Ordinary men, p.10
Ordinary Men, p.10Christopher R. Browning
The massacre at Łomazy—the second four-figure shooting carried out by the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101—differed from the massacre at Józefów in significant ways. On the part of the victims, there seem to have been many more escape attempts at Łomazy,30 presumably because the young, able-bodied work Jews were not spared and the victims were more aware of their impending fate from the beginning. Despite greater efforts by the Jews to hide or escape, in terms of efficiency the killing procedure was a considerable advance over the improvised and amateurish methods employed at Józefów. Roughly one-third as many men killed even more Jews (1,700) in about half the time. Moreover, valuables and clothing were collected, and the bodies disposed of in a mass grave.
Psychologically, the burden on the killers was much reduced. The Hiwis, not just liquored up after the event to help them forget but drunk from the start, did most of the shooting. According to Sergeant Bentheim, his men were “overjoyed” that they were not required to shoot this time.31 Those spared such direct participation seem to have had little if any sense of participation in the killing. After Józefów, the roundup and guarding of Jews to be killed by someone else seemed relatively innocuous.
Even the policemen who did have to replace the Hiwis and shoot for several hours in the late afternoon did not recall the experience with anything like the horror that predominated in their accounts of Józefów. This time the men did not have to pair off with their victims face to face. The personal tie between victim and killer was severed. In sharp contrast to Józefów, only one policeman recalled the identity of a particular Jew he had shot.32 In addition to the depersonalization of the killing process, through rapid rotation the men were spared the sense of unremitting, endless killing that had been so salient at Józefów. Their direct participation in the killing was not only less personal but more finite. Habituation played a role as well. Having killed once already, the men did not experience such a traumatic shock the second time. Like much else, killing was something one could get used to.
One other factor sharply distinguished Łomazy from Józefów and may well have been yet another kind of psychological “relief” for the men—namely, this time they did not bear the “burden of choice” that Trapp had offered them so starkly on the occasion of the first massacre. No chance to step out was given to those who did not feel up to shooting; no one systematically excused those who were visibly too shaken to continue. Everyone assigned to the firing squads took his turn as ordered.33 Therefore, those who shot did not have to live with the clear awareness that what they had done had been avoidable.
This is not to say that the men had no choice, only that it was not offered to them so openly and explicitly as at Józefów. They had to exert themselves to evade killing. Even Sergeant Hergert, who was most emphatic that there was no call for volunteers and that virtually every man in the company had to take a turn at shooting, conceded that some men may have “slipped off” into the woods.34 Apparently the number of evaders was quite small, however, for in contrast to Józefów, only two men testified to having deliberately avoided shooting in some way. Georg Kageler claimed to have been part of a group that had twice escorted Jews from Łomazy to the forest and then “more or less ‘slipped away’ to escape a further assignment.”35 Paul Metzger* was assigned to an outer cordon at the edge of the forest to block Jews who bolted from the undressing areas and ran for their lives. At Józefów, Metzger had “slipped off” among the trucks after two rounds of shooting. Now, at Łomazy, when one fleeing Jew suddenly ran toward him, Metzger let him pass. As he recalled, “First Lieutenant Gnade, who was … already drunk by then, wanted to know which sentry had allowed the Jew to run away. I did not report myself, and none of my comrades reported. Because of his drunkenness, First Lieutenant Gnade was unable to investigate the matter, and so I was not held to account.”36
The actions of Kageler and Metzger involved at least some risk, but neither suffered any consequence for his evasion. Most of the policemen, however, seem to have made no effort to avoid shooting. At Łomazy following orders reinforced the natural tendency to conform to the behavior of one’s comrades. This was much easier to bear than the situation at Józefów, where the policemen were allowed to make personal decisions concerning their participation but the “cost” of not shooting was to separate themselves from their comrades and to expose themselves as “weak.”
