The deportation of the Polish Jews of the General Government – to “death camps” according to the exterminationists, to yet unknown settlements on occupied Soviet territory according to the revisionist hypothesis – did not only involve practicalities and organizatorial issues, but also a certain amount of legal paperwork. Most of this material is of interest chiefly to students of judicial history, but there are also some documents of historiographical significance.
The document I will briefly discuss here (ZStL Slg. Polen, Bd. 353, p. 168) is a circular letter from the Government of the General Government, Main Department of Justice (Regierung des Generalgouvernements – Hauptabteilung Justiz) in Cracow to the local departments of justice (Abteilung Justiz) in all districts of the General Government (Krakau, Lublin, Lemberg (Galizien), Radom, and Warschau), dated August 21, 1942 and concerning the “Evacuation of Jews” (Aussiedlung von Juden). It reads in full:
«Es bestehen mitunter noch Zweifel, wie zu verfahren ist, wenn Juden, gegen die ein Strafverfahren anhängig oder eine gerichtliche Strafe zu vollstrecken ist, durch die Aussiedlung betroffen werden. Ich bemerke dazu folgendes:
1. In anhängigen Strafverfahren kann grundsätzlich in entsprechender Anwendung des § 154 a Abs. 3 St. 0. von der Erhebung der öffentlichen Klage abgesehen oder – falls die öffentliche Klage schon erhoben ist – gemäss Abs. 4 a.a.O. das Verfahren vorläufig eingestellt werden. Das gilt inbesondere auch dann, wenn sich der Beschuldigte für die Staatsanwaltschaft oder das Gericht in Haft befindet; in diesen Falle kann er der zuständigen Behörde zur Aussiedlung überstellt werden. Zur Behandlung nach § 153 a Abs. 3 oder 4 St. 0. eignen sich jedoch nicht die Strafverfahren, in denen die Todesstrafe zu erwarten ist, welche Verfahren sind durchgeführen; eine Aufhebung der Haft zum Zwecke der Aussiedlung kommt in diesen Fällen nicht in Betracht.
2. Von der Vollstreckung erkannter Freiheitsstrafen oder Maßregeln der Sicherung und Besserung kann in entsprechender Anwendung des § 456 a StF0. abgesehen werden. Hingesehen sind, wie schon aus dem wer laut des § 456 a Abs. 1 zu folgern ist, Todesstrafen zu vollstrecken.
Überstücke zur Unterrichtung der deutschen Anklagebehörden sind beigefügt.
«It is still not quite clear how we are to proceed with regard to Jews scheduled for evacuation [Aussiedlung] who are pending a criminal proceeding or have been condemned to serve a legal sentence. To wit:
1. In cases pending we can, as a norm, apply § 154 a Abs. 3 St. 0. and refrain from laying charges, or, if charges have already been made, we can postpone the trial as per Abs. 4 of the abovementioned law. This especially applies if the person charged is in custody and therefore available to the prosecutor or the court: in that case he may be made available to the competent authority for evacuation. However, § 153 a Abs. 3 or 4 St. 0. can not be applied in those cases where a death sentence is pending. Those trials are to proceed, and the release of the accused for reason of evacuation can not be considered.
2. Jail sentences pending or rehabilitation measures can be disregarded by applying § 456 a StF0. However, death sentences are to be carried out, as per § 456 a Abs. 1.
Copies for the German prosecuting bodies have been attached.
In short, Jews designated for Aussiedlung should have any present judicial proceedings against them discontinued and, if already convicted, have their sentences lifted so as to enable deportation. The only ones exempt from this practice were Jews under sentence of death.
However, official historiography has it that
«Dr. Josef Bühler (…) demanded at the [Wannsee] conference that the “final solution” be applied first to the Jews of the General Government. (…) Bühler’s request that the Jews of the General Government in Poland be destroyed first was in fact accepted. The General Government included the districts of Warsaw, Cracow, Lublin, Lvov, and Radom, and its Jewish population was estimated by the German government at 2,284,000. The destruction of the Jews in the General Government would later be called Operation Reinhard…».
(Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1987, pp. 12-13)
This means that all Jews in the General Government were scheduled to be killed. At first, they were collected in ghettos, were many died from epidemics and other privations. Later, beginning in March 1942, they were brought by train to the three Aktion Reinhardt camps – Bełżec (opened in March 1942), Sobibór (opened in early May 1942) and Treblinka (operative from July 23, 1942) – where, still according to the official narrative, virtually all of them were murdered with engine exhaust gas. It is alleged that already in early 1943 as good as all Jews from the General Government were dead:
«The principal decision to terminate Operation Reinhard and close the death camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka was taken by Himmler during his visit to Lublin in March 1943 (…). At that time almost all the Jews in the General Government had already been annihilated and the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau was in full operation and could meet the needs of the Nazi extermination machine».
(Ibid., p. 370)
At the time the above document was written, practically all transports from the General Government ghettos had as their final destination the alleged death camps. This is especially true for the deportation trains which left Warsaw during the period when the above cited letter was written:
«During the first five weeks of the killing operation in Treblinka, between July 23 and August 28, about 245,000 Jews were deported there from the Warsaw ghetto and Warsaw district; from Radom district, 51,000; from Lublin district, 16,500, bringing the total in this period to about 312,500».
(Ibid., p. 87)
Thus, according to official historiography, deportation from the ghettos in the General Government at this time meant virtually certain death. But why then were Jews sentenced to death by German courts exempted from deportation? Why the bother to hang or shoot these individuals when, together with the other Jewish convicts, they could be sent to the “death camps” and killed there en masse?
To give some examples of the punishments given to Jews in the ghettos: on November 9, 1942 the Warsaw Jew Herz Bresler was handed down a six month jail sentence for “not wearing the armband with the Zion star” (source: ZStL Slg. Polen, Bd. 349, p. 194), and on June 19, 1942, the Jew Aizyk Braun was sentenced by a Warsaw Sondergericht to 3 years of imprisonment for “leaving the [Warsaw] ghetto without permission” (source: ZStL Slg. Polen, Bd. 349, p. 192). Thus, while certainly very strict (as could be expected) the penal system imposed on the ghetto dwellers was not as draconic as one may believe, and it seems fair to assume that most of the Jews sentenced to death were considered dangerous to other people or a threat in some way to German troups. However, unarmed and surrounded by Germans and auxiliary guards at the ghetto’s Umschlagsplatz, waiting to be sent to the “pure extermination centers” they would hardly have posed a problem to the Aussiedlung process. On the other hand, they would surely have caused inconvenience if, instead of being gassed to death, as the exterminationist historians claim was the fate of their fellow ghetto Jews, they had to be accomodated in labor camps and settlement areas in the occupied parts of the USSR.
– Thomas Kues