The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/g/gerstein.kurt/poland.002

Newsgroups: alt.revisionism,soc.history
Subject: Holocaust Almanac - Gernstein & the Polish Extermination Camps
Summary: The Gerstein statement, outline of Reinhard camps
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Old Frog's Almanac, Vancouver Island, CANADA
Lines: 307

Archive/File: people/g/gerstein.kurt/poland.002
Last-Modified: 2002/06/19

   "For unknown reasons, probably because of a shortage of rolling
   stock, the project was not carried out in the USSR but in Poland,
   for the most part in the territories annexed to the Reich, but also
   in the Government General, and always with the capable cooperation
   of Viktor Brack's 'people.' [Note: Poliakov here refers to the
   euthanasia 'experts'. knm]

   The first camp, Chelmno, near Lodz, began operations in the annexed
   territory in December 1941; it had a maximum rate of a thousand
   executions a day. Chelmno as yet had no permanent gas chambers; 
   only a large garage on an isolated piece of property containing
   several 'gas trucks' similar to those going up and down the roads
   of invaded Russia. In March 1942 the completion of the Belzec camp,
   with a daily rate of several thousand executions, made a real start
   on the 'final solution' possible; with the completion of Sobibor
   and Treblinka in May and July 1942, respectively, 'production'
   speeded up still more. All these camps were under the supreme
   authority of Odilo Globocnik, who had the help of a team of
   euthanasia technicians directed by Christian Wirth.<20> They had
   been 'loaned' to Globocnik by Bouhler and Brack, on the express
   condition that these indispensable specialists would be returned
   when the euthanasia campaign started again in the Reich.<21> It
   should be noted tha the Maidanek camp, near Lublin, was not an
   extermination camp proper, but a work camp - that is to say, a
   delayed extermination camp where according to the conclusions the
   commission of investigation of the Polish Government, over 200,000
   Jews, as well as non-Jews, died during 1943 and 1944.<22> 
   (Auschwitz, as we shall see, combined these two methods.)

   The victims are no longer alive to testify; the executioners have
   also disappeared or gone into hiding. Among the few statements that
   we have on the wrokings of these camps is one from an SS chemical
   engineer closely involved in the development of methods for mass
   murder. It is an indication of the hellish darkness into which the
   Nazis plunged Germany that this same man had unquestionably been an
   active anti-Nazi and had been imprisoned in 1936 for an offense
   against the security of the Reich; from 1942 on he had tried to
   alert the world to what was going on through Swedish diplomats and
   other channels. But the name of Kurt Gerstein will always be
   associated with the manufacture and distribution of the 'Cyclone B'
   gas. Here, then, is his story, written in an uncertain French: (5)

      In January, 1942, I was named chief of the Waffen SS technical
      disinfection services, including a section for extremely toxic
      gasses....One day SS-Sturmbahhfuehrer Gunther of the RSHA came
      into my office, dressed in civilian clothing. I did not know
      him. He ordered me to get him 100 kilos of prussic acid and to
      go with him to a place known only to the truck driver. When the
      truck was loaded, we ledt for Lublin (Poland). We took along Dr.
      Pfannenstiel, occupant of the chair of hygiene at the University
      of Marburg. SS Gruppenfuehrer Globocnick was waiting for us at
      Lublin. He told us, 'This is one of the most secret matters
      there are, even the most secret. Anybody who talks about it will
      be shot immediately.' He explained to us that there were three

		1) Belzec, on the Lublin-Lwow road. A maximum of
                   15,000 people per day.
		2) Sobibor (I don't know exactly where it is),
		   20,000 people a day.
		3) Treblinka, 120 kilometers NNE of Warsaw
		4) Maidanek, near Lublin (under construction).

