Sonderaktion Krakau was the codename for a Nazi German operation
against professors and academics of the
Jagiellonian University and
other universities in German occupied Kraków, Poland, at the
beginning of World War II. It was carried out as part of the much
broader action plan, the Intelligenzaktion, to eradicate the Polish
intellectual elite especially in those centres (such as Kraków) that
were slated by the Germans to become culturally German.
1 Course of operation
2 Prominent personalities arrested during Sonderaktion Krakau
3 In film
4 See also
Course of operation
A little over two months after the German Invasion of Poland, the
Gestapo chief in
Kraków SS-Obersturmbannführer Bruno Müller,
Jagiellonian University rector Professor Tadeusz
Lehr-Spławiński to require all professors to attend his lecture
about German plans for Polish education. The rector agreed and sent an
invitation throughout the university for a meeting scheduled at the
administrative centre building in the
Collegium Novum (entrance
pictured). On November 6, 1939 at the lecture room no. 56 (or 66,
sources vary) at noon, all academics and their guests gathered; among
them, 105 professors and 33 lecturers from Jagiellonian University
(UJ), 34 professors and doctors from University of Technology (AGH)
some of whom attended a meeting in a different room, 4 from University
of Economics (AE) and 4 from Lublin and Wilno.
Jagiellonian University lecture room No. 56 trap
The academics filled the hall but no Vortrag (lecture) on education
was conducted. Instead, they were told by Müller that the university
did not have permission to start a new academic year (which it did),
and that Poles are hostile toward German science, and act in bad
faith. They were arrested on the spot by armed police, frisked and
escorted out. Some senior professors were kicked, slapped in the face
(Stanisław Estreicher) and hit with rifle butts. Additional 13–15
university employees and students who were onsite were also arrested,
as well as the President of Kraków, Dr
Stanisław Klimecki who was
apprehended at home that afternoon.
All of them, 184 persons in total, were transported first to prison at
Montelupich street, then to barracks at Mazowiecka, and – three days
later – to a detention center in Breslau, Germany (now Wrocław,
Poland), where they spent 18 days split between two prison facilities:
the detention centre (Untersuchungsgefängnis, at the Świebodzka 1
Street), and the Strafgefängnis penal complex at Kleczkowska 35. The
Gestapo were unprepared for such a large transfer of prisoners, and
awaited permission to send them to
Buchenwald concentration camp
Buchenwald concentration camp which
was filled to capacity. As a result, on November 27, 1939 at night,
they were loaded onto a train to Sachsenhausen concentration camp
located on the other side of Berlin, and in March 1940, sent
Dachau concentration camp
Dachau concentration camp near Munich after a new batch of
younger academics taken prisoner arrived.
Following loud international protest by prominent Italians including
Benito Mussolini and the Vatican, 101 professors who were older
than 40 were released from Sachsenhausen on February 8, 1940.
Additional academics were released later. Many elderly professors did
not survive the roll-calls held twice a day in snow and rain, and the
grim living conditions in the camp where dysentery was common and warm
clothes were rare. Twelve died in the camp within three months, and
another five within days of release. Among the notable professors who
died in the camp were
Ignacy Chrzanowski (UJ; Jan 19, 1940),
Stanisław Estreicher (UJ; Dec 29, 1939),
Kazimierz Kostanecki (UJ;
Jan 11, 1940), Antoni Meyer (AGH; Dec 24, 1939), and Michał Siedlecki
(UJ; Jan 11, 1940, after roll-call). In March 1940 the able prisoners
Kraków who remained alive were sent to Dachau concentration camp
and most of them, but not all, released in January 1941 on
Many of those who went through
Sonderaktion Krakau and the internment,
in 1942 formed an underground university in defiance of the German
punitive edicts. Among the 800 students of their underground college
Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II, taught by prof.
Tadeusz Lehr-Spławiński among others.
Today there is a plaque commemorating the events of Sonderaktion
Krakau in front of
Collegium Novum in Kraków. Every November 6, black
flags are hung outside all
Jagiellonian University buildings, and the
Rector of the University lays wreaths to honor those who suffered.
Prominent personalities arrested during Sonderaktion Krakau
Below is the partial list of selected prominent academics and
university graduates arrested on November 6, 1939. The train with 173
of them arrived in
Breslau on November 10, 1939. After two-and-a-half
weeks spent in local prisons, they were transported further west.
Tadeusz Jan Kowalski
Jan Stanisławski (lexicographer)
Sonderaktion Krakau is depicted in the 2005 miniseries Karol: A Man
Who Became Pope and the 2007 Polish film Katyń directed by Academy
Honorary Award winner Andrzej Wajda. It was nominated for Best Foreign
Language Film at the
80th Academy Awards
80th Academy Awards ceremony.
German AB-Aktion operation in Poland
Invasion of Poland
Massacre of Lviv professors
Treatment of Polish citizens by occupiers
^ Grażyna Zawada (November 15, 2007). "Anniversary of "Operation
Sonderaktion Krakau"". Krakow Post -
Poland News, Events, Lifestyle.
Retrieved May 8, 2012.
^ Paweł Rozmus (November 2006). "Kto Ty jesteś… czyli rozważania
w rocznicę Soderaktion Krakau" (PDF). BIP 159. Retrieved May 10,
^ a b c d Mateusz Łabuz. "Sonderaktion Krakau. Uniwersytecka wojna".
(with complete list of 184 detainees by name). Druga Wojna Swiatowa.
Retrieved May 13, 2012.
^ "Więźniowie Sonderaktion Krakau" (PDF 275 KB). Alma Mater No. 118.
Jagiellonian University. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
^ Von Uwe von Seltmann. "Jagd auf die Besten". Zweiter Weltkrieg (in
German). Spiegel Online. Retrieved May 10, 2012.
^ "Najważniejsze fakty z życia Karola Wojtyły." Biografia.
Archidiecezja Krakowska. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
^ "Prisoners of Sonderaktion Krakau" [Więźniowie Sonderaktion
Krakau"] (PDF). Alma Mater No. 118. Jagiellonian University. 2012 –
via PDF direct download 275 KB.
Banach, A.K., Dybiec, J. & Stopka, K. The History of the
Jagiellonian University. Kraków:
Jagiellonian University Press, 2000.
Burek, Edward (ed.) “Sonderaktion Krakau” in Encyklopedia Krakowa.
Kraków: PWM, 2000.
Gawęda, Stanisław. Uniwersytet Jagielloński w okresie II wojny
światowej 1939-1945. K