What Was Kulmhof/Chelmno?

Questions about a controversial extermination camp
Published: 2003-11-01
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Up to now, no monograph has appeared about the alleged National Socialist 'extermination camp' Kulmhof/Chelmno. The reason for this may lie partially in the extremely difficult evidentiary situation, which relies exclusively on witness testimonies. The book Nationalsozialistische Massentötungen durch Giftgas, edited by Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein, Adalbert Rückerl et al. and published in 1983 by the S. Fischer Verlag in Frankfurt a.M., serves as a basis for the following description. This presentation is supplemented with quotations from other standard works of the 'Holocaust' literature. The author could not do her own research at the actual location. This article is therefore only a summary and critical review of published reports about Kulmhof/Chelmno. The main purpose is above all to show that the Kulmhof orthodoxy is quite needy for research and revision.

A Note for the German Public Prosecutor

The following investigation is not 'pseudo-scientific,' as the works of Revisionists are usually rated by German public prosecutors, but a serious attempt to help clarify the events about the alleged 'extermination camp' Kulmhof/Chelmno. It is not my fault that I can only submit the questionable parts of the works existing so far on this subject. It is quite evident that historical research has so far neglected to seriously investigate Kulmhof/Chelmno. I hope that the summary of all unclear and contradictory witness testimony, of allegations and conclusions will encourage historians and other interested groups to try to find out the truth. If there was an extermination camp in Kulmhof/Chelmno where thousands of people perished, then the respect for these victims alone should be sufficient reason to fight through the undergrowth of uncertain memories, pure assumptions, rumors, and suppositions in order to find historical truth.

This article does not present revisionist research results. It merely repeats the reproaches and accusations, which are connected with the complex Kulmhof/Chelmno. Similar to the authors quote, I have no intention to deny or to minimize mass crimes. I simply conclude what every reader will understand after he has studied the arguments submitted: The research situation about this topic is still completely unsatisfying. Questions and doubts raised by the contradictory contents of the works published so far merely nurture the distrust of the skeptics in this type of description.

Historiography is about researching historic occurrences and courses of events. It is my desire that this should also apply to the events at Kulmhof/Chelmno.

1. Introduction

According to mainstream sources, a small town in Poland, about 50 km north-west of Lodz, was a terrible extermination camp of the National Socialists: Kulmhof, or Polish Chelmno. An unknown number of Jews were allegedly brought here for the sole purpose to be killed. Contrary to other German camps, the victims here allegedly did not even have the chance to survive in some work commando. The Jewish work commando, which existed here as well, had only the task to put the corpses of their murdered brothers into the ground in gigantic mass graves or to cremate them. After the work was finished, the so-called gravediggers were murdered themselves. The three or four survivors of Kulmhof/Chelmno claim that they owe their survival to the fact that they could escape.

The scheme, as described to us in Massentötungen, is very simple: The Jewish population of Lodz and the surrounding area were transported via railroad to the vicinity of Kulmhof, then continued to Kulmhof itself by truck. At Kulmhof, an SS-unit had converted the former palace building into a killing station. The victims entered the building, undressed, and walked through a basement passage straight into a gas truck, which was parked close to a side exit. After the truck was filled with people, the doors were closed, the engine started, and the exhaust fumes, which were piped into the interior, killed the victims. Afterwards, the truck drove to a small forest, where a Jewish work commando emptied the truck and first stacked the corpses in large pits, but later cremated them in self-made 'ovens' erected just for that purpose. The ashes were scattered, buried, or poured into the rivers Ner or Warthe.

2. Planning and Early Phase of the Extermination Camp

The quoted sources do not agree whether Kulmhof/Chelmno or a similar installation in Semlin was the first death camp built by the National Socialists. Reitlinger[1] mentions both possibilities (p. 152). Other authors are certain: The first extermination camp was erected in Kulmhof/Chelmno, (Dawidowicz, Krieg,[2] p. 125; Sereny, Abgrund,[3] p. 98). While Dawidowicz emphasizes that the camp was for the destruction of the Jews from the ghetto of Lodz, Sereny and also Reitlinger think (p. 153) that it was originally planned as a euthanasia-institute.

2.1. Letter from Rolf-Heinz Höppner

In order to prove that Chelmno was a planned and carefully prepared matter, Massentötungen (p. 110f.) quotes a letter by the SS-Sturmbannführer Rolf-Heinz Höppner to Adolf Eichmann dated July 16, 1941, in which Höppner informs Eichmann of a danger that the Jews "will not all be able to be fed." He therefore thinks that it should be "seriously considered whether it would not be a more humane solution to finish off the Jews with some fast effective means, as far as they are not able to work." As a source for this document, Massentötungen quotes the "Archive of the Polish Main-Commission for the Investigation of National socialistic Crimes" in Warsaw, Vol. III.

The text of the same document, which is marked not as a letter but as a file memo, is found in Rückerl,[4] p. 256f. The source given is again the above-mentioned Polish Archive, except that it is now Volume XIII (instead of III). Although it is the same reference, the text is not the same. Besides of two missing lines, Massentötungen has seven linguistic and textual differences as compared with the Rückerl book. But what is more serious is that Massentötungen is completely silent about the fact that this note, including the accompanying letter to Eichmann, exists only in non-signed copies, and that Höppner firmly contested after the war that this note is from him (Rückerl, p. 256f.)

2.2. The Sonderkommando (Sk) Kulmhof/Chelmno

Location of the six NS camps generally designated as 'Extermination Camps': Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek, Belzec and Auschwitz; Chelmno allegedly was the smallest and 'most insignificant' one of all.[5]

The murders in Kulmhof/Chelmno were allegedly done by an SS-Sonderkommando, which is presented to us with the most diverse names. Massentötungen decided to call it "Sonderkommando (SK) Kulmhof/Chelmno" or also "SK Lange" or "SK Bothmann" after the Kommandoführer at the time (Massentötungen, p. 116). Other authors, however, know only "SK Bothmann" (Reitlinger, p.153, 280; Nellessen,[6] p. 240). A former member of this Kommando, who should actually have known best, claimed that it was called "Einsatzkommando Heinrich Himmler" (Rückerl, p. 243).

Massentötungen writes that the first Kommandoführer was Hauptsturmführer Herbert Lange (p. 111). Other authors contradict this statement. One version says that the first Kommandoführer was Christian Wirth (Sereny, Abgrund p. 98, 127). Rückerl (p. 334) thinks that the Sonderkommando was directly under Artur Greiser, Gauleiter and Reichsstatthalter in the Reichsgau Wartheland.

The composition of the Kommando is as controversial as its name. Some see in it the group of people who are claimed to have already worked together in the so-called "Aktion T 4," the killing of incurable mentally sick (Reitlinger, p. 153; Dawidowicz, Krieg, p. 126); others maintain that the crew received their "training for mass murder" in East Prussia, (Laqueur,[7] p. 159), while Hilberg found that the core of the Kommando was simply recruited from the Gestapo in Posen and Lodz, (Hilberg, Vernichtung,[8] p. 603). Massentötungen, on the other hand, says that the men of the Kommando consisted of members of the Sicherheitspolizei and of the Schutzpolizeikommando (p. 116).

The relations with the local population, mainly ethnic German settlers relocated from the Volhynia area, were evidently good, even friendly. Men worked for the SS unit and young women from the village were employed in the cafeteria (Massentötungen, p. 134; Reitlinger, p. 280).

During the Nuremberg Tribunal, however, it was maintained that the inhabitants of the neighboring village were evacuated before the erection of the extermination station. (IMT,[9] Vol. VIII, p. 363). But since the same residents of the village later appeared as witnesses who testified under oath, there is an unsolvable contradiction between this allegation and the witness testimony, because they could not have made any observations and later testified about them, if they had been evacuated.

3. The Town Kulmhof/Chelmno and its Palace

Kulmhof/Chelmno, as we read in the various Holocaust textbooks, was a small town at the river Ner, a tributary of the Warthe close to the direct railroad line Warsaw - Posen - Berlin. According to the declarations of various authors, it was 40, 55 or 60 km northwest of Lodz.[10] Other publications, however, claim that the horrific deeds did not occur in Kulmhof/Chelmno but in Cholm = Chelm, a larger town about 350 km east from it, south of Sobibor and east of Lublin.[11] Lichtenstein based his investigations on the plans of the Deutsche Reichsbahn and the Ostbahn (the name for the Reichsbahn in occupied Poland) and tried to prove mass murder in Chelmno by pointing to its railroad connection to Cholm.

