Ordinary men, p.11
Christopher R. Browning
Why the contrast between the relatively uneventful and hence unmemorable deportations from Parczew and the horror of Międzyrzec only one week later? On the German side, the key factor was the ratio between perpetrators and victims. For the more than 5,000 Jews of Parczew, the Germans had two companies of Order Police and a unit of Hiwis, or 300 to 350 men. For Międzyrzec, with twice the number of Jews to be deported, the Germans used five platoons of Order Police, the local Security Police, and a unit of Hiwis, or 350 to 400 men. The greater the pressure on the German ghetto clearers in terms of manpower, the greater their ferocity and brutality to get the job done.
Globocnik’s impatient attempt to commence deportations to Treblinka from northern Lublin simultaneous with those from the districts of Warsaw and Radom proved too much for the capacity of the extermination camp. In late August the number of Jews waiting to be killed and the number of corpses that could not be disposed of quickly enough piled up. The overburdened killing machinery broke down. The deportations throughout the Warsaw, Radom, and Lublin districts were temporarily halted, including a train scheduled for two trips from Łuków to Treblinka beginning August 28.35 Globocnik and his extermination camp supervisor, Christian Wirth, rushed to Treblinka to reorganize the camp. Franz Stangl was summoned from Sobibór, which was relatively inactive while rail line repairs made it inaccessible to all but nearby sites, and named commandant. After a week of reorganization, deportations from Warsaw to Treblinka resumed on September 3, followed by deportations from the Radom district in mid-September. Meanwhile, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 enjoyed a brief respite, for only in late September did the killing resume in northern Lublin.
SHORTLY BEFORE THE DEPORTATION PROGRAM RESUMED IN the northern security zone of the Lublin district, Reserve Police Battalion 101 was involved in several more mass shootings. The first of these occurred in the village of Serokomla, some nine kilometers northwest of Kock. Serokomla had already experienced one massacre in May 1940, at the hands of ethnic Germans organized into vigilante-style units known as the Selbstschutz (“self-defense”). These units had been created in occupied Poland in the fall of 1939 and the spring of 1940 under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler’s crony Ludolph von Alvensleben. After conducting a series of massacres, including one at Serokomla, the Selbstschutz was reorganized into “special service” units known as the Sonderdienst and placed under the local county heads of the civil administration.1
Serokomla was visited again by the Germans in September 1942. Lieutenant Brand’s platoon of First Company was stationed in nearby Kock. Brand ordered Sergeant Hans Keller and ten men of the platoon to round up Jews in the outlying areas around Serokomla and bring them to the village.2 Then, early on the morning of September 22, Brand’s platoon drove out of Kock and waited at a crossroads northwest of town. They were joined by other units of First Company under Captain Wohlauf, arriving from Radzyń twenty kilometers to the northeast, as well as the First Platoon of Third Company under Lieutenant Peters, which was stationed in Czemierniki fifteen kilometers to the east. Under the command of Captain Wohlauf, the reserve policemen drove to Serokomla.
Shortly before reaching the village, Wohlauf halted the convoy and gave orders. Machine guns were set up on two hills just outside the town, vantage points from which the entire area could be seen. Some men from Brand’s platoon were assigned to cordon off the Jewish quarter of the village, and the rest of First Company was detailed to collect the Jewish population.3
As yet Wohlauf had said nothing about shooting, except that the men were to proceed as usual—an indirect reference understood to mean that those attempting to hide or escape as well as those unable to walk were to be shot on the spot. However, Lieutenant Peters’s platoon, which had been held in reserve, was sent to an area of gravel pits and mounds of waste material less than a kilometer outside the village. To Sergeant Keller, who could observe the deployment from his machine-gun nests atop the two nearby hills, it was obvious that the Jews of Serokomla were going to be shot, though Wohlauf had only spoken to the men of “resettlement.”
The collection of the Jews of Serokomla—some 200 or 300—was completed by 11:00 a.m. on what was turning out to be a warm, sunny day. Then Wohlauf “suddenly” declared that all the Jews were to be shot.4 Additional men from First Company were sent to the gravel pits under the command of Sergeant Jurich* to join the shooters from Lieutenant Peters’s platoon. At around noon, the remaining men of First Company began marching the Jews out of town in groups of twenty to thirty.
Lieutenant Peters’s platoon had been in the cordon at Józefów and was thus spared duty in the firing squads. They had likewise been absent from Second Company’s shooting at Łomazy. At Serokomla, however, their turn had come.
Without the experienced help of the Hiwis, as at Łomazy, Wohlauf organized the executions along the lines of the Józefów shooting. The groups of twenty to thirty Jews, which had been marched out of town in succession to the gravel pits, were turned over to an equal number of Peters’s and Jurich’s commandos. Thus each policeman once again faced the individual Jew he was going to shoot. The Jews were not forced to undress, nor was there a collection of valuables. There was also no selection for labor. All the Jews, regardless of age and sex, were to be shot.
