Ordinary men, p.2
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       Ordinary Men, p.2

           Christopher R. Browning
 

  After the Nazi regime was established in 1933, a “police army” (Armee der Landespolizei) of 56,000 men was created. These units were stationed in barracks and given full military training as part of Germany’s covert rearmament. When Hitler openly defied the disarmament provisions of the Versailles Treaty and reintroduced military conscription in 1935, the “police army” was merged into the rapidly enlarging regular army to provide cadres of commissioned and noncommissioned officers. The “police army” played no small role as a training ground for future army officers. As of 1942, no fewer than ninety-seven generals in the German army had previously served in the “police army” of 1933-35.2

  The preservation of large military formations within the police had to await the appointment of Heinrich Himmler, already head of the SS, as chief of German police in 1936, with jurisdiction over all police units in the Third Reich. Himmler divided the various German police into two branches, each under a main office in Berlin. Under the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei) Main Office of Reinhard Heydrich were the notorious Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei, or Gestapo), to combat the regime’s political enemies, and the Criminal Police (Kriminalpolizei, or Kripo), which was basically a detective force for nonpolitical crimes. The second branch of the police was the Order Police Main Office under Kurt Daluege. Daluege had charge of the city or municipal police (Schutzpolizei, or Schupo), the rural police, equivalent perhaps to county troopers (Gendarmerie), and the small-town or community police (Gemeindepolizei).

  By 1938 Daluege had over 62,000 policemen under his jurisdiction. Nearly 9,000 of them were organized into police companies called Polizei-Hundertschaften of 108 men each. In each of ten cities in Germany, three police companies were brought together into yet larger “police training units” (Polizei-Ausbildungsabteilungen).

  In 1938 and 1939, the Order Police expanded rapidly as the increasing threat of war gave prospective recruits a further inducement. If they enlisted in the Order Police, the new young policemen were exempted from conscription into the army. Moreover, because the police battalions—like U.S. National Guard units—were organized regionally, they seemed to offer the guarantee of completing one’s alternative to regular military service not only more safely but closer to home.

  With the outbreak of war in September 1939, the Order Police had reached a strength of 131,000 men. The big threat to its large military formations was, of course, absorption into the German army, a move avoided through a compromise for which the Order Police paid a heavy price. Many of its best units were formed into a police division of nearly 16,000 men that was put at the disposal of the army. (It subsequently fought in the Ardennes in 1940 and took part in the attack on Leningrad in 1941, before Himmler got it back in 1942 as the Fourth SS-Polizei Grenadier Division.) Two police regiments raised in newly seized Danzig were also transferred to the army in October 1939. Finally, the Order Police provided over 8,000 men for the army’s military police, or Feldgendarmerie. In return the other draft-age men of the Order Police remained exempt from military conscription.

  To replenish its ranks, the Order Police was allowed to recruit 26,000 young German men—9,000 volunteers born between 1918 and 1920, and 17,000 volunteers born between 1909 and 1912—as well as 6,000 so-called “ethnic Germans,” or Volksdeutsche, who had lived outside Germany prior to 1939. In addition, the Order Police received authorization to conscript 91,500 reservists born between 1901 and 1909—an age group not as yet subject to the military draft. Order Police conscription was gradually extended to still older men, and by mid-1940, the size of the Order Police had grown to 244,500.3

  The Order Police had scarcely been taken into account in prewar mobilization plans, and little thought had been given to its possible wartime use, but Germany’s military success and rapid expansion quickly created the need for more occupation forces behind the lines. With the outbreak of war, twenty-one police battalions of approximately 500 men each were formed from the various police companies and training units in Germany; thirteen of them were attached to the armies invading Poland. They were subsequently involved in rounding up Polish soldiers cut off behind the advancing lines, collecting weapons and military equipment abandoned by the retreating Poles, and providing other services to secure the rear areas.

