On to Poland

The 1939 invasion brings us from the background to the foreground of the subject of this paper. After the Polish campaign was finished, the Nazi regime split their half of Poland into two pieces. One piece, the leftovers, became the Government-General, whose leader, Hans Frank, soon came to think of himself as a viceroy. The rest was annexed directly to Germany. Part of it was attached to Danzig as “Danzig-West Prussia.” A few counties around Zichenau went to East Prussia. Kattowitz and environs were returned to Upper Silesia. The Nazis had bad memories of the old, Prussian Provinz Posen. Germanization efforts there had been halfhearted in relation to the scale of the threat. It had a reputation for unpleasantness, for dirtiness, as a place of punishment and exile rather than hope and promise. So the regime instead invented a new frontier colony called Reichsgau Wartheland, or simply “the Warthegau,” named after a river that runs through it. Artur Greiser became Gauleiter and Reichsstatthalter. In the spirit of the New Times, Party and State leadership would be unified in the same people. Himmler, in his new capacity as Reich Commissar for the Strengthening of Germandom, immediately began settlement programs for the ethnic Germans who began streaming in from Soviet-held territories as a result of agreements with the Soviet Union. Very quickly, one found about a million Germans lording it over a few million Poles and several hundred thousand Jews.

I was on the trail of perpetrator motives, enthralled by Bock’s memoir of life in Poddembice, sure that colonialism played a major role, and fascinated by Mann’s article on 1,586 perpetrator biographies, when I found those personnel files for civil administrators in the Litzmannstadt (Lodz) Regierungspräsidium. I was so sure I was onto something that I copied down all the information I thought relevant at the time for the 778 individuals with basic Personalkarteikarten, of which 350 had more detailed “blue personnel forms.” Obsessed with basic biographical data, I went to Warsaw and copied down the name, date of birth, place of birth, and NSDAP number for every German official on record at the Institute for National Memory. I did the same for every Landrat listed in the national Landratsliste in the Bundesarchiv in Lichterfelde. I found a list of technical employees who applied for the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories (RmbO), a couple of lists of employees of the RmbO broken down by Gebietskommissariat. Later on at the National Archives in Washington, DC, I looked up the Party membership cards for the men who were in my Litzmannstadt sample but did not have a “blue personnel form” to find out when they joined the NSDAP. Something must have motivated me to slog through all that data and then spend the next two years crunching it in every which way possible.

Part of it was a simple matter of, if somebody tells a person they cannot do something, that person becomes all the more motivated to do it. Mann had gone through his perpetrator data and found some interesting trends, such as that a third of them had been in the Freikorps and that southern, Catholic Germans and Austrians were vastly over-represented. I had noticed in my research up to that point that people who were obsessed with Germanization in the East tended to have some connection to the East, and hence to its frontier mentality. They were from East Prussia or Silesia, or had studied at one of its universities, possibly with Hans Rothfels in Königsberg. Or like Rosenberg they came from the Baltic or Posen or another “lost territory.” The ethos of Sauberkeit und Ordnung that they expressed seemed particularly kleinbürgerlich, although perhaps I was under the influence of Hermann Bausinger’s Wie deutsch sind die Deutschen?

At the same time, Dieter Pohl was telling me it was all humbug. He had tried to find regional trends among administrators in Lublin and Ostgalizien but had found none. The thought that they represented a particular social class was erroneous, a relic of antique explanations of fascism as the “rebellion of the shopkeepers.” And, of course, the Warthegau could not possibly be an example of colonialism because its administration was internal to the Reich; the goal was assimilation into the Reich, not eternal, separate, exploitative status. And, back to the issue of perpetrator motives, how could one call the mayor of a small town, let alone its Standesbeamter or Stadtbaumeister, a perpetrator? Would the fact that the Salzburger Strassenbauamt loaned twenty men to the East Ministry, and these men went together to Kiev to supervise road construction, show a predilection for Austrians to colonize the Ukraine?

The answers to these questions are at the level of perception. What makes a regional trend? Does half of a sample have to come from Berlin before one can say that they tended to come from Berlin? No, one should calculate Berlin’s equal share, and if one’s sample contains more Berliners than Berlin’s equal share, there is a regional trend. Does the fact that lower officialdom tends to come from the lower middle class have to resurrect hidebound class theories of Nazi electoral support? To what extent does one have to think one is engaged in colonialism before it is accurate to say that one is engaged in colonialism? Is it enough to have expatriate minority rule, economic exploitation of the majority, apartheid laws, and permanent military occupation ended only by the loss of a world war? Answers to these questions seem obvious, and will be elaborated in the ensuing discussion.

The question of why do civil administrators matter is an altogether different question. After all, they did not have much real power – that was the SS. They were the impelling force neither of ethnic cleansing nor of the Holocaust – that again was the SS. The Order Policemen seemed to spend day in and day out engaged in murder. What evil did the Standesbeamten do? Along the way I came to realize that we look at the Nazi occupation of Poland as short because it was abruptly ended by the war; and, in the space of time occupied by the war, the Holocaust was the main event. In the eyes of the actors, at least through early 1943, it was the great, new beginning of a thousand year era. Nazi officialdom busily engaged in ethnic resettlement, land use planning, building irrigation ditches, roads, bridges, and public buildings with the long-term in mind. They also pushed Jews into ghettoes, took their homes, forced them to build roads, and then divided up their stuff when they were gone. Almost every administrator was involved in this in some way or another. For most of them, anti-Jewish activity was not the main focus, although it was part of the fabric of everyday life – part of being a pioneer. Clearing out the Jews became part of the “civilizing mission,” as an act of “creative destruction” that made possible the long-term Germanization of a colonial space. The officials created the canvas upon which the SS could draw.

