Administration of Gorlice

By Mat Rocco

Under the Polish general gouvernement, the areas within Poland not placed under direct Reich control were broken up into 3 large districts up until 1941, at which time it was broken up into 4 large districts.  These districts were then divided into smaller sub-districts.  S.S. men and local police largely ruled these sub-districts and the abuse of both Jews and non Jewish Poles was common.  The head of the general gouvernement was Hans Frank, who received orders directly from Berlin, but was given autonomy for “on the spot decisions” within Poland.[1]  We know that Sara Spira was in the Krakow district, in the town of Gorlice, which fell under the sub-district of Jasko.  At this time the head of the civilian administration within the general gouvernement was Otto Wachter.  Working under Wachter often with great tension, was Captain Julian Scherner, who was the head of the SS and the police for the Krakow district

Under the command of Otto Wachter, the polish general gouvernement used forced labor from Jews, made Jews wear the Star of David on their clothing, register their properties with local SS authorities and eventually concentrated the Jewish population of the district into various ghettos. In 1941, when Sara Spira was most likely living within the Krakow district, Otto Wachter declared that any Jews attempting to leave the Krakow ghetto, or any other ghetto within the Krakow district could be shot on sight.  That same year, Julian Scerner who was in charge of the liquidation of the ghetto established two forced labor camps outside of the Krakow ghetto.  One was for men, and the other was for women, and within two years there were seven such camps for the forced labor of Jews.[2]

It is possible that Sara Spira could have been forced to work in a similar labor camp in Gorlice, but because she never mentions it in the postcards, it is difficult to ascertain if this ever happened.  We do know that by 1940 at least 200 Jews had been sent from the Gorlice ghetto to work in saw mills in the surrounding area, but it is unlikely that Sara was among this group[3].

It is also important to note that during this time, Jews were often moved.  Under the command of Ernst F., the head of the Border Police Office in Gorlice, this was often the case.  Working under Ernst were 8 to 10 German Gendarmes, and a larger force of local polish police, who enforced law within the Gorlice ghetto.[4]  Whether it be from ghetto to ghetto, ghetto to work camps, ghetto to death camps or ghetto to concentration camps there was often large-scale movement of Jews within the Krakow district.  In October of 1942 Himmler ordered that all Jews living within the general gouvernement that were not essential workers in forced labor camps were to be murdered.  This lead to mass shootings and deportations of Jews in the following months as the SS and local police forces tried to carry out Himmler’s orders.

[1] “Encyclopedia of the Holocaust,” “WWII,” ( New York:  Macmillan Publishing company, 1990), p.1157.

[2] “Krakow,” United States Holocaust Museum, 1/29/16,, (3/16/16)/

[3] Martin Dean and, Mel Hecker, “Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945,” Volume 2, “Gorlice,” ( Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 2009).  508-509.

[4] Ibid


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