The General Government, also sometimes General Governorate (German language: Generalgouvernement, Polish language: Generalne Gubernatorstwo , Ukrainian language: Генеральна губернія ) was an occupied area of the Second Republic of Poland that was under Nazi German rule during the duration of World War II, from 1939 to early 1945. The Nazi government designated the territory as a separate administrative region of the Third Reich. It included much of central and southern Poland, western Ukraine, and included the major cities of Warsaw, Kraków, and Lviv. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, the region of Eastern Galicia, formerly Polish territory which was invaded and annex by the Soviet Union subsequent to the Nazi–Soviet pact, was incorporated into the General Government.
In terms of international and civil law, all of these acts were illegal from their inception, according to section III of the Fourth Hague Convention (1907) accepted by Germany. The area was not a puppet state; its rulers had no goal of cooperating with Poles or Ukrainians throughout the war, regardless of their political orientation. The Nazi authorities made a determined effort to avoid even mentioning the name "Poland" in government correspondence. The only exception to this were the German-backed banknotes and coins (called zloty and grosz) printed in 1940 in which the word was used for propaganda purposes. The government and administration of the General Government was composed entirely of Germans, with the intent that the area was eventually to become an ethnic German province. According to the Heim ins Reich initiative the only locals remaining were to be those of German descent.
The full title of the regime in German until July 1940 was the Generalgouvernement für die besetzten polnischen Gebiete, a name that is usually translated as the General Government for the Occupied Polish Territories. On 31 July 1940 governor Hans Frank, on Hitler's authority, shortened the name to just Generalgouvernement. A more literal translation of Generalgouvernement would be General Governorate. The correct translation of the term "Gouvernement" is not government but actually governorate, which is a type of administrative division or territory. The area was also known colloquially as the Restpolen ("Remainder of Poland").
The designation General Government was specifically chosen[by whom?] in reference to the Government General of Warsaw, a civil entity created in the area by the German Empire during World War I. This 1914–1918 district existed together with an Austro-Hungarian-controlled Military Government of Lublin alongside the short-lived Kingdom of Poland of 1916-1918, a similar rump state formed out of the then-Russian parts of Poland.
After the attack on Poland all areas (including the Free City of Danzig) that were occupied by the German army initially fell under military rule. This area extended from the 1939 eastern border of Germany proper and East Prussia up to the Bug River where the German armies had halted their advance and linked up with the Soviet Red Army. Under the initial Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty concluded in August the territory between the Vistula and Bug rivers was assigned to the Soviet sphere of influence in divided Poland, while Warsaw was to be jointly ruled city between the two powers. To settle this deviation from the original agreement the German and Soviet representatives met again on September 28 to delineate the permanent border between the two countries. Under this revised version of the pact the territory concerned was exchanged for the inclusion of Lithuania into the Soviet sphere, which was similarly allotted originally to the other power, namely Germany. With the new agreement the entire central part of Poland, including the core ethnic area of the Poles came under sole German control.
Hitler decreed that large parts of the occupied Polish territory in the western half of the German zone were to be annexed directly to the German Reich to increase its Lebensraum. Most of these areas were organized as two new Reichsgaue, Danzig-West Prussia and Wartheland. The remaining three regions, the so-called areas of Zichenau, Eastern Upper Silesia and the Suwalki triangle were attached to adjacent Gaus of Germany. Draconian measures were introduced to facilitate their immediate Germanization, typically resulting in mass expulsions, especially in the Warthegau. The remaining parts were to become a German Nebenland (March, borderland) as a frontier post of German rule in the east. The Government General was established by the Führer's decree of October 12, 1939, which came into force on October 26, 1939. Hans Frank was appointed as the Governor-General of these occupied territories. A sharp contrast was therefore made between the new Reich territory and a supposedly occupied rump state that could serve both as a bargaining chip with the western powers as well as a pool reservoir of slave labor. A closed border was also established between the two German zones to heighten the difficulty of cross-frontier communication between the different segments of the Polish population.
The official name chosen for this new administration was the Generalgouvernement für die besetzten polnischen Gebiete (General Government for the Occupied Polish Territories), then changed to the Generalgouvernement (General Government) by the Frank's decree of July 31, 1940. However, this name did not imply anything about the actual nature of the administration. These Polish territories, apart from the short period of military administration during the actual Invasion of Poland, was never at any point considered to be an occupied territory by the German authorities. The Nazis considered the Polish state to have effectively ceased to exist with its defeat in the September campaign, and that the demise of the Polish nation would follow; the very nationhood of the Polish people was to be simply eradicated.
