Poland Occupied

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German Troops -Occupy Poland (Bundesarchiv)

German Terror

Reports from Poland are filled with descriptions of the terror raging in that country. Terror has been the people's daily portion for over four years. Round-ups for forced-labour are only one of the methods of drawing off the most vigorous forces of the nation . And every round-up is accompanied by the work of execution squads.  

The fortification works in the East have needed many workers. They are obtained most easily in Poland, which is the nearest area to those fortifications. In August last year (1943), there was a conference of directors of German Labour departments, at which it was decided to extend and intensify the work of recruitment. First the skilled workers, those employed in metallurgical, constructional, and hydraulic works, were taken and sent to camps. Then the well-tried method of street round-ups was resorted to. Every day several hundred people fell victims to this method in Warsaw alone. The same method is applied in the provinces, and in addition Polish shops are compulsorily closed down wholesale and their owners and employees are sent off to work. The districts of Lublin, Zamosc, and Volhynia have provided thousands of hands for the East. It is not necessary to go into details of the conditions in which these people were carted off, what sort of food they received and the wages they were paid, it suffices to say that they equalled the worst labour conditions in which Germany's masses of slaves have to carry on. People sent to work in Germany or just behind the Eastern Front return either not at all, or completely debilitated and wrecked.

In this way all outward signs of conspiratorial activities are supressed. The arrests cover entire urban districts, sometimes a whole town. The Germans regard the possibility that three offenders may be caught among the thousands of innocent people arrested as sufficient justification of this method. But those offenders who do happen to be caught do not sell their lives cheaply. Germans also perish during such arrests.  

Blockades of houses or streets and searches in homes in towns and villages are a regular feature. People are carried off to prison, to concentration camps. The Polish intellectual is crushed equally with the Polish peasant and worker, because they jointly constitute the core of the Polish Underground Army. The arrest of reserve officers, even men who had previously been forced to work in some German industrial plant, proves how greatly the Germans fear the Poles. The blows, which earlier fell in accordance with a definitive plan, are now being struck blindly, affecting wider and wider circles, less and less having a concentrated object, and destroying with more and more ruthlessness. It is difficult to give any figures, but it may be said that in Warsaw alone the round-ups affect thousands of people every week, sometimes thousands in a day, and that in Sokolow Podlaski, to take one provincial centre, on August 22, eight hundred people were arrested. And this town has not many more than 20,000 people.

Then there is the destruction of property, and the murder of human beings. In July last, a document was posted up in Bialystok proclaiming that in revenge for 'bandit attacks' in which eleven Germans had lost their lives, the occupying authorities had burnt down the village of Szaulicze, and shot all of its inhabitants. In addition an unknown number of inhabitants of Bialystok itself were shot, and also fifty people in the village of Wasilkowo. In Poland, Lidices are not infrequent and exceptional occurrences, but are found in their hundreds. The notice announcing this revenge was signed by the local police commander. In addition in all the towns of the district, nineteen persons per town have been shot from among the lawyers, doctors, local officials and teachers, with the families of these people. 

Guerrilla and Sabotage Activities of the Polish Underground Army

Until the moment comes for the final struggle, the Polish Underground Army is engaged on the task of hindering the German war effort. The country's geographical situation is favourable to such a task: German transports for the Eastern Front have to pass through Poland. Also many factories have been transferred from Germany in consequence of the bombing raids, and it is the task of the Underground Army to hinder their production. A further aim of the struggle is to make the German nation realise that it will not go unpunished for its crimes. Many documents containing secret German instructions have been captured, and from these it is evident that the Germans by no means underestimate the threat which the Polish Underground Army constitutes. The officials are warned against possible dangers, are recommended not to live alone, but in groups, and the higher officials avoid as much as possible being found alone in the streets of any Polish town. Soldiers are forbidden to leave their barracks except in groups. All this system for ensuring personal security and the security of German officials demands an enormous amount of time, energy and labour, which could otherwise be used for more valuable contributions to the German war effort.


