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CHAPTER 11

The 'Entefest' (Harvest Festival) massacres[1]

The removal of Globocnik

In early 1943, the SS had set up in the General Government a number of industrial enterprises exclusively manned by Jewish labor. In Lublin, Globocnik was the overseer and main director of these enterprises, which made large profits for the SS and, of course, for a few senior SS dignitaries. To say there had been 'creative' accounting is perhaps an understatement.

Himmler had remained loyal to Globocnik ('his Globus'), extricating him from the many difficulties that he had brought upon himself by acrimonious relationships with authority. Towards the end of Reinhardt, however, their personal relationship was under severe strain; neither one of them had the stomach or the will to fight off the outside intrigues and pressures. Although Himmler remained sympathetic to his protégé, he could no longer avoid moving him from the General Government at the earliest opportunity. In March 1943, Himmler's brother-in-law, Richard Wendler, the civil governor in Lublin District, had used his personal relationship with Himmler to urge him do something about Globocnik:

“Above all, I thank you for clearing the air regarding the SS-and Police Leader Lublin and trust you will transfer him somewhere else. This is the only noble and possible solution. I must even ask you today, to transfer Gruppenführer Globocnik within the shortest time to his new field of activity and to remove him from here.'”

A planned transfer of his old friend to Kharkow never materialized, but when Italy capitulated to the Allies on September 8, 1943, Northern Italy remained in German hands, Himmler seized the opportunity to transfer Globocnik as HSSPF of the Adriatic Coast Region, effective from September 13,1943. Meanwhile, the dismantlement of Aktion Reinhardt was coming to a close.

After the Treblinka revolt on August 2,1943, a nominal number of Jews were kept alive to dismantle the camp under the deputy commandant SS-Untersturmführer Kurt Franz (the former Belzec cook). When the Sobibòr revolt occurred on October 14, 1943, a similar dismantlement took place. With Treblinka and Sobibor closed, Himmler decided to liquidate all the remaining work camps in the Lublin area. On November 3rd, under the code name Erntefest (Harvest Festival), the total liquidation began. Over a few days 43,000 Jews were murdered in the camp at Majdanek and the labor camps of Lublin Airfield, Poniatowa, Trawniki, and Dorohucza. Jews who had been spared at Treblinka,Sobibor, Majdanek, and the Lublin enterprises to help with the demolition soon succumbed to the inevitable.

On November 23, SS-Oberscharführer Gustav Wagner, assisted by SS-Scharführers Jührs (Belzec) and Zierke (Belzec), the Ukrainian Volksdeutsche (Bodessa and Kaiser) executed the remaining Jews from Treblinka, Sobibor, and elsewhere.. To do this, and because the perimeter fences had been removed, they ordered the Jews to lie down in groups of five, and shot each one in the back of the neck. The bodies were then cremated. Having completed their task, the SS demolition and murder squads prepared to follow the remainder of Reinhardt personnel to Trieste in northern Italy, the others having left for Trieste on September 20 th, along with Globocnik, Stangl and Wirth.

On September 13,1943, Globocnik was promoted SS- Gruppenführer and Generalleutnant der Polizei and a week later he was transferred to Italy. He was replaced by on October 15th by one of Himmler's most trusted SS and Police Leader, SS-Gruppenführer Jakub Sporrenberg.

Before Sporrenerg left for his new appointment in Lublin, Himmler warned him not to concern himself with Jewish matters as this was in the hands of Globocnik, and for the foreseeable future would remain so. In the course of a long and detailed talk on policy, Himmler ordered Sporrenberg to concentrate his efforts to looking after the German settlers in Lublin, and further, that he expected the entire District to be germanized by the end of 1944. Himmler also ordered him to build fortifications along the Bug River and along the 1941 Russo-German border.

On arrival in Lublin, Sporrenberg was coolly received by Globocnik and his staff, who treated him with indifference. The headquarters staff of Reinhardt had remained loyal to Globocnik despite his removal as the SSPF. The hand-over of power from Globocnik to Sporrenberg was less than friendly. Globocnik contemptuously pointed out to Sporrenberg that his duties would never match what he and his men had achieved – an understatement. Leading this group of disgruntled senior staff now under Sporrenberg's command was SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle, SS-Hauptsturmführer Classen, and SS-Obersturmführer Bolten. His senior staff advised him quite bluntly to keep away from Globocnik's activities, as he was still acting on behalf of Himmler, and to direct his mind to partisan activity in the area.[2] According to Sporrenberg, before Globocnik left for Trieste, he had made arrangements that neither he (Sporrenberg) nor Governor Frank should have access to Majdanek KZ. Nethertheless, Sporrenberg succeeded in visiting the camp by stating to the commandant, SS-Obersturmführer Hermann Florstedt, that Himmler had authorized the visit. His controversial visit to Sobibór, as referred to earlier, was less successful as the commandant, SS-Hauptsturmführer Franz Reichleitner who, although he had a much lower rank, bluntly refused him permission to enter the camp and referred him to Globocnik or Himmler.

