Polish Fortnightly Review The German Rule in Poland

The Terror in the Generalgouvernment

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Warsaw Street Scene under the occupation (Chris Webb Private Archive)

The martyrdom of the Polish nation under German Occupation has continued uninterrupted throughout the winter 1940 -41. Poland is still losing the most valuable elements of the population, and Germany still hopes to weaken in this way the psychological and political resistance of the Polish people.

The German terror is dictated primarily by the desire to keep the people under iron rule, and to prevent any liberation movement. But it also forms part of the general German policy of exterminating the Poles in the Western Provinces annexed to the Reich, and of depriving the mass of the inhabitants of the Generalgouvernement of a will and conscience of their own. They are to be turned into slaves ruthlessly exploited by the German administration.

By clever manipulation the instincts of cruelty and repression inherent in the occupying authorities are being fostered and developed. Administrative orders, the numerous transfers of officials, the frequent changes in the police forces, all this aims at keeping in Polish territories a personnel always ready and fit to carry through direct reprisals. Poland is now the chosen ground for National-Socialist education.

Young Germans, intoxicated by the myth of the superiority of their race, are putting all their energies and their bestial passion for destruction into the extermination of the Polish people. Their methods attach to the present German occupation of Poland a sinister stigma, which reflects on the whole German nation and deprives it, in Polish eyes, of any cultural qualities it may have had in the past.

Except in the economic field, the German terror has not achieved any results, although of course, it makes any return to more or less normal conditions of life impossible. In spite of heavy and often irreparable losses, the resistance of the Poles is stiffening. The Poles are more and more convinced that their losses through German terrorism are war-losses and an integral part of Poland's fight for survival and victory. In spite of the terror, sabotage and passive resistance go on as before.

General Characteristics

The beginning of the winter was rather quiet, and it was not marked by any severe political repressive measures. Economic pressure, however, continued relentlessly. The forced delivery of a quota of agricultural products , and restrictions on trading, continued to be a heavy burden for the population and a source of profit for the German administration. The Polish peasants were greatly affected by the fortification works now being undertaken throughout the Generalgouvernement . Not only were they obliged to provide unpaid labour for the building of strategic roads, but in many cases they were evicted, for strategic reasons, from their homes. As a rule these evictions were carried out with the utmost ruthlessness, including the wholesale confiscation of all the property of those affected, At the beginning of January 1941, the political terror increased, and reprisals started in all the main towns of the Generalgouvernement.

Mass Arrests

The police are continually on the watch for Polish liberation movements. In November and December, 1940, the German police made three searches of several houses in Kaniowska Street, in the Warsaw suburb of Zoliborz, in quest of a secret wireless station. On December 4th, 1940, the police surrounded a villa in Okrezna Street, in the suburb of Czerniakow. In this villa an illegal paper was being printed. When the police received no answer to their knocking, they threw several hand grenades through the windows. They then forced the hall entrance, and once inside the villa opened fire with a machine-gun. Two men were killed outright and a woman seriously injured. The woman subsequently died in hospital.

In the next few days a score of people suspected of having been in contact with this printing press were arrested. Among them were a Polish police officer, and the local constable Kruk who was later deported to the notorious concentration camp at Oswiecim. This affair also led to mass arrests in Mokotow, another Warsaw suburb. At 3 o'clock in the morning the German police broke into many flats, and, in accordance with the German theory of collective responsibility, seized several hundred men between the ages of 16 and 25.

On December 13th, 1940, at 11 a.m. the workers of the Warsaw tramway repair works went on strike, demanding better conditions of work and an advance on their Christmas pay. Detachments of SS guards soon arrived on the spot. They surrounded the buildings of the main office and the workshops with machine-guns. The managing director, Niepokoyczycki, one of the directors Symek, and the workers delegates were arrested. On January 6th, 1941, the directors were sent to Oswiecim, while the fate of the workers' delegates is unknown. The Germans tried to make out that this strike had a political character, which of course, was not true. In connection with this incident, the delegate of the Chief of the Warsaw District, one Leist, issued a circular to the heads of all city departments and public services threatening them and their families with the severest penalties, including sentence of death, if there should be any disorders in their departments. Another sequel to this strike was that many tram workers were among those arrested in the mass police raids of January 1941.

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  German Troops in Occupied Warsaw (Chris Webb Private Archive)

Arrests in the provinces are similar in character to those in Warsaw. We may note, among the large-scale arrests, those of elementary school teachers in the region of Kock - near Lublin - late last autumn, and of Cracow youths in connection with the firing of the Cracow fair.

