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Aktion Reinhard Economics

Last Update 26 July 2006

On 5 January 1944, Odilo Globocnik wrote to Heinrich Himmler from Trieste, setting out details of the economic plunder of Aktion Reinhard. It followed an earlier report that Globocnik had submitted on 4 November 1943. In fine detail, Globocnik calculated the gross yield to Germany of the murder of some 2 million Jews at a sum in excess of 178 million Reichsmark, then equal to US$71 million. The equivalent value today (2004) would be approximately US$760 million. Impressive though this figure is, it represents no more than a fraction of the true extent of the larceny involved.

In the second of his letters, Globocnik was at pains to stress the accuracy of his bookkeeping, since "a certain odium still rests upon me to the effect that in all economic matters I do not maintain the necessary order." Globocnik was right to be concerned; after all, he had been dismissed as Gauleiter of Wien in January 1939 because of illegal currency dealings. Doubtless, his reputation went before him, and he could hardly have been comforted by the web of corruption within the SS revealed by the investigations of SS Judge Konrad Morgen in 1943. Yet could Himmler have really believed that Globocnik’s financial statements were accurate? On Globocnik’s own admission, "What is remarkable about the accounting is that no hard and fast basis for the amount collected existed, as the collection of the assets was carried out under orders and only the decency and honesty, as well as the surveillance, of the SS men used for this purpose could guarantee a complete delivery." In other words, a financial free-for-all had prevailed. There was no real supervision in place, no adequate system of checking and controlling the vast sums involved. But this was hardly surprising. An ideology based upon theft and murder produces thieves and murderers, and whilst economic considerations were never allowed to override the racial imperative, the two went hand-in-hand in the National Socialist state.

Theft, larceny and extortion could be characterised at two levels – the governmental, "legal" in the sense that any act of government can be legalised, and personal, "legal" in that it was authorised (sometimes tacitly) by government and "illegal", as practised by countless thousands of German civilians, members of the armed forces, SS and police. And, as the opportunity arose, by many citizens of the countries occupied by, or allied to, Germany.

Although it can be said that Aktion Reinhard entered its main extermination phase with the commencement of killing operations at Belzec in March 1942, and concluded with "Aktion Erntefest" in November 1943, the periods preceding commencement and following conclusion are important for an understanding of the economic development and importance of Nazi economic policy. In turn, it is necessary to examine the way in which these policies were formulated, and for that a brief overview of the methods adopted in the Reich and the manner in which these were varied in the occupied territories is required.

The template for the economic exploitation and expropriation of Jewish property was laid down in the early stages of the Third Reich’s existence. "The Law for the Reestablishment of the Professional Civil Service" was enacted by decree on 7 April 1933, little more than two months after the Nazi’s seizure of power. At a stroke, all "non-Aryan" members of the civil service were compelled to retire. It was the first in a series of such decrees. Over the coming months and years, Jews were barred from practising law and medicine, dismissed from the armed forces, prohibited from engaging in journalism and from the arts. No profession was left open to them. Employers in every kind of undertaking were encouraged to dismiss their Jewish workforce. The conditions of dismissal for employees became steadily worse, and the later a Jew was removed, the less his compensation or pension. Ultimately, it became very difficult for Jews to remain in any kind of employment.

On 14 June 1938, the Ministry of the Interior published a decree defining a "Jewish enterprise". This was the initial move in the compulsory transfer of Jewish businesses into German hands. Previously, a Jewish business could be either liquidated, and disappear, or be "Aryanized", and purchased by Germans. "Aryanization" was in turn either voluntary (until November 1938), or thereafter, compulsory. The term "voluntary" was a misnomer, since there was no open market negotiation of a business’ value. Jewish enterprises were purchased at heavily discounted prices, encouraged by a series of government measures calculated to drive values down. The introduction of compulsory "Aryanization" was effected through "trustees", appointed by the Ministry of Economics. In many cases, virtually no compensation was paid for the acquisition of Jewish assets. The city of Fürth, for example, obtained 100,000 Reichsmark of Jewish communal property for 100 Reichsmark. The process was simple; the "trustee" paid as little as possible and sold on to a German buyer for as much as possible. The difference went to the Reich, at least in theory. In practice, German purchasers were reluctant to pay the real market value of Jewish enterprises, and it became necessary for the government to introduce an "equalization" tax in order to collect their share of the spoils. In general, the purchaser of a Jewish business rarely paid more than 75% of its value and frequently paid less than 50%. The profit to the business sector from this state controlled theft can be calculated in billions of Reichsmark.

