Germany started preparations for the war as early as on 11th April 1939 when Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of the Reich, issued a directive to develop the invasion plan of Poland under the codename Fall Weiss. Besides planning the military attack, a complex preparation of the elimination and extermination of Polish leading class as a part of Intelligenzaktion, also called Flurbereinigung (a cleansing territory action), was started at the same time. Only a nation whose management layers are destroyed can be pushed into the role of slaves – these words of Chancellor of the Reich – Adolf Hitler best express the purpose of the action as a result of which Polish intellectuals, cultural and political elite and priests were repressed from the very beginning of the war. Landlords and entrepreneurs were not spared either, their wealth and companies (also the smallest ones) were taken over by the Germans.
The first stage of the action was the preparation of proscription lists prepared by Coordination Centre for Ethnic Germans (SS-Hauptamt Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle), Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt) and the Imperial Ministry of the Interior (Reichsministerium des Innern). As early as in May 1939 the Reich Main Security Office (Hauptamt Sieherheitsdienst) in Berlin sent a reminder to the commander of Security Office Section SS South-East in Wrocław demanding that the list of people who were to be arrested in Poland be send till 8th June 1939.
The lists of people who the Germans were interested in, were prepared with the active help of the German minority living in Poland. That is why the lists concerning areas which belonged to Prussia before regaining independence, were very detailed. Officials, priests, teachers, doctors and lawyers were put on those lists. The Germans were especially interested in plebiscite activists, Silesian insurgents, scouts, social and political activists. Publications commemorating a struggle to regain independence or testifying a participation in pro-Polish plebiscite agitation were thoroughly studied.
The members of Freikorpsu Ebbinghaus took their toll from the first moments of the war outbreak in Upper Silesia. So called Einsatzgruppen made their way after the German army entering the Second Polish Republic borders. These were the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei) and Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst) operation groups appointed by the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt). Their aim was to combat all the elements hostile to the Reich and anti-German in the enemy country in the backs of the fighting troops. They were equipped with earlier prepared secret arrest warrants and took an immediate action.
When the military activities had ended, the Germans started the next stage of Intelligentsia action. According to Maria Wardzińska’s work: “In October, November and December 1939 the activists in favour of Polishness in Silesia were arrested. Mainly Silesian school teachers and catechist priests teaching at these schools were arrested. A direct action was not applied to the activists. Captured people were sent to the Mauthausen-Gusen, Dachau, Oranienburg and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. Most of those deported in 1939 died in the camps, only a few survived.
As early as on 10th November 1939 the first head of the Gestapo in Katowice SS-Obersturmbannführer Emmanuel Schäfer issued the official order number 9: In order to relieve the head of the department II C, I order right away the SS lieutenant criminal commissioner Eisenschmied, (to take over) the following tasks: (…) 2. creating a list of Polish intelligentsia 3. developing Prosecution Book for Poland (…). Probably at that time the lists, which were used to develop Special Prosecution Book for Poland (Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen) prepared by Reich Criminal Police Department (Reichspolizeikriminalamt), were updated and supplemented and they included personal data of 8800 Polish people including 1200 people from Upper Silesia. Apart from Special Prosecution Book there were a lot of local lists concerning individual places. The list for Kochłowice (now the district of Ruda Śląska), found after the war, was prepared on 21st November 1939 and it consisted of Specification of a set of particularly hostile Polish elements. There was a priest, a former mayor, a mine inspector, an apothecary, a chemist assistant, a lecturer, a merchant, a steelworks master, and a police officer. The list for Karbowa (now a part of Katowice), prepared on 23rd February 1940, included information about families living there, it accurately defined their origin and attitude to Germany. On the list there were “hostile to the Germans, fanatical indigenous Polish people” (Deustchfeindlich fanatischer Kernpole) and “extremely hostile to the Germans” (deustche feindlich im hochster grade,) there were also “the impeccable Germans” (Einwandfrei Deutsche) and German friendly (deustchfreundlich).
The directive issued on 2nd April 1940 by The Reich Main Security Office (RSHA – Reichssicherheitshauptamt) IV-D2-480/40 was a basis for carrying out the next stage of Intelligenzaktion in April and May 1940. Based on this directive, the security authorities applied so called protective custody (Schutzhaft) according to the directive of the Imperial Ministry of the Interior from 1938 which says that protective custody is a mean of force of Secret State Police. Its aim was to defend the nation and the state against all the hostile intentions and it was applied to people who threatened a state of possession and the nation’s security because of their behaviour. That is why the Gestapo was entitled to issue detain (and release) commands, they arrested people on the request of the appropriate Staatspolizeistelle and put a detainee (schutzhäftling) in the concentration camp.
Mass arrests which took place in Government District Katowice were conducted from 5th April till 3rd – 5th May 1940. Detained people were initially kept in arrests, the Gestapo offices or transition camps in Sosnowiec and Cieszyn where they were interrogated and also bullied and beaten. Next they were transported by train to the Dachau camp and then many of them were soon sent to the Mauthausen-Gusen sub-camp intended for Polish intelligence and opened on 25th May 1940. Most of the repressed people made up men but there is information about a female teacher from Będzin who was deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp.
The families were usually not informed what had happened to their dear ones, they found out about their fate from the correspondence received from concentration camps e.g. Dachau or Mauthausen-Gusen. Then the attempts were made to release the arrested from the camp. The methods were different. Lawyers were appointed, connections and contacts were used, bribes were given, requests and petitions were written to German authorities. These actions frequently brought positive results and after a few months husbands and fathers appeared at homes, they were starved and prostrated because of work beyond human endurance, they were usually in a fatal condition. Those released from the camp initially had to report to the Gestapo or the police, and then they were usually sent to forced labour. The detainees’ families were also repressed, they were often displaced from their flats or houses, and people able to work were sent to forced labour.
The stay in the concentration camp was definitely a form of extermination connected with exploiting the prisoners as slave workforce. As Karl Fritzsch, Lagerführer of the Auschwitz concentration camp, observed on 14th June 1940 during the arrival of the first transport of Polish political prisoners from Tarnów: You have not come here to the sanatorium but to the German concentration camp from which there in no other way out but through the chimney. If anybody does not like it, they can go onto the wires at once. If there are any Jews in the transport they have the right to live no longer than for two weeks, priests for one month, the rest for three months.