BBC The Nazis A Warning From History (1997) s01e04 Episode Script

Part 4

One country suffered more than any other under the Nazis - Poland.
Nearly one in five Poles died during World War Two.
This was where the Nazis conducted one of the most brutal acts of ethnic cleansing in history.
(GUNFIRE) One of the chief architects of this policy lived here on a 70-acre estate in the western part of Poland.
His name was Arthur Greiser.
In 1946, Arthur Greiser was put on trial for war crimes.
He cut a pathetic figure.
He claimed he too had been "a victim of Hitler's policies" and that he was merely "a scapegoat for the crimes of his masters".
(SPEAKS IN POLISH) Arthur Greiser, like other leading Nazis, claimed he'd simply been "acting under orders".
But he lied.
For when Arthur Greiser sat in the drawing room of his 60-room palace, he possessed the independence and power of a mighty feudal baron.
This is the story of the first 20 months of the Nazi occupation, when men like Greiser tried to turn Poland into the model Nazi state.
The Germans invaded Poland on 1st September, 1939.
(GUNFIRE AND EXPLOSIONS) Within five weeks, the Polish army had been crushed.
(GERMAN MARCHING SONG) Hitler's popularity soared.
To German soldiers, he was the military genius who let them regain all the German territory in the East they had lost after World War One.
(CHEERING) Germany was a world superpower and Hitler was the man to thank.
Now Hitler revealed his vision for Poland - a fundamental re-ordering of the country based on Nazi racial theory.
In August 1939, Hitler and Stalin had agreed to share Poland between them.
The Nazis created three new districts in their part of Poland.
Hitler wanted two of them, the Warthegau under Arthur Greiser and West Prussia under Albert Forster, to be ethnically cleansed and incorporated into Germany.
And in a typically vague order, Hitler told Forster and Greiser that they should Germanise their districts, but he would ask no questions about their methods.
A crucial part of Germanisation was the grading of the population according to how German they were in terms of looks, language and attitude.
One group could be Germanised instantly.
They were the ethnic Germans who lived in the parts of Poland which were German before World War One.
They welcomed the German army as their saviours.
Charles Bleeker Kohlsaat lived with the rest of his family on a 1500-acre estate in Greiser's province of the Warthegau.
The Nazis renamed the area around his house "Bleekersdorf" after his family.
The Nazis believed the Germans were racially superior to the Poles.
Poles that were not thought German risked deportation to another district or arbitrary arrest.
Poles who could stay in the Germanised areas were treated as slaves.
And the Nazis encouraged the ethnic Germans to settle old scores with their former neighbours.
(GUNSHOTS) And in the Nazi kingdom of Poland, the SS could do anything it liked, as one German soldier witnessed.
Some senior German army officers were appalled at these atrocities.
One general's complaint reached Hitler.
The Führer's military adjutant recorded Hitler's reaction to it.
"Hitler makes serious criticism of childish attitudes amongst the army leadership.
"One can't fight a war with Salvation Army methods.
" Hitler may have had a vision for what he wanted in Poland, but he also believed men like Greiser should run their domains as they saw fit.
That meant they all ran them differently.
Arthur Greiser's rival and neighbour, Albert Forster, who ran Danzig/West Prussia, chose to conduct the ethnic cleansing in his district in a completely different way.
Albert Forster, though himself a committed Nazi later found guilty of war crimes, did not believe rigidly in Nazi racial theory.
His view was that if the Führer wanted this part of Poland Germanised, the quicker it was done, the better.
He simply declared that whole groups of Poles were now Germans without checking their ethnic origins.
But Romuald Pilaczynski's uncle lived in Posen, within the area run by Arthur Greiser.
There he and his family suffered a different fate.
So Romuald Pilaczynski's uncle was, according to Arthur Greiser, a Pole, whilst he, according to Albert Forster, was a German.
As a result, he and his family weren't deported and he could still receive an education, but he didn't FEEL German.
