On 15 October 1941, Chief of German Police Heinrich Himmler tasked SS General Odilo Globocnik, who led the SS and was the police leader in Lublin District, with implementing what would become known as “Operation Reinhard,” the plot to annihilate all Jews in German-occupied Poland.
Globocnik directed Operation Reinhard between the autumn of 1941 and late summer of 1943. and created two departments. One was a team led by SS Major Hermann Höfle, which was responsible for coordinating personnel and transport for the planned deportations. The second was the Inspectorate of SS Special Detachments. Led by Criminal Police captain Christian Wirth, it was responsible for the construction and management of the Operation Reinhard killing centers.
The Nazis established three such centers - Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka - where the overwhelming majority Operation Reinhard victims, including approximately 1.7 million Jews, were murdered. At those camps the murders were mainly carried out using carbon monoxide, though Zyklon B was used at Majdanek. Many other Jews perished at forced-labor camps at Trawniki and Budzyn as a result of the inhuman conditions in which they labored. The culmination of Operation Reinhard took place in November 1943 when the last remaining Jews in the Lublin district were mowed down in a two-day killing spree called Erntefest that claimed 42,000 lives.
The estimated numbers of Jewish victims at each killing center were:
- Belzec: 434,508
- Sobibor: 167,000
- Treblinka: 925,000.
The operation was named after SS General Reinhard Heydrich, a key architect of the “Final Solution,” after Heydrich died in June 1942 from injuries sustained during an assassination attempt by Czech partisans. Heydrich gathered senior Nazi leadership in Berlin for the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, at which he elaborated to top German officials the plan for the mass destruction of European Jewry.
After the conclusion of Operation Reinhard, the camps at Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor and Chełmno were dismantled, the land ploughed over, and Polish farmers installed on the land. Today, there are memorials at all these sites.