Gottlieb Hering-Pure Evil

I could nearly do a whole blog on how inappropriate this evil man’s name is, Gottlieb translates to God Love. I doubt that very much.

Gottlieb Hering had been involved in the T4 program, and later on was the 2nd and also the last commandant of the Belzec extermination camp.

After Action T4, Hering was posted briefly to the Sicherheitsdienst in Prague in June 1942, and was then transferred to Operation Reinhard in Lublin, Poland. He replaced Christian Wirth as commandant of Bełżec extermination camp at the end of August 1942. He served as the camp’s commandant until its closure in June 1943. The Nazis commenced construction of Belzec in November 1941, as a result of Aktion Reinhard – the Nazi plan to exterminate two million Jews in the Generalgouvernement. In total, 600,000 people, mostly Jews and a few hundred Gypsies, were murdered at Belzec.

Both commandants ,Wirth and Hering. were described as ruthless and fanatical National Socialists, from who it could be seriously feared they would react violently in the event the unconditional obedience they demanded were to be refused.

Rudolf Reder, one of the few survivors of Belzec, wrote about Hering:

“We knew that in the most beautiful house close to the station of Belzec lived the commander of the camp. He was an Obersturmführer. He seldom was present in the camp and came only in connection with some event. He was a tall bully, broad shouldered, age around forty, with an expressionless face. He seemed to me as if he were a born bandit. Once the gassing engine stopped working: When he was informed, he arrived astride a horse, ordered the engine to be repaired and did not allow the people in the gas chambers to be removed. He let them strangle and die slowly for a few hours more. He yelled and shook with rage. In spite of the fact that he came only on rare occasions, the SS men feared him greatly. He lived alone with his Ukrainian orderly, who served him. The Ukrainian submitted to him the daily reports.”

Tadeusz Misiewicz, a Pole who lived in the village of Bełżec and worked at the train station, testified about Hering

“Once the major, the commander of Belzec death camp, invented a new type of entertainment: he tied a Jew with a rope to his car; the Jew was forced to run behind the car and behind them ran the major’s dog and bit the Jew. The major rode from the camp to the water pump, which was in Belzec on Tomaszowska Street, and back. What happened to this Jew I do not know. This event was witnessed by the people of Belzec”

As you can see from the picture at the start of the post, he clearly enjoyed his job.

After the termination of Operation Reinhard and the closure of Belzec in June 1943, Hering remained the commander of the Poniatowa concentration camp reassigned as subcamp of Majdanek from the forced labor camp supporting the German war effort. On 3–4 November 1943, German police killed the remaining Jews at Poniatowa during Aktion Erntefest (German: Operation Harvest Festival). Hering then joined fellow SS men from the Operation Reinhard staff in Trieste, Italy. On 9 October 1945, Hering died of mysterious complications in the waiting room of St. Catherine’s Hospital in Stetten im Remstal.

sources

https://www.holocausthistoricalsociety.org.uk/contents/aktionreinhardt/gottliebhering.html

https://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1682&context=ilr

https://www.tracesofwar.com/sights/124310/Commandants-House-Belzec.htm

Donation

I am passionate about my site and I know you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2, however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thank you. To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the PayPal link. Many thanks.

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The Karski Report

It is often believed that the allied forces were not aware of the mass killings. The fact is they were aware but chose to ignore it.

Jan Karski was a Polish soldier, resistance-fighter, and diplomat during World War II. In late 1942, Karski was smuggled in and out of the Warsaw ghetto and Izbica, a transit ghetto for Jews being sent to the Belzec killing center. In both places, he witnessed the horrific conditions imposed by the Germans that had caused tens of thousands of Jews to die of starvation and disease. In Izbica, disguised as a guard, he saw thousands of Jews being crammed into cattle cars. Karski learned that the train was taking them to be murdered.

Karski then managed to travel across German-occupied Europe to London, where he delivered a report to the Polish government-in-exile and to senior British authorities, including Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. He described what he had witnessed and reported the evidence that Nazi Germany was murdering Jews from all over Europe. In July 1943, Karski journeyed to Washington and met with American President Franklin D. Roosevelt to give him the same report. Karski pleaded for specific actions to rescue Jews. Allied leaders, however, insisted that Germany’s military defeat must be their first priority.

