Polish Fortnightly Review The Real New Order

November 15th 1941

The Rule of Terror

In the incorporated areas and in the General Gouuvernement the German oppression of the Polish people grew even more severe and was applied more systematically during 1941. The occupation authorities are extending their control over the entire population, resorting to various measures in order to achieve their control. For instance several annual categories of young men have been called up to do forced labour in the Polnischer Baudienst (Polish Building Services). Estimates give the number of such forced labourers as some 70,000. Also the round-ups of both men and women for work in Germany bring large numbers directly under German control.

Finally, there is the registration of young people and the enrolment of large sections of the population by the issue of labour cards. In consequence it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to escape from the network of controls. In certain of the more densely populated urban areas the German police force has been enlarged and strengthened, especially in Warsaw.

In the Incorporated Areas

There is universal German terror in the areas incorporated with the Reich. Thousands of Poles are sent every month to prison and to concentration camps; a large number succumb to the terror and the violence. In Poznan the German guillotine accounts for some ninety persons of Polish nationality each month; In January ninety-two were thus executed, and in February eighty-five. Death sentences are frequent in other centres also. The persecution in these areas embrace all sections of the population, but primarily the intellectual classes and the clergy. The people held in prisons are frequently inhumanly maltreated and tortured.

In addition to the secret police murders, there are numerous ostensibly legal death sentences passed on Poles on any and every pretext by special courts. The German Press of Poznan and Lodz contains many reports of sentences on such charges as violence against Germans, the possession of arms, etc. The special courts also sentence Poles to long terms of imprisonment for such alleged crimes as insulting the German State and Nation and German officials, for listening to and spreading foreign wireless news, for petty offences against the German economic regulations and so on.

According to reports in the German Press itself, undoubtedly covering only a small proportion of the cases brought before the special courts, from February to April last these courts pronounced sixteen death sentences for possession of arms, and twenty-four death sentences and twenty-five sentences of imprisonment, aggregating one -hundred-and twenty-two years for alleged terror against Germans in September 1939.

At Poznan a trial was conducted of twenty members of a battalion of Polish National Defence, the 57th Infantry Regiment and two other Poles accused of murdering 40 Germans in September 1939. Thirteen of the accused were condemned to death, including Captain Cichon and Lieutenant Kitka. In March Lieutenant Nieciengiewicz who had been brought from an officer Prisoner of War camp for trial, was charged in Poznan with killing two German spies in September 1939, and was beheaded.

Five death sentences and four prison sentences aggregating 34 years were passed on Poles for attacking or attempting to attack a German.Five prison sentences, each of about twelve months, were passed for listening to foreign broadcasts; six sentences, ranging from six months to two years, were passed for singing the Polish national hymn: and a large number of smaller sentences were passed for even lesser activities against Germans before the outbreak of war and at the beginning of the war and for failure to submit to German economic regulations.

Sentences passed on Poles for common crimes are far heavier than those passed on Germans. Such sentences are made public. Recently a death sentence was passed for an incident concerning a drunken German at Jarocin, and another for an attack on a German innkeeper in a quarrel. In this latter case the following comment was attached to the sentence:

'Poles must be treated so that they know beyond all doubt that a Pole who provokes a German is deserving of death.'

At Wiskitno, near Lodz, fourteen Poles were shot in May for killing a German policeman. The execution was carried out in public in the village. The sentence was posted up, the only signature to the sentence being that of a police sergeant. A case is known in which a Pole was beaten up and sentenced to three months imprisonment for reporting a theft committed by a German.

Apart from what may be termed the official German terror, having its sanction in court sentences or in police regulations, cases of individual terrorism, both in the incorporated area and in the General Gouvernement are reported every day. Germans can do as they like on Polish soil and are neither punished nor even called to account before a court for torturing and even murdering Poles.

Besides the terrorism to which they are subject in the Polish incorporated areas, Poles are subjected to universal humiliation and are systematically reduced to the role of people deprived of all civic and human rights. There has been a ruthless confiscation of all the large landed estates and industrial commercial and handicraft enterprises, as well as many medium-sized and small farms and enterprises. Polish may not be spoken in the streets and public places, nor even at places of work.

In many towns, such as Poznan, the Polish inhabitants are deprived of their homes and are crowded into the poorer class dwellings on the outskirts. They are subjected to malicious restrictions on their food supplies, being granted much lower rations than Germans receive. They also receive lower wages and salaries than Germans, while they are more heavily taxed. There are extensive restrictions on their rights to dine in dining rooms and restaurants, and to travel in trams. Certain articles of food may not be sold to Poles at all, while at Poznan, Lodz and elsewhere they can purchase at shops only during restricted periods of the day.