The center of the murder action allegedly was, as already mentioned, the former manor of the Polish domain Kulmhof/Chelmno, which was also designated as "Palace". According to sketches of the town, which Rückerl published in NS-Vernichtungslager (p. 261), this building was in the center of the town at the crossing of two streets. Church, pub, school, and administration buildings were all in immediate vicinity.

Several authors had evidently a different idea on how such a building, "the first murder factory of human history" (Höhne[12], p. 343), had to appear. Höhne, for example, looks for the palace "in the forests of Kulmhof [...] secluded, as if created for its bestial mission" (p. 343). Reitlinger talks of "an old building known as the 'Palace', of which exists an incredibly horrible photograph" (Reitlinger, p. 153). He unfortunately does not say where this incredibly horrible picture can be seen.

The SS had this old building with the attached park repaired by Polish prisoners. A wooden fence, taller than men, was allegedly erected around the whole area, so that nobody could look at the interior from the outside. Arriving vehicles had to stop before the wooden gate, the drivers had to get out, and men of the SS-Kommando drove the car into the fenced in area (IMT, VIII, p. 363; Klee, p. 371; Massentötungen, p. 114; Rückerl, p. 266, 268).

4. Beginning of the Extermination Actions in Kulmhof/Chelmno

Is evidently not exactly known when exactly the camp began with its extermination actions. Dawidowicz writes that gassing experts had already arrived in the early fall of 1941 and that there was at least one "gassing truck" in Chelmno. (Krieg, p. 126), but on a page before and after it she says that the gas trucks of Chelmno "started to operate" exactly on December 8, 1941 (Krieg, p. 125, 278). The Polish investigation commissions, however, came to the conclusion, that the extermination camp Chelmno had already started its sinister operation in October 1941 (Reitlinger, p. 274). Reitlinger does not offer any proof for this. Lichtenstein shares this opinion (p. 40). Laqueur (p. 159), Hilberg (Destruction, p. 604), Poliakov[13] (p. 192), Sereny (Abgrund, p. 113), Höhne (p. 343), Rückerl (p. 268), and Klee (p. 371) asserted the beginning for December 1941.

Rückerl writes:

"After Jews were taken by truck from the closer vicinity to Chelmno from December 5, 1941, to the middle of January 1942, the transports from the ghetto began on January 16, 1942" (p. 276)

That Jewish inhabitants were also taken from towns around Lodz to Chelmno is not uniformly reported, as the following American study proves. The New York magazine Jewish Frontier published an article in November 1942 with the title "The Extermination Center". The article is about Chelmno and is based on a document, which the magazine received from the Polish-Jewish worker's association Bund. This association claims that it received the document from the Jewish documentation center Oneg Shabbat in the Warsaw ghetto. There are two versions on how this center received its documentation on Kulmhof/Chelmno: Either one refugee from the Kulmhof camp, Jakov Grojanowski, fled to the Warsaw ghetto and brought the report, which he wrote himself, completed in his pocket (Massentötungen, p. 131). Or several Kulmhof refugees arrived and reported their experiences to assistants of the head of this center, Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum (Laqueur, p. 139). They then prepared the report.

In this report, which was prepared by or according to eyewitnesses, it says that the Jewish population of the vicinity of Lodz was not transported to Chelmno, but to the forests of Zagorow in the time between October 1941 and the beginning of January 1942. There they disappeared without a trace. Only the Jews from Lodz came to Chelmno and were killed there. According to this description, these transports began on January 15, 1942.

Rückerl, however, believes (in addition or in contradiction to his statement on p. 276, which was quoted above) that the Jews from the vicinity of Lodz were transported to Chelmno "a few in the month of March and a large quantity in the month of April 1942" (p. 278, note 72).

January 16, 1942, is the day when the first transport departed from the ghetto Lodz. All authors also agree that there is no documentary proof that the transports from Lodz actually went to Kulmhof/Chelmno.[14] This date is occasionally mentioned as the actual start of the murder actions in Chelmno (Nellessen, 57).

5. Arrival of the Victims

According to the presented descriptions, the Jewish population was transported from Lodz and the surrounding areas to Kulmhof/Chelmno in order to be murdered there. The transportation routes were precisely but inconsistently described in the various studies.

The authors do not agree about where the victims were transported by railroad. Either to Warthbrücken/Kolo, a town on the main railroad line Lodz-Posen, and from there by truck to Kulmhof/Chelmno, or to Powiercie (German: Pauers), a small town on the secondary railroad line Warthbrücken - Dabie/Deutscheneck and from there by truck to Kulmhof/Chelmno (Hilberg, Destruction[15] (p. 625); Hilberg, Vernichtung (p. 656); Massentötungen (p. 116, 119, 120); Rückerl (p. 77f.)), or directly by railroad to Kulmhof/Chelmno (Höhne (p. 343), (p. 277).

Rückerl and Hilberg (in Vernichtung), who refers to Rückerl, try to bring order to this mess by putting together a time schedule and listing the various transports for the various dates. But these efforts do not convince, because the dates, which the witnesses testified to, unfortunately contradict each other. Some stated that at the beginning of the transports in early 1942 the Jews were discharged in Warthbrücken and ten transports - either spent the night there in the Synagogue (Hilberg, Vernichtung, p. 656; Rückerl, p. 277), or marched to the market place in Warthbrücken and there were picked up by trucks (Rückerl, p. 277). Massentötungen for example alleges that the victims were actually driven up to Powiercie in January/February 1942, then marched to Zawadki and stayed there overnight in a mill (p. 120). However, four pages earlier (p. 116) it is stated that the transports did not spend the night in the mill in January/February but rather from March to July 1942, for which a separate "mill guard" was commanded. A witness quoted by Rückerl, on the other hand (p. 277f.), says that the people stayed overnight only from March to May 1942, i.e., not until July, in the mill of Zawadka (the name of this town is spelled differently by the various witnesses: Dawadki, Zawacki, Zawadki, Zawadka). Hilberg, however, thinks (Vernichtung, p. 656) that the Jews did not stay overnight in a mill but in a factory in Zawacki. There are clearly as many opinions as there are witnesses.

Gilbert describes the following events, which allegedly occurred in early December 1941:

"The Jews were taken by narrow-track railroad from Kolo to Powierce, then driven with whips to the river, there locked into the factory of the village Zawadki [...] without food and water overnight, were taken the next morning with trucks to the forest of Chelmno and during the trip asphyxiated with exhaust fumes. [...] A total of five trucks were thus employed." (Gilbert,[16] p. 83)

This description, however, does not agree with the customary stories. According to them, the victims were murdered in the yard of the palace in 1941. And the number of gas vans was two or three, not five.

Just where in Kulmhof/Chelmno they finally arrived is not clear either. According to most allegations, they were driven by truck into the palace, but there are also reports according to which they were discharged in front of the church or the wheat silo (Massentötungen, p. 119).

One witness of the transports of Jewish victims to Warthbrücken/Kolo in Massentötungen, a Polish railroad employee, observed testified before a Polish court what he claims to have observed:

"In the summer of 1942, a daily train (the same wagons) traveled for several months between Lodz and Kolo. This train consisted of twenty closed, mostly 15 tons freight wagons. [...] The wagons were jam-packed. [Could the railroad employee look into the inside of the closed wagons?] In the beginning I counted, how often the train of the described composition brought Jews to Kolo. I counted 101, [i.e. 101 days. During three months] but I stopped counting when I saw that the transports to Chelmno did not come to an end." (p. 121)

This recorded statement is contradicted by a table, which originates from the notes taken by the Judenrat (council of Jews) in Lodz and which shows that between May 15 and September 5, 1942, i.e., during those summer months of which the railroad employee talked, the evacuations of Lodz were halted (Massentötungen, p. 132). Other publications dealing with the resettlement of the Jews of Lodz also refer to the notes made by the Judenrat of Lodz and consider them as reliable (for example Rückerl, p. 276f., 288; Hilberg, Vernichtung, p. 361).

"Deported Jews at their arrival in the death camp Chelmno where many were killed in gas vans. Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw, Poland."[17] This is the only allegedly authentic photo document of Chelmno known to us.

