Lukas, Richard C. Did the Children Cry? Hitler's War against Jewish and Polish Children, 1939-1945. Hippocrene Books, New York, 2001.
Richard C. Lukas is the author of eight books, including The Forgotten Holocaust, Did the Children Cry?, Out of the Inferno, and Forgotten Survivors. Until his retirement in 1995, he was adjunct professor of history at the University of South Florida, Ft. Myers Campus. He also taught at Tennessee Technological University and Wright State University. He holds a Ph.D. from Florida State University, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Alliance College. He has received awards from the Anti-Defamation League, the Kosciuszko Foundation, the Pilsudski Institute, and the American Council for Polish Culture.
Chapter IV. Germanization
When the Germans annexed western Poland to the Reich, they deported Poles and Jews to the General Government in order to Germanize the new land. As has already been seen, the Germans forced Poles and Jews out of their homes and businesses and transported them in conditions so appalling that thousands of people, including children, perished even before they got to their destination.
Shortly after Poland's defeat, Himmler received a ponderous forty-page document concerning the problem of the Poles and Jews who lived in the annexed lands and the way the Germans should deal with them. Since many districts in the annexed lands had a very high percentage of Poles and almost as many Jews as Germans living there, the report pointed out, "The necessity arises for a ruthless decimation of the Polish population and, as a matter of course, the expulsion of all Jews and persons of Polish-Jewish blood." Anxious about the potential of Poles overwhelming the Germans, the report went on: "If the transfer of Poles from the Reich territory is not effected in a ruthless manner, it has to be feared that the population will increase more or less at the same rate as before the war and up till now."1
While virtually all Jews were sent to the General Government and confined in ghettos there, the Germans were more discriminating concerning the Poles they intended to deport. The Nazis selected Poles for deportation according to their occupational status and their attitude toward Germans. The Polish intelligentsia, defined broadly to include virtually anyone who had an education, and Polish political leaders were prime victims for deportation. Poles, described as "neutrally inclined" by the Germans, were considered possible candidates for Germanization and could remain. Some groups – Wasser-polen, Masurians, and Kashubs – were not deported because of their alleged racial similarity to the Germans. They, along with most of the Poles in Silesia , were automatically Germanized. The Poles who remained in the annexed lands would be denied a Polish cultural life. There would not be any Polish schools, only German ones emphasizing Nazi racist theories. Religious services had to be conducted in German. All Polish corporations, associations, clubs, theaters, cinemas and the press ceased to exist.2
As western Poland was de-Polonized, Heinrich Himmler, who already headed the SS and police establishments in Germany, supervised the transfer of German colonists into the new land, now known as the Wartheland. Most of these colonists came from areas annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939-40 and from other areas annexed in eastern Europe. Some also came from Germany itself.3
The Nazi colonial experiment on Polish soil did not go very well. Many of the younger colonists did not speak German, or they spoke it very badly. Older peasants were often so completely denationalized, they had to be sent to central Germany to be taught how to be a German before they went to their new homes in the Wartheland. Despite Nazi indoctrination programs and the constant control of the Gestapo to which the new settlers were subjected, German leaders feared that these German colonists would be racially contaminated by the Poles who still lived in the area. Arthur Greiser, head of the Nazi party in the Wartheland, worriedly told his German subjects: "The dangers confronting the very essence of our German community are still overwhelming. So do not let your foreign and alien surroundings have the slightest influence on you." Notwithstanding Nazi claims of German superiority over the Poles, Greiser's lament conceded the advanced cultural level of most Poles over the backward German colonists. That was why Nazi authorities insisted the newcomers from the East settle in tight communities where they lived under constant Nazi police observation and control.4
After two years of fanatical efforts, the percentage of Germans living in the Wartheland increased only slightly. The Nazis finally conceded failure by declaring that genuine colonization of Polish lands would not begin until after the war.5
As the war progressed, the General Government evolved from the status of a protectorate toward an incorporated area. That meant the Nazis intended to de-Polonize and de-Judaize the area while they increasingly Germanized it. Hitler set the tone for Nazi policy when he declared to his lieutenants in March, 1941, that he wanted the area free of Jews and Poles. There could be little doubt that enslavement and extermination of Jews and Poles were the ways the Nazis intended to Germanize the area. Governor Frank, who saw his mission to make the General Government as German as the Rhineland, echoed Hitler when he said, "There is not a shadow of doubt that the territory of the General Government must be and will be colonized by Germans.”6