Hans Frank in Warsaw (NAC)

The 'Information Bulletin' for June 23, 1943, gives the following picture of the state of affairs in Warsaw:

'A cordon of German police armed with rifles and machine-guns is posted at every two paces on both sides of the street. There is a crowd of plain-clothes police and spies on the pavements. The trams make the entire journey from one end to the other without stopping anywhere. Armed police in motor-cycles and in cars patrol the roads, many passers-by are stopped and their documents examined, especially if they are carrying portfolios or packets. Finally a procession of two closed cars convoyed by numerous cars filled with armed police, tears past at a furious speed.

That is what Warsaw looks like when Governor- General Frank arrives for a couple of days and has to go from one street to another. The worthy gentleman whom the Fuhrer has appointed 'Protector of the Poles,' is among a grateful and devoted people'.

Acts of sabotage are continually increasing. But apart from these there are activities of a military character, which have as their object, the defence of the people, the defence of Polish property. Often this action has very considerable results, though for obvious reasons the details must frequently be suppressed. For instance, here is an extract from a report from the Directorate of Civil Resistance, which has recently reached London. Much of it has had to be suppressed, much is left only half said, but the reader with some imagination and understanding of the situation can learn much from its matter -of-fact phrases:

'Because of the mass murders committed by the Germans against the Polish people in Kielce province, in July 1943, detachments controlled by the Directorate of Civil Resistance carried out acts of reprisal in this area. After a forced march, a section of railway some ten miles in length, situated in the neighbourhood where the Germans had been particularly bestial in their conduct, was seized and held. In this section two fast trains running from Warsaw to Krakow and one goods train in the opposite direction were held up. Simultaneously station and section equipment were destroyed in Laczna and Jedrow near Suchedniow. A fight developed, in the course of which the enemy suffered casualties to the number of about one hundred killed and wounded; our own casualties amounted to one wounded. To conclude the proceedings, the Hymn of the Polish Army was played and the detachments withdrew according to plan. The break in communications along a line of importance to the Germans lasted fifteen hours.'

In addition to this raid a number of others were also carried out with the same attention to detail and the same thoroughness in execution:

At the end of July, close to the same station of Laczna, a fight developed in which 180 Germans were killed and wounded. On the Warsaw -Lublin line a German fast train was derailed. On the River Krzna, near Lukow, a railway bridge was blown up. On July 31st, detachments of the Underground Army seized large stores of motor fuels in Gniewkowska Street in Warsaw, one and a half million litres (about 320,000 gallons) and some 45,000 pounds of lubricating oil going up in flames. Petrol tanks on one of the Warsaw suburban lines were blown up.

Other activities are directed towards defending Poles against the German oppression. From time to time the Underground Press reports cases of political prisoners, prisoners of war, and hostages being set free. An attack was made on the prison hospital in Lwow, and the prisoners were released, with no loss of life on the Polish side. In Mielec, Polish guerrillas captured the prison, and released all those held under arrest. In Kozienice an armed detachment attacked a Gendarme post, captured a machine-gun, and got away. Similarly, on the Czeslawice estate an armed detachment captured two machine-guns, five rifles, one automatic pistol and a large stock of ammunition. Most of these activities involved the Poles in no losses whatsoever, the enemy being taken completely by surprise. In order to counteract the street round-ups and house arrests, all the documents of the local Labour Bureau have been destroyed in many villages. The Labour Office in Warsaw has now issued an order for its county departments to keep their index files in the police stations or in the military headquarters.

The sabotage and self-defence activities are accompanied by acts of repression. On this aspect also facts can be given taken from Polish reports which testify to their extent and effectiveness. The sentences of the Military Tribunals of the Underground Army, passed on particularly obnoxious Germans are carried out efficiently and quickly. Major Schmidt, the commandant of the notorious concentration camp at Majdanek, was killed by a soldier of the Underground Army on May 21st, 1943, and on the previous day, the Vice Commandant of the provincial SS, Spielhammer had also been disposed of.

