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Arthur Greiser (January 22, 1897 - July 14, 1946) was a Nazi German politician and SS Obergruppenfuhrer.
Born in Schroda, Province of Posen, Imperial Germany, Greiser was the son of a minor local Gerichtsvollzieher or Bailiff. In 1903 he was enrolled at the Könglich-Humanistische Gymnasium (Royal Humanities College) in Hohensalza and is believed to have learnt to speak Polish fluently. In August 1914 he joined the German Navy but in October 1917 transferred to the nascent air force under Richthofen where served as a Pilot on the Western Front in World War I earning the Iron Cross (First and Second Class), the Cross of Honour 1914-1918 Combatants medal and a Wound Badge Black Class in 1914.
After the war and the loss of his homeland to Poland he became particularly racist against Poles. From 1919 to May 1921 he served in the Freikorps Grenzschutz Ost and also fought in the Baltic states.
Greiser was an early member of the Nazi party (Party number 166,635). After many years with the nationalist Deutschsozialen Partei of von Kunze and membership of the Stahlhelm in the mid-1920s, he joined the NSDAP and SA on 1 November 1929, and the SS on 30 June 1931. He was later awarded the prestigous "Golden Party Badge".
He was the Senate President and the head of state (Senatspräsident) of the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland) (1935-1939), and the administrator (Reichsstatthalter und Gauleiter) of Reichsgau Wartheland (1939-1945). As Senate President of Danzig he was described as a "hothead" and was a serious rival to Albert Forster for power. Greiser was part of the SS empire whilst Forster was closely aligned to the Nazi Party Mandarins Rudolf Hess and later Martin Bormann.
Greiser was directly responsible for escalating tensions between the Free City and the republic of Poland in 1939. When the Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Józef Beck threatened economic reprisals following the harassment of Polish frontier guards and customs officers, Greiser issued an announcement on 29 July 1939 declaring that the Danzig police no longer recognised their authority or power and demanded their immediate withdrawal. The notice was so rudely worded that the Polish diplomatic representative to Danzig, Marjan Chodacki, refused to forward it to Beck and instead sent a curt summary.
Immediately following the German military entry into Poland Greiser was appointed "Chef der Zivilverwaltung im Militärbezirk Posen" or Chief of Civil Administration in the military district of Greater Poland, that was annexed to German Reich, on 8 September 1939. The following month he was appointed Gauleiter (21 October) and "Reichsstatthalter für den Reichsgau Posen" (26 October). On 29 January 1940 the region was renamed Reichsgau Wartheland. The territory was potentially very rich - the Prussian Imperial province of Posen had been the breadbasket of Wilhelhmine Germany before 1914, possessed an excellent rail and road network, and a comparatively healthy and well educated workforce; Lódz had developed a fairly sophisticated industrial base during the 19th century. However Greiser typified the brutality exhibited by officials of Nazi Germany to the Poles. He was an ardent racist who enthusiastically pursued an 'ethnic cleansing' program to rid the Warthegau of Poles and to resettle the 'cleansed' areas with ethnic Germans. This was along the lines of the racial theories espoused by SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler. Mass expulsions of Poles from the Warthegau to the General Government and summary executions were the norm.
Perhaps the only evidence of "humanitarian" acts in his career was his involvement in the resettlement of German refugees from lands annexed to the Soviet Union over 1939 to 1940. Between October and December 1939 nearly 60,000 Volksdeutsche arrived in Germany from the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia. Neighbouring Gauleiter and rival Albert Forster refused them entry point blank and they were largely settled in properties seized from Poles in Poznan and across the Wartheland. However even Greiser was weary, noting that many were elderly and urbanised aristocrats with a strong class consciousness, not the virile peasant warrior types idolised by the SS. Closer to his heart were the over 100,000 Volksdeutsche who were evacuated from Volhynia and eastern Galicia. These were mostly farmers and rural people, and, learning from the Baltic experience, Lódz in eastern Wartheland was designated the main Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (VoMi) reception centre. In May 1940 a further 30,000 Volksdeutsche were relocated from the Nazi General Government of Poland to Greiser’s domain. After 1941 a further 300,000 Volksdeutsche were evacuated from Russia and the Ukraine to Wartheland during the German invasion and occupation of the Soviet Union.