But the state had acquired little direct financial benefit from this policy. Its windfall was to come from a penal system of taxation. This comprised two property taxes – the so-called "Reich Flight Tax" and the so-called "Atonement Payment". The "Reich Flight Tax" had, in fact been in existence since December 1931, more than one year before Hitler attained power, and was intended to extract a proportion of the value of the assets of those emigrating from Germany. By combining their enthusiasm for the emigration of Jews with a lowering of the tax threshold, during their brief tenure in office, the Nazis obtained in the region of 900 million Reichsmark from Jewish emigrants.

The "Atonement Payment" arose in the wake of the assassination of Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan and the subsequent Reichskristallnacht of 9 - 10 November 1938. The Jewish community were "fined" an amount which eventually amounted to 1.126 billion Reichsmark by way of reparation, payable in four instalments. The combined proceeds of the two taxes, an amount in excess of 2 billion Reichsmark, was an essential contribution towards an economy that was heading for meltdown because of excessive spending on armaments. The "Atonement Payment" also set the precedent for future German methods of extortion in the occupied countries.

By 1939, the remaining Jewish community of Germany, now half its former size because of emigration, was impoverished. Those Jews who were still in employment had their wages reduced and their taxes increased. What could be purchased with the little that was left to them was severely restricted by the imposition of rationing, as the Germany economy entered a war footing. Rations for Jews were fixed at a level lower than that of the general population. Together with a host of other restrictions, even the hours during which Jews were allowed to shop were limited.

The economic exploitation of the Reich Jews had maintained at least a façade of legality. With the invasion of Poland, that façade was stripped away. The Jewish community of Germany had significant amounts of capital, but were relatively few in number. In Poland, that position was precisely reversed. But that did not mean that the opportunity for theft was to be overlooked. It had taken six years to pauperise the Jews of Germany. The same result was achieved with Poland's Jews in a matter of weeks. Robbery of Polish Jews and looting of their property became the norm. In every town and village, Jews were forced to hand over not merely gold, currency and other valuables, but virtually anything consumable, including furniture and clothing. Even items such as birdcages, door handles and hot-water bottles were looted. Any excuse, or none at all, became the pretext for extortion. In the Warsaw Ghetto, Adam Czerniakow wrote in his diary:
"It is raining. Fortunately that does not involve charges on the community."
Czerniakow's irony is understandable; the Jews of Warsaw had already been forced to pay for the erection of the wall that imprisoned them. Often, hostages were taken to ensure payment of Nazi demands.
The burning Wloclawek Synagogue.
Wloclawek Synagogue
One example among many will suffice: on Yom Kippur 1939, the Germans burnt down two synagogues in the town of Wloclawek. The fire spread to neighbouring houses. The Nazis took 26 men into custody, forcing them to sign a confession that they had started the fire. The men were then arrested, and told they would be released on payment of a ransom of 250,000 Zloty. The Jewish population raised the money. Shortly after, a new fine of 500,000 Zloty was imposed on the Jewish population for supposedly not obeying the ban on their using the pavement.

Shortly after the entry of the German army into every town, soldiers and members of the civil administration plundered Jewish homes. In many cases the local non-Jewish population helped the Germans in searching for wealthy Jewish houses and shops. At the beginning of the Nazi occupation, some confiscations of Jewish property were organised officially, but in many cases this looting was undertaken on the private initiative of local Germans. Ida Gliksztajn, a survivor from the Lublin Ghetto described her experiences:
"On one occasion, two German soldiers and an official from the town hall arrived to take pillow-cases and sheets. It was at the beginning of the occupation and they gave us a receipt for about four pieces of linen. Another time, several soldiers came to take the table, sofa bed and chandelier. One Friday morning, two civilians and a man in uniform visited us. They were looking for counterpanes but instead they took away a violin and a camera. On yet another occasion, the Germans searched for gold. The search lasted the whole day. They ordered all of the women in the house to undress themselves. We were not spared mockery and vulgar remarks."