Beside sporadic arrests, the German police from time to time make mass raids. Such raids were made this winter in January, at first in Warsaw only, later in all the larger towns. They were carefully prepared and staged as a big political move; in fact they were a reply to the increased Polish underground activities. Opposition to the 'declaration of loyalty,' now required from all officials and government employees, and the increased circulation of the illegal Press caused especial annoyance to the German authorities. The Governor-General Frank, stated at the conference of the district governors that reprisals were necessary in order to pave the way for a 'policy of stabilization.' The Commander of the SS battalions and the police Kruger, ordered his subordinates to discover all the secret printing presses and to stop the distribution of the illegal Press before February.

The German drive, therefore, was directed mainly against those at present suspected of political activities, and against Polish propaganda. In order to make the new drive more effective than their past activities, the Germans drew up lists of all those liable to arrest, and strengthened their police forces. The lists were based mainly on police evidence. In the provinces this work still continues, and members of dissolved trade unions especially are still being harassed.

The Germans drew up lists of persons who had been decorated with any Polish order, of those who took an active part in the independence movement before 1918, or in the Upper Silesian rising etc. Five SS Battalions (about 2,000 men) were brought from the Sudetenland to Warsaw to carry out the repressive measures. In order to keep the population in a state of continual anxiety and to augment the effect the arrests were spread over several days. They began on January 10th, 1941. People were stopped in the streets and identified. The first arrests in private flats started on the night of January 10th and lasted until January 14th. In some cases the searches were quite superficial, in others the flats were ransacked, the police even looking into W.C.'s, examining books in libraries and sometimes going so far as to remove window and door frames. As usual, many thefts happened during these searches. Often if the person being searched for was not at home, hostages were taken. The searches were usually carried through between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.

In the streets patrols arrested passersby and raided tramcars and cafes, comparing the people's names with their own lists. Sunday January 12th, was the worst day. After January 14th, the arrests continued, but on a smaller scale. The number of those arrested in Warsaw alone in the January raids was about 1,000. Age did not matter: among those arrested were a boy of only 14, a man of 74, a woman of 68, and a former member of the P.O.W. - a prewar Polish paramilitary organisation.

It seems that the basis of the list of those arrested was as follows: (a) those suspected of actual political activity: (b) those who were politically and socially active before the war, and therefore suspected of taking part in underground work. By its very nature the first group was not numerous, but it was swollen by those collectively responsible for the tram-workers strike. The arrests among tram-workers were numerous - 42 persons in all. In the city scavenging service, 28 persons were arrested. Altogether 87 municipal employees - among them 3 women - were arrested. 50 of them being manual workers, which was unusual.

The second group was certainly by far the largest. Decorations for patriotic activities served as a guide to the occupant authorities. Among the arrested were many persons who before the war had been active members of the Government Party, the Nationalist Party, the Socialist Party, or of trade unions. Among the workers arrested, those engaged in the metal industries were especially numerous; there were also several officials of the Arbeitsamt and of the Social Insurance Office, a large number of railway men, and some 20 Polish policemen. Many boy-scouts were imprisoned, on the basis, it seems, of a list of boys worthy of trust, prepared in one of the Warsaw boy-scouts units, and stolen by the Germans. Many other boys of 16 to 18 were seized. Lastly, as usual, many arrests were made among Lawyers, Surgeons, Engineers, Writers, and Journalists.

Mass arrests were made not only in Warsaw and its suburbs, but also in the main provincial towns. In Lublin and Radom persons politically or professionally active before the war were singled out for repressive measures. In Radom and its neighbourhood about 600 persons were arrested on January 24th, mainly among the intellectual class, professional workers and military people. Among them were the mayor of the town, the judges of the Court of Appeal, priests and engineers from the armament industry, which has its centre at Radom.

Among the women arrested were several Government employees, school teachers and wives of Army men. The searches varied; in some homes they were quite superficial, in others they were very thorough, including the demolition of floors and walls and the breaking of furniture. The police force from Radom made a sortie to Kielce, where they arrested 300 persons. The Lublin arrests were of a similar character, and affected some 600 people. Measures in Cracow, however, bore an entirely different character. As a result of the discovery of the Cracow illegal Dziennik Polski (Polish Daily) the police struck especially at democratic circles, rounding up some 170 persons.

The Prisons

Those arrested are sent to prisons, where they remain until the German Tribunal (Sondergericht) has passed judgement, or until they are deported to Oswiecim, or shot. As changes in the police force are very frequent, prisoners often wait for months for a decision about their fate. The prisons are full to overflowing. In the Pawiak prison, for instance, there were about 2,000 people in December last, although this prison's capacity is only 1,800. From time to time the necessity arises of preparing room for a new batch of prisoners, which is an unmistakable sign that mass raids are being prepared. On the eve of the January arrests, two large groups of prisoners were sent to Oswiecim: on January 4th, 299 persons and on the 6th, 505. These last were enumerated in three lists, one of them containing the names of 102 people sentenced to death. A few days after the mass raids a batch of 420 persons left for Oswiecim, and on January 31st, another of 600.

