(Operation Harvest Festival) - a programme of concentrated large scale mass executions to
liquidate all Jews in the remaining workcamps in the
district. This final
and on base of his
officially mentioned security
reasons to justify the action. It was obviously a result of the
In fact, it is difficult to say that the rest of the Jews who were held in the concentration camp
) could be dangerous
for the Germans. They were the last survivors of the liquidated ghettos, most of them from
. Such as Jews from
, and a smaller group from
Holland and France, having been selected from the transports to
. This SS company was
, to exploit the
Jewish manpower and realize the Jewish victims' property. In the
. The equipment was
confiscated from the liquidated ghettos. Material for the production was taken from the
plundered Jewish property in the death camps and ghettos. The network of camps in the
was one of the biggest centres of compulsory work in occupied Europe: Around 45,000
Jewish prisoners worked for the SS.
that this "Empire of Jewish Work" could be taken over by the Inspectorate of Army Supplies
The final decision about it was taken by
. The decision was based on security aspects, and
's personal ambitions.
He didn't want the SS to lose their control of these camps.
The Jewish prisoners who worked in the camps in the Lublin
district and in other
districts still had the hope and illusion that they will survive because the Third Reich
them as specialist workers. Still they could not believe that all decisions about
their future were taken on the base of ideological reasons in Berlin
economical aspects were not so important. Of course, Himmler
knew very well that
during the liquidation of the camps the Jewish resistance could be possible - they had
the examples from the Warsaw
Therefore, the whole operation was prepared secretly. According to Himmler
orders all camps in the Lublin
district should be liquidated at the same time.
According to the statements by Jakob Sporrenberg
(Higher SS- and Police Leader)
in the Lublin
the first information about the planned massacre was known already by end of August
that year and
the SS and Police Leader in the Generalgouvernment
, was informed about this operation
at the same time.
The final decision to liquidate the entire Jewish labour camp workers was taken by
in the second half of October 1943
Several days before the executions the prisoners of Majdanek, Trawniki, Poniatowa
and smaller camps were ordered to dig ditches. They were told that they had to build
anti-aircraft ditches. During this time among the inmates there were rumors that
something special will happen. Of course, nobody believed that all Jewish camps would
be liquidated and the people had the hope they would survive. This illusion was also
based on the fact that shortly before the executions both the Schultz Company
and Többens Company
got new requests for work. At the
still massive amounts of unsorted clothes were
stored, taken from the Jews.
The operation was given the code-name Erntefest
(Harvest Festival). To carry out the murder of thousands
of Jewish prisoners, SS units were transferred to Lublin
. Also police units (Polizei-Batallion 101
involved in the operation. A final conference, outlining the details connected with the mass execution, was
organized the night before Erntefest
was recalled from
(Italy), to supervise this operation.
, former Sonderinspekteur
, represented Odilo Globocnik
former HSSPF Lublin
and head of Aktion Reinhard
supervised the executions at Majdanek
concentration camp too.
On 3 November 1943
, early in the morning, KZ Majdanek
and the Trawniki
work camp were surrounded by SS and Police units. The roll call that day was very
short and the SS men ordered the non-Jewish prisoners to return to their barracks.
The Jewish prisoners were transferred to Field No. 5, close to the crematorium and
execution ditches. At the same time other prisoners were brought to Majdanek
other camps in Lublin
, such as Airfield Camp,
(Jewish soldiers) and Sportplatz
. On Field No. 5
the Jewish inmates were locked in barracks.
One barrack was used as undressing barrack where everybody had to strip and leave
money and valuables. The people were taken by groups of 100 and killed in the trenches
by machine guns. Group after group of naked people had to run to the trenches and
lay down on the bodies of the already killed and wounded.
Whilst columns of thousands of people marched to their death, loud music was played
from two loud-speaker cars, marches and waltzes by Johann Strauss
The music was used to drown the noise of the shots and screams of the murdered people.
This day at Majdanek
became known as "Black Wednesday" and was
described by non-Jewish prisoners who were in the camp at that time. Altough the
music was played, Polish prisoners heard the shots and screams. Also people who lived
within a short distance of around 3-4 km from the camp on the eastern suburb of
, heard the music, shots and screams.
During the executions at Majdanek
an act of resistance occurred. The Jewish
women who were locked in a barrack on Field No. 5, seeing the Jewish soldiers from the camp on
, started to scream, pleading for their lives. That same moment
several Jewish soldiers started to fight with the SS men escorting them. Three of the SS men were
killed or injured but all people who resisted, were shot on the way to the ditches.
Many Jews, locked in the barracks, collapsed and the group of Jewish doctors and nurses
from the Revier
At the end of the executions a group of about 400 Jewish women and men were selected
and transferred to Field No. 4. The women had to segregate the belongings of the
victims. The men were divided into several groups. This Sonderkommando
used to cremate the bodies of the murdered people, after having examined the bodies for
gold teeth, which were extracted.
