Ordinary men, p.14
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       Ordinary Men, p.14

           Christopher R. Browning
 
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  These patrols were “too frequent” for most policemen to remember how many they had participated in. “It was more or less our daily bread,” said one.21 The expression “daily bread” was applied to the “Jew hunts” by another policeman as well.22 From the behavior of the patrol leaders, the men could quickly tell if they faced potential partisan action or were simply searching for reported Jews, who were assumed to be unarmed.23 According to at least one policeman, the “Jew hunt” patrols predominated. “Such actions were our main task, and in comparison to real partisan actions they were much more numerous.”24

  With these small patrols hunting down surviving Jews, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 came almost full circle back to the experience at Józefów. During the large deportation operations, virtually all the policemen had to perform at least cordon duty. They herded masses of people onto the trains but could distance themselves from the killing at the other end of the trip. Their sense of detachment from the fate of the Jews they deported was unshakable.

  But the “Jew hunt” was different. Once again they saw their victims face to face, and the killing was personal. More important, each individual policeman once again had a considerable degree of choice. How each exercised that choice revealed the extent to which the battalion had divided into the “tough” and the “weak.” In the months since Józefów many had become numbed, indifferent, and in some cases eager killers; others limited their participation in the killing process, refraining when they could do so without great cost or inconvenience. Only a minority of nonconformists managed to preserve a beleaguered sphere of moral autonomy that emboldened them to employ patterns of behavior and stratagems of evasion that kept them from becoming killers at all.

  Concerning the eager killers, the wife of Lieutenant Brand remembered vividly one event during a visit to her husband in Poland.

  I was sitting at breakfast one morning with my husband in the garden of our lodgings when an ordinary policeman of my husband’s platoon came up to us, stood stiffly at attention, and declared, “Herr Leutnant, I have not yet had breakfast.” When my husband looked at him quizzically, he declared further, “I have not yet killed any Jews.” It all sounded so cynical that I indignantly reprimanded the man with harsh words and called him—if I remember correctly—a scoundrel. My husband sent the policeman away and then reproached me and told me that I’d get myself in deep trouble talking that way.25

  Growing callousness can also be seen in the post-shooting behavior of the policemen. After Józefów and the early shootings, the men had returned to their quarters shaken and embittered, without appetite or desire to talk about what they had just done. With the relentless killing, such sensitivities were dulled. One policeman recalled, “At the lunch table some of the comrades made jokes about the experiences they’d had during an action. From their stories I could gather that they had just finished a shooting action. I remember as especially crass that one of the men said now we eat ‘the brains of slaughtered Jews.’ “26 Only the witness found this “joke” less than hilarious.

  In such an atmosphere it was quite easy for the officers and NCOs to form a “Jew hunt” patrol or firing squad simply by asking for volunteers. Most emphatic in this regard was Adolf Bittner.* “Above all I must categorically say that for the execution commandos basically enough volunteers responded to the request of the officer in charge…. I must add further that often there were so many volunteers that some of them had to be turned away.”27 Others were less categorical, noting that in addition to asking for volunteers, sometimes officers or NCOs picked from among those standing nearby, usually men whom they knew to be willing shooters. As Sergeant Bekemeier put it, “In summary one could perhaps say that in small actions, when not so many shooters were needed, there were always enough volunteers available. In larger actions, when a great many shooters were needed, there were also many volunteers, but if this did not suffice, others were also assigned.”28

  Like Bekemeier, Walter Zimmermann* also made a distinction between the large and small executions. Concerning the latter, he noted:

  In no case can I remember that anyone was forced to continue participating in the executions when he declared that he was no longer able to. As far as group and platoon actions were concerned, here I must honestly admit that with these smaller executions there were always some comrades who found it easier to shoot Jews than did others, so that the respective commando leaders never had difficulty finding suitable shooters.29

  Those who did not want to go on the “Jew hunts” or participate in firing squads followed three lines of action. They made no secret of their antipathy to the killing, they never volunteered, and they kept their distance from the officers and NCOs when “Jew hunt” patrols and firing squads were being formed. Some were never chosen simply because their attitude was well known. Otto-Julius Schimke, the first man to step out at Józefów, was frequently assigned to partisan actions but never to a “Jew hunt.” “It is not to be excluded,” he said, “that because of this incident I was freed from other Jewish actions.”30 Adolf Bittner likewise credited his early and open opposition to the battalion’s Jewish actions with sparing him from further involvement.

