Approximately six million Polish citizens, divided nearly equally between non-Jewish and Jewish perished during WWII. Most were civilians killed by the actions of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and their allies. At Nuremberg Tribunal three categories were established. These categories were waging war, war crimes and crimes against humanity. This article details these war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Poland during WWII or the origin of the crime started in Poland.
From the start, the war against Poland was intended as a fulfilment of the plan described by Adolf Hitler in his book Mein Kampf. The main axis of the plan was that all of Eastern Europe should become part of the greater Germany, the so-called German Lebensraum ("living space"). The German Army was sent, as stated by Adolf Hitler in his Armenian quote: "with orders to kill without mercy and reprieve all men, women and children of the Polish race".
Following the invasion of Poland on 1st September 1939 by Germany and their Soviet ally on 17th September 1939, Poland was divided between them. Germany annexed 91,902 square kilometres with 10 million citizens and controlled the so-called General government which consisted of a further 95,742 kilometres with 12 million citizens. The Soviet Union occupied 202,069 square kilometres with over 13 million citizens.
The Soviets set out to remove a thousand years of Polish cultural influences. Polish was replaced in official usage. Schools spread Soviet indoctrination and religious education forbidden. Monuments were destroyed, street names changed, bookshops closed, libraries burned and publishers shutdown. Soviet censorship was strictly enforced. Even the ranging of church bells was banned.
Taxation was raised forcing religious institutions to close. The Soviets replaced the Zloty with rubble but gave them equal value. Businesses were mandated to stay open and sell at pre-war prices hence allowing Soviet soldiers to buy goods with the worthless rubbles. Entire hospitals, schools and factories were moved to the USSR.
Location, date and numbers of Polish citizens murdered
Świekatowo 3rd September 26 Poles
Imielin 4th-5th September 28 Poles
Trzebinia 5th September 97 Polish citizens
Kłecko 9th-10th September 300 Polish citizens
Mszadla, Łódź Voivodeship 10th September 153 Poles
Gmina Besko 11th September 21 Polish citizens
Kowalewice, Łódź Voivodeship 11th September 23 Poles
Sucha Dolna, Łódź Voivodeship 11th September 11 Polish citizens
Olszewo, Gmina Brańsk 13th September Over half the village
Piątek, Łódź Voivodeship 13th September 43 Poles and 7 Jews
Solec Kujawski 14th September 44 Polish citizens
Gzinka 30th September 11 Polish citizens
Gmina Kłecko 23 Poles
Bądków, Łódź Voivodeship 22 Poles
Dynów 200 Jews
Gdańsk 38 Polish citizens
The Germans as part of their anti-Polish campaign used the Bydgoszcz incidents. Germans living in the town took anti-Polish actions including shooting at Polish soldiers . Polish soldiers shot a number of Germans for various reasons including possession of weapons. The Nazi German government claimed wholesale slaughter of Germans . Norman Davies estimated that 20,000 Poles were murdered in reprisal .
During the German invasion of Poland (1939), special action squads of SS and police (the Einsatzgruppen) were deployed in the rear, and arrested or killed civilians caught offering resistance against the Germans or considered capable of doing so, as determined by their position and social status. Tens of thousands of government officials, landowners, clergy, and members of the intelligentsia — teachers, doctors, journalists, and others (both Poles and Jews) — were either murdered in mass executions or sent to prisons and concentration camps. German army units and "self-defense" forces composed of Volksdeutsche also participated in executions of civilians. In many cases, these executions were reprisal actions that held entire communities collectively responsible for attacks on German forces or the murder of ethnic Germans. More than 16,000 members of the intelligentsia were murdered in Operation Tannenberg alone.
The Roman Catholic Church was suppressed in Wartheland more harshly than elsewhere: churches were systematically closed; most priests were either killed, imprisoned, or deported to the General Government. The Germans also closed seminaries and convents and persecuted monks and nuns. Between 1939 and 1945, an estimated 3,000 members of the Polish clergy were murdered (in all of Poland); of these, 1,992 died in concentration camps (787 of them at Dachau). One hundred and eight of them are regarded as blessed martyrs, Maximilian Kolbe as a saint.
