Ordinary men, p.6
Christopher R. Browning
The battalion was divided into three companies, each of approximately 140 men when at full strength. Two companies were commanded by police captains, the third by the senior reserve lieutenant in the battalion. Each company was divided into three platoons, two of them commanded by reserve lieutenants and the third by the platoons senior sergeant. Each platoon was divided into four squads, commanded by a sergeant or corporal. The men were equipped with carbines, the noncommissioned officers with submachine guns. Each company also had a heavy machine-gun detachment. Apart from the three companies, there was the personnel of the battalion staff, which included, in addition to the five administrative officials, a doctor and his aide as well as various drivers, clerks, and communications specialists.
The battalion was commanded by fifty-three-year-old Major Wilhelm Trapp, a World War I veteran and recipient of the Iron Cross First Class. After the war he became a career policeman and rose through the ranks. He had recently been promoted from captain of Second Company, and this was his first battalion command. Though Trapp had joined the Nazi Party in December 1932 and thus technically qualified as an “old Party fighter,” or Alter Kämpfer, he had never been taken into the SS or even given an equivalent SS rank, in spite of the fact that Himmler and Heydrich consciously tried to merge and intertwine the state and Party components of their SS and police empire. Trapp was clearly not considered SS material. He was soon to come into conflict with his two captains, both young SS men, who even in their testimony more than twenty years later made no attempt to conceal their contempt for their commander as weak, unmilitary, and unduly interfering in the duties of his officers.22
The two police captains, who also held the equivalent SS rank of Hauptsturmführer, were young men in their late twenties. Wolfgang Hoffmann, born in 1914, had joined the National Socialist Student Union (NS-Schülerbund) in 1930 as a sixteen-year-old, the Hitler Youth in 1932 at eighteen, and the SS one year later, all before he had graduated from Gymnasium (a college-preparatory high school) in 1934. He joined the police force in Breslau in 1936 and entered the Nazi Party in 1937, the same year he completed officer training and was commissioned as a lieutenant of the Schutzpolizei. He joined Reserve Police Battalion 101 in the spring of 1942. The following June, at the age of twenty-eight, he was promoted to the rank of captain.23 He commanded Third Company.
Julius Wohlauf, born in 1913, graduated from Gymnasium in 1932. In April 1933 he joined the Nazi Party and SA. In 1936 he joined the SS, and the same year he began his training to become a police officer. He was commissioned a lieutenant of the Schutzpolizei in 1938. He too was assigned to Reserve Police Battalion 101 in early 1942 and was promoted to captain in June 1942, just before the departure for Poland.24 He commanded First Company and served as Trapp’s deputy battalion commander. In contrast to the elderly Trapp, Hoffmann and Wohlauf represented precisely the combination of well-educated professional police officer, early enthusiast for National Socialism, and young SS member that was the Himmler-Heydrich ideal for the SS and police.
Trapp’s adjutant was First Lieutenant Hagen,* about whom little is known except that he was killed in the spring of 1943. In addition the battalion had seven reserve lieutenants, that is, men who were not career policemen like Hoffmann and Wohlauf but were selected to receive officer training after they were drafted into the Order Police, because of their middle-class status, education, and success in civilian life. From oldest to youngest, they were:
Hartwig Gnade, born 1894, a forwarding agent and Nazi Party member since 1937, commander of Second Company;
Paul Brand,* born 1902;
Heinz Buchmann,* born 1904, owner of a family lumber business, Party member since 1937;
Oscar Peters,* born 1905;
Walter Hoppner,* born 1908, tea importer, Party member briefly in 1930, rejoined in the spring of 1933;
Hans Scheer,* born 1908, and a Party member since May 1933;
Kurt Drucker,* born 1909, a salesman and party member since 1939.25
Thus, their ages ranged from thirty-three to forty-eight. Five were Party members, but none belonged to the SS.
Of the thirty-two noncommissioned officers on whom we have information, twenty-two were party members and seven were in the SS. They ranged in age from twenty-seven to forty years old; their average age was thirty-three and a half. They were not reservists but rather prewar recruits to the police.
