Operation Reinhard

Operation Reinhard (Aktion Reinhard or Einsatz Reinhard in German) was the code name given to the Nazi plan to murder Polish Jews in the former General Government and the Bialystok area. Operation Reinhard was the initial stage of the Holocaust, prior to the gassings conducted in Auschwitz.



The operation was named in memory of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, the coordinator of the Endlösung der Judenfrage (Final Solution of the Jewish Question) - the extermination of the Jews living in the European countries occupied by the German Wehrmacht during the Second World War. After the plans for the Final Solution were laid down at the Wannsee conference, Heydrich was attacked by members of the Czech underground resistance on May 27, 1942. He died of his injuries eight days later.

Three extermination camps with gas chambers were constructed for Operation Reinhard: Treblinka, Sobibór and Belzec. At least 1.7 million people were exterminated in these camps, either by suffocation by diesel motor exhaust, or by poisoning with Zyklon B gas, the method used in the better-known death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Operation Reinhard was devised as a more "humane" method of mass murder, but only for those conducting the killing. Conducting mass executions with firearms had a decidedly adverse effect on the morale of the SS units; therefore, Operation Reinhard used poisonous gas to mechanize the act of killing. It was the beginning of an industrialized mass murder unlike any previously known to mankind.

Chain of command

The head of Aktion Reinhard was SS-Brigadeführer Odilo Globocnik, (SS- and police chief of the Lublin district), appointed by Heinrich Himmler. SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle, chief of Hauptabteilung Reinhard (Main Department Reinhard), was responsible for personnel and organization of deportations, extermination camps and collection off the victims' valuables.

Polizei-Kriminalkommissar Christian Wirth and his staff of the euthanasia program (Aktion T4) comprised the core of the execution staff in the extermination camps in eastern Poland. The camp guards were mostly Soviet POWs, Ukrainian volunteers and Volksdeutsche who were trained at the Trawniki camp near Lublin.

Operation Reinhard headquarters

Operation Reinhard headquarters were located in Lublin, the construction department in Zamosc. The clothes and belongings of the victims were stored and sorted in Lublin, at the unused hangars of Lublin Airfield.

Starting from November 1, 1941, three extermination camps were constructed to cope with the population of adjacent ghettos and other victims from surrounding areas: first Belzec, then Sobibor and finally Treblinka. They were located in the far east of Poland near the borders with Belarus and Ukraine. The camps were located near main railway lines, to facilitate prisoner transport, and in sparsely populated areas to preserve secrecy. As a guise, the victims were told that they were being transported east for resettlement and work.

Extermination process

The extermination process in Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka was similar to the method used in the six euthanasia killing centers in Germany and Austria.

Victims would hand over their valuables, which became property of the German Reichsbank. They then undressed, and their clothes were searched for jewelry and other valuables. Victims were then marched into the gas chamber and packed tightly to minimize the available fresh air. Carbon monoxide gas was then discharged through gaspipes, killing the occupants. Their corpses were cremated.

Camp structure

The structure of all camps was nearly identical. From the reception area with ramp and undressing barracks, the Jews entered a narrow, camouflaged path (called sluice or tube) to the extermination area with gas chambers, pits and cremation grids. The SS and Trawnikis stayed in a separate area. Barbed wire fences, partially camouflaged with pine branches, surrounded the camp and separated the different parts. Unlike Auschwitz, no electric fences were used. Wooden watchtowers guarded the camp.

Approximately 2 million Jews lost their lives in Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka and Majdanek in the course of Operation Reinhard. Approximately 178,045,960 German Reichsmarks' worth of Jewish property (today's value: around 700,000,000 USD or 450,000,000 GBP) was stolen. This money went not only to German authorities, but also to single individuals (SS and police men, camp guards, non-Jewish inhabitants of towns and villages with ghettos or adjacent camps).

Operation Reinhard ended in November 1943. After their work in the concentration camps of Poland, most of the staff was sent to northern Italy for actions against remaining Jews and partisans. Many of the perpetrators turned up again in the concentration camp of San Sabba near Trieste. The group disintegrated after the surrender of the German Wehrmacht in Italy.de:Aktion Reinhardt es:Operación Reinhard it:Operazione Reinhard he:מבצע ריינהרד pl:Einsatz Reinhard sv:Operation Reinhard


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