Action Saybusch (German: Aktion Saybusch, Polish: Akcja Żywiec) was the mass expulsion of some 18,000–20,000 ethnic Poles from the territory of Żywiec County in Polish Silesia, conducted by the Wehrmacht and German police during the German occupation of Poland in World War II. The main purpose of the forcible displacement of Polish nationals was to create space for German colonists from across Eastern Europe, after the annexation of western Poland into the Third Reich in 1939.
The Action was part of the Adolf Hitler's plan known as Lebensraum which involved Germanization of all Polish areas west of the territory allocated to the General Government. The name of the Action came from the German name of Żywiec – Saybusch. Displacements of the Poles from Żywiec and surrounding villages and towns was led by the occupation authorities under SS-Obersturmbannführer Fritz Arlt, who replaced Bruno Müller from RKF.
Aktion Saybusch lasted from September to December 1940, with some 3,200 Volksdeutsche brought in Heim ins Reich (Home into the Empire) from Romanian Bukovina. The process of expulsions continued thereafter. In total, between 1940 and 1944, around 50,000 Poles were forcibly removed from the region and replaced with about 4,000 settlers from Eastern Galicia and Volhynia who were given new latifundia. Before the German attack on the Soviet Union, their transfer was agreed upon by both invaders at the Gestapo–NKVD Conferences. The expulsions from eastern Silesia were the direct responsibility of the SS-Obergruppenführer Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, who was also responsible for instigating them.
Course of the expulsions
Already in December 1939, the Germans had begun to conduct police censuses across the entire region, collecting names of Poles targeted for deportation. Ghettoized Jews were not part of this plan. Everything was carefully prepared with schedules for the train transports, food rations, and a group of Gestapo functionaries who spoke Polish. The cost of the operation estimated at about 300,000 Marks was to be paid by the captives themselves. The Action began simultaneously at different locations on September 22, 1940, at 5 in the morning. The police and army units surrounded Polish settlements and entered individual homes ordering farmers to get out within 20 minutes. Eye-witness Helena Szatanikowa remarked that all instructions came from a warrant printed in Polish. Residents were requested to turn in all money and valuables. They were allowed to take with them only clothing and food, leaving behind everything else including livestock. They were marched and trucked to the so-called transit points in nearby towns of Żywiec, Rajcza, Sucha Beskidzka, Końskie and others. Meanwhile, the new settlers were already waiting at the distribution centers set up in Bogumin and Cieszyn. The Poles were subjected to selection, and separated into those "racially valuable" (for preferential treatment) and the rest, including women and children. Groups of young men were gathered for slave labor in Germany. According to German law all captives were to be supplied with necessities for 14 days; however, in practice they were stripped of the remnants of their own belongings in the process of luggage and body searches.
The assembly points at railway stations held about 1,000 people at the time; they were split into groups of 40 in line with already numbered rail cars. Each transport was usually sent separately, first to a railway junction in Łódź (for further selection), and from there to previously chosen locations across the General Government (Generalgouvernement in German). Poles were delivered to towns and villages in the vicinity of Biłgoraj, Wadowice, Radzymin, Łuków, and to the Lublin and Kielce governorates, where they were dropped off alone without any help. Moreover, the Germans had warned the local population that the arriving deportees were criminals, thus further worsening their plight. They were met with fear and only reluctant acceptance at their destinations. Many died during transport. Others were forced to beg. The whole displacement action was conducted by the Polizei-Battalion No. 82 (under Kegel) and Battalion No. 83 (under Eugen Seim, stationed in Jeleśnia) with approximately 500 soldiers as well as numerous SS, RKF and NSDAP functionaries including Katowice Gestapo officers.
Abandoned houses were cleaned and washed by forced laborers, mostly Jewish captives and some remaining Poles, who were later employed by the new farm-owners. Sheds deemed unsanitary were torn down. The department prepared swastika flags and portraits of Hitler to be placed at farms declared ready for occupation by the new Germans. Despite the Nazi propaganda campaign painting a rosy picture of their opulent future, the new hosts were not given the best of lands, which were reserved for the Reichsdeutsche who had served in the Wehrmacht. Many settlers were disappointed with the simple wooden cottages they were told to move into, and poor quality farmland. The Wartheland Gaue on their part, lamented the newcomers' cultural backwardness in comparison with most Poles and their inability to speak proper German. They were put under permanent police surveillance.
