Biography of the Author
The Author: Honorary
Dr. Robin O'Neil is a former police major crimes investigator who worked at the cutting edge of major criminal investigations in the United Kingdom and Central Europe. Formerly of Scotland Yard, the Metropolitan and Home Counties Police. service, he then took up the challenge of academia. After obtaining his Master’s and Doctorate with University College London, he now specializes in the investigation of Nazi war crimes and the destruction of the European Jewish communities 1933-1945. He is a regular lecturer at Universities in the United Kingdom, United States, Israel and Eastern Europe
During the course of many interviews he pleaded with me to find the men responsible and expose the tragedy of Galician Jewry, particularly the men responsible for the demise of his own family, who had lived in the Galician town of Kolomyja. It transpired that just before the German onslaught in June 1941 into east Galicia, he fled east to Kiev. After the war he returned to Kolomyja where he discovered his loss: 37 near and dear relatives had all perished, believed murdered in local forests, the Janowska camp, and the extermination camp of Belzec.
This was a tall order as, at the time, I had no real interest and other priorities. Thus I had no reason to pick up the challenge. Belzec, Galicia, Kolomyja had not yet come into my vocabulary, but the more I thought about it, the more I dabbled in Holocaust literature and the more I sensed the injustice of post-war retribution for the men who had committed what appeared to me as the world's greatest crime.
Sadly, after two years of serving his sentence he died suddenly from natural causes. As it turned out, I took up the challenge and after 30 years of Holocaust research I have to admit defeat, as I never traced any record of his named family or any record of their final demise. But what follows is, perhaps, second best: a reappraisal of historical facts focusing on Belzec as a vehicle plotting the modus operandi of the total destruction of European Jewry, particularly in east Galicia.
I have done my best: the prosecutor had become his friend and had honored his pledge, but too late for him to know.
Special mention, however, cannot go unrecorded. In Poland, special thanks go to my colleague, Michael Tregenza in Lublin. To my editors and mentors: Professor John Klier, Sir Martin Gilbert, and Joyce Field (CJ). For technical support and literary advice: The ARC Foundation International and Professor John Adler.
'Yidn, shreibt un farschreibt!
Over to the left, on a sloping escarpment, my hands sifted through the sand, picking out minute pieces of what I presumed human bone that had been brought to the surface by the weather., Scuffing the surface with my shoe, a patella, collar bone, pieces of scull came to the surface. Under my feet and the feet of all those socially enjoying themselves at that time, was the resting place of 600,000 Jews-- men, women and small children-- and this is how it remained for the next 30 years.
When the scale of catastrophe of the Holocaust was revealed and western civilization came under the magnifying glass, the symbolic icon chosen to signify this indelible stain on world history was Auschwitz. To a significant extent Auschwitz-Birkenau stamped its name on the consciousness of the world because its combined role as a labor camp and death camp enabled a significant number of people to survive and tell their story. Also, the camp itself remained largely intact to become a site of pilgrimage, whereas by the end of the war Belzec had done its murderous deeds and had been entirely obliterated. Yet in terms of historical reality, the role of symbol for The Final Solution could equally be ascribed to the largely forgotten Belzec.
What follows is the background of how this policy of genocide was conceived, put into operation and staffed, and how the ordinary men involved were caught up in one of the blackest moments in human history.
There were 14,000 inhabitants living in Tomaszow, including 6,000 Jews (43%). 4,500 of whom managed to escape over the river Bug to the Soviet Union before the Nazis arrived on September 13, 1939, when Belzec became a border customs post separating the German-occupied area and the Soviet Union. In Claude Lanzmann's documentary film Shoah, he uniquely captures the social setting of communities where Jews decided to settle: very quickly indeed, Jewish entrepreneurial skills and cultural finesse, subordinated the indigenous communities. Within a very short time, Jews occupied the best house and shops and rose to be the dominating influences in Polish-Ukrainian society - envied but respected by the less fortunate. Despite the social and religious difficulties, this uneasy relationship prospered. Belzec village and the adjacent town of Tomaszow-Lubelski were no exception to this social hierarchy.
