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Operation Erntefest

 (Harvest Festival)


Jakob Sporrenberg  SSPF Lublin 


Interrogation Report – Extracts  


Part 2



IV. Operation Erntefest – Harvest Festival


Towards the end of August 1943, PW was summoned to Cracow by the HSSuPF Krueger, who had his HQ there. On arrival in Cracow he went into conference with Krueger, the only other person present being the BdS Bierkamp.


Krueger showed them the following letter received from Himmler:


“To the Higher SS and Police Leader  Obergruppenfuhrer and General of the Police Krueger




The Jews in the district of Lublin have developed into a serious danger. This state of affairs must be cleared up once and for all. I have charged the unit Globocnik with the execution of this matter.


The Higher SS and Police Leader East, and the SS and Police Leader Lublin, are requested to assist Globocnik with all resources at their disposal.




Heinrich Himmler”


Sporrenberg says that neither he nor the HSSPF and the BdS approved of the order and PW did not at first know in what way he was to assist in this operation. Krueger wanted to know from Sporrenberg and Bierkamp if one of them had reported this alleged “Jewish danger” to Himmler, but neither of them had ever heard of it.


Although the BdS did not think that one of his subordinates might have put in such a report he undertook to make enquiries at his office. Later Sporrenberg asked the KdS, whose office could have contacted Himmler direct, but the KdS also denied having sent in the report.


During another conference between PW and Bierkamp they decided to return to Krueger and impress upon him that the Jews in the district did not, in fact, constitute a danger. The HSSuPF gave them assurances that he would contact Himmler again.


Sporrenberg returned to Lublin and did not take any further action for the time being. About 4 or 5 days later he received a phone call from Krueger, who told him that Himmler was not prepared to change his mind.


PW summoned the KdS (Puetz) and informed him of the intended atrocity. They did not think that they had sufficient resources at their disposal to assist the “unit Globocnik” to any degree.


PW requested the KdS to use his information service in order to find out what preparations were being made by Globocnik’s men for the operation, so that they might be ready with an excuse (e.g. that resources at their disposal were insufficient etc) when the time came.


One or two days later the KdS reported that air-raid shelters and ditches were being constructed in Majdanek Concentration Camp and that a certain Sturmbannfuhrer (whose name and functions he did not know) had arrived from Berlin and, without reporting either to PW or the KdS (which was contrary to the usual procedure) had gone to the offices of Wirth, Globocnik’s deputy in the area.


It is possible that this Stubaf also went out to Majdanek Camp, especially as both PW and the KdS assumed that this officer was on the staff of the department concerned with the extermination of Jews.


During the conversation between Sporrenberg and Puetz, PW alleges that they both discussed the seriousness of the problem facing them and its consequences which they were certain would lower German reputation throughout the world, but they decided to refrain from taking further steps for a day or so.


Sporrenberg did not contact Wirth as he expected Globocnik himself to return to Lublin (which in fact he did during this period), when he might contact PW himself. Sporrenberg says there was little desire on his part to get into touch with Globocnik as there existed no mutual trust between them and PW disliked him.


Sporrenberg asked the KdS to continue to inform him of any developments and on the following day Sporrenberg received a long teleprint from the HSSuPF to the effect that the Feldkommando Stelle of the RFSS (Himmler’s front-line HQ)had despatched certain units of the Waffen-SS and Civil Police from East Prussia.


In all 2000 men were coming, most of them members of the Waffen-SS, and it was stated that they were to be under Sporrenberg’s command and were to be used for cordoning- off purposes.


The teleprint also requested Sporrenberg to arrange for suitable quarters for these troops and to confine them to their billets. No further details about these units were given and it was too late for PW to find out any particulars from where he was. Sporrenberg summoned Puetz and told him about the teleprint. The KdS said that Commandos, estimated at about 150 SS men, had already arrived at Majdanek from Auschwitz.


PW then decided to put his admin. officer (Obstlt Rheindorf) and his Stabsfuhrer (Stubaf) Hoefle) into the picture and he instructed them to arrange for billets for the 2,000 troops expected to arrive on the same day. At about 2200 hrs Wirth called on Sporrenberg and produced an order by Himmler, addressed to Globocnik which stated that the “unit Globocnik” was to exterminate all Jews in the district of Lublin.