In the General Gouvernement

In the General Gouvernement the situation in some regards is not so serious as in the Western Provinces. But here also the Polish people are the continual victims of petty persecution, torments, and other arbitrary activities on the part of the occupant authorities.

During 1941, mass arrests and deportations to concentration camps have continued on a mass scale. In January some 500 persons were arrested in Kielce, Radom and Czestochowa, while in the same month there were mass arrests at Starachowice, Pionki, Jedlina and Zwolen. Dozens of the arrested people were shot and the rest are in prisons and concentration camps. In February several hundred persons were arrested at Lublin, Zamosc, Pulawy, and Chelm, and suffered a similar fate. In March some 300 persons were arrested in Warsaw at the time of the Igo Sym affair, seventeen of them being shot. 150 persons were arrested at Lowicz and 300 at Siedlce during the same month. April and May brought further extensive arrests in Warsaw, Cracow, Lublin, Pulawy and a number of other Polish towns. During this year there has been an average of 1,000 arrests monthly in Warsaw.

Many of the people arrested are subjected to torture in the prisons and concentration camps in which they are confined. The arrests and deportations chiefly affect the intellectual classes, who are still being mercilessly crushed, but workers and peasants are also included. A certain proportion of the prisoners are regularly sentenced to death by the Gestapo courts, which consist of two persons. Many of them are tortured during investigation, and the majority are sent to concentration camps. The conditions of existence in the prisons and even more in the concentration camps are unimaginable. Both prisons and camps are crowded, petty persecutions are the order of the day, the hygienic conditions are disgusting, the prisoners receive starvation rations, they are frequently tortured, and finally they are compelled to do very exhausting physical labour.

All these conditions turn the prisons, and even more the camps into hell, a hell in which thousands die of hunger, exhaustion and disease. Those few who are fortunate enough to get out of Oswiecim and other concentration camps return home in a state of extreme exhaustion, frequently seriously ill, after incarceration lasting only a few months.

The Igo Sym Affair

igo sym

Igo Sym Photograph taken in Berlin (NAC)

In January 1941, there was a spate of arrests in Warsaw, which died down by the middle of February, though of course sporadic arrests still continued. But at the beginning of March an event occurred which led to further wholesale arrests.

On March 7, the actor Igo Sym, who had collaborated with the Germans from the first days of their occupation, was shot in his home in Mazowiecka Street by an unknown assailant. In reprisal, the German authorities immediately ordered the curfew hour to be changed from 11 to 8pm, prohibited all public performances for a month, and arrested a large number of hostages, who were to be shot if the name of the assailant was not made known to the German authorities within two days. These regulations were at once made known publicly through street loud-speakers, the Press, and by posters. On March 8th, arrests were made in various parts of the city, and all attempts to intervene on behalf of individuals arrested were fruitless.

On March 10th, a paragraph appeared in the Press, stating categorically that the assailant was a Pole, and that the murder had a political motive. On March 11th, a special commission from the Governor- General's office in Cracow was to arrive in Warsaw to investigate the case. On that same day white posters were posted up in the city with the wording in Polish and German :

Command of the Police of the Warsaw Region

As atonement for the infamous murder of the German Igo Sym, a certain number of arrested persons have been shot this morning.

Warsaw March 11th 1941

Signed Dr Moder: Gruppenfuhrer


Poster Displayed in Warsaw regarding the shooting of prisoners in relation to the murder of Igo Sym

This poster was pasted partly over the first poster announcing repressive measures and the intention to shoot hostages in the event of the assailant not being found. Yet rumours circulated through the city that other persons , who had been arrested and imprisoned prior to the assassination had also been shot. These rumours were later completely confirmed, for seventeen persons who had suffered earlier arrest were shot. They included Professor Kopec, his son Stanislaw, and Professor Zakrzewski. On March 14th proclamations announcing that Dobieslaw Damiecki and Janina Gorska were wanted as suspected of the murder were printed in the Press and posted up in the streets.

It is interesting to note that the change of the curfew hour had been expected and had been foretold by the German authorities before the assassination of Igo Sym. On March 7th and 8th there were arrests of selected persons in various parts of the city, over 200 being taken, though the actual figures were not announced. Among those arrested were a number of doctors, including the staff of the Evangelical Hospital , and eight actors and actresses. A large number were women. The District Chief Fischer stated that the necessity for drastic repressive steps arose from the fact that nine Germans and collaborators with the Germans had been assassinated in the area under his charge in the course of a week.

