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Subject: Holocaust Almanac: Chelmno's Gas Wagons (1 of 5)


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Last-Modified: 1996/03/08

<         Mathias Beer,>
<"Die Entwicklung der Gaswagen beim Mord an den Juden">
<   Miszelle>
< Vierteljahreshefte fuer Zeitgeschichte, 37 (3), pp. 403-417>


                        [Title Page]


    Pre/Re-print of  part 3/1987

Page One, p.403


                         MATHIAS BEER


The gas-van is a special product of the Third Reich, it is a
van   with  a  gas-tight  cabin/container-box/superstructure
mounted on its chassis/understructure used to kill people by
the  motor-exhausts led into that cabin. The designation was
coined  only  later: "_Gaswagen_ [Gas-van] -  that  was  the
common word only afterwards/later". [1]

In  the  contemporaneous documents the  designation  doesn't
arise.      There      the      words     _Sonder-Wagen_[2],
_Sonderfahrzeug_[3],   _Spezialwagen_[4]  and   _S-Wagen_[5]
[Special van, special vehicle] are used. In a letter  dating
from  April 11th 1942 with hindsight to camouflage the  word
_Entlausungswagen_  [delousing-van] is used.[6]

There are in all fourteen documents related to that complex,
allowing    to   assess   which   types   of    vans    were
transformed/rebuilt  into gas-vans and  providing  technical
data  on  the container/cabin/superstructure. The  documents
give  informations about the producers/vendors of the  vans,
about  technical  improvements due to practical  experience,
about the operation

Page Two, p.404

and  the operating locations of different vans, moreover the
responsible official services and individuals in  charge  of
the  employment  of  gas-vans  are  named.  Hence  a  rather
detailed   picture   emerges   which   is,   however,    not
exhaustive/complete as documents are available only for  the
timespan/period starting in 1942 when gas-vans were  already
in use for the killings of human beings [7].

Based only on the written records not much can be said about
the  period when the gas-vans were under development. So the
route  of  decisions  leading to the  construction  and  the
operation/usage of these vans remains unclear/obscure.  This
state  of  things  may  be amended by  the  results  of  the
multitude of trials held since 1945.

In  the  Federal Republic mainly since 1958 the installation
of    the    Central    Agency   [_Zentrale    Stelle    der
Landesjustizverwaltungen_  =ZSL]  for  the  prosecution   of
national-socialist   crimes   in   Ludwigsburg    and    the
investigations  started  by that agency  have  enlarged  our
knowledge about the crimes of the NS-regime[8]. However, the
historian  cannot  adopt results of trials  without  probing
them,  as  jurisdiction  and  historiographic  science   are
directed by different purposes [9].

With  the  historian,  witness-testimonies  are  of  formost
importance as they assist in closing gaps left by documents.
But  due  to their pecularities witness-testimonies  may  be
used  as  equals to documents and appraised by the  historic
research  with valid results only if certain principles  are
obeyed [10].

The basic principle requires that the link between testimony
and  critically validated documents shouldn't  be  abandoned
whenever possible, that is, the most probable fact  must  be
linked to the certified fact [11].

There   will  remain  questions  which  can't  be   answered
satisfactorily by this method. There are witness testimonies
reporting  that  during  the cleansing/purging  of  mentally
insane in the hospitals
in  Poland 1939/40 a hermetic sealed trailer with the  label
"_Kaisers-Kaffee-Geschaeft" [about: Kaiser's  coffee  shop],
with  a  tractive unit/tractor/towing vehicle in  front  was

Page Three, p.405

In  the trailer, insane persons were killed allegedly by the
introduction  of  pure  carbon-monoxide  (CO)  from  (steel)
cylinders  [12]. The origin/source of these vehicles  cannot
be  traced back as documents are lacking. However, there are
hints  that  there is a link between "_Kaisers-Kaffee_"-vans
and  the  gas-vans. Therefore we first investigate  the  few
testimonies related to "_Kaisers-Kaffee_"-vans and then  the
development of the gas-vans.