In November 1939, all Jews were sent into the ghetto that had been set up in Tomaszów-Lubelski, and in July 1942, the ghetto was closed when many of the Jews were sent down the road to the extermination camp or to the Cieszanow labor camp. A number of Jews escaped to the forest where they survived living off the land, eating turnips and fruit; their only shelter was holes they dug in the ground covered with brushwood. They remained hidden until the Russians arrived, while others joined partisan units operating in the area. From 1943 until the liberation of the area by the Red Army in July 1944, skirmishes between the 'OUN, the AK, and other militias against the German occupation forces were a regular occurrence. Relief came to the entrapped Polish communities on July 21, 1944, when Soviet and 'AK' units seized the area from the fleeing Germans. By this time all traces of the Belzec Death Camp had been obliterated, landscaped, and planted with firs. A resident Ukrainian farmer was now resident in premises hastily built by the Germans before they left the area.
The eastern part of Poland was now occupied by the Russians and would remain so until 1991, when a legitimate government emerged. There are no major industries in the district, few shops, high unemployment and no sign of improvement. Belzec and the surrounding villages remain a quiet backwater content with their lot but with one important element missing: there are no Jews, and the inhabitants, Poles and Ukrainians, are all the poorer for it. The residents of Belzec are still burdened by the notoriety of the former death camp on their doorstep. Not only is it the forgotten camp, it was the deadliest and most brutal of all the Nazi killing grounds.
The research that constitutes the basis of this study has been undertaken on a number of different, but related fronts. It includes critically important data derived from an archaeological survey of the mass graves at Belzec by forensic archaeologists from Torun University in Poland. By comparing this information with other data of the transports to Belzec from the Jewish communities of Lublin district, Galicia, and elsewhere, we are able to envisage the scale of murder committed in the name of the Final Solution in a way that is independent of eyewitness testimony. Consequently, the evidence contained constitutes substantial proofs of Nazi war crimes against the Jewish people and incontrovertible body of evidence to confront Holocaust Denial.
In the context of a number of important and hotly debated studies of recent years, which deal with the background, indoctrination and ideological commitment of those who carried out Nazi war crimes, the evidence of this study provides an important perspective. The detailed investigation of the German and Austrian personnel who ran the camp provides a number of insights into the way in which Aktion Reinhardt and its precursor, the Euthanasia programme, were staffed.
Belzec was commissioned by the highest authority of the Nazi State and acted outside the law of both civil and military conventions of the time. Under the code Aktion Reinhardt, the death camps were organized, staffed, and administered by a leadership of middle-ranking police officers and a specially selected civilian cadre who, in the first instance, had been initiated into the euthanasia program- and their expertise then transferred to operational duties in the death camps. The hands-on extermination of European Jewry in the death camps of Reinhardt, the author suggests, was police led, from start to finish.
While this was a top-secret operation, many of those involved were not committed Nazis or even members of the SS, but ordinary Germans engaged not so much in gratifying their congenital murderous, anti-Semitic impulses, but either, under personal threat from the leadership or as opportunists hoping to avoid combat duties and amass personal wealth looted from their victims. Aktion Reinhardt staff was protected by the highest authority from military and civilian discipline or regulation. They were in effect untouchable.
The principle of police leadership in the Reinhardt camps was unprecedented and was never extended or repeated in any other penal establishment in the areas of German occupation. The combination of police and civilians appears to have been a direct policy of the Nazi State. The majority of Reinhardt personnel operating in these camps became a maverick unit and were given the spurious cover of SS insignia to facilitate their objective. These men, operating under a 'Geheime Reichssache' ('Secret Reich Affair') became 'the untouchables'. All outside influences concerning rank, status and human decency meant absolutely nothing to this group. Within the Reinhardt establishment there was a complete negation of any recognised principals of law and order, discipline or basic humanitarian considerations.
