On the terms Sonderlager and SS-Sonderkommando

Published: 2011-05-27

By Thomas Kues

In a reply [1] to my recent article [2] on the holocaust historians' lies and obfuscations about the contents of Nuremberg document NO-482, wherein Sobibór is designated as a transit camp (Durchgangslager), anti-revisionist blogger Roberto Muehlenkamp focuses on the fact that in the 17 March 1944 report of SS-Untersturmführer Benda concerning the Sobibór prisoner uprising and mass escape the Sobibór camp is called a "Sonderlager" (special- or exception camp). According to the Tarnsprache exegesis, adopted by Muehlenkamp and his likes when it suits them, this means that Sobibór was a death camp, since the prefix Sonder- (special- or exception(al)-), it seems, always denoted killings in Nazi jargon! Muehlenkamp further accuses me and my co-authors of the study Sobibór. Holocaust Propaganda and Reality,[3] Jürgen Graf and Carlo Mattogno, of having hidden Benda's use of the word Sonderlager from our readers. He writes:

"M[attogno], G[raf and ]K[ues] merely mention that «Five months after these events, on 17 March 1944, SS-Untersturmführer Benda wrote an account of the Sobibór uprising – which he wrongly dated 15 October 1943 – and of the ensuing search for the fugitives, stating that the rebels had "shot an SS officer as well as 10 SS NCOs."» (MGK, Sobibór, p. 22). "

The quote presented by Muehlenkamp is correct. The non-mention of Benda's wording, however, is in effect an editorial error, which unfortunately was carried over to the German edition of our book.[4] If Muehlenkamp had bothered to read the condensed (and somewhat "popularized") German version of our book, Die Akte Sobibor, which is readily available online,[5] he would have found the following remark in the corresponding section:

"In diesem Bericht wurde Sobibor also als 'Sonderlager' bezeichnet. Was dieses Wort bedeutete, lässt sich dem Dokument selbst nicht entnehmen."

In English translation:

"In this report Sobibor was thus designated as a 'Sonderlager' [Special camp]. The meaning of this term cannot be determined from the document itself."

Which is indeed true. There exists not a single contemporary German document stating that Sobibór (or any other German camp for that matter) functioned as a center of extermination.

As for the term Sonderlager Muehlenkamp neglects to mention that it is used elsewhere without denoting anything homicidal/genocidal. For example, German historian Ulrich Herbert writes as follows concerning the setting up of "labor education camps" (Arbeitserziehungslager) in connection to industrial plants:

"The RSHA had suggested setting up such firm-internal penal camps a far back as late 1942:
'In larger plants with a large foreign work force, with no labor education camp nearby, it appears to be possible under certain circumstances, and on an experimental basis, to set up educational departments. As in the labor education camps, foreign workers will be put to work under guard as punishment for non-serious loafing... The plant should provide for segregated housing and allocation of work after agreement with the State Police (Head) Office.'
On the basis of this decree, such camps were set up over the following months in many large plants. The camps had different designations, such as penal camp (Straflager), special camp (Sonderlager) or labor education camp (Arbeitserziehungslager)."[6]

Herbert refer his readers to:

"'Lagerordnung der Gestapo für Ostarbeiter-Sonderlager' (Gestapo Camp Regulations for Special Camps for Eastern Workers), December 13, 1943, Doc. NIK 15510; 'Lagerordnung für das Sonderlager Dechenschule (Camp Regulations, Dechenschule Special Camp) December 16, 1943, Doc. NIK 15506"[7]

The term "Ostarbeiter-Sonderlager" of course implies that there existed Sonderlager housing inmates of other sort than "Eastern Workers".

In Rheinland-Pfalz there existed between October 1939 and March 1945 the SS-Sonderlager Hinzert. From 7 February 1942 this camp was administrated by the SS-WVHA. The inmate population consisted mostly of political prisoners from France and Luxembourg, forced laborers from Poland and prisoners of war. During its period of operation some 13-14,000 men were kept prisoners in Sonderlager Hinzert; 321 deaths are documented for this camp.[8]

In Metz in Lothringen/Lorraine was located between October 1943 and August 1944 the "Sonderlager Feste Goeben" (also called "Sonderlager der Sicherheitspolizei in Metz" and "SS-Sonderlager Fort Queuleu"), a forced labor camp housing mostly French POW:s and political prisoners.[9]

