Ordinary men, p.12
Christopher R. Browning
The deportations to Treblinka resumed on October 1, when 2,000 Jews were shipped from the ghetto of Radzyń. On October 5 5,000 Jews and on October 8 a further 2,000 Jews were deported to Treblinka from Łuków. In a parallel action, thousands of Jews were deported from Międzyrzec on October 6 and 9. Presumably the trains from Łuków and Międzyrzec were joined after loading, though no witnesses testified to this effect. Between October 14 and 16, the clearing of the Radzyń ghetto was completed by transferring its 2,000 to 3,000 Jews to Międzyrzec. Their stay was brief, for Jews were deported from Międzyrzec again on October 27 and November 7. On November 6, the 700 remaining Jews in Kock were taken to Łuków. The following day, as the ghetto in Międzyrzec was also being cleared, 3,000 Jews were deported to Treblinka from Łuków.10 Interspersed with the deportations were occasional shootings to liquidate those Jews who had successfully evaded the ghetto clearing by hiding or had been deliberately left behind, either for lack of space in the trains or to work in cleanup details. When the six-week onslaught was over, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 had helped deport more than 27,000 Jews to Treblinka in eight actions and had killed perhaps 1,000 more during the roundups and in at least four “mopping up” shootings.
What the policemen remembered about each of these actions varied tremendously. The opening operation, the deportation of 2,000 Jews from Radzyń on October 1, was carried out jointly by men from First Company and twenty Hiwis under Untersturmführer Fischer. There was apparently little killing on the spot, though the Hiwis fired frequent warning shots to drive the Jews to the train station.11 The following day, October 2, Sergeant Steinmetz’s Third Platoon of Second Company completed the liquidation of the Parczew ghetto by shooting—on Gnade’s orders—more than a hundred Jews who had apparently been brought there too late for the transfer to Międzyrzec.12
Thereafter simultaneous deportations were carried out from the two transit ghettos in Łuków and Międzyrzec by First and Second Companies respectively. Since early September, Lieutenant Gnade had made his new company headquarters in Międzyrzec. To avoid the difficult Polish pronunciation, the men of Second Company referred to it by the apt German nickname Menschenschreck, or “human horror.” Gnade’s driver, Alfred Heilmann,* remembered taking the lieutenant one evening to a five-hour meeting in a building on the main square in Międzyrzec that served as the Security Police headquarters and prison. During the meeting, a terrible cry arose from the cellar. Two or three SS officers came out of the building and emptied their submachine guns through the cellar windows. “So now we’ll have quiet,” one remarked as they reentered the building. Heilmann cautiously approached the cellar window, but the stench was terrible and he turned back. The noise from upstairs increased until Gnade emerged at midnight quite drunk and told Heilmann that the ghetto would be cleared the next morning.13
The men of Second Company who were stationed in Międzyrzec were awakened around 5:00 a.m. They were joined by Drucker’s Second Platoon from Komarówka as well as a sizable contingent of Hiwis. Drucker’s men apparently cordoned off the ghetto while the Hiwis and the rest of the Order Police drove the Jews into the main square. Gnade and others used their whips on the assembled Jews to enforce quiet. Some died from the beatings even before the march to the train station began.14 Heilmann watched while the Jews who had been incarcerated in the cellar prison of Security Police headquarters were hauled out and led away. They were covered with excrement and obviously had not been fed in days. After the required number of Jews had been assembled, they were marched to the train station. Those who could not walk were shot on the spot, and the guards shot ruthlessly into the column of Jews whenever it slowed.15
A small contingent of policemen was already at the train station in order to keep Polish spectators away. Gnade supervised the loading of the arriving Jews onto the train. Shooting and beating were employed without restraint to maximize the number of Jews crammed into each cattle car. Twenty-two years later, Gnade’s first sergeant made a very unusual confession, given the pronounced reluctance of the witnesses to criticize their former comrades. “To my regret, I must say that First Lieutenant Gnade gave me the impression that the entire business afforded him a great deal of pleasure.”16
