Posen – City Hall

It was in Poznan (german Posen) that SS chief Heinrich Himmler gave two famous (infamous) speeches before senior SS officers, Reichsleiters, Gauleiters and other government members on 4 and 6 October 1943. Himmler was not the only speaker but in total there were over a hundred speeches during a few days in something that has been called the Posen conference. Martin Bormann had called Rechsleiters, Gauleiters and other political leaders to discuss the war and the future. But there are two things that have made Himmler’s speech so unique. First, (1) he spoke of the Jews being exterminated in front of hearers who did not belong to a closed circle. Previously, Himmler had given several speeches about the extermination of the Jews, but it had been before a closed circle directly involved in the extermination of the jews.

Secondly (2) he was the only high Nazi leader who officially and openly spoke about the extermination of the jews and that it was the explicit goal of the nazis to carry out the extermination of the jews. Other high Nazi leaders had earlier in the years both officially and unofficially spoken of the Jews being exterminated, but Himmler went a step further and spoke of the Jews really being exterminated. By the time of the speech, the Nazi Einsatzgruppen had largely murdered all the Jews within what was the Soviet Union, Operation Reinhardt had almost ended, the deportations of the Jews of western Europe were in full swing for two years and all four large crematoria in Auschwitz II – Birkenau had been put into service in the spring and summer of 1943.

The first speech on October 4 held Himmler in front of 92 senior SS officers in the City hall (Ratusz). Himmler spoke for about three hours about the development of war on the different fronts with an emphasis on the eastern front. He also spoke about the political development of the war brought, the slaves, the partisans, the fall of Mussolini, the role of the SS but without going into the Jews any closer. But for about two minutes Himmler justified the mass executions, ghettos and special (annihilation) camps set up to murder the Jews. Himmler spoke of this as a higher goal of protecting his own race and that it was the SS who had been assigned this task without mentioning any details of how it happened, only that it was implemented. He also praised the SS, which, despite the nature of the task, remained decent.

The second speech held Himmler on October 6 and it has not really been confirmed whether it was held in the city hall or elsewhere in Posen. In any case, it was held before the Reichsleiter, Gauleiter and other members of the government, including propaganda minister Josef Goebbels and armament minister Albert Speer. Those who were not present received a copy of the speech and were thus informed. The second speech lasted about 90 minutes, but Himmler talked about the fate of the Jews longer than in the first century. Himmler talked about what a difficult task it had been for him and his SS to carry out the extermination (Ausrotten) of the Jewish people but that it was something that still had to be done.

Himmler got into the hard part of murdering women and especially children. But he justified the murders of the children that if they were not murdered, the children would grow up and seek revenge on the children and grandchildren of the Germans, and he could not allow this. As in the previous speech, Himmler made no mention of the details of the murder itself. He also said that the Jewish question would be resolved before the end of the year and that only a few Jews needed for industrial purposes would be alive.

Current status: Rebuilt (2011).

Address: Rozany Targ, 61-761 Poznan.

Get there: Walk from central Poznan.

My comment:

Both Himmler’s speeches are preserved both in writing and on audio tapes. It is still debated why Himmler spoke so openly about the extermination of the Jews (read Holocaust). The extermination of Jude was something that the Nazi hierarchy did not officially talk about because of its sensitivity. Himmler himself had forbidden those who worked with the Jewish extermination to talk about it. One reason may be that through the speech he made others aware of what they might already know but never got confirmed and thus could distance themselves from. The speech made them fully aware and directly or indirectly complicit because the ministry or organization to which they belonged in one way or another contributed to the extermination of the Jews. Himmler thus made it clear that although it was the SS who carried out the ”work” with exterminating the Jews, we all nevertheless settled in the same boat”. If the boat sinks, we all perish together.

In October 1943, the war had turned against the germans and the speech may have been an enlightenment that there is no point in preparing for defeat because we are all still guilty of something which the victors would hardly look at between their fingers. The speeches may therefore have been a call to continue on the current line despite the development of the war. When armament minister Albert Speer was confronted with the details of his presence at the second century, he asserted resolutely that he had left the hall before Himmler spoke. He claims he did not know about the Holocaust. City Hall was badly damaged during the war but was renovated, but the hall where Himmler gave his speech was never rebuilt.

Follow up in books: Longerich, Peter: Himmler: A Biography (2009).