In eastern Austria there existed in the period 1944-1945 a large number of Sonderlager for Hungarian-Jewish forced laborers. These were temporary labor camps where the prisoners mainly worked on constructing fortifications.[10] There was also an "SS-Sonderlager Innsbruck" for prominent prisoners.[11]

Between October 1941 and January 1942 Stutthof was counted as a Sonderlager belonging to the Danzig Gestapo.[12] It must be stressed that this was long before gassings of Jewish prisoners was allegedly carried out in this camp (August to December 1944).[13]

In Upper Silesia was located the "SD-Sonderlager Sandberge", apparently a forced labor camp employing mainly "Eastern Workers" and Soviet POW:s.[14]

The labor and training camp Trawniki in the Lublin district either contained or was designated a "Sonderlager".[15]

"Sonderlager Watenstedt" near Braunschweig served as a forced labor and penal camp for "work-shies".[16]

There were also a number of more or less temporary internment camps for Roma and Sinti (Gypsies) that were sometimes referred to as Sonderlager. In this context historian Sybil H. Milton defines the term "SS-Sonderlager" as "special internment camps combining elements of protective custody concentration camps and embryonic ghettos".[17]

Sonderlager was sometimes also used as a term denoting simply any subcamp or part of a camp housing a special category of prisoners (often prisoners carrying "special papers"), or separated from the normal camp infrastructure. Thus there existed a "Sonderlager für Juden aus Polen" (Special camp for Polish Jews) in the Bergen-Belsen Stammlager.[18] In Buchenwald Jews of foreign nationality were kept in a Sonderlager from late 1939 onward.[19] An isolated barracks at Buchenwald in which members of the Romanian Iron Guard movement were held was designated "Sonderlager Fichtenhain".[20] "SS-Sonderlager Ammerwald" on the other hand was used for "honored prisoners" (Ehrenhäftlinge).[21]

In Moringen near Göttingen there existed from 1940 onward an "SS-Sonderlager" for "asocial" male adolescents.[22] "SS-Sonderlager Uckermark" imprisoned "asocials" and hardened criminals; it was later attached to KL Ravensbrück.[23]

None of the camps listed above are alleged to have served as extermination centers (with the exception of Stutthof, but as already noted its alleged use as an "auxiliary extermination camp" did not coincide with the period during which the camp was known as a Sonderlager).

Now is there evidence except for the Benda report that Sobibór was designated a Sonderlager? The only sort of indication that I have found so far is a statement, presumably based on eyewitness testimony, in an article by Dutch historian Louis De Jong, that the Vorlager (front camp) section of Sobibór was adorned with large sign reading "SS-Sonderlager Sobibor".[24] The witness Thomas Blatt writes in his memoirs of "the Gothic letters on the top of the gate leading inside: ‘SS-Sonderkommando Sobibor.’"[25] The witness Dov Freiberg, however, testified at the Eichmann trial that he had observed on repeated occasions, when working outside of the camp, "a sign at the entrance of the camp" bearing the text "SS Sonderkommando Umsiedlungslager" (SS Special Commando Resettlement Camp); the former camp commandant Franz Stangl also testified to the use of this term.[26] The foremost exterminationist expert on the camp, Jules Schelvis, believes that Umsiedlungslager was the word used on the camp sign.[27] It does not seem impossible that "SS Sonderkommando Umsiedlungslager" was the full name written on the sign and that some witnesses remembered merely part of it. We know from documents that the camp staff members of Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka (possibly excluding the Trawniki-trained guards) were collectively known as SS-Sonderkommando “Einsatz Reinhard(t)”.[28] The correspondence of Dr. Irmfried Eberl, the first commandant of Treblinka, bore the return address "SS-Untersturmführer Dr. Eberl, Treblinka b/ Malkinia, SS-Sonderkommando".[29] Thus quite likely the Sobibór camp staff was known as "SS-Sonderkommando Sobibor". The camp staff at Chełmno was designated "SS-Sonderkommando Kulmhof".[30]

Anti-revisionists may argue, in accordance with exterminationist exegesis, that the use of the term Sonderkommando, "Special commando", must denote a commando specialized in the mass killing of Jews. Once again the argument falls flat, however, since we know of numerous "SS-Sonderkommandos" not connected in any way with alleged extermination actions. To list but a few:

- "SS-Sonderkommando Zossen" and "SS-Sonderkommando Jüterbog", which came to form the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler.[31]

- "SS-Sonderkommando Grüppe-Künsberg", affiliated with the Einsatzstab Rosenberg, which appropriated libraries and archives in the occupied territories.[32]

- "The Sonderkommando 'Dr. Dirlewanger'" (redesignated "SS-Sonderbatallion 'Dirlewanger'" and "SS-Sonderregiment 'Dirlewanger'"), which, although notorious for the criminal background of its members and the numerous atrocities it perpetrated (against Poles and Russians), was not employed in actions against Jews, but served mainly as an anti-partisan unit.[33]

- The "SS-Sonderkommando K", a unit conducting racial "research" on Soviet prisoners of war, stationed in Mittersill near Salzburg.[34]

- The "SS-Sonderkommando Schloss Itter", employed in an interment camp for "honored prisoners".[35]

- "SS-Sonderkommando 'Sachsen'" was employed in the concentration camp Sachsenburg.[36]

- "SS-Sonderkommando Künsberg", a unit used for the appropriation of archives and cultural goods in Yugoslavia.[37]

- "SS-Sonderkommando 'Jankuhn'" carried out the appropriation of cultural goods in occupied southern Russia.[38]

- "SS-Sonderkommando Sosnowitz", which was in charge of an internment and transit camp for Jews in Sosnowiec, Upper Silesia.[39]

- "SS-Sonderkommando Trautenau", in charge of seven women's camps in the Sudetenland.[40]

- "SS-Sonderkommando Zeppelin", stationed in Breslau (Wroclaw), in charge, inter alia, of training pro-German Soviet POW:s as spies to be deployed beyond the Russian frontlines.[41]

The equation of the term "SS-Sonderkommando" with mass killings of Jews is therefore likewise fallacious.

What could then have caused Sobibór to be designated a Sonderlager - at least by Untersturmführer Benda? There are, as far as I can see, three main possibilities:

1) Sobibór was redesignated as a Sonderlager following the installation of the munition dismantling unit in August-September 1943, in which a large portion of the camp's inmates were employed.[42] On the other hand, if the summary provided by the ARC website is correct, a decoded message from 27 October 1943 mentions the "SS Durchgangslager Sobibor" (SS Transit Camp Sobibor),[43] something which would seem to contradict this hypothesis.

2) Sobibór was alternately designated a Durchgangslager and a Sonderlager, the latter because the Reinhardt camp staff was referred to as an SS-Sonderkommando. There are in turn at least two possible explanations why this commando was considered "special". One is that the staff were not regular SS but had their background in the T4 euthanasia program, and that, most likely, they continued to perform "euthanasia" on mentally ill and disease-carrying Jewish deportees while posted to the Reinhardt camps.  The other possibility is that at least a part of the SS units involved in the evacuation, transiting and therewith connected systematic robbery of Jewish deportees were for some (perhaps purely military-administrative) reason consider irregular or "special". What may point in this direction is the fact that Adolf Eichmann's small personal staff, in charge of the administration of the deportation of Jews from, among other countries, Greece in 1943 and from Hungary in 1944, was named "SS-Sondereinsatzkommando Eichmann"[44] or simply "SS-Sonderkommando Eichmann".[45] As seen above there was also the "SS-Sonderkommando Sosnowitz" in charge of an internment and transit camp in Upper Silesia. One may also note in this context that SS-Sonderlager Hinzert in the autumn of 1941 served as a transit camp in the deportation of Luxembourgian, Belgian and French Jews to the Łódz ghetto.[46]

3) Finally it cannot be excluded that Benda, writing his report nearly half a year after the uprising, simply made an error, especially considering that he mistakenly dated the uprising to 15 October 1943 (instead of 14 October).

