Berlin, Germany April 27, 1942

At least since the 1925 publication of Adolf Hitler’s polit­i­cal mani­festo, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), National Socialists, or Nazis for short, were openly dis­cussing various colo­ni­za­tion schemes for Cen­tral and East­ern Europe. Nazis were sure that more Lebens­raum (living space) for a popu­la­tion of 62 mil­lion peo­ple was needed if Germany were to assume a leading role among the com­mu­nity of world powers. The East must be cleared of what the German dic­ta­tor termed cul­turally and racially infe­rior people (kulturell und rassisch minder­wertige Voelker) and resettled with a “bio­log­i­cally” supe­rior people of Aryan, or Nordic (that is, German) stock. As Fuehrer (leader), Hitler called on the terri­ble swift sword of his Wehr­macht (German mili­tary) and the allegedly more vigor­ous and intel­li­gent German settler com­mu­nity, in­cluding Volks­deutsche (people whose lan­guage and cul­ture had German ori­gins but who did not hold German citizen­ship), to produce an ethnic trans­for­ma­tion (Umvolkung) and a per­ma­nent German Volks- und Kultur­boden (people’s and culture soil) in the East.

Between Nazi Germany’s invasion of its east­ern neigh­bor Poland in Septem­ber 1939 and the Wehr­macht’s sound defeat further east at Stalin­grad in the Soviet Union at the end of Janu­ary 1943, various abstracts and memo­randa of General­plan Ost (Master Plan for the East), each with dif­ferent empha­ses, sur­faced in the Reich Com­mis­sioner’s Office for the Strength­ening of German­dom (Reichs­kom­mis­sariat fuer die Festi­gung deu­tschen Volks­tums), widely known by the ini­tials RKFDV, in­cluding a memo on this date, April 27, 1942. (The most senior officer in the RKFDV was Reichs­fuehrer-SS Hein­rich Himm­ler, head of the Nazi Party’s all-powerful para­military Schutz­staffel, or SS.) At least two more ver­sions, one in late May (offi­cially dated June and sent to Him­mler for his impri­ma­tur) and the other in late Octo­ber 1942, tweaked the April plan. Though an intact copy has not been located to date, broadly speaking General­plan Ost addressed agri­cul­tural, indus­trial, urban, and popu­lation resettle­ment of 4,550,000 people of German origin as well as trans­fer issues of 31 mil­lion “aliens” to be resettled (ausgesiedelt) to Western Siberia or else killed. (Of the Polish pop­u­la­tion 80–85 per­cent, or 20 mil­lion people, were to be resettled, the highest per­cent­age for any con­quered nation­al­ity.) Despite its costs and pro­jected 30‑year run, the pro­gram to Ger­man­ize huge swathes of the East had its attractors, from Hitler and Himm­ler to the more than 750,000 Reich Germans and Volks­deutsche who even­tu­ally settled in Polish areas that had been either annexed by the Reich (West Prussia, Warthe­gau, and Upper Silesia) or occupied (General Government).

Ruthless, large-scale ethnic cleansing by SS-Einsatz­gruppen (mobile death squads) and other SS police units made room for the rapid in­flux of German sett­lers across Poland. Roughly 800,000 non-Jewish Poles were expelled from their homes and farms and deported; 3 mil­lion Poles of Jewish des­cent were first cram­med into urban ghettos and then evac­u­ated to be mur­dered on an indust­rial scale in death camps with names like Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bełżec, Majdanek, Sobibór, Chełmno (Kulm­hof), and Treblinka; and 1.7 mil­lion Fremd­voelkische (for­eign peo­ple) were deported west­ward as forced laborers to Reich mines, fac­tories, and farms. Between 20,000 and 50,000 Polish chil­dren who had Aryan-Nordic fea­tures (eye and hair color, shape of head and nose, height, skin color, etc.) and passed a medi­cal exam and per­formed well on psycho­log­i­cal tests were given false birth cer­tif­i­cates attesting to their pure-blooded (rein­rassig), German-born status. The chil­dren, many of them kid­napped by SS cadres from orphan­ages and schools and off city streets, were put up for adop­tion by “suit­able” Reichs­deutsche fam­i­lies in the West. Abducting chil­dren (esti­mated between 200,000 and 400,000 chil­dren from all over Europe), expul­sion of peoples from their natal com­mu­ni­ties, and geno­cide were part and parcel of Germanizing the Ostgebiete (Eastern Territories).