Below is the transcript of the report he had issued.

“News is reaching the Polish Government in London about the liquidation [of] the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw.

The persecution of the Jews in Poland, which has been in progress from the very first day of the German occupation, has taken on extremely acute forms since March 1942, when Himmler ordered the extermination of 50% of the Jewish population in the Government General, to be carried out by the end of 1942.

Though the German assassins had started this work with extraordinary gusto, the results apparently did not satisfy Himmler, for during his visit to the General Gouvernement [sic] in July 1942 he ordered new decrees personally, aiming at the total destruction of Polish Jewry.

The persecutions in Warsaw started on July 21st. 1942, when German police cars suddenly drove into the ghettos. The soldiers immediately started rushing into houses, shooting the inhabitants at sign without any explanation. The first victims belonged mostly to the educated classes. On that day almost all the members of the Jewish Municipal Council were arrested and held as hostages.

On July 22nd. 1942 the Jewish Council was ordered to proclaim the decree of the German authorities dealing with the resettlement of all the Warsaw Jews, regardless of sex or age, in the Eastern part of Poland, with the sole exception of persons working in German factories or members of the Jewish militia. The daily quota of people to be re-settled was fixed at 6,000 and members of the Jewish Municipal Council were ordered to carry out the order under the pain of death.

By the next day, however, on July 23rd., the German police again appeared in the Jewish Municipal Council and demanded to see the chairman, Mr. Czerniakow. After the police had left, Czerniakow committed suicide. From a note he left for his wife, it became clear that he had received an order to deliver 10,000 people the next day and 7000 daily on the following days, in spite of the fact that the quota had been fixed originally at 6,000. The victims to be delivered to the Germans are either dragged out of their homes or seized in the streets. As the zeal of the Jewish police to perform these duties against their own people was slight and did not give a guarantee of efficiency, the Germans have mobilised temporary security batallions for the man-hunts, consisting of Ukrainians, Latvians, and Lithuanians. These batallions, under the command of SS men, are characterised by their utter ruthlessness, cruelty and inhumanity.

The Jews, when caught, are driven to a square. Old people and cripples are then singled out, taken to the cemetery and there shot. The remaining people are loaded into goods trucks, at the rate of 150 people to a truck with space for 40. The floor of the truck is covered with a thick layer of lime and chlorine sprinkled with water. The doors of the trucks are locked. Sometimes the train starts immediately on being loaded, sometimes it remains on a siding for a day, two days or even longer. The people are packed so tightly that those who die of suffocation remain the crowd side by side with the still living and those slowly dying from the fumes of lime and cholorine, from lack of air, water and food. Wherever the trains arrive half the people arrive dead. Those surviving are sent to special camps at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor. Once there, the so-called ‘settlers’ are mass murdered.”

sources

https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/holocaust/karski-report/

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/jan-karski

The 80th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Death Camps—Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka 27.2.22

Once again I had the privilege to attend a session organized by the Ghetto Fighters’ House museum. A very informative session and also very chilling the witness accounts.

The third program in the series, “Rethinking the ‘Final Solution,’ and the Wannsee Conference 80 Years Later,” will present a multidisciplinary look at the three Operation Reinhard camps and how they operated. Dr. Tamir Hod, a historian at the Ghetto Fighters’ House, will present his most recent research on the daily life of the Ukrainian collaborators in Belzec and Treblinka. The archeologist Yoram Haimi will discuss his long-term work in the Sobibór Archaeological Project and the importance of his findings. Hannah Wilson, a Ph.D. candidate at Nottingham Trent University and Content Director for World ORT, took part in the project with Haimi and will discuss the Sobibor uprising that took place in October 1943 whose narrative has marginalized the experiences of women in the camp. She will outline the roles of women within camp structures, the uprising itself, and their stories throughout the months that followed.

This program is in partnership with Liberation 75, Remember the Women Institute, the Rabin Chair Forum, Classrooms Without Borders, the House of the Wannsee Conference Memorial and Educational Site, and the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Center.

source

https://www.gfh.org.il/eng

The Concentration Camps

Earlier this week I had one question and one statement about concentration camps. The question was “What are the differences between a concentration camp and an extermination camp?” This question I will try to address as much as possible in this blog.