Overall, 4 million of the 1939 population of the General Government area had lost their lives by the time the Soviet armed forces had entered the area in late 1944. If the Polish underground killed a German, 50–100 Poles were executed as a punishment and as a warning to other Poles.
As the Soviets advanced through Poland in late 1944 the General Government collapsed. Hans Frank who governed the region, was captured by American troops in May 1945 and was one of the defendants at the Nuremberg Trials. During his trial he converted to Catholicism. Frank surrendered forty volumes of his diaries to the Tribunal and much evidence against him and others was gathered from them. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and on October 1, 1946, he was sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out on October 16.
German intentions regarding the region
"(...) The General Gouvernment is our work force reservoir for lowgrade work (brick plants, road building, etc.,etc.).(...) Unconditionally, attention should be paid to the fact that there can be no "Polish masters"; where there are Polish masters, and I do not care how hard this sounds, they must be killed. (...) The Fuhrer must emphazize once again that for Poles there is only one master and he is a German, there can be no two masters beside each other and there is no consent to such, hence all representatives of the Polish intelligentsia are to be killed. (...) The General Gouvernment is a Polish reservation, a great Polish labor camp." - note of Martin Borman from the meeting Dr. Hans Frank with Adolf Hitler, Berlin 2 October 1940.
In March 1941 Hans Frank informed his subordinates that Hitler had made the decision to "turn this region into a purely German area within 15–20 years." He explained that "Where 12 million Poles now live, is to be populated by 4 to 5 million Germans. The Generalgouvernement must become as German as the Rhineland." By 1942, Hitler and Frank had agreed that the Kraków ("with its purely German capital") and Lublin districts would be the first areas to be repopulated with German colonists. Hitler stated that "When these two weak points have been strengthened, it should be possible to slowly drive back the Poles". It was subsequently German policy that a small number of (non-Jewish) Poles, like other Slavic peoples, were to be reduced to the status of serfs, while the rest would be deported or otherwise eliminated and eventually replaced by German colonists of the "master race."
Various plans regarding the future of the original population were drawn, with one calling for deportation of about 20 million Poles to Western Siberia, and Germanisation of 4 to 5 million; although deportation in reality meant many Poles were to be put to death, a small number would be "re-Germanized," and young Poles of desirable qualities would be kidnapped and raised in Germany. In the General Government, all secondary education was abolished and all Polish cultural institutions closed.
In 1943, the government selected the Zamojskie area for further Germanization on account of its fertile black soil, and German colonial settlements were planned. Zamość was initially renamed to Himmlerstadt (Himmler City), but this was later changed to Pflugstadt (Plough City). The Polish population was expelled with great brutality, but few Germans were settled in the area before 1944. Himmler intended the city of Lublin to have a German population of 20-25% by the beginning of 1944, and 30-40% by the following year, at which time Lublin was to be declared a German city and given a German mayor.
The exact territorial reorganization of the Polish provinces in the event of German victory in the east was never definitively resolved. Large parts of western pre-war Poland had already been annexed upon the establishment of the General Government, and the remaining region was also intended to be directly incorporated into the German Reich at some future date. Numerous initiatives to this effect were discussed by the Nazi leadership.
The earliest such proposal (October/November 1939) called for the creation of a separate Reichsgau Beskidenland which was to encompass several southern sections of the Polish territories conquered in 1939 (around 18,000 km2), stretching from the area to the west of Kraków to the San river in the east. At this time the Łódź area had not yet been directly annexed by Germany, and served as the capital of the General Government rather than Kraków.
In November 1940, Gauleiter Arthur Greiser of Reichsgau Wartheland argued for Hitler that the counties of Tomaschow Mazowiecki and Petrikau should be transferred from the General Government's Radom district to his Gau. Hitler agreed, but since Frank refused to surrender the counties, the resolution to the border question was postponed until after the final victory.
Upon hearing of the German plans to create a "Gau of the Goths" (Gotengau) in the Crimea and the Southern Ukraine after the start of Operation Barbarossa, Frank himself expressed his intention to turn the district under his control into a German province called the Vandalengau (Gau of the Vandals) in a speech he gave on 16 December 1941.
When Frank unsuccessfully attempted to resign his position on 24 August 1942, Nazi Party Secretary Martin Bormann tried to advance a project to dissolve the General Government altogether and partition its territory into a number of Reichsgaue, arguing that only this method could guarantee the territory's Germanization, while also claiming that it could also be economically exploited more effectively, particularly as a source of food. He suggested separating the "more restful" population of the formerly Austrian territories (because this part of Poland had been under German-Austrian rule for a long period of time it was deemed more racially acceptable) from the rest of the Poles and to cordon off the city of Warsaw, as the center of "criminality" and underground activity.
