The so-called “Germanisation” of Poles in the SS-run Hinzert concentration camp

Memorial Site SS Special Camp/Concentration Camp Hinzert, 2008
View over the grounds of the former special SS camp/concentration camp Hinzert - today a memorial site - with "Cemetery of Honour" from 1946, commemorative sculpture by Lucien Wercollier from 1986 (left) and expiation chapel from 1948 in the background, 2

“Ethnicity” – Race ideology of the National Socialists

Wherever the Nazis were able to set up an occupying regime in Europe during the Second World War, the removal of people to work as forced labourers followed, with the aim of keeping the war and the German wartime economy running. Poland was the first victim of the war and, as early as 1939, the Nazis in Poland began to set up their racist occupying regime, the ultimate goal of which was to annihilate. In total, around three million people were removed from Poland and taken to Germany as forced labourers during the war. In spring 1940, the numbers were already running into hundreds of thousands. In order to subject these exploited people to racial marginalization, even at work, the Reichssicherheitshauptamt [Reich Central Security Office] issued the “Polish decrees” on 8 March 1940, and they would later be followed by similar instructions relating to “Eastern labourers”. Their aim was to categorise the people from Poland and later from the Soviet Union as racially inferior and “different, to belittle them in all areas of life. Ten directives dictated a labelling requirement – a badge bearing the letter P which was to be acquired and worn by the Poles –, poor working conditions, special levies, a drastic restriction in the freedom of movement and draconian punishments for any social contact with the German population. Poles were directly under the control of the Secret State Police (Gestapo), not the criminal justice system. This meant that they could be deported to so-called labour education camps without due process and even without grounds. The forced labourers were to be sentenced to death for any intimate relations with Germans. Usually, Polish women were threatened with several months in a concentration camp and, in many cases, Polish men were sentenced to death by hanging.[1]

The process for automatically threatening and imposing these punishments had already been changed in July 1941 by Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer-SS. Execution by hanging, euphemistically dressed up as “usual special treatment”, was to be preceded by a “racial assessment”. The aim was to determine the potential for “being able to be re-germanised”. The Nazis believed that this would preserve as much of the labour force as possible.[2] The overarching ideological racial goal was a “desired population growth” for the “German people” with the simultaneous removal of the corresponding “racially valuable families” from the elite of “Polish ethnicity”.[3] As early as September 1940, Himmler had already considered racially selecting Poles based on “their ability to be re-germanised” to be necessary and had earmarked an estimated one million people who this applied to.[4]

A “re-Germanisation process” was developed and implemented to put these racial concepts into practice. Felix Klormann, who researched the process in practice in relation to the Hinzert camp, summarized it as follows:

“The result: An insidious, two-tier system, which categorised Polish forced labourers, based on character and ‘racial’ tests, into either ‘Germanisable’ or ‘inferior’ people. If the person passed the first ‘racial inspection’, he would be taken to the ‘Altreich’ and sent to a concentration camp. If he was able to meet all the requirements, he was approved as a ‘desired population increment’ and released.”[5]

Between 1940 and 1944, at least 30,000 to 35,000 Poles were taken out of the regions that had been annexed into the Reich and were taken to the “Altreich”, which usually meant camps and forced labour. Similarly, thousands of Polish women were removed as “re-Germanisable” maids, some of whom had to work for higher-ranking members of the SS.[6]

The ones who did not pass this assessment, were sent to concentration camps indefinitely. However, if the re-Germanisation process was instigated because a man was accused of forbidden intimate contact, the accused was executed. Typically, all (Polish) forced labourers were transported to the site of the execution and had to witness it as a deterrent. Some were also forced to carry out the hanging.[7]


[1] Reichsgesetzblatt 1940 I, No. 55, p. 555, in: Documenta Occupationis (publ. by the Instytut Zachodni Posnan), Vol. X: Praca Przymusowa Polaków Pod Panowaniem Hitlerowskim 1939–1945, Poznań 1976, p. 17 ff. Introduction see Cord Pagenstecher and Ewa Czerwiakowski, Vor 75 Jahren: Die Polen-Erlasse. Ein zentrales Instrument nationalsozialiatischer Ausgrenzungs- und Ausbeutungspolitik, in: Zeitgeschichte-online, April 2015, URL: (last accessed on: 14/1/2022); cf. (last accessed on: 14/1/2022).

[2] Klormann, Felix: “Eindeutschungs-Polen” im SS Sonderlager/Konzentrationslager Hinzert, in: Grotum, Thomas (Publ.), Die Gestapo Trier. Beiträge zur Geschichte einer regionalen Verfolgungsbehörde, Cologne inter alia 2018, p. 115–128, here p. 115–117.

[3] Letter from the Reichsführer SS to the higher heads of the SS and the police dated 3/7/1940 including the order to deploy Germanisable Poles, in: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), RG-15.015 M, 259, cited in: Heinemann, Isabel: Rasse, Siedlung, deutsches Blut. Das Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt der SS und die rassenpolitische Neuordnung Europas, Göttingen 2003, p. 282.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Klormann, Felix: “Eindeutschungs-Polen” im SS Sonderlager/Konzentrationslager Hinzert, in: Grotum, Thomas (Publ.), Die Gestapo Trier. Beiträge zur Geschichte einer regionalen Verfolgungsbehörde, Cologne inter alia 2018, p. 115–128, here p. 117.

[6] Peter Oliver Loew, Wir Unsichtbaren. Geschichte der Polen in Deutschland, Munich p. 117f. and on Germanisation overall: Ibid p. 117–123.

[7] Ibid.

Media library
  • Newly arrived Polish prisoners in Hinzert SS special camp/concentration camp, ca. 1940

    Visible is the placement of their clothes before they are washed and shaved