Translated from German, "Erntefest" means "Harvest Festival." The word "Erntefest" was the code name for the German operation to kill all Jews remaining in the Lublin District of the Generalgouvernement (a territory in the interior of occupied Poland) in the fall of 1943.
The timing of the operation was apparently in response to several efforts by surviving Jews to resist the Nazis (for example, the uprisings at the Sobibor and Treblinka killing centers, and armed resistance in the Warsaw, Bialystok, and Vilna ghettos). The SS feared additional Jewish-led revolts in the Generalgouvernement. To prevent further resistance the SS decided to kill most of the remaining Jews, who were employed in forced-labor projects and were concentrated in the Trawniki, Poniatowa, and Majdanek camps.
"Erntefest" began at dawn on November 3, 1943. The Trawniki and Poniatowa labor camps were surrounded by SS and police units. Jews were then taken out of the camps in groups and shot in nearby pits dug for this purpose. At Majdanek, Jews were first separated from the other prisoners. They were then taken in groups to nearby trenches and shot. Jews from other labor camps in the Lublin area were also taken to Majdanek and shot. Music was played through loudspeakers at both Majdanek and Trawniki to drown out the noise of the mass shooting. The killing operation was completed in a single day at Majdanek and Trawniki. At Poniatowa the shootings took two days.
Approximately 42,000 Jews were killed during "Erntefest."
Critical Thinking Questions
- How does the example of this shooting demonstrate the complexity and the systematic nature of the German efforts to abuse and kill the Jews?
- What pressures and motivations may have impacted the SS shooters and their commanders?
- How does war offer cover for mass atrocity and genocide?