The forceful expulsion of Jews from the German Reich at the end of October 1938 is mentioned in literature in context with the pogrom against the Jews on 9 and 10 November 1938, the “Reichskristallnacht”. The Polish Jew Herschel Grünspan (Herszel Grynszpan) shot legation councillor Ernst Eduard vom Rath at the German Embassy in Paris to make people aware of the fact that his parents had been expelled to Bentschen (Zbaszyn) in the course of the so-called “Polenaktion”. The National Socialists seized the opportunity and used this action as a stalking horse for the November pogroms of 1938.
However, this brief illustration fails to do justice to the full extent of incidents of October 1938. To pay particular attention to the course of the “Polenaktion” itself and to be able to comprehend the misfortune of the persons affected, it is initially essential to find the names of those who at present have been passed on by 50 % only, depending how many people are presumed expelled.
The Federal Archives have already begun to make their contribution, which is outlined as follows: A short glance on the prehistory and the course of the “Polenaktion” shed some light on the difficulties and obstacles that are causal for the number of affected persons to be ranging within the range of 12,000 to 17,000.
With Austria's annexation on 12 March 1938, the situation of the Jews living in the territory of the Reich changed dramatically, since it had a lasting impact on the immigration policy of many European states. Now, that Austria ceased to be a refuge and became subject to the same National Socialist regime against the Jews, Germany's neighbouring countries feared an even stronger flow of Jewish emigrants, which they tried to counteract by tightening immigration regulations. Unlike Switzerland, France or Great Britain measures taken in Poland were directed against their own citizens who resided outside Poland.
Thus the law that was passed by Polish Parliament on 31 March 1938 provided for the possibility to withdraw all citizens of Poland their citizenship, who had lived abroad for five years non-stop, as they were said to have lost their connection to the Polish nation affecting approximately 30,000 Polish Jews in the German Reich and additional 20 000 Polish Jews in Austria. With a promulgation in early October 1938 the said act was to be put into effect. The Polish government wanted to pre-empt a mass expulsion from the German Reich by any means possible and demanded all Polish citizens living abroad to get in touch with the appropriate consulate in order to have their passports furnished with a check mark. If they failed to do that, their Polish passport was to expire on 30 October 1938 and their thus stateless holder lost the right to enter Poland. When the promulgation became known in Berlin via the German Embassy in Warsaw, shortly afterwards thousands of Polish Jews in the German Reich received an expulsion order in effect as of 27 October 1938 or they were arrested or expelled on foot or in mass transports across the German-Polish border in great haste.
Since the order for the forceful expulsion of Polish Jews did not reach all parts of the Reich at the same time, the deporting date varied depending on place of residence between 27, 28 and 29 October 1938. In addition, the promulgation allowed local authorities a certain scope of interpretation so that not only the very way of execution across the Reich was different but also the decision on who might have to face expulsion. If in one town or region entire families were affected, who were pulled out of their homes by the police, only the male household members were affected elsewhere. If the expulsion in one case only hit Polish Jews who had reached their adult age, there were other cases of infants and toddlers also being expelled.
The border crossing was also depending on the place of residence, where the Polish Jews affected by the “Polenaktion” were transported. According to the course of the German railway network, mass transports of Jews mainly reached three border towns with railway connection. In addition to the already mentioned town of Bentschen larger transports were taken to Konitz (today Chojnice) in Pomerania and Beuthen (today Bytom) in Upper Silesia.
A coherent image of the expulsion can therefore not be drawn up. It would hence be even more important for the future to investigate and process the procedure and the number of people affected for each region separately.