battalion headquarters was moved to Bilgoraj and various units were quickly stationed in the nearby towns of Frampol, Tarnograd, Ulanow, Turobin, and Wysokie, as well as the more distant Zakrzow.  

In early July 1942, Major Trapp received instructions that his unit had the task of conducting an 'Aktion' in Jozefow, a village some 19 miles south -east of Bilgoraj. The men of working age were to be sent to nearby Labour camps, the women, children, elderly and sick were to be shot on the spot. Major Trapp recalled most of the units of Reserve Police Battalion 101 in Bilgoraj. Major Trapp met with First and Second Companies commanders, Captain Julius Wohlauf and Lieutenant Hartwig Gnade and informed them of the next day's mission.

Departing from Bilgoraj around 02.00 hours in the morning, in trucks, the convoy reached Jozefow, just as the sky was beginning to brighten. Major Trapp assembled the men in a half-circle and addressed them. After explaining what was expected of them, he made the offer, if any of the older men who felt unable to perform the task that day, could excuse themselves. One of the men immediately stepped forward and he was quickly followed by some dozen or so policemen, who felt the same.

The 'aktion' proceeded as followed:

Two platoons of the Third Company surrounded the village. The policemen were ordered to shoot anyone trying to escape. The remaining men rounded up the Jews and take them to the marketplace. Those too sick or frail to walk to the marketplace, as well as the infants and anyone who offered resistance or attempted to hide, were shot on the spot. Thereafter, a few men of the First Company escorted the Jews, who had been selected at the marketplace for forced labour, while the rest of the First Company proceeded to the forest to form the firing squads. The Jews were loaded onto the unit's trucks by members of the Second and Third Companies, which shuttled back and forth from the marketplace to the forest. After making the arrangements Major Trapp spent most of the day, either in a schoolroom converted into his headquarters, or at the homes of the Polish Mayor and the local priest. He visited the marketplace and the road which led to the forest, but he did not visit the execution sites in the forest.

Those Jewish males that were selected for forced labour were marched by members of the First Company to a country loading station on the railroad , where several train cars and a passenger car was waiting to take them to Lublin. These worker-Jews were taken to Lublin and were incarcerated in a camp, though not the main Lublin Concentration Camp and the escort guards returned to Bilgoraj, the same day.

Meanwhile the initial contingent of shooters from the First Company were driven to a forest several kilometres from Jozefow. When the first truck load of thirty-five to forty Jews arrived, an equal number of policemen came forward and 'face to face' were paired off with their intended victims. The Jews and the policemen marched down the forest path. They turned off into the woods at a point indicated by Captain Wohlauf. The Jews were ordered to lie down in a row. The policemen stepped up behind them, placed their bayonets on the backbone above the shoulder blades and fired in unison, when ordered to so.

More policemen of the First Company arrived at the forest to carry out the role of a second firing squad. Captain Wohlauf selected other execution sites deeper in the forest, so that the next batch of victims did not see the corpses of the executed Jews, and shortly afterwards they met the same fate. Thereafter, the 'pendulum traffic' of the two firing squads in the forest continued throughout the day. Except for a break at midday the shooting continued without interruption until nightfall.

Reserve Police Battalion 101 returned to the marketplace in Jozefow and departed in trucks that took them back to Bilgoraj. The 1,500 Jews that they brutally murdered that day, were left unburied in the woods, where they were killed. Neither clothing nor valuables were collected and the luggage collected at the marketplace was simply set on fire.

In early July 1942, the Reserve Police Battalion 101 was assigned to the northern sector of the Lublin district. Lieutenant Gnade's Second Company was assigned to Biala Podlaska. The First Platoon was divided between Piszczac and Tuczna to the south-east, while Second Platoon was at Wisznice due south. Third Platoon was stationed in Parczew to the south-west, in the county of Radzyn.

On August 17, 1942, in the village of Lomazy, Lieutenant Gnade held a meeting with his officers where he informed them of the plan to clear the Jewish quarter and assemble the Jews in the schoolyard. The NCO's were told that Trawniki-manner from the SS Training School at Trawniki would carry out the shooting, leaving the members of Reserve Battalion 101, to undertake the round-up of victims. These Trawniki-manner were also known as 'Hiwis.'

As at Jozefow before, the infants, the elderly,the sick and frail who could not walk to the school would be shot on the spot. Like before the men encountered not only German Jews, but a number of Jews from Hamburg. The Jews thus assembled, quickly filled the schoolyard and overflowed into the adjoining sports field. The round-up took 2 hours to complete. The 1,700 Jews of Lomazy were then forced to sit and wait. A group of sixty to seventy young men were selected, given shovels and spades, loaded onto trucks and driven to the woods. Several of the Jews managed to jump from the trucks and make good their escape. Reaching the woods the Jews were made to dig a large mass grave.

