Trawniki men (German: Trawnikimänner) were Central and Eastern European collaborators recruited from prisoner-of-war camps set up by Nazi Germany for Soviet Red Army soldiers captured in the border regions during Operation Barbarossa launched in June 1941. Thousands of these volunteers served in the General Government territory of occupied Poland until the end of World War II. Trawnikis belonged to a category of Hiwis (German abbreviation for Hilfswilliger, literally "those willing to help"), Nazi auxiliary forces recruited from native subjects.
|Active||Founded in 1941|
|Allegiance||Nazi Germany, the SS|
|Type||Paramilitary police reserve|
|Role||Logistical support for Orpo battalions and the SS during Operation Reinhard; shooting actions, deportations to death camps|
|Size||Over 5,000 Hiwis|
Between September 1941 and September 1942, the German SS and police trained 2,500 Trawniki men known as Hiwi Wachmänner (guards) at a special Trawniki training camp; for the total of 5,082 men on active duty before the end of 1944. Trawnikimänner were organized by Streibel into two SS Sonderdienst battalions. Some 1,000 Hiwis are known to have run away during field operations.:366 Although the majority of Trawniki men or Hiwis came from among the prisoners of war, there were also Volksdeutsche from Eastern Europe among them, valued because of their ability to speak Ukrainian, Russian, Polish and other languages of the occupied territories. All the officers at Trawniki camp were Reichsdeutsche, and most of the squad commanders were Volksdeutsche. The conscripted civilians and former Soviet POWs included Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Tatars, Georgians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The Trawnikis took a major part in Operation Reinhard, the Nazi plan to exterminate Jews. They also served at extermination camps and played an important role in the annihilation of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (see the Stroop Report) among others.
Role of Trawniki men in the Final SolutionEdit
In 1941 Himmler instructed Globocnik to start recruiting mainly Ukrainian auxiliaries among the Soviet POWs, due to ongoing close relations with the local Ukrainian Hilfsverwaltung. Globocnik had selected Karl Streibel from Operation Reinhard as the key person for this new secret project. Streibel, with the assistance of his officers, visited all POW camps for the Soviets behind the lines of the advancing Wehrmacht, and after individual screening recruited Ukrainian as well as Latvian and Lithuanian volunteers as ordered.
The Trawniki-men were assembled at a training facility adjacent to the Trawniki concentration camp built for the Jews deported from the Warsaw Ghetto. The complex (serving dual purpose in 1941–43) was set up in the industrialized village of Trawniki about 40 kilometres (25 mi) southeast of Lublin with rail lines in all directions in the occupied territory. From there, the Hiwi shooters were deployed to all major killing sites of the Final Solution. It was their primary purpose of training. They took an active role in the extermination of Jews at Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka II, Warsaw (three times), Częstochowa, Lublin, Lvov, Radom, Kraków, Białystok (twice), Majdanek as well as Auschwitz, not to mention Trawniki concentration camp itself, and the remaining subcamps of KL Lublin/Majdanek camp complex including Poniatowa, Budzyn, Kraśnik, Puławy, Lipowa, and also during massacres in Łomazy, Międzyrzec, Łuków, Radzyń, Parczew, Końskowola, Komarówka and all other locations, augmented by the SS and Schupo, as well as the Reserve Police Battalion 101 formation of Ordnungspolizei. The German Order Police performed roundups inside the Jewish ghettos in German-occupied Poland shooting everyone unable to move or attempting to flee, while the Trawnikis conducted large-scale civilian massacres in the same locations.
At each of the Operation Reinhard extermination camps Trawniki Hiwi men served as the Sonderkommando guard units (between 70 and 120 depending on location) and were selected to act as the gas chambers operators. They came under the jurisdiction of the relevant camp commandant. Almost all of the Trawniki guards were involved in shooting, beating and terrorizing Jews. The Russian historian Sergei Kudryashov, who made a study of the Trawniki men serving at death camps claimed that there was little sign of any attraction to National Socialism among them. He claimed that most of the guards volunteered in order to leave the POW camps and/or because of self-interest. On the other hand, the Holocaust historian Christopher R. Browning wrote that Hiwis "were screened on the basis of their anti-Communist and hence almost invariably anti-Semitic sentiments." Despite the generally apathetic views of the Trawniki guards, the vast majority faithfully carried out the SS expectations in the mistreatment of Jews. Most Trawniki men executed Jews already as part of their job training. Similarly to Christopher Browning's 1992 book Ordinary Men, Kudryashov argued that the Trawniki men were examples of how ordinary people could become willing killers.
The Hiwi shooters were assigned to the worst of the "on-the-spot dirty work" by Hauptsturmführer Karl Streibel (wrote Browning), so the Germans from the parallel Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the Ordnungspolizei from Hamburg "would not go crazy" from the horror of hands-on killing for hours or days on end. The Trawnikis used to arrive in squads numbering around 50 at the killing site, and start by sitting down to a sandwich and bottles of vodka from their knapsacks behaving like guests, while the Germans dealt with unruly crowds of thousands of ghetto inhabitants: as in Międzyrzec, Łuków, Radzyń, Parczew, Końskowola, Komarówka and all other locations.
The Trawniki men shot so fast and so wildly that the German policemen "frequently had to take cover to avoid being hit." Ukrainian Hiwis were perceived as indispensable. In Łomazy, the Germans were "overjoyed" to see them coming after the messy Józefów massacre which permanently traumatized the untrained executioners. The wave of mass killings of Jews from the Międzyrzec Podlaski Ghetto lasting non-stop for several days were conducted by the Trawniki battalion of about 350 to 400 men, same as in Parczew, or the Izbica Ghetto. Some officers of the Nazi German Ordnungspolizei felt uneasy about killing non-Jewish Poles. Their unit shot 4,600 Jews by September 1942, but disproportionately only 78 ethnic Poles. In contrast, the Hiwis, saw the Christian Poles as equal opportunity offenders. When they got too drunk to show up in Aleksandrów, Major Wilhelm Trapp ordered the release of prisoners rounded up for mass execution.
The SS-Gruppenführer Jürgen Stroop who was in charge of the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the methodical destruction of the Ghetto itself – responsible for the massacre of over 50,000 Polish Jews – later remarked in a prison interview with Kazimierz Moczarski, published in his original Polish edition of the Conversations with an Executioner:
We used the word 'askaris' for the volunteers serving with our auxiliary forces in the SS, recruited from the indigenous populations in the areas acquired in Eastern Europe. They were, in principle, Latvians, Lithuanians, Belarusians and Ukrainians. They were trained at the 'SS-Ausbildungslager-Trawniki' near Lublin. They did not make the best of soldiers, although they were nationalists and anti-Semites. Young people, often without the elementary education, culturally savage, with inclination to cheating. But obedient, physically tough and steadfast against the enemy. Many 'askaris' we used during the 'Grossaktion' (especially in its initial stages) were Latvians. They did not understand Polish and therefore were unable to communicate with the people of Warsaw. This was exactly what we wanted. We also called them "Trawniki men".
Myśmy nazywali "askarisami" ochotników do służb pomocniczych w SS, którzy rekrutowali się z ludności autochtonicznej na terenach zdobytych w Europie Wschodniej. Byli to w zasadzie Łotysze, Litwini, Białorusini i Ukraińcy. Przeszkalano ich w SS-Ausbildungs-lager-Trawniki pod Lublinem. Nie najlepsi żołnierze, choć nacjonaliści i antysemici. Młodzi, bez podstawowego najczęściej wykształcenia, o kulturze dzikusów i skłonnościach do kantów. Ale posłuszni, wytrwali fizycznie i twardzi wobec wroga. Wielu "askarisów" użytych w Grossaktion (szczególnie we wstępnych działaniach) to Łotysze. Nie znali języka polskiego, więc trudno im się było porozumiewać z ludnością Warszawy. A o to nam szło. Nazywaliśmy ich również Trawniki-Männer.
Trawniki personnel was also used in the August 1943 suppression of the Białystok Ghetto Uprising, as well as the lesser-known Mizocz Ghetto uprising of October 1942 among similar others. In other locations, the lists compiled by the local Ukrainian Hilfsverwaltung enabled them to quickly and precisely identify their Jewish targets.
Later careers of Trawniki personnelEdit
The Trawniki training camp was dismantled in July 1944 because of the approaching frontline. The last 1,000 Hiwis forming the SS Battalion Streibel led by Karl Streibel himself, were transported west to continue their deeds at the still functioning death camps. The Jews of the adjacent Trawniki labor camp were massacred in November 1943 during Aktion Erntefest. Their exhumed bodies were incinerated in Sonderaktion 1005 by a Sonderkommando from Milejów who in turn were executed on site upon the completion of their task by the end of 1943. The Soviets entered the completely empty training facility on July 23, 1944. After the war, they captured and prosecuted hundreds, possibly as many as one thousand Hiwis who returned home to USSR according to Holocaust Encyclopedia. The more conservative number of trials given by Kudryashov is over 140 between 1944 and 1987. Most defendants were sentenced to a Gulag, and released under the Khrushchev amnesty of 1955.
The number of Hiwis tried in the West was very small by comparison. Six defendants were acquitted on all charges and set free by a West German court in Hamburg in 1976 including commandant Streibel. The main difference between them and the Trawnikis apprehended in Russia was that the former claimed lack of awareness and left no live witnesses who could testify against them, while the latter were charged with treason and therefore were doomed from the start. In the U.S. some 16 former Hiwi guards were denaturalized.
