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Operation “Harvest Festival”

November 2, 2017

The Nazis launched a killing spree, Aktion Erntefest (Operation Harvest Festival), on this date in 1943. In response to Jewish uprisings in Sobibor, Treblinka, and the Bialystok ghetto, Heinrich Himmler ordered the SS to murder the remaining Jews in all the forced labor camps of the Lublin District of Poland. In what was the single most murderous German massacre of Jews during the Holocaust, close to 42,000 were machine-gunned in two days, many after having dug “anti-aircraft ditches” that would serve as their mass graves. At the Trawniki and Majdanek camps, marches and waltzes were blasted over the loudspeakers to drown out the noise of the guns and the screams of the people. Most of the victims were skilled workers who had held out hope for survival; only handfuls put up resistance, killing a few of their executioners.

“We undressed quickly and, our arms uplifted, we went in the direction of the ditches we had dug ourselves. The graves which were two metres deep were full of naked bodies. . . . we lay down quickly, in order to avoid looking at the dead. My little daughter was quaking with fear, and asking me to cover her eyes. I embraced her head; my left hand I put on her eyes while in my right I held her hands. . . . Shots were fired; I felt a sharp pain in my hand, and the bullet pierced the skull of my daughter. I was utterly shaken, turned giddy and lost consciousness. . . .” —A survivor of the massacre at Trawniki, quoted by Martin Gilbert in Holocaust