Genocide of Poles During World War II
Nazis murdered eight to ten million Slavs in Europe during World War II. This killing of Slavs was based on Adolf Hitler's theory of a master race and on the Nazis' racist attitudes. As a result, Poland suffered the loss of a significant part of its population. Six million Poles (three million Christians, including 3,000 Catholic priests, and three million Polish Jews) were killed during this period.
Poland was located in Central Europe between Germany and the USSR. Situated between East and West, Poland adopted Western values and ideas more than a thousand years ago when it accepted Christianity from Rome in 966. Once one of the largest and most powerful countries in Europe, Poland was weakened by conflicts with the Germans on one side and with the Turks and Tartars on the other. In the thirteenth century Tartar raids decimated the population to such an extent that Polish princes invited foreigners to settle in the country, including Jews who were being persecuted in other countries.
The union of Poland and Lithuania at the end of the fourteenth century brought about three centuries of strength and prosperity. However, after many wars in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries sapped this strength, Austria, Prussia, and Russia partitioned Poland. It ceased to exist until after World War I, when its sovereignty was restored.
World WarII began when Poland resisted Hitler's invasion on September 1, 1939. His primary goal was to gain living space for the "master race." The drive to the East was based on Hitler's anti-Slavic racism: to the West and South there were non-Slavic nations, and to the North was the sea. The general plan of German atrocities was laid down at the outset. Hitler's authorization to kill all men, women, and children of Polish descent was given to his army on August 22, 1939.Those spared were to be turned into slaves withno rights at all. The initial extermination effort was directed against intellectual and political leaders, the 'brain" of the nation.
The Nazis murdered Polish civilians in many ways. More than a million Poles perished in Auschwitz, Majdanek. Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbruck. and other concentration camps. Nazi planes bombed and strafed residential sections of cities, hamlets out in the countryside, shepherds in the fields, hospitals, ambulances, and buses and horse-drawn wagons evacuatingciviliansfrom burning cities.In Silesia there were several cases of soldiers ordering people indoors, setting fire to their homes, and shooting those who tried to escape. Frequently, hundreds of civilians at atimewere rounded up at random from their homes, public places, or the streets and shot in the town square or sent to concentration camps. In addition, the Nazis conducted, without anesthesia, forced medical experiments and sterilization of young women.
Stutthof, near the Baltic coast, became the wartime site of one of the strictest and most primitive of official concentration camps - the first camp established on Polish territory and the last in occupied Europe to be liberated. It played a major role in the extermination and incarceration of the Polish people. The most serious feature of Stutthof was hard labor; most inmates died as a result. When the Poles did not work themselves to death or starve. members of the Schutzstaffel(SS) hanged them from trees, drowned them, or burned them alive in wood furnaces.
Poles for whom Germanization was either impossible or undesirable were to be reduced to an animal state. In several regions Hitler would educate the Poles only up to the fourth grade. Instructors would teach Poles to count up to 500, write their names, and be obedient to the Germans. The intent was to have the Poles become drones reduced to slavery and exploitation. Hitler began his Germanization program immediately after the invasion. Mass evacuations and mass murders of leaders, intelligentsia, and priests took place.
After the German occupation all Western Poland and a large part of Central Poland were incorporated into the Reich, while the central and southern provinces formed the General Government. In the incorporated provinces Polish farmers were expropriated and hundreds of thousands of German colonists settled on the land. These provinces were under strict control as the granary of the Reich ; but, in spite of the distribution of fertilizers, agricultural machinery, and seeds, and the improvement of the livestock, food production fell below the pre-war level. In the General Government area agricultural production deteriorated still more owing to loss of capital goods and livestock and shortage of fertilizers and draft animals. Before the war Poland exported well under 10% of the food produced, and maintained a mediocre standard of living on the remainder. After occupation the Nazi requisitions were over 10% of the produce, in spite of lowered production.
The inevitable scarcity was worst in the General Government area, for before the war this area had not been self-supporting but had imported food; after occupation it had to meet Nazi requisitions and feed a population swollen by people deported from Western Poland as well as the enemy garrison. There were therefore four ration scales - one for Germans (very similar to that in the Reich); one for Poles in the incorporated areas; one for Poles in the General Government; and one for Jews. The rations for Jews may be dismissed as an extermination ration. In the incorporated area the Poles were allowed about half as much meat, fats, and cheese as the Germans were; in 1942 rations of meat (100 g. per week) and of fats (50 g. per week) for Poles in the General Government were about 30% lower, and the sugar ration (70 g. per week) 70% lower, than in the incorporated area. At the end of 1944 meat and sugar rations had not risen and no fats were allowed to the normal consumer. As no extra cereals or potatoes were allowed, in order to make ip for the deficit of animal products, the total of calories provided by the rations in the incorporated area were under 1,500 a day for an ordinary adult and about 1,200 in the General Government; and these rations could not always be obtained.
The Germans kidnapped an estimated 200,000 Polish children, who were forcibly taken from their parents and deported to Germany to be turned into Germans. After the war only about 15 percent of the kidnapped children re-turned to Poland.
The territories of Poland under Nazi control were divided into two parts. Western Poland was annexed to Germany, and the rest became an occupational zone named General Government. Hans Frank, Nazi governor of the zone, declared on September 12, 1940, that Hitler had made it quite clear that the Reich had a special mission "to finish off the Poles at all costs."
The Eastern territories of Poland were occupied by the Soviet Union pursuant to the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939. The Soviets imprisoned, sent to forced labor camps (gulags) in Siberia, or deported to the Asiatic republics about two million Polish citizens. They also executed 12,000 Polish officers. A mass grave for 4,000 of the slain officers was later discovered in the Katyn Forest.
In the midst of Nazi brutality and genocidal activity, Polish resistance groups attempted to counteract the horrors of occupation and hasten its end. On August 1, 1944. when the Red Army approached Warsaw in pursuit of the Nazis, the Polish underground began the Warsaw Uprising (to be distinguished from the earlier Warsaw Ghetto Uprising). However, the Soviet army suddenly stopped its advance a few miles outside the city and waited forthe uprising to run its course. The Nazis brutally suppressed the revolt and leveled 95 percent of the buildings in Warsaw after looting and killing the citizens. The loss of civilian lives exceeded 150,000.
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