Extortion on a grand scale took place throughout Poland. How much of these "fines" found their way into the coffers of government is questionable. It was for good reason that Hans Franks Generalgouvernement (that part of Eastern Poland not incorporated into the Reich) was known as the "Gangster Gau". A similar pattern was to emerge in other territories occupied by the Nazis following the invasion of the former Soviet Union.

By November 1939, all Jewish bank accounts in the Generalgouvernement had been blocked. Jews were only permitted to withdraw 250 zloty per week from these blocked accounts, or a larger amount if needed for business purposes. At the same time, they had to deposit all cash reserves in excess of 2,000 Zloty into the blocked account. On 24 January 1940, a decree was issued requiring the Jews of the Generalgouvernement to register all property, including clothes, cooking utensils, furniture and jewellery. Simultaneously, all Jewish property was subject to confiscation. Jewish businesses were rapidly liquidated. In less than two years, 112,000 enterprises were reduced to 3,000. The raw materials and finished goods of these liquidated firms provided a handsome windfall for the Germans. The businesses themselves were sold to Volksdeutsche for the price of the machinery and inventory only. Poles ejected from the proposed ghetto areas were re-housed in the vacated Jewish apartments, as were resettled Volksdeutsche. The better Jewish homes were plundered for furniture.

Even the creation of the ghettos themselves had a partial economic consideration behind it. Ghettos were a much cheaper proposition than concentration camps. There was no need to construct barracks, provide sanitation or light and heat. Guarding them was much simpler, and cramming the Jews into a designated area facilitated robbery. In the Warthegau, Arthur Greiser said of the ghettos:
"The Jews will remain there until what they have amassed to exchange for food is returned."

This was the essential economic thinking behind the ghettos - press the Jews into a restricted area, steal from them what can be stolen, forbid them to practise their professions or engage in gainful employment, maintain rations at starvation level, and before they eventually die, they will be forced to exchange whatever remains of their wealth for food. Which, to a great extent, is what happened. Typically, a ghetto resident would make up the deficit in his or her weekly budget by selling some of their remaining personal possessions. There was some trade between Jews, but in the main, a system of barter of goods for food with their fellow non-Jewish citizens occurred. Since this was very much a buyer’s market, there was often no correlation between the true value of these articles and the price the seller received. It has been estimated that during the occupation, wages in the Generalgouvernement rose 100%. In contrast, compared to September 1939, the price of food in Warsaw markets had increased twenty-seven fold by May 1942.

Incarceration in ghettos also opened up new possibilities for self-enrichment. The only legal source of food was that purchased by the Judenräte with funds collected from the ghetto population. The food was supplied by the Transferstelle, Ghettoverwaltung (German administrative authorities) or by municipal administration. The Judenräte would pay for a specified quantity of food. Frequently, a lower quantity was delivered. Moreover, if delivered, the food was usually of the lowest possible quality, often inedible. Men like Hans Biebow in Lodz and many like him in other ghettos accumulated great wealth from such transactions. In addition, only the smuggling of food into the ghetto made existence possible at all. The opportunity for the bribery and corruption of officials, from the heads of ghetto administrations to guards at ghetto gates, were endless, and fully exploited by those in authority.

Initially, compulsory Jewish labour was only utilised for the most menial and strenuous work – clearing rubble, draining swamps, building fortifications and the like. But in mid-1940, a shortage of skilled manpower forced the Germans to the realisation that the Jews could be put to more productive use. In the wake of the occupying army, a host of would-be entrepreneurs had descended on Poland. Men such as Oskar Schindler and Walter Toebbens arrived in much the same manner that carpetbaggers had swooped on the Confederate States in the wake of the American Civil War. The pickings were rich. When paid at all, salaries were miniscule. In Warsaw, after deductions, an average workshop employee received 3 - 5 Zloty per day – not enough to buy half a loaf of bread. In many ghettos and factories, even this tiny salary was not paid. The Jews became, quite literally, slave workers. They were "owned" by the SS, who received an agreed daily rate from the industrialists for every labourer provided to them. The workers’ reward was a midday plate of thin soup and a slice of bread. Given an insatiable demand by the Wehrmacht and others, together with minimum costs, even employers such as Oskar Schindler, whose pre- and post-war activities hardly suggest an acute business brain, could hardly fail to turn a profit.