But even the most unfettered violence could not overcome the shortage of train cars, and when the doors were finally forced shut, about 150 Jews—mostly women and children but also some men—remained. Gnade summoned Drucker and told him to take these Jews to the cemetery. At the cemetery entrance the policemen chased away the “eager spectators”17 and waited until First Sergeant Ostmann* arrived in a truck with a supply of vodka for the shooters. Ostmann turned to one of his men who had hitherto avoided shooting and chided him. “Drink up now, Pfeiffer.* You re in for it this time, because the Jewesses must be shot. You’ve gotten yourself out of it so far, but now you must go to it.” An execution squad of about twenty men was sent into the cemetery. The Jews were brought in groups of twenty, men first and then women and children. They were forced to lie face down near the cemetery wall and then shot from behind in the neck. Each policeman fired seven or eight times.18 At the cemetery gate one Jew sprang at Drucker with a syringe but was quickly subdued. The other Jews sat quietly awaiting their fate, even after the shooting began. “They were quite emaciated and looked half starved to death,” one guard remembered.19
The number of victims of this Międzyrzec deportation of October 6 and a subsequent one three days later can not be ascertained. Witness accounts vary greatly.20 In any case, the ghetto was restocked once again in mid-October, when 2,000 to 3,000 Jews were brought from Radzyń. These Jews were assembled early on the morning of October 14 and loaded onto a caravan of more than a hundred horse-drawn wagons. Guarded by Polish police, ethnic Germans of the Sonderdienst, and a few policemen from First Company, the caravan slowly made its way to Międzyrzec twenty-nine kilometers to the north, arriving after dark. The empty wagons were then returned to Radzyń.21
In subsequent actions on October 27 and November 7, the Międzyrzec ghetto was cleared of all but some 1,000 work Jews. These actions must have been smaller than those of early October, for neither Hiwi units nor Security Police from Radzyń were employed to assist the policemen. Gnade was now totally in charge. He apparently introduced one further step in the deportation procedure—the “strip search.” After being assembled in the marketplace, the deportees were driven into two barracks where they were forced to undress and searched for valuables. They were allowed to put only their underclothing back on, despite the cold autumn weather. Scantily clad, they were marched to the train station and packed into cattle cars destined for Treblinka.22 With the conclusion of the November 7 action, units of Reserve Police Battalion 101 had deported at least 25,000 Jews from the city of “human horror” to Treblinka since late August.
While Gnade was deporting Jews from Międzyrzec, First Company was carrying out parallel actions in Łuków. Captain Wohlauf was no longer in charge, however. His relations with Trapp had steadily deteriorated, and the major spoke openly of his dismay over the Międzyrzec episode in which Wohlauf had taken his new bride to witness the ghetto clearing.23 After the massacre at Serokomla, Wohlauf had accompanied his wife to Hamburg, where he remained for several days before returning. Back in Radzyń by mid-October, he became ill with jaundice. In early November his only brother, a Luftwaffe pilot, was killed, and several days later his father died in Dresden. Wohlauf returned to Dresden for the funeral, reported sick, and returned once again to Hamburg for treatment of his jaundice as an outpatient. While recuperating, he learned that his request to be recalled from frontline duty as the only surviving son had been approved. He returned to Radzyń only briefly in January 1943 to pick up his personal belongings.24
If Wohlauf had extricated himself from Reserve Police Battalion 101, his men enjoyed no similar respite. Joined by Steinmetz’s men from Łomazy and Parczew (Third Platoon, Second Company) as well as a unit of Hiwis, they carried out two deportations from Łuków, of
After the initial deportations, Steinmetz’s platoon returned to Parczew, and the battalion headquarters was shifted from Radzyń to Łuków. On November 6, Lieutenant Brand and Sergeant Jurich supervised the transfer to Łuków of the last 700 Jews in Kock. When Jurich discovered that many Jews were missing, he shot the head of the Jewish council on the spot. As in the transfer from Radzyń to Międzyrzec, horse-drawn wagons were used and reached Łuków only late at night.30
The concluding deportation of the 3,000 to 4,000 Jews from Łuków began the next morning (November 7), an operation that continued for several days.31 No longer in any doubt about their fate, the Jews sang, “We are traveling to Treblinka,” as they were marched away. In retaliation for the failure of the Jewish ghetto police to report hidden Jews, the Order Police carried out a shooting of forty to fifty Jews.32