But before I do that I want to mention the statement which was put to me, I am only doing this because it was followed by a disturbing bit of ignorance. The statement was “Concentration camps were already used during the Boer wars” which is true. However this person followed the statement, which he made on a blog about a Jewish school. that most of those children were not murdered but they died of typhus. It is undoubtedly true that some children will have died of typhus, but a bigger number would have been murdered in the gas chambers. Even if they died of typhus, it still would have been murder. I just felt compelled to mention this.

In order to understand what a concentration camps is , we first need to know what its definition is.

The term concentration camp was used long before the Nazis came to power. It came into popular usage at the end of the nineteenth century, when it was applied to the housing of military troops and especially to the imprisonment of civilians during the Boer and Spanish-American Wars. Officials also referred to certain types of prison camps for civilians in World War I as concentration camps.

According to the Oxford and Merriam Webster dictionaries it is : “a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard”

However in the context of the Nazi regime that definition, although technically correct, it is a very weak description.

Most people don’t realize that there were about 40,000 camps throughout Nazi controlled Europe, this included all subcamps too.

There were even a few on the British channel islands.

The first of these camps was opened at Dachau, near Munich in Bavaria, in March 1933. In the early years of the regime, inmates included Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, criminals, and others considered to be deviants.

So what was the difference between the camps.

The Nazi concentration camps essentially had three purposes:

  1. To incarcerate indefinitely people whom the Nazi regime perceived to be a security threat in the broadest possible sense (for example, from a Jew with presupposed “international connections” or perceived racial deficiencies, to an alcoholic who was incapable of holding a job)2.
  2. To eliminate—by murder—individuals and small, targeted groups of individuals.
  3. .To exploit the so-called labor-potential of the prisoner population.

Extermination camps

Extermination camps were used by the Nazis from 1941 to 1945 to murder Jews, Roma and other groups deemed subhuman by the Nazis

To implement the ‘ Final Solution ’, the Nazis established six purpose built extermination camps on Polish soil. These were:

Chełmno (in operation December 1941-January 1945)
Bełżec (in operation March-December 1942) it was basically the laboratory or template for Auschwitz. It was also the only camp where Polish laborers were used to build it.
Sobibór (in operation May-July 1942 and October 1942-October 1943)
Treblinka (in operation July 1942-August 1943)
Majdanek (in operation September 1942-July 1944)
Auschwitz-Birkenau (in operation March 1942-January 1945)
Chełmno was the first extermination camp to be established in December 1941. Its purpose was to murder the Jews of the surrounding area and the Łódź ghetto. The facility contained three gas vans in which victims were murdered by carbon monoxide poisoning. Once dead, the vans were driven to a nearby forest and the victims were buried in mass graves.

After the Wannsee Conference of 1942, the Nazis built additional extermination camps at Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka. These camps were specifically built near railway lines to make transportation easier. Instead of vans, stationary gas chambers, labelled as showers, were built to murder people with carbon monoxide poisoning created using diesel engines.

A concentration camp had been established at Majdanek in 1941. In the spring of 1942, following the Wannsee Conference, the camp was adapted to become an extermination camp by the addition of gas chambers and crematoria.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was a complex, consisting of a concentration camp, a forced labour camp and an extermination camp. Eventually it had a network of more than 40 satellite camps. Following tests in September 1941, the lethal gas Zyklon B was selected as the method of murder. Auschwitz initially had one gas chamber at the Auschwitz I camp, but this was soon expanded. By 1943, four new crematoria, with gas chambers attached, had been built in Auschwitz II. Approximately 1.1 million people were murdered in the Auschwitz gas chambers.

Some who arrived at the extermination camps were not murdered on arrival. They were selected for various work tasks to help the camp operations run smoothly. Jobs included sorting and processing the possessions of everyone who arrived at the camp, administrative work and heavy manual work.

The majority of those selected for any kind of work within this type of camp would still die within weeks or months of their arrival from starvation, disease, mistreatment or overwork. Those that survived were often murdered after a short period and replaced with new arrivals.