  I must emphasize that from the first days I left no doubt among my comrades that I disapproved of these measures and never volunteered for them. Thus, on one of the first searches for Jews, one of my comrades clubbed a Jewish woman in my presence, and I hit him in the face. A report was made, and in that way my attitude became known to my superiors. I was never officially punished. But anyone who knows how the system works knows that outside official punishment there is the possibility for chicanery that more than makes up for punishment. Thus I was assigned Sunday duties and special watches.31

  But Bittner was never assigned to a firing squad.

  Gustav Michaelson,* who had lingered among the trucks at Józefów despite his comrades’ taunts, also gained a certain immunity due to his reputation. About the frequent “Jew hunts,” Michaelson recalled, “No one ever approached me concerning these operations. For these actions the officers took ‘men’ with them, and in their eyes I was no ‘man.’ Other comrades who displayed my attitude and my behavior were also spared from such actions.”32

  The tactic of keeping one’s distance was invoked by Heinrich Feucht* to explain how he avoided shooting on all but one occasion. “One always had a certain freedom of movement of a few meters, and from experience I noticed very quickly that the platoon leader almost always chose the people standing next to him. I thus always attempted to take a position as far as possible from the center of events.”33 Others likewise sought to avoid shooting by staying in the background.34

  Sometimes distance and reputation did not suffice, and outright refusal was required to avoid killing. In Second Platoon of Third Company, Lieutenant Hoppner became one of the most zealous practitioners of the “Jew hunt” and eventually tried to impose the policy that everyone had to shoot. Some men who had never shot before then killed their first Jews.35 But Arthur Rohrbaugh* could not shoot defenseless people. “It was also known to Lieutenant Hoppner that I could not do it. He had already told me on earlier occasions that I must become tougher. In this sense he once said that I too would yet learn the neck shot.” On patrol in the woods with Corporal Heiden* and five other policemen, Rohrbaugh encountered three Jewish women and a child. Heiden ordered his men to shoot the Jews, but Rohrbaugh simply walked away. Heiden grabbed his gun and shot the Jews himself. Rohrbaugh credited Trapp for his suffering no negative consequences. “On account of the old man, I think, I had no trouble.”36

  Others were more cautious and refrained from shooting only when no officer was present and they were among trusted comrades who shared their views. As Martin Detmold* recalled, “In small actions it often occurred that Jews whom we had picked up were let go again. That happened when one was sure that no superior could learn anything of it. Over time one learned how to evaluate one’s comrades and if one could risk not shooting captured J
ews contrary to standing orders but rather letting them go.”37 The battalion communications staff also claimed that they ignored Jews they encountered in the countryside when they were laying lines on their own.38 When shooting at a distance rather than giving a neck shot, at least one policeman merely fired “into the air.’39

  How many hundreds of Jews—indeed, probably thousands—did Reserve Police Battalion 101 shoot in the course of the “Jew hunt”? No reports of such figures survive for this unit. However, we can get a sense of how important a component the “Jew hunt” was in the Final Solution from surviving reports of three other units operating in Poland.

  From May to October 1943, long after the vast bulk of the Jews who had fled from the ghetto roundups and attempted to hide had already been tracked down and shot, the commander of the Order Police for the Lublin district (KdO)—these figures would therefore include the contributions of Reserve Police Battalion 101—reported to his superior in Kraków (BdO) the monthly body count of Jews shot by his men. For this six-month period, long past the killing peak in the Lublin district, the total was 1,695, or an average of nearly 283 per month. Two months were particularly prominent: August, when another large forest sweep was carried out, and October, when the escapees from the Sobibór death camp breakout were tracked down.40