As part of a wider effort to destroy Polish culture, the Germans closed or destroyed universities, schools, museums, libraries, and scientific laboratories. Polish academic institutions were turned into German establishments. Polish children were forced to attend and obey with strict punishment used. . They demolished hundreds of monuments to national heroes. To prevent the birth of a new generation of educated Poles, German officials decreed that the schooling of Polish children should end after a few years of elementary education.
Himmler wrote a memorandum in May 1940. In it he promised to deport all Poles to the east [Russia]. In other statements, he mentioned the future killing fields for all Poles in the Pripet Marshes. Plans for mass transportation and slave labor camps for up to 20 million Poles were made. All were intended to die during the cultivation of the swamps. A bitter note is Hitler's remark that the Poles should be exterminated where they originated in the early medieval age.
In the Wartheland, the Nazis' goal was complete Germanization: to assimilate the territories politically, culturally, socially, and economically into the German Reich. Germans closed elementary schools where Polish was the language taught. Streets and cities were renamed so that Łódź became Litzmannstadt, for example. Tens of thousands of Polish enterprises, from large industrial firms to small shops, were seized without payment to the owners. Signs posted in public places warned: "Entrance forbidden for Poles, Jews, and dogs."
The Germans planned to change ownership of all property in the land incorporated into the Third Reich. In a speech to German colonist, Arthur Greiser said ‘’In ten years there will not even be a peasant smallholding which will not be in German hands’’. This force resettlement affected 2 million Poles. Family were made in the severe winter of 1939-40 to leave behind almost everything without any recompense . As part of Operation Tannenburg alone, 750,000 Polish peasants were forced and their property given to Germans.
Jews were treated slightly differently as they were gather together into ghettos in the cities. Heinrich Himmler ordered all Jews in the annexed lands to be deported to central Poland. In winter 1939-40, about 100,000 Jews were thus deported.
In addition to the executions by firing squad, other methods of mass murder were also used. Patients at a psychiatric hospital in Owińska were transported to a military fortress in Poznań where, in Fort VII bunkers, they were gassed by carbon monoxide , approximately 50 persons at a time. Other Owińska hospital patients were gassed in sealed trucks by the carbon monoxide of the exhaust fumes. The same method was performed in Kochanówek Hospital near Łódź where, between March-August 1940, 2,200 persons were killed. This was the first "successful" test of mass murder using gas poisoning and this "technique" was later used and perfected on many other psychiatric patients in occupied Poland and Germany and, starting in 1941, on inmates of the extermination camps. The total number of psychiatric patients murdered by the Nazis in occupied Poland between 1939-1945 is estimated to be more than 16,000, with an additional 10,000 patients who died of malnutrition. Additionally, approximately 100 out of 243 members of the pre-war Polish Psychiatric Association, met the same fate as their patients. Nazi terror was aimed at the complete reconstruction of society. Jews were to disappear; Poles were to become slaves of Greater Germany. Therefore the leadership of Poles: political, economic and religious, were to be murdered, while the bulk of the population were stripped of any rights and given no education or health care. To explain the policy of terror for German society at home and abroad, some pretext was necessary. Some of the alleged causes were revenge for Bloody Sunday, reaction to Polish resistance activities and the political agenda of the fanatical Nazi leadership.-->
Polish citizens, especially Ethnic Poles and Polish Jews, were prisoners in nearly every camp of the extensive concentration camp system in German-occupied Poland and the Reich. A major labour camp complex at Stutthof, east of Gdańsk/Danzig, existed from September 2, 1939 to the end of the war, where an estimated 20,000 Poles died as a result of executions, hard labour, and harsh conditions. Some 100,000 Poles were deported to Majdanek, and tens of thousands of them died there. An estimated 20,000 Poles died at Sachsenhausen, 20,000 at Gross-Rosen, 30,000 at Mauthausen, 17,000 at Neuengamme, 10,000 at Dachau, and 17,000 at Ravensbrück. In addition, tens of thousands of Polish people were executed or died in their thousands in other camps, including special children's camps such as in Łódź and its subcamp at Dzierżan, in prisons and other places of detention inside and outside Poland.