Wirth also stated that he had orders to start the operation on the following day. PW then explained that, as far as he knew, the order was addressed to Globocnik but Wirth produced a document written by Globocnik to the effect that in his absence Wirth was in command of the unit and that he was to carry out the extermination action on his behalf.


On this occasion PW saw for the first time the name “Erntefest” (Harvest Festival), which he had never heard before. He asked Wirth why Globocnik was not present himself on such an important occasion but was told that they, i.e. Globocnik henchmen had often carried out operations on a much larger scale, such as in Warsaw, Bialystok and other places.


Wirth then showed Sporrenberg plans of the 3 camps, i.e. OSTI and DAW at the airport, DAW in Lindenstrasse and the Camp at Poniatowa. On these plans were also marked the dispositions of the cordoning-off troops.


Wirth also produced an order addressed to the Commanders of the cordoning –off units detailing their positions during the action. To this Sporrenberg objected and emphasised that these units were under his direct command. Wirth saw that he had to agree to this and PW then worked out a new order to the cordoning –off units, based mainly on the order given to him by Wirth.


This read approximately as follows:


  1. On orders of the RFSS (Himmler) an action called “Erntefest” will be carried out in the district of Lublin, for which the cordoning-off troops under his command are to be used.

  2. For this purpose the units in question will be disposed as follows: (Here Sporrenberg gave detailed instructions on the sketches, of which every commander was to have a copy given to him by Wirth).

  3. The troops will be used for cordoning-off purposes only and are under the direct command of the SSuPF Lublin (Sporrenberg). PW also gave detailed instructions that no-one was to be allowed in or out of the cordoned –off area.

  4. In the case of the two camps at Lindenstrasse and airport, the prisoners will be led out of the camps and taken to Majdanek under guard of the cordoning –off units. At Majdanek the troops are to form a cordon round the Camp while the action was being carried out and they are to remain there until recalled.

  5. The Commanders of the troop are to go into the Majdanek Camp on arrival and report to Wirth in order to establish contact and obtain information when the troops are no longer needed.

  6. On returning from Majdanek the leaders are to report to the SSuPF Lublin (Sporrenberg).

  7. On the second day the troops will surround the Camp at Poniatowa at 0600hrs. Commanders will report there to Stubaf Wirth.


This order, dictated by Sporrenberg to his admin officer (Ia) was typed at the office of the KdS.


At about this time the KdS returned to PW and told him that about 150 Polish prisoners- of- war were among the prisoners held at the Lindenstrasse Camp. Sporrenberg alleges that, by reporting this fact to Berlin, he hoped that the action might be postponed or cancelled together.


He phoned Krueger (HSSuPF) and told him that several hundred prisoners-of –war were in these camps and that they were under the protection of the Geneva Convention. He asked him to contact Himmler again, but Krueger thought that it might already be too late and suggested that Sporrenberg might himself get in touch with Himmler.


PW dispatched the following express telegram to Himmler:


“Several hundred prisoners-of-war who are under the protection of the Geneva Convention are amongst the Jews held at the Camps in Lublin. Can operation be postponed?”


Only about an hour later a telegram arrived which read approximately as follows:


“Teleprint of the SSuPF Lublin confirmed.


All without exception, to participate in operation.


RFSS requests Sporrenberg to refrain from further queries.


(sgd) Grothmann


At about 0100 hrs Sporrenberg again called for the KdS and showed him this teleprint. In the meantime the 2,000 troops had arrived. PW was at his home near his offices, where he lived with his family, but at 0300 hrs returned to the officer’s mess where he saw the various commanders of the cordoning-off units.


There were about 15 Hauptsturmfuhrer, Obersturmfuhrer and Untersturmfuhrer. Sporrenberg’s admin officer and the KdS were also present. PW did not know any of the officers and cannot now remember any names, but he does know that most of them came from Poznan, East Prussia and Reichshof (area Cracow), as well as from Warsaw.


He then had his order read out to them by the admin officer and himself repeated that there were to be no excesses on the part of the guards. The cordon was to be placed around the areas concerned at 0500 hrs and the troops were to be held in readiness forthwith. Before the officers were dismissed there were several questions of a technical nature which were attended to by the admin officer.