Many German industrialists and merchants created large enterprises utilising Jewish labour. Some German companies even controlled monopolies in the Generalgouvernement for certain products, and most of their workers were Jewish. A good example of this was Viktor Kremin's company, which confiscated all Jewish enterprises in the districts of Radom, Lublin and Galicia concerned with the gathering of glass, iron, paper and rags. Kremin not only seized the buildings and stores of these entities, but also availed himself of the former Jewish owners together with their workers. Because the gathering of industrial waste was important for the war economy, Kremin's workers were actually temporarily saved at the time of the first wave of deportations to the death camps.

At the same time, the SS themselves entered the market as major exploiters of Jewish labour. Oswald Pohl, a former naval paymaster, set up a chain of SS enterprises in labour and concentration camps. The organisation he controlled eventually evolved into the Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA). Initially consisting of two main companies, German Earth and Stone Works (Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke / DEST) and German Equipment Works (Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke / DAW), the organisation expanded to encompass divisions involved in agriculture, food production, textiles and leather and other activities. One of the most important of these was the production of munitions. Whereas in 1940, the Jews had been considered incapable of productive labour, by April 1944 more than 28,000 of them were employed in the armaments industry alone – and this after the slaughter of Aktion Reinhard had ceased. At its height, the WVHA had a work force of more than 500,000 concentration camp prisoners at its disposal, making Pohl one of the most powerful men in the SS. It was Pohl who masterminded the economic aspects of Aktion Reinhard, organizing the disposal of the personal possessions of the murdered Jews. For the utilization of Jewish labour was only an intermediary step prior to their murder. In Pohl's words: "Employable Jews who are migrating to the East will have to interrupt their journey and work in war industry."
Indeed, the use of slave labour was itself part of the extermination process, for the SS were hardly caring employers, and working and living conditions in the camps and in the industries they supplied, were uniformly dreadful.

On 1 December 1942, Himmler wrote to Pohl, stating that he had looked at the machinery and equipment in the Warsaw Ghetto following the deportation of most of that city's Jews to Treblinka. According to Himmler, this equipment represented a windfall worth "hundreds of millions", even though the majority of the machinery was actually private property. Utilising this equipment, together with that recovered from the Bialystok Ghetto on 12 March 1943, the SS formed a new company, Ostindustrie GmbH (Osti), operating within the framework of the WVHA. At its peak, Osti employed thousands of Jews in various enterprises in Dorohucza, Lublin, Radom, Lviv (Lwow) and Trawniki. In the various work camps of the Lublin district and in Majdanek alone, there were about 50.000 Jewish prisoners who worked for the Osti factories. Globocnik, who was the head of Osti, even wanted to transfer Jews from the Lodz Ghetto to the Lublin district and to use them as workers for his company. Because of the refusal of Biebow to cooperate and the liquidation of the Jewish work camps in the Lublin district, this idea was never pursued. The Osti enterprise was short-lived. On 3 November 1943, most of its workforce was shot in the Aktion Erntefest. It was a classic example of racial policy taking precedence over economic necessity.

Dental Gold
Dental Gold
Chopin Street Depot
Chopin Street Depot
The city of Lublin was the nerve centre of Aktion Reinhard. It was from here that the operation was organised and administered, and to here that the vast bulk of the proceeds of mass murder were sent. Globocnik issued instructions for a central register of all property confiscated in the camps to be set up. Georg Wippern was placed in charge of valuables and Hermann Höfle was made responsible for the sorting of clothing. At camps established at the Airfield Camp (Flugplatz-Lager), and Lipowa Street (Lipowa Straße), at the depot on Chopin Street and elsewhere in the city, as well at Majdanek concentration camp in the city's suburbs, thousands of Jews laboured in conditions of the utmost harshness and brutality to sort, repair, disinfect and pack everything from underwear and bedding to watches and currency. Nothing was to be omitted. Women's hair, shaved at the entrance to the gas chambers, was sent to Germany to be woven into felt stockings for railroad workers, socks for submarine crews, and perhaps insulation material for German submarines. Dental gold, extracted from the mouths of gassed Jews, was melted and delivered to the German Reichsbank.

