Trawniki men

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Karl Streibel KL Trawniki.jpg
Inspection of Trawnikimänner (some of them, still wearing Soviet Budionovkas) by SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Streibel (smiling) at the SS Trawniki training division. As Hiwis, they were tasked with the liquidation of the Jewish Nazi-era ghettos in occupied Poland
Active Founded in 1941
Country Occupied Poland
Allegiance Nazi Germany, the SS
Branch 3rd SS Division Logo.svg Totenkopfverbände
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

Trawniki men (German: Trawnikimänner) were the Eastern European collaborators recruited from the POW camps set up by Nazi Germany for the Red Army soldiers who were captured during Operation Barbarossa in the border regions. 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', lit. "those willing to help"), the Nazi auxiliary forces recruited from the native subjects.[1][2]

Already 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.[1] Trawnikimänner were organized by Streibel into two SS Sonderdienst battalions. Some 1,000 Hiwis are known to have run away during field operations.[3]: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,[4][5] valued because of their ability to speak Ukrainian, Russian, Polish and other languages of the occupied territories. All the officers at Trawniki camp were ethnic Germans, and most of the squad commanders were Volksdeutsche.[5] The conscripted civilians and former Soviet POWs included Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Tartars, Georgians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis.[6] The Trawnikis took 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 Solution

"Trawniki" men during the pacification of Warsaw Ghetto. Photo from Jürgen Stroop Report, May 1943

In 1941 Himmler instructed Globocnik to start recruiting mainly Ukrainian auxiliaries among the Soviet POWs (due to ongoing close relations with the local Hilfsverwaltung),[7] behind the lines of the advancing Wehrmacht. Globocnik had selected Karl Streibel from Operation Reinhard as the key person for this new secret project.[8] The ethnic Poles would not serve knowing the purpose of training. For example, one conscripted Polish farm boy was lashed nearly to death in public for insubordination once he realized what was expected of him. He perished at Majdanek three months later.[3] Streibel visited all POW camps for the Soviets in the vicinity with the assistance of his officers and after individual screening recruited Ukrainian as well as Latvian and Lithuanian volunteers as ordered.[1][2]

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,[1][9] 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.[10][11]

At each of the 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.[6] 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.[6] Most of the guards volunteered in order to leave the POW camps and/or because of self-interest.[6] This statement however, is contradicted by information provided by the Holocaust historian Christopher R. Browning who wrote that Hiwis "were screened on the basis of their anti-Communist and hence almost invariably anti-Semitic sentiments."[10] Despite the generally apathetic views of the Trawniki guards, the vast majority faithfully carried out the SS expectations in the mistreatment of Jews.[6] Most Trawniki men executed Jews already as part of their job training.[6] Following the lead of the American historian Christopher Browning in his 1992 book Ordinary Men, Kudryashov argued that the Trawniki men were examples of how ordinary people could become willing killers.[6]

Murder operations

The Hiwi shooters were assigned to the worst of the "on-the-spot dirty work" by Hauptsturmführer Karl Streibel (wrote Browning),[10] 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,[10] while the Germans dealt with unruly crowds of thousands of ghetto inhabitants: as in Międzyrzec, Łuków, Radzyń, Parczew, Końskowola, Komarówka and all other locations.[10]

The Trawniki men shot so fast and so wildly that the German policemen "frequently had to take cover to avoid being hit."[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

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:[15]

We used the word 'askari' 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, not the best of soldiers although nationalists and anti-Semites. Young people, often without the elementary education, heathen savages, with inclination to criminal behaviour. But obedient, physically tough and steadfast against the enemy. Many 'askari' 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. An o to nam szło. Nazywaliśmy ich również Trawniki-Manner.[15]

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.[7]

Trawniki shooters during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, with Jürgen Stroop (on the right), 1943. Note: their military coats come from the German Allgemeine-SS surplus no longer used by the SS

Later careers of Trawniki personnel

The Trawniki training camp was dismantled in July 1944 because of the approaching frontline.[1] The last 1,000 Hiwis forming the SS Battalion Streibel led by Karl Streibel himself,[16] were transported west to continue their dirty deeds at the still functioning death camps.[1] 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.[1] After the war, they captured and prosecuted hundreds, possibly as many as one thousand Hiwis who returned home to USSR.[1] Most were sentenced to a Gulag, and released under the Khrushchev amnesty of 1955.[17]

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.[16][18] 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,[19] 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.[1]

Known names of Trawnikis serving at death camps

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 Holocaust museums, based on Jewish and Polish survivor-testimonies and archives. The long list of names of camp guards mentioned mostly in English and Polish translation (or transliteration from Cyrillic) can be attributed to numerous survivor memoirs. They often feature arbitrary spellings in triple-translation based on the sound alone by which, the perpetrators could not be legally identified. The following are the most notable of them confirmed by the courts, in alphabetical order.[20][21]

