Little Kings

What were civil administrators doing in the Warthegau? They can roughly be divided in two halves. On the one side are the professionals – civil engineers, health inspectors, savings bank officials, and land use planners – enticed by higher pay and a greater playing field for their professional activities. On the other side are the professional administrators – people who made sure that all the various Karteikarten were filled out correctly and filed properly. They kept up with the rapidly changing regulations and managed ‘race relations’ between the German and Polish populations. At the town or village level, the Amtskommissar was the pinnacle of power and aspiration, just below the Landrat. He was the mayor and town manager, and also usually the NSDAP Ortsgruppenleiter. Not only did he oversee all the Karteikarten and town books, he was also in charge of the surrounding villages and roads. He got to dream up the town, and could say, “Make this building the Deutsches Haus, and tear down that Polish school and use the stones to pave the roads.” The position of Amtskommissar in the Warthegau was about as close an ordinary man could come to being King as was possible.

Was the Warthegau a dumping ground for unwanted and incompetent officials? The short answer is no. That is precisely what the Nazis wanted to avoid, and went to great lengths to prevent. Service in the Warthegau was a privilege not a burden. The Siberia reputation has three roots. First, Poland had a reputation in Germany for being dirty, poor, and uncomfortable – who would want to go there? Second, each administration across the Reich had to send a contingent to the East. It was tempting for bosses to pick the people they did not like or want and ship off to the Warthegau. However, this practice was expressly forbidden, and transferees who said, “I am here because my boss hates me” usually got sent back home. Third, one of the truisms of internationaler Personaleinsatz is that expatriates will experience “culture shock.” Even though they volunteered, for whatever reason, when they encounter difficulty, or feel uncomfortable, get lonely, or the job just is not what they expected, they will start to think, “They sent me here because they do not like me.” And so Franz Heinrich Bock could credibly write in Wartheländisches Tagebuch that he was the victim of a Strafversetzung, even though he had been requesting an eastward transfer for six months, and had written to the Braunes Haus in Munich. The letters are in his BDC (Berlin Document Center) file.

Did the Warthegau civil administration represent a cross section of the Reich civil service? This is an easy and logical question, especially since the Reich Ministry of the Interior (RmdI) filled the initial positions by taking up a collection from each Kreis of the Reich to serve in the incorporated eastern territories. As is typical, however, of expatriate employment, turnover was high, somewhere around 40 percent per annum. Quickly the Warthegau administration came to reflect the Reich in the true meaning of the word reflect, as in, “mirror image.” As Claudia Koonz argues in The Nazi Conscience:

In 1933 tens of thousands of old fighters for the Nazi cause with barely adequate educational qualifications received sinecures in the civil service and party offices. A second cohort, recently credentialed careerists (nicknamed “freshly baked Nazis”), joined the Nazi Party and enjoyed rapid promotions. These two groups were greatly outnumbered by civil servants (referred to as “not yet Nazis”) who joined the requisite Nazi civil service leagues but did not apply for membership in the party. Support for Nazism among civil servants was high compared with other occupational categories, but two out of three civil servants did not join. (168-69)

There was a tension between the hardcore National Socialists and the Reich civil service that echoed these analogies: action versus thought, doing versus planning, reliability versus education, and warrior versus bureaucrat. They suffered a love-hate relationship in that they shared many common, right wing goals that could not be accomplished without each other. Just as the bureaucracy could not rein in the Nazis but could heavily influence them in the direction of working through laws rather than mob actions, the Party could not go as far as they wanted in their domestic revolution without winning the hearts and minds of the bureaucracy. As a model province, the Warthegau was the time and place where the Nazi regime could begin to build a new, unified Reich civil service. Hitler made it clear. The East was a school of leadership. The bureaucrat who wanted a future in the New Reich needed to have the East on his Lebenslauf (resume).

This brings us back to the tension between ideological dedication and careerism represented in the Koonz quotation above. In the description of the various groups, one sees the sneering of the professional bureaucrats at the Old Fighters receiving their “sinecures,” and of the Old Fighters toward the “not yet” and “freshly baked” Nazi civil servants. Reading the biographies of my “Lodz sample” has led me to question this dichotomy, at least as it applies to the Warthegau. Instead, it was a place where:

  1. Old Fighters whose second career was in the civil service, the recipients of those “sinecures,” could be taken seriously.
  2. So-called Bandwagon Nazis could overcome the careerist stigma. Because it was illegal for Beamten to join the NSDAP before 1933, ones that joined in 1933 are difficult to dismiss as opportunists. Post-1937 joiners still entered an elite organization that did not extend beyond eight percent of the population.