  The number of police battalions rapidly expanded to 101 by mid-1940, as the 26,000 new young recruits and many of the older drafted reservists were formed into battalion units as well. Thirteen battalions were stationed in German-occupied central Poland, known as the General Government, and seven were stationed in the western Polish territories annexed to the Third Reich, the “incorporated territories.” Ten were stationed in the occupied Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, known as the Protectorate. In addition, six battalions were stationed in Norway, and four in the Netherlands.4 The Order Police were quickly becoming an essential source of manpower for holding down German-occupied Europe.

  The new battalions were created in two ways. First, to provide the necessary cadres of noncommissioned officers, career policemen and prewar volunteers from the initial battalions that went into Poland in 1939 were promoted and distributed to the newly formed units, whose ranks were filled with older drafted reservists. These battalions were designated “reserve police battalions.” Second, particular units (given numbers from 251 to 256 and 301 to 325) were formed from among the 26,000 young volunteers allocated to the Order Police in the fall of 1939. They would become, in effect, the new elite formations of the Order Police.5

  The presence of the Order Police in the General Government was felt in two ways. First, in each of the four districts into which the General Government had been divided—Kraków, Lublin, Radom, and Warsaw (a fifth, Galicia, was added in 1941)—a permanent regimental commander (Kommandeur der Ordnungspolizei, or KdO) and staff were established. Each district regiment was composed of three battalions that were constantly changing as they were rotated out from Germany on tours of duty. Second, there was a thin network of smaller units of Order Police throughout the General Government. In each of the major Polish cities, a Schutzpolizei station was established. Its primary task was to supervise the Polish municipal police. In addition, there were thirty to forty small Gendarmerie posts in the medium-sized towns of each district. Both the Schutzpolizei and the Gendarmerie units, like the three battalion commanders, reported to the district commander of the Order Police, the KdO. By the end of 1942, the total strength of the Order Police in the General Government had reached 15,186 men. The Polish police under Order Police supervision numbered 14,297.6

  One chain of command led upward from the Order Police battalions, as well as from the network of smaller units, through the district KdO to the overall commander of the Order Police in the General Government (Befehlshaber der Ordnungspolizei, or BdO) in the capital city of Kraków, and finally to Daluege’s main office in Berlin. This was the normal chain of command for matters solely concerning the local Order Police units. However, there was a second chain of command for all policies and operations that involved the joint action of the Order Police with the Security Police and other SS units. In the General Government, Heinrich Himmler had appointed a Higher SS and Police Leader (HSSPF), Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger, as his personal representative, with special responsibility to coordinate any actions involving more than one agency of Himmler’s sprawling SS and police empire. In each district in the General Government, there was an SS and Police Leader (SSPF) who had the same responsibilities and powers on the district level that Krüger exercised for the General Government. For the district of Lublin, where Reserve Police Battalion 101 was stationed in 1942—43, the SSPF was the brutal and unsavory Odilo Globocnik, a crony of Himmlers, who had been removed from his position as party chief in Austria for corruption. Thus Order Police units in the Lublin district could receive orders either from Daluege and the Berlin main office through the BdO in Kraków and the district KdO, or from Himmler through the HSSPF, Krüger, and the district SSPF, Globocnik. As the murder of Pol
ish Jewry was a program involving every branch of the SS and the police, it was the latter chain of command that would be crucial for Order Police participation in the Final Solution.

  3

  The Order Police and the Final Solution: Russia 1941

  THE INITIAL PARTICIPATION OF THE ORDER POLICE IN THE Final Solution—the Nazi mass murder of European Jewry—occurred not in Poland but in Russia in the summer and fall of 1941. In preparation for the invasion of Russia and the “war of destruction” Hitler intended to wage there, four special mobile units of the SS known as Einsatzgruppen were formed and trained in the late spring of 1941. The core of these units came from Heydrich’s Security Police (Gestapo and Kripo) as well as his intelligence apparatus (Security Service, or SD). They were supplemented by small units of Waffen-SS (the military branch of Himmler’s SS). In addition, however, the three companies of Order Police Battalion 9 were distributed to three of the four Einsatzgruppen.1 Order Police members thus constituted about 500 of the total of 3,000 men assigned to the four Einsatzgruppen.