On May 22nd, at 9:50 p.m. a captain and two lieutenants were killed in the Café Adria in Warsaw. They were killed by order of the Directorate of Civil Resistance, for torturing prisoners. In order to avoid innocent deaths, bombs and hand grenades were not used, the sentence being carried out with the aid of revolvers. The Polish soldier who carried out the sentence knew when he went to the café, that he would not come out alive from a place crowded with Germans. He died with a full realisation of what he was dying for. It may be added that he was a locksmith, called Jan Kryst.

Jewish Resistance and the Battle for the Warsaw Ghetto

Jews held in the death camp at Treblinka revolted in a desperate struggle against their murderers. At first they went to their death humbly, hoping to the last moment for some spark of humanity in the hearts of the semblances of human beings guarding them. But when they realised that they had nothing to lose, that they were doomed to death in any case, they revolted. A conspiracy was organised among the Jewish workers whom the Germans were using as camp assistants. Among the tasks the Germans had given them was to open the collective graves of their fellow victims and to burn the bodies. (The Germans are resorting more and more to this method of destroying all traces of their crimes).

A secret militant organisation was formed. One day at the beginning of August, when a number of the German staff of the camp had gone off to the baths, the Jews attacked the remainder, killed about fifty Germans and Ukrainians,* set fire to the barracks and fled to the nearby forest. The Germans organised a manhunt and succeeded in capturing and shooting some of them, but others managed to escape altogether.

A similar outbreak occurred in the Warsaw ghetto. When the Germans were about to organise the last transport of Jews from the ghetto to the East, and when the Jews realised that this was no simple act of deportation. but meant their extermination, they put up armed resistance. Arms were supplied by the Polish Underground Army, and instructors, soldiers and officers helped in the battle. The Germans had to retire, but returned with armoured cars and tanks. The Germans had to take house after house by storm. Finally, the houses were fired upon from tanks and from artillery posted outside the ghetto walls, and the houses were set on fire one after another. Not one of the defenders came out alive.

But the close co-operation which had been established between the ghetto and the rest of Warsaw had its results, in the very fact of the struggle and in the fact it was made possible largely because of the supply of arms by the Poles. Today the Polish Underground Movement has in its ranks many Jews who had previously succeeded in escaping, citizens working for the same end as their Polish comrades. And, as a final tribute to the Warsaw ghetto, it may now be disclosed that part of the Polish Underground Press was printed within the walls of the ghetto in the days and years preceding its final elimination.

* This statement is incorrect, there were no Germans killed during the revolt in Treblinka, on August 2, 1943.


Polish Fortnightly Review - Saturday, January 15, 1944

Another detailed article, about the Radom Ghetto appeared in the Polish Fortnightly Review published on July 1, 1943:

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Radom Ghetto - Forced Labour - (Chris Webb Private Archive)

What Happened in the Radom Ghetto

At first life was tolerable enough for the Jews of Radom. From time to time people were seized in the street and carried off to work, and Jewish men's beards were cut off. These things were accepted. The people got accustomed to such a state of affairs. The shops were open, and were patronized, the Jews did not do badly. My brother-in-law, had a large shop and spent all his time there, just as in pre-war days. Truly, from time to time German soldiers came and took articles without paying for them but such things were only details. The Jews thought that they would be able to get through on this basis.

 But after some months their situation began to worsen. The Gestapo men began to take over, and the Jews at once felt their iron fist. The order was issued that every Jew must wear a yellow patch, and the Star of David must be painted outside every shop. During this period the Germans changed thee names of two streets: Zeromski Street was called Reichstrasse, and Third of May Street Was called Adolf Hiltler Strasse. Of course Jews were for-bidden to live in either 'of these streets. They had at once to evacuate their homes taking only handbags with them; they were not allowed to take their furniture.

