Trawniki concentration camp
|Trawniki concentration camp|
|Forced labour and the SS training facility|
Original German map of the Trawniki camp as of June 21, 1942. Left side: slave labor camp for condemned Jewish prisoners. Centre-left: supply road with two gates, north and south. On the right side: training compound for the Hiwi shooters around the military training plaza (1) located to the north of former sugar refinery (hand-coloured in brown, with kitchen). German SS quarters (with infirmary and storeroom) hand-coloured in red (east). Comandant's house lower down.
From the original German legend:
|Original use||POW camp for 1941 Operation Barbarossa|
|Operational||1941 – November 1943|
|Killed||at least 12,000 Jews |
The Trawniki concentration camp was set up by Nazi Germany in the village of Trawniki about 40 kilometres (25 mi) southeast of Lublin during the occupation of Poland in World War II. Throughout its existence the camp served a dual function. It was organized on the grounds of the former Polish sugar refinery of the Central Industrial Region, and subdivided into at least three distinct zones.
The Trawniki camp first opened after the outbreak of war with the USSR, intended to hold Russian POWs, with rail lines in all major directions in the General Government territory. Between 1941 and 1944, the camp expanded into an SS training facility for collaborationists auxiliary police, mainly Ukrainian. And in 1942, it became the forced-labor camp for thousands of Jews within the KL Lublin system of subcamps as well. The Trawniki inmates provided slave labour for the nearby industrial plants of SS Ostindustrie to work in appalling conditions with little food.
There were 12,000 Jews imprisoned at Trawniki as of 1943 sorting through train sets of clothing delivered from Holocaust locations. They were all massacred during the Operation Harvest Festival on November 3, 1943 by the units of Trawniki men augmented by the Reserve Police Battalion 101 from Hamburg. The first camp commandant was Hermann Hoefle, later replaced by Karl Streibel.
Concentration camp operation
The Nazi German camp at Trawniki was first established in July 1941 to hold Soviet prisoners of war captured in the Soviet occupied eastern Poland after the implementation of Operation Barbarossa. The new barracks behind the barbed-wire fence were erected by the Red Army prisoners and soon, the camp became the SS-Arbeitslager meant for the Polish Jews from across General Government. Within a year, under the management of Odilo Globocnik, the camp included a number of forced labour workshops such as the fur processing plant (Pelzverarbeitungswerk), the brush factory (Bürstenfabrik), the bristles finishing (Borstenzurichterei), and the new branch of Das Torfwerk in Dorohucza.
The Jews who worked there from June 1942 to May 1944 as forced labour for the Nazis were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto as well as selected transit ghettos across Europe (Germany, Austria, Slovakia), initially under Operation Reinhard, and from September 1943 as part of the Majdanek concentration camp system of subcamps such as the Poniatowa concentration camp and several others.
From September 1941 until July 1944, the expanded camp was also utilized for the training of Schutzmannschaften recruited directly from other POW camps. They were known as "Hiwi" (German abbreviation for 'Hilfswilligen', lit. "those willing to help"), for service with Nazi Germany in the General Government. In 1941 Globocnik had selected Karl Streibel from Operation Reinhard as the key person for that initiative. Streibel visited all new Soviet POW camps in the vicinity with the assistance of his officers and recruited Ukrainian, Latvian and Lithuanian "volunteers" as ordered.
The German SS trained 2,500 Hiwi Wachmänner (police guards), known as Trawniki men (Trawnikimänner) at Trawniki training camp between September 1941 and September 1942; for the total of 5,082 men before the end of 1944, organized into two Sonderdienst battalions.:366 Although the majority of Trawniki men or Hiwi came from among the prisoners of war, there were also Volksdeutsche from Eastern Europe among them, valued because of their ability to speak Ukrainian, Russian, Polish and other languages of the occupied territories. All the officers at Trawniki were ethnic Germans, and most of the squad commanders were Volksdeutsche. The Trawniki men took major part in Operation Reinhard, the Nazi plan to exterminate Polish Jews. They also served at extermination camps and played an important role in the annihilation of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (see the Stroop Report).
