On October 15, 1941, SS Reich Leader Heinrich Himmler assigned Odilo Globocnik, the SS and police leader in the Lublin District, the task of implementing what later became known as Einsatz Reinhard (Operation Reinhard). Named after SS General Reinhard Heydrich who died in June 1942 as a result of injuries sustained in an assassination attempt. Operation Reinhard became a pivotal component of the Nazis’ “Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” their plan to annihilate European Jewry.
The objective of Operation Reinhard was to murder all Jews located in the Generalgouvernement, the German-occupied parts of Poland not directly annexed to Germany or German-occupied areas of the Soviet Union, which included the district of Krakow, Warsaw, Radom, and Lublin. At that time, approximately two million Jews lived in the Generalgouvernement. Globocnik planned to accomplish this objective by deporting the Jews to killing centers where they would be murdered in gas chambers. In order to facilitate the operation, Globocnik established two departments: one responsible for coordinating deportations and one responsible for constructing and managing what would become the three Operation Reinhard camps – Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka II.
Told that they were being “resettled,” Jews living in the Generalgouvernement were transported from the ghettos to the death camps in seated freight train cars. Once there, the German SS and police who operated the camps stripped the victims of their belongings (clothes, money, jewelry, etc.) before murdering them in the gas chambers. The victims’ belongings were then moved to storage facilities in Lublin, at the Lublin-Majdanek concentration camp, or at several slave-labor camps. It has been estimated that the Germans seized more than 180,000,000 RM worth of property during Operation Reinhard and that the market value was much higher; this estimate did not include immovable assets, such as land, factories, and homes.
Between March 1942, when Belzec began killing operations, and October 1943, when Sobibor ceased operations, the Germans killed approximately 1.7 million Jews – along with an unknown number of Roma (Gypsies), Soviet prisoners of war, and Poles – as part of Operation Reinhard. Though the majority of the Jewish victims were deported from ghettos in Poland, German, Austrian, Czech, French, Dutch, and Macedonian Jews, among others, were also transported to and killed in the Operation Reinhard camps. Memorials now stand on the former sites of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka II.
When discussing Operation Reinhard with your students, consider the way in which the operation was systematically planned and implemented. Why was the Generalgouvernement the target of Operation Reinhard? What means did the Nazis use to deceive the victims of Operation Reinhard? What does the systematic nature of Operation Reinhard indicate about the Nazis’ intentions? How does Operation Reinhard fit within the larger context of the “Final Solution”?