The largest killing operation of the Holocaust – which would later be codenamed Aktion Reinhard in honour of Reinhard Heydrich who was assassinated in Prague in May 1942 – began on the night of 16 March 1942 in the Polish city of Lublin. An unnamed Jewish nurse described what happened on that night and in the following days.

At about 11.30 p.m. the city was suddenly put under bright illumination... Small groups of Germans or Ukrainians broke into apartments, expelling everyone, regardless of dress, down into the yard. Here selection followed, according to age, sex, families, [work] stamps, depending on the whims of the thugs. Needless to say, screams, blows and even shots were part of the process... The vacated houses were immediately surrounded by the Ukrainians. As for the deportees, they were immediately escorted to the Marszak synagogue and there sorted into families who had stamps and those who had not...

From then on, there were several actions each day, none lasting longer than 2-3 hours. Gradually, they increasingly assumed brutal forms. Whoever did not leave the apartment in time, did not keep in line, did not march well, was sick or was regarded unfit to work was likely to be shot on the spot...

Transports were directed to unknown destinations. Unable to bear the suspended horror any more, many who didn’t have [work] cards were reporting for deportation voluntarily. Their numbers were so large that the Germans were forced to send hundreds of them back each day, saying that there was not enough room for them.

Between mid-March and late April 1942, more than 30,000 Jews from Lublin were murdered, mostly through deportation to the newly operational Bełżec extermination camp – the photograph shows a group awaiting deportation. Several thousand others were shot in the ghetto. Similar scenes were repeated across the General Government region of Poland in the following months as Aktion Reinhard developed: between March and December 1942, close to 1½ million Jews were murdered in the General Government.

Photo: deportation of Jews from Lublin, 1942; Yad Vashem

Testimony: Joseph Kermish (ed.), To Live with Honor and Die with Honor!... Selected Documents from the Warsaw Ghetto Underground Archives “O.S.” (“Oneg Shabbath”) (Yad Vashem, 1986)


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