Friday, July 13, 2012


After the transports into the death camp had subsided and after the murder waves through the cross sections of the counties, as well as against the non-Jews who had worked at the large ghetto of Litzmannstadt was almost completed, the official duty of the Sonderkommando was to focus  on the burning of bodies and  grinding the remains to ashes. In March 1943 it was clear that the camp would be closed. Arthur Greiser thanked the members of the Sonderkommando with a gift of money and set up on March 5, 1943 for 92[the Sonderkommando consisted of 85 the others were guests.sic] men a farewell party at the restaurant "Riga" in Warthbrücken,  in which he himself took part. The cost for this entertainment was paid for, from the funds out of the Sonderkonto.
Theodor Malzmüller one of the members of the Chelmno Sonderkommando, recalled a visit to the death camp by Arthur Greiser:
"Shortly before the dismantling of the Chelmno death camp in March 1943 Gauleiter Greiser suddenly appeared at the camp, together with his staff – consisting of fifteen high-ranking SS officers. All members of the SS-Sonderkommando and the Wachkommando had to assemble in the courtyard of the castle where they were addressed by Greiser. In the presence of his staff he explained that Chelmno extermination camp would shortly be dismantled and he wanted to thank us on behalf of the Führer for the work we had done in Chelmno. He then went on to say that everybody would be given four weeks’ special leave and that we were welcome to spend it free of charge on one of his estates. He then invited all those present to a farewell party at the Riga Hotel in Warthbrücken. The farewell party was held in a big room at the Riga hotel. After a short while everyone was drunk and fell asleep at the table. The party ended at about one or two in the morning.
The Wartebrücken Gaststätte "Riga"
[The bill of the restaurant over drinks and dinner for 92 people on 5 March 1943 was honoured by check on 18 June 1943, .sic] In a letter to Heinrich Himmler the governor(Gauleiter Greiser) praises the remaining 85 policemen who had donated during the evening camaraderie over 15 000 RM to the benefit of children of murdered ethnic Germans(Volksdeutsche), he wrote to RFSS Heinrich Himmler on 19 March 1943 about Chelmno, the letter reads as follows:
A few days ago I visited Lange’s former Sonderkommando, which today is under the command of SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Kriminalkommissar Bothmann and stationed in Kulmhof, Kreis Warthbrücken, until the end of the month. During my visit I was so struck by the conduct of the men of the Sonderkommando that I would not like to fail to bring it to your attention. The men have not only fulfilled the difficult task that has been set for them loyally, bravely and in all respects appropriately, but also their soldierly conduct is exemplary. For example during a social evening to which I had invited them they gave me a contribution of 15,150 RM in cash which they had that day collected spontaneously. That means that each of these eighty-five men in the Sonderkommando had contributed about 180 RM.
I have given instructions for the money to be put in the fund set up for the children of murdered ethnic Germans, unless you, Reichsfuhrer, wish it to be put to another or better use.
The men further expressed the wish that all of them, if possible, be put under the command of their Haupsturmfuhrer Bothmann when they are transferred to their new assignment. I promised the men that I would communicate this wish to you, Reichsfuhrer. I should be grateful if you would give me permission to invite some of these men to be my guests on my country estate during their leave and to give them a generous allowance to make their leave more enjoyable.
Heil Hitler
(signed) Greiser

Himmler fulfilled this wish and let the men join the SS Volunteer Division "Prinz Eugen", and had them sent to Serbia where they were used in fighting Partisans. Although the men of the Sonderkommando were due for home leave, they blew up first the main domain and removed all traces of possible evidence in the use of murder. The ruined castle grounds and the woods were then handed over to the Police Station Eichstädt(Dabie) as part of their responsibility.
The manner in which the higher command acted that swiftly in the demolition of the camp left one to conclude that Kulmhof as an extermination facility would never again be used. But the Reichsgau Wartheland was not judenfrei ("free of Jews"), as it was called in the jargon of the authorities. In many labour camps, as yet thousands of Jews were employed there on different projects, and in the Litzmannstadt ghetto exhausted people a total of 85 884 worked for the German war economy. Bearing in mind that Hitler had probably given the Gauleiter on the 9th November 1942 again free hand to "solve the Jewish question", and taking into account that Greiser had ordered the city government of Litzmannschaft in December,  that all administrative decisions regarding the major ghetto were made only from the perspective of its early closure, the order of the special command to destroy Kulmhof appears therefore somewhat puzzling. It is obvious, that Greiser and Himmler had agreed that those Jews at Chelmno(Kulmhof) are no longer needed, but should be used, exploited and killed at a different location. Whether this was due to the publicity the camp had received abroad as far back as 1942, there is no clear evidence. 