Trapp had not only offered a choice but he had set a tone. “We have the task to shoot Jews, but not to beat or torture them,” he had declared.37 His own personal distress had been apparent to all at Józefów. Thereafter, however, most “Jewish actions” were carried out in company and platoon strength, not by the full battalion. The company commanders—like Gnade at Łomazy—and not Trapp were thus in a position to set the tone for the behavior expected and encouraged from the men. Gnade’s gratuitous and horrific sadism at the grave’s edge was only one instance of how he chose to exercise leadership in this regard, but such examples soon multiplied. When Gnade and the SS commander of the Trawnikis, both still drunk, encountered Toni Bentheim in the -Łomazy schoolyard after the massacre, Gnade asked, “Well, how many did you shoot, then?” When the sergeant replied none, Gnade responded contemptuously. “One can’t expect otherwise, you’re Catholic after all.”38 With such leadership and the help of the Trawnikis at Łomazy, the men of Second Company took a major step toward becoming hardened killers.
The August Deportations to Treblinka
FAR FROM ANY RAILWAY STATION, ŁOMAZY WAS A TOWN IN which Jews had been concentrated in June 1942 but from which they could not be easily deported. Hence the massacre of August 17. Most of the Jews in the northern Lublin district, however, resided in the towns of Radzyń, Łuków, Parczew, and Międzyrzec, all proximate to rail connections. Henceforth the major contribution of Reserve Police Battalion 101 to the Final Solution was no longer local massacre but ghetto clearing and deportation to the extermination camp at Treblinka, located some 110 kilometers to the north of the battalion headquarters in Radzyń.
The first deportation train to Treblinka left Warsaw late on July 22, 1942, and reached the extermination camp the following morning. Thereafter Jewish transports from Warsaw and the surrounding district arrived daily. Between August 5 and August 24, some 30,000 Jews of Radom and Kielce were also shipped to Treblinka. Though the camp’s killing capacity was stretched to the breaking point, Globocnik impatiently decided to commence deportations from northern Lublin as well. The Jews of Parzcew and Międzyrzec in the county of Radzyń, at the center of Reserve Police Battalion 101′s security zone, were the first targets.
Steinmetz’s Third Platoon of Second Company, minus Gruppe Bekemeier, which had been detached to Łomazy, was stationed in Parczew. More than 5,000 Jews lived in the city’s Jewish quarter, which was not separated from the rest of the town by either wire or wall. But the lack of a sealed ghetto did not mean that the Jewish community there had not suffered all the usual discrimination and humiliation of the German occupation. As Steinmetz recalled, when his policemen arrived, the main street was already paved with Jewish gravestones.1 In early August some 300 to 500 Jews in Parczew had been loaded onto horse-drawn wagons and driven five or six kilometers into the woods under police guard. There the Jews had been turned over to a unit of SS men. The policemen left before hearing any shots, and the fate of the Jews remained unknown to them.2
Rumors of a much larger deportation circulated in Parczew, and many Jews fled to the woods.3 Most were still in town, however, when policemen of the First and Second Companies of Reserve Police Battalion 101, along with a unit of Hiwis, descended upon Parczew early on August 19—just two days after the Łomazy massacre. Trapp gave another speech, informing the men that the Jews were to be taken to the train station two or three kilometers out of town. He indicated “indirectly” but without ambiguity that once again the old and frail who could not march were to be shot on the spot.4
Second Company set up the cordon, and First Compa
