The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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121. The Operations Units were set up according to an
agreement between Heydrich and the military command.  Their
commanders were selected from the ranks of the RSHA (T/312).
Their ostensible task was to defend the army's rear in the
Eastern Occupied Territories, but in fact they were murder
units, and their prime objective was to round up and execute
Soviet Commissars and all the Jews in those areas (T/177).
For this purpose, the military command agreed to allow
Operations Units "within the framework of their objective
and on their own responsibility, to take the necessary steps
for the execution of their plans as regards the civil
population" (viz., to kill this population), as we read in
an order signed by General von Brauchitsch, dated 2 May 1941
(T/175, p. 3).  Four Operations Units were set up, and the
occupied areas from north to south were divided amongst
them.  Stahlecker, whom we already came across in Vienna and
Prague as the Accused's superior, commanded Group A in the
north; and Nebe, Rasch and Ohlendorf commanded the other
Groups during the first period (T/312).  Reports on the
activities of the Operations Units have been submitted to

In one of the many reports which reached the Accused at this
time - a report dated 11 September 1941 - we read:

     "In Kamenets-Podolski, 23,400 Jews were killed by
     shooting within three days by the Group of the Senior
     Commander of the SS and the Police." (T/322)

A report from Operations Group A, in January 1942, about the
actions in the north, states:

     "Estonia has already been purged of its Jews.  In
     Latvia, there are Jews left only in Riga and in
     Duenaburg.  The number of Jews left in Riga - 29,500 -
     was reduced to 2,500 by an action carried out by the
     Senior Commander of the SS and the Ostland Police."

On 15 October 1941, Stahlecker reports the killing of
118,430 Jews to date in the area of Group A alone (T/304).
In two days, 29-30 September 1941, 33,771 Jews were killed
in Kiev (T/327).  So the bloodshed continued month after
month across the length and breadth of the Eastern Occupied
Territories.  In connection with a later period - the four
months from August to November 1942 - a report sent by
Himmler to Hitler about the execution of 363,211 Jews, was
submitted to us.  This account is headed: "Accomplices of
gangs or persons suspected of taking part in gangs"
(T/338).  During the same period, the Reich Commissioner in
Ostland (the Baltic countries) emphasizes that the
liquidation of the Jews is the task of the Security Police
and the SD (T/414).

Gas Killings

122. Hundreds of thousands, and perhaps a million, Jews were
slaughtered by the Operations Units by shooting, but this
system alone could not have achieved the Final Solution,
which meant the extermination of millions, were it not for
an additional method, which made possible even more
efficient mass killings, and also in a "tidier" way for
those who actually dealt in the business of murder.  This
was the system of mass killing by means of gas.  In his
Statement to the police, the Accused mentions the first use
of gas in the Eastern Occupied Territories, as follows:

     "Perhaps, in the Eastern Ministry circles, they said to
     themselves, `This must be done in a more elegant
     manner'." (T/37, p. 2339)

This system appeared at first in the form of vans, in which
the victims were asphyxiated by exhaust gases from the
engine.  Evidence was given before us of the existence of a
mobile unit which transferred such vans in 1942 to Belgrade
and to various places in Russia, and which murdered Jews in
them (T/309).  This system of killing Jews was also used by
the Operations Units (see T/216, declaration of Blobel, p.
4).  The system was extensively and regularly used in the
Chelmno (Kulmhof) extermination camp in the Warthe district.
Only four Jews survived this camp, and three of them -
residents of Israel - gave evidence in Court about the
Chelmno camp (T/1297, remark on p. 4 of the Hebrew version).

The witness Michael Podchlewnik was taken to Chelmno at the
end of 1941 from the nearby village of Kolo.  He relates
that, together with other Jews, he was put into a building,
at one time a manor house, and locked in the cellar.  Then
he goes on (Session 65, Vol. III, p.1190):

     "A truck came with people... I heard somebody come out
     and say: `You are now going to the bathroom; then you
     will be given other clothes and you will go to work'...
     They all passed through the door and entered a corridor
     in the house ... We were sitting in a basement. We did
     not know exactly what was happening. But we heard what
     was going on outside ... A truck was waiting on the
     other side... When they saw the truck, the people did
     not want to board it.  The SS men stood there with
     sticks and started beating them, they set the dogs on
     them and forced them to go into the truck... These were
     trucks into which they placed people, locked the doors,
     and let in gas... We heard the screams from inside the
     trucks.  When they started the motor and let in the
     gas, gradually the screaming subsided, until they could
     no longer be heard outside...
     "Five of us were taken from the cellar, and we had to
     collect what had been left, the shoes... the rooms were
     already full of such articles and of shoes."

Later, the witness was taken to a forest, to which trucks
came from the same building, and put to work together with
other Jews on digging pits.  As the trucks arrived, the
bodies of those asphyxiated on the way were taken out and
buried in the pits.  And the witness continues to relate
these horrors:

     "I had been working there for a few days, when people
     from my town whom I knew arrived... Among them were my
     wife and my two children... I lay down by my wife and
     the two children and wanted them to shoot me.  The an
     SS man came up to me and said: `You still have strength
     enough, you can go on working.'  He hit me twice with
     his stick and dragged me away to continue working."

During a later period, at the end of 1943 and in 1944, two
other witnesses, Mordechai Zurawski and Shim'on Srebrnik,
were held in Chelmno.  At that time, the victims were still
being killed in gas vans, but their bodies were burned in
crematoria after the removal of their gold teeth (Srebrnik's
evidence, Session 66, Vol. III, p. 1198), and the bones left
unburnt were ground in a grinding machine (Zurawski's
evidence, Session 65, Vol. III, p. 1193).

