Heydrich’s memo ordering the containment of Jews in Poland (1939)

On September 21st 1939, three weeks after the Nazi invasion of Poland began, Schutzstaffel (SS) deputy chief Reinhard Heydrich sent a memo outlining methods of containing and organising Jews in Poland:

To: Chiefs of all Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police
Subject: Jewish question in the occupied territory

I refer to the conference held in Berlin today and once more point out that the planned overall measures (i.e., the final aim) are to be kept strictly secret… The planned measures demand the most thorough preparation in their technical as well as economic aspects.

It is obvious that the tasks that lie ahead cannot be laid down in full detail from here. The instructions and guidelines below will at the same time serve the purpose of urging the chiefs of the einsatzgruppen to give the matter their practical thought. For the time being, the first prerequisite for the final aim is the concentration of the Jews from the countryside into the larger cities. This is to be carried out with all speed.

In doing so, distinction must be made (1) between the areas of Danzig and West Prussia, Posen, Eastern Upper Silesia, and (2) the rest of the occupied territories. As far as possible, the area mentioned (in item 1) is to be cleared of Jews; at least the aim should be to establish only a few cities of concentration. In the areas mentioned in item 2, as few concentration points as possible are to be set up, so as to facilitate subsequent measures. In this connection, it is to be borne in mind that only cities which are rail junctions, or at least are located along railroad lines, are to be designated as concentration points.

On principle, Jewish communities of fewer than 500 persons are to be dissolved and to be transferred to the nearest city of concentration… Within this area, only an improvised census of Jews is to be carried out. Furthermore, Councils of Jewish Elders, as discussed below, are to be set up.

Councils of Jewish Elders (Judische Alteestenrate)

1. In each Jewish community, a Council of Jewish Elders is to be set up, to be composed, as far as possible, of the remaining influential personalities and rabbis. The council is to comprise up to 24 male Jews (depending upon the size of the Jewish community). The council is to be made fully responsible, in the literal sense of the word, for the exact and punctual execution of all directives issued or yet to be issued.

2. In case of sabotage of such instructions, the councils are to be warned of the severest measures.

3. The Jewish councils are to take an improvised census of the Jews in their local areas—broken down if possible by sex (age groups): a) up to 16 years of age, b) from 16 to 20 years of age, and c) over, as well as by principal occupational groups—and are to report the results in the shortest possible time.

4. The Councils of Elders are to be informed of the dates and deadlines for departure, departure facilities, and finally departure routes. They are then to be made personally responsible for the departure of the Jews from the countryside. The reason to be given for the concentration of the Jews into the cities is that Jews have most influentially participated in guerrilla attacks and plundering actions.

5. The Councils of Elders in the cities of concentration are to be made responsible for appropriately housing the Jews moving in from the countryside. For general reasons of security, the concentration of Jews in the cities will probably necessitate orders altogether barring Jews from certain sections of cities, or, for example, forbidding them to leave the ghettos or go out after a designated evening hour, etc. However, economic necessities are always to be considered in this connection.

6. The Councils of Elders are also to be made responsible for appropriate provisioning of the Jews during the transport to the cities. No objections are to be voiced in the event that migrating Jews take their movable possessions with them, to the extent that this is technically possible.

7. Jews who do not comply with the order to move into the cities are to be allowed a short additional period of grace where circumstances warrant. They are to be warned of strictest punishment if they should fail to comply with this latter deadline…

The chiefs of the Einsatzgruppen will report to me continuously on … the numerical survey of the Jews present in their territories (broken down as indicated above, if possible). The numbers of Jews who are being evacuated from the countryside and those who are already in the
cities are to reported separately.”