The policemen in the shooting commandos marched their Jews to the crest of one of the mounds of waste material in the area of the gravel pits. The victims were lined up facing a six-foot drop. From a short distance behind, the policemen fired on order into the necks of the Jews. The bodies tumbled over the edge. Following each round, the next group of Jews was brought to the same spot and thus had to look down at the growing pile of corpses of their family and friends before they were shot in turn. Only after a number of rounds did the shooters change sites.
As the shooting proceeded, Sergeant Keller strolled down from his machine-gun nests to talk with Sergeant Jurich. While they watched the shooting at close range, Jurich complained about Wohlauf. After the captain had ordered this “shit,” he had “sneaked off” to Serokomla and was sitting in the Polish police station.5 Unable to show off to his new bride, who this time did not travel with him, Wohlauf apparently had no desire to be present at the killing. Subsequently, Wohlauf claimed that he did not have even the faintest memory of the Serokomla action. Perhaps his mind was already on his upcoming trip to Germany to take his bride home.
The shooting lasted until 3:00 p.m. Nothing was done about burial; the bodies of the dead Jews were simply left lying in the gravel pits. The policemen stopped in Kock, where they had an afternoon meal. When they returned to their respective lodgings that evening, they were given special rations of alcohol.6
Three days after the massacre at Serokomla, Sergeant Jobst* of First Company—dressed in civilian clothes and accompanied by a single Polish translator—departed from Kock for a rendezvous that had been arranged to entrap a member of the Polish resistance who was in hiding between the villages of Serokomla and Talcyn. The trap was successfully sprung, and Jobst captured his man. However, as Jobst was returning to Kock through Talcyn, he was ambushed and killed. The Polish interpreter escaped and reached Kock long after dark with news of the sergeant’s death.7
Around midnight Sergeant Jurich telephoned battalion headquarters in Radzyń to report the killing of Jobst.8 When Keller talked with Jurich following the call, he got the impression that there was no inclination in battalion headquarters to punish the village. Major Trapp soon called back from Radzyń, however, and said that Lublin had ordered a retaliation shooting of 200 people.9
The same units that had descended upon Serokomla four days earlier now met at the same crossroads outside Kock early on the morning of September 26. Captain Wohlauf was not in command this time, for he was already on his way to Germany. Instead Major Trapp, accompanied by his adjutant, Lieutenant Hagen, and the battalion staff, was personally in charge.
Upon arrival in Talcyn the entire
Obviously anxious to alienate the local population as little as possible, Trapp and Lieutenant Hagen made the selection in consultation with the Polish mayor. Only two categories of Poles were involved: strangers and temporary residents in Talcyn on the one hand, and those “without sufficient means of existence” on the other.12 Trapp sent at least one policeman to calm the women being held in nearby classrooms, who were crying and screaming in desperation.13 Seventy-eight Polish men were selected by this process. They were taken outside of town and shot. As one German policeman recalled, they shot only “the poorest of the poor.”14
Lieutenant Buchmann took some of the men directly back to Radzyń, but others stopped in Kock for lunch. They were in the middle of their meal when they learned that the killing for the day was not yet over. Still far short of his retaliation quota of 200, Trapp had apparently hit upon an ingenious way to meet it without further aggravating relations with the local population. Instead of shooting more Poles in Talcyn, his policemen would shoot Jews from the Kock ghetto.15
One German policeman, a driver who was on his way to Radzyń, claimed that he stopped at the ghetto on the edge of town to warn of the imminent action.16 Such warnings, of course, were to no avail for a trapped population. Search squads of German police entered the ghetto and proceeded to grab anyone they could find, regardless of age or sex. Older Jews who could not march to the shooting site were gunned down on the spot. One policeman later testified, “Although I was supposed to take part in the search, here too I was able to mill around the streets. I disapproved of the Jewish actions in any form and thus did not deliver a single Jew to be shot.”17
As usual, though, the few who shirked or evaded participation did not impede those intent upon their task. The Jews who had been caught in the dragnet were taken out of the ghetto to a large house that backed onto a walled courtyard. In groups of thirty, they were led into the courtyard and forced to lie down next to the wall. On the order of Lieutenant Brand, the Jews were shot by noncommissioned officers equipped with submachine guns. The bodies were left lying until the next day, when work Jews from the ghetto were fetched to bury their dead in a mass grave.18 Major Trapp immediately reported to Lublin that 3 “bandits,” 78 Polish “accomplices,” and 180 Jews had been executed in retaliation for the ambush of Jobst in Talcyn.19 Apparently the man who had wept through the massacre at Józefów and still shied from the indiscriminate slaughter of Poles no longer had any inhibitions about shooting more than enough Jews to meet his quota.