The proposed administrative streamlining resulting from these discussions was opposed by Ludwig Fischer (governor of Warsaw), who prepared his own project in his Main Office for Spatial Ordering (Hauptamt für Raumordnung) located in Warsaw. He suggested the creation of the three provinces Beskiden, Weichselland ("Vistula Land"), and Galizien (Galicia and Chelm) by dividing the Radom and Lublin districts between them. Weichselland was to have a "Polish character", Galizien a "Ukrainian" one, and the Beskiden-province to provide a German "admixture" (i.e. colonial settlement). Further territorial planning carried out by this Warsaw-based organization under Major Dr. Ernst Zvanetti in a May 1943 study to demarcate the eastern border of "Central Europe" (i.e. the Greater German Reich) with the "Eastern European landmass" proposed an eastern German border along the "line Memel-Odessa".
In this context this study propagated a re-ordering of the "Eastern Gaue" into three geopolitical blocks:
- a western group with the Gaue Danzig-Westpreußen, Wartheland, and Schlesien (Silesia);
- a central group with the Gaue Ostpreußen (East Prussia), Südpreußen (South Prussia), Litzmannstadt (Łódź), and Beskidenland;
- and an eastern group with the Gaue Südostpreußen (South-East Prussia), Wolhynien (Volhynia and the Lublin district), Galizien, and Podolien (Podolia).
"No government protectorate is anticipated for Poland, but a complete German administration. (...) Leadership layer of the population in Poland should be as far as possible, disposed of. The other lower layers of the population will receive no special schools, but are to be oppressed in some form". - The excerpts of the minute of the first conference of Heads of the main police officers and commanders of operational groups led by Heydrich's deputy, SS-Brigadefuhrer Dr. Werner Best, Berlin 7 September 1939.
The General Government was administered by a General-Governor (German: Generalgouverneur) aided by the Office of the General-Governor (Amt des Generalgouverneurs), changed on December 9, 1940 to the Government of the General Government (Regierung des Generalgouvernements). For the entire period of its history, there was only one General-Governor (Dr. Hans Frank) and the Office (later, the Government) was headed by Chief of the Government (Regierung, title translated also as the State Secretary or Deputy Governor) Josef Bühler. Several other individuals had powers to issue legislative decrees in addition to the General Governor, most notably the Higher SS and Police Leader of General Government (Friedrich Wilhelm Krüger, later Wilhelm Koppe).
The General Government had no international recognition. The territories it administered were never either in whole or part intended as any future Polish state within a German-dominated Europe. According to the Nazi government the Polish state had effectively ceased to exist, in spite of the existence of a Polish government-in-exile. Its character could be compared to a type of colonial state, combined with many characteristics of a police state. It cannot be seen as a Polish puppet government, as there were no Polish representatives on anything but the local levels.
The government seat of the General Government was located in Kraków (German: Krakau) rather than the traditional Polish capital Warsaw for security reasons. The official state language was German, although Polish continued to be used to a large degree as well, especially on the local levels. Several institutions of the old Polish state were retained in some form for ease of administration. The Polish police, with no high-ranking Polish officers (who were arrested or demoted), was renamed the Blue Police and became subordinated to the Ordnungspolizei. The Polish educational system was similarly kept, but most higher institutions were closed. The Polish local administration was kept, subordinated to new German bosses. The Polish fiscal system, including the złoty currency, was kept, but with revenues now going to the German state. A new bank was created, and was issuing new banknotes.
The Germans sought to play Ukrainians and Poles off against each other. Within ethnic Ukrainian areas annexed by Germany, beginning in October 1939, Ukrainian Committees were established with the purpose of representing the Ukrainian community to the German authorities and assisting the approximately 30,000 Ukrainian refugees who fled from Soviet-controlled territories. These committees also undertook cultural and economic activities that had been banned by the previous Polish government. Schools, choirs, reading societies and theaters were opened, and twenty Ukrainian churches that had been closed by the Polish government were reopened. A Ukrainian publishing house was created in Cracow, which despite having to struggle with German censors and paper shortages was able to publish school textbooks, classics of Ukrainian literature, and the works of dissident Ukrainian writers from the Soviet Union. By March 1941 there were 808 Ukrainian educational societies with 46,000 members. Ukrainian organizations within the General Government were able to negotiate the release of 85,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war from the German-Polish conflict (although they were unable to help Soviet POWs of Ukrainian ethnicity).
After the war, the Polish Supreme National Tribunal declared that the government of the General Government was a criminal institution.