  The Einsatzgruppen were only the thin cutting edge of German units that became involved in political and racial mass murder in Russia. In early July a fifth ad hoc Einsatzgruppe made up of personnel from the Security Police in the General Government was sent into Russia. Most of these men became the permanent Security Police force in the areas of the 1939-41 Soviet occupation zone in former eastern Poland, while the original four Einsatzgruppen pressed deep into Russia behind the advancing German armies.

  For the occupation of Russia, Himmler had appointed three Higher SS and Police Leaders for the northern, central, and southern regions respectively. These men were in charge of coordinating all SS operations in occupied Russia. In the euphoric days of mid-July 1941, when ultimate victory seemed in sight after Germany’s stupendous initial military successes, Hitler ordered the intensification of the pacification program behind the advancing German lines. On July 16 he announced that Germany would never withdraw from its newly won territories in the east; instead he would create there “a Garden of Eden,” taking all necessary measures to accomplish this. It was fortunate that Stalin had given the order for partisan warfare, Hitler said, because “it gives us the opportunity to exterminate anyone who is hostile to us. Naturally the vast area must be pacified as quickly as possible; this will happen best through shooting anyone who even looks askance at us.”2

  Himmler was not slow to respond to such exhortations from his master. Within a week, he had reinforced HSSPF Central Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski and HSSPF South Friedrich Jeckeln with an additional SS brigade each, thus adding more than 11,000 men to the SS murder campaign.3 Moreover, at least eleven police battalions—nine of them 300-level and thus composed of recent young volunteers—were distributed among the three HSSPFs in Russia, adding another 5,500 Order Police to the 500 already assigned to the Einsatzgruppen.4 Between late July and mid-August, Himmler toured the eastern front, personally urging his men to carry out the mass murder of Russian Jewry.

  But the Order Police actually inaugurated their murderous career in Russia before this massive buildup in the later part of July. The site was the nearly half-Jewish city of Białystok. On the eve of the German invasion of Russia—dubbed Operation Barbarossa—Major Weis of Police Battalion 309 met with his company commanders. As in every other unit of the German army and police moving into Russia, he disclosed several orders that were to be passed on to the men verbally. The first was the notorious Kommissarbefehl, or “commissar order,” according to which so-called political commissars—all Communist functionaries in the army as well as those in the civil administration suspected of being in any way anti-German—were to be denied prisoner of war status and executed.5 The second order was the “Barbarossa decree,” which removed the actions of German soldiers toward Russian civilians from the jurisdiction of military courts and explicitly approved collective reprisal against entire villages.6 It was, in fact, a “shooting license” against Russian civilians. Major Weis then went further. The war, he said, was a war against Jews and Bolsheviks, and he wanted it understood that the battalion should proceed ruthlessly against Jews. In his view, the meaning of the Führers orders was that the Jews, regardless of age or sex, were to be destroyed.7

  After entering the city of BiaSSystok, Major Weis on June 27 ordered his battalion to comb the Jewish quarter and seize male Jews, but he did not specify what was to be done with them. That was apparently left to the initiative of the company captains, who had been oriented to his way of thinking in the preinvasion meeting. The action began as a pogrom: beating, humiliation, beard burning, and shooting at will as the policemen drove Jews to the marketplace or synagogue. When several Jewish leaders appeared at the headquarters of the 221st Security Division of General Pflugbeil and knelt at his feet, begging for army protection, one member of Police Battalion 309 unzipped his fly and urinated on them while the general turned his back.