SS Enterprises

One of the curious aspects of the Nazi State was the lengths to which the highest echelons of the SS went to establish their profit-making schemes. In the eastern territories Ostinddustrie GmbH, abbreviated to OSTI (Eastern Industries - Osti Pty Ltd.), was established in March 1943 with the aim of using Jewish slave labor. It was registered in Berlin within the confines of German Company Law, with nominated directors. In this case the entire executive board was made up of bogus manufacturing officials by leading figures of the SS: Oswald Pohl (WVHA) as Chairman, Wilhelm Krüger (HSSPF Kraków) as deputy Chairman, Dr. Ferdinand von Sammern Frankenegg (SSPF Warsaw) and George Loener, a dealer. Joining the board of directors was Odilo Globocnik and Dr. Max Horn, a dealer.[3]

A second branch of OSTI was located in a very large camp at the old Lublin airfield. Here all manner of goods was produced under Globocnik's directorship: brushes of all kinds, shoes with wooden soles, and other wood articles. Globocnik himself was listed as Director. This location was the heartland of Reinhardt. Here is where all the Jewish property was brought from the death camps, sorted, and sent on at massive profits. The commandant since December 1942 was SS-Obersturmführer/ Kriminalkommissar Christian Wirth.

Unknown to the Jews at this time, the day of reckoning had arrived. Always fearing the worst about their own fate, when the day finally arrived, they were taken completely by surprise. Those manufacturing units employing Jews and aligned to Reinhardt were about to become extinct by order of Himmler.

Like several other camps, the Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke ( DAW = German Equipment Works) at the Lindenstrasse camp in Lublin was still under Globocnik's control. The DAW employed Jewish slave labor exclusively and produced mainly wooden articles, made with the most modern machines. There were also various workshops for tailors, cobblers, saddlers, tanners, and printers. The office staff was totally Jewish and was guarded by Ukrainians posted around the camp perimeter. Inside the camp there was complete freedom of movement. The newly-appointed SSPF, Jakub Sporrenberg, had to obtain written authority from Globocnik's office, which was still functioning in Lublin, for permission to inspect the camp. It was arranged for a special guide to take Sporrenberg around the camp, under escort.[4]

Situated about 35 kilometers southwest of Lublin, Poniatowa was also one of Globocnik's business ventures and as such also came under the direct command of Wirth. In Poniatowa there were about 14,000 Jewish men, women, and children, most of whom had been brought from the Warsaw Ghetto, where they had been slave workers for Globocnik's associate director, Walter Caspar Többens. Representing security, and in control of the camp, were the commandant, SS-Hauptsturmfürer Gottlieb Hering, and SS-Oberscharführer Heinrich Gley from Belzec.

In addition to being the center for the training of the Ukrainians, Trawniki also had a small industry operated by the firm of Schülz, under the direction of Globocnik, in which 8-10,000 Jews were employed manufacturing furs and other types of clothing. In late 1942, a brush factory, together with the Jewish workers, was transferred to Trawniki from the ghetto in Miedzyrzec Podlaska. The Jewish work complex consisted of workshops for tailors, furriers, and broom makers. Among the arrivals from Warsaw were Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum and 33 members of the Zydowska Organisacja Bojowa (ZOB), the Jewish Fighting Organization. In May 1943, Jews from the Netherlands, Bialystock, Minsk, and Smolensk arrived at Trawniki. In October 1943, the Wehrmacht factories were also transferred to Trawniki. After the Sobibór and Treblinka revolts,[5] it was proposed to close Trawniki and destroy all incriminating evidence.[6]

On October 19th, because of the deteriorating military situation in the East, General-Governor Dr. Hans Frank convened a special security conference in Kraków. Attending the conference was SS-Oberführer Bierkamp, Chief of the Security Service (SD/BdS) who had replaced the now disgraced Dr. Schöngarth (BdS), SS-Obergruppenführer F.W. Krüger (HSSPF) and Major-General Hans Grünwald (Schutzpolizei), and SSPF Sporrenberg , who had replaced Globocnik.

