The mass murder of Polish leaders, politicians, artists, aristocrats,the intelligentsia, and people suspected of potential anti-Nazi activity was seen as a pre-emptive measure to keep the Polish resistance scattered and to prevent the Poles from revolting during the planned German invasion of France. The campaign was prepared by Hans Frank, the commander of the General Government and allegedly was also discussed with Soviet officials, during a series of Gestapo-NKVD Conferences.
Prior to the action, in late 1939 and early 1940, most Polish university professors, intellectuals, writers, politicians, teachers and other members of the elite of Polish society were briefly arrested by the Gestapo and had their names registered. Frank finally accepted the Ausserordentliche Befriedungsaktion on May 16, 1940. In the following weeks, the German police, the Gestapo, the SS and the Wehrmacht arrested roughly 30,000 Poles in major Polish cities, including Warsaw, Łódź, Lublin and Kraków. The interned were held in a number of prisons, including the infamous Pawiak, where they were subject to brutal interrogations. After time spent in the prisons of Warsaw, Kraków, Radom, Kielce, Nowy Sącz, Tarnów, Lublin or Wiśnicz, the arrested Poles were transferred to German concentration camps, most notably to the newly-created camp of Auschwitz, as well as Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen. Approximately 3,500 members of the Polish intelligentsia were executed at the mass murder sites in Palmiry near Warsaw, Firlej, Wincentynów near Radom, and in the Bliżyn forest near Skarżysko-Kamienna.
Among those killed were Maciej Rataj, Mieczysław Niedziałkowski and Janusz Kusociński. Actions were started on a similar scale in other Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany. According to many historians, including Norman Davies, the action against Polish leaders was coordinated with the authorities of the Soviet Union, who at the same time perpetrated the mass murder of 22,000 Polish military officers at Katyń and other places.
The active persecution of Polish intellectuals was continued until the end of the war. The direct continuation of the AB Action was a German campaign in the east started after the German invasion of the USSR. Among the most notable mass executions of Polish professors was the massacre of Lwów professors, in which approximately 45 professors of the university in Lwów were murdered together with their families and guests. Among those killed in the massacre were Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, former Polish prime minister Kazimierz Bartel, Włodzimierz Stożek, and Stanisław Ruziewicz. Thousands more perished in the Ponary massacre, in German concentration camps, and in ghettos.