  What started as a pogrom quickly escalated into more systematic mass murder. Jews collected at the marketplace were taken to a park, lined up against a wall, and shot. The killing lasted until dark. At the synagogue, where at least 700 Jews had been collected, gasoline was poured at the entryways. A grenade was tossed into the building, igniting a fire. Police shot anyone trying to escape. The fire spread to nearby houses in which Jews were hiding, and they too were burned alive. The next day, thirty wagonloads of corpses were taken to a mass grave. An estimated 2,000 to 2,200 Jews had been killed. When General Pflugbeil sent a messenger to Major Weis to inquire about the fire, the major was found drunk. He claimed to know nothing about what was happening. Weis and his officers subsequently submitted a false report of the events to Pflugbeil.8

  If the first Order Police massacre of Jews in BiaSSystok, on June 27, was the work of an individual commander who correctly intuited and anticipated the wishes of his Führer, the second, in mid-July, involved clear and systematic instigation from the very highest echelons of the SS—namely Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, Kurt Daluege, and Heinrich Himmler. Police Battalion 309 moved eastward, and Police Battalions 316 and 322 entered Biaiystok in its wake. The official daily record, or war diary (Kriegstagebuch), and various reports and orders of Police Battalion 322 are among the rare surviving Order Police documents that have reached the West from Soviet archives. They allow us to trace subsequent events in Białystok.

  The preinvasion orientation of Police Battalion 322 was apparently not as vicious as that of Police Battalion 309, but it was certainly not free of ideological exhortation. Major General Retzlaff delivered a farewell address to the battalion in Warsaw on June 10. Every member had to be careful, he advised, “to appear before the Slavic peoples as a master and show them that he was a German.”9 Before leaving for Russia on July 2, the men were informed that any “political commissar was to be shot” and that they had to be “tough, determined, and ruthless.”10

  The battalion arrived in Białystok on July 5, and two days later was ordered to carry out a “thorough search of the city … for Bolshevik commissars and Communists.” The war diary entry of the following day makes clear what this meant: “a search of the Jewish quarter,” allegedly for plunder seized by Jews before the German arrival. The German police in fact carried off twenty wagonloads of booty during the search. By July 8 the battalion had shot twenty-two people. “It was a matter … almost exclusively of Jews.”11

  On this same afternoon of the July 8 search, the battalion received a surprise visit from the Reichsführer SS and chief of German police, Heinrich Himmler, and the commander of the Order Police, Kurt Daluege. The battalion commander, Major Nagel, was invited to the dinner given that evening by HSSPF Central, Bach-Zelewski, in Himmlers honor. The following morning Daluege held a review of the police battalions in Białystok in Himmlers presence. In his speech Daluege emphasized that the Order Police “could be proud to be participating in the defeat of the world enemy, Bolshevism. No other campaign had the significance of the present one. Now Bolshevism will
finally be destroyed for the benefit of Germany, Europe, yes, the entire world.”12

  Two days later, on July 11, Colonel Montua of the Police Regiment Center (which included Police Battalions 316 and 322) issued the following order:

  Confidential!

  By order of the Higher SS and Police Leader … all male Jews between the ages of 17 and 45 convicted as plunderers are to be shot according to martial law. The shootings are to take place away from cities, villages, and thoroughfares. The graves are to be leveled in such a way that no pilgrimage site can arise. I forbid photographing and the permitting of spectators at the executions. Executions and grave sites are not to be made known.

  The battalion and company commanders are especially to provide for the spiritual care of the men who participate in this action. The impressions of the day are to be blotted out through the holding of social events in the evenings. Furthermore the men are to be instructed continuously about the political necessity of the measures.13

  The war diary falls strangely silent about what happened in Biaiystok following Montua’s ordering of executions, but subsequent judicial proceedings in Germany unveiled the course of events.14 There was, of course, no investigation, trial, and conviction of so-called plunderers to be shot according to martial law. Male Jews who appeared to be between the ages of seventeen and forty-five were simply rounded up and brought to the stadium in Białystok on July 12. When the stadium was nearly filled, Bach-Zelewski visited the site, and valuables were collected from the Jews. It was a very hot day, during which the Jews neither received water nor were allowed to go to the toilet.

 

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