Operation Reinhard

Operation Reinhard
Operation Reinhard
Treblinka Concentration Camp sign by David Shankbone.jpg
Sign from Treblinka railway station on display at Yad Vashem
Also known as German: Aktion Reinhardt
or Einsatz Reinhard
Location Occupied Poland
Date October 1941 - November 1943
Incident type Mass deportations to extermination camps
Perpetrators Odilo Globocnik, Hermann Höfle, Richard Thomalla, Erwin Lambert, Christian Wirth, Franz Stangl and others
Participants  Nazi Germany
Organizations SS Police Battalions
Camp Bełżec
Ghetto Białystok, Częstochowa, Kraków, Lublin, Łódź, Warsaw and others
Victims Approximately 2 million
Memorials On camp sites
Notes This was the most lethal phase of the Holocaust.
v · German: Aktion Reinhard or Einsatz Reinhard) was the code name given to the Nazi plan to murder Polish Jews in the General Government, and marked the most deadly phase of the Holocaust, the use of extermination camps. During the operation, as many as two million people were murdered in Bełżec, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka, almost all of whom were Jews.[1]



Originally, when the concentration camps were established in 1933, they were used for forced labour, imprisonment, and for re-education purposes, not for mass murder. But as the National Socialist regime developed, so did camp brutality. By the time of World War II, people were dying from starvation, untreated disease and murder in Germany and Austria, at places such as Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Mauthausen-Gusen.

By 1942, the Nazis had decided to undertake the Final Solution. This led to the establishment of the camps such as Bełżec, Sobibor and Treblinka which had the express purpose of killing thousands of people quickly and efficiently. These sites differed from those such as Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek because these also operated as forced-labour camps.[2]

The organizational apparatus behind the extermination program was developed during Aktion T4 when more than 70,000 German handicapped men, women and children were murdered between 1939 and 1941. The SS officers responsible for Aktion T4, such as Christian Wirth, Franz Stangl, and Irmfried Eberl, were all given key roles in establishing the death camps.

Operation's name

Reinhard Heydrich shown as a SS-Gruppenführer and General of the Police

It is hypothesized that the operation was named after Reinhard Heydrich, the coordinator of the Endlösung der Judenfrage (Final Solution of the Jewish Question) - the extermination of the Jews living in the European countries occupied by the German Third Reich during World War II. After the plans for the Final Solution were laid down at the Wannsee conference, Heydrich was assassinated by British-trained Czechoslovak agents. The attack was on 27 May 1942. Heydrich died of his injuries eight days later.

This has been disputed by some researchers who argue that, since the more mainstream designation of the operation was "Aktion Reinhardt" (with "t" after "d"), it could not have been named after Reinhard Heydrich. They argue that it was named after German State Secretary of Finance Fritz Reinhardt. However, official documents using Reinhard Heydrich's name were also written as "Reinhardt".[citation needed]

Death factories

SS and Police Leader Odilo Globocnik in charge of Operation Reinhard.

On 13 October 1941, SS and Police Leader Odilo Globocnik (headquarters in Lublin) received a verbal order from Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler to start immediate construction work on the first extermination camp at Belzec, in the General Government, Poland.

The construction of three more extermination camps, Sobibor, Chełmno, and Treblinka followed in 1942. During Operation Reinhard, Globocnik oversaw the systematic killing of more than 1.5 million Jews and non-Jews from Poland, and also Czechoslovakia, France, the Reich (Germany and Austria), the Netherlands and the Soviet Union. Although other arms of the Nazi state were also involved in the overall management of the greater concentration camp system, Globocnik had control over the Aktion Reinhard camps, and any orders that he received came directly from Himmler.[3]

The structure of all camps was nearly identical. From the reception area, with ramp and undressing barracks, the victims entered a narrow, camouflaged path (called tube) that led to the extermination area, with gas chambers, pits and cremation grids. The SS guards and Ukrainian Trawnikis lived in a separate area. Wooden watchtowers and barbed-wire fences, partially camouflaged with pine branches, surrounded these camps.

Unlike the camps such as Dachau or Auschwitz, no electric fences were used, as camp inmate numbers remained relatively low. Only a small number of Sonderkommando were used to assist arriving transport, for clearing away bodies, or for seizing property and valuables from dead victims. Periodically these groups would also be killed and replaced to remove any potential witnesses to the mass murder.

Extermination process

All the death camps used subterfuge and misdirection to operate efficiently. This element had been developed in Aktion T4 when patients were transferred by SS men wearing white coats to give the process an air of medical authenticity. After supposedly being assessed, the unsuspecting victims were then moved to a killing center for "special treatment". (The euphemism "special treatment" (Sonderbehandlung) was reused in the Holocaust.)