Krüger showed them the following letter received from Himmler:

“To:
Higher SS and Police Leader Obergruppenführer and General of the Police Krüger
Kraków

The Jews in the Lublin District have developed into a serious danger. This state of affairs must be cleared up once and for all. I have charged the 'unit Globocnik' with the execution of this matter. The Higher SS and Police Leader East, and the SS and Police Leader Lublin, are requested to assist Globocnik with all resources at their disposal.

(Signed) Heinrich Himmler”[7]

According to Sporrenberg's account, which was recorded under interrogation after the war, those attending the conference were furious. Who had leaked this information to Himmler?[8] It was the consensus of those present that decisions had been made to finally eliminate all the Jews in the Lublin District. It was also the consensus of the conference that Himmler and Globocnik had worked this policy out between them. It is significant to note that although Globocnik and Wirth had been posted to Italy they had been recalled to Lublin by Himmler for this operation to take personal charge of events. Sporrenberg and his SS personnel in Lublin were sidelined, and according to Sporrenberg, were either treated with contempt or simply ignored. The leadership of Reinhardt had been resurrected and reformed for one last operation.

The results were immediate. On October 20,1943, several wagons arrived at Sobibór from Treblinka. An SS-unit and Jewish Vorkommando had arrived to dismantle the camp.[9] At Majdanek camp in Lublin, there was an influx of security personnel from Berlin, and contrary to protocol, they did not report their arrival to Sporrenberg. According to Sporrenberg, he had no knowledge that anti-tank ditches, two meters deep, were being dug in Majdanek for the sole purpose of executing Jews. This must be treated as a defensive lie. In the last days of October, 300 prisoners spent three days digging two meter deep ditches to be the places of execution. Each ditch was zigzag in shape, just like normal defence trenches, and extended for 100 meters. On November 2, loudspeakers were set up in the vicinity, and early the following morning all the preparations were completed for the Erntefest (Harvest Festival) Operation.

According to Sporrenberg, he received from HSSPF Krüger a teleprinter message informing him that special units of the Feldkommando Stelle (Field Command Post) of the RFSS consisting of 2,000 Waffen-SS and police regiments from East Prussia were to be used for cordoning off' duties around Majdanek. In addition to these SS troops, a special Kommando unit of 150 SS men had arrived from Auschwitz – the executioners.

SS-Obersturmführer Christian Wirth contemptuously informed Sporrenberg, who had a much higher rank, that he had orders signed by Himmler for organizing and commanding the total extermination of all Jews in the Lublin District. Wirth confirmed to Sporrenberg that this action would commence the following day. When Sporrenberg challenged Wirth on the basis that the orders were in fact addressed to Globocnik, Wirth stated that he was acting on Globocnik's behalf. Wirth showed Sporrenberg the orders and plans of the three camps and other places whose inmates were to be shot: Osti and DAW at the old Lublin airfield, DAW on Lindenstrasse in Lublin, and the labor camps at Poniatowa and Trawniki. Wirth handed the order to Sporrenberg:

  1. “ On orders of the RFSS an operation called 'Erntefest' will be carried out in the Lublin District, for which the cordoning-off troops under his command are to be used.
  2. For this purpose, the units in question will be disposed and dispersed as shown on the plans.
  3. The cordoning-off troops will remain posted until ordered to stand down and no person will be permitted to enter or exit the cordoned-off area.
  4. In the case of the two camps at Lindenstrasse and the old airfield, the prisoners will be led out of the camps and taken to Majdanek under guard. At Majdanek the troops are to form a cordon round the camp while the 'operation' is being carried out, and to remain in place until recalled.
  5. The Commanders of the troops are to enter Majdanek on arrival and report to Wirth in order to establish contact and obtain information about when the troops are no longer needed.
  6. On returning from Majdanek, the leaders are to report to the SSPF.
  7. On the second day, the troops will surround the camps at Poniatowa and Trawniki at 06:00. The commanders will report to SS-Sturmbanführer Wirth.”

On November 3, 1943, the total liquidation began. Early that morning, the Jews reported for work as usual in the subsidiary labor camps in Lublin. It was only when they were led out of the camps in groups under strong SS guard and through the town towards Majdanek that they realized their end was near. As they entered the camp complex they were made to strip naked, hand over any valuables and cash, and line up in queues to await their turn to descend into the execution ditches.