      Globocnick said: 'You will have to disinfect large piles of
      clothing coming from Jews, Poles, Czechs, etc. Your other duty
      will be to improve the workings of our gas chambers, which
      operate on the exhaust from a Diesel engine. We need a more
      toxic and faster working gas, something like prussic acid. The
      Fuehrer and Himmler - they were here the day before yesterday,
      August 15 - ordered me to accompany anybody who has to see the
      installation.' Professor Pfannenstiel asked him: 'But what does
      the Fuehrer say?' Globocnick answered: 'The Fuehrer has ordered
      more speed. Dr. Herbert Lindner, who was here yesterday, asked
      me, 'Wouldn't it be more prudent to burn the bodies instead of
      burying them? Another generation might take a different view of
      these things.' I answered: 'Gentlemen, if there is ever a
      generation after us so cowardly, so soft, that it would not
      understand our work as good and necessary, then, gentlemen,
      National Socialism will have been for nothing. On the contrary,
      we should bury bronze tablets saying that it was we, we who had
      the courage to carry out this gigantic task!' Then the Fuehrer
      said: 'Yes, my brave Globocnick, you are quite right.''

      The next day we left for Belzec. Globocnick introduced me to SS
      [Wirth?] who took me around the plant. We saw no dead bodies
      that day, but a pestilential odor hung over the whole area.
      Alongside the station there was a 'dressing' hut with a window
      for 'valuables.' Further on, a room with a hundred chairs,
      [designated as] 'the barber.' Then a corridor 150 meters long in
      the open air, barbed wire on both sides, with signs: 'To the
      baths and inhalants.' In front of us a building like a bath
      house; to the left and right, large concrete pots of geraniums
      or other flowers. On the rood, the Star of David. On the
      building a sign: 'Heckenholt Foundation.'

      The following morning, a little before seven there was an
      announcement: 'The first train will arrive in ten minutes!' A
      few minutes later a train arrived from Lemberg: 45 cars with
      more than 6,000 people, Two hundred Ukrainians assigned to this
      work flung open the doors and drove the Jews out of the cars
      with leather whips. A loud speaker gave instructions: 'Strip,
      even artificial limbs and glasses. Hand all money and valuables
      in at the 'valuables window.' Women and young girls are to have
      their hair cut in the 'barber's hut.'' (An SS Unterfuehrer told
      me: 'From that they make something special for submarine

      Then the march began. Barbed wire on both sides, in the rear two
      dozen Ukrainians with rifles. They drew near. Wirth and I found
      ourselves in front of the death chambers. Stark naked men,
      women, children, and cripples passed by. A tall SS man in the
      corner called to the unfortunates in a loun minister's voice: 
      'Nothing is going to hurt you! Just breathe deep and it will
      strengthen your lungs. It's a way to prevent contagious
      diseases. It's a good disinfectant!' They asked him what was
      going to happen and he answered: 'The men will have to work,
      build houses and streets. The women won't have to do that, they
      will be busy with the housework and the kitchen.' This was the
      last hope for some of these poor people, enough to make them
      march toward the death chambers without resistance. The majority
      knew everything; the smell betrayed it! They climbed a little
      wooden stairs and entered the death chambers, most of them
      silently, pushed by those behind them. A Jewess of about forty
      with eyes like fire cursed the murderers; she disappeared into
      the gas chambers after being struck several times by Captain
      Wirth's whip. Many prayed; others asked" 'Who will give us the
      water before we die?' [A Jewish rite] SS men pushed the men into
      the chambers. 'Fill it up,' Wirth ordered; 700-800 people in 93

      [Transcription note: This figure appears to be incorrect. The
      original gas chamber consisted of 3 units of 3 units, while
      those installed in mid-1942 consisted of 10 units. See and]