SS General Odilo Globocnik, a fanatical believer in Germanizing the General Government, persuaded Himmler to establish German settlements in the Lublin area, southeast of Warsaw. His plan envisaged a belt of German colonies extending from the Baltic Sea to Transylvania. Globocnik, in fulfillment of Hitlerian aims, wanted to hem in the Poles living between the Wartheland and German settlements in the East. In that way, as one German report opined, Poles would be gradually crushed "economically and biologically."7
Himmler liked the idea so much he personally visited the region and decided that the hub of the operation should center on the city of Zamosc, located outside of Lublin, which became in his honor Himmlerstadt. Once the plan evolved, the Germans intended to expel Poles from the region in numbers substantial enough to accommodate 10,000 settlements, each comprising 50,000 Germans transferred mostly from eastern Europe. Making the Globocnik plan his own, Himmler wanted to Germanize completely the General Government in twenty years.8
"They began to rap at the windows and the doors... we were surrounded and there was no escape for us,"9 one child survivor of Zamosc said. "At that moment I realized, though I was a child, the immensity of the horror and misfortune befalling us." The expulsion of Poles from the Zamosc area began in November, 1942, and extended to July, 1943. The operation rivaled in fanaticism, though not in the number of people involved, Greiser's expulsion of Poles and Jews from the Wartheland.
The Germans divided people into four groups. They selected Poles with desirable racial characteristics and packed them off to Lodz for racial examinations. Less desirable Poles from a racial point of view, but still exploitable economically, ended up as forced laborers in the Reich. The unfortunate victims condemned to the last category were slated for Auschwitz and almost certain death. Children with racial value to the Nazis were forcibly snatched from their parents and sent away to be Gerrnanized.10
The Germans sent adults and children to transit camps where, due to the horrible conditions, the mortality rate was extremely high, especially among children. In one camp, there were 4,000 children; another held 3,500. Some 50,000 prisoners passed through one of the camps, known as the Zamosc Rotunda; 10 percent of them were children. The Zamosc Rotunda earned an infamous reputation for mass executions of adults and children. In one instance, 36 Boy Scouts and a group of boys wearing school uniforms sang the Polish national anthem as the Germans shot them. One Polish peasant recalled seeing the Germans remove 10 corpses of children every day from one of the camps.11
Perhaps the most painful experience involved the abduction of children from their parents. "I saw children being taken from their mothers," one eyewitness remembered. "Some were even torn from the breast. It was a terrible sight: the agony of the mothers and fathers, the beating by the Germans, and the crying of the children." In the rail cars carrying the adults and children to various destinations, many died of suffocation in the summer and cold in the winter. Packed into the cars like animals, they were given neither food nor drink.12
Once word spread about the pitiful plight of the children, approximately 30,000 of whom had been expelled from the Zamosc area, the Poles tried to help as many of them as they could. "You may have bombed our Warsaw, you may imprison and deport us, but you will not harm our children," one Varsovian angrily affirmed.13 The reaction of the Poles to the plight of the children was so intense, German authorities lamely denied that anything terrible had happened to them.14 In the hope of helping the Zamosc children, Polish women waited for hours at railroad stations as trains loaded with children rolled westward across Poland. In Warsaw, residents reacted spontaneously and ransomed many emaciated and terrified youngsters. The same thing happened in other cities. In Bydgoszcz and Gdynia, Poles bought children for 40 Reichsmarks. In some places the German price for a Polish child was 25 zlotys. In Pomorze, women literally stormed trains and carried off hungry and terrified children. In Warsaw, so many women fought so aggressively for the children, the Germans decided to alter their transport routes in the future.15
As a result of these rescue efforts, some Polish children were rescued and reared by Polish families until they could be reunited after the war with their parents or relatives. Tadeusz Sokol was 4-years-old when the Germans deported him from Zamosc. Raised by another Polish family until the end of the war, he was reunited with his mother in May, 1945.16 Sokol was one of the fortunate ones because only a small number of Polish children could be saved from the Germans; most of them either died in freezing trains at Auschwitz or Majdanek or were deported for Germanization to the Reich. Out of the 30,000 children deported from Zamosc, it is estimated that 4,454 of them ranging in age from 2 to 14 ended up in the Reich for Germanization.17
Children considered unfit for Germanization found their way to Majdanek and Auschwitz where they died. Kazimierz Wdzieczny, a Majdanek survivor, recalled how the Germans assured mothers that their children would be well taken care of by the Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies. When trucks arrived to haul the children to the gas chambers, mothers sensed that something terrible was about to happen to their children and refused to give them up. Amidst the crying and lamenting of mothers and children, the Germans forcibly took the children into the waiting vans. Wdzieczny remembered seeing one SS man, a certain Hoffman, standing at the door of one of the gas chambers enticing children with candy and dolls to enter.18