In addition to the Airfield Camp and Chopin Street, there were two other localities in Lublin where Jewish prisoners sorted the property belonging to the victims of Aktion Reinhard. One of these was the SS-Standortverwaltung (SS Garrison Administration) on Chmielna Street. The main store for valuables and money plundered in the death camps and at Majdanek was located in the building of the former ocular hospital at this address. Small groups of Jewish workers, mainly jewellers from the Lublin Ghetto and bankers deported from Terezin (Theresienstadt), catalogued the valuables and counted the money. Money and valuables arrived at the SS-Standortverwaltung without special documentation and it was only there that lists of the gold and currency were prepared, prior to sending them to the Reichsbank. It was quite normal for the SS men who worked there to steal the best items for themselves. At the beginning of 1943, when Himmler visited Lublin, a special exhibition of jewellery was organised in the SS-Standortverwaltung. According to the only survivor from the Jewish commando that worked there, Ignacy Wieniarz,
"it was the best and biggest exhibition of Jewish jewellery in the whole of occupied Europe at that time."

The other place connected with the plunder and sorting of Jewish property in Lublin was the work camp at the Sports Field, (Sportplatz), and especially the former cosmetic factory owned before the war by the Jewish industrialist from Lublin, Roman Keindl. The former owner worked there too, but as the Lagerkapo. In his factory, which was under the supervision of SS-Standortarzt (Garrison Doctor) Sieckel, the cosmetics, medical equipment and medicines which had been stolen from Jewish victims were separated and itemised.

Some idea of the thoroughness of this plunder of the murdered can be gleaned from an order issued by August Frank of the WVHA to the Aktion Reinhard headquarters on 26 September 1942. An edited version of these guidelines is worthy of reproduction:
1. All German currency will be deposited in the WVHA account at the Reichsbank.
2. Foreign currency, precious metals, diamonds, precious stones, pearls, gold teeth and pieces of gold will be transferred to the WVHA for deposit in the Reichsbank.
3. Watches, fountain pens, lead pencils, shaving utensils, pen knives, scissors, pocket flashlights and purses will be transferred to the workshops of the WVHA for cleaning and repair and from there will be transferred to SS troops for sale.
4. Men's clothing and underwear, including shoes, will be sorted and checked. Whatever cannot be used by concentration camp prisoners and items of special value will be kept for SS-troops; the rest will be transferred to VoMi (Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle / Department for Volksdeutsche, a section of the SS responsible for aiding Ethnic Germans in occupied countries).
5. Women's underwear and clothing will be sold to the VoMi, except for pure silk underwear (men's or women's), which will be sent directly to the Economic Ministry.
6. Feather-bedding, blankets, umbrellas, baby carriages, handbags, leather belts, baskets, pipes, sunglasses, mirrors, briefcases and material will be transferred to VoMi.
7. Bedding, like sheets and pillowcases, as well as towels and tablecloths will be sold to VoMi.
8. All types of eyeglasses will be forwarded for the use of the Medical Authority. Glasses with gold frames will be transferred without the lenses along with the precious metals.
9. All types of expensive furs will be transferred to the WVHA. Furs of lesser quality will be transferred to the Waffen-SS clothing workshops in Ravensbrück near Fürstenberg.
10. All articles mentioned in 4,5,6, of little or no value will be transferred to the WVHA for the use of the Economic Ministry. With regard to articles not specified above, the chief of the WVHA should be consulted as to the use to be made of them.
11. Check that all Jewish stars have been removed from all clothing before transfer. Carefully check whether all hidden and sewn-in valuables have been removed from all articles to be transferred.

