Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz (ethnic German self-defense also known as Volksdeutsche Selbstschutz) units were a paramilitary organisation consisting of ethnic German members of the German minority in Poland that acted before and during World War II in the Second Polish Republic.
The Self Defense units were reintroduced during the late 1930s in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Self Defense activists worked to indoctrinate ethnic Germans and commit acts of terrorism against the Czech population in the Sudetenland. In Silesia, Selbstschutz militia were active on the German side of the Polish/German conflicts in the area. In 1921, its organized units resisted the Polish rebellion in the Third Silesian Uprising; which was aimed at seceding Upper Silesia from Germany. In the interwar period German minority organizations in Poland such as Jungdeutsche Partei (the young German party), Deutsche Vereinigung (United German), Deutscher Volksbund (German Race Union) and Deutscher Volksverband (German Race United) actively cooperated with Nazi Germany through espionage, sabotage, provocations and political indoctrination. They maintained close contact with and were directed by the NSDAP (Nazi Party), Auslandsorganisation (Foreign Affairs Organization), Gestapo (Secret Police), SD (Security Service) and Abwehr (Defense). It is estimated that 25% of the German minority in Poland were members of these organisations.
By October 1938, SD agents were organizing the Selbstschutz in Poland. Ethnic Germans with Polish citizenship were trained in the Third Reich in various sabotage methods and guerilla tactics. Even before the war, Selbstschutz activists from Poland helped to organize lists of Poles who later were to be arrested or executed in Operation Tannenberg -Special Prosecution Book-Poland (germ.Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen).
With the beginning of the Invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz units engaged in hostility towards the Polish population and military, and performed sabotage operations helping the German attack on the Polish state. In mid-September, the chaotic and autonomous activities of this organization were coordinated by SS officers. Gustav Berger was placed in charge of the organization and district commanders in occupied zones made by the German army were put in place — West Prussia, Upper Silesia and Warthegau.
While the SS leadership was limited to overseeing the operations, local units remained under the control of ethnic Germans who had proven their commitment at the beginning of the war.
Selbstschutz also organized concentration camps for Poles. Occasionally they were founded in places where Wehrmacht or German police units established camps. There were 19 such camps in the following places: Bydgoszcz (Bromberg), Brodnica (Strasburg), Chełmno (Kulm), Dorposz Szlachecki, Kamień Krajeński, Karolewo, Lipno (Lippe), Łobżenica, Nakło (Nakel), Nowy Wiec (near Skarszewy), Nowe (over Vistula), Piastoszyn, Płutowo, Sępólno Krajeńskie, Solec Kujawski (Schulitz), Tuchola (Tuchel), Wąbrzeźno (Briesen), Wolental (near Skórcz), Wyrzysk (Wirsitz). The majority of the Poles imprisoned in those camps (consisting of men, women and youth) were murdered in cruel ways.
After German invasion of Poland Selbstschutz worked together with the Einsatzgruppen in massacres of Poles. For example this organisation took part in first action of elimination Polish intelligentsia, the Mass murders in Piaśnica, during which between 12,000 and 16,000 civilians were murdered. An Intelligenzaktion was a plan to eliminate all Polish intelligentsia and Poland's leadership class in the country. These operations took place soon after the fall of Poland, lasting from the fall of 1939 until the spring of 1940. As the result in 10 regional actions 60,000 landowners, teachers, Polish entrepreneurs, social workers, military veterans, members of national organisations, priests, judges and political activists were killed. The Intelligenzaktions were continued by the German AB-Aktion operation in Poland.
By 5 October 1939, in West Prussia alone, Selbstschutz under the command of Ludolf von Alvensleben was 17,667 men strong, and had already executed 4,247 Poles, while Alvensleben complained to Selbstschutz officers that too few Poles had been shot. (German officers had reported that only a fraction of Poles had been "destroyed" in the region with the total number of those executed in West Prussia during this action being about 20,000. One Selbstschutz commander, Wilhelm Richardt, said in Karolewo (Karlhof) camp that he did not want to build big camps for Poles and feed them, and that it was an honour for Poles to fertilize the German soil with their corpses There was little opposition or lack of enthusiasm for activities of the Selbstschutz among those involved in the action. There was even a case where a Selbstschutz commander was relieved after he failed to account for all the Poles that were required, and it was found that he executed "only" 300 Poles.
After Invasion of Poland
The organization was ordered to be dissolved on 26 November 1939, yet this process continued until the spring of 1940. Among the reasons for this order were cases of extreme corruption, disorderly behaviour and conflicts with other organizations as well as excessive use of force. The existence of a large paramilitary organization of ethnic Germans with Polish citizenship that helped in the German war against Poland and engaged in widespread massacres of Poles served as one of the reasons for the expulsion of Germans after the war. According to German researcher Dieter Schenk, 1701 former members of Selbstschutz involved with atrocities were identified in post-war Germany; in 258 cases of judicial investigations, 233 of them were cancelled and only 10 Selbstschutz members sentenced by German courts. This situation was described by Schenk as a "disgrace for the German court system".
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