German occupation of Polish territory (1939-1945)

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German occupation of Polish lands 1939-1945

Administrative division of occupied Polish lands after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. The map shows the status until 1944.

Time of conflict

September 1, 1939 – May 1945



Multimedia at Wikimedia Commons

September 1939: German soldiers and policemen of the 1st WMG State Police Regiment destroy a Polish border barrier and Poland’s emblem in Gdynia-Kolibki[a].

Wehrmacht troops enter Warsaw. October 1, 1939

German occupation of Polish lands 1939-1945[1] – a system of police-military[2] German administration, introduced in the central and western parts of the national territory of the Republic of Poland (RP), occupied by the Wehrmacht after the armed aggression against Poland undertaken by the Third Reich on September 1, 1939, and after the division of Polish territory occupied by the Wehrmacht and the Red Army as a consequence of the German-Soviet Treaty on Borders and Friendship of September 28, 1939, following the aggression of the USSR against Poland and the occupation of the eastern territories of the Second Republic by the USSR.

Poland suffered the greatest biological and material losses in terms of population among the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition during World War II. 6 million 28 thousand Polish citizens lost their lives. However, only 11% (644 thousand) died as a result of warfare. 5 million 380 thousand were victims of the occupiers’ extermination actions. Of these, 22% died in prisons, concentration camps and other places of extermination. Physically crippled 530 thousand people during the occupation, and mentally crippled 60 thousand. The level of tuberculosis was above average, as 1 million 140 thousand people fell ill. The birth rate decreased by 1 million 215 thousand people. The German occupiers displaced 2 million 478 thousand people, deported 3 million people to forced labor to the Reich or other occupied countries[3].

Poland suffered huge material losses. Wartime destruction had a catastrophic effect on national income, the value of which fell in 1945 to 38.2% of the value of pre-war income. Equally great were Poland’s losses in culture, education and science. The Nazis destroyed or looted 43% of Poland’s cultural output. Research institutes, scientific societies and foundations were almost completely destroyed[4].

Table of contents

1 Beginnings of the German occupation in Poland

1.1 Provisional administration in the occupied areas 1.2 Concepts of a Polish “residual state”

2 Division of occupied areas

3 Polish territories annexed by the Third Reich

3.1 Administration and police 3.2 German judiciary

4 General Government

4.1 Administration and police

5 Terror of the occupiers

5.1 Extermination of the Jewish population 5.2 Resistance movement

6 Losses 7 See also 8 Notes 9 Footnotes 10 External links

Beginning of the German occupation in Poland[edit | edit code].

Hostage Rev. Kazimierz Stepczynski among hostages before execution, Bydgoszcz – September 1939

Execution of Poles after the beginning of the German occupation in the Old Market Square in Bydgoszcz, September 9, 1939

Separate article: September campaign.

Provisional administration in occupied areas[edit | edit code].

As a result of Poland’s defeat in the defensive war, Germany occupied a territory of 188,000 sq. km. (48.2% of the area of the Second Republic) and about 22 million people (about 63% of the population of the Second Republic). On September 1, immediately after the start of the war, the Free City of Danzig was incorporated into the Reich by an act of the Reichstag. Temporarily (formally from Oct. 3 to Oct. 25), power in German-occupied Poland was exercised by the Supreme Command in the East (Ober-Ost) headed by Col. Gen. Walther von Brauchitsch; Col. Gen. Gerd von Rundstedt; from Oct. 20 by Gen. Johannes Blaskowitz, while the head of the civil administration from Sept. 13, 1939 was Hans Frank.

On September 15, 1939, Hans Frank, who was appointed head of the civil administration of the occupied Polish territories, received directives from Hitler, according to which the Polish lands were to be treated as a war and conquest area and were to be exploited without mercy, making them a debris in economic, social, cultural and political terms[5].

See Wikiresources for the text of the Proclamation of the Commander-in-Chief of the German Land Forces, Gen. Col. Walther von Brauchitsch, to the population of the occupied areas of Poland, dated September 1, 1939

Concepts of the Polish “residual state”[edit | edit code].

Initially, German authorities considered various plans for the future of Polish lands occupied by Germany. There was a project to incorporate the western part of Poland into Germany, especially those areas that were part of the German Empire before 1914[6]. In the remaining area, it was envisaged to create a puppet Polish “residual state” (German: Reststaat) – completely dependent politically, economically and militarily on the Third Reich. On September 29, 1939, Adolf Hitler expressed his intention to divide the German-occupied Polish areas into three parts:

  1. the area between the Vistula and Bug rivers (Lublin region) – intended for Jews resettled from other Polish areas, as well as from the German Reich,
  2. over the existing Polish-German border a belt of Germanization and colonization,
  3. in between, Polish “statehood.”