Albert Forster believed he was acting within the discretion given him by Hitler.
His neighbour, the fanatical racist Arthur Greiser, was furious.
Greiser wrote letters of complaint to his mentor, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS.
"I avoided trying to win cheap successes by Germanising people "who could not provide proof of their German origin.
"As I have frequently discussed with you, "my ethnic policies are threatened by those pursued in Danzig/West Prussia "insofar as the policy attempted there "appears to the superficial observer to be more successful.
" Like Greiser, Himmler was fanatically committed to racial theory.
He believed it was possible scientifically to distinguish a Germanic race.
But Forster had been heard to joke that if he looked like Himmler, he wouldn't go on about the idea of race so much.
When Himmler heard that Forster was Germanising en masse, he wrote a letter of complaint to him, telling him to Germanise each Pole only after detailed ethnic examination and reminding Forster "You, as an old National Socialist, "know that just one drop of false blood that comes into an individual's veins "can never be removed.
" But Albert Forster wasn't worried by Himmler's threatening letter.
As a Gauleiter, or district leader, he had direct contact with Hitler and he believed that Hitler would let him govern his own area as he liked.
He was right.
Hitler didn't intervene and Forster never changed his policy.
Greiser had another problem.
In the autumn of 1939, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans arrived in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Under a deal between Hitler and Stalin, they were allowed to leave neighbouring countries and come home to the Reich.
Greiser had to find homes for many incoming Germans in the Warthegau.
German propaganda film shows the incoming Germans being welcomed by the indigenous German population of Poland.
The reality could be very different.
But if the local Germans weren't impressed with the new arrivals, many of the new arrivals were equally disappointed.
They were told they were being resettled in Germany.
According to the Nazis, they were, but that depended, of course, on how you defined Germany.
The new arrivals needed somewhere permanent to live.
In Greiser's district, that was easily solved.
Polish families like the Jeziorkowskas simply received a late-night visit from the German security forces.
The Nazis distributed the property they had stolen to incoming ethnic Germans.
Each head of a family was given a key, a map, and told to go and find their new flat somewhere in the city.
Propaganda pictures show the pristine glory of the fresh accommodation.
For the Eigis, it wasn't like that at all.
The incoming ethnic Germans now had homes to live in, but they didn't have jobs.
That difficulty too was swiftly overcome.
Before coming to Greiser's Warthegau, Irma Eigi's father had run a hotel and restaurant.
Irma Eigi's father eventually found a restaurant that was still in Polish hands.
He informed the local Nazis and they stole it from the Polish owner for him.
In the depths of the Polish countryside, the forced evictions could be even worse.
Whole villages could be uprooted in one action.
One night in the summer of 1940, the Nazis arrived at Odrowaz, an isolated village in the heart of Greiser's fiefdom of the Warthegau.
They planned to remove every inhabitant of the village at three in the morning.
Franz Jagemann was an interpreter assigned to the German forces carrying out the action.
Appalled at this barbarism, Franz Jagemann later warned other Polish villagers in advance of their fate, but he still carried on participating as an interpreter in the evictions.
(MOURNFUL VIOLIN MUSIC) In Greiser's Warthegau, in little over a year, 700,000 Poles were evicted from their homes.
Greiser deported many south-east, to the part of Poland he saw as the Nazis' racial dustbin - the General Government run by Nazi Hans Frank.
The Jeziorkowskas were simply thrown off the train once it reached its destination.
In spring, 1940, 15,000 Poles a month were sent to the General Government.
These massive deportations from Greiser's district enraged Hans Frank, the man who ruled the General Government.
(FAINT ITALIAN OPERA) The country house of this Italian-opera-loving Nazi was outside Kraków in a palace seized from a Polish prince.
(OPERA) Hans Frank was proud of his long relationship with Hitler, a relationship characterised by Frank's total sycophancy.
