Although Heinrich Reinefarth was considered a war hero during World War II, he is now known as one of the Nazi officials who committed horrendous atrocities against the Polish population.
He was born December 26, 1903, in Gnesen, Province of Posen, Prussia, Germany, which, ironically, is now part of Poland. He originally studied law and joined the faculty of the University of Jena in the early 1920s. He also served a judge in Jena.
He was conscripted into the German Army as a non-commissioned officer. He participated in the Invasion of Poland, also known as The September Campaign, in 1939 for which she received the Iron Cross 2nd Class. The September Campaign was an invasion of Poland committed by the joint forces of the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and the Free City of Danzig, a Polish city established by the Treaty of Versailles after the First World War.
It was populated mostly by Germans after the Nazi Party took over in 1933. In the 1940 Campaign of France, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross. France was invaded by more than two million Nazi troops who had successfully taken Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and Luxemburg. By 1942 he had achieved the rank of SS-Brigadeführer which roughly translates into Brigadier General.
After his promotion, he became General Inspector of the SS Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia. A year later, he was transferred to Berlin and served in the Ministry of Order Police (Hauptamt Ordnungspolizei). Soon after, he became Police Leader in Reichsgau Wartheland, a Polish province annexed by Germany in 1939.
Along with General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, appointed by Heinrich Himmler, it became Reinefarth’s responsibility to put a stop to the Warsaw Uprising which began in August of 1944. Initially, the Uprising began as a nationwide plan against the approaching Soviet Army.
It was intended that the Polish army would drive out the German occupation and create the Polish Underground State before the Soviets could gain control. In a broadcast from Moscow on July 25th, the Union of Polish Patriots, stated, “The Polish Army of Polish Patriots … calls on the thousands of brothers thirsting to fight, to smash the foe before he can recover from his defeat … Every Polish homestead must become a stronghold in the struggle against the invaders … Not a moment is to be lost.”
It was at this time that about 60,000 of Warsaw’s civilians were slaughtered in two days’ time during what is now known as the Wola Massacre. Reinefarth reported to the commander of the German 9th Army, “We have more prisoners than ammunition to kill them”.
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Reinefarth’s army then proceeded to Old Town where they engaged the Armia Krajowa in heavy fighting. His forces were transferred to attack the boroughs of Powiśle and Czerniaków in September where they murdered POWs and patients in local military hospitals.
Up to two hundred thousand civilians of Poland were exterminated during the Warsaw Uprising and for this Reinefarth received the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.
He was given command of the XVIII SS Corps in December of 1944, three months later and commanded the defense of Kostrzyn nad Odrą. He disobeyed orders to defend to the last man by withdrawing his troops which infuriated Hitler enough to order his arrest by Himmler. After a trial in military court Reinefarth was sentenced to death, but instead, continued to command troops of the XIV SS Corps.
At the conclusion of the war, Poland demanded his extradition to face war crimes, but the Allies wanted to use him as a witness at the Nuremberg Trials.
After the Trials, Reinefarth was arrested again but was released by Hamburg officials due to lack of evidence. It was the opinion of the court that depositions were insufficient and that genocide was not considered a crime in Nazi Germany and therefore he was innocent of any wrongdoing.
Along with similar war criminals in West Germany, Reinfarth was able to live the normal life of any German citizen. He became Mayor of the wealthy resort town of Westerland on the island of Sylt in 1951 until 1962 when he was elected to the Landtag of Schleswig-Holstein, serving until 1967. He completed his career as an attorney until his retirement when he was awarded a General’s pension.
Although the Polish government continued to request extradition, Reinefarth never faced responsibility for the atrocities he committed and lived comfortably until his death on May 7, 1979 in Sylt.
Sadly this was the case for so many Nazis after the war.