PW returned to his home, but went back to his office at about 0600 hrs. He alleges that he could not bear to be among many people and therefore retired to the garden-house adjoining his office building, where he stayed all day, except when he went to lunch to his own home.


The only persons with PW during the day were his admin officer and his Stabsfuhrer, but they were visited during the morning by the KdS who reported the fact that the operation was in progress and that the shooting of prisoners had been going on at Majdanek since 0800hrs.


He said that the victims had to stand in front of the air-raid shelters and ditches and that they were shot and just fell into the ditches. About 1500hrs one of the Commanders of the cordoning-off units reported by phone that they were no longer needed and Sporrenberg ordered them to return to their billets.


PW himself went home at about 1930hrs, after attending to routine matters in the garden-house (he did not return to his office again). Nothing further happened during the night. As stated above, the troops under his command had already had orders to proceed to Poniatowa. Sporrenberg went to his office at about 0800hrs and immediately phoned the KdS. The latter had no news for him.


At 1400hrs, one of his Commanders phoned again to tell PW that they were no longer needed. Sporrenberg dismissed them and ordered them to return at once to their normal duty stations. He did not ask for reports to be rendered to him and if anything had happened which was not foreseen in the first place, or contained in Sporrenberg’s orders, he would never have heard of it.


By then, both operations had been “successfully” completed and Sporrenberg states that he heard no more about it for some time. He states that he did not render a report to either the HSSuPF Krueger, or to any other superior authority.


Sporrenberg alleges that he knew nothing whatever of the telegram sent by Hoefle (referred to under Appendix “A”) but says that, if it was sent, it might have been addressed to the HSSuPF Trieste (Globocnik) and not to HSSuPF East (Krueger).


Sporrenberg agrees that the figures given below of the total number of Jews exterminated in the Lublin district on these two days are almost correct.


They include several thousand Jews killed at Trawniki where, PW maintains, the troops under his command were not in action:


Prisoners from the airport Camp                       approximately       16,000

(D.A.W. and OSTI)


Prisoners at Camp Poniatowa                          ditto                      14,000


Prisoners at Camp Trawniki                             ditto                      12,000



Total      ------------------------                               approximately        42,000



This massacre was completed in 14 hours, which meant that 3,000 innocent people were killed every hour. It also means that, if no outside assistance was given to the 150 SS butchers from Auschwitz, each one of them would have killed 280 people in 14 hours, or one person in every 3 minutes.


Sporrenberg himself agrees that more men must have participated in this killing than the original 150 and suggests that perhaps some of the guards of “Volksdeutsche” might have taken part.


It is just as likely, if not even more probable, that some of Sporrenberg’s men took part in the killing. Sporrenberg himself would never have heard of it, because he did not take the trouble to obtain detailed reports from his unit Commanders.


In December, Wirth, who had meanwhile gone to Trieste, returned to Lublin to wind up his department. PW saw him when Wirth told him that he was going to exhume the corpses and have them burnt. Sporrenberg states that Wirth gave him no further details and that he did not ask him any questions.


About three months later PW read a report by the KdS in which it was stated that between 100 and 150 Jewish women had been spared in Majdanek to sort out the other prisoners clothes.


After their job was completed they were to be sent to Auschwitz to be exterminated there. During the

train journey they were only guarded by four soldiers and when the train stopped in an open field all the women managed to escape and were never recaptured.


Through some carelessness or due to someone’s misguidance, some 2,000 Jews had been forgotten on the airfield of Zamosc, Biala- Podlaska and Pulawy (Sporrenberg states that, by arrangements with their respective Camp Commandants, these Jews were later freed just prior to the Russian capture of Lublin).


He also claims that some other stragglers and odd working parties were forgotten and later freed. Apart from this, it could be stated that after the “Harvest Festival” the district of Lublin was purged of Jews.





PW stands for Prisoner of War


KdS stands for Kommandeur der Sicherheitspolizei


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Interrogation of Sporrenberg – National Archives Kew  WO 208/4673

Holocaust Historical Society




Copyright Chris Webb & Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2008



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