Jews from the surrounding area, from towns and villages of
the Warthe district and especially from the Lodz Ghetto,
which was also part of the Warthe district, were brought to
Chelmno for extermination.  These were Jews not only from
Lodz itself, but also from other countries, who had been
first assembled in Lodz.  We have already described the
deportations of Jews from the Reich to Lodz, organized by
the Accused and his Section.  The witness Srebrnik mentions
Czech and German Jews (Session 66, Vol. III, p. 1199), and
according to the official Polish report, Jews from Germany,
Austria, France, Belgium, Luxemburg and Holland were
exterminated in Chelmno (T/1297, p. 3 of the Hebrew
translation).  The total number of Jews killed in Chelmno,
young and old, is estimated in this report at 300,000
(supra, p.3; 22).

The Accused visited Chelmno and saw the victims being
crammed into the gas vans, the removal of the corpses from
the vans, and the removal of teeth from the corpses (T/37,
p. 176).

123. Like Chelmno in the Warthe area, three camps were set
up in the Generalgouvernement area.  Their only function was
the extermination of Jews.  They were: Treblinka, near the
railway line from Warsaw to Bialystok; Sobibor, to the east
of Lublin; and Belzec, in Eastern Galicia.  In each of these
camps hundreds of thousands of Jews were put to death,
asphyxiated by gas.  We heard witnesses, survivors of these
camps (except Belzec), and official reports were submitted
to us from Polish Government Main Commission for the
Investigation of Nazi Crimes, which examined the facts and
reached reliable conclusions.  From the evidence about
Treblinka, this seems to have been the extermination
process: The Jews destined for extermination were brought in
overcrowded freight trains which entered the camp gate.  To
mislead the Jews to the very last minute, the place was
given the form of a sham railway station, with a timetable,
and arrows pointing in various directions to indicate trains
to various towns.  When the train doors were opened, the
victims were ordered off the train, were beaten with rifles
and whips, and made to run to the camp courtyard.  Those who
could not run as fast as the guards wished were shot
immediately.  In the courtyard, the people were told that,
since they were going to wash and would be disinfected, all
their documents, valuables and money must be deposited in
the "camp safe" in a hut in the yard.  They were also told
that, after the shower, their belongings would be returned,
and they would go out to work.  They all had to undress.
The men undressed in the courtyard, and the women were taken
to another hut where their hair was shorn.  In this naked
state, the victims were led along a narrow path called by
the Germans "the path to heaven" (Himmelstrasse), to a
building partitioned into cells measuring seven by seven
metres and 1.90 metres high.  Eliahu Rosenberg stated in
evidence (Session 66, p. 1213-1214):

"In the Himmelstrasse, SS men... stood there with dogs, with
whips and bayonets.  The people walked past in silence...
They did not know where they were going.  When they entered
the gas chambers, two Ukrainians stood next to the entrance
- one was Ivan, the other was Nikolai.  They introduced the
gas... The gas came from an engine, into which they put
Ropa, which was a kind of oil, a crude oil, and the fumes
entered the gas chambers.  The people who were the last to
enter the gas chambers, the very last, received stabs in
their bodies from the bayonets, since the last persons
already saw what was going on inside and did not want to
enter.  Four hundred people were put into one the small gas
chamber... The outer door of the chamber was closed with
difficulty.  When they shut them in, we were standing on the
outside.  We only heard screams of `Sh'ma Yisrael,'
`Father,' `Mother';  thirty-five minutes later, they were
dead.  Two Germans stood there listening to what was going
on inside.  Then they said: `They are all asleep'  (Alles

The corpses were taken out of the chamber and buried in
pits.  From 1943, after Himmler's visit to the camp, they
began burning the corpses on pyres and opened the graves to
burn the bodies in them.  All this was done by Jewish labour
units.  About the gas which was let into the chambers, the
witness Wiernik, who worked on the setting-up of the camp
(Session 66, Vol. III, pp. 1205) adds that the gas was
produced by the engine of a Soviet tank, which stood near
the gas chambers, and introduced through pipes and valves
into the chambers where the victims were.

One of the witnesses had to remove gold teeth from the
mouths of the dead after they had been taken out of the gas
chambers and before they were thrown into the pits (Session
66, Vol. III, pp. xxxx93-95).  There was a special place in
camp which the Germans nicknamed "Lazarett" (hospital).
This was a pit where those who could not walk to the gas
chambers were killed by shooting.

One of the witnesses gave evidence about two railway cars
loaded with children, probably from an orphanage:

     "The children were in fact almost asphyxiated.  We had
     to remove their clothing, and they were led - that is
     we led them - into the Lazarett.  There the SS men ...
     shot them." (Session 66, p. xxxx62.)

The Treblinka extermination camp began to function in July
1942.  A revolt of the Jewish forced labourers broke out in
August 1943, and afterwards the camp was gradually
liquidated.  The Polish Government Main Commission estimates
the number of those killed there during this period at over
700,000.  The victims were from Warsaw and from other cities
in Central Poland, from Bialystok, Grodno and Volkovysk,
from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Belgium and Greece
(T/1304, p. 10 of the Hebrew translation; and T/1305,
minutes of the evidence of a Polish railway worker named

The Accused visited Treblinka.  In his Statement T/37, p.
229, he describes the sham railway station and the naked
Jews being led to the gas chambers along paths surrounded by
barbed wire and calls this sight "the most terrible thing I
ever saw in my life."

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