At Auschwitz , the Germans murdered 200-300 Polish children from the Zamosc area by phenol injections. The victim sat on a stool, sometimes blindfolded with a towel. The executioner placed one hand on the back of the child's neck and another behind the shoulder blade. In that way the child's chest was thrust out. The executioner drove a long needle into the chest, depositing a toxic dose of phenol. Within a few minutes the child died. One former inmate said, "As a rule not even a moan would be heard. And they did not wait until the doomed person really died. During his agony, he was taken from both sides under the armpits and thrown into a pile of corpses in another room.... And the next victim took his place on the stool."19
Remembering the fate of one group of 48 boys from Zamosc, one Auschwitz survivor stated: "The Germans started a rumour in the camp that the boys would be sent for training as bricklayers. As I found out, the Germans transferred these boys to the camp at Auschwitz to Block 13 where they remained two days, after which they were killed with injections and cremated. I cannot remember the name of the German doctor who killed the children."20 In another case, on March 3, 1943, two groups of 121 Polish boys between 8 and 14 years of age were given fatal phenol injections. "Mamo! Mamo!" ("Mother! Mother!"), the dying screams of the youngsters, were heard by several inmates and made an indelible haunting impression on them. Apparently there were also a number of Zamosc children who died in the gas chamber.21
Between November 1942 and March 1943, the Germans emptied 116 villages in the Lublin region, 47 of them in Zamosc alone. In one month beginning on November 27, the Germans expected to nab 34,000 people from 60 villages, but they succeeded in seizing only 9,771 residents; the remainder escaped into nearby woods. The Germans stubbornly resumed the expulsions in June and July, 1943, clearing 171 villages in the districts of Bilgoraj, Tomaszow, Zamosc, and Hrubieszow. By August, 1943, 110,000 Poles had been expelled, constituting 31 percent of the inhabitants of the Zamosc region.22
Pacification raids sometimes accompanied the expulsions, often resulting in fires that took the lives of many people. In Kidow, the Polish underground reported the murder of 170 farmers by the Germans.23 So systematic were the Germans in clearing some places that only cattle were left to wander in the fields. Simultaneously with the Zamosc operation, the Polish government reported mass deportations of men, women and children from the Bialystok area. By the end of January, 1943, the Poles claimed that 40,000 residents had been deported from that area.24
The majority of Poles, understandably panic stricken that they would be exterminated as the Jews had been in similar deportation operations, abandoned their homes and property and fled to the forests. In one village, two people stayed; all the others fled.25
The major Polish underground military organization, the AK, had no partisan units yet in the region and could not respond immediately to the German actions. But the AK chief, General Stefan Grot-Rowecki, ordered a general increase in resistance activity, especially a widening of Polish diversionary operations against the Germans. The Polish government in London feared that these operations would get so out of hand that they might prematurely lead to a general armed uprising, which was supposed to occur only when the Germans were at the point of imminent collapse on the eastern front.26
Germanization of the Zamosc region was no more successful than it had been in the Wartheland. Rather than leave anything of value to German colonists, Poles burned their houses, barns and movable property, much like the Russian kulaks did during Stalin's collectivization campaign, and fled into the woods. Other Polish farmers chose to resist; one group attacked German settlers in Cieszyn and killed 30 of them. Polish attacks led, of course, to German reprisals. The Polish attack on Cieszyn so enraged Himmler that he personally ordered the annihilation of entire Polish villages.27
German reprisals did not deter the AK and other underground military groups from continuing their attacks on new German settlements. In June, 1943, the AK boldly attacked a German village in which 69 inhabitants died.28 "If the blood-thirsty occupant intends to try on us the same experiment as on the Jews," one Polish underground newspaper declared, "he will first have to withdraw an army from the front."29
Polish retaliatory operations widened to include attacks on railroad, military and government targets. Shortly after the Germans initiated the Zamosc operation, the AK attacked a railroad bridge on the Lublin-Lwow line. Within a month, the AK had become sufficiently strong to launch 60 sabotage and diversionary operations in the Zamosc area. The People's Guard, known as the GL after its Polish name, was a Communist military group which also conducted operations in the area. The Peasant Battalions, known as the BcH after its Polish name and later a part of the AK, also operated in the area.30 These operations, combined with the German defeat at Kursk , the greatest tank battle in modern times, forced the Nazis to abandon efforts to Germanize the General Government.