Key role of Trawniki men in the Final Solution
The "Trawniki men" (German: Trawnikimänner) were deployed at all major killing sites of the "Final Solution" – it was their primary purpose of training. They took an active role in the executions of Jews at Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka II, Warsaw (three times), Częstochowa, Lublin, Lvov, Radom, Kraków, Białystok (twice), Majdanek as well as Auschwitz, not to mention Trawniki itself.
Between 70 and 120 Trawniki Hiwi men (wrote Kudryashov) were selected to act as the guard unit at each of the Reinhard death camps and came under the jurisdiction of the relevant camp commandant. Almost all of the Trawniki guards were involved in shooting and beating Jews at some point in their careers. The Russian historian Sergei Kudryashov, who made a study of the Trawniki guards, claimed that there was little sign of any attraction to National Socialism or anti-Semitism with the Trawniki men. Most of them volunteered in order to leave the POW camps and/or because of self-interest. This statement however, is contradicted by information provided by Holocaust historian Christopher R. Browning (Ordinary Men) who wrote that Hiwis "were screened on the basis of their anti-Communist (and hence almost invariably anti-Semitic) sentiments." Despite the generally apathetic views of the Trawniki guards, the vast majority faithfully carried out the SS's expectations of how to treat Jews, and that mistreatment of Jews was "systematic and without any particular cause". Many, though not all of the Trawniki men as part of their training executed Jews. Following the lead of the American historian Christopher Browning in his 1992 book Ordinary Men, Kudryashov argued that the Trawniki men were examples of how ordinary people could become willing killers.
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The Hiwi shooters were assigned to the worst of the "on-the-spot dirty work" by Hauptsturmführer Karl Streibel (wrote Browning), so the Germans from the parallel Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the Ordnungspolizei "would not go crazy" from the horror of hands-on killing for hours or days on end. Trawnikis used to arrive in squads numbering around 50 at the killing site, and start by sitting down to a sandwich and bottles of vodka from their knapsacks behaving like guests, while the Germans dealt with unruly crowds of thousands of ghetto inhabitants: as in Międzyrzec, Łuków, Radzyń, Parczew, Końskowola, Komarówka and all other locations.
Trawnikis shot so fast and so wildly that the German policemen "frequently had to take cover to avoid being hit." They were seen as indispensable. In Łomazy, the Germans were "overjoyed" to see them coming after the messy Józefów massacre. The killing in Międzyrzec was conducted by a Trawniki unit of about 350 to 400 men, the same as in Parczew. Some Nazi Ordnungspolizei felt uneasy about killing non-Jewish Poles. Their unit shot 4,600 Jews by September 1942, but only 78 Poles (a grossly disproportionate number). In contrast, the Hiwis, saw ethnic Poles as equal opportunity offenders. When they got too drunk to show up in Aleksandrów, Major Wilhelm Trapp ordered the release of prisoners rounded up for mass execution.
Later careers of Trawniki personnel
The Trawniki training camp was dismantled in July 1944 because of the approaching frontline. The last 1,000 Hiwis forming the SS Battalion Streibel led by Karl Streibel himself, were transported west to continue their dirty deeds at the still functioning death camps. The Jews of the adjacent labor camp were long-dead and incinerated by a Sonderkommando from Milejów and executed on site upon the completion of their task by the end of 1943. The Soviets entered the completely empty facility on July 23, 1944. After the war, they captured and prosecuted hundreds, possibly as many as one thousand Hiwis who returned home to USSR. Most were sentenced to a Gulag, and released under the Khrushchev amnesty of 1955.
The number of Hiwis tried in the West was very small by comparison. Six defendants were acquitted on all charges and set free by a West German court in Hamburg in 1976 including commandant Streibel. The main difference between them and the Trawnikis apprehended in Russia was that the former claimed lack of awareness and left no live witnesses who could testify against them, while the latter were charged with treason and therefore were doomed from the start. In the U.S. some 16 former Hiwi guards were denaturalized.
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