Earth Crematorium
While the gradual closure of labour camps (Zwangsarbeitslager) for Jews and their deportation within the Gaugebiet since August 1943 mostly went to Auschwitz-Birkenau and could be carried out without major problems, this was not the case with the Litzmannstadt Ghetto
Even before the closure of the ghetto boundaries, on 1 April 1940,  Greiser and Regierungspräsident(Govt.President)Uebelhoer had refused during a meeting with the Ministry of the Interior to accept financial responsibility for the food and sustenance of some 160 000 Jews imprisoned there. At that time it was decided that the ghetto should be administrated against the background of its closure in the near future through deportations by the General Government in line with a Reich-Order  issued to the City Council of Litzmannstadt (Lodz). This provision barring Greiser later on in having a direct influence over the ghetto. His attempts to do so were thwarted by  the leadership of the Regional Council and the Mayor's intervention. Meanwhile, the ghetto was to become a centre of arms production, especially in textiles, so with a closure, this would have created a plethora of problems. Especially troublesome to the outside authorities was the Ghetto Administration's method of acquisition in obtaining contracts. Hans Bieblow as head of the City Council began considering the impending closure and loss of his authority with hectic applications for contracts at the Reichszeugmeisterei (Army Quartermaster) and various other departments of the Wehrmacht. Only when the leadership of the regional council were replaced and the mayor after angry protests from the Reich Interior Ministry was dismissed, and Himmler himself had been appointed Minister of the Interior, could the Reichsstatthalter (Reich Governor) decisively intervene in the history of the ghetto. It was only a question of whether Greiser and Himmler would pursue the same strategy.

Just at that this point they did not agree. Himmler initially favoured the relocation of labour ghettos into the district of Lublin, and Police Leader Globocnik who was stationed there suggested that the labour camp for Jews be opened in Ponitowa, not without complaining about Biebow's recent successes in obtaining military contracts for the Ghetto factories in Litzmannstadt. In the fall of 1943 Himmler examined the question of whether it would be worthwhile to convert the Litzmannstadt ghetto into a concentration camp. This strategy would face both Greiser and the city administration still with the problem that the General Government would not be judenfrei ("free of Jews") and the municipality still faced all transport and infrastructure problems with an existence of a KZ.  At years end the ghetto had been subjected by an economic and financial structural assessment by experts of the SS Economic and Administrative Main Office, and seemed to have finally found a way out. When Himmler was staying on the 12 and 13 February 1944 in Posen, he had to take note that neither Greiser nor his own experts were exited to convert the Ghetto into a concentration camp. What he read in the memorandum in parts was: "The ghetto enterprises are inefficient, the average output per work day and work force is minimal and the accruing profits only translucent gains(Scheingewinne). [...] the acquisition and continuation of the ghetto factories by means of the SS Economic Main Office (Osti) could be justified only in view of the tense situation in our war economy.  With personal commitments on all levels,  management and officers, the acquisition of the ghetto factories is still a considerable financial risk. "
Inside the Gas Van
Greiser and Himmler agreed quickly now. The surviving Jews were to be gradually returned to the death camp at Chelmno after their work assignments expired. In early April men of a new established Sonderkommando came back into the village. The domain house had been blasted, was a ruin and no longer of any use, the fence around the castle building had not been rebuilt. Shortly after, the first officers of the Polizeibattalion  met from Litzmannstadft as guards, and three members of the "exhumation command" from the Gestapo headquarters in Hohensalza who had emptied in the meantime within the administrative districts the execution pits had also been seconded to Chelmno. As the previously routine running of the estate functions were no longer feasible, it was decided with the help of Polish prisoners to build two wooden barracks in the adjoining woods, one of which replicated the function of the basement floor at the farmhouse. In one of the barracks, the men undressed and were then hurried up the aisle on a ramp. Then the gas vans drove them a short distance on a rough road between cut and uprooted trees to the pits, where there were still two masonry earth ovens. The charred bones were not crushed any more, but broken up with flails on a concrete foundation. The remains and ashes were dumped at night into the river Ner.