Of the rank and file, the vast majority were from the Hamburg area. About 63 percent were of working-class background, but few were skilled laborers. The majority of them held typical Hamburg working-class jobs: dock workers and truck drivers were most numerous, but there were also many warehouse and construction workers, machine operators, seamen, and waiters. About 35 percent were lower-middle-class, virtually all of them white-collar workers. Three-quarters were in sales of some sort; the other one-quarter performed various office jobs, in both the government and private sector. The number of independent artisans and small businessmen was very small. Only a handful (2 percent) were middle-class professionals, and very modest ones at that, such as druggists and teachers. The average age of the men was thirty-nine; over half were between thirty-seven and forty-two, a group considered too old for the army but most heavily conscripted for reserve police duty after September 1939.26
Among the rank and file policemen, about 25 percent (43 from a sample of 174) were Party members in 1942. Six were Alte Kämpfer who had joined the Party before Hitler came to power; another six joined in 1933. Despite the domestic ban on new Party members from 1933 to 1937, another six men who worked aboard ships were admitted by the Party section for members living overseas. Sixteen joined in 1937, when the ban on new membership was lifted. The remaining nine joined in 1939 or later. The men of lower-middle-class background held Party membership in an only slightly higher proportion (30 percent) than those from the working class (25 percent).27
The men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were from the lower orders of German society. They had experienced neither social nor geographic mobility. Very few were economically independent. Except for apprenticeship or vocational training, virtually none had any education after leaving Volksschule (terminal secondary school) at age fourteen or fifteen. By 1942, a surprisingly high percentage had become Party members. However, because the interrogating officials did not record such information, we do not know how many had been Communists, socialists, and/or labor union members before 1933. Presumably a not insignificant number must have been, given their social origins. By virtue of their age, of course, all went through their formative period in the pre-Nazi era. These were men who had known political standards and moral norms other than those of the Nazis. Most came from Hamburg, by reputation one of the least nazified cities in Germany, and the majority came from a social class that had been anti-Nazi in its political culture. These men would not seem to have been a very promising group from which to recruit mass murderers on behalf of the Nazi vision of a racial utopia free of Jews.
* Pseudonyms are designated throughout by an asterisk at first occurrence.
Arrival in Poland
SOMETIME IN THE SUMMER OF 1941, AFTER THE ONSLAUGHT against Russian Jewry was under way, Himmler confided to the SS and Police Leader in Lublin, Odilo Globocnik, Hitler’s intention to murder the Jews of Europe as well. Moreover, Himmler put Globocnik in charge of the single most important element of this “Final Solution to the Jewish Question in Europe”—the destruction of the Jews of the General Government, who constituted the bulk of Polish Jewry. A method different from the firing squad operations used against Russian Jewry was deemed essential for the murder of European Jews, however—one that was more efficient, less public, and less burdensome psychologically for the killers.
The organizational and technological answer to these needs was the extermination camp. The victims would be deported to special camps where–by virtue of assembly-line procedures requiring very limited manpower, most of it prisoner labor—they would be gassed
The task Globocnik faced was enormous, but he was given virtually no manpower to accomplish it. For expertise and assistance in building and operating the extermination center at Beżec, Globocnik was able to draw on personnel from the “euthanasia program” in Germany, but this was a handful of men that at its maximum never exceeded one hundred. This number by itself was insufficient to staff a single extermination camp, and two more were yet to be built by Globocnik at Sobibór and Treblinka. But the extermination camps were not Globocnik’s biggest problem. Far more pressing was the manpower required to clear the ghettos—to round up the victims and force them onto the death trains. In the Lublin district alone there were nearly 300,000 Jews; in all of the General Government, about 2,000,000!
While Germany’s military fate hung in the balance in the crucial year of 1942, where were the men for such a staggering logistical task? In fact, aside from the assignment itself, Himmler gave Globocnik virtually nothing, and he had to improvise. He had to create “private” armies out of his own resources and ingenuity to accomplish the task with which Himmler had entrusted him.
For the coordination of the mass murder campaign against Polish Jewry—dubbed Operation Reinhard after Reinhard Heydrich was slain in Czechoslovakia in June 1942—Globocnik formed a special staff under his deputy and fellow Austrian Hermann Höfle. The key people on this staff included Christian Wirth and his adjutant, Josef Oberhauser, in charge of the extermination centers; Helmuth Pohl, another Austrian, in charge of incoming transports; Georg Michaisen, Kurt Claasen, and yet another Austrian, Ernst Lerch, to oversee and often personally conduct operations in the field; and Georg Wippern, in charge of collecting, sorting, and utilizing the Jewish property collected at the extermination camps and in the vacated ghettos.
As the SS and Police Leader in the Lublin district, Globocnik was responsible for coordinating all regional operations that involved the joint action of mixed SS units. Thus the entire SS and police network in the Lublin district, though already stretched thin, was at his disposal. Most important, this meant the two branches of the Security Police (Gestapo and Kripo) on the one hand and various units of the Order Police on the other. In addition to its main headquarters in the city of Lublin, the Security Police had four branch offices in the district. Each contained a Gestapo section for “Jewish affairs.”
The presence of the Order Police was felt in three ways. First, each of the major towns in the Lublin district had a Schutzpolizei agency. Included in its responsibilities was the supervision of the Polish municipal police. Second, scattered throughout the towns in the countryside were small detachments of Gendarmerie. Finally, three battalions of Order Police were stationed in the Lublin district. The Security Police branches along with the Schutzpolizei and Gendarmerie units provided small numbers of policemen who knew the local conditions. But the three Order Police battalions, totaling 1,500 men, represented the single largest police manpower pool Globocnik could draw on. Clearly they were indispensable, but still not sufficient to meet his needs.