The men engaged in Reinhardt were practiced in institutional murder since 1940 and were psychologically conditioned to continue similar duties elsewhere. After all, if they could engage in the murder of their 'own,' they could hardly be expected to have any inner morale conflict with murdering Jews. Even so, in practice, clinical institutionalized murder was a far cry from what these men were later faced with in Belzec which called for an extra dimension of personal commitment. Among the Reinhardt personnel, the motivation for carrying out the base murder of men, women and children varied according to the individual. Fear among the lower echelons of the leadership predominated, but others were attracted by generous pay and conditions of service with extra leave, allowances and opportunities for further advancement. Others were motivated by the spoils of extermination: corruption, greed, and in some cases by crude prejudices and sadistic self-gratification. Exemption from frontline duty was an added inducement. In due course, all these men, even those who self-righteously proclaimed abhorrence of Belzec's purpose, became corrupted when given the power of life and death over people whom they were encouraged to treat as sub-human.
In the lower ranks, Nazi ideology and anti-Semitism were not the prime driving forces behind the majority of the mass murderers. It is in the leadership that political indoctrination and rabid anti-Semitism were to be found. One man in particular, the Stuttgart police officer Christian Wirth, exemplifies this. He will be shown to be the central cog in the destruction process, even more so than his immediate superior, the designated overlord of Reinhardt, SS-Brigadeführer Odilo Globocnik. Unlike Himmler and his immediate following, who were driven by a pseudo-religious ideology, or a 'holy' mission, Wirth remained an enigma, a crude man with uncouth habits spurred on by an old-fashioned sense of 'duty' and a hatred for Jews.
The dates concerning the planning and construction of Belzec suggest quite strongly that the decision to carry out the genocide was made well before the Wannsee Conference of January 1942, and that conference was little more than a rubber-stamping exercise designed to implicate a wide range of State agencies in its operation. Even before the conference, Belzec had already been built, staffed with technicians transferred from the euthanasia program experimenting with gassing procedures
As discussed above, the personnel employed in Belzec actually reveal a widely-held misconception that only ideologically-orientated and fanatical Nazis staffed these camps of mass destruction, whereas in fact, many were not political or particularly anti-Semitic. To support this thesis, the emerging blueprint of destruction has been traced chronologically.
The destruction of European Jewry has been treated in a number of ways by specialists who are at the cutting edge of Holocaust research: Gerald Reitlinger's The Final Solution (originally published in 1953) is thought-provoking but focused primarily on Jewish extermination and gives little indication of the inner power struggles within the General Government. Reitlinger's work has been superseded by Raul Hilberg's magisterial three- volume Destruction of the European Jews (1985), which in my view remains the definitive work. It is breathtaking in scope and systematically deals with every aspect of the mechanics of destruction, including German material on this tragedy. Hilberg also includes an excellent account of the administrative conflict in the General Government. Martin Gilbert's Holocaust (1987) considers Reinhardt from a broader perspective, while Daniel Goldhagen's widely-discussed, well-documented and controversial Hitler's Willing Executioners (1997) only refers to Belzec on three occasions within its references to Reinhardt. Only Yitzhak Arad's Belzec, Sobibór, Treblinka - The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (1987), and the latest published research by Michael Tregenza in Lublin, Belzec - Das Vergessene Lager des Holocaust (2000) focuses on Belzec in some depth within the context of Reinhardt. Christopher C. Browning's prolific scholarship-- Fateful Months (1985), Path to Genocide (1992), Essays on the Final Solution (1995) The Final Solution and the German Foreign Office (1978); Ordinary Men; The Reigner Telegramme Reconstructed; Nazi Policy, Jewish Questions, and Policies; Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers-- are major contributions. The SS training camp at Trawniki near Lublin was the most important element in providing manpower for Reinhardt. The interesting and most welcome research paper by David Rich et al enhances our understanding of this subject.