Other than summary German military tribunals, no courts operated in Poland between the German invasion and early 1940. At that time, the Polish court system was reinstated and was allowed to continue decision making in cases not concerning German interests or citizens, for which a parallel German court system was created. The German system was given priority in cases of overlapping jurisdiction.
New laws were passed, discriminating against the Poles, and in particular, the Jews. In 1941 a new criminal law was introduced, introducing many new crimes, and making the death penalty very common. A death penalty was introduced for, among other things:
- on October 31, 1939, for any acts against the German government;
- on January 21, 1940, for economic speculation;
- on February 20, 1940, for spreading sexually transmitted diseases;
- on July 31, 1940, for any Polish officers who did not register immediately with the German administration (to be taken to prisoner of war camps);
- on November 10, 1941, for aiding the Jews (including providing food);
- on July 11, 1942, for farmers who failed to provide requested contingents of crops;
- on July 24, 1943, for not joining the forced labor battalions (Baudienst) when required;
- on October 2, 1943, for impeding the "German Reconstruction Plan";
The police in the General Government was divided into:
- Ordnungspolizei (OrPo) (German)
- Blue Police (Polish under German control)
- Sicherheitspolizei (German)
Military occupation forces
Through the occupation Germany diverted a significant number of its military forces to keep control over Polish territories.
|Timeperiod||Wehrmacht||Police and SS
(includes German forces only)
(high number due to imminent invasion of Soviet Union)
For administrative purposes the General Government was subdivided into four Distrikte (districts). These were the Distrikt Warschau, the Distrikt Lublin, the Distrikt Radom, and the Distrikt Krakau. After the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, East Galicia, at that point part of the Ukrainian SSR, was incorporated into the General Government and became its fifth district, the Distrikt Galizien. These new units were much larger than those organized by the Polish government, reflecting the German lack of sufficient administrative personnel to staff smaller units.
These five districts were further sub-divided into Stadtkreise (urban counties) and Kreishauptmannschaften (rural counties). Following a decree on September 15, 1941, the names of most of the major cities (and so respective counties) reverted to their historical German names, or were given germanified versions of their Polish or Ukrainian names if none existed. At the same time the previous names remained valid as well. The districts and counties were as follows:
|Kreishauptmannschaften||Breschan (Brzeżany), Tschortkau (Czortków), Drohobycz, Kamionka-Strumilowa (Kamianka-Buzka), Kolomea (Kolomyia), Lemberg-Land, Rawa-Ruska (Rava-Ruska), Stanislau (Ivano-Frankivsk), Sambor (Sambir) Stryj, Tarnopol, Solotschiw (Zolochiv), Kallusch (Kalush)|
|Kreishauptmannschaften||Dembitz (Dębica), Jaroslau (Jarosław), Jassel (Jaslo), Krakau-Land, Krosno, Meekow (Miechow), Neumarkt (Nowy Targ), Neu-Sandez (Nowy Sącz), Przemyśl, Reichshof (Rzeszow), Sanok, Tarnau (Tarnów)|
|Kreishauptmannschaften||Biala-Podlaska (Biała Podlaska), Bilgoraj, Cholm (Chelm), Grubeschow (Hrubieszow), Janow Lubelski, Krasnystaw, Lublin-Land, Pulawy, Rehden (Radzyn), Zamosch/Himmlerstadt/Pflugstadt (Zamość)|
|Stadtkreise||Kielce, Radom, Tschenstochau (Częstochowa)|
|Kreishauptmannschaften||Busko (Busko-Zdrój), Jedrzejow, Kielce-Land, Konskie (Końskie), Opatau (Opatów), Petrikau (Piotrków Trybunalski), Radom-Land, Radomsko, Starachowitz (Starachowice), Tomaschow Mazowiecki (Tomaszów Mazowiecki)|
|Kreishauptmannschaften||Garwolin, Grojec (Grójec), Lowitsch (Lowicz), Minsk (Mińsk Mazowiecki), Ostrau (Ostrów Mazowiecka), Siedlce, Sochaczew, Sokolow-Wengrow (Sokołów Podlaski-Węgrów), Warschau-Land|
A change in the administrative structure was desired by Finance Minister Lutz von Krosigk, who for financial reasons wanted to see the five existing districts (Warsaw, Kraków, Radom, Lublin, and Galicia) reduced to three. In March 1943 he announced the merger of the Kraków and Galicia districts, and the partition of the Warsaw district between the so-called Deutschtumsdistrikt ("Germandom-district") Lublin and the district Radom, and the changing of Warsaw and Kraków into separate city-districts (stadtkreise), with Warsaw under the direct control of the General Government. This decree was to go into effect on 1 April 1943 and was nominally accepted by Heinrich Himmler, but Martin Bormann opposed the move, as he simply wanted to see the region turned into Reichsgaue. Wilhelm Frick and Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger were also skeptic about the usefulness of this reorganization, resulting in its abolition after subsequent discussions between Himmler and Frank.