Globocnik also utilized two other sources of manpower. The first was the Sonderdienst (Special Service), composed of small units of ethnic Germans who had been mobilized and trained after the German conquest and assigned to the head of the civil administration in each county of the district in the summer of 1940.2 Second, and far more important, were the so-called Trawnikis. Unable to satisfy his manpower needs out of local resources, Globocnik prevailed upon Himmler to recruit non-Polish auxiliaries from the Soviet border regions. The key person on Globocnik’s Operation Reinhard staff for this task was Karl Streibel. He and his men visited the POW camps and recruited Ukrainian, Latvian, and Lithuanian “volunteers” (Hilfswillige, or Hiwis) who were screened on the basis of their anti-Communist (and hence almost invariably anti-Semitic) sentiments, offered an escape from probable starvation, and promised that they would not be used in combat against the Soviet army. These “volunteers” were taken to the SS camp at Trawniki for training. Under German SS officers and ethnic German noncommissioned officers, they were formed into units on the basis of nationality. Alongside the Order Police, they constituted the second major manpower pool from which Globocnik would form his private armies for the ghetto-clearing campaign.
The first murderous onslaught against Lublin Jewry began in mid-March 1942 and continued until mid-April. About 90 percent of the 40,000 inhabitants of the Lublin ghetto were killed either through deportation to the extermination camp at Beżec or execution on the spot, and 11,000 to 12,000 more Jews were sent to Belzec from the nearby towns Izbica, Piaski, Lubartów, Zamość, and Krasnik. During the same period some 36,000 Jews from the neighboring district of Galicia to the east of Lublin were also deported to Beżec.
From mid-April to late May the killing operations at Beżec were temporarily halted as the small wooden building with three gas chambers was torn down and a large stone building with six larger gas chambers was erected. When killing operations resumed at Beżec in late May, the camp primarily received Jews deported from the neighboring district of Kraków to the west, not from the Lublin district itself.
However, Sobibór, Globocnik’s second extermination camp in the Lublin district, had begun operating in early May. For the next six weeks it received deportations from the Lublin counties of Zamość, Puławy, Krasnystaw, and Chełm. By June 18, scarcely three months after the first deportations from the Lublin ghetto, about 100,000 Jews from the Lublin district had been killed, along with 65,000 from Kraków and Galicia, the vast majority by gassing at Beżec and Sobibór.3
The deportations to the death camps were only part of a vast relocation of central European Jewry. At the same time that Polish Jews were being deported from their homes to the extermination camps, trainloads of Jews from Germany, Austria, the Protectorate, and the puppet state of Slovakia were being dumped into the Lublin district. Some of these transports, such as the June 14 train from Vienna guarded by Lieutenant Fischmann, were also sent directly to Sobibór. Others, however, were unloaded in various ghettos, with the foreign Jews temporarily taking the places of those who had recently been killed.
This vast shuffling of Jews as well as the mass murder in Beżec and Sobibór stopped temporarily on June 19, when a shortage of rolling stock brought to a halt all Jewish transports in the General Government for a period of twenty days.4 Two death trains per week from the Kraków district to Beżec resumed on July 9, and the steady flow of transports from Warsaw to the newly opened extermination center at Treblinka began on July 22. However, the main rail line to Sobibór was under repair, rendering that camp virtually inaccessible until the fall. In the Lublin district itself, therefore, deportations to the extermination camps did not resume in early July.
It was during this enforced lull in the Final Solution in the General Government that Reserve Police Battalion 101 arrived in the Lublin district. On June 20, 1942, the battalion received orders for a “special action” in Poland.5 The nature of this “special action” was not specified in the written orders, but the men were led to believe that they would be performing guard duty. There is no indication whatsoever that even the officers suspected the true nature of the duties that awaited them.
The battalion entrained at the Sternscnanze station,6 the same point from which some of its men had deported Hamburg Jews to the east the previous fall. It arrived in the Polish town of Zamość in the southern part of the Lublin district on June 25. Five days later the battalion headquarters was shifted to Biłgoraj, and various units of the battalion were quickly stationed in the nearby towns of Frampol, Tarnogród, Ulanów, Turobin, and Wysokie,
Despite the temporary lull in the killing, SS and Police Leader Odilo Globocnik and his Operation Reinhard staff were not about to allow the newly arrived police battalion to remain entirely inactive in regard to the Lublin Jews. If the killing could not be resumed, the process of consolidating the victims in transit ghettos and camps could be. For most of the policemen of Reserve Police Battalion 101, the searing memory of the subsequent action in Józefów blotted out lesser events that had occurred during their four-week stay south of Lublin. However, a few did remember taking part in this consolidation process—collecting Jews in smaller settlements and moving them to larger ghettos and camps. In some cases only so-called work Jews were seized, put on trucks, and sent to camps around Lublin. In other cases, the entire Jewish population was rounded up and put on trucks or sent off on foot. Sometimes the Jews from the smaller surrounding villages were then collected and resettled in their place. None of these actions involved mass executions, though Jews who were too old, frail, or sick to be transported were shot in at least some instances. The men were uniformly uncertain about the towns from which they had deported Jews and the places to which the Jews had been relocated. No one recalled the names Izbica and Piaski, though these were the two major “transit” ghettos south of Lublin that were used for collecting Jews.8
Ordinary Men by Christopher R. Browning / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes