A Story of Destruction and Survival

After the invasion of Poland, on October 26, 1939, at the same time as the establishment of the Generalgouvernement (GG), the obligation to work for Jews was proclaimed. Ghettos are formed and forced labour camps (ZAL) are established.

At the beginning of „Operation Barbarossa“, the attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, there were about 540,000 Jews living in Eastern Galicia. Behind the troops of the Wehrmacht, task forces of the SiPo (Sicherheitspolizei) and SD (Sicherheitsdienst = SS security service) murdered political commissioners and representatives of the Jewish intelligentsia. Pogroms take place in 31 places in eastern Galicia. At the beginning of August 1941, the newly founded district of Galicia takes over the obligation to work for Jews and other anti-Jewish decrees. The first forced labour camps for Jews (ZALfJ) are set up at Durchgangsstraße IV (DG4, Thoroughfare 4) and in Lemberg (Lviv)-Janowska (DAW). Companies such as Beskiden-Erdöl (later Karpathen-Öl AG) are able to re-employ „irreplaceable“ Jewish specialists. In autumn 1941, mass shootings of the Jewish population – including women and children – take place in many places in the district. On November 1, construction of the extermination camp Bełżec begins.

At the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, the administrative cooperation between the civil administration, the military, the SS and the police in the „Final Solution of the Jewish question“ was sealed. The establishment of closed ghettos is decreed. In spring 1942 the systematic Final Solution begins with the first wave of mass deportations to Bełżec. Employment offices register all Jews, graded according to their work qualifications (ABC registration). Forced labour now appears to Jews threatened with extermination as a temporary salvation, especially as the ghettos are gradually reduced in size by the murder of their inmates. In the summer, the SS receives authority over the forced labour of Jews. The autumn of 1942 becomes the phase of the worst mass murders in the General Government (GG): many ghettos are cleared, mass shootings and deportations to the extermination camps are intensified. The withdrawal of Polish and Ukrainian workers („Ostarbeiter“) into the Reich exacerbates the shortage of labour in the companies: irreplaceable Jewish workers are only allowed to be kept in companies important to the war effort, barracked in SS camps. R“ and „W“ armbands are issued to these Jews; work camps and work columns of other companies are liquidated. ZAL Lemberg-Janowska, established in May 1942, becomes a work, selection and killing centre. At the end of October, parallel to the evacuation of the ghetto in Krakow, the ZAL in Krakow-Plaszów is established – the largest ZALfJ in the GG. By mid-December 1942 over 450,000 Jews are gassed in Bełżec.

Between March and May 1943, almost all the remaining ghettos in the GG were dissolved in brutal murderous actions. In the district of Galicia about 50,000 Jewish forced labourers are still interned in camps. After the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Jewish resistance actions, Himmler considers the last ghettos and forced labor camps a security risk, which he wants to eliminate completely. In the summer of 1943, most Jewish forced labourers are murdered in mass executions, including all ZAL prisoners at DG IV. SS and police leader Katzmann reports that the district of Galicia is „free of Jews“, except for 21,000 prisoners in 21 ZAL, mainly the ZAL Lemberg-Janowska and some camps of the Karpathen-Öl AG. German and Ukrainian police are hunting for Jews who have gone underground in the woods.

Hundreds of Jews who were no longer able to feed themselves in the underground entered the last remaining camps. In view of the approaching Eastern Front, the ZALs in the district were evacuated from March 1944 onwards – ZAL Boryslaw and Drohobycz in three transports to Plaszów and Auschwitz. There, some of the arrivals were shot or gassed directly, or deported to other camps such as Mauthausen, Stutthof and Bergen-Belsen, where most of them were destroyed by work or murder.

The total number of murdered Jews from the district of Galicia amounts to about 525,000 victims, of which at least 40,000 perished as forced labourers in the ZAL. Only 2-3 percent of Galician Jews survived the Holocaust.