Germanizing and Colonizing the Ostgebiete: Generalplan Ost and the Example of Poland During World War II

Generalplan Ost: Map of eastern expansion

Above: Generalplan Ost, 1942, Nazi Germany’s secret master plan to reor­ga­nize the racial, ethnic, and cul­tural land­scape of Cen­tral and East­ern Europe using geno­cide, ethnic cleansing, depor­ta­tion, and enslave­ment on a vast and crimi­nal scale. This map depicts pre-war German borders in gray-green shade. The area inside the red line defines pre-war Germany and adja­cent terri­tories that were annexed by the Hitler regime. (There were admin­is­tra­tive, legal, and judi­cial dif­fer­ences between annexed, or incor­po­rated, areas and occu­pied areas.) The white area between the wavy red line and the heavy broken black line (roughly Lake Ladoga-Volga-Don rivers) depicts the second phase of German settle­ment and included the estab­lish­ment of the General Government and the Reichs­kom­mis­sa­riats Ost­land (the Baltic States and Western Bela­rus) and Ukraine. To the south of those areas are terri­tories and states that were allies of Nazi Germany (north to south: Fin­land, Slo­va­kia, Roma­nia, Bul­garia, Yugo­slavia, and Italy). East of the broken black line are the­o­ret­i­cal polit­i­cal divi­sions and planned civil­ian occu­pa­tion regimes in north­ern and cen­tral Euro­pean Russia, Mos­kowien (also spelled Mos­kau) and Kau­ka­sien (also spelled Kau­ka­sus) to the south that were never realized owing to the Wehr­macht’s west­ward retreat on the Eastern Front, which gathered momen­tum in 1943–1944. Yellow repre­sents neu­tral states in World War II, which conflict in Europe ended in May 1945.

Generalplan Ost: "Planning and Construction in the East" exhibition, March 1941Generalplan Ost: High-ranking visitors, March 20, 1941

Left: A model of a proposed settler community in Germany’s “New East” (Neuer Osten), whose so-far “badly exploited, fertile soil of black earth could be a para­dise, a Cali­for­nia of Europe,” proph­e­sized Hitler. In March 1941 the settle­ment plan­ners under Reichs­fuerher-SS Hein­rich Himm­ler orga­nized a public exhi­bit­ion in the German capi­tal, Berlin. Under the title “Planning and Con­struc­tion in the East,” the exhi­bi­tion used dis­play boards and models on tables that depicted what future vil­lages in the newly won east­ern terri­tories” should look like. The exhi­bi­tion was repeated in October of the same year.

Right: Using miniature model homes, villages, and farms laid out on display tables, Himm­ler explained his settle­ment plans to Rudolf Hess (folded hands left), Deputy Fuehrer of the Nazi Party, on March 20, 1941. Inside the exte­rior walls of the mini­a­ture homes were repre­sen­ta­tions of living rooms, kitchens, bath­rooms, and bed­rooms. Hess appeared on Hitler’s behalf at Nazi rallies and engage­ments like this one. Hess was next in line to Reichs­marshall and Luft­waffe chief Her­mann Goering to suc­ceed Hitler until the Deputy Fuehrer’s fate­ful solo flight to Scot­land on May 10, 1941, when he hoped to initi­ate peace talks between Germany and Great Britain. Embar­rassed by Hess’s stunt, Hitler abol­ished the post of Deputy Fuehrer, stripped Hess of his party and state offi­ces, and secretly ordered him shot on sight if he ever returned home.