"We used to be Germans. But we are Poles now. In a few weeks you will get to like it too," a young Germanized Polish boy told another youngster at a Displaced Persons camp after the war.31 His words revealed what had happened to thousands of Polish boys and girls who constituted the largest group of European children whom the Nazis attempted to denationalize during the Second World War.
For all their racist propaganda about the alleged inferiority of the Poles, Nazi leaders were amazed by the number of Polish children who possessed the Nordic features which they regarded as so desirable. "When we see a blue-eyed child we are surprised that she is speaking Polish.... if we were to bring up this child in a German spirit, she will grow up as a beautiful German girl. I admit that in Poland one can find German racial traits among the people and with caring and development will give us Germans in the course of time a possibility to destroy this part of the General Government," Hans Frank said.32
To Nazi fanatics like Frank, this alleged Teutonic blood had to be recovered even if it meant kidnapping racially desirable children from orphanages, hospitals, homes and schools. To Hitler and his cronies, Germanization was as important in determining the future of the German nation as military victories against the Allies. "What the nations offer in the way of good blood of our type, we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them here with us," Himmler declared. It was all part of the ongoing struggle between German and Slav. "It is a mere nothing today to shoot 10 Poles, compared with the fact that we might later have to shoot tens of thousands in their place, and compared to the fact that the shooting of these tens of thousands would be carried out even at the cost of German blood."33
The Nazis established an elaborate classification of persons considered to have German blood, and it contained provisions concerning the rights and duties of people in each classification. Called the Racial Register (Volksliste), the list classified people into four categories. Class I included Germans who before the war had promoted the Nazi cause. Class II were Germans who had been passive in the Nazi struggle but retained their German nationality. Class III included people of German extraction who had been previously connected with the Polish nation but were willing to submit to Germanization; this category also included Germans living in a mixed marriage – either with a Polish man or woman – and the children of these unions. Class IV were people of German descent who had become Polonized and resisted Germanization.34 People eligible for classification on the Volksliste but refused inclusion were treated harshly. Usually the Germans deported them to the Reich or to a concentration camp.
Not only were children of ethnic Germans or mixed Polish-German families who met the criteria for the Volksliste Germanized but also children of Polish families were subjected to the process. The Germanization of Polish children began but was not limited to the annexed lands. A special Nazi agency for racial matters, the Race and Resettlement Office (RuSHA), established branch offices where they screened and classified prospective Poles to be made into Germans.
Himmler, acting in his capacity as Reich Commissioner for the Strengthening of German Folkdom, early in the war talked about selecting racially valuable Polish children for Germanization. Shortly before the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Himmler thought "it right that young children of especially good race belonging to Polish families should be apprehended and brought up by us in special crèches and children's homes which are not too large." Acceptable children would be turned over to childless couples "of good race."35 By February, 1942, Nazi policy had evolved to the point that Ulrich Greifelt, Himmler's henchman who headed the SS in Poland, authorized taking children from Polish orphanages and foster parents, subjecting them to a series of examinations and tests and Germanizing those "recognized as worthy blood bearers for the Deutschtum [Germany]." Those children capable of Germanization, who were 6- to 12-years-old, Greifelt ordered, would be taken to Nazi boarding schools while younger children would be farmed out to German families by the Lebensborn [Well of Life].36
In a curious contradictory reversal of racist ideology, the Nazis assumed that Polish children with Nordic features were automatically German because the child and his family had been alleged products of the process of Polonization. The same bizarre logic was applied to the Polish intelligentsia, who led the Polish resistance movement. To the Nazis, these leaders were largely Nordic which enabled them "To be active in contrast to the fatalistic Slavonic elements."37 The implication was obvious: If the Polish elite were re-Germanized, then the mass of Polish people would be denied a dynamic leadership class.