The SS execution Kommandos were efficient: each Jew was beckoned forward, entered the ditch and lay on top the Jew previously shot. A short burst of gunfire and the next victim was called forward and the operation repeated – many thousands of times. Local Poles who witnessed the 'great march' saw a line of people stretching for several kilometers through and beyond the town, all marching in the direction of Majdanek. On that day, 18,000 Jews--men, women and children-- were murdered in the camp.

Over several days, mass executions by shooting occurred in Majdanek and surrounding towns. Over 42,000 Jews.perished in these murderous actions.[10] (The entire labor force of Többens and Schülz was massacred in this operation: Osti and DAW -16, 000, Poniatowa - 14, 000, Trawniki - 12, 000…all Jews

In Poniatowa, Gottlieb Hering replicated Wirth's antics by appearing on horse, accompanied by Gley. As this small entourage moved among the Jewish workers, Gley opened fire with his machine pistol killing many of the Jewish workers.[11] Shootings, torture, and cruelty were a daily occurrence in Poniatowa, but victim and oppressor alike were taken by surprise when on the November 3 the camp was cordoned off by regiments of SS and police. Like all the other camp commanders in the district, they were not informed of the impending action. According to Gley:

“In November (3rd November) 1943, I was called to see the commandant (Hering) who was with two police officers. Hering was informed that the camp was now surrounded and that orders had been received for the liquidation of all Jews, without exception. The Jews were ordered to assemble in different parts of the camp. Naked, they were led to execution ditches where they were shot.[12]

Once the executions began there was no escape. 200 Jews who had remained unharmed were left alive. When they were ordered to cremate their brothers and sisters, many refused and were shot.[13] The shooting lasted several hours, until the last Jew lay dead in the ditches. According to German witnesses after the war, between 07:30 and 14:00 hrs, 14,000 Jews were shot in Poniatowa.[14]

On November 5, the Trawniki camp was cordoned off and the Jews were also murdered in ditches. Jews who refused to cremate the copses were shot and replaced by Jews from the Milejow camp near Lublin to carry out the cremations. They too were shot after completing the task.

The Entefest massacres were completed between November 3 and 5;3,000 innocent victims killed every working hour. The 150-strong SS-execution squad from Auschwitz carried out the killings. Each man killed 280 people in 14 hours, or one person every 3 minutes. The 42, 000 bodies were all buried within the camps.

This massacre did not go without reward for Reinhardt, as the economic assets were stripped from the bodies of the Jews lying dead in the ditches. Their mouths were stripped of gold and melted down. Some of the booty plundered from Jewish victims even found its way to the coffers of the T4 Central Office. In proceedings against Hans-Joachim Becker and Friedrich Robert Lorent in 1970, KTI witness Dr Albert Widmann testified that “in one month alone he had to smelt dental gold and jewelery pieces in such quantity that he received from DEGUSSA[15] 27 kilograms of fine gold, of which he passed on a certain amount to T4.”[16]

After the Erntefest massacres, Christian Wirth returned to Trieste, but a month later, in December 1943, Himmler ordered him back to Lublin to exhume and burn the corpses.[17]

Elsewhere, more shootings took place. On November 4,1943, further support SS personnel arrived in Sobibór from Treblinka to assist those already there in the demolition of the camp. On November 23, SS-Oberscharführer Gustav Wagner, assisted by SS-Scharführers Jührs and Zierke, both formerly from the Belzec camp, and the Ukrainian Volksdeutsche Bodessa and Kaiser, decided to execute the remaining Jews in the camp.[18] To do this, they ordered the Jews to lie face down in groups of five on dismantled narrow gauge rails, and then shot each one in the back of the neck. The bodies were cremated.[19] The SS garrison, having completed its task, prepared to follow the remainder of the Reinhardt personnel to Trieste in northern Italy.

Despite Sporrenberg's playing down to his interrogators of his own contribution to Erntefest, it is clear that he was one of Hitler's earliest and most fanatical supporters who, by his efficiency, zeal, and success quickly rose to high rank and important positions within the SS, the SD, and Sipo.[20] The question whether he opposed Himmler and his Jewish policies (as he maintained), is irrelevant, since jealousy and corruption in high Nazi circles would turn today's friend into the most ruthless enemy of tomorrow, without his moral conceptions having undergone a change. Even if Sporrenberg, to some extent, disagreed with Himmler's orders and the methods adopted, he certainly lacked the moral courage to dissociate himself from his superiors. As an SD officer, his incrimination in the extermination of many thousands of Jews, including Polish POW's, is clear, and even if the main burden of killing 42,000 Jews rested on Himmler, Globocnik, and Wirth, such a task could not have been carried out by a mere handful of men in 14 hours without the knowledge of SSPF Sporrenberg in Lublin.[21]Erntefest was the final act of Reinhardt. However, this was not the end of the SS purge of blood-letting. Under the authority of SSPF Fritz Katzmann, on November 19 and 20, 1943 the remaining economic enterprises at the Janowska camp in Lvóv, were liquidated: 4,000 Jews were murdered.[22]

