Operation Tannenberg

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Operation Tannenberg
Unternehmen Tannenberg
Operation Tannenberg, 20 October 1939. The mass murder of Polish townsmen in Reichsgau Wartheland (western Poland)
LocationGeneral Government (German-occupied Poland)
DateSeptember 1939 – January 1940
Attack type
Genocidal massacre, mass shooting
Deaths20,000 deaths in 760 mass executions by SS Einsatzgruppen
PerpetratorsNazi Germany Nazi Germany

Operation Tannenberg (German: Unternehmen Tannenberg) was a codename for one of the anti-Polish extermination actions by Nazi Germany. The shootings were conducted with the use of a proscription list (Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen), compiled by the Gestapo in the two years before the invasion of Poland.[1]

The secret lists identified more than 61,000 members of the Polish elite: activists, intelligentsia, scholars, clergy, actors, former officers and others, who were to be interned or shot. Members of the German minority living in Poland assisted in preparing the lists.[1]

Operation Tannenberg was followed by the shooting and gassing of hospital patients and disabled adults, as part of the wider Aktion T4 programme. [2][a]


Polish teachers from Bydgoszcz guarded by members of Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz before execution

Following the orders of Adolf Hitler, a special unit dubbed Tannenberg was created within the Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt). It commanded a number of Einsatzgruppen units formed with Gestapo, Kripo and Sicherheitsdienst (SD) officers and men who were theoretically to follow the Wehrmacht (armed forces) into occupied territories. Their task was to track down and arrest all the people listed on the proscription lists exactly as it had been compiled before the outbreak of war. The plan was finalized in May 1939 by the Central Office II P (Poland).[4]

The first phase of the action occurred in September 1, 1939, and was perpetrated by the Einsatzgruppen, with assistance from the Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz and local SA militias. Many listed targets were killed. Some officials were beaten and mutilated. Pregnant women were also not spared.[2]

Massacres of hospital patients[edit]

Remaining building of former SS at Soldau concentration camp in Iłowo-Osada, location of first gas van experiments by SS-Sonderkommando Lange using Polish hospital patients

After the extermination of the Polish elite, patients from Polish hospitals were murdered in Wartheland (Wielkopolska) by Einsatzgruppe VI men. They were led by Herbert Lange, who was under the command of Erich Naumann. He was appointed commandant of the first Chełmno extermination camp soon thereafter.[5] By mid-1940, Lange and his men were responsible for the murder of about 1100 patients in Owińska, 2750 patients at Kościan, 1558 patients and 300 Poles at Działdowo who were shot in the back of the neck; and hundreds of Poles at Fort VII where the mobile gas-chamber (Einsatzwagen) was first developed along with the first gassing bunker.[6]

According to the historian Peter Longerich, the hospital massacres were conducted on the initiative of Einsatzgruppen, because they were not ordered by Himmler.[7] Lange's experience in the mass killing of Poles during Operation Tannenberg was the reason why Ernst Damzog, the Commander of Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) and SD stationed in occupied Poznań (Posen) placed him in charge of the SS-Sonderkommando Lange (special detachment) for the purpose of mass gassing operations which led to the eventual annihilation of the Łódź Ghetto.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The second phase of Operation Tannenberg referred to as the Unternehmen Tannenberg by Heydrich's Sonderreferat began in late 1939 under the codename Intelligenzaktion and lasted until January 1940, in which 36,000–42,000 people, including Polish children, died in Pomerania before the end of 1939.[3]

Footnotes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Unternehmen Tannenberg - August 1939: Wie der SD den Überfall auf Polen vorbereitete (III) bei wissen.spiegel.de (PDF file, direct download). Archived 2009-07-06 at the Wayback Machine (in German)
  2. ^ a b Semków 2006, pp. 46–48.
  3. ^ Semków 2006, pp. 42–50.
  4. ^ Peter Longerich (2012), War and Settlement in Poland. Heinrich Himmler: A Life. OUP Oxford, pp. 425–429. ISBN 0199592322.
  5. ^ Artur Hojan; Cameron Munro (2015). "Nazi Euthanasia Programme in Occupied Poland 1939-1945". Overview of the liquidation of the mentally ill during actions on the Polish territory (1939-1945). The Tiergartenstrasse 4 Association, international centre for the documentation, study and interpretation of Nazi crimes. Nazi Euthanasia in European Perspective conference, Berlin, Kleisthaus, Feb. 28-30, 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  6. ^ Holocaust Research Project.org (2007). "Lange, Herbert; SS-Hauptsturmführer". Chelmno Death Camp Dramatis Personae. Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team. Retrieved 2013-05-13.
  7. ^ Longerich 2012, p. 430.
  8. ^ Epstein, Catherine (2010). "A Blonde Province: Resettlement, Deportation, Murder". Model Nazi: Arthur Greiser and the Occupation of Western Poland. Oxford University Press. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-19-161384-5. Retrieved 8 November 2015.


  • Verbatim transcript of Part I of the book The German New Order in Poland published for the Polish Ministry of Information by Hutchinson & Co., London, in late 1941. The period covered by the book is September, 1939 to June, 1941.

Further reading[edit]

  • Chrzanowski, Bogdan; Ciechanowski, Konrad; Drywa, Danuta; Ferenc, Ewa; Gąsiorowski, Andrzej; Gliński, Mirosław; Grabowska, Janina; Grot, Elżbieta; Orski, Marek; Steyer, Krzysztof (2000). Monografia obozu KL Stutthof [KL Stutthof Monograph] (in Polish). Państwowe Muzeum Stutthof w Sztutowie. Archived from the original (Internet Archive) on 2009-01-22. Organization, Prisoners, Subcamps, Extermination, Responsibility.
  • Jean Maridor, La Station de Radiodiffusion de Gleiwitz (Gliwice) - L'Opération TANNENBERG. (in French)
  • Szcześniak, Andrzej Leszek (2001). Plan zagłady Słowian - Generalplan OST [Plan of Extermination of the Slavs - Generalplan OST]. Radom: Polwen. ISBN 83-88822-03-9.
  • Spiess, Alfred; Lichtenstein, Heiner (1989). Unternehmen Tannenberg. Der Anlass zum Zweiten Weltkrieg. Korrigierte und erweiterte Ausgabe [Operstion Tannenberg The cause of the Second World War. Corrected and Expanded edition]. Ullstein-Buch (Nr. 33118: Zeitgeschichte). Frankfurt/M, Berlin: Ullstein. ISBN 3-548-33118-1.