Administrative measures in the Generalgovernment that were especially significant for the lives of Jews

By Molly Kiernan

There were many administrative measures set up within the Generalgouvernement that affected the every day lives of Polish Jews. In October of 1939 the Generalgouvernement was formed and Hans Frank became Governor General.[1] These measures set up the platform for what the Jews living within this jurisdiction would have to live with. Frank, with the title of Governor General had much of the political say over what was happening within this area.

The Generalgouvernement was split into four districts: Krakow, Warsaw, Random, and Lublin.[2] These districts were further divided, and in autumn of 1940 the Jews were forced to move into ghettos within these regions.[3] Moving into ghettos innately means a loss for the Jews. They had to leave their homes, their neighborhoods, and many of their belongings. In addition to this, the Jews had to wear armbands with the Star of David on them.[4] Being forced to wear something that separates one from the rest of the population is demoralizing. This visual separation of Jews is particularly significant to the moral of the Jews as a whole.

The Jews of the Generalgouvernement were also required to perform forced labor.[5] After all of the hits that they took, this seems like just one more blow to the Jewish populations self esteem. Manual labor is taxing on one’s body in any circumstance, but the especially poor conditions that the Nazis forced the Jews to work in was extreme. Many times, there was not good equipment, clothing, food, or adequate time to rest and recuperate.[6] This seems like one more humiliation measure that the Nazis put into place to wear down the Jews that they had control over.

In 1941, just before the ‘final solution’ was put into place, Himmler set up extermination camps within the Generalgouvernement. At first, the Jews were shot in the open or gassed with exhaust fumes. Their bodies were burned outside. As the Nazis made their methods more “efficient” they began to kill the Jews in gas chambers and burn their bodies in crematoriums.[7] The Nazis created a name for the murder of the Jews within the Generalgouvernement: Operation Reinhard. They named it after Reinhard Heydrich, a Nazi known for his brutality, who had been assassinated in May of 1942.[8] 

One last set of administrative measures that I thought was especially significant for the lives of the Jews were particular laws that affected the Poles. One such law threatened non-Jewish Polish citizens with the death penalty if they were to help a Jew. A German poster from September of 1942 stated, “not only Jews who have left their designated residential area will be punished with death, but the same penalty applies to anyone who knowingly provides refuge (a hiding place) to such Jews. This includes not only the providing of a night’s lodging and food, but also any other aid, such as transporting them in vehicles of any sort, through the purchase of Jewish valuables, etc.”[9] There were people in Poland that were willing to help the Jews, but a penalty such as this would have deterred countless people from actually helping. As seen in Friedlander’s books, instances of individuals and private institutions assisting Jews were especially important in determining how many Jews would survive. Laws that affected the Jewish population in a round about way such as this one can be forgotten sometimes, but are nonetheless important.                


[1] “Krakow, Timeline,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed March 17, 2016, https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007458.  

[2] Israel Gutman, “The Jews in Poland,” ed. Israel Gutman, The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (New York: Macmillan, 1990), 549.

[3] Jozef Garlinski, Poland in the Second World War (Great Britain: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1985), 163.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Krakow, Timeline,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed March 17, 2016, https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007458.  

[7] Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews, The Years of Extermination, 1939-1945 (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 234.

[8] “The Origins of ‘Operation Reinhard’,” Yad Vashem, accessed March 17, 2016, http://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%203222.pdf.

[9]“Death Penalty for Aiding Jews,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed April 20, 2016, https://www.ushmm.org/learn/timeline-of-events/1942-1945/german-poster-announces-death-penalty-for-aiding-jews.  

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