The looting began in the camps themselves. Initially, the handful of deportees, selected from arriving transports for work within the camps, were routinely murdered after a few days at most, to be replaced by new arrivals. It quickly became apparent that this constant renewal of the workforce caused disruption to and a slowing of the extermination process. Franz Stangl, then commandant of Sobibor, and ever the efficient policeman, realised that a more permanent body of working prisoners was needed. To be sure, murder of the workforce remained an ever present in all of the camps, and the ultimate fate of the workers was never in doubt, but now it was at least possible to survive for more than a day or two. Ironically, it is thanks to Stangl that a handful of the working prisoners were to live long enough to escape from Sobibor and Treblinka and provide us with eyewitness testimony of their horrors. Amongst others, Yankel Wiernik survived for a year in Treblinka, Richard Glazar for ten months. In Sobibor, Toivi Blatt endured captivity for six months. Of Belzec, we have the testimony of Rudolf Reder, one of only two survivors of that camp, and the sole provider of written survivor evidence, Reder, who was in Belzec for approximately 4 months.

The first camp in which these changes regarding the workforce occurred, was Sobibor, in May or June 1942, to be followed shortly thereafter by Belzec and finally by Treblinka in September 1942 on Stangl's appointment as commandant. The prisoners were organised into small work groups with specific responsibilities. The Goldjuden ("Goldjews"), about 20 in number and mainly comprising jewellers, watchmakers and bank clerks, were responsible for receiving and sorting money, gold, foreign currency and other valuables. The Friseure (Hair Cutters) between 10 and 20 mainly former barbers, cut the hair of the women at the entrance to the gas chambers. The largest group, numbering 80-120, was the Lumpenkommando (Sorting Team for Clothing and Belongings). Their job was to collect and sort the victims' clothing and belongings and load them onto freight cars. The clothing was carefully examined for hidden documents and valuables, and all markings, such as the yellow star, which might identify the now deceased owner as a Jew, removed. There were several other groups concerned with the collection and sorting of goods, as well as the cleaning of the gas chambers, the disposal of bodies and other activities not directly connected to the gathering of plunder.

The value of that plunder was immense. Stangl himself described how, on arrival at Treblinka, where under Irmfried Eberl's command the camp regime had completely broken down:
"I stepped knee-deep into money; I didn't know which way to turn, where to go. I waded in notes, currency, precious stones, jewellery, clothes. They were everywhere, strewn all over the square."

Samuel Willenberg, working in the sorting area at Treblinka, opened sewn-up folds in clothing to remove gold coins, roubles, dollars and diamonds. Richard Glazar, another prisoner at Treblinka, tells of poles driven into the ground of the sorting yard bearing signs reading "Cotton", "Silk", "Wool" and "Rags". Huge piles were stacked up beneath each sign. Glazar commented:
"It is all but impossible to imagine what can be found among the last things packed by thousands and thousands. This is a huge junk store where everything can be found – except life."

Another Treblinka inmate, Alexander Kudlik, relates how he spent about six months going through nothing but gold pens for ten hours a day. At Belzec, Rudolf Reder described how a group of 8 dentists opened the mouths of corpses and extracted gold teeth. The gold, money and valuables were sent to Chopin Street in Lublin. In Sobibor, Thomas Toivi Blatt, like prisoners in all of the camps, purloined money and valuables to keep as a reserve in the event of escape and to barter for food with the Ukrainian guards. The price of a sausage was a gold watch.

Loot Flow Chart
Loot Flow Chart
Pohl Letter
Pohl Letter
A precise system was drawn up in Berlin for the disposal of the money and valuables. Coins were retained by the Precious Metals Division of the Reichsbank. Stocks, bonds and bankbooks were sent to the Securities Division of the bank. Dental gold was sent to the Prussian State Mint for melting. Jewellery was delivered to the Berlin Pawnshop. The proceeds of all of these activities were deposited at the Treasury, where they were credited to the Finance Ministry in a special account in the fictitious name of "Max Heiliger". Withdrawals from this account were included in the national budget.