6. Arrival of the Victims

According to explanations by witnesses, the discharge of the victims after their arrival in Kulmhof/Chelmno occurred in various ways. One witness could not remember:

"I don't know exactly where the trucks were unloaded. I believe that in the beginning the transports were discharged in front of the church in Chelmno and later in front of the silo." (Massentötungen, p. 119)

Others state that the arrival first gave a friendly appearance:

"In order to enforce the impression that the arrivals would be treated well, they were also often assisted when leaving the vehicles." (Rückerl, p. 269)

But this appearance was completely undone, because they "were driven by police officers with leather whips through the gate into the interior of the palace yard", (Massentötungen, p. 119). Later the trucks drove right away through the gate of the wooden wall into the palace yard (Massentötungen, p. 119; IMT, Vol. VIII, p. 363). Rückerl combined both versions and thinks that always only one truck entered the palace yard, while the others had to wait outside (p. 269).

Assembled in the palace yard, they were greeted by the leader of the commando or his deputy or some other member of the commando with friendly words, who explained:

"they were to work in Germany, but first had to take a bath and hand in their clothes for disinfections." (Rückerl, p. 269)

The descriptions by Laqueur (p. 160), Nellessen (p. 56f., 139), Klee (p. 371), in Massentötungen (p. 122, 140f.) and in the documentations of the Nuremberg trials (IMT Vol. VIII, p. 363) sound similar. This is one of the few points in the history of Kulmhof, in which all depositions conform.

But in the continuation of the events the memories or the procedures varied continuously. The Jews were requested to take off their clothes and jewelries and to hand in their papers and valuables. For this they were brought a) "into a building" (Nellessen, p. 57); b) into the hall of the palace (Massentötungen, p. 123) or "into a hallway" (Nellessen, p. 139); c) "into a large well heated room" (Laqueur, p. 160), to the second floor of the villa (IMT, Vol. VIII, p. 363) or "in a higher located room" (Massentötungen, p. 117); d) "in a larger room in the back" (Rückerl, p. 269); or e) in two rooms (Massentötungen, p. 122, 124)

7. Murdering the Victims

A ramp was allegedly built at a side exit of the palace, which was additionally obscured with a view-blocking wooden wall, although the whole area was already fenced in (Klee, p. 371; Massentötungen, p. 123, 125f.; Rückerl, p. 266, 270). After the people were undressed, they marched under guard along a hallway in the basement of the palace, which led to a truck parked at the side of the palace at the ramp. When the truck was full, the rear doors were closed, the exhaust fume hose screwed to a special device and the motor started. The inmates were killed within minutes by the exhaust fumes, which were entering the wagon. (Nellessen, p. 139f; Rückerl, p. 271, 291). Other authors, however, maintain that there were repeated breakdowns of the equipment and that the whole procedure was not very effective (Klee, p. 371; Höß, p. 162; Sereny, Abgrund, p. 127; Reitlinger, p. 154f).

"The naked people then had to enter the gas trucks over the ramp. This was always backed-up by the driver against the opening at the ramp, so that after opening the wing doors a totally closed space was created on the ramp, with the floor at the same height with the gas truck floor, completely closed." (Rückerl, p. 270)

"After the wing doors were opened, a completely closed space was created on the ramp, which could not be viewed from the outside." (Massentötungen, p. 126)

Although the ramp could not be seen, Massentötungen and Rückerl quote witnesses, who could observe from the outside events that occurred on the ramp.

"I went to the right side of the palace, as I was ordered, where a gas truck stood at the already mentioned ramp. [...] I saw how the Jews were led into the basement and climbed over the ramp into the open gas truck." (Massentötungen, p. 125)

Yes, a guard was even posted outside the ramp, although he could not see a thing from there and, as alleged by Massentötungen, the victims could not escape anyway. Where could they have gone, completely naked and inside of a fenced-in area guarded by the SS?

"While the Jews walked over the ramp, they were, beside the Poles and police guards who accompanied them, supervised by another police guard, who stood outside the ramp next to the gas truck in order to encounter attempts to escape." (Rückerl, p. 270)

It is a riddle, how the guard could "supervise" something through view-blocking fence boards.

After all victims were dead, the truck drove to the forest, where the bodies were thrown into pits. During his trials in Jerusalem, Adolf Eichmann described the scene completely differently:

"The Jews had to undress. A truck came, closed on all sides, the door opening in the front. The wagon drove to a certain roadblock. There the naked Jews were forced to enter. The doors were closed and the truck took off." (Hausner, Justice,[18] p. 89)

This was a completely new type of truck, which was loaded from the front - through the driver compartment? And the whole thing occurred evidently in the center of the town, "at a certain roadblock", where the naked Jews had to wait for the arrival of the wagon. In the German abbreviated edition of this work,[19] the translator (or the publisher) did not dare to present this unbelievable story to his readers. There the trucks drove to the "ramps" and let the Jewish victims enter there (p. 105). The version Eichmann told during police interrogations prior to his trial was again somewhat different. The interrogations were in German and the protocol tapes were published.[20] It says there:

"In the fall of 1941 [...] I was sent to Chulm in the Warthegau. [...] I saw the following: A room, maybe if I remember correctly five times as large as this one here, with Jews inside. They had to undress and a truck came which was completely closed, the doors were opened and sort of pulled into a ramp. And the naked Jews had to enter. Then the wagon was closed and took off." (p. 71)

If Eichmann testified to this also during the trial, then serious translation errors must have occurred, that the Israeli general attorney Hausner could have misunderstood him so.

7.1. The Gas Vans of Kulmhof/Chelmno

It is reported about Kulmhof/Chelmno, that it was a "Gas van station". And it's gas trucks were those 'Sonderwagen' (special wagons) of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office, RSHA), which we already exposed several times.[21]

An alleged "killing gas van" of Chelmno.[22] This wrongful designation by Gerald Fleming[23] was already in 1988 corrected by Ingrid Weckert: There exists no source for this picture of a damaged German truck of unknown use.[24]

Among others things, a document dated June 5, 1942, from the German Bundesarchiv in Koblenz with the archival number R 58/871 serves as proof for the gas van thesis. This is an 'Aktenvermerk' (file memo) of the RSHA. I showed elsewhere that this 'document' is a complete forgery.[21]

This note starts as follows:

"Since December 1941, for example, 97 000 were processed with the use of 3 vehicles, without any defects in the vehicles becoming apparent. The known explosion in Kulmhof should be considered as an exception. Its cause can be attributed to incorrect operation."

Rückerl writes about this (p. 291):

"This part of the secret note obviously refers to the camp Chelmno, because it correctly states the beginning of the extermination action (December 1941) as well as the number of gas vans (three deployed vans) and connects these statements directly with the explosion of a gas van in Chelmno."

"Since December 1941 [...] with 3 deployed vans". In the chapter about the origin of the gas trucks, Massentötungen explained that at this time, December 1941, the delivery of the Saurer-vehicle chassis was still being negotiated and were then, after delivery, to be equipped with a body by the firm Gaubschat. The completed trucks could therefore not have been delivered prior to spring 1942. How was it then possible that three of these vans were already in operation since December 1941?

"97,000 were processed". Even under the presupposition of a camouflage language, this formulation cannot imply a murder. The number of 97,000 furthermore contradicts the statistic by Rückerl as adopted in the conclusion of Massentötungen (p. 132) of the deportations from Lodz, which are generally equated with the murder victims of Kulmhof/Chelmno. Rückerl says (p. 276) that until the end of May 1942 some 55,000 Jews were deported from Lodz. This number should have been in the Aktenvermerk of June 5, 1942, if it is really about the murder victims of Kulmhof/Chelmno.

"The known explosion in Kulmhof". As a matter of fact, there exists no information at all about such an explosion anywhere, except in this note.

Massentötungen does not doubt in any way that the gas trucks of Kulmhof/Chelmno are those 'Sonderwagen' (special vans) of the RSHA, which were thoroughly discussed elsewhere:[21]

"The Kommando received gas vans from Berlin." (p. 114)

"They appeared to be new and came to us [...] from the Reichssicherheitshauptamt." (p. 115)

The reader is quite surprised, when he learns between these two sentences:

"The vans were medium Renault-trucks with gasoline engine." (p. 114)

How so? The RSHA had Saurer trucks with Diesel engines modified to gas trucks. Where do the Renault vehicles with gasoline engines come from so suddenly? By the way, Eichmann also said:

"Experiments were made in the vicinity of Lublin [...] about killing people with the exhaust fumes of a U-boat Diesel engine. The latest inventions, which were used at that time, were movable gas trucks, which were first utilized in the extermination camp Chelm (Kulm)." (Hausner, Vernichtung, p. 105)

7.2. Mass Graves and Cremation Ovens

In order to take care of the corpses, the SS had mass graves excavated. A certain area in a close-by forest was reserved. There the Jewish inmates, the so-called forest Kommando, had to do this work.