Among the Polish sources, of particular interest are the works of E. Szrojt, and T. Chrosciewicz. For the deportation operations from the Galician District see T. Berenstein. Other useful sources are An Outline History of the Lwów Railways 1942-3, which contains interesting facts regarding the deportation transports from Lwów to Belzec. The information is not precise as the camp in Belzec functioned only until December 1942 year. See also Dr. Janusz Peter (Kordian), W Belzcu podczas okupacji (In Belzec during the Occupation). When discussing the Generalplan Ost see Czeslaw Madajczyk's Forschungsstelle für Ostunterkunft (Research Centre for Eastern Resettlement) and the European-wide Jewish extermination program. On the fate of the Christian Poles who were left to face the German and Russian onslaughts, there are thought-provoking personal recollections of this period in Tomasz Piesakowski's The Fate of Poles in the USSR, 1939-1989; the Zygmunt Klukowski Diary 1939-44. See also Zoë Zajderowa's The Dark Side of the Moon. For the fate of German Jews in Dresden, see the Victor Klemperer diaries.
From the German side see the diary of Alex Hohenstein, Oberbügermeister (Senior District Mayor) of Poniatowec in the Warthegau 1941/2; Das Diensttagebuch des deutschen Generalgouverneurs in Polen (Hans Frank Diaries), Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels (Goebbels Diaries); [Diensttagebuch Himmler] Der Dienstkalender Heinrich Himmler 1941/2. These are rich sources, indeed.
The diary of Dr Hans Frank's Diary, Tagebuch des Herrn Generalgouverneurs für die Besetzten Polnischen Gebiete, 25 Oktober 1939 bis 3. April 1945 is crucial for understanding the power struggle within the General Government between Himmler, Frank and Krüger. The original 'Frank Diaries' can be found in the archives of the former Archiwum Glownej Komisji Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce (Main Commission for Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland), today the Izba Pamiêci Narodowej (Institute of National Memory) in Warsaw, Poland. The Tagebuch is a detailed although not personal record of the civil administration divided into 38 volumes. The diary is compartmentalized according to subject matter--agriculture, labor, security, etc. There is an abridged English translation of this work (Hans Frank's Diary, Pañstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warsaw 1961). See also: International Military Tribunal, Trial of the Major German War Criminals (42 volumes); Vol. XX1X, Document Number 2233-PS, 356-725 contains material from the Tagebuch.
For the purposes of this study the author has been selective when quoting the Tagebuch, usually citing secondary sources as indicated, where appropriate. The main source of material used in this study is Larry V. Thompson, Nazi Administrative Conflict: The Struggle for Executive Power in the General Government of Poland, 1939-1945 (unpublished thesis), University of Wisconsin, USA, 1967. Importance is attributed to this work because the central theme focuses on the personal and institutional conflict, or SS & Police v Gouveneur, General Government, Poland 1941-1943. See also Robert L. Koehl, German Resettlement and Population Policy, 1939 1945, Cambridge (HUP) 1957.
More recent material concerning the Frank Diaries can be seen at the Deutsches Historisches Institute (German Historical Institute) in London, under references SH 5/9030 and SH 2/149. Other recent publications deal with the subject or parts thereof from different viewpoints. When placed in context, Browning's Ordinary Men (1991), together with Goldhagen's Willing Executioners, deal controversially with events outside Reinhardt that have no direct bearing on events within the death camps. Browning's thesis suggests a mundane perspective of the Nazi decimation of the Jews, explaining how ordinary men, once engaged in unbridled mass killing, went about their task with diligence and efficiency. The Reinhardt personnel were also no less ordinary and they, too, took on the role of executioners in T4, and then, in a far more deadly environment, became the principals in a brutal industrialized genocide. What we have, therefore, are 'ordinary men' outside Reinhardt, committing mass murders but with the protection of the Reich Security Main Office Executive with the choice of being engaged or not in mass killings. Conversely, within Reinhardt, these 'ordinary men' had no protection, right of appeal, or choice of withdrawing from the slaughter. They were ruthlessly driven in their terrible mission by an untouchable, heartless police leadership, which acted on orders from the highest authority whose purpose was the complete extermination of Jewry. One particular aspect that will be discussed is the scholarly consensus that perpetrators had the choice of refusing to obey an order to kill. This contention is largely supported and underpinned by judicial pronouncements by SS courts and in subsequent post-war criminal trials. It will be argued that these conclusions do not hold with regard to Reinhardt.
