Warsaw, Occupied Poland • November 4, 1939
On this date in 1939 in Nazi-occupied Poland, newly appointed Governor-General Hans Frank established the Warsaw ghetto and began forcing the city’s Jews into a single area. Ten days later Frank and his deputy Arthur Seyss-Inquart ordered Jews in Poland to wear a white bracelet bearing a hexagonal Star of David, long a Jewish symbol. Like Frank, Seyss-Inquart was an unwavering anti-Semite and assisted Frank in the “pacification” of Poland’s underground resistance movement, or Polish Underground State.
Following the capitulation of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg to the German Wehrmacht (armed forces) in May 1940, Seyss-Inquart assumed the office of Reichskommissar for the Occupied Netherlands. Within months of his arrival, Seyss-Inquart banned all political parties except the Dutch fascist party, the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB), which operated a paramilitary wing. His administration established a forced labor program that put around 530,000 Dutch civilians to work for the occupiers, of whom 250,000 were sent to factories in Germany. Camp Erika at Ommen (Eastern Netherlands) collected Dutchmen who refused to perform forced labor.
As a Reichskommissar who answered directly to Adolf Hitler, Seyss-Inquart took measures similar to those Hitler had taken in Germany in the 1930s; namely, removing Jews from the Dutch government, the press, and leading positions in industry. Anti-Jewish measures intensified from 1941: all of the approximately 140,000 Jews in the country (less than two percent of the population) were registered, a Jewish Council (Joodse Raad voor Amsterdam) was established to coordinate Jewish affairs within the country, $100,000,000 worth of Jewish property was confiscated, a ghetto behind barbed wire was created in Amsterdam, and several “Jewish assembly camps,” or transit camps, were set up, one at Amersfoort in Central Holland for political prisoners and one near Westerbork in Northeastern Holland adjacent to the German border. The Joodse Raad collaborated in selecting Jews for deportation to the camps.
In February 1941, the first 600 Jews were dispatched to concentration camps at Buchenwald in Germany and Mauthausen in Austria. Later, 101,000 Dutch Jews and about 5,000 German Jews (including Anne Frank and her family) were deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz-Birkenau (Oświęcim in present-day Poland), Sobibór (Poland), Bergen-Belsen (Northwestern Germany), and Theresienstadt (Terezín, Czech Republic), all places where most camp inmates died from deprivations, exhaustion, or disease or were gassed. As Allied liberators approached Westerbork in September 1944, the remaining Jews were removed to Theresienstadt, and when Amersfoort was liberated there were scarcely any Jews among its 415 survivors. Of 140,000 registered Jews in Holland, only 30,000 survived the war, many of them hidden by the Dutch underground.
Arthur Seyss-Inquart: Hitler’s Reichskommisar in Occupied Netherlands
Left: Austrian lawyer Arthur Seyss-Inquart (1892–1946), shown here in Vienna on the last day of 1939, was a devotee of Heinrich Himmler and his concepts of racial purity. In February 1938 Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg appointed Seyss-Inquart Minister of the Interior, the second-most important post in the Austrian cabinet, after Adolf Hitler had threatened Schuschnigg with military action in the event of noncompliance. Military action came anyway. Upon Anschluss (union) with Germany in March 1938, Seyss-Inquart, Schuschnigg’s successor as Austrian chancellor, was appointed governor of the new Reich province of Ostmark. Following the German invasion of Poland, Seyss-Inquart became a deputy to Hans Frank, Governor-General of the administrative unit known as the “General Government,” or that part of Poland not incorporated into the Third Reich. He fully supported Frank’s heavy-handed policies, including the brutal persecution of Poland’s Jews.
Right: In this photo Seyss-Inquart is seen addressing German Ordnungspolizei (Orpo, short for Order Police) in the Dutch capital, The Hague, 1940. The Orpo reported to Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuehrer-SS and Chief of German Police. Following the capitulation of the Low Countries, Seyss-Inquart was appointed Reichskommisar for the Occupied Netherlands in May 1940. Until July 1944 Seyss-Inquart administered the country himself. Up until Dutch liberation in May 1945, Seyss-Inquart authorized the execution of around 800 Dutch citizens (although some reports put this total at over 1,500), which included the reprisal executions of 117 Dutchmen for the attack on an SS police chief. At the Nuremberg Trials, the court weighed Seyss-Inquart’s involvement in the harsh suppression of Nazi opponents during his years in government service, atrocities perpetrated against the Jews, and his reign of terror in the Netherlands. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death in 1946.
Reichskommissar Seyss-Inquart Reviewing a Parade in Groningen’s Grote Markt Square, June 1940