The executions lasted from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m.. Everything was organized by the SS
like a combat operation at the front. Every hour reports about the number of killed
people were sent to Sporrenberg
who resided in Sporrenberg
During the executions the SS men from Majdanek
also participated in the action.
observed the massacre from an airplane. The estimates about
the number of victims at Majdanek
concentration camp vary. Various sources state
the number of killed between 16,000 and 18,000. It was the biggest mass execution in one day, in the whole
history of German atrocities during WW2.
These horrible months are remembered by every old inhabitant of Lublin
Old Lubliners stated that the smoke and stench of burning bodies was realized in the whole town.
After burning the bodies at Majdanek
, members of the Sonderkommando
were sent to other places in the Lublin
district where other mass
executions took place. They had to excavate the mass graves and burn the bodies.
There are four known testimonies written by Jewish
survivors of the Erntefest
. The Sonderkommando
was executed probably in Poniatowa
Only two Jews escaped: Josef Reznik
. The selected women were transferred to
in March 1944
. On the way to
Birkenau Ida Mazower
escaped, all others were sent to the gas chambers. One survivor,
transferred to the
He survived even the last executions in this prison during July 1944
On 3 November
the camp in Szebnie
district) was liquidated.
About 2,000 Jews who were selected from earlier deportations from the Krakow
district to the Belzec
death camp, were executed during the Erntefest
in the forest near Szebnie
. 800 prisoners from
were finally deported to
Also on 3 November 1943
the work camp in Trawniki
The prisoners were executed at the border of this SS training camp. Together with the Jews from
(most of them worked for Schultz Company
), several hundred
work camp were executed. Among the prisoners were
members of the Jewish Fighting Organisation. The resistance fighters were surprised by the camp liquidation and no
resistance took place. The Polish inhabitants of Trawniki
executions from the attics and roofs of their houses. Most of the testimonies about
these executions are from these people. During the executions about 200 people were
selected. From this group only 2 survivors are known. During the Erntefest
about 10,000 Jews were killed.
Close to Trawniki
another camp existed in 1943
a small camp in the village Milejow
About 200 Jewish prisoners produced food for SS and Wehrmacht
in the local jam factory.
This camp was not liquidated that day. A small group of its prisoners was transferred
, whilst others were sent to
where they were executed together with the members of the
in late 1943
On 4 November 1943
small camps in Pulawy
county were liquidated.
about 14,000 prisoners were executed and here the underground
organization organized some resistance. Only two survivors of Poniatowa
known. There was also resistance during the final liquidation of the Pulawy
camp. In this camp, which was located near a local saw mill, a group of about 400 prisoners (among them also Jewish
soldiers from Lipowa 7
camp and Slovakian Jews) fought the SS. During this fight
several people escaped, their fate is not known. About 100 Jewish prisoners were executed at the
same time in a small work camp near the Naleczow
The next executions were organized in the Galicia district. On 13-14 November 1943
camp on Janowska Street
Around 4,000 Jews were killed in the "Sands"
- a place which was used
for earlier executions of Lviv
Jews between 1942 and
. During the liquidation of the Janowska
camp, a group of prisoners
organized acts of resistance and several of them could escape.
was the only district where the Jewish work camps were not
liquidated. Thousands of Jews in this district were imprisoned in the camps that belonged mainly to Hasag
. In Radom
district only two camps belonged to Osti Company
The camp on Szkolna Street
the camp in Blizyn
. Because of negotiations between German
industrialists and the SS, all Jewish work camps in the Radom
connected with the Main Inspectorate for Supplies in the Generalgouvernement
. About 25,000 Jewish inmates were
held in these camps. Here also a wave of selections took place in November 1943
Mainly women with children were executed. Only the people who were able to work were left in the camps.
operation did not involve the Jewish labour camps which were connected
production or building airfields. The biggest camp was in
where the prisoners
worked for the Hermann Göring Werke
. This camp, with around 3,000 Jews, became a subcamp
. In Krasnik
was under personal supervision of the SS- and Police Leader in Lublin district. 300 Jewish workers who
had to work there until July 1944
, survived. Other Jewish fourced labourers survived
also in Deblin, Biala Podlaska
because these camps were supervised by the Luftwaffe
until the end.
During the two Erntefest
days 42,000 Jews were executed.
Testimonies and documents from the Archive of the State Museum Majdanek in Lublin
Testimonies from the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw
The materials from the investigations organized by the Regional Commission for the
Investigations of the Nazi Crimes in Poland, Archive of the Institute for the National
Rememberance in Lublin
Christopher R. Browning: "Ordinary Men. Reserve Police Battalion 101 and Final Solution
in Poland". HarpersCollins Publishers 1998. (Polish issue: "Zwykli ludzie. 101. Policyjny
Batalion Rezerwy i 'ostateczne rozwiazanie' w Polsce". Warszawa 2000.)
Helge Grabitz; Wolfgang Scheffler: "Letzte Spuren. Ghetto Warschau, SS-Arbeitslager Trawniki,
Aktion Erntefest". Berlin 1988
© ARC 2004