The wealth of nations passed through these tiny camps in Eastern Poland. Shmuel Rajzman testified how he and others kept count of the transports leaving Treblinka with the possessions of the victims. These included 248 railway cars of clothing, 100 cars of shoes, 22 cars of material, 260 cars of bedding, about 450 cars with various articles and household goods, and hundreds more cars with rags; in total, about 1,500 cars full of the effects of murdered Jews. Rajzman also told of how he had been informed by a Jew responsible for packing valuables, that over 14,000 carats of diamonds alone had been sent from Treblinka. Abraham Lindwaser, also incarcerated in Treblinka, reported that during the period that transports arrived, an average of two suitcases, each containing 18 kg of gold, were sent from the camp each week. Treblinka provided the highest yield of booty and the most detailed witness testimony, but there is no doubt that the proceeds of annihilation were proportionate to the number of victims. If the pillage was less at Belzec and Sobibor, this was solely due to the lower numbers murdered there.

Furs to Old Airfield
Furs to Old Airfield
All the trains with clothing were sent to the Airfield Camp in Lublin, where 500 - 700 Jewish prisoners worked, the majority of them women. An initial sorting had taken place in the camps. Now the clothes were disinfected and further sorted first into men's, women's and children's items, then into outer and under clothing and footwear. Finally, the neatly packaged effects were loaded onto trains once more and distributed in accordance with Frank's instructions of 26 September 1942 (reproduced above).

Pohl issued a report on 6 February 1943, detailing the textile materials forwarded from Auschwitz and from Aktion Reinhard. Since the report dealt with goods transferred during 1942, it is apparent that the bulk of the items had come from the Aktion Reinhard camps. The Reich Economic Ministry had received 262,000 complete men's and women's outfits, over 2.7 million kg of rags, 270,000 kg of bed feathers and 3,000 kg of women's hair. VoMi and other organizations were in receipt of a further 255 freight cars of clothing and textiles.

Franz Suchomel, in charge of the Goldjuden in Treblinka, related how, during Eberl's tenure of office as commandant of Treblinka, a messenger had arrived from the Führer's Chancellery. The messenger carried instructions from Werner Blankenburg of the euthanasia programme, to collect one million Reichsmark. A suitcase was duly filled and handed over. No questions were asked. The messenger returned to Berlin. It was only one of countless cases of pilfering by the SS at every level, as well as by their Ukrainian cohorts and anybody else unscrupulous and immoral enough to thrive on the misery of others. Stangl believed that his immediate superior, Christian Wirth, was bypassing Aktion Reinhard headquarters and transferring money and valuables direct from Treblinka to Berlin. Since, despite being nominally under Globocnik's command, Wirth took instructions directly from Viktor Brack in the Führer's Chancellery or from Brack's deputy, Blankenburg. Stangl was probably correct in his suspicions. If so, it is likely that no records of these particular transactions were kept.

When returning to Germany on leave, the SS would take suitcases and parcels full of Jewish belongings. Abraham Krzepicki, a prisoner in Treblinka, reported how both, German and Ukrainian camp staff, had so much money he considered that they all became millionaires. The Ukrainian guards stole money and valuables directly from the Jews as they were brought to the camps. Sometimes they would burst into the barracks where the Goldjuden worked and steal whatever they could take. There was a thriving trade between the Ukrainian guards and the local population. Money and valuables flooded into the regions surrounding Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec, attracting speculators by the score. Prostitutes arrived from Warsaw and elsewhere to service the Ukrainians. Jerzy Krolikowski, a Polish engineer who worked in the vicinity of Treblinka wrote:
"The poor areas of Podlassia overflowed with gold, and riffraff from all over the country came there to get rich quickly and easily… At first (the Ukrainians) were not aware of the real value of articles, and one could buy all kind of things for next to nothing. Men's watches were sold literally for pennies, and local farmers kept dozens of them in egg baskets to offer them for sale."

The greatest benefactors of this larceny, of course, were the higher officers of the SS. Nobody will ever know how many millions were siphoned off by them. Even Hans Frank, Governor of the Generalgouvernement, was found guilty of purloining fur coats, gold bracelets, pens and rings as well as large quantities of food. Hitler stripped Frank of all his Party offices. So much for Globocnik's "decency and honesty".