Another important contribution to be assessed here is the only published account of the Belzec death camp by a Jewish survivor, Rudolf Reder's Belzec. Reder's account, recently translated, has been liberally used by historians simply because it is the 'only' comprehensive record by one of two sole victims who escaped and survived the camp.
Oddly, no major German scholarship, although represented elsewhere, has emerged about Belzec per se.
Although the euthanasia program in general has been well documented, especially from the medical aspect (Klee, Burleigh, Friedlander, Platten-Hallermund, Mitscherlich and Mielke, et al.), it is worth bringing into perspective its relevance to Reinhardt. The mechanics and principles of euthanasia were to emerge finally as the answer to fulfilling the Nazi genocidal policies. Mass shootings had been ruled out due to the enormous numbers of victims involved, its impracticality, and the adverse psychological on the executioners. There was the additional factor that secrecy could not be guaranteed. The methods and technical advances of the euthanasia program as the precursor to genocide are noted.
The central issue discussed in this reappraisal is the focus on the middle and lower echelons of recruits to the euthanasia program and their subsequent transfer to Reinhardt. Henry Friedlander in Origins of Nazi Genocide pursues a similar line of enquiry but he restricts his research to the opening phase of T4, whereas this enquiry is a more robust and comprehensive analysis. More extensive treatment of the psychiatric institutions has been explored in Michael Burleigh's Death and Deliverance: 'Euthanasia' in Germany 1900-1945, Ernst Klee's Euthanasie im NS-Staat: Die Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens, and more recently in Patricia Heberer's Targeting the Unfit and 'Exitus Heute' in Hadamar. See also, Conference paper, Lublin, 8 November 2002: A Continuity in Killing Operations: T4 Perpetrators and Aktion Reinhard
A new generation of German scholars has emerged and continues to emerge-- Götz Aly, Peter Chroust, Christian Pross, et al, who are penetrating and opening up past Nazi medical crimes and forcing a certain amount of soul-searching by the present day medical establishment in Germany. For a useful background to the psychiatric institutions during the Nazi period, see Bronwyn McFarland-Icke's Nurses in Nazi Germany. Gitta Sereny's Into the Darkness: The Mind of a Mass Murderer (personal interviews with Franz Stangl), is an extraordinary exposure of the Nazi system and genocidal policies in Reinhardt. Regarding archival material, the voluminous files relating to perpetrators prosecuted for the crimes committed during the euthanasia and Reinhardt operations are of the utmost importance.
Exploring the literature relating to events during and after the euthanasia (T4) period is vital for an understanding of Reinhardt. Attention has again focused on the new generation of German scholars-- Dieter Pohl, Götz Aly,Thomas Sandküler, Peter Longerich, Karen Orth, Ulrich Herbert, Peter Witte, and Bogdan Musial, to name but a few-- who have directed their research in a wide-ranging re-assessment of the circumstances surrounding the Final Solution. The Nazi crimes committed in Galicia in particular have attracted a lively and wide divergence of opinion. Contributions by Christian Gerlach were of immense value when discussing the fate of European Jews, especially those from the Greater Reich.
Other scholars whose significant contributions in the wider context, particularly in dating the decision-making process of the Final Solution, have also been helpful. When discussing the German Security Services I have very much depended on George Browder's Hitler's Enforcers.
One of the difficulties encountered during the course of research was coming to terms with the 'actuality of events' that occurred in Belzec. It is only now, after a joint initiative by the Polish government, the United StatesHolocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and the American Jewish Committee to carry out an archaeological survey at the site of the Belzec death camp, that we have the first scholarly topographical report of the camp. I was both fortunate and privileged to have been present during the course of these investigations. This work resulted in the publication of a unique archaeological document by Andrzej Kola (Professor of the University of Toruñ), Belzec: the Nazi Camp for Jews in the Light of Archaeological Sources. Excavations 1997 - 1999 (English version), which, for the first time, exposes without fear of contradiction, the purpose and enormity of perhaps this greatest and most brutal of crimes. In addition, a number of short histories of the Lublin ghetto and Lublin district are of interest.