Meanwhile, back in Lomazy, a contingent of fifty Trawniki-manner marched into town, led by a German SS officer. Shortly afterwards the Trawniki-manner took a break and started drinking bottles of vodka, and eating. Very soon the SS officer and Lieutenant Gnade started drinking heavily as well. As the grave digging neared completion and the Trawniki-manner had finished their drinking and eating, the one kilometre 'death march' to the forest began. Some policemen rode on local farmers panje-wagons to the forest where they set up a new cordon. Other policemen began to march the Jews in groups of 200 or 300 at a time. Those who could not keep pace with the march, were shot on the spot. This process proved too slow, and the decision was taken to march all the remaining Jews in a single large group. Pieces of rope were collected and tied together and the Jews were ordered to hold the rope and march off. However, this led to a number of problems as a member of Reserve Police Battalion 101, testified after the war:

'The march proceeded extremely sluggishly. Presumably at the front they went too fast and pulled on the rope, so that at the back end they bunched together in a giant cluster, and scarcely a Jew could put one foot in front of another. Inevitably people fell, and the group had not even left or had just left the sports field when the first ones to fall were regularly hanging on the rope and being dragged along. Inside the cluster people were even trampled. The Jews who fell in this way and lay on the ground behind the column were ruthlessly driven forward or shot.

But even these first shots did not alter the situation and the cluster of people bunched together at the end could not untangle themselves and move forward. As at this point we were without assignment, I alone or with several of my comrades followed the Jews, because I had already concluded that one would never make headway in this manner. When no change was apparent after the first shots, I bellowed loudly something like, 'What's the point of this nonsense. Away with the rope.' Due to my shout the entire formation came to a halt, including the 'Hiwis' (German abbreviation for Hilfswilliger - those willing to help), who as I remember turned toward me quite perplexed. I shouted at them once again to the effect - they were all armed - that the business with the rope was nonsense. Away with the rope. After my second call the Jews let the rope drop, and the entire group was able to move forward as a normal column. I myself then returned to the schoolyard. Agitated and vexed. I immediately went into the school and drank a schnapps.'

As the columns of marching Jews reached the forest, they were separated by sex and sent to one of three collecting areas. Here they were ordered to undress. Women were allowed to keep their undergarments on, so were some men, whilst others were made to undress completely. Policemen were appointed to collect clothing and valuables. The Jews approached with their bundles of clothing, which were laid in a pile and searched. After depositing their valuables in a large container or throwing them onto an open blanket, the Jews were made to lie face down and wait.

When preparations for the shooting were complete, Lieutenant Gnade began to chase Jews from the undressing areas to the mass grave. In small groups the Jews were forced to run between a thin cordon of guards some thirty to fifty meters from the undressing areas to the grave. The grave itself had mounds of dirt piled high on three sides; the fourth side was an incline down which the Jews were driven. In their intoxicated and excited state the 'Hiwis' initially began shooting the Jews at the entry to the grave. As a result, those Jews killed initially blocked the slope. Thus some Jews went into the grave and pulled the corpses away from the entrance. Immediately, large numbers of Jews were driven into the mass grave, and the 'Hiwis' took up their positions on the walls that had been thrown up. From there they shot the victims. As the shooting continued, the grave began to fill. The Jews who followed had to climb over those who had been shot earlier and the grave was soon filled with corpses, almost to the edge.

The 'Hiwis' executioners often with a bottle in hand, were joined by Lieutenant Gnade and their SS officer and became increasingly drunk and it became obvious that the members of Reserve Police Battalion 101, would have to step in and continue with the shootings. The NCO's decided that the execution should continue with two firing squads on opposite sides of the grave. The Jews were forced to lie down in rows along each side of the grave and were shot by the police standing on the opposite wall. Men from all three platoons were formed into squads of eight to ten men and were relieved by others in rotation after five or six shots.

After about two hours the 'Hiwis' roused from their drunken stupor resumed the task of shooting the Jews in place of the German policemen. The shooting continued until around 7 p.m. The work-Jews who had been kept aside, covered the mass grave, and were then shot as well. This day some 1,700 Jews who lived in the village of Lomazy, lost their lives.

One of the biggest actions the Reserve Police Battalion 101 took part in that murderous summer of 1942, was the deportation of 11,000 Jews from Miedzyrzec to the Treblinka death camp on August 25-26, 1942. This was part of the Aktion Reinhardt mass murder programme of Polish Jewry under the stewardship of SS and Police Leader Odilo Globocnik, who was based in Lublin. The biggest round-up action in Miedzyrzec took place on August 25-26, 1942, and the police units involved were the First Company, Third Platoon of the Second Company, and the First Platoon of the Third Company from Reserve Police Battalion 101, a unit of Trawniki-manner and members of the Security Police based in Radzyn.