Transit camps

Transit camps were camps where prisoners were briefly detained prior to deportation to other Nazi camps. Overall, the conditions in the transit camps were similar to that of concentration camps – unsanitary and awful. Facilities were poor and overcrowding was common. These camps were mainly run by the SS.

Westerbork was the oldest camp for Jews and the largest. In February 1939 the Dutch government decided to construct one ‘Central Refugee Camp’ for Jews and on October 9, the first 22 German refugees arrived at the new small wooden houses. The Committee for Special Jewish Affairs, established by the Dutch Jewish community organizations in 1933, had financed the construction. It was located in a remote heath area in the northeast of the Netherlands, near the village of Westerbork. The internal affairs of the camp were run by the refugees themselves, in cooperation with the Committee. In May 1940, at the beginning of the German occupation, there were about 750 refugees living in the camp. It remained under the administration of the regular Dutch authorities during the first two years of the occupation. From December 1941 onward, on German orders, more Jewish refugees were sent to Westerbork and the camp was expanded with large wooden shacks. On July 1, 1942, when there were about 1,500 Jews in the camp, it was taken over by German Security Police, and an SS-commander and staff were appointed. The camp’s name was changed to Polizeiliches Durchgangslager (Police Transit Camp) and it was surrounded with barbed wire and seven watch towers.

Forced labour camps

This photograph shows a group of forced labourers at work in Kraków-Płaszów camp in German-occupied Poland.

Forced labour camps

Even before the war began, the Nazis imposed forced labour on Jewish civilians.As early as 1937, the Nazis increasingly exploited the forced labor of so-called “enemies of the state” for economic gain and to meet desperate labor shortages. By the end of that year, most Jewish males residing in Germany were required to perform forced labor for various government agencies.

The invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 further heightened demands on the war economy, and in turn, for labour. At the same time, this invasion brought thousands of potential new workers under Nazi control. These prisoners were called Ostarbeiter (eastern workers) and Fremdarbeiter (foreign workers). The Nazis deported these people to forced labour camps, where they worked to produce supplies for the increasingly strained war economy or in construction efforts.

As in most Nazi camps, conditions in forced labour camps were inadequate. Inmates were only ever seen as temporary, and, in the Nazis view, could always be replaced with others: there was a complete disregard for the health of prisoners. They were subject to insufficiencies of food, equipment, medicine and clothing, whilst working long hours. There was little or no time for rest or breaks. As a result of these conditions, death rates in labour camps were extremely high. The aim was to work them to death.

By 1945, more than fourteen million people had been exploited in the network of hundreds of forced labour camps that stretched across the whole of Nazi-occupied Europe.

The Dora-Mittelbau (also known as Dora-Nordhausen or Nordhausen) camp was established in central Germany near the southern Harz Mountains, north of the town of Nordhausen. It was originally a subcamp of Buchenwald. Prisoners from Buchenwald were sent to the area in 1943 to begin construction of a large industrial complex. In October 1944, the SS made Dora-Mittelbau an independent concentration camp with more than 30 subcamps of its own.

The inmates at Dora-Mittelbau were treated in a brutal and inhumane manner, working 14-hour days and being denied access to basic hygiene, beds, and adequate rations. Around one in three of the roughly 60,000 prisoners who were sent to Dora-Mittelbau died.

Bergen-Belsen

I find Bergen Belsen hard to place in any of the other categories .Originally established as a prisoner of war camp,[1] in 1943, parts of it became a concentration camp. Initially this was an “exchange camp”, where Jewish hostages were held with the intention of exchanging them for German prisoners of war held overseas.

The camp was later expanded to accommodate Jews from other concentration camps.

At the end of July 1944 there were around 7,300 prisoners interned in the Bergen-Belsen camp complex. At the beginning of December 1944, this number had increased to around 15,000, and in February 1945 the number of prisoners was 22,000. As prisoners evacuated from the east continued to arrive, the camp population soared to over 60,000 by April 15, 1945. People were just left there to die.

Many survivors described it as hell on earth. The actor Dirk Bogarde was one of the liberators and said this about Bergen Belsen, he says April 13 1945, but the camp was liberated 2 days later.