During this final deportation many Jews had apparently been hiding tenaciously. After the trains left, the Security Police employed a ruse to lure the surviving Jews from their concealment. It was announced throughout the ghetto that new identity cards would be issued. Anyone who reported for his card would be spared; anyone found without one would be shot immediately. Hoping at least for another brief respite between deportations, desperate Jews emerged from their hiding places and reported. After at least 200 Jews had been collected, they were marched outside Łuków and shot on November 11. Another group was collected and shot on November 14.33
Members of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were caught up in at least one, if not both, of these final shootings. Because Trapp and the bulk of First Company were apparently elsewhere, Buchmann was temporarily without his protector. He and virtually every available man on the battalion staff—clerks, communications men, and drivers who had hitherto avoided direct participation in mass executions—suddenly found themselves pressed into service by the local Security Police. In contrast to the blurred recollections of those who by autumn were jaded veterans of many Jewish actions, the memories of shooting Jews in Łuków were quite vivid for these initiates.34 One policeman recalled that word of an imminent shooting action had already spread the night before.
On this evening an entertainment unit of Berlin police—so-called welfare for the front—was our guest. This entertainment unit consisted of musicians and performers. The members of this unit had likewise heard of the pending shooting of the Jews. They asked, indeed even emphatically begged, to be allowed to participate in the execution of the Jews. This request was granted by the battalion.35
The following morning Buchmann returned from a meeting and led his men to the Security Police building near the entrance to the ghetto. The policemen took up guard posts along both sides of the street. The iron gate of the ghetto opened and several hundred Jews were driven out. The policemen marched them out of town.36
More guards were needed for yet another column of Jews. Members of the battalion staff were thereupon ordered to report to Security Police headquarters. A few days earlier they had watched from the windows of the school that had been turned into their lodgings as the Jews of Łuków were marched past on the way to the train station. Now it was their turn to take part. They received a contingent of fifty to a hundred Jews from the Security Police and followed the same route out of town.37
Meanwhile the first column had turned off the road and followed a path to an open meadow of sandy soil. A SS officer called a halt and told Buchmann’s deputy, Hans Prutzmann,* to begin shooting the Jews. Prutzmann formed a firing squad of fifteen to twenty-five men, primarily volunteers from the entertainment unit who had been equipped with guns by the battalion. The Jews had to undress, the men entirely and the women down to their underclothing. They placed their shoes and clothing on a pile and were led off in groups to the execution spot some fifty meters away. Here they lay face down and, as usual, were shot from behind by policemen using fixed bayonets as aiming guides. Buchmann stood nearby with several SS officers.38
When the men from the battalion staff reached the sandy meadow, the shooting was already underway. Buchmann approached and told them that they had to provide a firing squad to shoot the Jews they had brought with them. One staff clerk in charge of uniforms asked to be let out. “Because there were children among the Jews we had brought and at the time I myself was a father with a family of three children, I told the lieutenant something to the effect that I was unable to shoot and asked if he couldn’t assign me to something else.” Several others immediately made the same request.39
Buchmann thus found himself in the same position as Trapp at Józefów and basically reacted in the same way. Ordered directly by superior SS officers of the Security Police to carry out a mass shooting of Jews with the Order Police under his command, Buchmann complied. Faced with subordinates who explicitly requested a different assignment, just as he had done at Józefów, Buchmann consented and excused four men. As the shooting continued, Buchmann removed himself. In the company of the senior member of the staff contingent, a man whom he knew well and had excused from the firing squad upon request, he walked a considerable distance from the execution site.