In the policemen’s memories, the Parczew deportations were relatively uneventful. Everything went smoothly, there was little shooting, and the participation of the Hiwis in the first deportation does not seem to have been marked by their usual drunkenness and brutality. Presumably because so little “dirty work’’ needed to be done, the Hiwis were not even deemed necessary for the second deportation. While the policemen did not know precisely where the Jews were being sent or what was to be done with them, “it was clear and well known to us all,” as Heinrich Steinmetz admitted, “that for the Jews affected these deportations meant the path to death. We suspected that they would be killed in some sort of camp.”7 Spared direct participation in the killing, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 seem scarcely to have been disturbed by this awareness—even though there were more victims in the Parczew deportations than in the Józefów and Łomazy massacres combined. Out of sight was truly out of mind. Indeed, for some men of Steinmetz’s platoon, the most vivid memory was that they were assigned guard duty in a swampy meadow north of Parczew, where they had to stand all day with wet feet.8
Far more memorable for Reserve Police Battalion 101 was the deportation of 11,000 Jews from Międzyrzec to Treblinka on August 25-26.9 In August 1942 Międzyrzec was the largest ghetto in the county of Radzyń, with a Jewish population of more than 12,000, in comparison to 10,000 Jews in Łuków and 6,000 in the town of Radzyń. In June 1942 ghetto administration in the Lublin district had been transferred from the civil authorities to the SS, and these three ghettos were henceforth supervised by men dispatched from the Radzyń branch office of the Security Police.10
Like Izbica and Piaski in the south of the Lublin district, Międzyrzec was destined to become a “transit ghetto” in which Jews from the surrounding region were collected and sent to Treblinka. To receive more Jews from elsewhere, the ghetto in Międzyrzec had to be periodically emptied of its inhabitants. The first and largest such clearing took place on August 25-26, in a combined action of First Company, Third Platoon of Second Company, and First Platoon of Third Company from Reserve Police Battalion 101, a unit of Hiwis, and the Radzyń Security Police.11
When the battalion headquarters moved from Biłgoraj to Radzyń in late July, the men of First Company were stationed there as well as in Kock, Łuków. and Komarówka. First Platoon of Third Company was also stationed in the county of Radzyń, in the town of Czemierniki, and Third Platoon of Second Company in Parczew. These five platoons were now mobilized for the Międzyrzec action. Some of the policemen arrived in Międzyrzec on the night of August 24, one unit accompanying a convoy of wagons bringing additional Jews.12 Most of the men, however, assembled in Radzyń in the early hours of August 25 under the supervision of First Sergeant Kammer. The initial absence of Captain Wohlauf was explained when the convoy of trucks stopped in front of his private residence on the way out of town. Wohlauf and his young bride—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. “While Captain Wohlauf sat up front next to the driver,” one policeman recalled, “I now had to give up my seat to make room for his wife.”13
Prior to joining Reserve Police Battalion 101, Captain Wohlauf had experienced several career difficulties. He had been sent to Norway with Police Battalion 105 in April 1940, but his commander there eventually demanded his recall. Wohlauf was energetic and bright, he noted, but lacked all discipline and was much too impressed with himself.14 Sent back to Hamburg, Wohlauf was judged by his next commander as lacking interest in home front service and requiring strict supervision.15 At this point, in the spring of 1941, Wohlauf was assigned to Police Battalion 101, which had just returned from Lodz, and his professional fortunes changed. Within months the new battalion commander, Trapp, recommended him for promotion and a company command. Wohlauf was soldierly, energetic, full of life, and possessed leadership qualities, Trapp wrote. Moreover, he sought to act on National Socialist principles and instructed his men accordingly. He was “ready at any time without reservation to go the limit for the National Socialist state.”16 Wohlauf was promoted to the rank of captain, took over First Company, and became Trapp’s deputy commander.
