- "Aktion Reinhardt": Der Völkermord an den Juden im Generalgouvernement 1941-1944
This is a long-overdue collection of essays in Holocaust and genocide studies. Its authors offer penetrating perspectives on the origins, motivations, implementation, and victimization of what is known as "Aktion Reinhard"—the mass-murder of Jews in Poland.1 Although part and parcel of the impending "Final Solution," which found its ultimate expression in Auschwitz, this operation has not received the attention one would expect of an event that signaled the Nazi destruction of European Jews. The book goes a long way in [End Page 170] correcting this relative lack of research by focusing on Aktion Reinhard as a defining moment of the Holocaust. Marshaling a wealth of information, the contributors researched regional developments, from the perspective of both perpetrators and victims, and how these entered into the overall Nazi decision-making process of "Solving the Jewish Question."
Extremely helpful as a guide to this large and complex volume consisting of fifteen essay-length contributions is Dieter Pohl's historiographical essay. In the course of discussing Aktion Reinhard-related research since the 1950s, Pohl introduces the reader to concepts, themes, and sources utilized and expressed in this text. Although, as Pohl explains, Aktion Reinhard cannot be defined precisely, he does identify the following key criteria: it was a coordinated extermination program that began with the deportation of Jews from the ghettos in Lublin and Krakow in March 1942 and ended in October/November 1943; at the "core of the action" was the Lublin office of the SS and Police Leader (SSPF) Odilo Globocnik and the extermination camps Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka; the Aktion was also geared to economic motives, namely, the wholescale theft of the victims' belongings and the exploitation of the victims through forced labor in camps such as the notorious Maidanek concentration camp; finally, there was the horrendous brutality of ghetto clearances and deportations that claimed untold numbers of victims in open-field mass shootings and in the veritable death-traps of sealed railroad carriages. These defining characteristics are described and analyzed in great detail under thematically organized sections: (1) the significance of the district of Lublin in the genesis of Aktion Reinhard, (2) deportations, transit-ghettos, and extermination camps, and (3) perpetrators.
Along with the final section (4), "The Genocide and the Outside World," this arrangement corresponds to Raul Hilberg's by now conventional division into perpetrators, victims, and bystanders, whereby the first and third sections deal with upper, middle, and lower rank perpetrators. But the content of the contributions thus organized clearly diverges from conventional studies by concentrating on regional, even single local, events and circumstances that reflect a distinct shift from the "center" to the "periphery" indicative of the scholarly discourse underway since the 1990s. In section one, Musial and Pohl make a convincing case for this paradigmatic shift by analyzing regional agencies and policies in the General Gouvernement (GG), specifically in the district of Lublin. They demonstrate that the SSPF Lublin, Globocnik and his staff, was crucial in the decision-making process to murder the Jews in the GG. As Musial writes, Globocnik exemplifies par excellence "how individuals [einzelne Akteure] on the periphery took their own initiative to solve the 'Jewish Question' through physical extermination. . ." (p. 83). Glubocnik was determined [End Page 171] to turn the district of Lublin into a showcase of German colonization to serve as a model for similar projects aiming at the wholescale Germanization of the GG. He proposed to murder the Jews—and suggested the means: "extermination camps equipped with stationary gas chambers" (pp. 74–75). Thus, the rubicon to genocide was crossed on 17 October 1941 when Hitler, lobbied by Himmler, issued a special directive to this effect.
The special place of Lublin district as a large-scale "experimentation locale" and "model" for Aktion Reinhard is vividly illustrated by Janina Kiełborń, David Silberklang, and Robert Kuwałek in section two. Kiełborń provides a concise...