The prisoners were transported in sealed, unheated trucks and were without food for several days. The prisoners are cross-examined by the Gestapo, torture is freely used to extract confessions. Women return to their cells with bleeding buttocks, men with twisted ankles and wrists, while sometimes a dead body is brought back. When the questioning is effective, three police officers constitute a secret summary Tribunal which can only pass the death sentence.The sentences are never published.

The immense majority of those shot, however, are simply the victims of mass shooting of prisoners without any sentence whatever. In Palmiry, in the Kampinos forest, 102 men were shot in December and at Biala Podlaska a further 20. Among these, a woman dentist from Bielsk, Zofja Kucharska, stands out for her special courage in facing the firing squad. In November four Polish officers were shot in Siedlce because they failed to register with the police. On November 16th, in Radom, 25 political prisoners from the town and its vicinity were executed.

The Terror in the Country Districts

The non-delivery or slack delivery of the quotas of food-stuffs, fixed by the occupying authorities, gives them an opportunity for repressive measures of a very varied character. They range from searches in peasants' homes, requisitioning of food, and beating, to arrests of peasants, village heads, priests or school teachers whom the Germans have made responsible for the delivery of the quotas. Other measures are the requisitioning of cattle, inhuman beating and ill-treatment of whole villages, setting homes on fire, expropriating, even manslaughter. It would be impossible to detail all the cases. We must be content with a few examples:

Lublin - In the buildings where formerly horse fairs were held, 2,000 persons are kept under arrest for failing to deliver quotas. In the Lublin district the Germans make mass punitive raids, beating and torturing the people, and sending peasants to labour camps.

Dzierzgowice (Lublin District) - A peasant has been expropriated for selling a pig without permission. The quotas are so high that the peasants prefer to leave their land derelict.

Belzec - A 72 year-old peasant who failed to deliver his quota was arrested and sent to a labour camp. While going to work the old man fell, as he could not keep up with his younger comrades. He was shot by the escorting German policeman. The other workers had to dig a grave for him.

Jaszczow (Lublin District) - On November 27th, 1940, 160 peasant families were deported for non-delivery of the quotas. They were deported to Kazimierz on the Vistula.

Here is an excerpt from a letter, describing one of the numerous punitive raids in the country:

'On November 20th, two lorries arrived in two villages with Gestapo men and the Kreislandwirt (District Agricultural Controller). The Kreislandwirt personally searched all the lofts, and confiscated everything he found, refusing to abide by the regulations which freed from quotas small-holders owning less than six acres. The soldiers behaved quietly and even sympathised with the people, but their commander threatened to kill all the inhabitants, including the village head. In spite of the thorough search very little corn was found and confiscated. The Germans pretended that the harvest was buried underground. The Kreislandwirt fell into a rage and arrested six peasants, who were sent to a labour camp.

Afterwards the authorities ordered the two villages to provide a certain amount of barley, an amount 85 per cent greater than the villages normally produce. This was probably done deliberately, so as to have an opportunity of another raid when the quota has not been delivered. During such raids German soldiers get half a chicken, 2lbs of bread and a jug of milk for dinner, and the peasants who are forced to provide the food , do not receive a penny for it.'

District of Kielce - As the quotas were not delivered the priests and school teachers in the villages of Chlewiska, Dabrowka, Tarnawa Gorna, Goleniow, Slupia, and Wloszczowa were arrested. Arrests were made throughout the whole district.

The Liw district - In October the Selbschutz ordered all the men in five villages on the banks of the river Liw, a tributary of the Bug, to appear at a roll call. They were surrounded , undressed , beaten, tortured, their ribs broken, and some even blinded. This action resulted from a complaint of the village head against one of the peasants that he willfully refused to deliver his quota. (The complaint itself was false). Windmills and other mills are continually being set on fire by the Germans for grinding corn secretly. In the Cracow area even grindstones in peasants' huts were confiscated.


The presence in the Generalgouvernement of peasants deported from the Western provinces - in some places in the Generalgouvernement they already constitute 25 per cent of the population - makes peasants there panic-stricken at the thought of deportation. The deportation of whole villages, 'in the interests of the state,' as the Germans say, is already being made today on a mass scale. The Radom district has been more affected than any other. An order has been issued there in which 43 villages to be evacuated before May 1st 1941, were specified. Those who voluntarily leave these places before May 1st, 1941, will be entitled to take with them their livestock and other belongings, and an indemnity of 100 zloty (about £4) per head will be paid. After this date the inhabitants will be removed by force, without the right to take any implements or animals.