During those difficult times many Poles helped the Jews by carrying things for them. German families' from the Reich were quartered in the empty homes, and some buildings were occupied by German offices. The Germans set up a Jewish Council of Elders in Radom, consisting of 24 persons. The Council did not, develop any extensive activities until the ghetto was organized. Its chief task was to find new quarters for the evacuated Jews. As usual, there were many malcontents, who accused the council of favoritism. I cannot say whether the complaints had any justification. It also had to provide new. premises for shopkeepers turned out of their shops. Several shopkeepers had  to be accommodated in one shop, and each man had one counter, so that when you went into a shop you got  the impression that you were in a market hall, with commodities of all kinds all around you.

 The order for the organization of the ghetto in Radom was issued in April, 1941. The Jews were given fourteen days in which to transfer to the ghetto area. But the German patrols stood in the streets and took away everything they had a mind to.  The ghetto was not surrounded by a wall.

Guards consisting of a German gendarme and a Polish policeman standing at the entrances to the ghetto streets. Later the Polish policeman was replaced by a Jewish one. Notice boards were set up, with the inscription:

"Exit forbidden on pain of death,"

On the ghetto side, and on the town side:

"Entrance to Aryans forbidden. Beware of infectious diseases."

Certain portions of the exits from the streets were barred with barbed wire. The official exit from the ghetto was at the corner of Zeromski and Wolowa Streets. A pass had to be obtained in order to leave, these passes being issued to Jewish workers employed outside the ghetto.

After the ghetto had been organized, the Germans formed a Jewish police force for the maintenance of order. There were 150 of them. Its head was a certain  "G",* and his assistants were "W", and "S." There were also several higher ranks of police.

 The police wore ordinary civilian clothes with a blue police cap. They were armed with rubber truncheons. The head wore three stars in  his cap, and his assistants two....

 The police, were paid very low wages, and some of them made up their money by bribes.The Germans forced the Jews, to pay their pre-war taxes. The Jewish Council attempted to intervene, but was curtly told:

 The Jews cannot expect· any sympathy or consideration. "

Everyday Life in the Radom Ghetto

 The German authorities introduced a ration card system for the population of Radom. The cards were changed every month. The Jews in the ghetto received on their cards:

During the first winter ten kilogram's of coal were al1:10 issued monthly. Meat was not issued at all. The food obtainable on cards was obviously insufficient. Extra food was bought on the black market, where prices ranged as follows:

* Before the war one British pound equaled 25 zlotys.

Later there was no meat as all to be bought, as the sale of meat was forbidden under pain of death. A small chicken cost over 70 zlotys, and flour went up to 25 zlotys per kilo. A pair of used boots cost 200 zlotys and second hand clothes over 800 zlotys. The Poles took the food to the factories and work shops where the Jews were forced to labor. At the end of the day the factory yards were transformed into a market, and in this way the ghetto was supplied with food. The electrical power plant functioned in Radom, but the Jews were forbidden to use electricity. Jewish landlords drew no receipts from their property. On the order of the Gestapo the Jewish Council collected the rents, which were frequently raised by fifty percent. The basic rents went to the Germans, while the increases went to cover the requirements of the Council. As there was terrible overcrowding in the ghetto, the German authorities gave permission for a new one, the "little ghetto", to be organized.

 It was situation on Glinicka Street, and some twelve thousand Jews lived in it, surrounded by barbed wire. The Jewish Council and police had departments there, and these were the one means of liaison with the larger ghetto. The living and sanitary conditions in the "little ghetto" were terrible, the houses on Glinicka Street were small, old and had little room.

The Jewish Council was responsible for the two public kitchens, one for adults and the other for children. The food issued consisted of soup and bread. There was always a very long queue at the kitchens, and it was necessary to wait for hours for a plate of soup. Several thousand Jewish families availed themselves of this public assistance An orphanage  was also opened, in which the children received full board. For breakfast and supper they had bread and black coffee, for dinner soup and bread. The Jewish Council also maintained two hospitals. The hospital for infections diseases was outside the ghetto. The philanthropic organization "Ezra" provided medical aid.

