On the 2nd October 1943 the German government in what remained of Poland, known simply as the ‘General Government’ issued a new decree directed against ordinary Poles. Given the murderous nature of the occupying regime this seemed little different from what had gone before:
Non-Germans who violate laws, decrees, official regulations or orders with the intention of hampering or interfering with German construction work in the Government General will be punished by death.
This was an attempt by the Governor, Hans Frank, to put a legal imprint on a new assault on the Polish population. In practice it meant a step change in methods used to subdue the population, now there would be hardly any attempt to engage in a legal process before executing people. Poles were randomly selected for public execution.
The lawyer Stefan Korbonski provided evidence after the war of what this actually meant:
Soon after the publication of this decree and quite apart from the increasing number of executions performed by the Germans in secret in what used to be the Warsaw Ghetto, in the Warsaw jail, which was called ‘Pavwiac,’ the Germans began to introduce public executions, that is, shooting of whole groups of Poles of from 20 to 200 persons.
These public executions were carried out in various districts of the city, in streets usually open to normal traffic, which were surrounded by the Gestapo guards immediately before the actual executions, so that the Polish population caught within the surrounding district would have to watch the executions either in the streets, or from the windows of the houses situated right behind the backs of the Gestapo men.
During these executions the Germans shot either people from the ‘Pavwiac’ where they were confined after their arrest during raids in the streets, or people caught immediately before the actual execution. The number of these public executions, as well as the number of persons executed each time, kept increasing until 200 persons were shot each time. These executions continued until the very beginning of the Warsaw insurrection.
At first the Germans transported the Poles to the place of execution in covered trucks. They were clad in civilian clothes, and sometimes their hands were tied behind their backs. However, as the victims thus brought to the place of execution usually shouted ‘Down with Hitler’, ‘Long Live Poland’, ‘Down with the Germans’, and similar things, the Germans took steps to prevent the possibility of any such disturbances and began to fill their mouths with cement, or seal their lips with adhesive tape. The victims were brought from the ‘Pavwiac’ clad in shirts, or in clothes made out of paper.
I often received information from our underground organisation, through our agents who were working in the Pavwiac jail, that shortly before the execution the Germans usually performed operations on the condemned. They bled them and injected various chemical substances to cause physical weakness, thus preventing any attempts at escape or at resistance.
This was the reason why the condemned were brought to the place of execution pale, weak and apathetic, and barely able to stand on their feet. But even so, they acted as heroes and never begged for mercy.
The bodies of those who were shot were loaded into trucks by other prisoners and were taken to what used to be a Ghetto, where they were usually burned. The prisoners whose duty it was to transport and to bum the corpses were mostly those confined in the Pavwiac prison, it was their regular assignment.
The Polish population immediately covered with flowers the blood spots which remained on the ground. Lighted candles were placed where the corpses had been and crosses and ikons, were hung on the surrounding walls. During the night members of the underground or resistance organisations would put an inscription in lacquer on the walls, such as ‘Glory to Heroes’, ‘Glory to those who Perished for the Fatherland’, and so forth.
When the Germans noticed these inscriptions they arrested all those who happened to be on the spot and led them to the Pavwiac prison. Sometimes the Germans shot at groups of people kneeling and praying at the execution spots. Such an incident took place in Senator Street where several people were shot and quite a number were wounded.
After each public execution the Germans would put on the walls of houses lists of the names of those who had just been killed, and the names of hostages who would be shot in case the German regulations were not obeyed were given below.
In Warsaw alone the Germans shot several thousand Poles in these public executions. This does not include the victims who were shot in other towns. In the Cracow District several thousand men were similarly shot.
The original evidence can be read in the transcripts of the Trials of German Major War Criminals. By March 1944 Hans Frank was boasting that he had killed ‘another 150,000’ Poles.