The placards announcing the shooting of the hostages were not allowed to remain unadorned. During the night all the posters in the city were altered with coloured pencils and even rubber stamps, the name Moder being altered to read Morder, the German for murderer. In consequence the Germans had to scratch out the signature or paste it over. The walls of Warsaw were also covered with chalked inscriptions, 'Oswiecim' and 'Remember Oswiecim,' just as in December 1940, the walls had been covered with inscriptions on the anniversary of the Wawer massacre on December 27th, 1939.

Further Arrests

On April 5th, 960 prisoners were removed from the Pawiak prison in Warsaw and taken to an unknown destination, probably to Oswiecim.

After a brief falling off in arrests, in the middle of May some 28 persons who had been associated with the National Democratic Party before the war were arrested in a single day. They included Professor Roman Rybarski, of the Warsaw University and a leader of the Party, Professor Staniszkis, Mr. Trajdos and Mr Siedlaczek. Arrests were also frequently made on the street, for no obvious reason, by Gestapo men in civilian clothes. These people were held in the German police headquarters for a time, though no investigation was made, and were then taken with a number of others in cars to a secret destination. Even then no explanation was forthcoming as to the offences they had committed, nor was the purpose of the journey disclosed. On the other hand, at the end of April some 1,500 persons, both men and women, were brought to Warsaw and put in the Pawiak prison.

On May 24th, a proclamation by District Chief Fischer was posted up throughout the city, announcing that even the smallest damage down to military objects would be punished with the death sentence. In the event of the offender going undiscovered the proclamation stated that hostages would be taken. That same day a number of persons were arrested as hostages. From time to time a number of them were shot, in fulfillment of the announcement in the proclamation.

The situation was no better in other towns of the General Gouvernement. In February there were mass arrests at Radom, some 560 persons drawn from all walks of life - priests, doctors, lawyers, workers- being taken. Among others Mr Heydel, the owner of the Brzoza estate near Radom, was arrested, as well as his brother, Professor Adam Heydel, who as a professor of the Cracow University had already experienced the horror of the concentration camp at Oranienburg. All the prisoners were taken to Skarzysko, where they were kept for some time in the school building. 

Here with the aid of rubber truncheons they were questioned on the subject of the illegal journals now being published in large numbers in Poland. Some of them collapsed under the beatings, but their behaviour generally was heroic. During their confinement in the school they were not allowed to walk about, talk, or even move. The Gestapo employed Ukrainians of the auxiliary Police as guards and torturers of the prisoners. After a long stay in the school several dozen were released and the others transferred to Oswiecim. Within a fortnight news began to trickle through that various of the prisoners had died. Among others whose deaths were reported were both the Heydel's apparently on the same day.

On March 4th, an unknown assailant lopped off the ears of a drunken German soldier at Lowicz. This was immediately followed by mass arrests among the intellectual classes. Nearly two hundred persons were detained, including priests, lawyers, doctors, the deputy-mayor Rybicki, and four women. The Germans resorted to various methods to intensify the psychological terror; prisoners streaming with blood were conducted in broad daylight through the streets of the town from the Gestapo building to the prison; loud-speakers set up on cars announced further proposed arrests, and placards were posted stating that some of the prisoners had already been shot.

In Suchowola district of Radzyn county at the end of March, 28 persons were arrested, including three priests and the three princes Czetwertynski, Severyn, and Ludwik and the latter's son Stanislaw, all of them outstanding Polish citizens. The arrests were made at night and the prisoners were handled very brutally. While being arrested one priest was seriously beaten up.

Next day thirty to forty more persons were arrested in the town of Radzyn itself. Altogether 97 persons were deported from the county. The prisoners were first held in Ladzyn, then in Lublin, and later removed to unknown places of incarceration. But not long after news was received that Prince Ludwik Czetwertynski had died in Oranienburg Concentration Camp.

At Siedlce there have been many cases of excesses committed by drunken German soldiers, such as assailing passers-by and robbing them, and throwing bombs, especially since the beginning of the year. Jewish pogroms have begun, houses being demolished, and mutilated corpses and injured persons being thrown indiscriminately into the street. Altogether eleven Jews were killed, some fifty seriously injured, and nearly two hundred suffered minor injuries, exclusive of those with superficial abrasions and contusions. There have also been many arrests among the Polish population, eighty-six at one time, chiefly intellectuals. Among the hostages taken were all the doctors in the town. The hostages were later ransomed for 120,00 zlotys, collected from the people of the town.