  More indicative of the killing rate for the “Jew hunt” during the peak period are the reports of the Gendarmerie platoon of Warsaw. This unit of only 80 men, responsible for patroling the nearby towns and countryside surrounding the city, was led by Lieutenant Liebscher, a notoriously energetic and eager participant in the Final Solution. His daily reports from March 26 to September 21, 1943, reflect a total of 1,094 Jews killed by his unit, for an average of nearly 14 Jews per policeman. The peak months, not unexpectedly, were April and May, when Jews were desperately seeking to escape the final liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto and had to pass through Liebscher’s territory. Liebscher’s reports contained detailed descriptions of a variety of daily incidents. They closed with the heading “Proceeded according to existing guidelines,” followed simply by a date, place, and number of Jews, male and female. In the end, even the heading was dropped as superfluous, and only the date, place, and number of Jewish men and women were listed, without further explanation.41

  Perhaps most relevant and most closely parallel to the situation of Reserve Police Battalion 101 was that of a company of Reserve Police Battalion 133 stationed in Rawa Ruska in the neighboring district of Galicia to the east of Lublin. According to six weekly reports for the period November 1 to December 12, 1942, this company executed 481 Jews who had either evaded deportation by hiding or jumped from trains on the way to Bełzec. For this brief six-week period, therefore, the company on average killed nearly three Jews per policeman in an area that had already been cleared by deportation and was being kept judenfrei by the “Jew hunt.”42

  Though the “Jew hunt” has received little attention, it was an important and statistically significant phase of the Final Solution. A not inconsiderable percentage of Jewish victims in the General Government lost their lives in this way. Statistics aside, the “Jew hunt” is a psychologically important key to the mentality of the perpetrators. Many of the German occupiers in Poland may have witnessed or participated in ghetto roundups on several occasions—in a lifetime, a few brief moments that could be easily repressed. But the “Jew hunt” was not a brief episode. It was a tenacious, remorseless, ongoing campaign in which the “hunters” tracked down and killed their “prey” in direct and personal confrontation. It was not a passing phase but an existential condition of constant readiness and intention to kill every last Jew who could be found.

  15

  The Last Massacres: “Harvest Festival”

  ON OCTOBER 28, 1942, THE HSSPF FOR THE GENERAL GOVERNMENT, Wilhelm Krüger, decreed that eight Jewish ghettos could remain in the district of Lublin.1 Four of the eight sites were within the security zone of Reserve Police Battalion 101: Łuków, Międzyrzec, Parczew, and Końskowola. In fact, only the first two remained as Jewish ghettos after the fall deportations, along with Piaski, Izbica, and Włodawa elsewhere in the Lublin district. Faced with the constant threat of death by starvation and exposure on the one hand, or betrayal and shooting on the other, many Jews who had fled to the forests during the deportations in October and November subsequently returned to the reinstated ghettos of Łuków and Międzyrzec. The winter weather made life in the forests increasingly difficult and precarious; any movement in the snow left tracks, and on at least one occasion frozen feces gave away a Jewish hiding place carved out within a haystack.2 Thus, when it appeared that the deportations had come to an end, many Jews calculated that they stood a much better chance of survival within one of the permitted ghettos than as hunted prey in the forests.

  In fact the deportations from the county of Radzyń had ended for the moment, but life in the ghettos of Łuków and Międzyrzec was not without continuing danger. In Łuków the SS ghetto administrator, Josef Burger, had 500 to 600 Jews shot in December to reduce the ghetto population.3 In Międzyrzec 500 Jewish workers in the brush factory who had been spared the fall deportation were deported to the work camp at Trawniki on December 30, 1942.4 The following night, around 11:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, Security Police from neighboring Biała Podlaska showed up at the Międzyrzec ghetto in inebriated condition and began shooting the remaining Jews “for sport” until the Radzyń Security Police arrived and chased them away.5

