Many Nazi policies grew more radical and brutal during the escalating violence of World War II. Thousands of German police participated in persecution and mass murder in support of the regime’s goals.1 When German forces invaded Poland in September 1939, German authorities used German Order Police to secure conquered territories as the German army advanced. The Order Police expanded rapidly to meet the new demands of the war. Within a year, the number of men serving in the Order Police nearly doubled.2
Made up of roughly 500 men who were nearly all from the northern German city of Hamburg, Order Police Battalion 101 was one of the first German police units sent to occupied Poland. The battalion deployed to Kielce in fall 1939 to guard a camp for Polish prisoners of war. The rapid expansion of the Order Police caused roughly 100 career policemen from Battalion 101 to be transferred to help form new units, and recently drafted middle-aged reservists took their place.
In 1940, Battalion 101 was sent to the Warthegau—one of the territories of western Poland annexed by Germany. Here the battalion became directly involved in Nazi crimes for the first time. Nazi leaders wanted to remove all Jews, Poles, and Roma from the newly annexed territories to Germanize the regions and make them “racially pure.” Battalion 101 spent several months evicting these people from their homes and deporting them to central Poland. One reservist later reported that those too old or sick to travel were sometimes shot by the unit’s noncommissioned officers. In less than six months, the battalion deported nearly 37,000 people.
In late November 1940, the battalion was ordered to guard the Łódź ghetto and shoot any Jews who came too close to the fence.3 The featured photograph comes from an album belonging to a member of Battalion 101. It was taken during the unit’s Christmas holiday the following month. Still dressed in their uniforms, the men were likely participating in an official celebration. They appear to be having a good time drinking and perhaps even singing together.4
For months, men of Battalion 101 guarded the Łódź ghetto and conducted the so-called “resettlement” of Jews, Poles, and Roma. But they also enjoyed moments of fraternity with comrades as the men lived and worked closely together. All of the men in the photograph are celebrating in their uniforms, which suggests how close their professional and social worlds had become. Several of the men who served with Battalion 101 would later describe how a sense of camaraderie and the desire to conform had contributed to their choice to participate in mass shootings.5
The battalion became involved in Nazi crimes in additional ways after it was reorganized once again in 1941. The men of Order Police Battalion 101 participated in the deportation of German Jews from fall 1941 to spring 1942. The battalion was sent to occupied Poland that summer. Although very few of these men had been exposed to the escalating violence of the previous missions, the men of Battalion 101 began conducting mass shootings of Jewish civilians in July 1942.6
After the end of World War II and the defeat of the Nazi regime, a handful of officers and men from Battalion 101 stood trial in Poland for their crimes.7 But the vast majority of the Order Police involved in Nazi persecution and mass murder during World War II escaped justice entirely. In fact, dozens of the men who served in Battalion 101 continued their careers as police after the war.