The massacre of Poland’s elites

Poles in the territories incorporated into the Reich were the victims of the Intelligenzaktion, a merciless extermination operation.

In September 1939, the particularly brutal Gauleiter of Danzig, Albert Foster, shouted: “We have to exterminate these lousy Poles, starting at the cradle. I put the Poles in your hands, do what you want with them!” The German crowd shouted back “Death to the Polish dogs! “Death to the Poles”.

It did not end at the shouting. The German minority in Poland’s Pomerania, which had previously constituted a fifth column in the country posing a threat to the Polish state and Armed Forces, had now in large part turned into a bloody-thirsty group of informers and torturers of the best and most influential segments of Polish society.

From the very start of the war, it took part in the murdering of Polish elites, exactly as had been planned by the Germans leading the Third Reich.

A murderous organization

The so-called “Intelligenzaktion” is considered to have been initiated in the second half of October 1939, when Powisle, Greater Poland, Silesia, Northern Mazovia and Lodz areas were incorporated alongside Pomerania into the Third Reich. Ten million people had lived there before the war, including 9 million Poles. Seizing Polish land was combined with the supervision of their “security” by administrative authorities.

Prior to this they were in theory under the command of the Wehrmacht but the genocide of the Poles was mainly carried out by six murderous Einsatzgruppen in the so-called Tannenberg Operation. I wrote “mainly” because the Wehrmacht also used to shoot down and hang defenceless civilians – for example in Kleck close to Gniezno – and it assisted the police, SS and Gestapo. So-called Self-Protection (Selbstschutz) Units, composed of locals Germans and Volksdeutsche, also carried out killings.

These acts – just as the Intelligenzaktion (which according to some already took off in September) – were seen as a continuation of the Tannenberg Operation and other acts of butchery at the start of the war. Their origins can be traced to German plans for invading Poland written up already in 1934 as well as the signing by Poland of the Non-Aggression Pact. The annexation of our territories was linked to plans to eliminate the country’s elites.

This led the Sicherheitsdienst (the intelligence agency of the SS) in 1939 to commission and publish a Special Prosecution Book-Poland (Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen). This was an alphabetical list of names consisting of 61,000 distinguished Poles who due to their social status the SS deemed to be dangerous for the Third Reich. They were individuals who were considered potential leaders of Polish society.

They included: public officials, municipal leaders, landowners and businessmen, students and teachers, officers, lawyers, the heads of social organisations, priests, nuns, war veterans who had fought for Poland’s freedom…Those who had been looked over during the commissioning of the list were subsequently added in the course of the invasion with the assistance of local Germans, who were happy to settle old scores with the Poles and seize their properties.

The “wanted” lists were a death sentence. Up to April 1940, 50,000 Poles were murdered and another 50,000 were deported to concentration camps as part of the Intelligenzaktion. Most of those deported were sent to the specially constructed Stutthof, Hohenbruch and Mauthausen-Gusen camps. For the large majority of them this also meant death.

In this way, almost 100,000 representatives of Poland’s elites were murdered in Greater Poland, Pomerania and Silesia as well as Lodz and northern Mazovia. Apart from the murdered elites, hundreds of thousands of Poles were sent to the General Governorate. They had all their belongings taken away from them. By the end of 1940, over a quarter of a million Poles had been expelled.

Of course, the murders, deportations to concentration camps, expulsions and forced labour continued after the conclusion of the Intelligenzaktion. As I have already pointed out, the Germans already had sketched out plans before the outbreak of the war and their conquests led them to formulate a General Plan for the East (Generalplan Ost) in 1941, which was designed to secure “living space” (Lebensraum) at the cost of the nationalities living to the East of Germany. According to these plans, all Jews, 80-85% of Poles, 50% of Czechs and Moravians, 65% of Ukrainians, 75% of Belarusians and an unspecified number of Russians and Tatars were due to disappear from these territories.

Slavs who remained on what used to be their territories would be transformed into uneducated slaves obedient to their “German masters”. The Polish intelligentsia member did not figure in the racist Nazi plans and, in 1941 at the latest, it was decided that he had to be eliminated as a matter of priority.

Pomeranian Palmiry

In terms of ruthlessness and proportionality, the highest number of Intelligenzaktion victims consisted of Pomeranian Poles: 23,000. Combined with the Jews and Poles brought here from Germany, the number of people executed could reach up to 40,000. In all certainty, this high murder rate can be linked to the viciously anti-Polish sentiment of Albert Forster, appointed the new Gauleiter of Danzig-West Prussia.

Although also deeply criminal in nature, Arthur Greiser in Greater Poland and Fritz Bracht in Upper Silesia aimed to germanise rather than exterminate the populations under their control.

Poles from Gdansk, Gdynia, Wejherowo, Starogard, Puck were mainly shot in the Piasnica Forest close to Wejherowo, in Mniszek close to Swieca, in the

Szpegawski Forest close to Starograd, Between 1,200 and 1,200 Poles were executed in the Fordon Valley of Death next to Bydgoszcz. 2,000 Poles were killed in the Valley of Death close to Chojnice in addition to several dozen in the Morzewski Mountains by Chodziez.

The occupying forces tried to keep the murders in Piasnica Forest, called the Pomeranian Palmiry and Katyn, a secret. However, the horrendous events were documented thanks to accounts given by a few local Poles and post-war testimonies by Germans. The victims – men, women and children – were treated with the most fierce brutality. They were brought to the site from prisons and forced to undress to their underwear and kneel beside the death pits. They were then executed by machine gun fire or by a shot to the back of their head.

These acts took place during the day as well in the night, using car lights for illumination. After the war, torture marks were found on the bodies. People who appeared to be still alive were killed off using rifle butts. It is also likely that some people were buried alive. Infants were murdered by hitting their tiny heads against trees (the grotesque traces of these acts were still visible on the tree trunks).

The SS murderers would fuel themselves on by drinking alcohol – after the war many empty bottles were found inside the pits. The clothing of the victims was meticulously collected and transported to Wejherowo in the same trucks that had brought the victims to their deaths. They were then passed on, ever so kindly, to Nazi social charities. 12,000 Poles lost their lives in the Piasnica Forest. (...)

In Fort VII – and not only

And these are the losses that we suffered in the other bloodiest parts of Poland, incorporated into the Reich, during the Intelligenzaktion. The extermination of the Polish intelligentsia in Greater Poland – incorporated into the Reich under the name of Warthegau – started as soon as the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. Public executions of local elites (creating almost 300 victims) were held in Sremia, Ksiazec, Kornik, Sroda, Kostrzyn, Gostyn, Poniec, Kroba, Koscian, Smigiel, Leszno, Osieczno and Wloszakowice, amongst others.

The most infamous place amongst them was the Fort VII of Poznan’s citadel where 2,000 Poles were murdered during the Intelligenzaktion, including some of the country’s most distinguished citizens (20,000 were killed by the end of the German occupation).

2,000 Poles were executed in Upper Silesia during the Intelligenzaktion. These included many individuals who participated in the Silesian uprisings, plebiscite activists, journalists, politicians, intellectuals, public officials as well as spiritual leaders. Those who had in the past tried to make the territories of Upper Silesia part of Poland again could expect no mercy. (...)

In Northern Mazovia, the Intelligenzaktion took the lives of around 6,700 Poles. The main victims came from the elites of Ostroleka, Wyszkowo, Ciechanow, Wysokie Mazowieckie, Lomza and the surroundings of these towns. In particular, a very high number of public officials, teachers, spiritual leaders and Jews were killed, in order to germanise the area as fast as possible. A reign of terror was implemented by Erich Koch, the Gauleiter of East Prussia, a particularly brutal member of the Nazi regime.

The Intelligenzaktion operation in Litzmannstadt (as Lodz had become known after it had been incorporated into the Third Reich) was initiated at the beginning of November 1939. During that time hundreds of people were arrested from intelligentsia circles in Lodz and surrounding areas, such as Pabianice, Konstantynow Lodzki, Brzezina and Zgierz. They were first placed in a temporary camp set up in the factory of Michal Glazer in Radogoszcz. Selections then took place, as a result of which 500 of them were shot in the nearby forests. The executions lasted until the spring of 1940, claiming a total of 1,500 victims.

From May 1940 onwards, young Polish men – and even boys – were brought to the prison in Radogoszcz. They were first sent to Dachau Concentration Camp and later to Mauthausen-Gusen, the toughest of the German concentration camps due to the excruciating work in the quarry and the sadistic guards – which is why not many prisoners came out alive. The following year, 175 clergymen who had not been arrested earlier were seized in the Lodz diocese and sent to Dachau. 40 of them would not come back.

Comrades in crime

Of course, it is worth remembering that our elites were murdered not only in areas incorporated into the Reich.  Apart from the murders carried out during military conflict and revenge executions such as those in Wawer, the Germans carried out special operations (Sonderaktion) in the General Governorate, almost identical in nature to those perpetrated during the Intelligenzaktion.

They included the Sonderaktion Krakau, when professors of the Jagiellonian University were arrested and deported to concentration camps and the Lublin Sonderaktion, which primarily targeted professors at the city’s Catholic University and the Sonderaktion Tschenstochau.

In November 1939, following the unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hitler in Munich by the carpenter George Elser (in which Poles played no part), the Germans organized Sonderaktion Bürgerbräukeller during which hundreds of Polish intelligentsia members were arrested. Any pretext was good enough…

We should also remember that the brutal massacres of the Polish elite were accompanied by massacres carried out by the Soviets. Similar segments of Polish society were murdered following the invasion of the Red Army on September 17th.  Arrests were made according to similar criteria used by the Germans and civilians were sent to camps, deported to labour camps in Kazakhstan and Siberia and also, of course, murdered in the Katyzn massacre. 

The similarities regarding the objectives, methods and time-frame are striking. No doubt, representatives of the NKVD and the Gestapo discussed plans for the Polish intelligentsia during conferences held in Brzesc, Przemysl, Krakow and Zakopane.

Over 70 years have passed since the end of the war and to this day, the West fails to appreciate the unique scale of tragedies suffered by Poles and Poland from September 1939 onwards. And this despite the fact that no other country suffered such a simultaneous onslaught from two occupying forces, including a targeted extermination policy of our country’s elites.

People in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark but also the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania are not even aware of the difference between the presence of German forces on their territories and the occupation of Poland. And this, it needs to be stressed strongly, relates not only to Soviet terror but also the brutal crimes committed by the Germans…


Do Rzeczy Source: Do Rzeczy