These are the last Jews who worked for the Gestapo in Chelmno, which is situated between Dabie and Kolo. These are the last days of our lives so we give a signal maybe there still will be relatives or acquaintances of these persons. So you shall know all Jews who were sent away from Litzmannstadt (Lodz) were killed in a very cruel manner. They were tortured and burnt goodbye if you survive you must take revenge.
The usable clothes were returned to the village. On the farm-yard a large tent had been erected, in which a Jewish work commando examined the clothing for valuables. Then they were [the clothing sic], as before sent to the Litzmannstadt Ghetto Administration, after they had been disinfected at the farm in a van. Non-reusable textiles were pulled through a mechanical shredder and packed in bags, which were later also utilised by the Ghetto Administration. The Jewish work detail was locked up after a days work into the still intact storehouse on the court yard premises.  As the water mill in Schöntal (Zawadki) was also demolished, the last assembly point for the victims was the Catholic Church at Kulmhof.  Some of the Jews were directly sent from the Litzmannstadt (Lodz) ghetto to the forest. A total of ten transports between  23 June to 14 July 1944 with 7176 Jews from Lodz had been sent there for extermination. Some victims at the forest camp, were induced to write postcards to their relatives in the ghetto, telling them where they were, they had already arrived in a city in the Reich area, and  doing well. Then they were shot at the ovens. After the 14th of July, the deportations to Chelmno ceased all together.

On 22 July, the Lodz Gestapo office announced in a meeting with the representatives of Göring's intelligence agency (Forschungsstelle), that a decision had been taken during a discussion a few days prior to immediately disband the Ghetto, because the Jews  "in their larger number in case of unrest would pose too great a risk to the German population in Litzmannstadt ". It was clear that the slow extermination of the last major ghetto like lodz, by Gas Vans in Chelmno was no longer feasible. Obviously, this order had been issued directly by Himmler. [An employee of the ghetto administration said in a telephone conversation on July 29, there was a new situation, because a direct order from the Reich leadership of the SS has now changed everything. sic] In military terms this scenario was not out of thin air, because since the 14th July, the Red Army not only conducted successful battles in Lithuania and Latvia, the attack against the German Army Group North Ukraine was victorious, so that the Vistula River was crossed in several places. On top of that the Security Police in the General Government was made aware immediately when it happened of the popular uprising in Warsaw. In Lodz, the German people found themselves in trouble(Unruhe). On the day of the beginning of the uprising in Warsaw on 1 August in 1944, the Jewish elders were instructed to start again with the transport lists of Jews to be "re-settled". Between 3 and 29 August 1944 about 67 000 people were deported to Auschwitz.
While the last deportation to Auschwitz were done in a great hurry and to a lesser extent into a makeshift camp at Königs-Wusterhausen near Berlin, there was no bustling activity at Kulmhof for the apparent closure of the camp. The demolition of the extermination camp was conducted without any haste. In the six months until the final evacuation of Kulmhof, massgraves were were still opened and the remains burned, the Jewish labour detachment were subsequently killed, so that to the very last about 40 Jews were still alive, who had to search through the belongings of the dead. One of the two furnaces was removed in the course of September, the second field crematorium and the barracks were demolished at the end of 1944. The gas vans were brought to Warthbrücken and then loaded onto the railway. Finally, the tent and shredder were sent to some other location to be used.