Hitler also made suggestions for the establishment of a new Polish state on German terms in his October 6, 1939 speech,[7] while in a conversation with Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano on October 1, 1939, he stated that an autonomous “Reststaat” with features similar to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia could be established between the Polish lands incorporated into the Reich and Lublin (which was to be an area for Jews) – but the condition was that Great Britain and France make peace with Germany.

In November 1939 – already after the establishment of the General Government and the incorporation of western Polish lands into the Reich – Baron William de Ropp, a representative of British circles willing to compromise with Germany, received information from a representative of the German Foreign Ministry about plans to establish such a state formation between the new eastern border of the Reich and the eastern border of the GG[8].

In the end, however, in view of the impossibility of questioning the legitimacy of the Polish authorities in exile, the disagreement of the governments of Great Britain and France with the German terms, the strong opposition of the USSR to the idea of leaving even a vestigial Polish state,[9] and the absence in Poland of politicians and circles willing to collaborate with the Germans (with the exception of Władysław Studnicki, whose offers of cooperation the Germans rejected), the Germans abandoned these plans.

Division of occupied areas[edit | edit code].

On October 8, 1939, by decree of Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Germany included: Pomerania, the Poznań province, part of the Łódź province with Łódź, Upper Silesia, the Dąbrowa Basin, the western districts of the Kraków province, the northern part of the Warsaw province and the Suwałki region. Some 93,000 square kilometers inhabited by some 10 million people, including some 600,000 Germans, were annexed.

On October 12, 1939, under the Reich Chancellor’s Decree on the Administration of Occupied Polish Lands Not Incorporated into the Reich, the General Government was established with Hans Frank as governor general. The GG included part of the Warsaw province with Warsaw, part of the Lodz province, the Kielce province, the Lublin province, the rest of the Cracow province and part of the Lvov province. The area of the GG was 96,000 square kilometers with a population of 12 million.

Under the German-Slovak agreement of November 21, 1939, 52 municipalities with an area of 700 km² were incorporated into Slovakia.

See Wikiresources for the text Proclamation of Governor General Hans Frank of October 26, 1939

Under the Friendship and Border Treaty concluded between Germany and the USSR on September 28, 1939, 200,000 km² of the eastern territories of the Republic of Poland, along with 13 million people, came under Soviet occupation.

On June 22, 1941, after the start of the Soviet-German war, the Bialystok District covering some 31,000 km² with a population of 1.6 million was annexed to the Reich. Included in the GG were the territories of the Lvov, Stanislawow and Ternopil provinces – henceforth forming the Galicia District. Thus the area of the GG expanded to 145,000 km² inhabited by nearly 17 million people. In 1941, after occupying the entire territory of the pre-war Second Republic, its remaining territories were incorporated into the Reich Commissariat Ukraine and the Reich Commissariat East.

Polish territories annexed by the Third Reich[edit | edit code].

Separate article: Territory of the Republic of Poland annexed by the Third Reich.

German policy in the lands annexed to the Reich was aimed at their complete Germanization. This goal was intended to be achieved by germanizing a portion of the population deemed racially suitable and forcing some Polish citizens to sign the German nationality list, the so-called Volkslist. The remaining Polish population was intended to be exterminated or deported to the General Government. Between 1939 and 1940, some 750,000 Poles from Silesia, Greater Poland and Pomerania were deported to the GG. Extermination purposes were served by camps. At the end of August 1939, a police camp was established in Stutthof (initially intended for residents of Gdansk and Pomerania of Polish nationality). At the end of 1939, camps were also established for Poles in Skalmierzyce, Potulice, Poznań, Łódź, Działdów, Toruń and Inowrocław. In place of Poles forced to leave these areas, German colonists were settled, as well as Baltic Germans evacuated from the Baltic States 1939/1940.Confiscation of property, and deportation for forced labor deep into the Reich were also used.

On November 20, 1939, the seized Polish lands were incorporated into the German currency system. With the exception of Danzig and the Tìšín area, a police border was maintained between the Reich and the incorporated lands. A special organization of the administration and judiciary was introduced to implement German nationality policy. Polish administrative and local government judicial bodies were abolished.

Administration and police[edit | edit code].

German soldiers breaking into a house in one of the cities of western Poland in September 1939

Most of the territory incorporated into the Reich was divided administratively into districts:

Danzig-West Prussia Wartheland

The remainder of the incorporated territory was incorporated into Prussia: into the provinces of East Prussia (northern Mazovia, from which the Ciechanów regency was created; Suwałki, Działdowo, after 1941 Białostockie) and Silesia (the Silesian province and western Małopolska, from which the Katowice regency was created).

The districts were divided into regencies, which in turn were divided into urban and rural districts. The central Reich office for the incorporated lands was the Minister of the Interior. The Reich District administration was headed by a governor appointed by the Reich Chancellor, who was also the head of the NSDAP. The governors were at the same time Reich Defense Commissars and plenipotentiaries of the Reich Commissioner for the Consolidation of Germany. The governor of the Danzig-West Prussia district was Albert Forster, and of the Wartheland was Arthur Greiser.