One of the survivors of Kulmhof/Chelmno reported about this as a witness during the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem:

"There we had to dig trenches, about 25 people had to dig. We went out there early in the morning, it was still dark, at six-thirty, it was winter, you know, the end of 1941, two days before New Year." (Nellessen, p. 140)

The prosecutor did not like it that these were trenches. He suggested more precisely:

"They dug graves."

The Jewish witness, survivor of terrible events, does not object. And why should he?

So they dug trenches in the middle of winter, when the earth was frozen hard like stone. Rückerl thought that that was not a reasonable job for the prisoners. Therefore he had large pits excavated with excavators (Rückerl, p. 268).

Krausnick/Wilhelm[25] explain that the idea of digging graves at that time is nonsensical: "The severe frost which soon after [November 1941] started" resulted in "the excavation of the mass graves being too difficult" and the actions had to be stopped (p. 547).

There is no agreement about how many such mass graves existed. One witness talks about two, another four, a third of three or four. They do not agree about length, width and depth of the graves.

One witness, whose testimony is quoted by Massentötungen, talks about graves each 10 m wide and 3 m deep; three pits were 30 m, one 12 m long (Massentötungen, p. 115). He also maintains that the graves were located in three different clearings of the forest; some were so narrow that the gas trucks could not even drive to the side of the pits in order to discharge their load.

Another witness thinks that the graves were about 6-8 m wide, but 4 m deep (Rückerl, p. 272); a third makes them 4 m wide, 3 m deep and 5 m long (Rückerl, p. 274). Laqueur (p. 160) talks of a pit almost 2 m wide and 5 m deep. Other authors abstain from any opinion about the size of the pits and only talk briefly about "mass grave" (Klee, p. 372) or "mass graves" (Reitlinger, p. 153, 279).

In the summer of 1942, the mass graves lead to serious difficulties:

"At several places [...] blood bubbled out in thick streams [...] and formed large puddles near the grave." (Rückerl, pp. 273f.)

Gases from the corpses escaped from the graves, and a strong odor from the decomposing corpses was noticeable (Klee, p. 372; Rückerl, p. 273). The corpses were therefore disinterred and cremated, initially in open pits, later in self-made 'ovens.'

"In the summer of 1942, they began to open the graves and to cremate the bodies."

This according to an eyewitness of Rückerl (p. 273). Another witness, quoted by the same Rückerl a few lines earlier, thinks that this started only in the fall of 1942. Klee, who talks smartly of "ausbuddeln" (dig out) also is for the fall (p. 372), and so is Hilberg (Vernichtung, p. 661). Rückerl evidently concludes from the contradictory testimonies of his witnesses that they were both wrong and moved the disinterment of the corpses to the winter months. His notes are:

"From the end of 1942 to the spring of 1943 [...] the corpses, which were buried in mass graves, were dug out again and cremated, the pits were then leveled in." (p. 280)

Next, the disinterred corpses had to be cremated. Massentötungen gives us the following version about this: In the forest camp

"two cremation ovens were erected, which were designed by Polizei-Oberleutnant Gustav H. [...] The cremation ovens had a width of 10 m and a length of 5-6 m. They did not extend outside of the earth. They had no chimneys. They tapered downwards where the gratings were located, which consisted of railroad tracks." (p. 115)

The co-editor of Massentötungen, Adalbert Rückerl tells us a completely different story in his NS-Vernichtungslager. Version number two: They did not build cremation ovens immediately, but the corpses were first burned in four pits, 5 by 4 m large.

"The corpses from the mass graves were placed in these pits in layers, covered with a powder and set on fire." (p. 274)

Further, there was a cremation oven that consisted of an open pit with several railroad tracks as a grating (Rückerl, p. 273). A large oven was built later - one oven, not two - and this oven had a chimney 4 to 5 m tall (Rückerl, p. 274) contrary to the testimony of the witness from Massentötungen, who emphasized that there were no chimneys.

But there is still a third version about the cremation of the corpses: Here the main person is infamous SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel with his "disinterment commando 1005". This Kommando was allegedly created by Reinhard Heydrich shortly before his death (June 4, 1942) specifically for the purpose to eradicate all traces of mass graves and corpses in the occupied eastern territories (Reitlinger, p. 153).

Blobel with his men - Jewish forced laborers, which he continuously received from the Auschwitz camp, because those Jews were always shot after finishing a section (Höß,[26] p. 162) - started the job and began to "ausbuddeln" (dig out) the corpses in Kulmhof/Chelmno, according to Klee (p. 372), against Rückerl, who maintained that the Jewish Sonderkommando in the forest camp performed this work (p. 273). And then Blobel started to experiment.

"He erected pyres and primitive ovens and even tried it with dynamiting." (Hilberg, Vernichtung, p. 661)

"But this was only partially successful" said Höß (p. 162), who nevertheless went to Kulmhof/Chelmno in order to "observe Blobel's unsuccessful attempts to make the mass graves disappear with the help of dynamite" (Reitlinger, p. 153). Reitlinger continues:

"This method was used, because Himmler [...] gave Blobel the order to also destroy the ashes of the dead."

Because evidently this method did not succeed and the corpses did not disappear completely:

"Blobel also used a bone grinder." (Reitlinger, p. 153)

But eventually, one managed somehow to turn the corpses into ashes because these ashes were then

  1. "scattered in the extended forests" (Höß, p. 162);
  2. "buried in the pits or poured into the river" (Nellessen, p. 57) or
  3. "filled in large bags and buried or poured into the Ner" (Rückerl, p. 273) or
  4. "poured into the Warthe from a bridge at night" (Klee, p. 372)

After that, the forest was swept clean (Klee, p. 372).

7.3. Children and Russians

Massentötungen reports about children transports to Kulmhof/Chelmno from Czechoslovakia, from Poland and from the Soviet Union (p. 133). The two witnesses who are quoted, however, know of only one transport with children. There were three trucks with about 200 children, says one witness, and that happened in the summer of 1942. The other witness reports that the children did not look Jewish at all but rather Polish. Rückerl also mentions this transport. He estimates the number not at 200, but talks of 50-75 children at the age of 4-14 years:

"The children transport consisted allegedly, according to Polish investigations, of children from Lidice, who could not be Germanized." (Rückerl, p. 280, Note 76)

He adds that proof for this does not exist.

The files of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, actually contain a written correspondence dated from July 4 to 25, 1942, exactly within the time frame mentioned in Massentötungen, about a group of "children from the Protectorat Böhmen and Mähren who could not be Germanized."[27] But this were neither 200 nor 75, but only 12 children at the age from 1 to 15 years, whose full names, date of birth, place of birth, and addresses were listed. These children were sent to the Gestapo in Litzmannstadt (Lodz) for further accommodation. No further information comes from the correspondence. A witness alleges in Massentötungen that these children were also killed in Kulmhof/Chelmno.

A group of Russian POW's is mentioned also in the context of alleged murder of non-Jewish persons. One day, also in the summer of 1942, two trucks with "some military people" allegedly arrived, which the observing witness recognized as Russian POW's by their light green uniforms. The trucks stopped in front of the fenced-in palace area. The soldiers stayed inside the trucks. Two drivers of the Sonderkommando replaced the truck drivers and continued driving the truck into the direction of the forest. After 25 minutes, the truck returned empty. So per the witness. Massentötungen concludes:

"The largest part of them was [...] gassed, the rest was shot." (Massentötungen, p. 134f.)

The authors do not disclose the source of their knowledge.

The Polish witness who observed the arrival of the trucks was a resident of Warthbrücken and worked for a Sonderkommando: He filled straw bags. It is difficult to believe that he did this on the open highway. He probably performed this activity in the area of the palace yard, which was fenced-in with a very tall board fence, as we are told. The trucks with the Russians parked outside the gate. Under these circumstances, the witness could at best listen to the noises of the vehicles, but it would have been impossible for them to see anything because of the board fence. Nevertheless, he not only described the uniforms exactly, but claimed also to know that one of the soldiers seated in the truck and who did not leave the truck had only one leg. He could therefore not only look through the board fence, but also through the side walls of the truck. Could it be that he only gave his deposition because they were later useful to him, a Polish collaborator, when the times were different?

Massentötungen claims that the Russians were driven in their truck to the forest where some of them were 'gassed.' The authors do not explain how this was done, since the specially prepared gas trucks were parked at the palace and the Soldiers did not transfer the inmates from their truck into the gas trucks. It is not clear, why only some of the Russians should have been 'gassed,' but the rest shot.

8. The Spoils

While undressing, the victims had to hand over their jewelry and other valuables as well as their money, so we are told. This was allegedly done under supervision. Finger rings were nonetheless removed later from the corpses (Massentötungen, p. 117; Rückerl, p. 272; Nellessen, p. 57, 140).

Special Kommandos were deployed to count and sort the jewelry and valuables. Gold teeth, which were removed from the corpses, were carried in bags from the forest to the palace.

"The collected valuables of the victims (jewelry, watches, coins, gold teeth, fur coats, and others) were sorted, registered, and then sent to the ghetto administration in Lodz, the same with the money, which at the end of the extermination activities amounted to a total of 2,650,000 Reichsmark." (Rückerl, p. 272f.)

This large booty from the claimed murder actions is surprising, as the victims of the deportations from Lodz did not belong to the wealthier part of society. The head of the Judenrat (council of Jews) in Lodz, Chaim Rumkowski, who compiled the lists of deportations, followed the dictum: Away with the bad ones.

"I solved the problem in such a way that I assigned that part for deportation which was a festering ulcer to the ghetto. The list contained convicts of the underworld,[28] the scum, and several individuals who were harmful to the ghetto." (Dawidowicz, Krieg, p. 279)

After criminals and 'undesirable persons' had been deported, the resettlement commission checked the files of the Social Office under the supervision of Rumkowski and discovered that 80% of the 160,000 ghetto residents received welfare support. From them the next victims were selected for deportation (Dawidowicz, Krieg, p. 279f.).

Always assuming that the deportees were actually taken to Kulmhof/Chelmno and murdered there, one should ask oneself under these circumstances, where the wealth came from which fell into the hands of the alleged murderers. Even Rückerl noted:

"The people who arrived in Chelmno were throughout poorly nourished and clothed." (p. 280)

Dawidowicz talks of "poor, badly dressed men, women, and children" (Krieg, p. 279), and Poliakov calls the deportees the "useless eaters" (p. 152).

Elsewhere we are told that the pieces of clothes of the victims of Kulmhof/Chelmno were sent to various places, which returned them partly because those clothes were too shabby and therefore useless (Hilberg, Vernichtung, p. 644).

But even if all the victims had been millionaires, the alleged spoils of the murder action do not fit into the picture. The quantities mentioned do not relate to the number of people allegedly murdered. For instance, we are told about a telex of the ghetto administration Lodz to the office of rationing in Posen on May 27, 1942:

"The Sonderkommando Lange has approximately 370 railroad cars with pieces of clothes stored, which requires for its transportation about 900 trucks with trailers." (quoted by Rückerl, p. 275)

The Sonderkommando Lange was the commando Kulmhof/Chelmno under its first Kommando leader. Up to May 1942, the time of this telex, about 55,000 people had been deported from the ghetto Lodz (Massentötungen, p. 132; Hilberg, Vernichtung, p. 361). 55,000 people would fill 1,100 trucks, each with 50 persons. How could it be that for the transportation of the clothes, which these 55,000 people brought with them, almost twice the space was required, i.e. 1,800 trucks (or 900 trucks with trailers)? The deportees had to leave their dwellings with a minimum of luggage.

9. Twice Extermination Camp Kulmhof/Chelmno

In order to understand the various allegations about Kulmhof/Chelmno, it is important to know that this camp is claimed to have had two "Action Phases".

9.1. The First Action Phase

The first one lasted from the end of 1941 to April 1943. During this first period, the extermination process is claimed to have been as described: trip of the victims to the palace in Kulmhof/Chelmno; killing of the victims in gas trucks parked there; transportation of the corpses - inside the gas trucks - to the forest area close-by; burial, later cremation of the corpses in the forest; return of the empty gas trucks to the palace, where they were cleaned. According to Klee (p. 372), however, the trucks were cleaned in the forest.

At the end of the first action phase, the mass graves were opened and the corpses cremated. This happened in the summer or fall of 1942 (according to Rückerl, p. 273; Klee, p. 372; Hilberg, Vernichtung, p. 661). At another place (p. 280), Rückerl dated the cremation of the corpses to the time period from the end of 1942 to spring 1943.

The SS blew up the palace in April 1943, destroyed the cremation ovens, and erased all traces (Massentötungen, s. 135; Nellessen, p. 57; Rückerl, p. 281). Klee, who not only read Rückerl but also studied Polish files, does not know anything about blowing up the palace in this time period. According to him, the murders of the second action phase also occurred within the area of the palace (p. 371).

Next "the Kommando Bothmann left Chelmno, to go to Dalmatia" (Reitlinger, p. 279; similar Klee, p. 371; Massentötungen, p. 135; Nellessen, p. 57; Rückerl, p. 280, 281; the dates in the various publications do not match).

9.2. The Second Action Phase

One year later, in 1944, the Kommando Bothmann returned surprisingly to Kulmhof/Chelmno in order to start a new extermination action. Either in February 1944 (Reitlinger, p. 161, 279), or in April 1944 (Rückerl, p. 283; Massentötungen, p. 138; Hilberg, Vernichtung, p. 604) they came back and continued with their murder business anew.

Surprisingly, Massentötungen thinks that the new season in Kulmhof/Chelmno started by erasing all traces of the first action phase and by opening the mass graves and cremating the corpses:

"In April 1944, a telex arrived in Weimar from Bothmann in Posen, in which he requested us back again to the extermination camp Kulmhof/Chelmno. We took off to Kulmhof/Chelmno. Bothmann welcomed us in Kulmhof. Bothmann explained to us that all traces in Kulmhof have to be erased according to an order by the Reichsführer of the SS Himmler. The mass graves in the forest camp were opened. The corpses in these graves were cremated in a previously built oven with the help of Jewish work commandos." (Massentötungen, p. 142)

But according to what we reviewed above, this had already been completed a year earlier. There were no more mass graves, the corpses had disappeared a long time ago, the ashes were scattered or buried.

Further allegations of the second camp period are as follows: Two wooden barracks were erected in the forest after the arrival of the SS-Kommando. A "path, fenced-in with boards taller than man" (Rückerl, p. 283), led from one barrack to a ramp, which in turn was connected to a gas truck parked there. This is, as we remember, similar to the description of the installation at the palace during the first camp period. But Rückerl used it once more for the second camp period.

The victims were transported by railroad to Kulmhof/ Chelmno and stayed there overnight in the church. The next morning, they were driven into the forest, had to undress in the barracks, and walk into the gas trucks. After the murder, the corpses were cremated in one or two ovens. During this period, SS-Hauptscharführer Walter Piller was deputy camp commander. In a 'voluntary' statement, which he made as a POW of the Soviets,[29] he declared:

"The two barracks in the forest, where the Jews were cremated, were being erected at the time when I arrived in Kulmhof. The two ovens, which were used to cremate the corpses, did not yet exist. Only after the two barracks were finished did SS-Hauptscharführer Runge build the two ovens with the help of Jewish workers from the ghetto Litzmannstadt [...]. I would assume that it was the beginning of June or end of May 1944, when the extermination of the Jews from the ghetto Litzmannstadt began, and [it] lasted until the mid of August 1944." (Massentötungen, p. 138f)

Rückerl maintains, however, that there was only one oven (p. 283). Piller explains the purpose of the two barracks:

"For example, half of the 700-person transport, i. e. 350 persons, if possible grouped by families, were brought by trucks to the already mentioned forest. At one of the wooden huts, which were erected by the SS-Sonderkommando and which were divided in two rooms, one for men and women each, and equipped with hooks and shelves to hang clothes, the people were requested to exit and to line up in front of the hut, which was surrounded with a wooden fence. Only two huts were built in the forest, with a length of 20 m and a width of 10 m." (Massentötungen, p. 140)

A gate of the fence had a sign "Zur Badeanstalt" (to the bath) and another sign in front of the center of the hut reading "Zur Arzt Baracke 9" (to the doctor hut #9).

"After everyone was completely naked, they had to go in line through a door with the mentioned sign 'Zur Badeanstalt' - the women first, closely followed by the men. Behind the door was a 20-25 m long 11/2 m wide pathway, obscured with a board fence. This pathway ended in a 90-degree turn into a ramp. In front of the ramp was a closed truck (special van), the Jews had to enter this truck. The door was closed after about 70-90 persons were inside the truck, and the truck drove to the ovens, about 200 m away. The driver Laab opened a valve during the trip, which discharged gases. These were gases produced by the gasoline engine. [...]" (Massentötungen, p. 141)

Different from Piller, who alleges that the victims were killed with gasoline engine exhaust fumes, Rückerl writes:

"Two gas trucks were alternatively deployed, which were the same vehicles already earlier used in Chelmno." (p. 285)

And the vehicles were, as is known from other sources, Saurer trucks with Diesel engine. (see Section 7.1).

Piller continuous:

"After the special truck arrived at the oven, it was opened by Laabs, and the corpses were thrown into the oven, where they burned to ashes in a short time (about 15 minutes)." (Massentötungen, p. 142)

Besides the installations in the forest, there were other facilities erected in the former palace yard for the second action phase: one hut to store the valuables taken from the victims; next to it a tent with a shredder for clothes, which could not be used anymore. During this second phase, the Jewish Arbeitskommando was accommodated in a wheat silo, while the Polish prisoners had to stay in the basement of the palace, of which remnants survived the dynamiting (Rückerl, p. 283). Massentötungen contradicts this and describes a jail with upper and lower cells (p. 143). Nellessen (p. 141) quotes the statements of one of the four escapees, who were brought to Kulmhof/Chelmno in the beginning of 1944 - long before the time, which most authors indicated as the beginning of the second action phase. This escapee belonged to the "Hauskommando", which worked within the area of the palace. During the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, this witness testified that he observed how people entered the gas trucks:

"They received soap, a towel, and were told that they would go to take a shower. Between 80 to 100 persons had to enter into the trucks. After the doors were closed, the gas was discharged; thus they were destroyed."

But he could not have made such observations with the "Hauskommando" during the second camp period, because the trucks allegedly picked up with the victims from the church, where they had stayed overnight, and from there they were driven directly to the forest. The filling of the gas trucks with 80-100 or 70-90 persons, as claimed by Piller, is contradicted by other descriptions, which listed the capacity of the trucks with 30, 35, 40, 50, but at a maximum of 70 persons, (Massentötungen, p. 122f., 128; Rückerl, p. 272).

According to Hilberg (Vernichtung, p. 604), the murder actions of this second phase had already ended in July 1944. Other authors put the end of the "death business" (Nellessen) several months later (Nellessen, p. 57), to the middle of August (Massentötungen, p. 139), or to the "end of the occupation time" (Klee, p. 371). After that the Jewish workers had only the clean-up work to do (Rückerl, p. 286). "The SS-Sonderkommando stayed until the beginning of February 1945" in Kulmhof/Chelmno (Massentötungen, p. 139).

The SS Sonderkommando started to shoot the surviving Jewish workers in the night from January 17 to 18, 1945, (Rückerl, p. 287; Massentötungen, p. 143; Poliakov, p. 197). Two prisoners succeeded to escape at this occasion: Shimon Srebnik and Mordechai Zurawski.

9.3. The Numbers of Victims of the Second Action Phase

The deportation lists from Lodz are usually the basis for the numbers of the transports to Kulmhof/Chelmno in the year 1944, but there are also different victim numbers.

Rückerl refers to the information from the Judenrat (Jewish council) of Lodz. According to this, a total of 9 transports with 7,176 persons left Lodz from June 23 to July 14, 1944.

Piller, on the other hand, writes that the extermination of the Jews from the ghetto Litzmannstadt began at the end of May or the beginning of June and lasted until the middle of August. Each week three transports arrived, allegedly with 300 or 700 persons. "But I will consider as the basic number 700", he continues, defying all statistical rules. By backdating the beginning of the transports to the middle of May - although he talked earlier about end of May or beginning of June -, he arrives at a total number of 25,200 victims who were allegedly murdered during the time of his substitute commando.

"I cannot state the exact number. But the error can only be a small differential number of more or less Jews." (Massentötungen, p. 139)

10. The Witnesses

I already mentioned in the beginning that the events in Kulmhof/Chelmno became known only through testimonies of witnesses.

Some of these witnesses were the defendants of the Kulmhof trial at the Landgericht (district court) Bonn in 1962/1963[30] and the escapees from the first and the survivors of the second action phase of the extermination camp. The results of this criminal trial were used by Rückerl in his study. The files of the trial are not accessible, but the written verdict was published and can be reviewed.[31]

Besides those individuals directly involved, two more persons are to be mentioned in this context: Rabbi Schulman from Grabow, a town about 15 km east of Kulmhof,[32] and Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, who headed an underground archive in the Warsaw ghetto. Both played important roles in spreading 'news' about Kulmhof.

On January 19, 1942, Rabbi Schulman wrote a letter:

"An eyewitness visited me, who was saved through God's grace. [...] I learned everything from him. The town where they were exterminated is Chelmno. [...] The men are killed in two ways: either shot or gassed. [...] For several days now they have been taking thousands of Jews from Lodz and did the same with them." (Laqueur, p. 163f.;[33] Poliakov, p. 153f.[34])

It does not seems to be certain if this letter was really written by Rabbi Schulman, because Laqueur put his name in brackets, which indicates that his document is not signed. It is also uncertain, to whom the letter was addressed. Laqueur maintains that it was to Schulman's brother in law and used the address: "My dear"; Poliakov instead writes (p. 153): "My very dear friends", because he believes that the letter went to Schulman's friends. The document is evidently not clear about it.

Dawidowicz, on the other hand, has a completely different opinion. She knows only about a postcard instead of a letter, which Schulman allegedly sent to an acquaintance in Lodz. In it he wrote about three Jews who escaped from Chelmno and reported to him about it:

"These were the first news in Lodz about the death camp." (Dawidowicz, Krieg, p. 281)

A third version sounds completely different. According to it, Rabbi Schulman turned to Chaim Rumkowski, the oldest of the Judenrat in Lodz, and asked for information. Rumkowski then informed him about the Chelmno camp (Laqueur, p. 160).

It is also uncertain, if Schulman was visited by only one escapee, as is claimed for the letter, or by several. Laqueur (p. 160f. footnote) and Dawidwicz (Krieg, p. 281) thinks that there were three.

We can find different opinions about the Kulmhof escapees in various documentations. Massentötungen claims:

"Only few inmates succeeded to escape from the 'Arbeitskommando'. The first was Jakov Grojanowski." (p. 131)

His date of escape is stated to be January 19, 1942 (p. 328). He arrived in Warsaw and made contact with Ringelblum. He handed him a "report written by himself about the killing installation Kulmhof". Grojanowski later perished in the ghetto, but his report was found in the ruins of the ghetto among the files of Ringelblum (Massentötungen, p. 131). However, in the German edition of Ringelblum's "Diaries,"[35] Grojanowski is not mentioned at all and Chelmno only in one listing (Ringelblum, p. 23).

According to other authors, the report about Chelmno, which allegedly was given to Ringelblum by Grojanowski, came from a "small group of grave diggers," which escaped in January 1942 from Chelmno and gave it to Dr. Ringelblum and his secret documentation center in Warsaw.

"Their statements were put in writing by friends of Ringelblum. The report probably came to London by courier and then to the United States, where it appeared in many news papers." (Laqueur, p. 139; also p. 132, 136, 160-164, 273; Poliakov, p. 153)

Dawidowicz contradicts the allegation that Grojanowski was the first escapee from Chelmno (Krieg, p. 282). She reports about two Jews who escaped from the death camp at the end of 1941 or the beginning of 1942 and contacted the Jewish Society for Social Welfare in Warsaw.[36] There their statements were recorded, but not forwarded, because they appeared to be too unbelievable to the assistants of the Jewish Society for Social Welfare.