The population in the General Government's territory was initially about 12 million, but this increased as about 860,000 Poles and Jews were expelled from the Germany-annexed areas and "resettled" in the General Government. Offsetting this was the German campaign of extermination of the Polish intelligentsia and other elements thought likely to resist. From 1941 disease and hunger also began to reduce the population.
|Nationality||Daily calorie intake|
Poles were also deported in large numbers to work as forced labor in Germany: eventually about a million were deported, of whom many died in Germany. In 1940 the population was divided into different groups. Each group had different rights, food rations, allowed strips in the cities, public transportation and restricted restaurants. Listed from the most privileged to the least:
- Germans from Germany (Reichdeutsche),
- Germans from outside, active ethnic Germans, Volksliste category 1 and 2 (see Volksdeutsche).
- Germans from outside, passive Germans and members of families (this group also included some ethnic Poles), Volksliste category 3 and 4,
- Highlanders (Goralenvolk) – an attempt to split the Polish nation by using local collaborators
- Poles (partially exterminated),
- Gypsies (eventually largely exterminated as a category),
- Jews (eventually largely exterminated as a category).
Since the autumn of 1939, Poles from other regions of Poland conquered by Germany were expelled to the General Government and the area was used as a slave labour camp from which men and women taken by force to work as slave laborers in factories and farms in Germany.
Former Polish state property was confiscated by the General Government (or the Third Reich on the annexed territories). Notable property of Polish individuals (ex. factories and large land estates) was often confiscated as well. Farmers were required to provide large food contingents for the Germans, and there were plans for nationalization of all but the smallest estates. Currency was managed by the newly created Bank Emisyjny w Polsce.
Resistance to the German occupation began almost at once, although there is little terrain in Poland suitable for guerrilla operations. The main resistance force was the Home Army (in Polish: Armia Krajowa or AK), loyal to the Polish government in exile in London. It was formed mainly of the surviving remnants of the pre-War Polish Army, together with many volunteers. Other forces existed side-by-side, such as the communist People's Army (Armia Ludowa or AL), backed by the Soviet Union and controlled by the Polish Communist Party. By 1944 the AK had some 380,000 men, although few arms. During the occupation, the various Polish resistance organizations killed about 150,000 Axis soldiers. The AL was about 15% of the size of the AK.
In April 1943 the Germans began deporting the remaining Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, provoking the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, April 19 to May. 16 That was the first armed uprising against the Germans in Poland, and prefigured the larger and longer Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
In July 1944, as the Soviet armed forces approached Warsaw, the government in exile called for an uprising in the city, so that they could return to a liberated Warsaw and try to prevent a Communist take-over. The AK, led by Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, launched the Warsaw Rising on August 1 in response both to their government and to Soviet and Allied promises of help. However Soviet help was never forthcoming, despite the Soviet army being only 18 miles (30 km) away, and Soviet denial of their airbases to British and American planes prevented any effective resupply or air support of the insurgents by the Western allies. After 63 days of fighting the leaders of the rising agreed a conditional surrender with the Wehrmacht. The 15,000 remaining Home Army soldiers were granted POW status (prior to the agreement, captured rebels were shot), and the remaining civilian population of 180,000 expelled.
The Holocaust in the General Government
During the Wannsee conference on January 20, 1942, The State Secretary of the General Government, Dr. Josef Bühler pushed Heydrich to implement the "final solution" in the General Government. As far as he was concerned, the main problem of General Government was an overdeveloped black market that disorganised the work of the authorities. He saw a remedy in solving the "Jewish question" in the country as fast as possible. An additional point in favor was that there were no transportation problems here.
In 1942, the Germans began the systematic extermination of the Jewish population. The General Government was the location of four of the seven extermination camps in which the most extreme measures of the Holocaust were carried out, such as Majdanek concentration camp, Sobibor extermination camp and Belzec extermination camp. The genocide of undesired "races", chiefly millions of Jews from Poland and other countries, was carried out by gassing between 1942 and 1944.
- Ernst Lerch
- German camps in occupied Poland during World War II
- Gestapo-NKVD Conferences
- Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany
- Territories of Poland annexed by the Soviet Union
- World War II evacuation and expulsion
- Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; no text was provided for refs named
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