What may be safely excluded is the possibility that Sobibór was called a Sonderlager because it functioned as an extermination center where hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered in homicidal gas chambers. There exists not the slightest documentary or technical evidence supporting this notion, and in addition to the letters of NO-482 calling Sobibór a transit camp, the available hard evidence, as unearthed by archeologists, contradict the exterminationist version of events.[47]

To conclude: The appearance of the terms Sonderlager or SS-Sonderkommando in documents relating to Sobibór (or any of the other alleged death camps) cannot be used as evidence in support of the notion that said camp functioned as an extermination center for Jews.[48]


[1] http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2011/05/thomas-kues-on-lies-and-obfuscations.html
[2] http://www.revblog.codoh.com/2011/05/lies-and-obfuscations-about-himmlers-sobibor-directive/
[3] TBR Books, Washington DC 2010.
[4] Jürgen Graf, Thomas Kues, Carlo Mattogno, Sobibór: Holocaust-Propaganda und Wirklichkeit, Castle Hill Publishers, Uckfield 2010.
[5] http://juergen-graf.vho.org/pdf/graf-kues-mattogno-die-akte-sobibor.pdf
[6] Ulrich Herbert, Hitler's foreign workers: enforced foreign labor in Germany under the Third Reich, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 338
[7] Ibid., p. 468, note 116.
[8] Hedwig Brüchert, Michael Matheus, Zwangsarbeit in Rheinland-Pfalz während des Zweiten Weltkriegs, Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 2004, pp. 21-22.
[9] Wolfgang Benz, Barbara Distel, Der Ort des Terrors: Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager, vol. 9, C.H. Beck, Munich 2009, pp. 534-537.
[10] Eleonore Lappin-Eppel, "Sonderlager für ungarisch-jüdische Zwangsarbeiter", in: ibid., pp. 218ff.
[11] Hans-Günter Richardi, Caroline M. Heiss, Hans Heiss, SS-Geiseln in der Alpenfestung, Raetia 2005, p. 153, 158.
[12] Ibid., p. 613.
[13] For the alleged homicidal gas chamber of KL Stutthof cf. Jürgen Graf, Carlo Mattogno, Concentration Camp Stutthof and its Function in National Socialist Jewish Policy, Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2003.
[14] Wolfgang Benz, Barbara Distel (eds.), Der Ort des Terrors: Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager, vol. 3, C.H. Beck, Munich 2006, p. 175.
[15] Timm C. Richter (ed.), Krieg und Verbrechen. Situation und Intention: Fallbeispiele, Martin Meidenbauer, Munich 2006, p. 248 note 15.
[16] Gabriele Lotfi, KZ der Gestapo, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2000, pp. 75-77, 340
[17] Sybil H. Milton, "'Gypsies' as Social Outsiders in Nazi Germany", in: Robert Gellately, Nathan Stoltzfus (eds.), Social outsiders in Nazi Germany, Princeton University Press, Princeton 2001, p. 219.
[18] Wolfgang Benz, Barbara Distel, Angelika Königseder (eds.), Der Ort des Terrors: Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager, vol. 7, C.H. Beck, Munich 2008, pp. 192-193.
[19] Gedenkstätte Buchenwald, Konzentrationslager Buchenwald 1937-1945, Wallstein Verlag 2007, pp. 115-118.
[20] Wolfgang Benz, Barbara Distel (eds.), Der Ort des Terrors: Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager, vol. 3, C.H. Beck, Munich 2006, p. 304.
[21]  Volker Koop, In Hitlers Hand: die Sonder- und Ehrenhäftlinge der SS, Böhlau Verlag, Cologne/Weimar 2010, p. 78.
[22] Titus Simon, Raufhändel und Randale, Juventa, Winheim/Munich 1996, p. 284.
[23] Angelika Ebbinghaus, Opfer und Täterinnen, F. Greno, 1987, p. 212.
[24] Louis De Jong, "Sobibor", Encounter, December 1978, p. 22.
[25] Thomas (Toivi) Blatt, Sobibór. The Forgotten Revolt, HEP, Issaquah 1998, p. 38.
[26] J. Graf, T. Kues, C. Mattogno, Sobibór. Holocaust Propaganda and Reality, op.cit., p. 285.
[27] Jules Schelvis, Sobibór. A History of a Nazi Death Camp, Berg, Oxford/New York 2007, p. 36.
[28] Cf. Archives of the Holocaust, vol. 11, part 2, Document 430 on pp. 335-357.
[29] Michael Grabher, Irmfried Eberl. ‘Euthanasie’-Arzt und Kommandant von Treblinka, Peter Lang/Europäischer Verlag der Wissenschaft, Frankfurt am Main 2006, p. 70. For more on this correspondence see http://www.revblog.codoh.com/2009/07/review-michael-grabher-irmfried-eberl-euthanasie-arzt-und-kommandant-von-treblinka-peter-lang-europaischer-verlag-der-wissenschaft-frankfurt-am-main-2006/
