Posen – City Hall

It was in Poznan (german Posen) 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 an wider audience outside SS circles. 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 Soviet Union, Operation Reinhardt (exterminating Jews within General Government) was almost done, 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 different fronts with an emphasis on eastern front. He spoke about political development the war had on Germany, 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 (extermination) 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 on how it was done, only that it was implemented. He also praised the SS, which, despite the nature of the task, had remained decent.

The second speech Himmler held 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. This speech lasted about 90 minutes, but Himmler talked about the fate of the Jews in detail than he had done in his previous speech. 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 it was something that had to be done.

Himmler spoke how difficult it was for his men to murdering women and (especially) children. But he justified the murders that if the children were spared, the children would grow up and seek revenge on the next generation of germans, this was something he could not allow. As in the previous speech, Himmler did not speak about the details how the killing was done. He also said that the Jewish question would be resolved before the end of the year and that only a few Jews needed for slave labor 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 in writing and on audio tapes. It is still debated why Himmler spoke so openly about the extermination of the Jews. The extermination of the Jews was something Nazi hierarchy did not officially talk about because it was a sensitive topic. Himmler himself had forbidden those who worked with the extermination of Jewry 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 they worked within 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” exterminating the Jews, we all are in the same boat”. If the boat sinks, we all sink 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 the victors would not look away from. 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 speech, 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).