Some of the police unit arrived in Miedzyrzec on the night of August 24, one unit accompanying a convoy of wagons transporting Jews. Most of the unit however, assembled in Radzyn. Captain Wohlauf was absent, but the convoy of trucks stopped in front of his private residence on the way out of Radzyn. Wohlauf and his young wife, Vera -four months pregnant, with a military coat draped over her shoulders and a peaked military cap on her head - emerged from the house and climbed aboard one of the trucks.

When the convoy carrying Wohlauf, his wife, and most of the First Company arrived in Miedzyrzec, which was located less than thirty kilometres to the north of Radzyn, the 'aktion' was already underway. The men could hear shooting and screaming, as the Trawmiki-manner and the Security Police. The men waited while Captain Wohlauf went to get instructions. When he returned some men were sent to form an outer cordon, but most of them were assigned to clearing out the ghetto alongside the Trawniki-manner. The usual ghetto clearance tactics were employed, anyone attempting to escape were to be shot on the spot. Anybody, sick, elderly or unable to make the march to the waiting trains, shared the same fate.

Driven by the Trawniki-manner and the policemen, thousands of Jews were herded into the marketplace. Here they were made to wait in the hot August sun, without moving. Many Jews fainted and collapsed, whilst beatings and shootings took place. Frau Wohlauf, removed her military coat because of the heat, and was clearly visible in her dress on the marketplace, watching the round-up at close range.

Approximately at 2.00 p.m. the outer cordon was called to the market place, and later that afternoon the march to the train station began. The entire force of Trawniki-manner and policemen were employed to drive the thousands of Jews along the route. Once again, those Jews unable to keep up with the pace, were shot and left lying on the side of the road. Corpses lined the street to the train station.

When the Jews reached the waiting train cars, the Trawniki-manner and Security Police crammed 120 to 140 Jews into each car, members of the Reserve Police Battalion 101 stood guard and observed the loading. One of these policemen recalled:

'When it didn't go well, they made use of riding whips and guns. The loading was simply frightful. There was an unearthly cry from these poor people, because ten or twenty cars were being loaded simultaneously. The entire freight train was dreadfully long. One could not see all of it. It may have been fifty to sixty cars, if not more. After a car was loaded, the doors were closed and nailed shut.'

Once all the cars were sealed, the men of Reserve Battalion 101, departed quickly, without waiting to see the train depart for the Treblinka death camp. Some 11,000 Jews were deported to Treblinka over this two day 'action,' and they were murdered in the gas chambers.

After months of relative calm, on the night of May 1, 1943, members of the Second Company surrounded the ghetto in Miedzyrzec, which had been the scene of so many deportations during 1942. Joined once again by a unit from Trawniki they rounded -up the Jews in the marketplace, numbers of those deported vary, but a figure of 3,000 has been quoted by sources. Once again the Jews were thoroughly searched and robbed of their outer clothing in Gnade's undressing barracks. They were loaded onto cattle cars and some were deported to the Lublin Concentration Camp but most were destined for the Treblinka gas chambers.

The sixth 'aktion' took place in Miedzyrzec on May 26, 1943, where another 1,000 Jews were deported, after visiting Gnade's undressing barracks, and a number of photographs were taken. Miedzyrzec, which was difficult to pronounce was re-named by members of the Second Company policemen as 'Menschenschreck' translated as 'Human horror.' an apt name given that in total some 25,000 Jews had been deported from there to the Treblinka death camp.

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 Miedzyrzec May 1943  - Lieutenant Gnade outside one of the undressing barracks (Yad Vashem)

Reserve Police Battalion 101, also played a part in the so-called 'Aktion Erntefest' - Harvest Festival in November 1943, where most of the remaining Jews who worked in various labour camps in the Lublin district, such as Lipowa, the Old Airfield in Lublin itself, as well as Poniatowa, Trawniki and Dorohucza were liquidated. On the evening of November 2, 1943, the SS and Police Leader for the Lublin district, Jakob Sporrenberg, who had succeeded Odilo Globocnik , met with the commanders of various forces. These forces included Waffen-SS units from Krakow and Warsaw, Police Regiment 22 from Krakow, Police Regiment 25, which included Reserve Police Battalion 101, the Lublin Security Police, as well as the commandants from Lublin Concentration Camp, the Jewish Labour camps at Poniatowa and Trawniki as well as members of Sporrenberg's own SSPF staff.