In the same order 21 other localities were named, among them the town of Nowe Miasto, on the Pilica, as places to which it is forbidden to move (this means that the inhabitants of these places are also to be deported in the future). The deportations are a corollary of the building of underground airfields and hangars.

In November and December the population of 40 villages between Glowaczow, Bobrowniki and Brzoza on the left-hand side of the Warszaw - Kozienice road, was deported. The inhabitants of four other villages were ordered to vacate their homes by December 1st , 1940. In spite of the terror, of the beating even of sick people and of pregnant women, the smashing of windows and chimneys, and the loading of furniture on vans by deportation commissions, the population resists and clings to its homes to the last.

All along the Warsaw -Radom railway, and especially in the villages and country houses around Barlodzieje- Kruszyna, the population has been in course of deportation since last August. The inhabitants of 25 villages have been deported. The reason is the same: the building of underground hangers and airfields. In the district of Grojec the evacuation of 20 villages is expected, to make room for fortifications.

The Terror against the Jews

In the Jewish forced labour camps, situated mostly along the present Soviet frontier, conditions are deplorable. The barracks are not heated, the food is bad, work is hard, and beatings incessant. The fate of the inmates is the harder as they are not used to physical work, and their clothing is totally inadequate. The death rate is very high. It is said to reach 10 per cent: 6 per cent from illness and 4 per cent from shooting. When some military works were finished the Jews employed in building them were shot. The conditions in the labour camps for Jews are, on the whole, similar to those prevailing in concentration camps. In the camp for Jews in Debica, near Cracow, the following punishment is in use: the delinquent is bound with wet leather thongs: as they dry they harden up on the victim so much that he loses consciousness.

The Ghetto in Warsaw

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Ruins in the Warsaw Ghetto (Chris Webb Private Archive)

Immediately after their conquest of Poland the Germans started to apply to the Jews a policy aiming at their impoverishment, degradation and separation.This policy paved the way for the creation of separate Jewish districts, i.e. of ghettos. The ghetto is the symbol of the present position of the Jews in the GeneralGouvernement, in relation to law, economic life and the rest of humanity. The largest and most typical ghetto is in Warsaw, so we shall confine our remarks to this example.

Already in April 1940, the area destined for the ghetto was called 'the closed contaminated area' and was surrounded by walls. In October last the Governor of Warsaw, Fischer, and his delegate Leist, issued a series of orders defining the limits of the ghetto, ordering, the concentration of Jews from all over Warsaw within these limits, and the expulsion from the newly-formed ghetto of all Aryans. These migrations had to take place before October 31st, 1940. Thus 110,000 Jews and 90,000 Poles were given 18 days in which to move. Both Poles and Jews hurried to migrate, although the removals were very difficult and expensive in view of the many houses destroyed and of the lack of means of transport.

The time limit had to be postponed until November 15th, 1940. Meanwhile the limits of the ghetto were twice changed, on one occasion being reduced, on the other enlarged. For various reasons the most fantastic enclaves were made. For instance the market halls, the Law Courts in Leszno Street and many works under German direction were not included in the ghetto, although they are in the heart of the old Jewish district. As a result both Poles and Jews had to move several times. The Jews who were removed to the ghetto were forbidden to take anything with them with the exception of hand luggage.

On November 16th, the ghetto was closed without any warning. The supplies of the food to the ghetto was stopped. The German police confiscated the food carried to the ghetto by Poles, and also the food , transported by Poles in tramcars, passing through the ghetto. Food prices in the ghetto soared. When the ghetto was closed the German police started practicing endless chicanery towards the Jews. The Jews have to take off their hats to German policemen. They were ordered to exercise with bricks or concrete slabs in their hands, to climb telephone poles, to wash in the gutters etc. Beating without any reason at all became an everyday matter. The police shot at sight all, Poles or Jews who tried to get food into the ghetto (about 20 Jews and Poles were killed). Germans in uniform rob the homes of the richer Jews- in the Leszno and Ogrodowa Street - taking away furniture, money and even food. 

450,000 people now live in the Warsaw ghetto. They are crowded in a small area, the most neglected and the dirtiest in the city. The Jewish cemetery is the only park, and there is only one square. The number of people per room- even before the war the ghetto was the most thickly populated part of Warsaw- has now risen to 6, and in some cases to 10.  

Note: Images added to enhance the text


Extracts from the Polish Fortnightly Review, June 15, 1941

Photographs: Chris Webb Private Archives

Holocaust Historical Society June 10, 2021