To the men, Wohlauf seemed quite pretentious. One policeman remembered that Wohlauf rode standing in his car like a general. Another remarked that he was disparagingly called “the little Rommel.”17 The chief clerk of First Company recalled his energy, his determination to take charge of all aspects of his command, and his ability to get things done.18 His reluctant platoon commander, Lieutenant Buchmann, judged him a much more “upright and genuine” person than Lieutenant Gnade (admittedly a not very high standard of comparison) and not a prominent anti-Semite. He was an officer who took his responsibilities seriously, but above all he was a young man just married and consumed in romance.19
Indeed, the sudden departure of Reserve Police Battalion 101 for Poland had caught Wohlauf by surprise, upsetting plans for a June 22 wedding. No sooner had he arrived in Biłgoraj in late June than he beseeched Trapp to let him return briefly to Hamburg to marry his girlfriend, because she was already pregnant. At first Trapp refused but then granted him a special leave. Wohlauf was married on June 29, and returned to Poland just in time for Józefów. Once his company was stationed in Radzyń, Wohlauf had his new bride visit him there for their honeymoon.20
Wohlauf may have brought his bride along to witness the Migdzyrzec deportation because he could not stand to be separated from her in the fresh bloom of their honeymoon, as Buchmann suggested. On the other hand, the pretentious and self-important captain may have been trying to impress his new bride by showing her he was master over the life and death of Polish Jewry. The men clearly thought the latter, and their reaction was uniformly one of indignation and outrage that a woman was brought to witness the terrible things they were doing.21 The men of First Company, if not their captain, could still feel shame.
When the convoy carrying Wohlauf, his bride, and most of First Company arrived in Międzyrzec, less than thirty kilometers to the north of Radzyń, the action was already underway. The men could hear shooting and screaming, as the Hiwis and Security Police had begun the roundup. The men waited while Wohlauf went off to get instructions. Twenty or thirty minutes later he returned and issued the company assignments. Some men were sent to outer guard duty, but most of them were assigned to the clearing action alongside the Hiwis. The usual orders were given to shoot anyone trying to escape, as well as the sick, old, and frail who could not march to the train station just outside town.22
While the men waited for Wohlauf’s return, they encountered a Security Police officer already quite drunk, despite the early hour.23 It was soon apparent that the Hiwis were also drunk.24 They shot so often and so wildly that the policemen frequently had to take cover to avoid being hit.25 The policemen “saw the corpses of Jews who had been shot everywhere in the streets and houses.”26
Driven by the Hiwis and policemen, thousands of Jews streamed into the marketplace. Here they had to sit or squat without moving or getting up. As the hours passed on this very hot August day of the late summer heat wave, many Jews fainted and collapsed. Moreover, beating and shooting continued in the marketplace.27 Having removed her military coat as the temperature rose, Frau Wohlauf was clearly visible in her dress on the marketplace, watching the events at close range.28
About 2:00 p. m. the outer guard was called to the marketplace, and one or two hours later the march to the train station began. The entire force of Hiwis and policemen was employed to drive the thousands of Jews along the route. Once again, shooting was common. The “foot
One final horror was reserved to the end, for the train cars now had to be loaded. While the Hiwis and Security Police packed 120 to 140 Jews into each car, the reserve policemen stood guard and observed. As one remembered:
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.30
Once all the cars were sealed, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 quickly departed without waiting to see the train pull away.
The clearing of the Międzyrzec ghetto was the largest deportation operation the battalion would carry out during its entire participation in the Final Solution. Only 1,000 Jews in Międzyrzec had been given temporary work permits to remain in the ghetto until they could be replaced with Poles.31 Thus some 11,000 were targeted for deportation. The policemen knew that “many hundreds” of Jews were shot in the course of the operation, but of course they did not know exactly how many.32 The surviving Jews who collected and buried the bodies did know, however, and their count was 960.33
This figure needs to be put into some wider perspective in order to show the ferocity of the Międzyrzec deportation even by the Nazi standards of 1942. About 300,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw between July 22 and September 21, 1942. The total number of Jews killed by gunfire over this two-month period was recorded as 6,687.34 In Warsaw, therefore, the ratio between those killed on the spot and those deported was approximately 2 percent. The same ratio for Międzyrzec was nearly 9 percent. The Jews of Międzyrzec did not march “like sheep to the slaughter.” They were driven with an almost unimaginable ferocity and brutality that left a singular imprint even on the memories of the increasingly numbed and callous participants from Reserve Police Battalion 101. This was no case of “out of sight, out of mind.”
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