At Kielce there were extensive arrests and searches during March. The police curfew hour was fixed at eight o,clock. Ninety-five persons were arrested, nearly a score of them being shot, while the rest were taken to Oswiecim Concentration Camp. The town's inhabitants were forbidden to stop at street corners, were not allowed to walk in groups of more than two, and were not allowed to loiter in the gateways and doors of houses.

There were many arrests and searches in Lublin and its district during March, and the process has continued since. Some 200 persons were arrested at Janow Lubelski, including the mayor, the majority of the intellectual class, and almost the whole of the Polish police force. Numerous arrests were made among the staff of the Magistracy at Krasnik, and arrests in Hrubieszow county are still continuing, a further twenty persons being arrested at Laszczow recently.

At the beginning of March more than twenty peasants accused of sabotage were shot at Ostroleka. Their bodies were flung into holes and covered with wood, then petrol was poured over and the pyre was set alight. At Skierniewice also a number of young men were arrested, even being hauled out of trains which stopped at the station. Among those arrested were a number of active members of the Polish Red Cross. In the same month there were numerous arrests at Przedborz and Radoszyce, on the charge of distributing illegal literature. The prisoners were tortured in order to force confessions.

In the early spring the prison at Jaslo, in Cracow county, was emptied of all its prisoners, who were transferred to Tarnow. The occasion was taken to shoot a number of them. Reports from Wloclawek indicate that are also arrests are continually being made, and passers-by in the streets are beaten up. And at Kozmin, in Western Poland, numerous arrests followed the killing of two Germans, and fourteen hostages were shot.

The Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw

warschau ghetto019

  Warsaw Ghetto Street Scene (Chris Webb Private Archives)

The position of the separate, self-contained Jewish quarter in Warsaw, created in November 1940, has only recently been regulated legally. According to regulations now issued, having the force of law, it constitutes an independent administrative self-governing unit, subject to a special German commissar who possesses the competence of a rural starosta (head of county) and also in the sphere of self-government administration to the chairman of the Jewish Council, who is granted the competence of a mayor. The work of the Jewish Council is divided among several administrative departments and is also in control of the 'Order Guard' (Jewish Police), as well as a special institution for supplies, now being organised in the form of a limited liability co-operative.

There is a treasury office for the quarter, concerned with collecting State taxes and also acting as the local executive office, which at present is transmitting all receipts from communal taxes to the treasury of the Warsaw city administration. Apparently this arrangement is to be altered, but for the time being the Jewish Council, which in principle has taken on the obligation of local government, derives no receipts from taxation in the strict sense of the word. It meets its financial needs from a main levy, identical for all inhabitants, and also from a graduated levy, the rate of which depends on the payer's financial position. It also makes single payment levies at irregular intervals. However, these levies provide insufficient funds to meet the Council's requirements, in view of the terrible need which prevails in the community.

The ghetto population at present numbers between 510,000 and 520,000, of which 240,000 are listed as indigent and have to be maintained from community funds. But by no means all this number is being assisted, as the very small quantity of food allowed enables the community to issue only some 120,000 portions of soup, barely half the quantity required. The individual rations allowed on ration cards are completely inadequate, consisting as they do of only 2,500 grammes of bread and 180 grammes of sugar per month. All other food must be bought on the open market, which is supplied exclusively with smuggled goods, as the import of food, fuel, etc into the ghetto is officially prohibited.

In such conditions food prices in the Jewish ghetto are far higher than prices in the Aryan quarters. At the end of May the following prices prevailed: Bread , 3.25 zlotys a kilogramme; potatoes, 8.50 zlotys a kilo; butter - almost unobtainable- 100 zlotys a kilo; lard, 80 zlotys a kilo; The pre-war rate was 25 zlotys to one pound sterling.