Memorial stones to the last victims killed at the Chelmno death camp stand now on an empty field 
 Not until the night of 17 to 18 January 1945, when the Red Army was already on the outskirts Litzmannstadts, it became hectic.  Commander Bothmann ordered his staff to be awaken, as the military situation became precarious with fighting about 60 kilometers from Litzmannstadt. It was decided to liquidate the camp and go to Posen. Before that, however, those Jews living in the brick storage building should be shot. As one member of the Sonderkommando knocked at the door of the brick barn, the Jews were asked to come out in groups of five people at  a time. This worked only for those who were imprisoned on the ground floor. The 20 to 25 Jews on the first floor, refused to leave the building, and as police chief Lenz came up, he was overpowered and dragged their cell. Another policeman was shot dead immediately after he came up with the service weapon of Lenz. Almost at the same time the first floor and the attic began to burn, probably because Bothmann gave orders to use tracer bullets to shoot through the windows, but none of the Jews left the building. The bodies of the two policeman were taken into the hallway of the burning house and left there. After that Bothmann and his staff drove to Posen. [The fate of the remaining Jews is not recorded,  the Soviet Red Army entered the city on 18 January 1945. According to Marshal Katukov, whose forces participated in the operation, the Germans retreated so suddenly that they had no time to evacuate or destroy the Łódź (Litzmannstadt) factories, as they did in other cities. In time, Łódź became part of the People's Republic of Poland.sic]
Mordechai Zurawski testified:
“On the night of 17 January 1945 , the doors to the room in the Granary where about 20 Jews slept were opened; the rest slept upstairs above this room. Two SS –men entered, Lenz and Haase, shining their electric flashlights, and they ordered us to leave in fives. After the first five went out, we heard five shots, we were sure they were killed and so when another five were called, nobody wanted to go. So the SS-men forced them out, and again we heard five shots. I was supposed to go with the third group of five, that’s when I grabbed a knife that I had hidden and I knocked the flashlight out of Lenz’s hand. I started running away waving the knife to the right to the left. The closest SS-man hit me on my left leg with the butt of a gun, but I kept on running. They started shooting at me from all sides, I was shot in the right leg, but finally managed to get away. After I ran for about three kilometers, I noticed the building we lived in was on fire. Apparently the SS-men set it on fire. I also heard single shots – they shot at those jumping out of the flames, which I learnt about later”.
Walter Piller testified:
“So the prison remained in the palace courtyard in Chelmno with 40-45 Jewish workers. First the lower cell was opened to shoot those 20-25 Jews in front of the prison building. Every few minutes Lenz led five Jews outside at a time – then Bothmann, Lenz and I killed them with a shot to the back of the head. -While the third group was coming out of the prison, one of the Jews escaped – he was a cook and all I know is that his first name is Maks (Mordechai Maks Zurawski).Despite the chase taken up by Bothmann, an SS-member and four officers of the reserve forces, Maks managed to escape. In the guardhouse I informed all the gendarmerie posts, via telephone about the search, but he was not caught.  Before Bothmann and the five other men started the chase, he ordered me to take care of the rest of the labour unit with a shot to the back of the head. Lenz brought out the remaining five from the lower cell. They were killed by Lenz and myself. But there were still the 20 craftsmen left in the upper cell. Without my order, Lenz took a certain Wachtmeister Schupo to the upper cell so that five Jews could be removed and shot in the same way as with the lower cell.As soon as Lenz opened the cell door, four Jews threw themselves at him and pulled him into the cell. Then they took his pistol away and opened fire at two Wachtmeisters standing by the door. The door on the ground floor was locked only after Bothmann had returned from the unsuccessful search for the escapee and had given the order to do so.
After Bothmann, Hafele and I called out several times for them to release Lenz and leave the cell in groups of five, the answer was the firing of the pistol taken away from Lenz. Then one of the Jews called out that Lenz had hung himself. We could not check it out because the prisoners set fire to the prison and the flames were coming out of the roof. The fire spread twice as fast, because above the upper cell, wood was being dried to run the cars.
Bothmann decided to let the prison burn down completely, despite the fact that Lenz was still inside. Judging by the fire, Lenz was no longer alive. The killed Jews lying in front of the prison were also carried into the burning building and abandoned to the flames”. 