The corruption and scandals concerning the SS men, connected with Aktion Reinhard, were the reason for the large-scale investigation organised within the SS by SS Judge Konrad Morgen, who arrived in Lublin in 1943. The result of this investigation was the arrest of several SS men from Majdanek, including the commandant of the camp, Hermann Florstedt. The prisoners, among them the Polish political prisoner Jerzy Kwiatkowski, had seen how Florstedt and others often stole Jewish property:
"SS men are looking for valuables. Apart from rummaging through the clothes and suitcases, they unstitch the pillows, in which Schutzhaftlagerführer Thumann finds diamonds and other precious stones. And Rapportführer Kostial and other SS men are digging personally with spades in the Rosengarten (Rose Garden), where the Jews spend the first night, or where during the day they wait in the queue for the gas chambers or the bath. The SS are finding whole handfuls of rings, diamonds, gold, US Dollars and Russian Roubles there."

The corruption affair at Majdanek resulted in the death sentence for Florstedt. In 1945, he was executed in either the Buchenwald or Leitmeritz concentration camp.
Morgen investigated 800 cases of corruption and murder, with 200 resulting in sentences. Amongst others executed was another sometime commandant of Majdanek, Karl Koch. Hermann Hackmann, who had been in charge of protective custody at Majdanek, was initially condemned to death, but instead was posted to a penal unit.

It should be stressed that Morgen was in no way concerned with the acts of murder and robbery carried out in the name of Aktion Reinhard; these crimes were not only "legal", but also essential. Rather, it was the "illegal" crimes, carried out for personal gratification or self-enrichment that concerned him. Nothing better illustrates the absurd dichotomy inherent in Nazism than this spectacle of isolated cases of murder being investigated in places where thousands were murdered daily. In any event, Himmler became nervous about where Morgen's probing was leading. In April 1944, Morgen was ordered to confine himself to the Koch case. All other investigations were stopped.

The end of Aktion Reinhard did not signify the cessation of the murder and exploitation of the Jews. Indeed, Auschwitz-Birkenau was about to enter its most lethal and lucrative phase. Jews continued to work as slave labourers in the Lodz Ghetto until its liquidation in August 1944, and at many other labour and concentration camps until the war's end. Under Albert Speer, who utilised millions of slave labourers for the purpose, armaments production soared to new heights in 1944 - 45. But the killing and thievery never stopped.

The real economic value of Aktion Reinhard is impossible to calculate. Large amounts of money and valuables never found their way into the hands of the murderers. Tens of thousands of Jews died en route to the camps, or were shot on arrival, and were buried in their clothes. Abraham Krzepicki recounted how, on being instructed to clear the Schlauch at Treblinka (the path leading to the gas chambers), his group of workers found "a veritable windfall of banknotes which people had torn up and thrown away before they died." Papers which the Germans considered of no value, such as life insurance policies and share certificates were burned in the Lazarett, together with letters, photographs and other personal effects. The worth of such items is unknown, and unknowable.

In the final analysis, Globocnik's report was merely the tip of a gigantic iceberg. How much of the plunder found its way into the vaults of Swiss Banks from Nazi government and personal sources, can never be calculated. Stangl had no doubt that the economic implications of Aktion Reinhard were of primary importance:
"Have you any idea of the fantastic sums that were involved?" he asked Gitta Sereny rhetorically. "That's how the steel in Sweden was bought."

Even the economies of neutral countries had benefited. The extent to which the looting fuelled the post-war West German Wirtschaftswunder (Economic Miracle) is a matter for speculation. Certainly, major German banks and industries had profited handsomely from the annihilation of the Jews. Poles, Ukrainians, Byelorussians and others moved into vacated Jewish premises. They remain there in safety, for the Jews will never return. The value of property simply destroyed, either by the Jews themselves in the face of death or by the Nazis and their collaborators, is incalculable. Add to this the value of tens of thousands of slave labourers, working at little or no cost to their masters, and the immensity of the larceny becomes apparent.

Yet there is another dimension to this tragedy. For how is it possible to quantify the value of 2 million lives cut short? Some victims were middle-aged, most in the prime of life. Perhaps 500,000 of them were children. If a single life is priceless, how can a value be placed on so many lives? For the Nazis not only stole the accumulated wealth of generations and annihilated a society and a culture which had flourished for 500 years - they destroyed that society's future capacity to earn, produce, create and expand. In laying waste to the past, they also succeeded in obliterating the future. That is what was lost, and that is the true economic cost of Aktion Reinhard.

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© ARC 2006