  1. Ivan Demjanjuk [So], charged after testimony of Ignat Danylchenko.[22] 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.[23][24][25]
  2. 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.[21]
  3. 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.[26]
  4. Samuel Kunz [Be], former Soviet POW trained at Trawniki, charged in Bonn, Germany in July 2010 with being a Belzec camp guard.[27] Kunz died in November 2010 before his trial.[28]
  5. 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.[4]
  6. 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".[29][30]
  7. 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.[31][32]
  8. 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.[33]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Holocaust Encyclopedia. "Trawniki" (permission granted to be reused, in whole or in part, on Wikipedia; OTRS ticket no. 2007071910012533). United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved July 21, 2011. Text from USHMM has been released under the GFDL.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Browning 1992; 1998, p. 52.
  3. 3.0 3.1 David Bankir, ed. (2006). Police Auxiliaries for Operation Reinhard by Peter R. Black (Google Books). Secret Intelligence and the Holocaust. Enigma Books. pp. 331&ndash, 348. ISBN 192963160X. Retrieved July 12, 2014. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Gregory Procknow (2011). Recruiting and Training Genocidal Soldiers. Francis & Bernard Publishing. p. 35. ISBN 0986837407.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Yitzhak Arad (1987). Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps. Indiana University Press. p. 21. ISBN 0253342937.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 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.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Markus Eikel (2013). "The local administration under German occupation in central and eastern Ukraine, 1941–1944". The Holocaust in Ukraine: New Sources and Perspectives (PDF). Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 110–122 in PDF. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Tadeusz Piotrowski (2006). "Ukrainian Collaboration". Poland's Holocaust. McFarland. p. 217. ISBN 0786429135 Retrieved 2014-07-12. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Mgr Stanisław Jabłoński (1927–2002). "Hitlerowski obóz w Trawnikach". The camp history (in Polish). Trawniki official website. Retrieved July 12, 2014. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Browning, Christopher R. (1998) [1992]. Arrival in Poland (PDF file, direct download 7.91 MB complete). Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. Penguin Books. pp. 52, 77, 79, 80, 135. Retrieved July 12, 2014. Also: PDF cache archived by WebCite.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. ARC (2004). "Erntefest". Occupation of the East. ARC. Retrieved 2013-04-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Browning 1992; 1998, p. 95.
  13. Browning 1992; 1998, p. 93.
  14. Browning 1992; 1998, p. 77.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Andrzej Szczypiorski (1977), Moczarski Kazimierz, Rozmowy z katem text with Notes and Biography by Andrzej Krzysztof Kunert (PDF 1.86 MB, available from Page 103. Retrieved August 28, 2014. (Polish)
  16. 16.0 16.1 Ralph Hartmann (2010). "Der Alibiprozeß". Den Aufsatz kommentieren. Ossietzky 9/2010. Retrieved July 12, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Holocaust Encyclopedia. "Trawniki" (ibidem). USHMM. Retrieved July 12, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. USHMM (May 11, 2012). "Trawniki: Chronology". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC. Retrieved July 12, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Georg Bönisch, Jan Friedmann and Cordula Meyer (July 10, 2009). "A Very Ordinary Henchman". Germany > The Holocaust. Spiegel International. Retrieved July 12, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. S.J. (2007). "Trawniki Staff Page. Alphabetical Listing". Aktion Reinhard. H.E.A.R.T. Retrieved 8 August 2013. Source: Yitzhak Arad, Thomas (Toivi) Blatt, Alexander Donat, Rudolf Reder, Tom Teicholz, Samuel Willenberg, Richard Glazar; museums and private collections.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. 21.0 21.1 Edward Kopówka, Paweł Rytel-Andrianik (2011). "Treblinka. Załoga obozu" (PDF file, direct download 15.1 MB). Dam im imię na wieki 'Iz 56,5' (Will give them names for ever). Drohiczyńskie Towarzystwo Naukowe. Kuria Diecezjalna w Drohiczynie. p. 87. ISBN 978-83-7257-496-1. Retrieved July 12, 2014. Archiwum Państwowe w Siedlcach (APS), Akta Gminy Prostyń (AGP), t. 104, "Budowa i odbudowa, 1946–1947". Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Joe Nickell (12 September 2010). Unsolved History: Investigating Mysteries of the Past. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 39–50. ISBN 0-8131-2856-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Nazi camp guard Demjanjuk dies". BBC News. March 17, 2012. Retrieved July 12, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Aderet, Ofer. article in Haaretz (Mar 23, 2012), "Convicted Nazi criminal Demjanjuk deemed innocent in Germany over technicality."
  25. Semotiuk, Andrij A. Article in Kyiv Post dated Mar 21, 2012. "In Memory of John Demjanjuk." Retrieved on July 12, 2014.
  26. US Department of Justice. Press release; case of Josias Kumpf (PDF), 16 June 2008.
  27. BBC (July 29, 2010) German Nazi suspect Samuel Kunz.
  28. BBC (November 22, 2010) German Nazi suspect Samuel Kunz dies ahead of trial.
  29. Kilgannon, Corey (November 1, 2003). "Accused Nazi Guard Speaks Out, Denying He Had Role in Atrocities". New York Times. Retrieved July 12, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Report on Palij (in Ukrainian) "Яків Палій." Україна Молода, June 17, 2004. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  31. 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.
  32. Axis history Forum
  33. Circuit Judge (July 13, 2010). "Vladas Zajanckauskas". Petitioner. United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit. Retrieved July 12, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Browning, Christopher R. (1998) [1992], "Arrival in Poland" (PDF file, direct download 7.91 MB complete), Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, Penguin Books, pp. 1–298, retrieved May 1, 2013, also as: PDF cache archived by WebCite.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah (2007) [1997]. Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Ordinary Germans and Holocaust (Google Books preview). Random House, New York. pp. 203, 232–233. ISBN 0307426238.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kudryashov, Sergei, "Ordinary Collaborators: The Case of the Travniki Guards," in Mark and Ljubica Erickson (eds), Russia War, Peace and Diplomacy Essays in Honour of John Erickson (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004), 226-239.
  • Steinhart, Eric C., "The Chameleon of Trawniki: Jack Reimer, Soviet Volksdeutsche, and the Holocaust," Holocaust & Genocide Studies, 23,2 (2009), pp. 239-262.

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pl:Obóz szkoleniowy SS w Trawnikach