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Aktion Erntefest
File:Majdanek - Aktion Erntefest (1943).jpg
One of many mass graves of the
Nazi German Operation Harvest Festival
Location Majdanek concentration camp, occupied Poland
Coordinates 51°15′11″N 22°34′18″E / 51.25304°N 22.57155°E / 51.25304; 22.57155Coordinates: 51°15′11″N 22°34′18″E / 51.25304°N 22.57155°E / 51.25304; 22.57155
Date 1943
Target Primarily Jews
Attack type
Deaths 43,000
Perpetrators SS

Aktion Erntefest (German language: Operation Harvest Festival) was the mass shooting action by the SS conducted at the Majdanek concentration camp and its subcamps, purposed to liquidate all the remaining Polish Jews in the Lublin District and the Lublin Ghetto within General Government, including its entire slave-labour camp workforce. The operation took place on November 3, 1943.[1] Approximately 43,000 Jews were killed by the orders of Christian Wirth and Jakob Sporrenberg during the Aktion Erntefest thus concluding the Operation Reinhard.[2][3] Operation Harvest festival was the single largest German massacre of Jews in the entire war. It surpassed the notorious massacre of more than 33,000 Jews at Babi Yar outside Kiev by 10,000 victims. It was exceeded only by the 1941 Odessa massacre of more than 50,000 Jews in October 1941, committed by the Romanian troops.[4]


File:Christian Wirth in uniform.jpg

Christian Wirth as Sturmbannführer

The timing of the operation was apparently in response to several efforts by surviving Jews to resist the Nazis (for example, the uprisings at the Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps, and armed resistance in the Warsaw, Białystok, and Vilna ghettos). The SS feared additional Jewish-led revolts in the General Government,[5] ahead of the Soviet counter-offensive. To prevent further resistance the SS decided to kill most of the remaining Jews who were employed in slave-labor projects of the Ostindustrie (Osti) enterprise owned by the SS, while imprisoned at the Trawniki, Poniatowa, and Majdanek concentration camps with subcamps in Budzyn, Kraśnik, Puławy, Lipowa and others.[6] The inmates were ordered to dig anti-tank trenches unaware of their true purpose.[3]

The killings

"Erntefest" was the largest single-day, single-camp massacre of the Holocaust under direct German occupation,[7] totalling 43,000 in three nearby locations.[2] It began at dawn on November 3, 1943. The main camp as well as the Trawniki and Poniatowa subcamps of the Majdanek extermination camp were surrounded by SS and the Reserve Police Battalion 101 (a unit of the German Order Police from Hamburg) augmented by "Hiwis" (Trawniki men). Jews were then taken out of the camps in groups and shot in nearby pits dug specifically for this purpose.[8]

Eric Muhsfeldt at the Auschwitz Trial of 1947 in Kraków

At Majdanek, Jews were first separated from the other prisoners. They were then taken in groups to long and deep trenches and shot one-by-one under the leadership of pathological killer Eric Muhsfeldt (as described by Thernes himself).[9] At the main camp, 18,400 Jews were killed on November 3, 1943.[8] Jews from those other slave labor camps in the Lublin area were also taken to Majdanek and shot simultaneously. Music was played through loudspeakers at both Majdanek and Trawniki to drown out the noise of the mass shooting. The killing operation was completed in a single day at Majdanek and Trawniki. At Poniatowa the shootings took two days, because in one of the barracks Jews staged a revolt. To stamp it out the SS set it on fire and the killings went on as planned.[10]

At the conclusion of the Erntefest massacres, the district of Lublin was for all practical purposes judenfrei. The murderous participation of Reserve Police Battalion 101 in the Final Solution came to an end... For a battalion of less than 500 men, the ultimate body count was at least 83,000 Jews.

Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men [11]


  1. Browning 1992; 1998, p. 138.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Jennifer Rosenberg. "Aktion Erntefest". 20th Century History. Education. Retrieved 2013-04-16. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Aktion Erntefest". Interrogation of Sporrenberg – National Archives Kew WO 208/4673. Holocaust Research 2007. Retrieved 2013-04-17. 
  4. Browning 1992; 1998, p. 135-136.
  5. Holocaust Encyclopedia 2007.
  6. ARC (2004). "Erntefest". Occupation of the East. ARC. Retrieved 2013-04-26. 
  7. USHMM (May 11, 2012). "Soviet forces liberate Majdanek". Lublin/Majdanek: Chronology. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Lawrence, Geoffrey; et al., eds (1946). "The Trial of German Major War Criminals: Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany". London: HM Stationery Office. p. 111. .
  9. Narration (2013). "Anton Thernes answers questions at the Majdanek Trials. Historical film footage". Majdanek concentration camp. Part 2 of 5. Google+: real life sharing (from Official archives of the Republic of Poland). Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  10. Jakub Chmielewski (2013). "Obóz pracy w Poniatowej". Obozy pracy w dystrykcie lubelskim (Labor camps in the Lublin District). Leksykon Lublin. Retrieved 2013-04-26. 
  11. Browning, Christopher R. (1992; 1998). "Arrival in Poland" (PDF file, direct download 7.91 MB complete). Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. Penguin Books. pp. 141–142. Retrieved May 7, 2013. "Also: PDF cache archived by WebCite." 


  • Arad, Yitzhak: Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps. Indiana University Press, Indianapolis 1987.
  • Gilbert, Martin: The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York 1985.
  • Marszalek, Jozef: Majdanek: The Concentration Camp in Lublin. Interpress, Warsaw 1986.
  • Erntefest – Zapomniany epizod Zagłady: 3-4 listopada 1943', ed. W. Lenarczyk and D. Libionka, Państwowe Muzeum na Majdanku, Lublin, 2009, ISBN 978-83-925187-5-4.

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