Reinhardt was a massive operation for the industrial killing of several million Jews from European countries by a few thousand Germans who worked for the SS and Police. It is ironic that what commenced with a virulent, nefarious, anti-Semitic and wilful intent of the Nazis to murder the entire Jewish populations within their grasp, actually ended with some of the most ardent supporters of these measures regretting the consequences of their actions. SS-Obergruppenführer Wilhelm Krüger, the highest SS and Police official in Kraków and also Minister for Security in the General Government, admitted at a Government session on 31st May 31, 1943 that the extermination was for the police one of the largest, most difficult, and saddest tasks undertaken, it had to be completed because of Hitler's orders. And Governor General Hans Frank said at Nuremberg: “A 1,000 years will pass and Germany's guilt will not be washed away.”


Footnotes

  1. Browning, Ordinary Men, 135, refers to 'Entefest' as the 'single largest killing operation against Jews' undertaken by Germans during the war, eclipsing even Babi Yar. See also: Grabitz and Schefler, Die Spüren. For the 3-4 November 1943 liquidations of Jewish labour camps in Trawniki, Poniatowa and Majdanek, see: Sandkühler, Endlösung, 270. Return

  2. Ibid. Return

  3. Stanislaw Piotrowski, Misja Odila Globocnika: Sprawozdania o Wynikach Finansowych Zaglady Zydów w Polsce, Panstwowy Institut Wydawniczy, Warsw 1949. This document was lodged at the International Military Trubunal at Nuremberg in the report of Odilo Globocnik and refers to the financial outcomes of the extermination of the Jews in the General Government. Document sent to the author in translated form by Joseph Poprzeczny, Australia 1998. Return

  4. Ibid. Return

  5. After the Treblinka revolt in August 1943, a nominal number of Jews were kept alive to dismantle the camp under the directions of their Jewish Kapo, Karl Blau and SS-Untersturmführer Kurt Franz..
    (* Franz was cook in Belzec for a very short time; later appointed by Wirth as instructor to the Ukr. guards).
    Return

  6. Pohl, Extermination Policies, 90. See also: Judenpolitik, 171. Return

  7. Ibid. Return

  8. Ibid. Although Sporrenberg gives a full and detailed account, it must be treated with care; the information is so detailed, however, that some credence can be afforded to it. Return

  9. Blatt, Sobibor, 90. The Treblinka revolt was not fully reported to Berlin, as there were no German fatalities. Sobibór was a different matter as many SS troops died in the revolt. On receiving the report, Himmler ordered the destruction of the camp and removal of all traces of mass murder. At the Sobibór trials, a freight document was produced in evidence showing that wagons numbered: 22757, 130789, 19796, 22536 and 70136 had left Treblinka for Sobibór on 20 October 1943. See also statement of Francziszek Zabecki, stationmaster at Treblinka who reported the incident to the Polish underground. Return

  10. PRO/FO371/42790: Report from the Jewish National Committee Warsaw, dated 15 November 1943. See also: Pohl, Judenpolitik, 172-3. Return

  11. TAL/JHIW: Document No. 965: Statement of Ester Rubinstein Return

  12. Arad, Belzec, 366 (slightly edited). Return

  13. Ibid, 367. Return

  14. Longerich, Ermordung, 229. Return

  15. See: Heberer: 'Deutsche Gold-und Silber-Sheide-Anstalt', known as DEGUSSA, this was the largest German smeltery for precious metals, which participated in the smelting of dental gold plundered from Nazi victims. Return

  16. (Ibid?) Becker/Lorent proceedings, 1970, quoted in Arad, Belzec, 148. Return

  17. PRO, File No. WO 208/4673 Return

  18. Blatt, Sobibor, 90-91. Return

  19. Ibid., 91. Return

  20. The roles of Sporrenberg and Globocnik in issuing the orders for 'Entefest' have never been clearly established. See Longerich, Ermordung, 229. Return

  21. PRO, File No. (* WO – FO?) 208/4673: Interrogation Protocols, 25 February 1946. Return

  22. Pohl, Ostgalizien, Conclusion. Return

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