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1941 roundup in Warsaw's Żoliborz district

Łapanka [waˈpanka] ( listen) was the Polish name for a World War II practice in German-occupied Poland, whereby the German SS, Wehrmacht and Gestapo rounded up civilians on the streets of Polish cities.


Name and places of roundups

Such roundups were carried out by the Germans in other occupied countries as well, particularly in northern France, but not as extensively as in Poland. The French term for this practice was rafle, applied primarily to the rounding-up of Jews. In Denmark łapanka was called "Razzia". The Soviets used similar tactics to round up middle-class Poles in the part of Poland that they occupied following the 1939 invasion of Poland. Men, women and children were transported to labor camps in remote regions of the Soviet Union.[1]


Another Warsaw roundup

The term "łapanka" comes from the Polish verb "łapać" ("to catch") and, used in this context, carried a sardonic connotation from its prior use as the name for the children's game that is known in English as "tag".

Most people who were rounded up were transported to labor camps (Arbeitslager) in Germany including Auschwitz. Many Polish women were selected for sexual slavery. Many Polish children were selected for adoption by German families. Some, those without proper documents or carrying contraband, were transported to concentration and death camps. Others, particularly Jews in hiding and the Poles wanted for harbouring them, were shot dead on the spot.

The term was also used for the cordoning-off of streets at night and the systematic searching of buildings. Possession of an identity card (Ausweis) certifying that the holder was employed by a German company or government agency (for example, city utilities or the railways) was the only reliable defense for young men in their 20s and 30s against being taken. Thus, many of those who were taken from cafes and restaurants in Warsaw on 5 December 1940 were subsequently released after their documents had been checked.[2]

According to estimates, between 1942 and 1944 there were some 400 victims of this practice daily in Warsaw alone, with numbers on some days reaching several thousand. On 19 September 1942, nearly 3,000 men and women were transported by train to Germany who had been caught in massive round-ups all over Warsaw during the previous two days.[3]

Reactions of Polish resistance

Auschwitz photos of Witold Pilecki

In 1940 łapanka was used by secret agent of AK Witold Pilecki in His plan to enter Germany's Auschwitz concentration camp, gather intelligence on the camp from the inside, and organize inmate resistance.[4] On September 19, 1940, Witold Pilecki deliberately went out during a street roundup in Warsaw and was caught by the Germans along with other civilians and sent to Auschwitz. In the camp he organized the underground organization -Związek Organizacji Wojskowej - ZOW, and send sent its first report about the camp and the genocide in November 1940 to Home Army Headquarters in Warsaw through the resistance network organized in Auschwitz.[5][6]

In retribution for łapankas as acts of nazi terror, the Polish resistance movement provide also few attacks on German forces and prepared lists of Nazi leaders who should be eliminated for the said crimes against civilians.[7] Nazi personel responsible for organisation łapanka`s like members of local Arbeitsamts, SS, SD or German Police was sentenced to death by the Special Courts of the Polish Underground for crimes against Polish citizens during the Occupation of Poland. Because of the particular brutality of the police, the AK murdered 361 gendarmes in 1943, and in 1944 next 584 of Them. In Warsaw alone 10 Germans were killed daily. From August to December 1942, the AK launched 87 attacks on the German administration and members of apparatus of terror. In 1943 this numbers radically grown. During the first four months of 1943, the AK increased these attacks to 514.[8] In underground operation known as Operacja Główki (Operation Heads) Polish underground combat units from Kedyw eliminated also few organisators of łapankas like:

  • Kurt Hoffman - chief of the unemployment office in Warsaw responsible for organization łapanka`s of Poles. Was executed by AK on 9 April 1943,[9]
  • Hugo Dietz - his assistant. Executed on 13 April 1943,
  • Fritz Geist - chief of the unemployment office department. Killed on 10 May,
  • Willi Lübbert - worked at the unemployment office and organized łapanka of Poles to be sent to Nazi labor camps. He was executed on July 1, 1944.
  • Eugen Bollodino - the unemployment office and organized łapanka of Poles to be sent to Nazi labor camps. He was executed by combat patrol - unit DB-17 on 8 June 1944.

Łapanka in culture

Criticism of German practice of łapankas was the theme of most popular song of occupied Warsaw Siekiera, motyka (Polish for Axe, Hoe). [10] In 1943 it was published in print in by the Polish resistance underground presses, in the Posłuchajcie ludzie... [Listen, folks], book, one of the bibuła publications of Propaganda Commission (Komisja Propagandy) of Armia Krajowa (Home Army). The song was also reprinted in several books and discs after the German occupation ended. In 1946 the song was featured in first Polish movie created after the war - Zakazane piosenki of Leonard Buczkowski.


  • Richard C. Lukas "Forgotten holocaust - The Poles under German Occupation 1939-1944" Hippocrene Books 1997 ISBN-10: 0-7818-0901-0
  • Tomasz Strzembosz, Akcje zbrojne podziemnej Warszawy 1939-1944, Warszawa, 1978.
  • Stachiewicz Piotr, Akcja "Kutschera", Książka i Wiedza, 1987, ISBN 83-05-11024-9.
  • Henryk Witkowski, Kedyw okręgu Warszawskiego Armii Krajowej w latach 1943- 1944, Fakty i Dokumenty,(Kedyw of Warsaw area. Facts and documents) 1984.


  1. ^ Norman Davies, Europe, pp. 1002-3.
  2. ^ Władysław Bartoszewski, 1859 dni Warszawy (1859 Days of Warsaw), p. 167.
  3. ^ Władysław Bartoszewski, 1859 dni Warszawy (1859 Days of Warsaw), pp. 303-4.
  4. ^ Jozef Garlinski, Fighting Auschwitz: the Resistance Movement in the Concentration Camp, Fawcett, 1975, ISBN 0-449-22599-2, reprinted by Time Life Education, 1993. ISBN 0-8094-8925-2
  5. ^ Adam Cyra, Ochotnik do Auschwitz - Witold Pilecki 1901-1948 [Volunteer for Auschwitz], Oświęcim 2000. ISBN 83-912000-3-5
  6. ^ Hershel Edelheit, History of the Holocaust: A Handbook and Dictionary, Westview Press, 1994, ISBN 0813322405,Google Print, p.413
  7. ^ Henryk Witkowski "Kedyw okręgu warszawskiego AK w latach 1943-1944", Warszawa 1984
  9. ^ Władysław Bartoszewski, 1859 dni Warszawy, Kraków, 1974
  10. ^ Stanisław Salmonowicz, Polskie Państwo Podziemne, Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne, Warszawa, 1994, ISBN 930205500X, p.255

See also



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