When in a small village of fewer than 300 inhabitants suddenly 120-130 uniformed men appeared to kill "on duty" during a period of 28 months over 150 000 people, this had a major impact on its residents. It began with the billeting of the officers in the various houses and it continued with the search for Polish kitchen staff and maids, and all at once they learned of the murderous service life of these men. The security police officers spoke openly of mass murder, which they guarded, and their slogan: "One day-one thousand victims" was well known. The eight working Poles from the Poznań (Posen) prison, who according to the official sequence, were on the third level in the hierarchy after Gestapo officers  involved in the disposal of the dead, were well known among the employed women in the kitchens by name. With them they were talking in their own language and learned numerous details, such as the accident on the ramp, where one of their own had fallen into the gas vehicle with  the Jews and suffocated. [ The Escapee Szlamek gives a different version of events: 
["Between the victims of this day, Jews from Izbica, was also a German civilian, one of the cooks at the Schloss. He had tried to catch a Jew who had managed to steal something from the kitchen. Following the thief, he had entered the van. At the very moment the doors had clanged shut. His shouting and knocking had been ignored. Some of us thought he had been deliberately poisoned so that no witness of this killing should remain alive".sic]
  The Polish women received occasional gifts from them, such as fabrics and hosiery. [The responsible investigative judge of the District Court of Lodz, Waldyslav Bednarz questioned on site in June 1945 Polish and German inhabitants that still lived there. These results were not only used in the cases against those in Poland accused before the court related parties, such as Arthur Greiser, Hermann Gielow, Walter Piller, and others, they were also evidence in the process and preparations against Wilhelm Koppe, as well as against eleven other defendants in the Federal Republic of Germany. The coroner released a year later, his findings: "The Extermination Camp at Chelmno on the Ner". In: Warszawa  1946 ZStL. 203 AR-Z 69/59, BArch Ludwigsburg.sic] 

Chelmno 1941
The Polish men, such as the mill owners Zawadki, or the former estate steward of Powiercie, the former Rangers and small farmers were constantly dealing with the perpetrators . Their living environment was now to encounter screaming policemen with a columns of Jews who were on their way to the mill. The gas vans that drove  through the village they called  "hell vehicles" (Höllenautos) which went in the same direction for months. The transport trucks arriving with the Jews were visible from the entrance of the farm-yard, they tried to avoid contact, but had to repeatedly perform services for the offenders. They had to fill sacks of straw, collect twigs and coarse wood, to grow and sell vegetables, which was picked up by the Jews, who could not do any major steps with their leg irons. Almost all villagers remembered that the commando members tried to stop any type of daily activity by 1400 hours. Some of them had then the day off. Their leisure time of these well-salaried men were often spent with ethnic German women who lived in the area. They drove together to the cinema at Warthbrücken or walked on the banks of the river Ner. Occasionally they went to the Lodz Ghetto Administration for essential shopping. The commandant, SS Captain Hans Bothmann, who replaced the founder of the camp, Herbert Lange, in April 1942, was  not a very strict superior. Unlike Lange, who would always control everyone and everything,  Bothmann in his leadership role would delegate and gladly relied on the reliability of his men. He and the canteen manager Erwin Schmidt were repeatedly received after hours as welcome guests by the German administrator of the estate Powiercie, Otto Heckner, his wife and his sister, and small objects of value were left behind for the hospitality received, the manager received bed sheets and blankets for distribution to ethnic German living in the district.  When the former Polish estate steward asked Bothmann, why there was such an awful smell from the direction of the wood,  out of precaution he lied and told him  that he suspected a soap factory was being built there. The German forester Heinrich May not only learned of the crime scene but was familiar with the men of the commando and their boasting. He was called in the spring of 1942 to the Reich Government in Poznan(Posen), where he was engaged in talks with Herbert Mehlhorn to maintain a fastidious cover of the woodlands. In view of the corpses, Mehlhorn said that it was necessary if need be to point out that were "murdered Ethnic German People(Volksdeutsche) by the Poles", when the mass murder could no longer be concealed.

SS and Polish Workers in the Palace Courtyard
The activities at Chelmno was not only known throughout the county, with the publication by the underground Polish Resistance Press foreign countries had been asked to take actions. On January 19, 1942 the prisoner Szlamek Bejler working with the Waldkommando took advantage of an absent-minded guard and successfully escaped apparently from a bus that took them to the pits, while on the run he first went to a village. He was taken to be an Ethnic German because he didn’t wear a star. He looked rough, having had no opportunity in Chelmno to wash and shave. He went to a rabbi, [Jakub Szulman,sic] and informed the rabbi in the settlement of Grabow of the mass murder. He then fled further to the Warsaw Ghetto, where he gave an associate of the underground archives, Hersz Wasser, a detailed report on his work. The Jewish and Polish underground press reported repeatedly since then the events in western Poland, plus the reports of a Jewish Gestapo informant about the mood in the ghetto that the Jews were deported from Lodz(Litzmannstadt) and killed  by poison gas. The Wehrmacht officer Wilm Hosenfeld confided these events also in his diary and in letters.
Maybe "Szlamek" whose true identity is not clearly established and did not survive the Holocaust, but was the man who did his share in spreading the news about mass murder in the small village of Chelmno.  Hersz Wasser wrote a little later in the press of the Polish underground about the murder in gas vans. The material was used on 30 April 1942 in the conspiracy newspaper Biultyn Informcyjny.
This was the basis for the article in the New York Times on July 2, 1942
Sources: a) Reports of a "Jewish Informer" in the Warsaw ghetto at Yad Vashem Studies, pages 217-293
                b) Wilm Hosenfeld, "I'm trying to save everybody." The life of a German officer in letters and diaries. Published by Thomas Vogel, Munich 2004, Page 626
                c) The article (Jews) published by Andrzej Kunert, Warzawa 2006, pages 200-204

Postcard informing of the death of Szlamek, send by his relatives in Zamosc, April 24, 1942   

Postcard informing of the death of Szlamek, sent by his relatives in Zamosc, April 24, 1942 reverse side 
The Polish Supreme People's Court opened on 21 June 1946 the proceedings against Arthur Greiser in Poznan(Posen). The trial lasted 14 days, Greiser was condemned because of his direct responsibility for the extermination camp at Chelmno and sentenced to death on July 9th.  He was hanged in public on July 21st 1946.
 On a sunny Sunday morning in July 1946, the public hanging of Arthur Greiser took place. From dawn onwards, 15 000 Poles streamed towards the grounds of the citadel, a fortress reduced to rubble in recent German-Russian fighting for the city. Shortly before 7 a.m. a small covered truck threaded rather quickly its way through the throng. A tall man dressed in a suit emerged. Escorted by two guards, he mounted the gallows that had been specially erected for the execution. On the scaffold, hands tied behind his back and blindfolded, he mumbled prayers, but otherwise showed no emotion. In his last moments, he offered no defiant slogans, no pleas for forgiveness, and no words of justification. Right on schedule, the executioner, clad in black save for white gloves, set about his grim task. Quickly and efficiently, he slung the noose around the condemned man's neck. He then sprang the wooden trap beneath the man's feet. The man dangled in the air, his head dropped onto his chest, and he was soon dead. All the while the crowd watched in intent silence. At 7.20, the corpse was taken down and placed in a coffin. The hangman took off his white gloves and tossed them away in a grand gesture of disgust. 
View video:   [This was the last public hanging that took place in Poland, as Church  and Public Leaders strongly objected to the circus like atmosphere that usually prevailed during this type of hanging, which was  the so called short drop, by means of slow strangulation rather then the breaking of the neck, which occurs during the long drop. Hanging with little or no drop may cause death by strangulation (asphyxia) due to the weight of the person's body on the noose, causing it to tighten, so constricting the trachea (air passage). In this case the condemned typically exhibit signs of physical struggling for some time after suspension, 1-3 minutes being normal. An intended show for the assembled crowd. There is then often a quiescent phase before what can be described as the convulsive phase which is thought occurs after consciousness has been lost.  This does not necessarily indicate consciousness in the second phase. The video is censored, the last camera shot is focused on a still photograph and not during the execution. It is obvious at the beginning of the tape, from Greiser's bandaged head that he had been tortured during interrogation or beaten sic]    

                                                                                                                                    THE END
Der Ort des Terrors, Vol.:8 by C.H. Beck, München 2008
Author German Text: Peter Klein, page 299
Translated from German by:Herbert Stolpmann von Waldeck                                                          

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