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Christhardt Henschel (Hg.): Ostpreußens Kriegsbeute. Der Regierungsbezirk Zichenau 1939-1945 (= Einzelveröffentlichungen des Deutschen Historischen Instituts Warschau; 42), Osnabrück: fibre Verlag 2021, 416 S., ISBN 978-3-944870-75-5, EUR 58,00
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Rezension von:
Wojciech Wichert
Institut für Nationales Gedenken, Stettin
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Christoph Schutte
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Wojciech Wichert: Rezension von: Christhardt Henschel (Hg.): Ostpreußens Kriegsbeute. Der Regierungsbezirk Zichenau 1939-1945, Osnabrück: fibre Verlag 2021, in: sehepunkte 22 (2022), Nr. 10 [15.10.2022], URL:

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Christhardt Henschel (Hg.): Ostpreußens Kriegsbeute

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At the end of October 1939, the German Reich annexed, at the expense of Poland, the northern part of Mazovia around the small town of Ciechanów. It was incorporated as the governmental district (Regierungsbezirk) Zichenau in the Province of East Prussia (Provinz Ostpreußen). The administrative region was also referred to as South East Prussia (Südostpreußen), and covered an area of 12.000 square kilometers with a population of approximately 895.000, including 800.000 Poles, 80.000 Jews, and 15.000 Germans. During the war, Zichenau became something of a racial testing ground for the Gauleiter of the National Socialist Party (NSDAP) in Ostpreußen, Erich Koch, who was eager to fulfill his colonial ambitions in Eastern Europe. From settlement policy in the countryside to rebuilding cities, he planned the complete reconstruction (Neuaufbau) of the incorporated territories according to National Socialist guidelines.

Thirteen articles of the present volume, published under the auspices of the German Historical Institute (DHI) in Warsaw, examine in detail particular aspects of the German occupation of the northern part of Mazovia, which up to now have been relatively rare topics of historical research. There is still no complete and solid academic monograph or synthesis of the Zichenau district. [1] This publication, consisting of texts by Polish and German scholars and one French author from various research institutions, has been edited by Christhardt Henschel from the German Historical Institute, who is working there on the history of Poland in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The book is a result of a conference organized in Warsaw from 17 to 19 May 2017 by the Max Weber Stiftung and the German Historical Institute in cooperation with the Polish Center for Holocaust Research of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Science. The aim of the workshop was to bring together the scattered knowledge of the German occupation in the governmental district Zichenau to obtain a more general picture, and to open up perspectives for further research. [2] The range of problems analyzed in this book is vast and complex, in some cases outlined with an interdisciplinary approach. The texts are divided into introduction and three chapters. In the introduction, there are general remarks regarding German occupation in the northern part of Mazovia made by Henschel. The first chapter, titled "Institutions," considers problems faced by the governmental district Zichenau due to Koch's policies (Ralf Meindl), ethnic-German "self-protection" units in the area (Selbstschutz Südostpreußen, Marcin Przegiętka), the annexation justice system (Maximilian Becker), the activity of the court martial of the Gestapo (Standgericht) - a characterization of archival sources (Janusz Piwowar), and the issue of "rebuilding" the farming community in the governmental district of Zichenau (Christian Rohrer). The second one ("Occupational Everyday Life and Society") deals with the German-language press (Elżbieta Szubska-Bieroà), local Christian churches under German rule (Leszek Zygner) and perspectives of everyday life in the region (Henschel). The last chapter ("Ethnicization, Violence, and Genocide") examines ethnic policies towards Masuria during the war (Andreas Kossert), plans to rebuild Ciechanów (Paweł Kosiàski), three court proceedings against homosexuality and sexual violence according to paragraphs 175 and 175a of the Reichsstrafgesetzbuch (Frédéric Stroh), and finally the extermination of Jews in the governmental district Zichenau (Janusz Szczepaàski). The collection also includes an appendix consisting of a bibliography, source and abbreviation lists, picture index, list of authors, and person index.

As can be seen, the volume offers in-depth information and analysis of the character of the occupational regime, its structure and main agents. The authors often compare this regime with that of other occupied Polish territories. Furthermore, the everyday experiences of different sections of the population, their reactions, and their survival strategies are emphasized. These reflections, based mainly on the memoirs of some of the district's inhabitants, are perhaps the most interesting part of the collection, as problems of Alltagsgeschichte are very rarely considered in the literature on the governmental district Zichenau. Much attention is being paid to the experiences of Poles and existing institutions (such as the Church) with various forms of discrimination, violence, and repression in line with the Nazi Germanization policy. Within this framework, the persecution of Jews and its conclusion in genocide are examined. In addition, forms of forced migration affected nearly all other ethnic groups, including the Volksdeutsche, in particular from the Baltic region. The members of this group were settled in the region and treated like chess pawns by the German administration, which is also depicted in the book. Moreover, imaginations of space and region, architectural plans for rebuilding Zichenau, and propaganda by the German authorities, visible for instance in the press, played a vital role. The texts prove that the occupiers considered the region to be a legal part of the Third Reich, but in reality they treated it as a colonial possession in which the "racially alien" (Fremdvölkische) were to be suppressed, enslaved and deprived of their fundamental rights. [3]

The contributions undoubtedly enrich the existing research on the governmental district Zichenau and are of great scholarly value. They build the most complete and multi-faceted portrayal of the region in the scientific literature to date and constitute an overture for a thorough academic monograph about the district. Furthermore, the reflections are based on abundant source materials, including subject literature and archives mainly from Polish and German institutions. Therefore, anyone who is interested in the history of the German occupation of Poland should clearly reach for this indispensable volume.


[1] See, e.g., Zbigniew Ptasiewicz: Regierungsbezirk Zichenau / Rejencja Ciechanowska 1939-1945, Ciechanów 2012; Ryszard Walczak: Rejencja ciechanowska pod zarządem Ericha Kocha - zarys problematyki [Governmental District Ciechanów under the Auspices of Erich Koch - Outline of Issues], in: Studia Mazowieckie (1992), 1, pp. 131-146; Aleksander Kociszewski: Rejencja Ciechanowska (Regierungsbezirk Zichenau) 1939-1945: Budowa niemieckiego "Lebensraumu" na Mazowszu Północnym [Governmental District Ciechanów 1939-1945: Building German "Lebensraum" in Northern Masovia], in: Zapiski Ciechanowskie 9 (1995), pp. 161-194; Marcin Przegiętka: Akcja Gestapo przeciwko polskiej inteligencji w rejencji ciechanowskiej: Aresztowani i deportowani do obozów koncentracyjnych w III Rzeszy w kwietniu 1940 roku [Gestapo Operation against the Polish Intelligentsia in the Governmental District Ciechanow: Persons Arrested and Deported to Concentration Camps in the Third Reich in April 1940], Warszawa 2020; Andreas Schulz: Regierungsbezirk Zichenau, in: Wolf Gruner, Jörg Osterloh (eds.): Das "Großdeutsche Reich" und die Juden. Nationalsozialistische Verfolgung in den "angegliederten" Gebieten, Frankfurt am Main 2010, pp. 261-280.

[2] See the announcement by Christhardt Henschel: Ostpreußen in Polen? Der Regierungsbezirk Zichenau unter deutscher Besatzung 1939-1945, event/id/event-82077?language=en (2021-12-29).

[3] Ibid.

Wojciech Wichert