What were civil administrators doing in the Warthegau? They can roughly be divided in two halves. On the one side are the professionals – civil engineers, health inspectors, savings bank officials, and land use planners – enticed by higher pay and a greater playing field for their professional activities. On the other side are the professional administrators – people who made sure that all the various Karteikarten were filled out correctly and filed properly. They kept up with the rapidly changing regulations and managed ‘race relations’ between the German and Polish populations. At the town or village level, the Amtskommissar was the pinnacle of power and aspiration, just below the Landrat. He was the mayor and town manager, and also usually the NSDAP Ortsgruppenleiter. Not only did he oversee all the Karteikarten and town books, he was also in charge of the surrounding villages and roads. He got to dream up the town, and could say, “Make this building the Deutsches Haus, and tear down that Polish school and use the stones to pave the roads.” The position of Amtskommissar in the Warthegau was about as close an ordinary man could come to being King as was possible.

Was the Warthegau a dumping ground for unwanted and incompetent officials? The short answer is no. That is precisely what the Nazis wanted to avoid, and went to great lengths to prevent. Service in the Warthegau was a privilege not a burden. The Siberia reputation has three roots. First, Poland had a reputation in Germany for being dirty, poor, and uncomfortable – who would want to go there? Second, each administration across the Reich had to send a contingent to the East. It was tempting for bosses to pick the people they did not like or want and ship off to the Warthegau. However, this practice was expressly forbidden, and transferees who said, “I am here because my boss hates me” usually got sent back home. Third, one of the truisms of internationaler Personaleinsatz is that expatriates will experience “culture shock.” Even though they volunteered, for whatever reason, when they encounter difficulty, or feel uncomfortable, get lonely, or the job just is not what they expected, they will start to think, “They sent me here because they do not like me.” And so Franz Heinrich Bock could credibly write in Wartheländisches Tagebuch that he was the victim of a Strafversetzung, even though he had been requesting an eastward transfer for six months, and had written to the Braunes Haus in Munich. The letters are in his BDC (Berlin Document Center) file.

Did the Warthegau civil administration represent a cross section of the Reich civil service? This is an easy and logical question, especially since the Reich Ministry of the Interior (RmdI) filled the initial positions by taking up a collection from each Kreis of the Reich to serve in the incorporated eastern territories. As is typical, however, of expatriate employment, turnover was high, somewhere around 40 percent per annum. Quickly the Warthegau administration came to reflect the Reich in the true meaning of the word reflect, as in, “mirror image.” As Claudia Koonz argues in The Nazi Conscience:

In 1933 tens of thousands of old fighters for the Nazi cause with barely adequate educational qualifications received sinecures in the civil service and party offices. A second cohort, recently credentialed careerists (nicknamed “freshly baked Nazis”), joined the Nazi Party and enjoyed rapid promotions. These two groups were greatly outnumbered by civil servants (referred to as “not yet Nazis”) who joined the requisite Nazi civil service leagues but did not apply for membership in the party. Support for Nazism among civil servants was high compared with other occupational categories, but two out of three civil servants did not join. (168-69)

There was a tension between the hardcore National Socialists and the Reich civil service that echoed these analogies: action versus thought, doing versus planning, reliability versus education, and warrior versus bureaucrat. They suffered a love-hate relationship in that they shared many common, right wing goals that could not be accomplished without each other. Just as the bureaucracy could not rein in the Nazis but could heavily influence them in the direction of working through laws rather than mob actions, the Party could not go as far as they wanted in their domestic revolution without winning the hearts and minds of the bureaucracy. As a model province, the Warthegau was the time and place where the Nazi regime could begin to build a new, unified Reich civil service. Hitler made it clear. The East was a school of leadership. The bureaucrat who wanted a future in the New Reich needed to have the East on his Lebenslauf (resume).

This brings us back to the tension between ideological dedication and careerism represented in the Koonz quotation above. In the description of the various groups, one sees the sneering of the professional bureaucrats at the Old Fighters receiving their “sinecures,” and of the Old Fighters toward the “not yet” and “freshly baked” Nazi civil servants. Reading the biographies of my “Lodz sample” has led me to question this dichotomy, at least as it applies to the Warthegau. Instead, it was a place where:

  1. Old Fighters whose second career was in the civil service, the recipients of those “sinecures,” could be taken seriously.
  2. So-called Bandwagon Nazis could overcome the careerist stigma. Because it was illegal for Beamten to join the NSDAP before 1933, ones that joined in 1933 are difficult to dismiss as opportunists. Post-1937 joiners still entered an elite organization that did not extend beyond eight percent of the population.
January 12, 2008 in History