The 1939 invasion brings us from the background to the foreground of the subject of this paper. After the Polish campaign was finished, the Nazi regime split their half of Poland into two pieces. One piece, the leftovers, became the Government-General, whose leader, Hans Frank, soon came to think of himself as a viceroy. The rest was annexed directly to Germany. Part of it was attached to Danzig as “Danzig-West Prussia.” A few counties around Zichenau went to East Prussia. Kattowitz and environs were returned to Upper Silesia. The Nazis had bad memories of the old, Prussian Provinz Posen. Germanization efforts there had been halfhearted in relation to the scale of the threat. It had a reputation for unpleasantness, for dirtiness, as a place of punishment and exile rather than hope and promise. So the regime instead invented a new frontier colony called Reichsgau Wartheland, or simply “the Warthegau,” named after a river that runs through it. Artur Greiser became Gauleiter and Reichsstatthalter. In the spirit of the New Times, Party and State leadership would be unified in the same people. Himmler, in his new capacity as Reich Commissar for the Strengthening of Germandom, immediately began settlement programs for the ethnic Germans who began streaming in from Soviet-held territories as a result of agreements with the Soviet Union. Very quickly, one found about a million Germans lording it over a few million Poles and several hundred thousand Jews.

I was on the trail of perpetrator motives, enthralled by Bock’s memoir of life in Poddembice, sure that colonialism played a major role, and fascinated by Mann’s article on 1,586 perpetrator biographies, when I found those personnel files for civil administrators in the Litzmannstadt (Lodz) Regierungspräsidium. I was so sure I was onto something that I copied down all the information I thought relevant at the time for the 778 individuals with basic Personalkarteikarten, of which 350 had more detailed “blue personnel forms.” Obsessed with basic biographical data, I went to Warsaw and copied down the name, date of birth, place of birth, and NSDAP number for every German official on record at the Institute for National Memory. I did the same for every Landrat listed in the national Landratsliste in the Bundesarchiv in Lichterfelde. I found a list of technical employees who applied for the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories (RmbO), a couple of lists of employees of the RmbO broken down by Gebietskommissariat. Later on at the National Archives in Washington, DC, I looked up the Party membership cards for the men who were in my Litzmannstadt sample but did not have a “blue personnel form” to find out when they joined the NSDAP. Something must have motivated me to slog through all that data and then spend the next two years crunching it in every which way possible.

Part of it was a simple matter of, if somebody tells a person they cannot do something, that person becomes all the more motivated to do it. Mann had gone through his perpetrator data and found some interesting trends, such as that a third of them had been in the Freikorps and that southern, Catholic Germans and Austrians were vastly over-represented. I had noticed in my research up to that point that people who were obsessed with Germanization in the East tended to have some connection to the East, and hence to its frontier mentality. They were from East Prussia or Silesia, or had studied at one of its universities, possibly with Hans Rothfels in Königsberg. Or like Rosenberg they came from the Baltic or Posen or another “lost territory.” The ethos of Sauberkeit und Ordnung that they expressed seemed particularly kleinbürgerlich, although perhaps I was under the influence of Hermann Bausinger’s Wie deutsch sind die Deutschen?

At the same time, Dieter Pohl was telling me it was all humbug. He had tried to find regional trends among administrators in Lublin and Ostgalizien but had found none. The thought that they represented a particular social class was erroneous, a relic of antique explanations of fascism as the “rebellion of the shopkeepers.” And, of course, the Warthegau could not possibly be an example of colonialism because its administration was internal to the Reich; the goal was assimilation into the Reich, not eternal, separate, exploitative status. And, back to the issue of perpetrator motives, how could one call the mayor of a small town, let alone its Standesbeamter or Stadtbaumeister, a perpetrator? Would the fact that the Salzburger Strassenbauamt loaned twenty men to the East Ministry, and these men went together to Kiev to supervise road construction, show a predilection for Austrians to colonize the Ukraine?

The answers to these questions are at the level of perception. What makes a regional trend? Does half of a sample have to come from Berlin before one can say that they tended to come from Berlin? No, one should calculate Berlin’s equal share, and if one’s sample contains more Berliners than Berlin’s equal share, there is a regional trend. Does the fact that lower officialdom tends to come from the lower middle class have to resurrect hidebound class theories of Nazi electoral support? To what extent does one have to think one is engaged in colonialism before it is accurate to say that one is engaged in colonialism? Is it enough to have expatriate minority rule, economic exploitation of the majority, apartheid laws, and permanent military occupation ended only by the loss of a world war? Answers to these questions seem obvious, and will be elaborated in the ensuing discussion.

The question of why do civil administrators matter is an altogether different question. After all, they did not have much real power – that was the SS. They were the impelling force neither of ethnic cleansing nor of the Holocaust – that again was the SS. The Order Policemen seemed to spend day in and day out engaged in murder. What evil did the Standesbeamten do? Along the way I came to realize that we look at the Nazi occupation of Poland as short because it was abruptly ended by the war; and, in the space of time occupied by the war, the Holocaust was the main event. In the eyes of the actors, at least through early 1943, it was the great, new beginning of a thousand year era. Nazi officialdom busily engaged in ethnic resettlement, land use planning, building irrigation ditches, roads, bridges, and public buildings with the long-term in mind. They also pushed Jews into ghettoes, took their homes, forced them to build roads, and then divided up their stuff when they were gone. Almost every administrator was involved in this in some way or another. For most of them, anti-Jewish activity was not the main focus, although it was part of the fabric of everyday life – part of being a pioneer. Clearing out the Jews became part of the “civilizing mission,” as an act of “creative destruction” that made possible the long-term Germanization of a colonial space. The officials created the canvas upon which the SS could draw.

January 12, 2008 in History