Another witness, who allegedly escaped before Grojanowski, is Michael Podchlebnik, (Massentötungen, p. 145; Rückerl, p. 274; Nellessen, p. 139-141; Hausner, Vernichtung, p. 236). Pochlebnik appeared as a witness during the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem on June 5, 1961, and reported there the following: He was brought to Chelmno on December 28 or 29, 1941 (Nellessen, p. 139; the date can be derived from the following described events). At first he worked in the palace Kommando. But already "on the next day" ("it was two days before New Year"; Nellessen, p. 140 - therefore December 30, 1941) he reported for duty at the forest Kommando. They excavated graves or trenches in the forest. After having worked in the forest for a "few days" (Nellessen, p. 140), a car came "on Tuesday" (this Tuesday was January 6, 1942), which brought the corpses of his family. Three days later, he succeeded in escaping (Hausner, Vernichtung, p. 236). This was therefore January 9, 1942.

Besides the names of the two escapees Grojanowski and Podchlebnik, we also learn the names of those who survived the alleged massacre of the final camp dissolution on January 18, 1945: Shimon Srebnik, then 14 years old (Poliakov, p. 197; Rückerl, p. 287; Nellessen, p. 141-143) and Mordechai Zurawski, (Poliakov, p. 197; Rückerl, p. 287). Srebnik was also a witness during the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem.

11. Controversial Numbers

The number of people who fell victim to the extermination actions in Kulmhof/Chelmno is not known. The various statements differ by hundreds of thousands and are as follows: 11,000 (Reitlinger, p. 101), 34,000 (Delarue,[37] p. 257); 54,990 (Faschimus - Getto - Massenmord,[38] p. 285); at least 100,000 (Klee, p. 371); more than 100,000 (Hilberg, Destruction, p. 572); 150,000 (Hilberg, Vernichtung, p. 604); at least 152,565 (Massentötungen, p. 145); 300,000 (Höhne, p. 431); more than 300,000 (Massentötungen, p. 145); 349,000 (Dawidowicz, Krieg, p. 139; Nellessen, p. 57); at least 340,000 (IMT, Vol. VIII, p. 364); 360,000 (Gilbert,[16] map p. 169). There are certainly more numbers in other works, but the selection shown here is sufficient to prove that one cannot talk about certainty of knowledge. Most of the numbers are accompanied with notes stating that these are only estimates. Most authors think, however, that the actual number of victims could also be many times higher.

The basis for these estimates is the deportations of the Jewish population of Lodz and the surrounding areas. The literature assumes that the evacuatees were brought to Kulmhof/Chelmno and were killed there.

12. Evacuation of the Jewish Population

Various documents can be used to calculate the number of Jews the evacuated. First, there is a statistic of the Ältestenrat (Senior Council) of the Jews in Lodz, which is in the archive of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and was reproduced in Faschimus - Getto - Massenmord, p. 285.

One column of the table, which was published by the Jewish Historical Institute, is titled "Resettled to Kulmhof/Chelmno". But it is impossible that this title originates from original documents of the Jewish Council, because other sources indicate that the name Kulmhof/Chelmno is never mentioned in any lists:

"The statistical lists do not indicate that these transports went to Chelmno."(Rückerl, p. 293)

Additionally, the Seniors of the Jewish community were evidently not suspicious that the deportations went to death camps:

"Even at the very end of the resettlement, in September 1942, the president of the Jewish Council in Lodz, Chaim Rumkowski, did accompany the children on their march to the railroad station without fears because his own orphanage was spared." (Reitlinger, p. 279f.)

The total number of Jews deported as listed in the statistic is 54,990.

Further documentary evidence reproduced in this publication of the Jewish Historic Institute are reports of the Gestapo in Lodz, which talk about "evacuations" of the Jewish population, (Faschismus - Getto - Massenmord, p. 285f, 292f). The name Kulmhof/Chelmno does not appear in these reports anywhere either. The editors nevertheless chose to add the following title on top of the first of these reports:

"Abstract of a situation report of the Gestapo in Lodz about the mass deportations of the Jews from the district Lodz to the extermination camp Kulmhof (Chelmno)."

The originals of these Gestapo reports are supposedly stored in Polish archives. Other publications, however, stress over and over:

"The Jews were deported to an unknown destination", (Dawidowicz, Krieg, p. 279, 283; Reitlinger, p. 101)

Some of the deportees were "transferred to work camps and to vacated ghettos of the district of Lublin", (Reitlinger, p. 279). Others were deployed "for the reclamation of the Pripjet swamps and to the Jewish agricultural colonies close to Kriwoi Rog in the Ukraine", (Reitlinger, p. 101).

Reitlinger says at another point:

"During their march from Kriwoi Rog to Dnjepropetrowsk, the Einsatzgruppe C found a large Jewish agricultural settlement, which was established during the time of the Czar but was now a collective. [...] The number of Jews in this settlement presumably increased in 1942, when Jews from the Warsaw and Lublin 'resettlement actions' were sent to the village to help with the harvest. Three of these Jewish collectives between Kriwoi Rog and Cherson were large enough to form a 'National Precinct' of the Soviet Union - Stalindorf, Kalinindorf, and Nowo Zlatopolje." (Reitlinger, p. 265)

Even though Reitlinger then continues that "the entire surviving Jewish population was liquidated towards the end of May 1942" according to the evidence collected by Salomon M. Schwarz, 300 pages later he shows that the allegations by Schwarz cannot be trusted: "Schwarz arrives with the help of a completely arbitrary method" to his conclusions; he "pays absolutely no attention to the German police reports"; "he discards the official reports" and also rejects other believable sources (Reitlinger, p. 571). Reitlinger even deemed it necessary to add similar comments about the dubious statements by Schwarz in his bibliography (p. 617). We must therefore ask, how he can consider Schwarz' claims about the alleged total liquidation of all surviving Jews "towards the end of May 1942" trustworthy, if he considers Schwarz' credibility to be very poor.

According to a study about the fate of the Jews in European areas occupied by German troops, which was published in August 1943 by the American Jewish Congress together with the Jewish World Congress,[39] the Jews of Lodz were resettled in 1941/1942 to various areas and to work in the swamps of Pinsk and Rokitno, unless they found accommodations within the ghettos of other Polish towns. If one does not assume that the two Jewish organizations lied, this study proves that up to August 1943 either nothing was known about an "extermination camp Kulmhof/Chelmno" or the messages delivered to the outside world were not believed.

13. Summary

According to all existing documents, it is only certain that the Jewish population of Poland was first resettled from the countryside to major cities, where the ghettos became hopelessly overcrowded. Men and women who were able to work were then selected from the ghettos, while the rest where deported to unknown or uncertain destinations. Whether or not the 'extermination camp' Kulmhof/Chelmno was one of these destinations cannot be proven with certainty with the compiled documentary evidence in the literature examined here.

The former Chief Pubic Prosecutor of the "Zentralen Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen" (German Center of the judiciary administration for the investigation of National Socialist crimes) in Ludwigsburg, Dr. Adalbert Rückerl, noted after the completion of the Kulmhof trial:

"Because of the long time that has passed since the events occurred, the ability to remember of most witnesses is considerably diminished and errors of memory become frequently quite evident. [...] The three survivors of this horrible event[40] - the fourth one passed away - are simply overburdened to give a reliable description of their experiences concerning the logical sequence of events (accusations of specific crimes) and the error-free identification of the defendants. In some cases, they had to experience and undergo such a variety of horrible events for several months at a very young age that it is beyond the limits of their capabilities, when they had to go back in time for their descriptions." (Rückerl, p. 253)

Considering these circumstances, the findings made in the courtroom at that time cannot be considered to be an unalterable base for historiography, which is obligated to truth and reality anyway and cannot be based on "errors of memory." According to my knowledge, no efforts were undertaken after the Kulmhof trials to subject the claimed events to a thorough investigation. An extermination camp, which arguably caused the death of up to several hundred thousand victims, had to leave traces behind, which can be found. The purpose of this essay was to point to this gap in historiography.

© Ingrid Weckert, Munich, 1999


First published as "Wie war das in Kulmhof/Chelmno?" in Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung 3(4) (1999), pp. 425-437. Translated by Fabian Eschen.