In a similar fashion, the SS used a variety of ruses to move new arrivals to the disguised killing sites to prevent unmanageable panic. Common factors included the presence of "medical personnel" or signs directing people to disinfection centers. Once victims had arrived in a designated area, the guards then asked everyone to voluntarily hand over their valuables. Collected items would eventually be sent to the Reichsbank via the Main SS Economic and Administrative Department. Next, everyone was ordered to get undressed. Later, their clothes would be searched for hidden jewellery and other valuables. Naked victims were then force-marched into the gas chamber. Once packed tightly inside (to minimize available air), the chamber doors were closed. Finally, gas, which was initially carbon monoxide made by a gas-driven engine, was discharged inside. Twenty to thirty minutes later, the gas doors would be re-opened. Bodies were then removed by special teams of camp inmates (Sonderkommando) given the job of disposing of the corpses in large mass graves.

The Höfle Telegram totals the numbers of people sent to the Aktion Reinhard Camps in 1942 as 1,274,166. It is likely nearly every one was killed shortly after arrival.

During the initial phases of Operation Reinhard, corpses were simply thrown into mass graves and covered with lime. However from 1943, the buried bodies were exhumed and burned in open air pits in order to hide the evidence of this war crime. But Reinhard still left a paper trail, an intercepted telegram sent by Hermann Höfle on 11 January 1943, to Adolf Eichmann in Berlin, listed 1,274,166 total arrivals to the four camps up until the end of 1942.

Temporary substitution policy

Around March 1942 in the General Government, a substitution policy developed for a short time in which Polish workers who were sent to the German Reich were gradually replaced with Jewish laborers. It became standard procedure to stop deportation trains from the Reich and Slovakia in Lublin in order to select able-bodied Jews for work in the General Government; the others were sent on to their deaths in Belzec. In this way, many Jews were temporarily spared death and instead relegated to forced labor. Hermann Höfle was one of the chief supporters and implementers of this policy.[4][5]

Disposition of the property of the victims

Approximately 178m German Reichsmark worth of Jewish property (current approximate value: around 700m USD or 550m Euro) was taken. This money went not only to German authorities, but also to single individual SS and police men involved; however, the SS judge Georg Konrad Morgen was not allowed to investigate further the apparent corruption in these camps.

Aftermath and cover up

A timetable listing the Jewish transports being sent to Treblinka on 25 August 1942.

Operation Reinhard ended in November 1943. Most of the staff and guards were then sent to northern Italy for further Aktion against Jews and local partisans. Globocnik went to the San Sabba concentration camp, where he supervised the detention, torture and killing of political prisoners.

At the same time, to cover up the mass murder of more than two million people in Poland during Operation Reinhard, the Nazis implemented the secret Sonderaktion 1005, also called Aktion 1005 or Enterdungsaktion ("exhumation action"). The operation, which began in 1942 and continued until the end of 1943, was designed to remove all traces that mass murder had been carried out. Leichenkommando ("corpse units") were created from camp prisoners to exhume mass graves and cremate the buried bodies, using giant grills made from wood and railway tracks. Afterwards, bone fragments were ground up in special milling machines and all remains were then re-buried in freshly dug pits. The Aktion was overseen by squads from the SD and Orpo.

After the war, some guards were tried and sentenced at the Nuremberg Trials for their role in Operation Reinhard and Sonderaktion 1005; however, many others escaped conviction such as Ernst Lerch, Globocnik's Chief of Staff.

Alternative reference

In a report he wrote in Polish custody in Kraków in November 1946, Rudolf Höss, the former Auschwitz commandant, described Operation Reinhardt as the code name given to the collection, sorting and utilization of all articles which were acquired as the result of the transports of Jews and their extermination.[6]

See also


  1. ^ "Aktion Reinhard" (PDF). Yad Vashem. http://www1.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/microsoft%20word%20-%205724.pdf. 
  2. ^ Sereny, Gita, The Healing Wound -- Experiences and Reflections on Germany 1938-1941, at 135-46, Norton, 2001 ISBN 0-393-04438-9
  3. ^ Saul Friedländer. The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945, p. 346.
  4. ^ Saul Friedländer. The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945, p. 347.
  5. ^ Christopher Browning. Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers. Cambridge, 2000, p. 71ff.
  6. ^ Höss, Rudolf. Commandant of Auschwitz. Phoenix Press, London, 2000, p. 194.

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