  After four months of relative calm, the end came. On the night of May 1, the men of Second Company surrounded the ghetto in Międzyrzec, where they had carried out so many deportations the previous fall. Joined once again by a unit from Trawniki, they closed in on the ghetto in the morning and assembled the Jews in the marketplace. The policemen estimated the number of deportees in this action at 700 to 1,000, though one admitted it was said to have been as high as 3,000.6 One Jewish witness estimated 4,000 to 5,000.7 Once again the Jews were thoroughly searched and dispossessed in Gnade’s undressing barracks and then stuffed into train cars so tightly that the doors would barely close. Some were sent to the Majdanek labor camp in Lublin, but most were deported to the gas chambers of Treblinka to conclude the so-called fifth action in Międzyrzec.8 The “sixth action” occurred on May 26, when another 1,000 Jews were sent to the Majdanek camp.9 At that point only 200 Jews remained. Some escaped, but the last 170 were shot by the Security Police on July 17, 1943, in the “seventh” and final action, after which Międzyrzec was proclaimed judenfrei. On May 2, simultaneously with the renewed deportations from Międzyrzec by Gnade’s Second Company, SS units from Lublin along with Ukrainian auxiliaries from Trawniki liquidated the ghetto in Łuków, deporting an additional 3,000 to 4,000 Jews to Treblinka.10

  Many of the men who had come to Poland with Reserve Police Battalion 101 in June 1942 were gradually reassigned to new tasks. During the winter of 1942-43, the older men—those born before 1898—were sent back to Germany.11 At the same time men were culled from each platoon of the battalion and assembled in a special unit under Lieutenant Brand. They were sent back to Zamość in the southern part of the district to take part in the expulsion of Poles from villages as part of Himmler’s and Globocnik’s plan for a pure German settlement area deep in Poland.12 In early 1943 a group of younger noncommissioned officers from the battalion was reassigned to the Waffen-SS and sent to specialized training.13 Somewhat later Lieutenant Gnade was transferred to Lublin to form a special guard company. He took Sergeant Steinmetz as his deputy.14 Gnade returned briefly to Międzyrzec to conduct the May deportations, however. Finally, Lieutenant Scheer was also reassigned to Lublin, to take command of one of two special “pursuit platoons” (Jagdzüge) especially formed to intensify the hunt for partisan bands. Some reinforcements were received to fill the void, especially a group of Berliners to help fill out depleted Second Company.15 But for the most part, Reserve Police Battalion 101 remained under-strength.

  Because of the high rate of tur
nover and reassignment, only a portion of the policemen who had taken part in the first massacre at Józefów were still with the battalion in November 1943, when its participation in the Final Solution culminated in the great “harvest festival” (Erntefest) massacre, the single largest German killing operation against Jews in the entire war. With a victim total of 42,000 Jews in the Lublin district, Erntefest surpassed even the notorious Babi Yar massacre of more than 33,000 Jews outside Kiev. It was exceeded only by the Rumanian massacre of more than 50,000 Odessan Jews in October 1941.

  Erntefest was the culmination of Himmler’s crusade to destroy Polish Jewry. As the murder campaign gained momentum in 1942, Himmler had been plagued with complaints from industrial and military authorities about the removal of Jewish workers essential to the war effort. In response to such complaints, which he viewed as pure pretense, he agreed to spare some Jewish workers on the condition that they were lodged in camps and ghettos entirely under SS control. This allowed Himmler to parry pragmatic arguments based on the necessities of the war economy while insuring his ultimate control over the fate of all Jews. For in the end, the sanctuary of the labor camps and work ghettos was only temporary. As Himmler said, “There too the Jews shall likewise one day disappear in accordance with the wish of the Führer.”16

  In the Lublin district, work ghettos in Międzyrzec, Łuków, Piaski, Izbica, and Włodawa had been allowed to continue in existence through the winter of 1942-43. The latter three ghettos were eliminated in March and April 1943; as we have seen, Międzyrzec and Łuków suffered a similar fate in May.17 Thereafter the only Jews in the Lublin district left alive by German consent were some 45,000 workers in the labor camp empire of Odilo Globocnik. These included a few survivors of the Lublin ghettos, as well as workers sent from the liquidated ghettos of Warsaw and Białystok.

 
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