The prices of other commodities have not risen quite so steeply, and as the largest wholesalers in Warsaw are situated in the ghetto area there is a brisk sale for goods smuggled out into the Aryan quarters. Needless to say, all trade with the Aryan quarters is on an illegal basis, as all commerce between the ghetto and the outside world is possible only through the intermediary of a special German department, given the official title of Transferstelle. This department for settlements exists solely for the purpose of acting as intermediary in the purchase of goods from the Jewish quarter. It collects a commission of from 10 to 25 per cent on all transactions, and the sums paid into the department for individual Jewish accounts are not paid out to the rightful recipients. Moreover, by the nature of things this administrative method of conducting commerce is completely unsuited to trading activities, and so not only do Jews and Poles avoid resorting to it, but even Germans, and especially the military authorities ignore it. The military place orders or make purchases directly in the ghetto, paying the sum due in cash to the vendor, although this is legally prohibited.

The material position of the Jewish population is extraordinarily difficult, especially as only some 4,000 craftsmen and workers are engaged in the community workshops on orders placed by the German authorities. The majority of these workers are tailors, hatters, and some shoemakers. As many more are working on military requirements. Some 50,000 people are living by illegal trade, i.e. by smuggling. The remainder do their best to live by such activities as catering for municipal needs, speculation, and so on, but in the main they are unemployed. The richer people are still selling jewellery and valuables, but there are not many such left, while the poor are dying of hunger and the increasing incidence of illness, especially heart and lung affections.

The terrible position in regard to food supplies, and the hopeless living and sanitary conditions are causing a very high mortality, which is growing month after month. In May it was 5,000 persons, which is equal to a rate of 120 per thousand per annum, or a twelve-fold increase over the pre-war rate. As births have fallen to a very low figure, there is no natural increase in population, but rather a decline. None the less, the population of the ghetto is steadily increasing, as Jews are continually being brought in from the provincial towns, where the Germans do not intend to set up separate Jewish quarters

Some 9,000 people have been taken for forced labour, chiefly in connection with river conservancy and improvement schemes. This low figure is explained by the circumstances that comparatively few Jews are suitable for heavy physical labour. Every day the bodies of people who have died under this labour are brought in (on an average twenty daily) while the dangerously ill are sent away for treatment. The labour conditions under this forced labour, and even the living conditions in the barracks and state of food supplies are terrible. The treatment meted out to the Jews by the camp guard, who consist mainly of Ukrainians, is also very bad.

In the ghetto itself, a Polish police service is organised, but its members are specially chosen for their task. The Jewish 'Order Guard' does not concern itself with the suppression of crime, which is a function of the Polish police. German uniformed police take no active part in control inside the ghetto, and they are concerned only with guarding its boundaries. But the Gestapo functions in the ghetto through secret agents among the Jews, as well as under the cover of a special station for combating illegal trade.

It is noteworthy that the German authorities tend to separate the Jewish quarter in political regards also. For instance, there is a tendency to deprive Jews of personal identification papers proving their Polish citizenship, and to replace them by Jewish passports. Also there is a tendency in the direction of introducing a special currency for the ghetto. Apparently the explanation of this is that the Warsaw ghetto is an experiment on which all Jewish existence throughout Europe is to be modeled in the future when the New Order has been introduced.

warsaw ghetto wall695  

Warsaw Ghetto Wall (Chris Webb Private Archives)

It must be emphasized that the Warsaw ghetto is the only completely closed Jewish quarter in all the General Gouvernement. Where Jewish quarters have been established elsewhere, they are only a zone in which Jews are permitted to settle; but Aryans are not forbidden access to them as in Warsaw, while the Jews also can move freely about the entire town, or at least are granted passes to leave the confines of the ghetto. In the areas incorporated with the Reich the Jews of certain towns are still living in far better conditions than those of Warsaw. In consequence, from 400 to 500 people secretly escape from the Warsaw ghetto every day and try to get into the provinces, even into the incorporated areas, returning to the places from which they have been deported or going to towns where they have relations.  

 Outside Warsaw the only closed Jewish quarter in the Polish territory is at Lodz. This ghetto has been in existence much longer than the Warsaw ghetto, and so the conditions in which the Jews live have had much greater effect on their health. During the first three weeks of May last 1,080 Jews died in Lodz out of 150,000, while there were only eight births. This extremely high mortality is a consequence of the prevailing conditions.

In Lodz the entire population is fed in communal kitchens. The German Commissar for the Jewish quarter in Warsaw has taken the Lodz organisation of communal feeding as a model, and has put forward a proposal for the organisation of similar feeding centres in Warsaw, to be accompanied by the abolition of individual domestic feeding.

Note: Images added to enhance the text


Extracts from the Polish Fortnightly Review December 1st 1941

Photographs: NAC, Private Archive and Chris Webb Private Archives

Holocaust Historical Society May 11, 2021