At the district level, administration was headed by the district governor, who also exercised NSDAP leadership in his area. The administration of the rural district was headed by the starosta, and that of the urban district by the mayor. They were also party leaders.

Police authority in the districts and provinces of the incorporated lands rested in the hands of the SS and police commanders. Police functions were greatly expanded compared to the territories of the “old” Reich. This was the result of the goals of German policy seeking to subjugate and exterminate the Poles. The SS and police carried out the German objectives of exterminating the Jews and exercised summary justice against enemies of the Third Reich. In addition to the police, in 1939 there was a so-called German self-defense (Selbstschutz) consisting of Germans living in Poland.

German judiciary[edit | edit code].

There were general courts, special courts and secret courts exercised by the SS and police in the incorporated territories. A decree issued by the Minister of Justice on November 26, 1940 established the Higher Land Court, which was the highest judicial instance. The lower instance was the National Court and the lowest was the District Court. In the early days of the military occupation, special courts were established. Wartime field courts and military summary courts were established. Field courts dealt with cases of espionage and partisan activities. Such a court sentenced to death the defenders of the Polish Post Office in Gdansk. Military summary courts heard cases of speeches against the German army and for possession of weapons. After the end of hostilities, their functions were taken over by civilian special courts, established while the war was still in progress.

General Government[edit | edit code].

General Governorate

Separate article: General Governorate.

Contrary to international law, the occupied territories of Poland were treated as a permanent war conquest. In particular, the occupied territory of the General Government was treated virtually as a colony, providing low-skilled and slave-like Polish labor for the Third Reich’s war economy. To this end, forced labor was imposed on Poles between the ages of 18 and 60, later lowering the age limit to 14. Polish forced laborers from the GG (and Polish territories annexed by the Third Reich) worked under harsh living conditions in the Reich, both in German agriculture, industry and transportation, as well as in labor camps, concentration camps and branches of the Organisation Todt.

Economic exploitation in the GG was carried out mainly through a robber economy, especially in industry, where looting of industrial substance and natural resources was systematically carried out. Agriculture was subjected to a system of crop quotas, failure to comply with which resulted in prison or death penalties for farmers. The lack of food on the market resulted in the introduction of a system of food rationing and the permanent malnutrition of entire population groups.

The property of the Polish state and its institutions, the property of Polish citizens and numerous works of art, were confiscated or placed under receivership through specially created Third Reich trust organizations.

Administration and police[edit | edit code].

Monument commemorating the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Bieszczady from German occupation.

Separate article: Administrative division of the General Government 1939-1945.

The General Government was divided into four administrative units, the so-called districts (German: Distrikt): krakowski, lubelski, radomski, warszawski, and from June 22, 1941 (after the German aggression against the USSR), the fifth district of Galicia. Only Polish municipalities and village administrations were left in place. The GG authorities also allowed the activities of the Polish fire department, the Polish Red Cross and the Central Welfare Council.

The General Government’s power structure had the characteristics of a parastatal, dependent entirely on the German Reich. The GG was headed by Governor General Hans Frank (German: Generalgouverneur), who held office in Krakow. Poland’s previous capital Warsaw served only as the seat of government for the Warsaw District. The Governor General exercised power by issuing ordinances and with the help of the Office of the Governor General (German: Amt des Generalgouverneurs), which on December 9, 1940 was transformed into the Government of the General Government (German: Regierung des Generalgouvernements). It was headed by Josef Bühler. In addition to German special courts, which dealt with, among other things, issuing death sentences for acts prohibited by Hans Frank’s decrees (e.g., arbitrarily interpreted “anti-German acts”), courts were left to deal with criminal and civil cases involving Poles.

In the General Government, an elaborate police-military apparatus served the occupier’s goals; the Sipo (German: Sicherheitspolizei) security police included formations – Gestapo (German: Geheime Staatspolizei), Kripo (German: Kriminalpolizei) and SD (German: Sicherheitsdienst). The order police was the Orpo (German: Ordnungspolizei). There were also border police (German: Grenzpolizei) and other branches of auxiliary police formations (railroad, factory, forestry, postal, etc.). The Polish police were left behind, creating the Polish Police of the General Government (the so-called “granatowa policja”). The granatowa police had little authority over the Germans, performing mainly law and order and security functions.

Terror of the occupiers[edit | edit code].

Separate article: German crimes in Poland (1939-1945).

Extermination of the Jewish population[edit | edit code].

Separate article: Extermination of Jews in Polish lands during the German occupation.

Resistance[edit | edit code].

Separate articles: The Polish Underground State and the Polish resistance movement during World War II.

Occupation policies and widespread terror aimed at the population, resulted in the rapid emergence of organized resistance. As repression intensified, the underground movement grew, resulting in the formation of the Polish Underground State. The resistance movement carried out sabotage, sabotage actions (both militant and clandestine), guerrilla warfare and ad hoc armed actions for specific military purposes.

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