Members of Reserve Police Battalion participated heavily on the infamous massacres that started on November 3, 1943, the so-called 'Aktion Erntefest' in the Lublin district. The troops were billeted overnight in Lublin on November 2, 1943, and early on the morning of November 3, they took up their positions. Some members of the battalion helped to escort the Jews from various small labour camps around the city to the Lublin Concentration Camp, several kilometres from the city centre on the main road leading to Zamosc.

The largest contingent of Reserve Police Battalion 101, took up positions five meters apart on both sides of the angled street that led from the main highway past the commandant's house to the entrance of the inner camp. Here they witnessed an endless stream of Jews from the various work sites in Lublin filed past. Women SS guards on bicycles escorted 5,000 to 6,000 women prisoners from the adjacent 'Old Airfield' camp where they had been employed in the old hangers sorting the clothing collected from the Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka extermination camps.

Another 8,000 male Jews were marched into the Lublin Concentration Camp and together with the Jews already incarcerated there, this swelled the total number of Jews to approximately 18,000 people. As the Jews passed between the chain of policemen into the camp, music blared out from two loudspeaker trucks. Despite all the attempts to drown out the noise of gunfire, shootings could still be heard from the camp.

The Jews were taken to the last row of barracks where they were made to undress. Arms raised, hands clasped behind their necks, totally naked, they were led in groups from the barracks through a hole cut in the fence to the trenches that had been dug behind the barracks. This route also was guarded by men from Reserve Police Battalion 101. One of them, a member of the First Company stood ten metres from the mass graves, recalled the gruesome scene:

'From my position I could now observe how the Jews were driven naked from the barracks by other members of our battalion.... the shooters of the execution commando's who sat on the edge of the graves directly in front of me, were members of the SD.... Some distance behind each shooter stood several other SD men, who constantly kept the magazines of the sub-machine guns full and handed them to the shooter. A number of such shooters were assigned to each grave.

Today I can no longer provide details about the number of graves. It is possible that there were many such graves where shooting took place simultaneously. I definitely remember that the naked Jews were driven directly into the graves and forced to lie down quite precisely on top of those who had been shot before them. The shooter then fired off a burst at those prone victims. How long the 'aktion' lasted, I can no longer say with certainty. Presumably it lasted the entire day, because I was relieved once from my post. I can give no details about the number of victims, but there were an awful lot of them.

Early on during the morning of November 4, 1943, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, travelled the fifty kilometres in a westerly direction from Lublin to the Jewish labour camp at Poniatowa. The men were stationed at the undressing barracks and formed a cordon to the zigzag graves where the victims were shot. Some 14,000 Jews at Poniatowa, stark naked and hands behind their necks marched to their deaths while once again loudspeakers blared music to cover up the noise of the shootings. One of the guard members recalled what happened: 

'I myself and my group had guard duty directly in front of the grave. The grave was a big zigzag -shaped series of slit-trenches about three metres wide and three to four metres deep. From my post I could observe how the Jews were forced to undress in the last barracks and surrender all their possessions and were then driven through our cordon and down sloped openings into the trenches. SD men standing at the end of the trenches drove the Jews onward to the execution sites, where other SD men with sub-machine guns fired from the edge of the trench.

Because I was a group leader and could move about more freely , I went once directly to the execution site and saw how the newly arriving Jews had to lie down on those already shot. They were then likewise shot with bursts from the sub-machine guns. The SD men took care that the Jews were shot in such a way that there were inclines in the piles of corpses, enabling the newcomers to lie down on corpses, piled as much as three metres high.

The whole business was the most gruesome I had ever seen in my life, because I was frequently able to see that after a burst had been fired the Jews were only wounded and those still living were more or less buried alive beneath the corpses of those shot later, without the wounded being given so-called mercy shots. I remember that from out of the piles of corpses the SS men were cursed by the wounded.'

After their brutal role in the destruction of Jews in the Lublin area, as the tide of war turned against the Germans, members of the Reserve Police Battalion 101, found itself fighting against partisans. Hartwig Gnade was killed in action. Major Trapp returned to Germany in 1944, but was extradited to Poland in October 1947, where he was tried in Siedlce, along with two other of the Battalion's officers. He was sentenced to death, the other two officers were sentenced to terms of imprisonment. For the two Captains Hoffmann and Wohlauf they resumed their careers in the police, in Hamburg.

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Letter to Major Trapp in Luckow from Lublin (Yad Vashem)


Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men - Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, HarperPerennial 1998

Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1987

Photographs: USHMM, Yad Vashem

www. H.E.A.R.T.

Holocaust Historical Society 2018