(CRISIS and WAR in EUROPE, 1937 to 1940 – continued)

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CRISIS and WAR in EUROPE, 1937 to 1940 (11 of 11)

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Hitler's "House Cleaning" in Poland

Looking toward the east, stories by Karl May that Hitler had read had played on his mind – stories describing Germanic Americans pushing aside unworthy American Indians. Hitler saw the Polish people as the Indians. They had to make way for an expanded Germany and for an influx of German pioneers. Hitler saw the United States as having conquered living space by exterminating natives. It was for him an example of Darwinian struggle. Too bad, he thought, that the United States had later succumbed to racial and cultural pollution. note57

With Germany's conquest of Poland in 1939, some under Hitler had begun describing German policy in Poland as a "housecleaning." Polish intellectuals were to be wiped out so that the Polish people would have no one to lead them in rebelling against their new masters, the Germans. Little news was getting out of Poland as to what the Germans were doing there. And, by mid-1940, Polish writers, politicians and civil leaders who had been rounded up were being executed by a special German team at a site in the Palmiry forest. As elsewhere, many who were not persecuted took little notice. There were Poles who saw Germans in their community as acting with civility. note58

Jews have been described as around 10 percent of the Polish population before 1939. Joseph Marcus in his book Social and Political History of the Jews in Poland, 1919–1939, writes that "Between 1935 and 1937 seventy-nine Jews were killed and 500 injured in anti-Jewish incidents, but he describes an overall tolerance of Poles while Jews were prominent in business and industry.

The Germans had plans for Poland's Jews. They were to be rounded up from rural areas and transported to city ghettos – concentrations from which the Jews could more easily be rounded up later for transport to extermination camps. Much of this was to begin the following year following Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union.

Early in 1940 a site for a prison had been chosen in a marshy area by the town of Auschwitz, thirty miles west of the Polish city of Krakow. The German company I.G. Farben was planning an adjacent synthetic coal and rubber plant. That plant would use the labor of the camp's inmates. It was another example of business doing what it could within the limits of approval by government.

It would not be easy to get volunteer Germans to be guards at a faraway prison near desolate Auschwitz. Getting the more mentally developed or educated among the Germans for the job was out of the question. Instead, the Germans began filling the positions of barrack chiefs at Auschwitz with thirty criminals from a German prison.


Summits, Chapter 2, "Munich 1938," by David Reynolds, 2007

The Causes of the Second World War, by Andrew J. Crozier, 1997

Origins of the Second World War, by A J P Taylor, 1961

Goebbels, by Helmut Heiber, 1972

The Goebbels Diaries: 1939-1941, edited by Fred Taylor, 1982

Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England, by Lynne Olson, 2007

War Made New, Chapter 7, "Tanks and Terror," pages 212-40, by Max Boot, 2006

"The Kristallnacht Lie," by

Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Chapter 6 "The coming Bipolar World and the Crisis of the 'Middle Powers': Part Two, 1919-1942 ," Paul Kennedy, 1987

Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization, by Nicholson Baker, 2008

Additional Viewing

Debate: "Neville Chamberlain Did the Right Thing," by IQ squared, June 5, 2013

Movie: The Sorrow and the Pity (Le Chagrin et la Pitié), by Marcel Ophüls

Movie: Lacombe, Luciene, by Louis Malle

Other Reading

Albert Camus

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