Early measures in German occupied Poland
The question of the treatment of the Jews became an urgent one for the Nazis after September 1939, when they invaded the western half of
, home to about two million Jews. The pre-war Poland Second Polish Republic had been split between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, in the preceding Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Of the German share of , the northwestern parts were annexed, while the southeastern parts were made the Generalgouvernement led by Hans Frank. The invasion led Poland Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, and to declare war - World War II had started. France
Himmler's right-hand man, Reinhard Heydrich, recommended concentrating all the Polish Jews in ghettos in major cities, where they would be put to work for the German war industry. The ghettos would be in cities located on railway junctions, so that, in Heydrich's words, "future measures can be accomplished more easily."
During his interrogation in 1961, Adolf Eichmann testified that the expression "future measures" was understood to mean "physical extermination."
In September, Himmler appointed Reinhard Heydrich head of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA, not be to confused with the RuSHA). This body was to oversee the work of the SS, the Security Police (SD), and the Gestapo in occupied
, and carry out the policy towards the Jews described in Heydrich's report. The first organized murders of Jews by German forces occurred during Operation Tannenberg and through Selbstschutz units. Later, the Jews were herded into ghettos, mostly in the General Government area of central Poland , where they were put to work under the Reich Labor Office headed by Fritz Saukel. Here many thousands were killed in various ways, and many more died of disease, starvation, and exhaustion, but there was still no program of systematic killing. There is no doubt, however, that the Nazis saw forced labor as a form of extermination. The expression Vernichtung durch Arbeit ("destruction through work") was frequently used. Poland
Although it was clear by 1941 that the SS hierarchy, led by Himmler, was determined to embark on a policy of killing all the Jews under German control, there were important centers of opposition to this policy within the Nazi regime. The grounds for the opposition were mainly economic, not humanitarian. Hermann Göring, who had overall control of the German war industry, and the German army's Economics Department, representing the armaments industry, argued that the enormous Jewish labor force assembled in the General Government area (more than a million able-bodied workers) was an asset too valuable to waste while
Germany was preparing to invade the Soviet Union.