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Rumours of Mass Electrocutions

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Mark Van Alstine writes:

In article <0zFi6TAwjQj3EwZ+@stumpy.demon.co.uk>, Jeff Roberts <jeff@stumpy.demon.co.uk> wrote:


[Roberts] The second was the description of extermination at Belzec -- the victims were told to strip, as if for a shower, were led into a room, and then electrocuted via a metal plate on the floor.

Reitlinger's The Final Solution (1953) dispenses with the rumor of mass murder by "electrocution" at Belzec:

The inefficiency of the gassing vans produced horrors enough, but it sees they were nothing compared with what happened when the next step was attempted, the application of the engine-exhaust gas to a group of permanent chambers, each holding hundreds of people at a time. The first of these, the Belsec gas installation, which was intended to be ready for the Lublin resettlement on March 16th, 1942 (see pages 252-253), broke down constantly. The deportees were left in the 'transfer station' for days on end, where they crouched in the open, naked and without food or water. Sometimes they were left in railway box-cars to suffocate on sidings. This story brought to London in February, 1943, cannot be lightly dismissed.[59] It can at least be compared with the evidence which a German court was prepared to accept in August, 1950, that on one occasion the gas engine at Sobibor had broken down for three days on end, during which an entire transport had to wait under these conditions till the survivors could be gassed.[60]

Between May and June, 1942, Belsec was out of action for six weeks,[61] and in July it was only handling two transports a week.[62] In November- or soon after -it was out of action for good,[63] but the Jewish Sonderkommando was occupied in effacing the mass graves till the following June.

Strange to say, all this happened within a few yards of the main line between Lwow and Lublin, where, in April 1943, a Jewish doctor later escaped to Switzerland, noticed the appalling stench of the exhumed bodies as he passed the spot by train.[64] Nevertheless the wildest legends surrounded the place. Dr. Gürin, in a prisoner-of-war camp only twenty miles along the line, heard that the Jews were killed by an incredible electric current passed through water, and his story reached London in November, 1942.[65] It was only after the war that a real survivor appeared to describe the miserable diesel engine which had supplied the carbon monoxide. He was Rudolf Reder, the former director of a soap factory in Lwow, who owed his survival at the age of sixty to his ability to work the camp steam excavator.[66] Reder once saw the victims locked in the gas chamber for hours on end while efforts were made to start the diesel engine. The same scene was described by the German gas expert, Kurt Gerstein, who visited Belsec on August 20th, 1942, within a few days of Reder's arrival (see pages 153 and 265). I took two and three-quarter hours to start the engine and all the time the moaning could be heard in the four gas chambers, in each which there were 750 people.[67]


59 Black Book of Polish Jewry, 1943, pages 135-38.
60 Sobibor case. (Frankfurter Rundschau, August 24th, 1950.)
61 IMT, V, 240. (Evidence, Paul Roser.)
62 Case IV. Interrogation, Karl Wolff, Trial of War Criminals, V, page 279, 1951.
63 Josef Tenenbaum, In Search of a Lost People, New York, 1949, page 123. Evidence, Leon Weliczer.
64 Silberschein. Die Judenausrottung in Polen, Geneva, 1944, V, page 22 (stencil).
65 Rawa Ruska, Marseilles, 1945.
66 Muszkat. Polish Charges, pages 229, Dokumenty i Materialy, I, page 221. Belsec (in Polish), Cracow, 1945, by Rudolf Reder.
67 IMT, PS 1553. Trials of War Criminals, I, page 865. This is incomplete; full version in document books of Cases I and IV.

Source: Reitlinger, The Final Solution, p.140-141; notes 59-67 pp.553-554.

In the above one can see that Reitlinger, with careful analysis of the available sources, determined that Dr. Guerin's 1942 account of the rumor that "Jews were killed by an incredible electric current passed through water" was one of the rumors that surround Belzec and was dispelled by Rudolf Reder's (and Gerstein's) eyewitness account.

[The balance of Mr. van Alstine's article may be read here.]

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July 15, 1999

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