Known names of Trawnikis serving at death campsEdit
The notoriety of crimes committed by Trawnikis at the extermination camps of Belzec [Be], Sobibor [So], and Treblinka [Tr] during Operation Reinhard, have led to many specific names being publicized in postwar literature and by museums of the Holocaust, based on Jewish and Polish survivor-testimonies, memoirs, and archives. The long list of at least 234 names of camp guards written out phonetically can be attributed to more than a dozen sources in which they appear. They often feature arbitrary spellings in English and Polish translation (or transliteration from Cyrillic) based on memory alone, by which the perpetrators could not be legally identified. The following are the most notable of them, confirmed by the courts, and arranged in alphabetical order.
- Ivan Demjanjuk [So], charged after testimony of Ignat Danylchenko. Demjanjuk lived in the United States with his wife Vera; first extradited to Israel in 1986 and found guilty. After a series of appeals from 1990 onward, in May 2009 Demjanjuk was deported again from the US to Germany this time. He was convicted of being a guard at Sobibor and sentenced in May 2011. Demjanjuk was released pending an appeal. He died in March 2012 before his appeal could be heard.
- Fedor Federenko (Fedorenko) [Tr], the Soviet POW recruited from Stalag 319 at Chełm, guard at the Jewish ghetto in Lublin, sent to Warsaw and to Treblinka death camp in September 1942. After the war Federenko settled in the US; he was extradited to the Soviet Union in December 1984. His trial and execution were pronounced in July 1986.
- Josias Kumpf, a Yugoslav Volksdeutsche who took part in the murderous Aktion Erntefest at Trawniki, stripped of his US citizenship in 2005 and deported to Austria in March 2009. Escaped responsibility due to statute of limitations in that country.
- Samuel Kunz [Be], former Soviet POW trained at Trawniki, charged in Bonn, Germany in July 2010 with being a Belzec camp guard. Kunz died in November 2010 before his trial.
- [Wasyl Lytwyn] born 1921; ordered deported December 1995; repriated to Ukraine.
- [Ivan Mandycz] born 1920; came to US in 1955; ordered deported 2005; Not deported because of age; died 2017
- Ivan Ivanovych Marchenko [Tr] in the Red Army since 1941, brought to Trawniki from POW camp in Chełm, a guard at the Jewish ghetto in Lublin and in Treblinka together with Nikolay Shalayev who was tasked with forcing Jews into the gas chambers; the "motorists" cranking up the gas engine when asked to "turn on the water", called by the Jews "Ivan the Terrible" (Ivan Grozny), Marchenko exhibited special savagery during the killing process; photographed with Ivan Tkachuk at Treblinka. In 1943 he was transferred to Trieste, and in 1944 fled to Yugoslavia. Fate unknown, never tried.
- Jakiw Palij, a Hiwi guard stripped of his United States citizenship for having "made material misrepresentations in his application for a visa to immigrate to the United States". Deported from United States on 21 August 2018 at the age of 95.
- Jakob Reimer a.k.a. Jack Reimer, a Hiwi guard at Trawniki in 1944. Denaturalized in 2002; died in 2005 before he could be deported from the United States to Germany.
- Vladas Zajančkauskas, a Hiwi shooter deployed to participate in the annihilation of the Warsaw Ghetto; had his U.S. citizenship revoked in 2005 at the age of ninety-five.Died 2013.
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- Sergei Kudryashov, "Ordinary Collaborators: The Case of the Travniki Guards" (in) Russia War, Peace and Diplomacy Essays in Honour of John Erickson edited by Mark and Ljubica Erickson, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004; pages 226-227 & 234-235.
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Ukraine differs from other parts of the Nazi-occupied Soviet Union, whereas the local administrators have formed the Hilfsverwaltung in support of extermination policies in 1941 and 1942, and in providing assistance for the deportations to camps in Germany, mainly in 1942 and 1943.
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Source: Yitzhak Arad, Thomas (Toivi) Blatt, Alexander Donat, Rudolf Reder, Tom Teicholz, Samuel Willenberg, Richard Glazar; museums and private collections.
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- Benjamin Weiser (September 6, 2002). "Judge Revokes Citizenship of Man Linked to Nazi War Crimes". The New York Times. Also in: Barry, Dan (September 17, 2005). "A Face Seen and Unseen on the Subway". The New York Times.
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- Witold Mędykowski, "Obóz pracy dla Żydów w Trawnikach," in Wojciech Lenarczyk, Dariusz Libionka (eds.), Erntefest 3–4 listopada 1943. Zapomniany epizod Zagłady" (Lublin: Państwowe Muzeum na Majdanku, 2009), 183–210. ISBN 9788392518754.
- Steinhart, Eric C., "The Chameleon of Trawniki: Jack Reimer, Soviet Volksdeutsche, and the Holocaust." Holocaust & Genocide Studies, 23,2 (2009), pp. 239-262. Abstract.