Frank was confident that such abasement to the Nazi cause could help him win the argument over the deportations, but Himmler showed he knew best how to deal with Hitler and timing could be everything.
He wrote Hitler a memo emphasising that the General Government should remain a racial dumping ground.
He gave it to Hitler when the Führer was euphoric in May 1940 after German successes against France.
Hitler discussed the memo with Himmler.
Then Himmler wrote that Hitler found the memo to be "sehr gut und richtig", "very good and correct".
In a typical example of how key decisions could be taken in the Third Reich, Hitler never put his own views about the subject down on paper.
Himmler had won the battle.
Armed only with a nod from Hitler, he told Arthur Greiser to carry on deporting Poles down to Hans Frank.
Hans Frank dealt with his disappointment in his customary way.
He led his subordinates to believe that he supported Hitler's decision and that he hadn't been defeated at all.
Himmler's victory ensured that Poland was still the scene of gigantic upheaval and even the ethnic Germans did not escape cruel treatment.
Ethnic German farmers in a resettlement camp refused to be relocated because they were homesick.
Dr Fritz Arlt helped deal with the problem.
In our interview with him, Dr Arlt emphasised that he tried to help the occupied population.
But this letter about these ethnic German farmers shows a very different side to his character.
It bears the dictation mark "Dr A" for Dr Arlt.
We reminded him of its existence.
The letter calls for the ringleaders of the ethnic German farmers to be sent to a Nazi concentration camp.
Dr Arlt joined the Nazi Party in 1932.
Is he now ashamed he did? But another group suffered most at the hands of the Nazis in Poland - the three million Polish Jews.
Early on in the German occupation of Poland, the Nazis gathered together Polish Jews and then transported them into ghettos within the major towns.
The Nazis had not yet decided what the final fate of the Jews would be.
The biggest ghetto in Arthur Greiser's district was in Lodz.
Here in the spring of 1940, 160,000 Polish Jews were ordered to congregate in a ghetto area of less than two square miles.
Within weeks of the ghetto being opened, the Nazis sealed it, imprisoning the Jews behind barbed wire.
In order to escape starvation, the Jews had to buy food at inflated prices, either from the Nazis or unofficially from locals who lived outside the wire.
Eugen Zielke was an ethnic German living in Lodz.
His family owned a food shop and some of his relatives were involved in extorting money from the Jews, a crime from which he benefited as well.
The Jews, trapped behind the barbed wire, began by using their money to buy food.
When that ran out, they sold jewellery, ornaments, even their clothes.
When they had nothing left they could sell, they began to starve.
This was the office of the ambitious Nazi who ran the Lodz ghetto, a former coffee importer from Bremen called Hans Biebow.
He quickly discovered that in the ghetto he could do anything he liked, even attempt rape and murder.
Biebow began to do well for himself as a result of extorting money from the Jews.
But as spring turned to summer in 1940, the death rate in the ghetto began to rise, the victims buried here in the Jewish cemetery within the Lodz ghetto.
A debate raged among the local Nazis as to what they should do.
Biebow's deputy said the Germans should let all the Jews die.
But Biebow knew that if all the Jews did die, then he couldn't exploit them any more, so he came up with the solution which prevailed.
The Jews became slave workers, making goods which could be exchanged for more food.
Biebow made even more money, but he realised that he had to share the profits around, particularly with his boss, Arthur Greiser.
At the end of this road constructed by slave labour, Arthur Greiser sat in luxury in a palace also built on the suffering of the Poles.
(TRIUMPHANT GERMAN SONG) Far from being a victim of Hitler's policies, Greiser was their greatest beneficiary.
Far from acting under orders, he had interpreted the vague instructions he had been given from Hitler in a way that brought greatest profit to himself.
Far from being a scapegoat, he chose to be a thief and a murderer.
In the first 20 months of their occupation of Poland, the Nazis showed they were amongst the cruellest conquerors the world has seen, but even worse was to come.

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