If Major Trapp was reconciling himself to his role in the murder of Polish Jewry, Lieutenant Buchmann was not. After Józefów he had informed Trapp that without a direct personal order he would not take part in Jewish actions. He had also asked for a transfer. In making such requests, Buchmann had an important advantage. Before being sent to officer training and becoming a reserve lieutenant, Buchmann had been a driver for Trapp during the battalion’s first stint in Poland in 1939. He thus knew Trapp personally. He felt that Trapp “understood” him and was not “indignant” about the position he took.20
Trapp did not obtain an immediate transfer for Buchmann back to Germany, but he did protect him and accommodate his request not to participate in Jewish actions. Buchmann was stationed in Radzyń in the same building as the battalion staff, so it was not difficult to work out a procedure that avoided any “refusal to obey orders.” Whenever a Jewish action was planned, orders were passed directly from headquarters to Buchmann’s deputy, Sergeant Grund.* When Grund would ask Buchmann if he wished to accompany the platoon on its forthcoming action, Buchmann knew that it was a Jewish action and declined. Thus, he had not gone with First Company to either Miédzyrzec or Serokomla. Talcyn did not begin as a Jewish action, however, and Buchmann was in the school when Trapp carried out the selection of the Poles, though it was no accident that Trapp sent him directly back to Radzyń before the killing of Jews from the Kock ghetto began.
In Radzyń Buchmann had made no effort to hide his feelings. On the contrary, he “was indignant about how the Jews were treated and openly expressed these views at every opportunity.”21 It was obvious to those around him that Buchmann was a very “reserved,” “refined” man, a “typical civilian” who had no desire to be a soldier.22
For Buchmann, Talcyn was the final straw. On the afternoon he returned, the desk clerk tried to report to him, but he “had immediately gone to his room and locked himself in. For days Buchmann would not talk to me, although we knew each other well. He was very angry and complained bitterly, saying something to the effect, ‘Now I won’t do this shit any longer. I have a noseful.’”23 Buchmann not only complained. In late September he also wrote directly to Hamburg, urgently requesting a transfer. He could not carry out those tasks “alien to the police” that his unit was being given in Poland.24
If Buchmann’s behavior was tolerated and protected by Trapp, it received mixed reactions from his men. “Among my subordinates many understood my position, but others made disparaging remarks about me and looked down their noses at me.”25 A few men in the ranks followed his example, however, and told the company first sergeant, Kammer, “that they were neither able nor willing to take part in such actions anymore.” Kammer did not report them. Instead he yelled at them, calling them “shitheads” who “were good for nothing.” But for the most part he freed them from participating in further Jewish actions.26 In so doing, Kammer was following the example Trapp had set from the beginning. As long as there was no shortage of men willing to do the murderous job at hand, it was much easier to accommodate Buchmann and the men who emulated him than to make trouble over them.
The Deportations Resume
BY THE END OF SEPTEMBER 1942 RESERVE POLICE BATTALION 101 had participated in the shooting of approximately 4,600 Jews and 78 Poles and had helped deport approximately 15,000 Jews to the extermination camp at Treblinka. These murderous activities had involved eight separate actions stretched over three months. On three occasions—the first deportation from Parczew, the shooting at Łomazy, and the deportation from Międzyrzec—the policemen had worked alongside Hiwi units from Trawniki. On the other five—Józefów, the second Parczew deportation, Serokomla, Talcyn, and Kock—the policemen had worked alone.
The policemen were able to keep these actions distinct in their memories; they could describe each in some detail and date them fairly precisely. Between the beginning of October and early November, however, the activities of Reserve Police Battalion 101 intensified greatly. One action followed another in unremitting succession as tens of thousands of Jews were deported from the county of Radzyń in repeated ghetto-clearing operations. It is therefore very difficult to reconstruct the events of these deadly six weeks. The policemen’s memories blurred as one action ran into another. They could still recall some particular incidents but could no longer fit them into a chronological sequence of distinct operations. My reconstruction of this rapid sequence of events, to which the confused memories of the policemen must be matched, is based above all upon the immediate postwar research of the Polish-Jewish historian Tatiana Brustin-Berenstein and the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.1
In early September the disposition of Order Police in the Lublin district was modified. A fourth security zone was created, which included the three counties Biała Podlaska, Hrubieszów, and Chełm along the district’s eastern border. This permitted the transfer of the First and Second Platoons of Gnade’s Second Company from the county of Biała Podlaska to the towns of Międzyrzec and Komarówka in northern Radzyń county.2
In the last week of September most of the remaining Jews in Biała Podlaska followed Se
The coordinating center for the October “offensive” against the ghettos of Radzyń county was the branch office of the Security Police under Untersturmführer Fritz Fischer. Administration of the Radzyń, Łuków, and Międzyrzec ghettos had been taken over by Security Police officers in June 1942,8 but local manpower was quite limited. The Radzyń branch office and its outpost in Łuków had perhaps a total of forty German Security Police and ethnic German “helpers” between them. Fischer also had a permanent unit of twenty Hiwis at his disposal. Międzyrzec, Łuków, and Radzyń had a total of forty to fifty Gendarmerie.9 Clearly this limited force of Security Police and Gendarmerie, even with Fischer’s own Hiwi unit, was utterly dependent on outside help for deporting the Jews from these ghettos. Once again, Reserve Police Rattalion 101 provided the bulk of the manpower, without which the ghetto clearing could never have been carried out.
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