The Auschwitz concentration camp went into operation on June14, 1940. The first transport of 728 Polish prisoners consisted mostly of schoolchildren, students and soldiers from an overcrowded prison at Tarnów. Within a week another 313 arrived. There were major transports in August of 1,666 and September of 1,705. This so called “Polish” phase lasted until the middle of 1942.. By March 1941, 10,900 prisoners were registered at the camp, most of them Poles. In September 1941, 200 ill prisoners, most of them Poles, along with 650 Soviet POWs, were killed in the first gassing experiments at Auschwitz. Beginning in 1942, Auschwitz's prisoner population became much more diverse, as Jews and other "enemies of the state" from all over German-occupied Europe were deported to the camp.
About 960,000 Jews died at Auschwitz including 438,000 from Hungary and 300,000 Polish Jews. The Polish scholar Franciszek Piper, the chief historian of Auschwitz, estimates that 140,000 to 150,000 Poles were brought to that camp between 1940 and 1945, and that 70,000 to 75,000 died there as victims of executions, of cruel medical experiments, and of starvation and disease.
From 1943 until 1944, the Warsaw concentration camp (Konzentrationslager Warschau) worked as a death camp to exterminate the Polish population of Warsaw. The Gentile population of Poland was a target of the łapanka policy, in which the forces of SS, Wehrmacht and police rounded up civilians on the street; between 1942 and 1944, there were approximately 400 victims of the łapanka in Warsaw daily. During the existence of the KL Warschau, it is estimated that tens of thousands (IPN ) of people were killed there, most of them Polish citizens of the city. Most of them were shot in publicised reprisal executions of hostages or died due to bad health conditions in the camp and a typhus epidemic; some were also gassed. Some historians, such as Maria Trzcińska, also postulate the existence of an enormous gas chamber in a railway tunnel at Bem Street; however, this claim is highly controversial. The very existence of the death camp part of the compound, had been a public secret during the era of Communist rule in Poland. The reason was to inflate numbers of victims of the Warsaw Uprising, initiated by the patriotic Polish Home Army against the Germans in 1944, which was followed by massive civilian casualties inflicted by the Nazis upon the city's population (see below).
During the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, German forces committed many atrocities against Polish civilians, following the order by Hitler to raze the city and "turn it into a lake".
The most severe of them took place in Wola district where, at the beginning of August 1944, tens of thousands of civilians (men, women, and children) were methodically rounded-up and executed by Einsatzkommando of Sicherheitspolizei operating within the SS-Gruppenführer Heinz Reinefarth group under the overall command of Erich von dem Bach-Zalewski. Executions in the Wola district, sometimes called the Wola massacre, also included the killings of both the patients and staff of local hospitals. Victims’ bodies were then collected by the members of the Verbrennungskommando, comprising selected Polish men, and burnt. Other similar massacres took place in the areas of Śródmieście (City Centre), Old Town, Marymont, and Ochota districts. In Ochota district, civilian killings, rapes, and looting were conducted by the members of Russian collaborators from SS-Sturmbrigade RONA. Until the end of the September 1944, Polish resistance fighters were not considered by Germans as combatants; thus, when captured, they were summarily executed. After the fall of the Old Town, during the beginning of September, the remaining 7,000 seriously wounded hospitals’ patients were executed or burnt alive often with the medical staff caring for them. Similar atrocities took place later in the Czerniaków district. A number of captured insurgents were hanged or otherwise executed after the fall of Powiśle and Mokotów districts as well.
Out of 450,000 surviving civilians, 90,000 were sent to labour camps, and 60,000 were shipped to a death and concentration camps. Neither Erich von dem Bach-Zalewski nor Heinz Reinefarth were ever tried for their Warsaw Uprising atrocities.
Below is an incomplete list of sites, where Polish citizens, detained, imprisoned, forced into slave labour, and exterminated were found both on Polish territory and outside it. This includes also concentration camps and camp complexes where persons of Polish nationality and citizens of Poland of other nationalities were detained as World War II combatants and victims of war and post-war repressions.
The article List of concentration camps for Poles contains the following lists:
A significant number of Ethnic Poles, Jewish Poles and other Polish citizen were detained in German concentration camps, see List of Nazi camps.