Generalplan Ost: Construction of Resettlement Village WarthegauGeneralplan Ost: Himmler warmly welcomes settler

Left: Planners around agronomist SS-Oberfuehrer (Brigadier General) Dr. Konrad Meyer-Hetling publicly pro­moted their visions for new settle­ments in the con­quered, resource-rich Ost­gebiete. It was Meyer-Hetling’s mid-1940 memo­ran­dum as chief of the RKFDV Plan­ning and Soil (Planung und Boden) Depart­ment to Reichs­fuehrer-SS Hein­rich Himm­ler on the “Ger­mani­za­tion” of the East­ern Terri­tories that morphed into General­plan Ost. In order to make the con­quered areas perma­nently German, Meyer-Hetling and his aco­lytes planned to settle over 4.5 mil­lion Germans along with “Germans” from Western Europe (e.g., Alsace-Lorraine and Luxembourg) and America in the Warthe­gau, an area of Poland incor­po­rated into the Third Reich. Other settle­ment areas included the General Govern­ment (home to 10 mil­lion Poles), Byelo­russia (today’s Belarus), and Ukraine, the latter two states being west­ern parts of the Soviet Union. This was all to happen inside 20 years, down orig­i­nally from 25–30 years. Chairing the Com­mit­tee for Resettle­ment in the Occu­pied East­ern Terri­tories, Meyer-Hetling opined that the set­tlers would “bio­log­i­cally” dis­place what remained of the indig­e­nous popu­la­tion. The photo on the left shows the new con­struc­tion of a model resettle­ment village in the Warthe­gau. In the wake of the calam­ity that befell the Axis armies at Stalin­grad and Germany’s decla­ra­tion of Totaler Krieg (Febru­ary 18, 1943), Hitler sus­pended further plan­ning for colo­ni­zing the “Germanic East” with “Germanic blood” until peace­time, and so the resettlement program was gradually abandoned.

Right: In this photo Reichsfuehrer-SS Himm­ler, in his role as resettle­ment com­mis­sioner (RKFDV), wel­comes a smiling Volks­deutscher resettler from Galicia to Przemysl (German, Premsl­au or Pröm­sel) dis­trict. Przemysl lay in that part of German-occu­pied Poland known as the Gene­ral Govern­ment (German, General­gou­ver­nement). In July 1941 Gali­cia was sepa­rated from the Gene­ral Govern­ment to form its own admin­is­tra­tive dis­trict, Dis­trikt Gali­zien. The dis­trict ceased to exist after the Soviet coun­ter­off­en­sive in 1944. Galicia is now part of Western Ukraine.

Generalplan Ost: Settler applicant family Gliebe, 1941Generalplan Ost: Settler applicant family Gliebe health test, 1941

Above: In the plans for colonizing Central and Eastern Europe, Volks­deutsche played a key role—but only if and when they were cer­ti­fied to be “racially desir­able” (ras­si­sche er­wuenscht) and with­out any dis­turbing polit­i­cal blemishes (poli­tisch unbe­denk­lich). Himm­ler’s SS regis­tered all in­coming immi­grant settlers in a rigorous pro­ce­dure. The pro­ce­dure involved a cen­tral regis­tra­tion data­base called the German People’s List (Deutsche Volks­liste, DVL) that racially ranked males and females in the con­quered East according to their degree of “German­ness.” For example, DVL cate­go­ries I and II distin­guished would-be col­o­nists based on their “active” or “pas­sive” engage­ment with the Reich before 1939: Volks­deutsche (active) vs. Deutsch­staemmige (German descen­dants, pas­sive), and rewarded member­ship dif­fer­ently. Members of cate­go­ries III and IV were sent to Germany as laborers and subject to con­scrip­tion into the Wehr­macht. Persons who had been assigned to one of the four DVL cate­go­ries but who denied their ties to Germany were dealt with very harshly and ordered to con­cen­tra­tion camps. Thus, Gliebe family appli­cants from Slo­venia (a state in former Yugo­sla­via), shown here in both frames, had to pass civil, racial, and health tests if they were to receive their natu­ral­i­za­tion papers (Ein­buergerungs­urkun­den). The two photos were taken in 1941 for documentation and propaganda purposes.

Germany’s Generalplan Ost and the Genocide Years: 1939–1945