“I think it was on the 13th of April—I’m not quite sure what the date was when we opened up Belsen Camp, which was the first concentration camp any of us had seen, we didn’t even know what they were, we’d heard vague rumours that they were. I mean nothing could be worse than that. The gates were opened and then I realised that I was looking at Dante’s Inferno, I mean … I … I still haven’t seen anything as dreadful. And never will. And a girl came up who spoke English, because she recognised one of the badges, and she … her breasts were like, sort of, empty purses, she had no top on, and a pair of man’s pyjamas, you know, the prison pyjamas, and no hair. But I knew she was girl because of her breasts, which were empty. She was I suppose, oh I don’t know, twenty four, twenty five, and we talked, and she was, you know, so excited and thrilled, and all around us there were mountains of dead people, I mean mountains of them, and they were slushy, and they were slimy, so when you walked through them … or walked—you tried not to, but it was like …. well you just walked through them, and she … there was a very nice British MP [Royal Military Police], and he said ‘Don’t have any more, come away, come away sir, if you don’t mind, because they’ve all got typhoid and you’ll get it, you shouldn’t be here swanning-around’ and she saw in the back of the jeep, the unexpired portion of the daily ration, wrapped in a piece of the Daily Mirror, and she said could she have it, and he” [the Military Police] “said ‘Don’t give her food, because they eat it immediately and they die, within ten minutes’, but she didn’t want the food, she wanted the piece of Daily Mirror—she hadn’t seen newsprint for about eight years or five years, whatever it was she had been in the camp for. … she was Estonian. … that’s all she wanted. She gave me a big kiss, which was very moving. The corporal” [Military Police] “was out of his mind and I was just dragged off. I never saw her again, of course she died. I mean, I gather they all did. But, I can’t really describe it very well, I don’t really want to. I went through some of the huts and there were tiers and tiers of rotting people, but some of them who were alive underneath the rot, and were lifting their heads and trying …. trying to do the victory thing. That was the worst.”

I hope that this explains the differences somewhat.

All of the camps had one ultimate goal though, the death and destruction of Jews, Roma , Homosexuals and other groups deemed subhuman by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.

sources

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/bergen-belsen

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/dora-mittelbau-overview

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/forced-labor

https://training.ehri-project.eu/transit-camps-western-europe-during-holocaust

https://digital.kenyon.edu/bulmash_transit/

https://aboutholocaust.org/en/facts/what-is-the-difference-between-a-concentration-camp-and-an-extermination-camp

Donation

I am passionate about my site and I know you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2, however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thank you. To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the PayPal link. Many thanks.

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Ghetto Fighters’ House Talking Memory: Belzec Death Camp – The Genesis of Genocide 6.2.22

Last Sunday I had the privilege to be invited to another presentation organised by The Ghetto Fighters’ House. The presentation was on Belzec concentration camp.

A truly fascinating presentation, below is the information on the recorded session and the YouTube recording.

“The Belzec Death Camp was the first of the three Operation Reinhard camps. As the first camp, Belzec served as the prototype for the two subsequent camps, Sobibor and Treblinka. Belzec has been called the “forgotten camp”. One of the main reasons is that only three Jews survived. Two gave testimony about their experience at Belzec immediately after the war, and one of them was murdered right after giving his testimony. Chris Webb is one of the only researchers in the world that has extensively investigated the unique story behind the Belzec Death Camp. During his talk, Webb presented sources that were discovered in recent years and help us to better understand how the camp where over half a million Jews were killed actually operated. Tali Nates, Director of the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Center, shared her family’s Holocaust history, their life in Nowy Targ before the war and their fate during Nazi occupation. Drawing on documents, family photos, testimonies and more, she explored the story of one family who was murdered in Belzec.

This program is in partnership with Liberation 75, Remember the Women Institute, the Rabin Chair Forum, Classrooms Without Borders, the House of the Wannsee Conference Memorial and Educational Site, and the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Center.”

source

https://www.gfh.org.il/eng/About_the_Museum

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZErfuurqTouEtwQp0RZ3SWXfO1-AYBj2BIa

Holocaust reports ignored.

ignored

Time and time again reports about the Holocaust were either ignored or not believed, even when the reports came from eye witnesses like Kurt Gerstein.

