The Germans ruthlessly murdered and burned the Polish population alive. The perpetrators were never punished

“During the German occupation, Polish citizens were subjected to the extermination policy of the German Third Reich, whose main goal was the biological destruction of the nation and its material and cultural destruction” – said Prof. Monika Tomkiewicz during a panel devoted to German crimes against the Polish nation as part of the Congress of National Remembrance organized by the Institute of National Remembrance.

“Starting from September 1939, units of the Wermacht, SS, Einsatzgruppen, Gestapo and Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz joined the extermination process. From that moment practically until the end of World War II, Polish citizens of various nationalities were exterminated both in places of mass extermination and in German concentration camps and extermination camps, in various types of prisons and detention centers, displacement camps, Germanization camps, POW camps, as well as in ghettos for the Jewish population” – enumerated Prof. Tomkiewicz.

“Since September 1, 1939, we have been dealing with a clear wave of violence and crimes. Both crimes committed against civilians and prisoners of war. These crimes are committed in several places. These are primarily crimes on the battlefield, where people are shot without a sentence, on the spot, prisoners of war, but also in similar circumstances, civilians are killed, who are accused of partisan activities. Another such space is the space for transporting civilians and prisoners of war into captivity” – said Dr. Tomasz Sudoł during the same scientific panel, pointing out that crimes were also committed during transport to various destinations in POW camps. “At that time, summary courts, military courts were an important element, which awarded the highest sentence, i.e. the death penalty by shooting, but we are also dealing here with such a bottom-up stream of violence, that is, German soldiers were ready to kill, they were very motivated and very determined to do so, to commit crimes in Poland” – he emphasized. “One can be tempted to say that every unit of the Wehrmacht that took part in the Polish campaign, to some extent, committed crimes against either civilians or soldiers of the Polish Army” – he added.

The crimes committed by the Germans took place in all parts of the country. Most of them were recorded in Pomerania, but also in Silesia they were numerous and very brutal. They also took place in the General Government established in occupied Poland. “These were crimes not only in places where a battle is taking place, around a town, but also conscious, deliberate shooting at the Polish population working in the fields (it is autumn, the period of field work)” – reminded Dr. Tomasz Domański. “Everyone knows about the bombing of smaller or larger cities, but the shooting of individual farmers who work in the field from the plane clearly speaks of the attitude of those people who treated these activities as a form of ‘fun'” – he added.

The Germans committed monstrous crimes against the civilian population in Pomerania. “You have certainly heard of Palmiry. But have you heard of Karolewo, where 1,781 people were murdered? About Piaśnica – 2,500 murdered people; about Szpęgawsk – 2,400? There are 400 such places in Pomerania. Of course, not all places are numerically so large, but a scale is incomparable, which is why in 2017 we proposed the introduction of a new historical term: Pomeranian Crime 1939, in order to make Poles aware of the scale of crime in this area, during this period” – said Dr. Tomasz Ceran. “There is a report from October 1939, which says something like this: German West Prussia is to be made of Polish Pomerania. For this purpose: 1. Physical extermination, mass killing must be carried out. From the beginning, since 1939, there is no concentration camp in Poland. Who? Point a) all people who acted on the Polish side, b) people who may constitute a resistance movement in the future. This has been a deliberate German policy since 1939. This is clear from German documentation” – Dr. Ceran noted pointing that “this is the intention of the perpetrators”. “Hitler from the beginning chose extermination as a method of exercising power. Why? Because he believed that all other previous actions were ineffective. So what if Polish Pomerania or Wielkopolska were under Prussian rule for over a hundred years, if the number of Poles increased, not decreased. He does not want to repeat the mistakes of the 19th-century Bismarck’s policy. That is why he reaches for completely new, radical methods of the totalitarian state” – noted the historian, emphasizing that the German occupation in Poland was genocidal from the very beginning.

“When it comes to crimes against the ethnic Polish population, we know a lot about the methods of genocide. First of all, collective responsibility against the Polish population was commonly used” – reminded Dr. Tomasz Domański. “It evolved gradually: from family members, to the immediate vicinity, and finally to entire towns. Especially the year 1943 was the culmination, and the year 1944. That’s when entire towns are burned and murdered” – he noted. He emphasized that in this way the Germans wanted to suppress the conspiracy, force Poles to give them crops, for example, or work for the Third Reich. “GG was one big labor camp” – he said, quoting Hans Frank. “These actions were to prepare the ground for future colonization, Germanization of these areas” – he added, also pointing to displacement actions.

“When it comes to methods, first of all, a whole range of methods was used, a whole set of methods. This is collective responsibility, i.e. public and mass and individual executions in places of execution, for example, public executions by hanging, especially in the Lodz region in 1941-42 This method was used by burning alive. All the towns I mentioned, i.e. Michniów, Skałka, in most cases, these people were burned alive – herded into several barns, buildings, locked, set on fire and burned alive” – reported Dr. Domański. “Such colonial methods were to scare away potential successors from anti-German activities” – he added. “Air bombing of villages, the use of artillery during large anti-partisan operations, these are things that were very characteristic of the General Government” – the historian enumerated. In his opinion, mass crimes against Poles, as well as against Jews, were motivated by racial hatred. “That’s why it was so easy to apply collective responsibility, to throw children into the flames” – he noted. Prof. Grzegorz Bębnik pointed out that apart from the planned extermination actions, there was also the reality of the occupation, no less terrifying, as it was marked by executions and gallows.

According to historians, as a result of German actions, according to the latest findings, about 5.2 million Polish citizens died, of which 90 percent were they were civilians. The traces of these crimes were covered up by the Germans, and the perpetrators were never punished.

Anna Wiejak

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