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Eastern Europe Under Nazi Rule

Part IX

As the Nazis expanded their control over the Jews of Eastern Europe, there were numerous reports of widespread massacres and executions, mass arrests and forced labor, expulsions and depredations in the JTA, Der Tog, Congress Bulletin, Forward and other Jewish newspapers.

The precise number of Jews who had been murdered could not be established at this point. Based on information obtained from the World Jewish Congress, the JTA reported on December 18, 1939, that in Nazi-occupied Poland “about a quarter of a million Jews have been wiped out by military operations, executions, disease and starvation and that at least 80% of the remaining Jews had been reduced to complete beggary.”

On January 3, 1940, the JTA reported that the Germans were executing “an average of 200 Jews every day since the war began.” “This,” the JTA concluded, “would bring the total executions in the four months of the war to approximately 24,000.”

The Nisko-Lublin Plan:
A Jewish State in Poland

As the Germans increased the conquered territories under their domain, the total number of Jews under their control increased significantly. In addition to the approximately half million German, Austrian and Czech Jews under their control, they now had 2.1 million of the 3.3 million Jews in Poland.

On September 21, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich, head of the RSHA (Reich Security Main Office) met with Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo; Adolf Eichmann, an SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) and one of the key organizers of the Holocaust; and other high-level officials to decide how to remove all Jews living under German occupation by force. This was not the “Final Solution.” The Nazis had not yet decided to murder all the Jews of Europe.

At this point, the Nazis were experimenting with a territorial solution to purge themselves of the Jews. Hitler approved of expelling Jews to the Soviet Union, although he recognized this would require some time, since the Soviets would have to agree to this arrangement. Until an accord could be reached, Adolph Eichmann wanted to deport Jews from Vienna, the Czech Protectorate and western Poland to an area near the town of Nisko in southeast Poland in the Lublin district. From Nisko, they would be sent to the Soviet Union.

Saul Friedlander observed that no well-defined option of extermination had been devised, and no definite objectives could be identified. “A bottomless hatred and an inextinguishable thirst for a range of ever-harsher measures against the Jews was always very close to the surface in the minds of Hitler and his acolytes,” Friedlander found. “As both he and they knew that a general war was not excluded, a series of radical threats against the Jews were increasingly integrated into the vision of a redemptive final battle for the salvation for Aryan humanity.”

Initially, the American Jewish press reacted to reports of Hitler’s proposed “Jewish State” in Poland with considerable skepticism. This changed on October 6, 1939, when Hitler hinted at a plan for the solution of the Jewish problem in his speech to the Reichstag.

The Associated Press reported from Berlin on the same day that an authorized source had asserted that Hitler had thought “about a Jewish reservation within the Polish State where not only Polish and German Jews could live, but Jews from other lands.” According to The New York Times of October 7, 1939, the reservation would be modeled after an American Indian reservation, but would be larger than Palestine and would have at least 3,000,000 inhabitants at the outset.

By the middle of October, this skepticism could no longer be sustained. On October 12, 1939, the JTA reported that all Viennese Jews were to be deported to Galicia, Poland, and that the first group would leave the next day. As more reports continued to confirm Hitler’s intentions, the American Jewish press reacted with bitter indignation.

On October 22, 1939, the Forward charged that the Nazis were not interested in founding a Jewish state, but a concentration camp, where Jews would be held under the poorest conditions and suffer great deprivation. The American Jewish Committee declared, “If this fantastic plan is carried out, it would mean that 2,000,000 Jews now in Germany or in territories under German domination, would be confined in what would be a large concentration camp, where they would be doomed to degradation, misery
and death.”

The leadership of B’nai B’rith claimed that “if the plan is carried through, there is little doubt that hundreds of thousands—even millions—will simply die of starvation, disease and suicide.” According to the Jewish Morning Journal, the proposed reservation was only a new form of robbery designed to confiscate Jewish property and “squeeze ransom money out of their relatives abroad.”

In an editorial entitled “The New Ghetto,” Der Tog asserted that there “was no limit to the insanity of Hitler and to his abnormal animosity and hatred for the Jews.” Unlike past persecutions, Jews were now in a “permanent ceaseless pogrom. They were unable to catch their breath between one pogrom and the other.” Der Tog concluded by asking, “What can Jews expect from a state, such as proposed by Hitler?”

The London Times suggested an answer: “To thrust 3,000,000 Jews, relatively few of whom are agriculturists, into the Lublin region and to force them to settle there would doom them to famine.” “That, perhaps is the intention,” the editorial opined.

During the months of October and November 1939, almost 5,000 were deported to Nisko from Vienna and the Czech town of Moravská Ostrava, Yehuda Bauer noted, where they would be used as forced labor and expected to die from starvation and disease. The deportations were terminated at the end of 1939.

By Alex Grobman, PhD

Alex Grobman, a Hebrew University-trained historian, has written three new books on Israel: “BDS: The Movement to Destroy Israel,” “Erosion: Undermining Israel Through Lies and Deception” and “Cultivating Canaan: Who Owns the Holy Land?” He also wrote “Nations United: How the UN Undermines Israel and the West.” He is a consultant to the America-Israel Friendship League, a member of the Council of Scholars for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and a member of the Academic Council of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

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