In unravelling the facts and circumstances, several protagonists whose activities are of the utmost importance emerge from this period. High on the list is the subordinate leadership, the 'hands-on' perpetrators of genocide: SS-Brigadeführer Odilo Globocnik and SS-Obersturmführer/ Kriminalkommissar Christian Wirth. Extensive works about the subordinate leadership are rare. A number of German language biographical outlines and studies have been devoted to Globocnik, who is also the topic of ongoing but to date unpublished research. In the secondary literature, Globocnik is described as a 'Nazi arch-bloodhound and privateer,' a 'professional murderer,' 'unbalanced,' and 'unscrupulous.' Contemporaries observed his 'strong ambition' and 'organizational' talent. Gerald Reitlinger asserts that, He had a good appearance but his eyes and mouth were untruthful and brutal. During his duty in Lublin he lived in constant drunkenness and unlimited craving for pleasure. His talent for conspiracy was his only real merit.
Regarding Christian Wirth, the published literature is dismally absent. One of my objectives is to expose the importance of the character of Wirth within the framework of Reinhardt. It will be emphasized that Reinhardt was working to its own rules and regulations outside the State conventions at the time. This was due to the way in which it was set up, but particularly with respect to Wirth, who was operating without referral to his immediate superiors and with direct and unobstructed access to the Führer's Chancellery (KdF).Miscellaneous 'papers' presented at the conference Aktion Reinhardt'; Der Völkermord an den Juden im Generalgouvernement, Lublin, 8 November 2002. In particular, I draw attention to the article by Tomasz Kranz: 'Das Konzentrationslager Majdanek und 'Aktion Reinhardt' which produces a rich kaleidoscope of the latest research.
It is very easy to be drawn into the Nazi code of euphemistic language. Indeed, it is difficult to avoid it and mean what we say. These double meanings were introduced as the system of genocide was perfected. Thus, from October 1941 onwards, we find Judenaussiedlung (emigration of Jews), Judenumsiedlung (Jewish resettlement) and Judenevakuierung (evacuation) - all synonyms for mass murder. When Globocnik defined his purpose we find Aussiedling ('evacuation'); Verwertung der Arbeitscharft (utilization of labor); Sachverwertung (seizure and utilization of personal belongings); and Einbringung verborgener Werte und Immobilien (confiscation of hidden assets and real estate). When the instruments of murder moved from T4 to the KZs (14f13), we find abspritzen (to spray administering a lethal injection), or Totbaden (death baths).
The euphemistic bureaucratic terminology was perfected by the SD as the persecution progressed: Aktionen [(operations), Säuberung (cleansing), Sonderbehandlung (special treatment), Ausschaltung (elimination), or Exekutivmassnahme (executive measure). After each mass execution in Auschwitz, camp commandant Rudolf Höß submitted a report to the RSHA in a disguised formula: so und so viel Personen gesondert untergebracht worden seien ( such and such a number of people separated, or segregated). These terms create the illusion of a bureaucratic paper chase, not genocide, where euphemistic 'double-speak' was an essential ingredient in the Nazi war against the Jews. The illusion of 'plain speak' contaminated, and indeed indoctrinated, the minor functionaries caught up in State racial persecution policies. Any sense of moral perspective was abandoned to conceal the true meaning of the word employed. Another aspect of this was the euphemistic jargon of the KZ guards, police, and male psychiatric nurses. They used such terms as 'not worth keeping,' 'treat the child', 'processed,' 'authorization,' 'put on the grill,' which all simply meant 'to kill.' All persons at every level of the mass murder became used to communicating in this 'sanitized' language. Although it might appear to be but a minor point, it had immense relevance in smoothing the day-to-day workings in both the euthanasia institutions and the death camps.
