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Operation Reinhard ( ) was the code name given to the Nazi plan to murder Polish Jews in the General Government, and marked the beginning of the most deadly phase of the Holocaust, the use of extermination camps. During the operation, as many as two million people were murdered in Belzecmarker, Majdanekmarker, Sobibormarker and Treblinkamarker, almost all of whom were Jews.


Originally, when the concentration camps were established in 1933, they were used for forced labour, imprisonment, and for re-education purposes, not for mass murder. But as the National Socialist regime developed, so did camp brutality. By the time of World War II, people were dying from starvation, untreated disease and murder in Germany and Austria, at places such as Dachaumarker, Bergen-Belsenmarker and Mauthausen-Gusenmarker.

From this situation, the next stage in this downward spiral was the creation of camps that had only one purpose: to kill thousands of people quickly and efficiently. In this respect, the camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka differed from those of Auschwitz-Birkenaumarker and Majdanekmarker, as these also functioned as forced labour factories.

Operation's name

It is hypothesized that the operation was named after 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 Third Reich during World War II. After the plans for the Final Solution were laid down at the Wannsee conferencemarker, Heydrich was assassinatedmarker by SOE agents on May 27, 1942; he died of his injuries eight days later.

This has been disputed by some researchers who argue that, since the more mainstream designation of the operation was "Aktion Reinhardt" (with "t" after "d"), it could not have been named after Reinhard Heydrich. They argue that it was named after German State Secretary of Finance Fritz Reinhardt. However, official documents using Reinhard Heydrich's name were also written as "Reinhardt".

Death factories

On October 13, 1941, SS and Police Leader Odilo Globocnik received a verbal order from Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler to start immediate construction work on the first extermination camp at Belzecmarker, in the General Government, Polandmarker.

The construction of three more extermination camps, Sobibórmarker and Majdanekmarker, in the Lublin district, and Treblinkamarker, at Małkinia Górnamarker, followed in 1942. Globocnik then oversaw Operation Reinhard, which was the systematic killing of more than two million Jews and non-Jews from Poland, and also Czechoslovakiamarker, Francemarker, the Reich (Austriamarker and Germanymarker), the Netherlandsmarker and the Soviet Unionmarker.

The structure of all camps was nearly identical. From the reception area, with ramp and undressing barracks, the victims entered a narrow, camouflaged path (called tube) that led to the extermination area, with gas chambers, pits and cremation grids. The SS guards and Trawnikimarker lived in a separate area. Wooden watchtowers and barbed-wire fences, partially camouflaged with pine branches, surrounded these camps.

Unlike the camps such as Dachau or Auschwitz, no electric fences were used, as camp inmate numbers were low. There were only slave that were used to assist arriving transport, for clearing away bodies, or for seizing property and valuables from dead victims.

Extermination process

The operation of extermination camps was similar to the killing methods used in some of the concentration camps such as Birkenau. First, victims would be asked to voluntarily hand over their valuables (which then became property of the German Reichsbank). Next, they were ordered to get undressed. Later, their clothes would be searched for hidden jewelry and other valuables. The naked victims were then force-marched into the gas chamber. Once packed tightly inside (to minimize available air), the chamber doors were closed. Finally, gas, which was initially carbon monoxide made by an oil-driven engine, was discharged inside. Twenty minutes later, the gas doors would be re-opened. Bodies were then removed by Sonderkommando; these were special teams of camp inmates given the job of disposing of the corpses.

Initially during Operation Reinhard, bodies were just thrown into mass graves and covered with lime. From late 1942 on, all victims were burned in order to hide the evidence of this war crime. But they still left a paper trail, an intercepted telegram sent by Hermann Höfle on January 11, 1943, to Adolf Eichmann in Berlin, listed 1,274,166 total arrivals to the four camps of Aktion Reinhard through the end of 1942, as well as the total arrivals by camp for the last two weeks of 1942.

Disposition of the property of the victims

Approximately 178m German Reichsmark worth of Jewish property (today's value: around 700m USD or 550m Euro) was taken. This money went not only to German authorities, but also to single individual SS and police men involved; however, the SS judge Georg Konrad Morgen was not allowed to investigate further the apparent corruption in these camps.

Aftermath and cover up

Operation Reinhard ended in November 1943. Most of the staff and guards were then sent to northern Italymarker for further Aktion against Jews and local partisans. Globocnik went to the San Sabbamarker concentration camp, where he supervised the detention, torture and killing of political prisoners.

At the same time, to cover up the mass murder of more than two million people in Poland during Operation Reinhard, the Nazis implemented the secret Sonderaktion 1005, also called Aktion 1005 or Enterdungsaktion ("exhumation action"). The operation, which began in 1942 and continued until the end of 1943, was designed to remove all traces that mass murder had been carried out. Leichenkommando ("corpse units") were created from camp prisoners to exhume mass graves and cremate the buried bodies, using giant grills made from wood and railway tracks. Afterwards, bone fragments were ground up in specialized milling machines and all remains were then re-buried in freshly-dug pits. The Aktion was overseen by squads from the SDmarker and Orpomarker.

After the war, some guards were tried and sentenced at the Nuremberg Trialsmarker for their role in Operation Reinhard and Sonderaktion 1005; however, many others escaped justice.

Alternative reference

In a report he wrote in Polish custody in Krakowmarker in November 1946, Rudolf Höss, the former Auschwitzmarker commandant, described Operation Reinhardt as the code name given to the collection, sorting and utilization of all articles which were acquired as the result of the transports of Jews and their extermination.

See also


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