Aktion Saybusch officially ended on December 12, 1940, although the last transport (out of the total number of 19) was dispatched as late as January 31, 1941. On top of the 18,000–20,000 deportees sent across the border, some 8,000 Poles employed in local industries were moved away from their homes. It was a pilot project meant to be followed by similar actions, but in March 1941 SS-Obergruppenführer Hans Frank, Governor of General Government, objected to further overcrowding of his district. As a result, from 1942 on, Polish deportees were placed with other farmers in the poorest villages within the same territory of Silesia (Interne Umsiedlung), or sent to one of the new 23 camps called Polenlager, created especially for that purpose. By the end of war, about 50,000 Polish nationals were displaced from Żywiec and the surrounding area, nearly one-third of its population. In Polenlagers, further selections were carried out, including racial abductions of children from their parents, who after verification were sent to Lebensborn centers for Germanization. The displaced Polish farmers who returned to their homes in 1945 often found buildings razed or destroyed and everything else stolen by the settlers escaping the Soviet advance.
In the early 1990s, Action Saybusch was investigated by the Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes Against the Polish Nation at the Institute of National Remembrance in Katowice followed by a formal inquiry initiated in 1998 by Senator Władysław Bułka. After a series of announcements in the press, some 1,000 persons contacted IPN with personally collected data and supplementary materials, revealing the identities of many displaced families. According to Ewa Koj from IPN most living victims had already been interviewed. The investigation was limited by their advancing age and had to be discontinued on legal grounds. However, it was followed by a broad exhibit of documents and photographs collected in the process, and presented in many regional cities and towns including Katowice, Żywiec, Bielsko-Biała and others. The Nazi perpetrators of ethnic cleansing had already been sentenced during the Nuremberg trials. The IPN announced that discussing matters of war compensation was not within their mandate, which some living victims found disappointing.
Notes and references
- Anna Machcewicz (16 February 2010). "Mama wzięła ino chleb". Historia. Tygodnik Powszechny. Retrieved May 05, 2012.
- Mirosław Sikora (20 September 2011). "Saybusch Aktion - jak Hitler budował raj dla swoich chłopów". OBEP Institute of National Remembrance, Katowice (in Polish). Redakcja Fronda.pl. Retrieved May 05, 2012.
- Andreas Toppe (2008). Militär und Kriegsvölkerrecht: Rechtsnorm, Fachdiskurs und Kriegspraxis in Deutschland 1899-1940. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag. pp. 398–. ISBN 978-3-486-58206-2.
- Mirosław Sikora (16 September 2009). ""Aktion Saybusch" na Żywiecczyźnie". Reprinted by Nasz Dziennik. Institute of National Remembrance, Katowice. Retrieved May 05, 2012.
- Malwina Palińska (15 August 2002). "Pokrzywdzeni...". Trybuna, C/D/N. Nad Sołą i Koszarawą No. 16 (95), year 5. Retrieved May 05, 2012.
- Richard C. Lukas (2001). "Chapter IV. Germanization". Did the Children Cry? Hitler's War against Jewish and Polish Children, 1939-1945. Hippocrene Books. Retrieved May 08, 2012. "Project InPosterum. Preserving the Past for the Future"
- "Konferencja naukowa i wystawa „Aktion Saybusch. Wysiedlenia mieszkańców Żywiecczyzny przez okupanta niemieckiego 1940–1941” – Katowice, 13 maja 2011". Konferencja naukowa "Aktion Saybusch". Instytut Pamięci Narodowej. 2011. Retrieved May 05, 2012.
- "Prezentacja wystawy „Aktion Saybusch. Wysiedlenie mieszkańców Żywiecczyzny przez okupanta niemieckiego 1940–1941” – Bielsko-Biała, 28 września – 7 października 2011". Aktualności (in Polish). Instytut Pamięci Narodowej. 2011. Retrieved May 05, 2012.
- "Aktion Saybusch. Wysiedlenie mieszkańców Żywiecczyzny przez okupanta niemieckiego 1940-1941". Instytut Pamięci Narodowej o. Katowice. Wystawa (in Polish). Agencja Turystyki Beskidzkiej. 11 January 2011. Retrieved May 05, 2012.
- "Wysiedleni. Ekspozycja w żywieckim muzeum". Beskid Żywiecki. Turystyka (in Polish). Super-nowa.pl. 27 September 2010. Retrieved May 05, 2012.
- OPG WG (4 February 2011). "Aktion Saybusch". Węgierska-Górka: Wystawy. Zywiecczyzna.pl. Retrieved May 05, 2012.