Saturday, April 25, 2009

Extermination Planning and Forced Labour Needs

In the Occupied Eastern Territories, the Wehrmacht, SS and civil administration had complex relationships of co-operation and tension. They co-operated in killing actions, but also had conflicts concerning how much Jewish labour would be retained at each stage of the genocide. Below are two contemporary quotes from senior German figures in the Belorussia region that provide insights into those processes.

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The first extract comes from the KdS Minsk, Strauch, who has already been discussed in these blogs. On 8th-10th April, 1943, Strauch attended a gebietskommissars council meeting in Minsk in which he made this statement:
When the civil administration arrived it already found economic enterprises operated by the Wehrmacht aided by Jews. At a time when the Bielorussians wanted to murder the Jews, the Wehrmacht cultivated them. In that way Jews reached key positions and it is difficult today to remove them completely, for then the enterprises are liable to be destroyed, something we cannot allow ourselves. I am of the opinion that we can confidently say that of the 150,000, 130,000 have already disappeared. 22,000 are still alive in the area of the Gebietskommissariat [source: YV TR-10/808, cited by Cholawsky, p.64].
Strauch suggested that half (11,000) could be removed without causing undue difficulties:
I therefore want to request of you that, at least, the Jew disappear from any place where he is superfluous. We cannot agree to Jewish women polishing shoes...We will cut the number down to half without causing economic difficulties.
Strauch was thus frustrated by the fact that Jews could not be removed completely yet he still felt confident enough to request a 50% reduction in a population that had already been reduced from 150,000 to 22,000.

This willingness to overcome forced labour constraints was also shared by some civil leaders, who were under pressure to reduce the pressures on the food supply. There was a delicate balance between viewing Jews as essential workers and seeing them as useless eaters; and the administrators who were wedded most fanatically to Nazi antisemitic dogma were inclined to finally arrive at the latter perspective. This is most clearly apparent in the report written by the Gebeitskommissar for Slonim, Gerhard Erren, on 25th January 1942, which stated that:
[…] Upon my arrival here there were about 25,000 Jews in the Slonim area, 16,000 in the actual town itself, making up over two-thirds of the total population of the town. It was not possible to set up a ghetto as neither barbed wire nor guard manpower was available. I thus immediately began preparations for a large-scale action. First of all property was expropriated and all the German official buildings, including the Wehrmacht quarters, were equipped with the furniture and equipment that had been made available…the Jews were then registered accurately according to number, age and profession and all craftsmen and workers with qualifications were singled out and given passes and separate accommodation to distinguish them from the other Jews. The action carried out by the SD on 13 November rid me of unnecessary mouths to feed. The some 7,000 Jews now present in the town of Slonim have all been allocated jobs. They are working willingly because of the constant fear of death. Early next year they will be rigorously checked and sorted for a further reduction […]

[…] The best of the skilled workers among the Jews will be made to pass their skills on to intelligent apprentices in my craft colleges, so that Jews will finally be dispensable in the skilled craft and trade sector and can be eliminated.
Erren not only saw the need for Jewish labour as temporary, he took pro-active steps to ensure that non-Jews would be trained in the crafts currently occupied by Jews "so that Jews will finally be dispensable in the skilled craft and trade sector and can be eliminated."

In the case of Slonim, therefore, the timing of genocidal acts was very carefully planned, and could be implemented without resistance because the civil administration and SS were in accord. In the case of Minsk, by contrast, the SS (Strauch) had to negotiate with the civil administration (Kube), and the Wehrmacht, which was the main employer of Jewry in the region, and thus the pace of killing was slower.

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