Mod­el Nazi: Arthur Greis­er and the Occu­pa­tion of West­ern Poland

Cather­ine Epstein
  • Review
By – August 31, 2011
The Warthe­gau was the area of west­ern Poland annexed by Ger­many after its defeat of Poland in Sep­tem­ber 1939. The Nazis sought to reset­tle eth­nic Ger­mans in the incor­po­rat­ed ter­ri­to­ries at the expense of Jews and Poles, who were to be uproot­ed and reset­tled in the Gen­er­al-Gou­vern­ment or cen­tral part of Ger­man-occu­pied Poland. Sub­se­quent­ly, Jews were placed in ghet­tos in parts of the Warthe­gau, the largest of which was the Lodz ghet­to. Super­vis­ing this mas­sive under­tak­ing was Arthur Greis­er, the sub­ject of this impor­tant work by Cather­ine Epstein, a pro­fes­sor of mod­ern Euro­pean his­to­ry at Amherst Col­lege.
Greis­er is not as well known as many oth­er per­pe­tra­tors of the Holo­caust, cer­tain­ly not as infa­mous as Hans Frank, Greiser’s coun­ter­part, who was the gov­er­nor of the Gen­er­al- Gou­vern­ment. Draw­ing on Ger­man and Pol­ish sources, Epstein is the first West­ern his­to­ri­an to have writ­ten a biog­ra­phy of this major war crim­i­nal, who was tried by a Pol­ish nation­al tri­bunal in 1946 and sub­se­quent­ly hanged in front of the house in Poz­nan that was his res­i­dence when he was gov­er­nor of the Warthe­gau.
 Epstein details the cru­el poli­cies Greis­er intro­duced in the Warthe­gau, which includ­ed wide-rang­ing dis­crim­i­na­to­ry mea­sures against the Pol­ish pop­u­la­tion and, long before the term eth­nic cleans­ing became part of our polit­i­cal lex­i­con, he super­vised the most bru­tal form of pop­u­la­tion destruc­tion against both the Jews and Poles. In the Lodz ghet­to Greis­er orga­nized the largest forced labor pro­gram, and reject­ed all appeals to improve the food rations of the ghet­to Jews. It was also Greis­er who praised the men of the Ger­man unit that oper­at­ed the gassing facil­i­ty at the Chelm­no exter­mi­na­tion camp, the first of its kind in occu­pied Poland, where one hun­dred thou­sand Jews from the Warthe­gau had been killed. Greis­er was a moral mon­ster. Our grat­i­tude to Epstein for bring­ing this sor­did life to our attention.
Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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