Operation Generalplan Ost

overall plan east

This was the German plan to accomplish Adolf Hitler’s ‘new order of ethnographical relations’ in the eastern European territories seized by the German army (7 October 1939/May 1945).

The plan was prepared in 1940/41 and confirmed in 1942, and reflected Hitler’s own Lebensraum concept as well as fulfilling Germany’s well-established concept of the Drang nach Osten (drive to the east). The body responsible for the creation of the plan was the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA, or Reich Security Office), which had been entrusted with the task of combating all the enemies of Nazism and Nazi Germany. It was a strictly confidential document, and its contents were known only to those at the very head of the Nazi party. According to one source, the plan’s definitive version was drafted in 1940, and had been preceded by a number of studies and research projects carried out over several years by various academic centres to provide the necessary facts and figures.

The preliminary versions had been discussed by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and his most trusted colleagues even before the outbreak of war in 1930, as mentioned by SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski during his evidence as a prosecution witness in the trial of officials of the Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt-SS (SS Main Office for Race and Settlement). No copies of the plan were found after the war among the documents in German archives. Nevertheless, the fact that such a document was created and used by Nazi officials is beyond doubt. The existence of the plan was confirmed by Dr Hans Ehlich, one of the witnesses in Trial 8 before the US Military Tribunal in Nürnberg. As a senior official in the RSHA, Ehlich was the person responsible for the drafting of Generalplan Ost. Apart from his testimony, there are several documents which refer to this plan or are supplements to it.

Much of the essential elements of the plan have been reconstructed from related memos, abstracts and other ancillary documents. The principal document which makes it possible to recreate with a great deal of accuracy the contents of Generalplan Ost is a memorandum of 27 April 1942 entitled Stellungnahme und Gedanken zum Generalplan Ost des Reichsführers-SS (Opinion and Ideas Regarding the General Plan for the East of the Reichsführer-SS). Its author was Dr Erich Wetzel, the Leiter der Hauptstelle Beratungsstelle des Rassenpolitischen Amtes der NSDAP (head of the Central Advisory Office on Questions of Racial Policy at the National Socialist Party). This memorandum is an elaboration of the 'Generalplan Ost'.

The final version of the 'Generalplan Ost' had two basic parts. The first, known as the kleine Planung (little plan), covered the immediate future and was to be implemented gradually as the Germans conquered the areas east of their pre-war borders. The individual stages of this plan would then be worked out in greater detail. In this way the plan for Poland was drawn up at the end of November 1939. The second part of the plan, known as the grosse Planung (large plan), dealt with objectives to be realised after the war had been won, and were to be effected gradually and relatively slowly over a period of 25/30 years.

The 'Generalplan Ost' envisaged the Germanicisation, to differing extents, of the various conquered nations, or expulsion into the depths of Russia, or other fates, whose effect would be to ensure that the conquered territories would take on an irrevocably German character. The plan demanded, over a 10-year period, the extermination, expulsion, enslavement or Germanicisation of most or all Poles and East Slavs still living behind the front line, so providing the Lebensraum for 250 million Germans of the Thousand-Year Reich. By a time 50 years after the war’s end, the 'Generalplan Ost' foresaw the eventual expulsion and extermination of more than 50 million Slavs beyond the Ural mountains. Of the Poles, by 1942 only about three to four million were to be left in the former Poland, and then only to serve as slaves for German settlers. They were to be forbidden to marry, the existing ban on any medical help to Poles in Germany would be extended, and eventually Poles would cease to exist.

The plan was primarily the brainchild of Himmler. During the war the Nazis started to realise the plan by carrying out expulsions in Poland and Ukraine, and by resettling ethnic Germans from farther to the east on previously Polish-owned properties. In 1943, the Zamość area, as a result of its fertile black soil, was selected for further German colonisation in the Generalgouvernement (general government) as part of the 'Generalplan Ost'. Polish farmers were expropriated and forcibly removed from their farms, the Polish population expelled amid great brutality, and the farms then handed to German settlers, although few Germans actually settled in the area before 1944.

During the war, Polish citizens of German ethnic origins, who often identified themselves with the Polish nation, were confronted with the dilemma of whether to sign the Folksiest, the list of Germans living in Poland. This included ethnic Germans whose families had lived in Poland proper for centuries. Often the choice was either to sign and be regarded as a traitor by the Polish, or not to sign and be treated by the Nazi occupation as a ‘traitor of the Germanic race’.

Some ethnic Poles had signed the Folksiest for different reasons. A certain number of Polish children were also forcibly separated from their parents and, after undergoing scrutiny to ensure that they were of appropriately ‘Nordic’ racial stock, were sent to Germany to be raised in German families. Only a very small number of the children who were taken were ever returned to their parents. Activities such as ‘Tannenberg’ and various Intelligenzaktionen entailing the elimination of the Polish intelligentsia and activists were also carried out in conformity with the 'Generalplan Ost'.

Between 1939 and 1945 the German genocide programmes killed almost all European Jews, most gipsies, very large numbers of Polish civilians of all ethnic origins, and unknown but huge number of Russians, Byelorussians and Ukrainians in the German-occupied territories. Furthermore, millions died at the Nazi concentration and extermination camps.