The euphemistic language was constantly being refined. When Eichmann's office was relieved of the task of compiling statistical reports pertaining to Reinhardt, these duties were passed over to Dr. Richard Korherr, the SS Chief statistician, who drafted a report for Himmler on the progress of the Final Solution. He noted that 1,449,692 Polish Jews had already received Sonderbehandlung ('special treatment'). Himmler returned the document and demanded a more appropriate phrase, 'durchgeschleust' ('passed through'), thereby suggesting that the numbers of Jews referred to in the report 'passed through' unnamed 'Durchgangslagers' ('transit camps'). Himmler was a past master of euphemistic language and used it continually. The only time he appears to have dropped this camouflage was in his speech in Posen (Poznañ) in October 1943, when he spoke directly to his SS in a protected environment.
Historians too have differed over the exact terminology appropriate to defining the Jewish catastrophe. When attempting to come to terms with the horrific events that are laid out before us, I favor a simpler and more direct approach - 'destruction' or 'genocide.' The Holocaust should be treated in its widest context. It may be defined as the history of the criminal acts committed by the Nazis, criminals, not the destruction of the Jews per se. A more appropriate description of the extermination of the Jews is conveyed by the Hebrew word 'Shoah,' which means 'destruction.'
In my view, there is a distinction between Jewish destruction and the general Nazi criminal acts in general: medical experiments in the camps where both Jews and non-Jews were involved, persecution of homosexuals and Jehovah witnesses, etc. 'Holocaust' has been too liberally used. It has been taken on as a blanket euphemism in the West encompassing all Nazi criminality.
The destruction of the Jews (and Gypsies) was a unique and special case and should be treated as such, the difference being that Jews and Gypsies were incarcerated and murdered as family groups, regardless of age. In the camps, as individuals, they did not as a group differ fundamentally from others; they differed in their fate. The Nazis killed entire families of Jews and Gypsies, including the children and the aged, purely on the basis of race. The Jews were referred to as 'vermin' who, therefore, had to be exterminated. 'Jews' were referred to by the Nazis as 'Jews'- regardless of nationality, which has sometimes led to a misunderstanding in the literature, particularly when referring to Jews from Poland and Germany. Jews were a section of Polish or other nationalities that were destined for destruction. (Being a 'Jew' referred to religeon, not a particular nationality. This is the point missed by many historians, and others.) The Jews were the first victims of this nefarious and brutal policy.
The Austrians originally referred to Galicia as ‘Galicia-Lodomeria’ after they expropriated that territory from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the First Partition of Poland in 1772. Over the years, the borders varied slightly, especially during the Napoleonic Wars, following which Krakow and the surrounding lands were eventually added to Galicia. Galicia became the largest province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and bordered Moravia in the west, and the Ottoman Empire ( Moldavia ) to the south. For a time, Bukovina was included in Galicia; however, this area today forms a part of Romania. Galicia was returned to Poland when the Polish Republic was re-established after the First World War.
Today, the eastern half of Galicia is part of the Republic of the Ukraine , while the western half lies in the Polish Republic . The term Galicia therefore no longer describes an administrative or political region in either country. By far the largest proportion of the rural population in agricultural eastern pre war Galicia was of Ukrainian nationality, followed by Poles and Jews, the latter dominating commerce and trade. This very large area contained the biggest concentration of Polish Jewry, including some devoutly religious, traditionalist sects.
It was not until the German invasion of the Soviet Union that east Galicia was integrated into the Generalgouvernment, an area where all manner of experiments directed at the Jewish population took place. It was also the area where the most affluent Jews and the poorest lived alongside the wise men and the simple, the intelligentsia, artisans, beggars, and bankers alongside the Hasidim. Regardless of their social standing and circumstances, they all found their final resting place in Belzec. The region was a centre and spiritual home of the Diaspora, which was to have its heart torn out in the gas chambers of Belzec. Largely annihilated the Jews of Galicia and their culture, never recovered and now the world of yesterday.
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