Some time later communications men and drivers from the battalion staff were ordered to take part in another shooting of Jews collected by the Security Police in Łuków. This time Buchmann was not present.40 His numerous requests for a recall to Hamburg had finally been granted. Upon his return he first took a position as an air defense officer. Between January and August 1943 he served as adjutant to the police president of Hamburg. He was then allowed to return to his lumber firm, whose business took him to France, Austria, and Czechoslovakia during the last years of the war. Just prior to his release from the Order Police, he had been promoted to the rank of reserve first lieutenant.41 Clearly Trapp had not only protected him from Jewish actions in Poland (with the exception of the Łuków shooting) but also insured that his personnel file contained a very positive evaluation that in no way damaged his career.
The Strange Health of Captain Hoffmann
UNTIL THE FALL OF 1942 THIRD COMPANY OF RESERVE POLICE Battalion 101, under Captain and SS-Hauptsturmführer Wolfgang Hoffmann, had led a charmed existence, largely spared from the killing that was becoming the predominant activity of the other units in the battalion. At Józefów two platoons of Third Company had initially been assigned to the outer cordon, and none of its members had been sent to the firing squads in the woods. When the battalion was transferred to the northern security zone in the Lublin district, Second and Third Platoons of Third Company were stationed in the county of Puławy. Third Platoon was stationed in the town of Puławy itself, under Hoffmann’s direct command, and Lieutenant Hoppner’s Second Platoon nearby, first in Kurów and then in Wandolin. In the county of Puławy the bulk of the Jewish population had already been deported to Sobibór in May 1942—the first Jews to be killed in that camp—and the remnants of the region’s Jewish population were concentrated in a “collection ghetto” in the small town of Końskowola, about six kilometers east of Puławy. Thus, only Lieutenant Peters’s First Platoon, stationed in the neighboring county of Radzyń, had been involved in the August deportations and late September shootings. Nor did the Polish resistance initially disturb Third Company’s sojourn in Puławy. Hoffmann later reported that they had found the county “relatively quiet,” and that b
In early October, however, Third Company’s luck ran out. The “collection ghetto” at Końskowola, containing some 1,500 to 2,000 Jews,2 was scheduled to be cleared, like the ghettos in neighboring Radzyń. Northern Lublin was to be judenfrei. A considerable force was assembled for the task: all three platoons of Third Company, including Peters’s from Czemierniki; the local Gendarmerie post of some twelve men under First Lieutenant Jammer* (whose main task was to supervise the work of the local Polish police); a roving motorized company of Gendarmerie under First Lieutenant Messmann*; and about a hundred Hiwis and three SS men from Lublin.3 Third Company assembled in Puławy, where Hoffmann read his instructions from a piece of paper. The ghetto was to be combed and the Jews collected in the marketplace; those who could not move—the old, frail, and sick as well as infants—were to be shot on the spot. This had been standard procedure, he added, for quite some time.4
The policemen drove to Końskowola. Hoffmann, the senior police officer present, consulted with Jammer and Messmann and distributed the men. In contrast to the usual practice, the Hiwis were assigned to the cordon along with some of the police. The search commandos who initially entered the ghetto were composed of men from both Third Company and Messmann’s motorized Gendarmerie. Each commando was assigned a particular block of houses.5
The ghetto had been afflicted by an epidemic of dysentery, and many of the Jews could not walk to the marketplace or even rise from their beds. Thus shooting was heard everywhere as the commandos conducted their first sweep through the ghetto. One policeman recalled, “I myself shot six old people in the dwellings; they were bedridden people who explicitly asked me to do it.”6 After the first sweep was completed and most of the surviving Jews were collected at the marketplace, the units assigned to the cordon were called in to carry out a search of the ghetto. They had heard the continuous shooting already. As they searched the ghetto, they encountered corpses strewn everywhere.7
Ordinary Men by Christopher R. Browning / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes