Bialystok District (German: Bezirk Bialystok) was an administrative unit of Nazi Germany created during the World War II invasion of the Soviet Union. It was to the south-east of East Prussia, in present-day northeastern Poland as well as in smaller sections of adjacent present-day Belarus and Lithuania.
The territory lay to the east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line and was consequently occupied by the Soviet Union and incorporated into the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic. In the aftermath of the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the western portion of Soviet Belarus (which, until 1939, belonged to the Polish state), was placed under the German Civilian Administration (Zivilverwaltungsgebiet). As Bezirk Bialystok, the area was under German rule from 1941 to 1944 without ever formally being incorporated into the German Reich.
The district was established because of its perceived military importance as a bridgehead on the far bank of the Memel. Germany had desired to annex the area even during the First World War, based on the historical claim arising from the Third Partition of Poland, which had delegated Białystok to Prussia from 1795 to 1806 (see New East Prussia). In contrast to other territories of Eastern Poland which were permanently annexed by the Soviet Union following the Second World War, most of the territory was later returned to Poland.
After the start of Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union, the invading Wehrmacht soldiers murdered 379 people, 'pacified' 30 villages, burned down 640 houses and 1,385 industrial buildings in the area. Police Battalion 309 burned about 2000 Jews in Great Synagogue, Białystok on 27 June 1941.
The first decree for the implementation of civil administration in these newly occupied territories was issued on 17 July 1941. The borders of this area ran from the southeastern protrusion of East Prussia (the Suwalki triangle) following the Neman River up to Mosty (excluding Grodno), including Volkovysk and Pruzhany up to the Bug River to the west of Brest-Litovsk and then following the border of the General Government to East Prussia.
Map of Nazi Germany
dated March 1944 which includes Bezirk Bialystok (top-right, light blue)
Identity document of Bialystok District (1943)
Until the end of July 1941, Białystok was under the management of the military authorities, then it was subordinated to the civil administration. Bialystok District was established on 1 August 1941; it was simultaneously excluded from the operational zones of the German Army in the Soviet Union. From then until 1944, Gestapo and SS engaged in executions in the area, for example in the Nowosiółki forests near Choroszcz, where 4,000 people were executed. At the same time, some small areas to the east of the 1939–1941 German-Soviet border were incorporated into the East Prussian district of Scharfenwiese (now Ostrołęka). With this the city of Scharfenwiese henceforth held more hinterland to the east.
The center of administration for the district was the Polish city of Białystok. The East Prussian Higher President and Gauleiter Erich Koch from Königsberg (modern-day Kaliningrad) was appointed Civilian Commissioner for the area, later Chief of Civil Administration (Chef-der-Zivilverwaltung).
Army Group Centre Rear Area commanded by General Max von Schenckendorff played a shameful role in the Bezirk Bialystok. Behind the Wehrmacht troops entered the Order Police battalions that were part of Police Regiment Centre, commanded by Colonel Max Montua. On July 25, 1941, he embarked on a great pacification operation of the village in the Białowieża Forest: Bud, Pogorzelec, and Teremisek. From these places
183 families were taken and taken to Pruzhany. The next day, the villages were displaced from around Narewka, driving out 1,240 people. In the following days the population was displaced from towns currently located in the Republic of Belarus and the inhabitants of Leśna, Mikłaszew, Olchówka and Zabrod, 1133 people were displaced to the vicinity of Zabłudów. The most famous crime of battalion 322 was the burning of twelve Polish and Belarusian villages and shooting of 42 people in the Lacka Forest near Waniek. The place of execution was also the Osuszek forest near the village of Piliki.
Heinrich Himmler visited the newly formed Bezirk Bialystok district on 30 June 1941 and pronounced that more forces were needed in the area, due to potential risks of partisan warfare. The chase after the Red Army's rapid retreat left behind a security vacuum, which required urgent deployment of additional personnel. Scrambling to meet this "new threat", Gestapo headquarters formed Kommando SS Zichenau-Schroettersburg which departed from sub-station Schröttersburg (Płock) under the leadership of SS-Obersturmführer Hermann Schaper (born 1911) with express mission to kill Jews, communists and the NKVD collaborators across the local villages and towns. On July 3 additional formation of Schutzpolizei arrived in Białystok, summoned from the General Government. It was led by SS-Hauptsturmführer Wolfgang Birkner, veteran of Einsatzgruppe IV from the Polish Campaign of 1939. The relief unit, called Kommando Bialystok, was sent in by SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Eberhard Schöngarth on orders from the Reich Main Security Office, due to reports of Soviet guerrilla activity in the area with Jews being of course immediately suspected of helping them out. The first stage of the Nazi persecutions mainly involved applying collective punishment to various villages where any form of real-or-imagined threat had been identified. Terror operations were enacted to prevent assistance to independence movements but mostly to round-up and persecute local Jews. Targeted buildings were being destroyed, possessions robbed, communities mass murdered or sent to labor camps or prisons. Gruppenführer Nebe reported to Berlin on 14 November 1941 that, up to then 45,000 persons had been eliminated.
The situation of the local population did improve after the Raid on Mittenheide. The Germans introduced the policy of finding and forcing anyone who could be of the German ancestry, even based on the "pure German looks" in some cases, to accept the German ancestry card (usually 4th category "The Traitors of the German Nation," in spite of the ominous-sounding name, it meant elevation above the rest of the population). The Germans were harkening back to the times of the New East Prussia.
On 1 November 1941, the city of Grodno (location of the Grodno Ghetto set up at the same time) including its surroundings, were transferred from the Reichskommissariat Ostland to Bezirk Bialystok.
Already on 27 June 1941, a camp for Soviet prisoners of war was established in Bialystok named Stalag 57. On August 1, 1942, it was renamed Stalag 316. It was located in the former barracks of the 10th Lithuanian Uhlan Regiment at 70 Kawaleryjska Street. It was the first one of its kind, except for the makeshift camp that was set up in September 1939 in the building of the Secondary School No. 6. Up to twelve thousand people could stay there at one time. Prisoners were used for construction works at the nearby "Krywlany" airport. Tens of thousands of people passed through the camp, of which approximately 3,000 were killed. After its liquidation in 1943, a transit camp was set up there for the Jewish population. Several other camps were also established: a transitional camp for people taken to forced labor into the Third Reich consisting of 3 barracks, a penal camp in Starosielce located in the triangle between the railway lines Białystok - Ełk and Białystok - Warsaw, and the "Zielona" penal camp located between Zaścianki and the Skorupa district where people were arrested for violating German regulations, such as being late for work or alcohol abuse.
There existed Białystok Region of the Home Army, which prepared an uprising, later known as Operation Tempest. The organization run intelligence and propaganda networks. The partizans collected a V2-rocket, parts of which were transported to London.
During the night of 15–16 August 1943, the Białystok Ghetto Uprising began. This was an insurrection in Poland's Białystok Ghetto by several hundred Polish Jews who began an armed struggle against the German troops finishing off the liquidation of the 15,000 people still living in the Ghetto. This Ghetto's victims were ultimately destined for the Treblinka extermination camp. It was organized and led by Antyfaszystowska Organizacja Bojowa, an organisation that was part of the Anti-Fascist Block, and was the second largest ghetto uprising, after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.
On 20 October 1943, the southern border between the East Prussian district Sudauen (Suwałki) in the Province of East Prussia and Bezirk Bialystok was adjusted and moved back to the northern side of the Augustów Canal.
In July and August 1944 Bezirk Bialystok was taken over by the Red Army up to the Narew-Bobr line. The government seat for the Chief of Civil Administration was then moved to Bartenstein. In January 1945 the Red Army overrun the last areas of Bezirk Bialystok, namely the remaining parts of the districts Łomża and Grajewo, driving the Germans completely out of the territory.
A July 1944 German map of Bezirk Bialystok, labelled "South East Prussia
At the time of its establishment, Bezirk Bialystok had a population of 1,383,000 inhabitants, of whom 830,000 were of Polish, 300,000 of White Ruthenian (Belarusian), 200,000 of Ukrainian, 50,000 of Jewish and 2,000 of German origin.
Bialystok District was divided into eight county-level administrative units, called district police stations (German: kreiskommissariate, Polish: komisariaty powiatowe). These were the police stations Bialystok (Kreiskommissariat Nikolaus), Bielsk-Podlaski (Kreiskommissariat Tubenthal), Grajewski (Kreiskommissariat Piachor, then Knispel), Grodno (Kreiskommissariat Plötz), Łomża (Kreiskommissariat Gräben), Sokolski (Kreiskommissariat Seiler), Volkovysk (Kreiskommissariat Pfeifer) and the city of Białystok.
Erich Koch was appointed "civil commissioner" (Zivilkommissar) on August 1, 1941, and later appointed as Chief of Civil Administration (Chef der Zivilverwaltung) of Bezirk Bialystok until 27 July 1944. During this period, he was the Gauleiter of the Gau of East Prussia, Oberpräsident of the Prussian Province of East Prussia, and Reichskommissar in Reichskommissariat Ukraine. Day-to-day activities were handled by his permanent deputy head of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) in Königsberg, East Prussia, Waldemar Magunia from 15 August 1941 to 31 January 1942. He was replaced on 1 February 1942 to 27 July 1944 by Friedrich Brix, Landrat (District Mayor) of Tilsit.
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