In a letter dated 1st september 1939, Hitler entitles/orders
his   personal/assisting  medecin  Dr.Karl  Brandt  and  the
_Reichsleiter_ Philipp Bouhler of the Fuehrer's  chancellery
to   carry   out   the  _Euthanasie_  -program   [13].   The
_Kriminaltechnisches     Institut     [KTI]_     in      the
_Reichssicherheitshauptamt   [RSHA]_    was    ordered    to
test/explore  appropriate  killing procedures/agencies,  and
reported that the best method to kill would be the use of CO

Following  first  experimental gassings  in  the  prison  of
Brandenburg/havel  in January 1940 - in  a  hermetic  sealed
room  mentally insane had been killed with pure  CO  -,  the
method was used in all other "_Euthanasie_" set-ups/centers.
The necessary CO was acquired by the _Fuehrer's_ chancellery
under   cover-up/camouflage indirectly  via  the  KTI,  this
being  based  on   an  agreement between  the  head  of  the
_Euthanasie_-agency,  Brack,   and  Widmann,  head  of   the
_Referat V D2_ (Chemistry and Biology) [16].

On  order  by  Nebe, head of _Amt V_ [department]  (counter-
criminality) in the RSHA, _SS-Sturmfuehrer_ Becker  got  the
(steel)   cylinders    at  the  IG   Farben   [factory]   in
Ludwigshafen   and   delivered   them   to   the   different
installations [17]. _SS-Sturmbannfuehrer_ Heess, head of the
KTI,     was    knowledgeable/knew    about    the     close
relation/collaboration beteen the Fuehrer's chancellery  and
the KTI [18].

The   "_Kaisers-Kaffe_"-van  operated   through   the   same
principle   as   the  gas-chambers  of  the  "_Euthanasie_"-
installations.  CO was guided into a trailer  through  hoses
from  a  cylinder which was fixed to the tractor. This  was,
hence, a gas-chamber on  wheels [19]. Witnesses report  that
since  september  1939 the _Sonderkommando  Lange_  [Special
commnad/task force] killed mentally

Page Four, p.406

insane  people in such vans in pommeranian, eastern-prussian
and polish hospitals [20].

The  name  of that command is derived from the name  of  its
head, _SS-Sturmfuehrer_ and _Kriminalrat_ Herbert Lange. The
letter  from the Higher SS- and Police leader Koppen to  the
_SS-Gruppenfuehrer_     Sporrenberg      elucidates      the
operationing/work of that command in Soldau:

     "The  special command being under my  command  for
     particular  tasks  was sent to Soldau  during  the
     time from 21.5 to 8.6.1940 in accord with the RSHA
     and  has  evacuated 1588 insane persons  from  the
     transition-camp during that time." [21]

A  vehicle  of that kind was brought with Lange either  from
the  RSHA  (the  testimonies by Gustav Sorge  [22]  and  the
important  role of the _Gruppe II D_, technical matters,  in
the  RSHA in the later development of the gas-van [23]  back
this   assumption,  or  he  organized  its   production   in
collaboration with the RSHA [24].

Alfred  Trenker,  deputy head of the _Stapo_  bureau  (state
police) in Posen testified that Lange had told him in summer
1940,   he,  Lange,  had to travel to Berlin  and  the  RSHA
several times
because of "conferences/meetings about the suitable  type of
gassing-vans" [25].

These  testimonies let suppose that the operationing of  the
"_Kaisers-Kaffee_"-vans was optimized for the purpose of the
_Sonderkommando  Lange_,  which had  probably  the  taks  to
practically  test  these vehicles. Apparently,  they  didn;t
operate adequately (Lange mentioned something to that extent
against  Trenker  [26]) and the _Sonderkommando  Lange_  was
disbanded/  got  leave  soon after  their  task  in  Soldau.
Starting  from  that time, there aren't  found  any  reports
about the operations/usage of that kind of vehicles.

The  exchange of letters/correspondence about the still  due
payments  in  connection  with the  _Sonderkommando  Lange_,
which  lasted till february 1941, shows that as well Himmler
knew  about the whole affair. In a letter by Koppe  to  Karl
Wolff,   head  of  the personal staff of the  _Reichsfuehrer
SS_, dated 22. February 1941, it is mentioned, "that you  by
order  of  the  _Reichsfuehrer SS_ would  decide  about  the
payments of the transportation costs" [27].

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