The project presented here is a contribution to a history competition organised by the Stefan-Bathory-Foundation and the Karta Centre in 1999 under the title "The Most Important Event in the History of My Home Town. Witnesses and Testimonies"; it was handed in by Marcin Bartoń, son of the Mayor of Skierbieszów and then in his last year of high school. Based on the accounts of eye witnesses, he reconstructed the local history and events of November 1942, when the Germans deported the inhabitants of his native town of Skierbieszów.
Project Idea and Motivation of the Author:
Marcin Bartón gives the following reasons for the choice of his topic: "The history of a place is determined by the fate of its inhabitants. The issues I have described, i.e. war, expulsion and "resettlement", were of such importance for every single inhabitant of my home town at that time that the events of November 1942 will remain the most important period in the entire history of Skierbieszów for a very long time." The population of Skierbieszów went through everything that the Nazis had designed for the colonisation and »Germanisation« of the Zamość region. The region was to become a "stronghold" for the further eastward expansion of Germany. Marcin Bartón's family keeps remembering these catastrophic events. He writes: "I am 17 years old. Skierbieszów is my home town. The most important historical event for its inhabitants has been »Pacification« with its catastrophic consequences. There is no family in Skierbieszów that has not lost at least one member due to the cruel actions of the occupant. My family encompasses several generations, and the partisan stories told by my grandfather as well as the sad stories told by my grandmother, who was imprisoned 'behind barbed wire' in Zamość as a child, were told time and again. I want to describe this tragic period in the rich history of Skierbieszów."
Historical Introduction: The Plan for the Zamość Region
Operation Barbarossa started on 22 July 1941, when Germany attacked her former ally, the Soviet Union. From then on, the Generalgouvernement (GG) [Government General] gained a new strategic importance. In mid-July 1941, Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS and chief of the Reichspolizei, appeared in the Lublin region on the invitation of Odilo Globocnik, the bloodthirsty head of the SS and police. Himmler visited Lublin, Zamość and the surrounding areas and listened to what he was told about the traditions of the German colonies there. While Himmler visited cemeteries and other traces of German presence, Globocnik unfolded to him the vision of a total »Germanisation« of the region and its possible use as a point of departure for conquering the East.
Himmler was dazzled by these grand plans and appointed Globocnik as his authorised representative without even informing the administration of the Generalgouvernement. He ordered to set up a concentration camp for 25,000 – 30,000 prisoners and to prepare for a huge settlement area for Germans, to identify inhabitants of German descent and to set up schools and workshops for them. After some preparations, the implementation of the plan took off in 1942. Himmler had pointed out the districts of Zamość and Lublin as the first resettlement areas. It was agreed to work out the details of the operation until the end of September and to choose mid-November as the most suitable starting time.
Globocnik's staff worked on a detailed expulsion and resettlement plan all through August and September. It was planned to evict all Polish inhabitants from the area; for this purpose, the entire population had to be divided into four main categories:
Categories I and II comprised persons with Nordic looks, to be selected for »Germanisation«. They were to be separated from the rest and brought to Lodz, where their "racial characteristics" were to be finally established.
Category III comprised of persons fit for work who were to be sent to the Reich as forced labourers; persons not fit for work (i.e. children under the age of 14 and persons over the age of 60) were to be taken to so-called "Rentendörfer" ("pension villages"). Part of the children were to be »germanised« later on. Category IV comprised of all those who were to be taken to concentration camps, most of them to Auschwitz (persons not fit for work, sick and disabled persons and "racially unsound" persons).
On 22 November 1942, Globocnik issued a decree with details concerning the "resettlement" of the Zamość area. Shortly before the start of the operation, he ordered to set up a "special task unit" of 500 men, to be selected from the 25th police regiment at Lublin.
Already in November 1942, towards the end of the preparations for expulsion and "resettlement", the Umsiedlungszentrale (centre for resettlement) – Zamość division took over the former prisoners of war camp at the ulica Lubelska for their purposes.
The "resettlement" operation started in the night of 27 November 1942 at 01:00h. The inhabitants of the villages of Skierbieszów, Zawoda, Lipina Nowa und Sady were evicted on this day, three more nearby villages followed on the second day.
The author collected the reports of four women from Skierbieszów who had lived through the expulsion and resettlement operation as children. They described the operation itself, which left only those in the villages who had been selected as cheap labourers and those who had subscribed to the »Volksliste« [list of ethnic Germans living in Poland].
They described the terrible conditions at the transition camp at Zamość, where people were selected and distributed among different shacks [see Document no. 1: Report of Maria Szewera and Document no, 2: Report of Wanda Bartoń]. Then there were more selections determining people's further fate which often ended in the separation of families.
Some family members were relocated, like Wanda Bartoń who was taken to a village near Garwolin with her mother and one of her brothers, or Maria Szewera, who found herself in Żelechów; others were deported to the Reich as forced labourers, like Helena Cwener who was taken to a Berlin munitions factory with her parents [see Document no. 3]. But those who were taken to Auschwitz suffered the worst fate; for them it meant almost certain death [see Document no. 4: Report of Emilia Kostruba]. According to German records, more than 2,000 persons from the Zamość region were taken to Auschwitz, 768 of them in December 1942. Polish witnesses report that 48 boys were among this transport; 39 of them were killed by an injection of phenol into their hearts in February 1943.
The expulsions lasted until June 1943. Then expulsion and resettlement operations became more and more difficult for the Germans due to increasing partisan activities. Partisans attacked the German troops when they tried to clear villages, set fire to the settlements of German colonists and disturbed or sabotaged the railway traffic. During the 17 months of the Zamość uprising - from 31 December 1943 to the total expulsion of the Germans – there were about 850 battles and combats.
However, the consequences for the Zamość region were dreadful. A total of 290 villages were evicted or »pacified«. 120,000 persons were expelled, among them about 30,000 children; out of those, about 13,000 died and 4,500 were abducted to Germany to be »germanised«.
Among the many reports collected by the author, there are none of those who may have survived but could never come back. Thousands of children, from the age of a couple of months to a couple of years, were selected for »Germanisation« and forcibly taken away from their families. Their places of residence in Germany were kept secret, all traces of their true identity were deleted from their documents. Even if "abducted children" were saved from final deportation some of them were stolen or "bought" by the Polish population along the railway tracks where these ghost trains passed – many of them never regained their true identity.
translated by Margrit Mueller