Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseBy late 1943, German occupation forces had experienced several major uprisings, such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Apr 1943, the uprising in Treblinka concentration camp in Aug 1943, and most recently the uprising in the Sobibor concentration camp on 14 Oct 1943. Fearful of another major uprising, Heinrich Himmler ordered to speed up the extermination of all Jews in the General Government (part of occupied Poland). One of the direct results of this order was an operation codenamed Aktion Erntefest ("Harvest Festival"), aimed to simultaneously massacre Jews across a short timeframe in several locations to prevent resistance. The massacres were to be the responsibility of the German police leader Friedrich Krüger and his subordinate Jacob Sporrenberg.
ww2dbaseTrawniki Concentration Camp
ww2dbaseEarly in the morning of 3 Nov 1943, guards at the Trawniki Concentration Camp rounded up the Jewish prisoners and were escorted in small groups to a nearby Waffen-SS training ground. The prisoners were undressed, forced to lie down in a trench filled with bodies of those before them, and were shot. Dance music was played over loudspeakers to drown out the gunshots and screams. 8,000 to 10,000 were massacred by the late afternoon. 100 to 120 Jews from the Milejow Concentration Camp were brought in to cremate the bodies, which took two to three weeks; when the work is done, those Jews were in turn executed and cremated.
ww2dbasePoniatowa Concentration Camp
ww2dbaseIn late Oct 1943, Jews from the Poniatowa Concentration Camp were ordered to dig two trenches near the entrance to the camp; they were told that these zig-zagging trenches were for the defense of the camp. In the morning of 3 Nov, prisoners were led to the trenches, asked to undress, and were shot in the trenches, very similar to the fate of the Trawniki prisoners. The massacre was committed by members of the German Reserve Police Battalion 101. An unnamed female survivor of this shooting recalled in Martin Gilbert's book The Holocaust:
ww2dbaseWe undressed quickly and, our arms uplifted, we went in the direction of the ditches we had dug ourselves. The graves which were two metres deep were full of naked bodies. My neighbour from the hut with her fourteen-year-old, fair-haired and innocent-looking daughter seemed to be looking for a comfortable place. While they were approaching the place an SS man charged his rifle and told them: "Don't hurry." Nevertheless we lay down quickly, in order to avoid looking at the dead. My little daughter was quaking with fear, and asking me to cover her eyes. I embraced her head; my left hand I put on her eyes while in my right I held her hands. In this way we lay down, our faces turned downwards.
ww2dbaseShots were fired; I felt a sharp pain in my hand, and the bullet pierced the skull of my daughter. Another shot was heard very close nearby. I was utterly shaken, turned giddy and lost consciousness. I heard the moaning of a woman nearby, but it came to an end after a few seconds.
ww2dbaseA group of prisoners resisted with weapons they had secretly gathered in the previous months. Ultimately, they fell back into a barracks building, blockaded in, and were burned alive by the guards.
ww2dbaseExecutions continued through 4 Nov. During the two days, about 14,000 Jews were killed. 150 to 200 prisoners from the camp were ordered to cremate the bodies; they refused to do the work, and were executed as well. 120 Jews from another camp were brought in to cremate the remains.
ww2dbaseMajdanek Concentration Camp
ww2dbaseIn late Oct, 300 prisoners of the Majdanek Concentration Camp dug three large zig-zagging trenches behind Compounds V and VI. Prior to 3 Nov 1943, 100 SS and police personnel arrived, joining the Majdanek guards for the date of massacre. In the morning of 3 Nov, prisoners of Compounds III and IV were shot in the trenches in groups of 100 in a manner once again similar to the victims of the previously-mentioned camps. Like at Trawniki, loudspeakers were set up to blast music in order to cover over the noise of the mass execution. 18,000 Jewish prisoners were killed on "Bloody Wednesday", which was what Majdanek survivors called the event. 311 Jewish women and 300 Jewish men of the camp were ordered to sort the clothing of those killed, and the 311 women were also responsible of cremating the bodies; when they were done, they were sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp where the women were sent to the gas chambers on arrival.
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Captain Henry P. Jim Crowe, Guadalcanal, 13 Jan 1943