Greiser’s Poznan was considered the Germanised city par excellence and on 3 August 1943 he hosted a national gathering of Gauleiter and senior Nazis, including Martin Bormann, Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler.
SS Obergruppenfuhrer Greiser was fully aware of the Holocaust. Early in 1940 Greiser is on record challenging Hermann Goering over efforts to delay the expulsion of Lódz Jews to Poland. On 18 September 1941 SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler informed Greiser that he intended to transfer 60,000 Czech and German Jews to the Lódz ghetto, until spring 1942 when they would be "resettled". The first transport arrived a few weeks later and Greiser instructed HSSPF Wilhelm Koppe to manage the overcrowding. Koppe and SS Sturmbannfuhrer Herbert Lange proceeded to manage the problem by experimenting at a country estate at Chelmno nad Nerem with gas vans, where approximately 150,000 Jews were killed between late 1941 and April 1942. Furthermore on 6 October 1943 Greiser hosted a national assembly of senior SS officers in Posen at which Himmler candidly spoke of the mass executions of civilians (the infamous Posen Speech).
Joseph Goebbels disliked Greiser. In Goebbels' diary entry of March 2, 1945, Greiser was considered "a real disgrace to the (Nazi) Party." Four days later, Goebbels criticized Greiser for abandoning a town which was threatened (but not encircled) by Russian forces. This was in fact part of Martin Bormann’s machinations against Himmler. On 20 January 1945 Greiser received a telegram from Bormann "ordering him to evacuate all German civilians and to report to Berlin for new duties". At Frankfurt-am-Oder Greiser learnt that it was a trick to discredit him and the SS, and that in fact Hitler had ordered Stronghold Poznan to be held against the Soviet army onslaught at all costs. Himmler advised Greiser to wait at Karlovy Vary in the Sudetenland but in March 1945 Greiser went to Himmler’s headquarters and demanded action against Bormann and his telegram. Himmler was concerned about Bormann’s influence with Hitler and did not want the issue reopened. He ordered Greiser to Bavaria.
He surrendered to the Americans in Austria with SS Obergruppenfuhrer Heinz Reinefarth in 1945.
After the war, the Polish government tried him for war crimes. His plea that he was only following orders did not hold up as it was shown that other Gauleiters had not followed a similar policy - for example, Albert Forster, Gauleiter of Danzig-West Prussia (the other German-annexed section of occupied Poland), simply declared all Poles in his area of responsibility proficient in German to be Germans (although he was guilty of the elimination of the Jewish population under his jurisdiction either by murder or deportation). Greiser's advocate - Stanislaw Hejmowski and an Kreglewski (those were the best defence lawyers in Poznan) tried to convince Tribunal that Greiser, as a head of formally independent state - Free City of Danzig, cannot be juged by other country. On the other hand prosecutor applies that during years of German occupation of Poznan he already wasn't head of any independent state. After Greiser was convicted for:
The Tribunal decided that Greiser was guilty of all charges, and sentenced him to death by hanging, civil death and confiscation of all his property:
" Arthura Greisera Nalezy uznac winnym wszystkich zbrodni i zarzucanych mu przestepstw, z tym ograniczeniem, ze zabójstw, uszkodzen cielesnych i znecan sie Arthur Greiser osobiscie nie dokonywal. Za powyzsze przestepstwa skazac Arthura Greisera na kare smierci, nadto orzec utrate praw publicznych i obywatelskich praw honorowych na zawsze oraz konfiskate calego jego mienia; od momentu ponoszenia kosztów sadowych i uiszczenia oplaty sadowej zwolnic go. Dowody rzeczowe pozostawic przy aktach sprawy. "
He was transported from prison to place of execution in a cage before being hanged on slope of Fort Winiary. It was the last public execution in Poland.
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