[1] Gerald Reitlinger, Die Endlösung. Hitlers Versuch der Ausrottung der Juden Europas 1939-1945, (The Final Solution. Hitler's Attempt of the Ausrottung of the Jews in Europe 1939-1945) Berlin: Colloquium 1961; Bernd Nellessen, Der Prozess von Jerusalem. Ein Dokument (The Trial of Jerusalem. A Document), Düsseldorf/Wien: Econ 1964.
[2] Lucy S. Dawidowicz, Der Krieg gegen die Juden 1933-1945 (The War against the Jews), Munich: Kindler 1979.
[3] Gitta Sereny, Am Abgrund: Gespräche mit dem Henker. Franz Stangl und die Morde von Treblinka. (Engl. Original title: Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder, London 1974.) Translated from English by Helmut Röhrling, 3rd revised edition, Munich: Piper 1997.
[4] Adalbert Rückerl (ed.), Nationalsozialistische Vernichtungslager im Spiegel deutscher Strafprozesse. Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno (National Socialist Extermination Camps Reflected in Criminal Trials. Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno). Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag 1977.
[5] From: Christian Zentner, Der große Bildatlas zur Weltgeschichte (The Great Pictorial Atlas of the World History), Stuttgart: Unipart 1982, p. 522.
[6] Bernd Nellessen, Der Prozeß von Jerusalem. Ein Dokument (The Trial of Jerusalem. A Document), Düsseldorf/Wien: Econ 1964.
[7] Walter Laqueur, Was niemand wissen wollte. Die Unterdrückung der Nachrichten über Hitlers 'Endlösung' (What Nobody Wanted to Know. The Suppression of the News of Hitler's 'Final Solution'), Frankfurt/M.: Ullstein 1981.
[8] Raul Hilberg, Die Vernichtung der europäischen Juden. Die Gesamtgeschichte des Holocaust (The Destruction of the European Jews. The History of the Holocaust), Berlin: Olle & Wolter 1982.
[9] Der Prozess gegen die Hauptkriegsverbrecher vor dem Internationalen Militärgerichtshof (IMT) (The Trial of the Principal War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal), Nürnberg, 14. November 1945 - 1. Oktober 1946, Nürnberg 1947
[10] Ernst Klee, "Euthanasie" im NS-Staat. Die "Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens" ("Euthanasia" in the NS-State. The "Destruction of Unworthy Life"), Frankfurt/M.: S. Fischer, 1983, p. 371, talks of 40 km; Laqueur, p. 159, estimates the distance to 60 km; Rückerl, Vernichtungslager, states first 55 km (p. 259), but then quotes from court files which mention 60 km (p. 334).
[11] Gitta Sereny, Into that Darkness. An Examination of Conscience, New York: Vintage Books 1983, p. 139, 373; Heiner Lichtenstein, Mit der Reichsbahn in den Tod. Massentransporte in den Holocaust 1941 bis 1945 (With the Railroad into the Death. Mass transportations in the Holocaust, 1941 to 1945), Köln: Bund-Verlag 1985, p. 88, 91, 145, 158. Sereny as well as Lichtenstein list in their indices the towns Chelmno and Cholm as identical.
[12] Heinz Höhne, Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf. Die Geschichte der SS (The Order under the Scull. The History of the SS), Munich: Bertelsmann 1976.
[13] Léon Poliakov, Harvest of Hate. The Nazi Program for the Destruction of the Jews of Europe, New York: Holocaust Library 1979.
[14] Editor's note: On the deportations of Jews from Lodz, see also C. Mattogno, Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung 7(1) (2003), pp. 30-36. This paper will soon be published in TR.
[15] Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, New York: Harper & Row 1983.
[16] Martin Gilbert, Endlösung. Die Vertreibung und Vernichtung der Juden. Ein Atlas (Final Solution. The Expulsion and Destruction of the Jews. An Atlas), Reinbek: Rowohlt 1982.
[17] Michael Berenbaum, The World Must Know: the History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Museum, Washington D.C. 1993, S. 84.
[18] Gideon Hausner, Justice in Jerusalem, New York: Holocaust Library 1968.
[19] Gideon Hausner, Die Vernichtung der Juden. Das größte Verbrechen der Geschichte (The Destruction of the Jews. The biggest Crime in History), Munich: Kindler 1979 (includes chapters 2, 4-12 of Justice in Jerusalem).
[20] Jochen von Lang, Das Eichmann-Protokoll. Tonbandaufzeichnungen der israelischen Verhöre, (The Eichmann Protocol. Tape recordings of the Israeli Interrogations) Berlin: Severin and Siedler, 1982.
[21] Cf. Ingrid Weckert, "The Gas Vans: A Critical Assessment of the Evidence" in: Germar Rudolf (ed.), Dissecting the Holocaust. The Growing Critique of 'Truth' and 'Memory' , 2nd ed., Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago, IL, 2003, pp. 215-241.
[22] From the Website of Nizkor: http:// www2. ca.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/ camps/chelmno/images/chelmnovan.jpg.
[23] Gerald Fleming, Hitler und die Endlösung, (Hitler and the Final Solution) Berlin: Limes 1982, after p. 128.
[24] Compare the letter from Yad Vashem to the author on 3/16/88, without opening address, printed in: Pierre Marais, Les camions à gaz en question, Paris: Polémique 1994, p. 300.
[25] Krausnick, Helmut/Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm: Die Truppe des Weltanschauungskrieges. Die Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD 1938-1942, Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 1981.
[26] Martin Broszat (ed.) Rudolf Höß, Kommandant in Auschwitz. Autobiographische Aufzeichnungen, Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag 1963.
[27] Sign.: Eich 936-939, Copy in the Münchner Institut für Zeitgeschichte.
[28] In the English version of her book, the text quoted by Mrs. Dawidowicz is: "the poor workers, the scum of the underworld" (Lucy S. Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews 1933-1945, New York: Bantam Books 1975, p. 394).
[29] The following quotes from Piller's explanation are translations of the original text as printed in Massentötungen.
[30] First Kulmhof trial from Nov. 26, 1962 - March 30, 1963, LG Bonn, against 12 defendants, former members of the SK Chelmno; six received prison terms between three and thirteen years, six were acquitted. After appeal, a new trial, from July 5, 1965 - July 23, 1965, LG Bonn, against 11 defendants was held; eight prison terms between 13 months and 13 years, three acquittals. Separate trials against Günter Fuchs and Dr. Bradfisch in Hannover, sentencing on Nov. 18, 1963; sentence against Fuchs: lifelong, against Dr. Bradfisch: 13 years imprisonment.
[31] Published in: Justiz und NS-Verbrechen: Sammlung deutscher Strafurteile wegen nationalsozialistischer Tötungsverbrechen 1945-1966, Amsterdam: University Press 1968, vol. XXI: Massenvernichtungsverbrechen in Lagern. KZ Kulmhof (Chelmno) (Polen).
[32] Gilbert, Endlösung, p. 41. (Final Solution)
[33] N. Blumental (ed.), Dokumenty i Materialy, vol. I: Obozy, Lodz 1946.
[34] Source: "Aus der Sammlung von Frau Novitch". (From the Collection of Mrs. Novitch).
[35] Emanuel Ringelblum, Ghetto Warschau. Tagebücher aus dem Chaos, Ghetto Warsaw. Diaries from the Chaos), Stuttgart: Seewald 1967.
[36] Polish abbreviation ZTOS, Dawidowicz, Krieg, p. 234.
[37] Jacques Delarue, Geschichte der Gestapo (History of the Gestapo), Königstein/Ts.: Athenäum 1979.
[38] Jüdischen Historischen Institut Warschau (ed.), Faschismus - Getto - Massenmord. Dokumentation über Ausrottung und Widerstand der Juden in Polen während des zweiten Weltkrieges (Fascism - Ghetto - Mass Murder. Documentation about the Extermination of the Jews in Poland during the Second World War), Frankfurt/M.: Röderberg-Verlag 1962.
[39] Hitler's Ten-Year War on the Jews, New York 1943, p. 30.
[40] They were Mordechai Zurawski, Michael Podchlebnik, and Simon Srebnik.

Additional information about this document

Author(s) Ingrid Weckert
Title What Was Kulmhof/Chelmno?, Questions about a controversial extermination camp
Sources The Revisionist 1(4) (2003), pp. 400-412
  • Fabian Eschen: translation
Dates published: 2003-11-01, first posted on CODOH: June 28, 2012, 7 p.m., last revision: n/a
Comments First published as "Wie war das in Kulmhof/Chelmno?" in "Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung," 3(4) (1999), pp. 425-437
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