Gerstein was a German SS officer and head of technical disinfection services of the Hygiene-Institut der Waffen-SS (Institute for Hygiene of the Waffen-SS) in this capacity he would travel to Auschwitz,Belzec and Treblinka offering the supply of Zyklon B.

ZYLON B

In this lies the irony the man who supplied Belzec and Treblinka with the gas that killed so many, had joined the SS to get an inside view and try to change the policies from within the organisation. In a letter to his wife Gerstein once wrote: “I joined the SS … acting as an agent of the Confessing Church.” Because of his position he witnessed first hand the horrors of the Holocaust. He had given a detailed report to Swedish diplomat Göran von Otter, as well as to Swiss diplomats, members of the Roman Catholic Church whu had contact with  Pope Pius XII, and to the exiled Dutch government.

exile

In February 1943 Gerstein was visited by Dutch industrialist H.J. Ubbink.Where Gerstein told Ubbink but the crimes he had witnessed. In a letter sent by Ubbink to Erika Arajs, Department of Justice in Nuremberg, dated September 14, 1949, Ubbink stated.

“With great indignation he told me how  gassings took place using the exhaust gas from diesel engines. He gave me all the details and told me that at that time there were 9000 deaths per day in the three camps.”

Ubbink passed Gerstein’s  on to a member of the Dutch Resistance, Cornelius Van der Hooft, who reluctantly because he could not believe what he heard , did write  a report on March 23, 1943 titled”Tötunsanstalten in Polen” This report seems  been sent to the Dutch government-in-exile because  on April 24, 1943, a month after the meeting between Ubbink and  Van der Hooft , another version of the report inspired by Gerstein was written. Typed on paper without an official heading, and with the shortened  title of “Tötungsanstalten”, this version was dispatched  within the Dutch government-in-exile, to the British government and eventually to the attention of the United States Inter-Allied Information Committee.

The clandestine Dutch Newspaper Trouw

, who van der Hooft was associated with also had alluded  to the fate of the Dutch Jews in article written on March ,19.1943.

“We must never forget what this oppressor [as in the German occupier] inflicts upon us, how he in his cowardly way assassinates the most noble and pure of the nation, how he makes mass arrests of our best fellow citizens and imprisons them in these evil places where cruelty and sadism reign, how he sacks our country with a brutality never before equaled in all our history, how he robs us of our valiant laborers in order to force them to work like Pharaoh made the Israelites, how coldly and in the most inhumane manner, he strips our Jewish fellow citizens and then assassinates them”

Trouw

Despite all of this no actions were taken.

Two weeks before Nazi Germany’s surrender,on 22 April 1945, Gerstein voluntarily surrendered himself  to the French commandant of the occupied town of Reutlingen. He received a sympathetic reception and was transferred to a residence in a hotel in Rottweil. Here he was able to write several reports , some of which were used inthe Nuremberg trials.

Below is an excepts of one of his reports, but I have to warns you it is a very graphich description of what he witnessed.

————–


“Then the procession starts moving. In front a very lovely young girl; so all of them go along the alley, all naked, men, women, children, without artificial limbs. I myself stand together with Hauptmann Wirth on top of the ramp between the gas chambers. Mothers with babies at their breast, they come onward, hesitate, enter the death chambers! At the corner a strong SS man stands who, with a voice like a pastor, says to the poor people: “There is not the least chance that something will happen to you! You must only take a deep breath in the chamber, that widens the lungs; this inhalation is necessary because of the illnesses and epidemics.” On the question of what would happen to them he answered: “Yes, of course, the men have to work, building houses and roads but the women don’t need to work. Only if they wish they can help in housekeeping or in the kitchen.”

For some of these poor people this gave a little glimmer of hope, enough to go the few steps to the chambers without resistance. The majority are aware, the smell tells them of their fate! So they climb the small staircase, and then they see everything. Mothers with little children at the breast, little naked children, adults, men, women, all naked – they hesitate but they enter the death chambers, pushed forward by those behind them or driven by the leather whips of the SS.