[30] Sascha Feuchert, Erwin Leibfried, Jörg Riecke (eds.), Die Chronik des Gettos Lodz/Litzmannstadt: 1942, Wallstein, Göttingen 2007, p. 7.
[31] Christopher Ailsby, Hell on the Eastern Front. the Waffen-SS War in Russia 1941-1945, MBI Publishing, Osceola (WI) 1998, p. 12.
[32] Michael Burleigh, Germany turns eastwards. A study of Ostforschung in the Third Reich, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1988, p. 227ff.
[33] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/36th_Waffen_Grenadier_Division_of_the_SS
[34] Peter Mierau, Nationalsozialistische Expeditionspolitik: deutsche Asien-Expeditionen 1933-1945, Herbert Utz Verlag, Munich 2006, p. 500.
[35] Volker Koop, In Hitlers Hand, op.cit., p. 33.
[36] Carsten Schreiber, Elite im Verborgenen: Ideologie und regionale Herrschaftspraxis des Sicherheitsdienstes der SS und seines Netzwerks am Beispiel Sachsens, Institut für Zeitgechichte/Oldenbourg, Munich 2008, p. 274.
[37] Patrick Lehn, Deutschlandbilder: historische Schulatlanten zwischen 1871 und 1990, Böhlau, Cologne/Weimar/Vienna 2008, p. 407; Bettina Thorn, Internationaler Kulturgüterschutz nach der UNIDROIT-Konvention, De Gruyter Rechtswissenschaften Verlags, Berlin 2005, p. 32.
[38] Ludwig Jäger, Seitenwechsel: der Fall Schneider/Schwerte und die Diskretion der Germanistik, W. Fink 1998, p. 244.
[39] Wacław Długoborski, Franciszek Piper (eds.), Auschwitz, 1940-1945: Studien zur Geschichte des Konzentrations- und Vernichtungslagers Auschwitz, Volume 1, Verlag des Staatlichen Museums Auschwitz-Birkenau, Oswiecim 1999, p. 62; Belah Gutterman, A narrow bridge to life: Jewish forced labor and survival in the Gross-Rosen Camp System, 1940-1945, Berghahn Books/Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 2008, p. 43.
[40] Dachauer Hefte, vol. 8-9, Verlag Dachauer Hefte, Munich 1999, p. 7.
[41] C. F. Rüter, Dirk Welmoed de Mildt, Justiz und NS-Verbrechen: Sammlung deutscher Strafurteile wegen nationalsozialistischer Tötungsverbrechen 1945-1999. Register zu den Bänden I-XXII, APA/Holland University Press, Amsterdam 1998, p. 494.
[42] See my previous article "Lies and obfuscations about Himmler's Sobibor directive".
[43] PRO: HW 16/39 (ZIP/GPD 2041 DD-FF, message DD 14, as summarized online: http://www.deathcamps.org/reinhard/prodecodes.html
[44] Peter Krause, Der Eichmann-Prozeß in der deutschen Presse, Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2002, p. 29. Also http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eichmann-Kommando
[45] Gerald Fleming, Hitler and the Final Solution, University of California Press, Berkeley/Los Angeles 1984, p. 160.
[46]  Karin Orth, Das System der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager. Eine politische Organisationsgeschichte, Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 1999, p. 94.
[47] Cf. J. Graf, T. Kues, C. Mattogno, Sobibór. Holocaust Propaganda and Reality, op.cit., pp. 107-167.
[48] A final remark: In a report on a Jewish convoy from Vienna to Sobibór dated 20 June 1942 (reproduced online at http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/ar/sobibor/docs/transport%20wien%20-%20sobibor.jpg ) it is stated that the Jews upon arrival were handed over to the commandant of "the labor camp located adjacent to the railway station" ("das neben dem Bahnhof gelegene Arbeitslager"). This is the only documentary source in which Sobibór is called a "labor camp". Most likely this designation was simply a mistake on behalf of a Viennese police officer who had not been briefed in detail on the resettlement of the Jews. From an exterminationist viewpoint it hardly makes any sense that the SS would have employed three different camouflage designations - Durchgangslager, Sonderlager and Arbeitslager - for the same death camp!

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Author(s): Thomas Kues
Title: On the terms Sonderlager and SS-Sonderkommando
Published: 2011-05-27
First posted on CODOH: May 26, 2011, 11:58 p.m.
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