The Nazis culled every available source to gather Polish children who met their racial criteria for Germanization. They abducted Polish children from orphanages, foster parents, parents who refused to sign the Volksliste, and parents or guardians who had been either murdered or sent to forced labor or to concentration camps. They also abducted children from un-married Polish women working as forced laborers in Germany, through periodic roundups and from special operations of the Zamosc type. Moreover, the Germans had an existing pool of candidates for Germanization in the large number of Polish youngsters who worked as forced laborers in the Reich.38
Some of the kidnapping operations relied heavily upon the notorious Brown Sisters, women dressed in Victorian style brown uniforms. These women, a female version of the Brown Shirts, were members of the NSV (Nazi Welfare Organization), originally established in 1933 to look after the welfare of the German people. Working through their Youth Office, the Brown Sisters operated throughout Europe. Completely dedicated to Hitler, these fanatical women, described as "stony-hearted robots," literally robbed Polish women of their children.39
They prowled villages and towns in Poland and other eastern European countries where they searched for fairhaired, blue-eyed children. Using candy and even slices of bread as lures to attract boys and girls, the Brown Sisters used the opportunity to question the youngster about his or her parents and siblings. After gleaning all the information they could from the child, the Brown Sisters checked town hall records on the family and if this preliminary search promised racially desirable results, the child would be taken from the home, usually at night, and never heard from again.40
The SS and other Nazi agencies also acquired Nordic-looking children in concentration camps. At Auschwitz, the SS selected several children for Germanization. Before being sent to Germany, the children were placed in quarantine. Polish inmate physicians tried to get as many of the children out of quarantine by diagnosing some bogus illness. "We diagnosed whooping cough or some nasty rash made its appearance. This was a pink plaster, cut skillfully and glued to the child's skin, that looked like a rash," Dr. Janina Kosciuszkowa said. The chief medical officer at Auschwitz , Dr. Mengele, wasn't easily fooled, but Dr. Kosciuszkowa said, "He was terrified of a rash and to our joy he sent the children back from quarantine." Unfortunately, many Polish children rescued from Germanization died at Auschwitz . But, of those who survived, Dr. Kosciuszkowa said, "When we now meet those youngsters, now already adults, we welcome each other like members of one's family."41
After seizing the children, the Germans sent them to one of a number of establishments-located in Poznan, Kalisz, Pruszkow, Bruczkow or Ludwikow – where the children were subjected to a number of racial, medical and psychological tests to determine their suitability for Germanization. The Nazis established a system of eleven racial types. Those who tested the youngsters used forms which contained 62 points. The examination placed heavy emphasis on physical traits: arms, legs and heads were carefully measured. Even the size of a girl's pelvis and the boy's penis was considered important for reproductive purposes.42
Ideally, the Nazi racial experts preferred to transnationalize children no older than 8- to 10-years-old, but even this criterion was watered down to include teenagers over 17 years. During the racial selection process, the Nazis placed the children in three categories: they were considered a desirable, tolerable or undesirable increase to the population. The object of the tests was not to establish the German descent of the candidate, but rather to select children with sound physical and mental qualities.43 That is why Polish and other Slavic children were so vulnerable to the Germanization process.
In addition to racial considerations, the experts attached great importance to the impression the child made. Thirteen-year-old Wojciech Wysocki, described as "Eastern Nordic" by the German experts, was considered "very promising" for Germanization because of his calm, candid appearance. Agnieszka Miszewska was also considered promising because she not only was mentally able but also made a good impression. A Polish child might meet Nazi racial and medical tests but if he or she displayed so-called "negative" character traits – i.e., was unwilling to accept their new nationality – they were dropped from the Germanization program.44 The feverish pace of these examinations can be seen in the large number of them that were conducted right up to the end of the war. In Lublin alone, between February, 1940, and September, 1941, the Germans conducted over 4,000 examinations.45
Children selected for Germanization ended up in schools or institutions run by a number of Nazi organizations before they became available for adoption by German families. Younger children usually came under the supervision of the Lebensborn [Well of Life]. Originally established in 1935 to provide maternity facilities for the wives and girl friends of the SS and police establishment, Lebensborn broadened its activities to include the Germanization of kidnapped children.