How Many Ways to Get Killed?
I find that I do an awful lot of searches in languages I don’t speak, and this is just another of them.
Today I’m researching again all the different groups that “pacified” Pomerania, especially near Bydgoszcz and Gdansk, Poland. I knew there were many of these groups; that the Nazis imprisoned and deported or murdered outright most of the Polish policemen and brought in German ones. This area was incorporated directly into the Reich; the Polish language was outlawed, Polish street names changed.
And an awful lot of people were murdered. Sometimes whole families were arrested and shot. And one of the things we as a civilized people seem to get hung up on is this: were the “other” (non-Jewish) victims of Nazi persecution also to be considered Holocaust victims?
I’m very stream of consciousness today, but I’m having a lot of turbulent thoughts. I don’t know the answer to that question. I feel like debating it is getting too tied up in the minutiae. The Nazis killed about 11 million people in their camps and “cleansing actions.” It’s nothing but disgusting, whatever else you might call it.
So, I’ve got my characters in Pomerania in September 1939. How many people might have been looking for them? How many different ways could a person be killed in Occupied Poland?
So far, this is what I know:
- The Gestapo was an early presence. Their record of torture and murder is well-known, and it was then, too.
- The Einsatzgruppen. There were six groups active in Poland in the fall of 1939.
- The Selbstschultz. This translates as “Self Defense.” They were civilians whose job was to create discord and chaos in Occupied Poland. In Bydgoszcz, they shot at the retreating Polish Army; many of them were executed for treason. The Germans blew this up into a giant propaganda campaign and claimed that the Poles had murdered thousands of ethnic Germans.
- The Wehrmacht was involved in murdering Polish POWs. Sometimes they made them take off their uniforms before shooting them, so they could pretend they were partisan fighters rather than soldiers.
- The People’s Court. Not the TV show–Judge Wapner would never be part of such a thing. This was what passed for justice in Nazi Germany; a court for show trials. The accused were always convicted; the defense wasn’t allowed to make any arguments; the judge would lecture the accused and sentence them to death. This was true throughout the Nazi period; being accused was the same thing as being guilty.
- Operation T4 was extended to Poland in early September, in a hotel where the Fuhrer was staying in Sopot. Thousands of mentally and physically handicapped patients were murdered. The Nazis first used mass gassings of prisoners in Poznan in October 1939.
- Air raids. The Luftwaffe’s targets in Poland were generally cities and towns with no military targets.
- Stutthof Concentration Camp was in operation beginning on September 2, 1939. There were also a number of “wild” camps that were used to confine and torture prisoners.
- Deportation. Poles were deported from Pomerania because it would be directly incorporated into the Reich as “lebensraum” (living space). Most of them weren’t directly killed but to be made homeless was often a step on that path.
- Collective guilt. On September 10, 1939, the policy of murdering hostages or destroying entire villages to discourage resistance was announced.
- Forced labor. These started small; groups were rounded up and taken someplace to perform labor and then returned to their homes. Gradually this became being rounded up and sent into Germany. Pomeranians generally spoke both Polish and German, making them attractive for such a scheme.
See what I mean? I haven’t even exhausted all the tools of persecution. Churches were closed, and reopened as German-speaking establishments. Synagogues destroyed. Signs began appearing in front of shops and restaurants and trams: “Germans only.”
And it was all based on the Otherness of the enemy.