The majority without saying a word. A Jewess of about 40 years of age, with flaming eyes, calls down vengeance on the head of the murderers for the blood which is shed here. She gets 5 or 6 slashes with the riding crop into her face from Hauptmann Wirth personally, then she also disappears into the chamber. Many people pray. I pray with them, I press myself in a corner and shout loudly to my and their God. How gladly I would have entered the chamber together with them, how gladly I would have died the same death as them. Then they would have found a uniformed SS man in their chambers – the case would have been understood and treated as an accident, one man quietly missing. Still I am not allowed to do this. First I must tell what I am experiencing here!

The chambers fill. “Pack well!” – Hauptmann Wirth has ordered. The people stand on each other’s feet. 700 – 800 on 25 square meters, in 45 cubic meters! The SS physically squeezes them together, as far as is possible.

The doors close. At the same time the others are waiting outside in the open air, naked. Someone tells me: “The same in winter!” “Yes, but they could catch their death of cold,” I say. “Yes, exactly what they are here for!” says an SS man to me in his Low German. Now I finally understand why the whole installation is called the Hackenholt-Foundation. Hackenholt is the driver of the diesel engine, a little technician, also the builder of the facility.

The people are brought to death with the diesel exhaust fumes. But the diesel doesn’t work! Hauptmann Wirth comes. One can see that he feels embarrassed that that happens just today, when I am here. That’s right, I see everything! And I wait. My stop watch has honestly registered everything. 50 minutes, 70 minutes [?] – the diesel doesn’t start! The people are waiting in their gas chambers. In vain! One can hear them crying, sobbing… Hauptmann Wirth hits the Ukrainian who is helping Unterscharführer Hackenholt 12, 13 times in the face.

After two hours and 49 minutes – the stop watch has registered everything well – the diesel starts. Until this moment the people live in these 4 chambers, four times 750 people in 4 times 45 cubic meters! Again 25 minutes pass. Right, many are dead now. One can see that through the small window in which the electric light illuminates the chambers for a moment. After 28 minutes only a few are still alive. Finally, after 32 minutes, everyone is dead!

From the other side men from the work command open the wooden doors. They have been promised – even Jews – freedom, and some one-thousandth of all valuables found, for their terrible service. Like basalt pillars the dead stand inside, pressed together in the chambers. In any event there was no space to fall down or even bend forward. Even in death one can still tell the families. They still hold hands, tensed in death, so that one can barely tear them apart in order to empty the chamber for the next batch. The corpses are thrown out, wet from sweat and urine, soiled by excrement, menstrual blood on their legs.

Children’s’ corpses fly through the air. There is no time. The riding crops of the Ukrainians lash down on the work commands. Two dozen dentists open mouths with hooks and look for gold. Gold to the left, without gold to the right. Other dentists break gold teeth and crowns out of jaws with pliers and hammers.

Among all this Hauptmann Wirth is running around. He is in his element. Some workers search the genitals and anus of the corpses for gold, diamonds, and valuables. Wirth calls me to him: “Lift this can full of gold teeth, that is only from yesterday and the day before yesterday!” In an incredibly vulgar and incorrect diction he said to me: “You won’t believe what we find in gold and diamonds every day” – he pronounced it (in German Brillanten) with two L – “and in dollars. But see for yourself!” And now he led me to a jeweller who managed all these treasures, and let me see all this. Then someone showed me a former head of the Kaufhaus des Westens in Berlin, and a violinist: “That was a Hauptmann of the Austrian Army, knight of the Iron Cross 1st class who is now camp elder of the Jewish work command!”

The naked corpses were carried on wooden stretchers to pits only a few meters away, measuring 100 x 20 x 12 meters. After a few days the corpses welled up and a short time later they collapsed, so that one could throw a new layer of bodies upon them. Then ten centimeters of sand were spread over the pit, so that a few heads and arms still rose from it here and there. At such a place I saw Jews climbing over the corpses and working. One told me that by mistake those who arrived dead had not been stripped. Of course this has to be done later because of the  valuables which otherwise they would take with them into the grave.”

————-

Gerstein was  later movedto the Cherche-Midi military prison, where he was treated as a Nazi war criminal. On 25 July 1945, he was found dead in his cell, after an alleged suicide.

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Sources

https://journals.openedition.org/

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/

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