      square meters. The doors closed. Then I understood the reason
      for the 'Heckenholt' sign. Heckenholt was the driver of the
      Diesel, whose exhaust was to kill these poor unfortunates. SS
      Unterscharfuehrer Heckenholt tried to start the motor. It
      wouldn't start! Captain Wirth came up. You could see he was
      afriad because I was there to see the disaster. Yes, I saw
      everyting and waited. My stopwatch clocked it all: 50 minutes,
      70 minutes, and the Diesel still would not start! The men were
      waiting in the gas chambers. You could hear them weeping 'as
      though in a synagogue,' said Professor Pfannenstiel, his eyes
      glued to the window in the wooden door. Captain Wirth, furious,
      struck with his whip the Ukrainians who helped Heckenholt. The
      Diesel started up after 2 hours and 49 minutes, by my stopwatch.
      Twenty-five minutes passed. You could see through the window
      that many were already dead, for an electric light illuminated
      the interior of the room. All were dead after thirty-two
      minutes! Jewish workers on the other side opened the wodden
      doors. They had been promised their lives in return for doing
      this horrible work, plus a small percentage of the money and
      valuables collected. The men were still standing, like columns
      of stone, with no room to fall or lean. Even in death you could
      tell the families, alll holding hands. It was difficult to
      separate them while emptying the rooms for the next batch. The
      bodies were tossed out, blue, wet with seat and urine, the legs
      smeared with excrement and menstual blood. Two dozen workers
      were busy checking mouths which they opened with iron hooks.
      'Gold to the left, no gold to the right.' Others checked anus
      and genitals, looking for money, diamonds, gold, etc. Dentists
      knocked out gold teeth, bridges, and crowns, with ahmmers.
      Captain Wirth stood in the middle of them. He was in his
      element, and, showing me a big jam box filled with teeth, said,
      'See the wieght of the gold! Just from yesterday and the day
      before! You can't imagine what we find every day, dollars,
      diamonds, gold! You'll see!' He took me over to a jeweler who
      was responsible for all the valuables. They also pointed out to
      me one of the heads of the big Berlin store Kaufhaus des
      Westens, and a little man whom they forced to play the violin,
      the chiefs of the Jewish workers' commandos. 'He is a captain of
      the Imperial Austrian Army, Chevalier of the German Iron Cross,'
      Wirth told me.

      Then the bodies were thrown into big ditches near the gas
      chambers, about 100 by 20 by 12 meters. After a few days the
      bodies welled and the whole mass rose up 2-3 years because of
      the gas in the bodies. When the swelling went down several days
      later, the bodies matted down again. They told me that later
      they poured Diesel oil over the bodies and burned them on
      railroad ties to make them disappear.<23>

   There is little to add to this description, which holds good for
   Treblinka and Sobibor as well as for the Belzec camp. The latter
   installations were constructed in almost the same way, and also
   used the exhaust carbon monoxide gases from Diesel motors as the
   death agent. At Maidanek, which was built later and lasted until
   the last days of the German occupation, the method of asphyxiation
   by prussic acid fumes (Cyclone B) was introduced after the example
   of Auschwitz, although, as we have pointed out, Maidanek was not an
   extermination camp proper.

   The inquiries of the Polish Commission for War Crimes have
   established that the total number of victims at Belzec was close to
   600,000, 250,000 at Sobibor, more than 700,000 at Treblinka, and
   more than 300,000 at Chelmno.<24> More than 90 per cent were Polish
   Jews. However, there was not a European nationality unrepresented
   in the remaining 8 to 10 per cent. Of the 110,000 Jews deported
   from the Netherlands, at least 34,000 were exterminated at

   The Belzec camp ceased functioning in December 1942 after nine
   months of activity. In the fall of 1943 Sobibor and Treblinka were
   also shut down, once the 'final solution' was practically completed
   in Poland, and their remains concealed as far as possible, the
   buildings dismantled or destroyed, and the terrain reforested. Only
   the first one, the Chelmno camp, functioned continuously until
   October 1944, being shut down only in January 1945.

   Every Jew sent to one of these four camps was doomed to immediate
   extermination. There were few exceptions to this rule. In a small
   number of cases quick 'selections' were made when the convoy
   arrived. Thus, in 1943, after the revolt of the Warsaw ghetto, when
   the last convoys were reaching Treblinka, the Germans took away men
   who seemed able-bodied, in order to send them to Maidanek.<26> Some
   of these have survived. At Sobibor, too, as a survivor reports,
   appeals were made on the arrival of certain convoys for 'volunteers
   for hard work.'<27> In any case, however, the number of these
   survivors was scarcely more than a few dozen. Of the 34,313 Dutch
   Jews deported to Sobibor from March to July 1943, 19 people (16
   women and 3 men), who were included in these rapid selections,
   lived to return to the Netherlands. According to them, the
   selections involved only 35 to 40 persons in each convoy.<28> On
   the other hand, we know of only one survivor of Belzec.<29>

