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The General Government (in full General government for the occupied Polish areas, in German Generalgouvernement für die besetzten polnischen Gebiete) was the name given by Germany to the governing authority in Poland after its occupation by the Wehrmacht in September and October 1939. The term is also applied, though not strictly correctly, to the territory administered by the General Government.
Creation of the General Government
Hans Frank was appointed Governor-General of the occupied territories on 26 October 1939. Two decrees by Hitler (8 October and 12 October 1939) provided for the division of the annexed areas of Poland into the following administrative units:
- Reichsgau Wartheland (initially Reichsgau Posen), which included the entire Poznan Voivodship, most of the Lodz Voivodship, five couties of the Pomeranian voivodship, and one county of the Warsaw voivodship;
- the remaining area of Pomeranian voivodship, which was incorporated into the Reichsgau Danzig-Westpreussen (initially Reichsgau Westpreussen);
- Ciechanow District (Regierungsbezirk Zichenau) consisting of the five northern counties of Warszawa Voivodship (Plock, Plonsk, Sierpc , Ciechanow and Mlawa), which became a part of East Prussia;
- Katowice District (Regierungsbezirk Kattowitz) or unofficially Ost-Oberschlesien (East Upper Silesia); which included Sosnowiec, Będzin, Chrzanow, and Zawiercie counties and parts of Olkusz and Zywiec counties.
The area of these territories was 94,000 square kilometres and the population was about 10 million.
The remaining block of territory was placed under an administration called the General Government (in German Generalgouvernement für die besetzten polnischen Gebiete), with its capital at Krakow and subdivided into four districts, Warsaw, Lublin, Radom, and Krakow. After the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, East Galicia, previously part of the Ukrainian SSR, was incorporated into the General Government and became its fifth district.
The General Government was a purely German administration, not a Polish puppet government.
The population in the General Government's territory was initially about 12 million, but this increased as about 860,000 Poles and Jews were expelled from the Germany-annexed areas and "resettled" in the Government General. Offsetting this was the German campaign of extermination of the Polish intelligentsia and other elements thought likely to resist. From 1941 disease and hunger also began to reduce the population. Poles were also deported in large numbers to work as forced labour in Germany: eventually about a million were deported, of whom many died in Germany.
In 1940 the population was divided on different groups. Each group had different rights, food ratios, allowed strips in the cities, public transportation and restricted restaurants. Listed from the most privileged to the least:
- Germans from Germany (Reichdeutsche),
- Germans from outside, active ethnic Germans, Volksliste category 1 and 2 (see Volksdeutsche).
- Germans from outside, passive Germans and members of families (this group included also many ethnic Poles), Volksliste category 3 and 4,
- Highlanders (Goralenvolk) - an attempt to split the Polish nation by using local collaborators
- Jews (eventually sentenced to extermination as a category).
During the Wannsee conference on January 20, 1942, The State Secretary of the General Government, Dr. Josef Bühler pushed Heydrich to implement the "final solution" in the General Government. As far as he was concerned, the main problem of General Government was an overdeveloped black market that disorganised the work of the authorities. He saw a remedy in solving the "Jewish question" in the country as fast as possible. An additional point in favour was, that there were no transportation problems here.
In 1942 the Germans began the systematic extermination of the Jewish population. The General Government was the location of four of the six extermination camps in which the most extreme measures of the Holocaust, the genocide by gassing of undesired "races," chiefly millions of Jews from Poland and other countries, was carried out between 1942 and 1944.
It was German policy that the (non-Jewish) Poles, like other Slavic peoples, were to be reduced to the status of serfs, and eventually replaced by German colonists of the "master race." In the Government General, all secondary education was abolished and all Polish cultural institutions closed. In 1943, the government selected the Zamojskie area for further German colonisation. German settlements were planned, and the Polish population expelled amid great brutality, but few Germans were settled in the area before 1944.
Resistance to the German occupation began almost at once, although there is little terrain in Poland suitable for guerilla operations. The main resistance force was the Home Army (in Polish: Armia Krajowa or AK), loyal to the Polish government in exile in London. It was formed mainly of the surviving remnants of the pre-War Polish army together with many volunteers. Other forces existed side-by-side, such as the communist People's Army (Armia Ludowa or AL), backed by the Soviet Union and controlled by the Polish Communist Party. By 1944 the AK had some 200,000 men, although few arms. During the occupation, the AK killed about 150,000 German troops. The AL was about 5% of the size of the AK.
In April 1943 the Germans began deporting the remaining Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, provoking the Warsaw Ghetto Rising, April 19 to May 16. That was the first armed uprising against the Germans in Poland, and prefigured the larger Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
In July 1944, as the Soviet armed forces approached Warsaw, the government in exile called for an uprising in the city, so that they could return to a liberated Warsaw and try to prevent a Communist take-over. The AK, led by Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, launched the Warsaw Rising on 1st August in response both to their government and to Soviet and Allied promises of help. However Soviet help was never forthcoming, despite the Soviet army being only 18 miles (30 km) away, and Soviet denial of their airbases to British and American planes prevented any effective resupply or air support of the insurgents by the Western allies. After 63 days of fighting the leaders of the rising agreed a conditional surrender with the Wehrmacht. The 15,000 remaining Home Army soldiers were granted POW status (prior to the agreement, captured rebels were shot), and the remaining civilian population of 180,000 expelled.
As the Soviets advanced through Poland in late 1944 the General Government collapsed. Frank was captured by American troops in May 1945 and was one of the defendants at the Nuremberg Trials. During his trial he converted to Catholicism. Frank surrendered forty volumes of his diaries to the Tribunal and much evidence against him and others was gathered from them. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and on October 1, 1946, he was sentenced to death by hanging.
- World War II evacuation and expulsion
- Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany
- Polish areas annexed by Soviet Union
- List of Concentration Camps for Poles
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