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Germans in the Radom Ghetto (Chris Webb Private Archive)

The German authorities several times deported people from the ghetto, two hundred peop1e at a time. Some of them were sent to work on the Soviet frontier area, others to nearby towns. Several of them ran away and returned illegally to Radom. These people were swollen with hunger and said that the Jews were dying wholesale from hunger in the labor camps.

Every man was obliged to work three days a week on forced labor. The women were freed from forced labor, but they volunteered to work, as each woman wanted to have a labor card as protection against being deported, for rumors were circulating that the Jews were to be deported. All the works and factories were functioning in Radom, and Jews worked in all of them. Ninety percent of the Jewish population of the ghetto was employed in factories. The labor day began at six and ended at 5.30 p.m.We received food in exchange for our labor; one meal a day, consisting of bread, soup and black coffee. The work was hard, and NO rest was ever allowed even for a moment. The German overseers beat the workers mercilessly. Women were not spared. The least defect in work was punished with a bullet through the head, as the Germans called it sabotage. All the Jews were marched to work in groups under police escort, and returned  to the ghetto in the same way.

The following incident happened one Sunday in September, 1942.  The inhabitants of the ghetto were in the streets, for Sunday was a day of rest, and the factories were closed. Suddenly they noticed that Germans had arrived and had set up great searchlights in the middle of the streets. Among the numerous Gestapo-men there was an unusual activity.

The entire ghetto was seized with panic. There were those who said that it was now our" turn, for we knew what had been happening in other towns. But no one wanted to believe this. They declared that the Germans would not willingly lose the work of the workers employed in war industry. Others said that the local power station was making certain tests, and there was. nothing to fear.

A little group of people got out of the ghetto and hid in the factories where they were employed. After a few hours all permission to leave the ghetto was. stopped. A ring of German gendarmes guarded all the street exits. At eight o'clock a military guard arrived in the ghetto. At one in the morning all the street lamps were lit at once. A cannonade began and terrifying whistles.

I and several other Jews were hidden in the factory where I worked. I knew nothing of what was happening, I heard only shouts and shots. The screams were so terrifying . that we who were .hidden felt we would go out of our minds, This went on for some hours. When all was quiet we asked the Polish watchman to go as, near as possible to the ghetto and find out what had happened. When he returned he said the Germans were not letting anybody inside.

At dawn, through chinks in the window shutters, we saw the Germans driving crowds of Jews along. It was a terrible sight: women, children, men, driven like cattle towards the railway station. Among them I saw my own sister. With my own eyes I saw a German tear her two-year-old child out of her arms and fling him away. Those who could not run were shot through the head. My factory was not far from the station.  I saw the Jews packed into trucks, and they were ordered to throw out the bundles they had taken with them. This went on until seven a.m. The trucks were sealed and left standing. All day it was quiet, but at midnight it began again. This extermination of the Jews at Radom went on for four days. The bundles of things were carried off to special warehouses. Those shot were buried in a common grave in the park. There were 400 killed altogether.  The Germans did not permit anyone to identify the bodies, so to this day no one knows who was shot. I myself do not know what happened to my sister and brother-in-law, and their children. Among those driven off were members of the Jewish Council.

After the deportation of the Jews, the two old ghettos were closed down. The remaining 3,500 Jews were transferred to two small streets, Zytnia and Brudna. It is difficult to describe the conditions in which these Jews lived. They were not allowed to take their furniture with them. They were compelled to work twelve hours a day. The Germans stopped calling us by our names, and referred to us by numbers. Woe to him who failed to answer to his number! I did not work long in these conditions. I found a means of escaping. I must add that during this period of the deportations many Jews fled to the forests and joined the Polish Underground Organisation.

* The head of the Jewish Police in Radom was Joachim Geiger


Polish Fortnightly Review - Saturday, January 15, 1944

Polish Fortnightly Review - Thursday, July 1, 1943 

Photographs - Bundesarchiv, NAC Poland, Chris Webb Private Archive

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