   Within the extermination camps there was a category of Jews not
   doomed to immediate death. These were members of the commandos
   assigned to clean out the installations: to pull the bodies from
   the gas chambers, search them, bury or burn them. The imagination
   finds it hard to conceive a matter in which physical and moral
   horror are so intimately blended; we shall have to come back again
   to this terrible subject. The members of these 'Sonderkommandos,'
   or special commandors, who were themselves exterminated at regular
   intervals and replaced with new teams, rebelled at various times.
   Thus, on August 2, 1943, an armed revolt broke out at Treblinka.
   Part of the plant was set afire and more than ten SS men and
   Ukrainian guards were killed. The camp was closed down a few weeks
   after this revolt. The last surviving members of the Jewish
   Sonderkommando of Chelmno, forty-seven of them, also rebelled on
   January 18, 1944, on the eve of their execution; two of them,
   Srebrnik and Surawski, succeeded in escaping and are at present its
   only survivors.<30>" (Poliakov, 192-197)

   <20> Trial of the major war criminals, interrogation of Konrad Morgen,
        session of August 8, 1946
   <21> Interrogation of V. Brack during "The Doctors' Trial," session
	of May 14, 1947
   <22> German Crimes in Poland, complete edition (in Polish), IV, 97.
   <23> Testimony of Kurt Gernstein. (PS 1553)
   <24> Les Crimes allemands en Pologne, French edition, Warsaw, 1948,
	p. 106-32
   <25> Het doedenboek van Auschwitz, s'Gravenhage, Dutch Red Cross,
   <26> Testimony of Rothbalsam from the collection of Mme. A.
   <27> Report by a Jewish deportee, returned to Slovakia, August 17,
	1943. (LXX, 77)
   <28> Sobibor. s'Gravenhage, Dutch Red Cross, 1947.
   <29> The recollections of this sole survivor, Rudolf Reder, have
	been published under the title 'Belzec.' (Cracow, 1946)
   <30> Les Crimes allemands en Pologne, op. cit., p. 110, 120, 127
   (5) On May 5, 1945, the eve of German surrender, two officers of
   the American Sixth Army Corps, Major Evans and Captain Haught, were
   approached in the small Black Forest town of Rothweil by a man who
   introduced himself as Kurt Gernstein, former head of the
   disinfection service of the Waffen SS. He assured them that he had
   important information and handed over a memorandum in French, which
   we reproduce in substantial part. To lend more weight to his
   statement he also handed over a set of bills for the purchase of
   'Cyclone B' gas (the toxic gas used for exterminations) by the
   RSHA. These bills were in his name. He later was captured and as a
   war prisoner placed in a French prison, where he committed suicide
   in the summer of 1945.

   In his story, dated May 5, 1945, were certain details that could be
   known at that time only by a limited number of IVb officials. Some
   ten witnesses, most from the Lutherin Church (among others, the
   famous Pastor Niemoeller), have testified that they knew Gerstein
   for many years; they guaranteed his veracity and the authenticiity
   of his anti-Nazi sentiments. Finally, Gernstein swore that at the
   risk of his life, in Augst 1942, he had informed a member of the
   Swedish Embassy about what he had been able to learn; the truth of
   this statement has been confirmed by the Swedish Ministry of
   Foreign Affairs, which in due time had transmitted the information
   obtained in this way to London.

   Gerstein himself asserted that he had enlisted in the Waffen SS in
   1941 only to trick his persecutors and to learn the truth about the
   'euthanasia program' which then preoccupied the German Lutherin
   Church. This is how he had found himself caught in the machinery.
   According to one of his correspondents, Pastor Mochalski: 'By
   underestimating the SS system, he [Gernstein] succumbed to it, and
   offered his service for the extermination action, which he had
   wanted to fight. I consider it likely that he tried, or at least
   intended, to mitigate the sufferings of the internees, and to
   sabotage the delivery of prussic acid. I do not know whether he was
   able to do so.'
                            Work Cited

   Poliakov, Leon.  Harvest of Hate: The Nazi Program for the
      Destruction of the Jews of Europe.  Syracuse University Press.,

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