“On 30 August 1942 a German non-commissioned officer, Wilhelm
Cornides, was in Rzeszow, on his way to Cholm by train. In his
diary he recorded that a railway policeman in Rzeszow had told him
that ‘a marble plaque with golden letters will be erected on 1
September, because then the city will be free of Jews.’ The
policeman also told him that trains filled with Jews ‘pass almost
daily through the shunting yards, are dispatched immediately on
their way, and return swept clean, most often the same evening.’
Some 6,000 Jews from Jaroslaw, the policeman added, ‘were recently
killed in one day.’
Cornides then took the regular passenger train from Rzeszow to
Cholm, reaching Rawa Ruska on 31 August, and recording in his
diary, while staying in the ‘German House’ there:
At ten minutes past noon I saw a transport train run into the
station. On the rood and running boards sat guards with rifles.
One could see from a distance that the cars were jammed full of
people. I turned and walked along the whole train: it consisted
of thirty-eight cattle cars and one passenger car.
In each of the cars there were at least sixty Jews (in the case
of the enlisted men’s or prisoner transports these wagons would
hold forty men; however, the benches had been removed and one
could see that those who were locked in here had to stand
pressed together). Some of the doors were opened a crack, the
windows criss-crossed with barbed wire. Among the locked-in
people there were a few men and most of those were old;
everything else was women, girls and children. Many children
crowded at the windows and the narrow door openings. The
youngest were surely not more than two years old.
As soon as the train halted, the Jews attempted to pass out
bottles in order to get water. The train, however, was
surrounded by SS guards, so that no one could come near. At that
moment a train arrived from the direction of Jaroslaw; the
travellers streamed toward the exit without bothering about the
transport. A few Jews who were busy loading a car for the armed
forces waved their caps to the locked-in people.
I talked to a policeman on duty at the railway station. Upon my
question as to where the Jews actually came from, he answered:
‘Those are probably the last ones from Lvov. That has been going
on now for five weeks uninterruptedly. In Jaroslaw they let
remain only eight, no one knows why.’ I asked: ‘How far are they
going?’ Then he said: ‘To Belzec.’ ‘And then?’ ‘Poison.’ I asked
‘Gas?’ He shrugged his shoulders. Then he said only: ‘At the
beginning they always shot them, I believe.’
Here in the German House I just talked with two soldiers from
front-line prisoner-of-war camp 325. They said that these
transports had lately passed through every day, mostly at night.
Yesterday a seventy-car one is supposed to have gone through.
From Rawa Ruska, Cornides took the afternoon train to Cholm. The
things he learned on this journey were so extraordinary that he
made three separate entries in his diary within an hour, the first
at 5.30 pm.
When we boarded at 4.40 pm an empty transport had just arrived.
I walked along the train twice and counted fifty-six cars. On
the doors had been written in chalk: 60, 70, once 90,
occasionally 40 – obviously the number of Jews that were carried
In my compartment I spoke with a railway policeman’s wife who is
currently visiting here husband here. She says these transports
are now passing through daily, sometimes also with German Jews.
Yesterday six children’s bodies were found along the track. The
woman thinks that the Jews themselves had killed these children
– but they must have succumbed during the trip.
The railway policeman who comes along as train escort joined us
in our compartment. He confirmed the woman’s statements about
the children’s bodies which were found along the track
yesterday. I asked: ‘Do the Jews know then what is happening
with them? The woman answered: ‘Those who come from far won’t
know anything, but here in the vicinity they know already. They
attempt to run away then, if they notice that someone is coming
for them. So, for example, most recently in Cholm where three
were shot on the way through the city.’ ‘In the railway
documents these trains run under the name of resettlement
transports,’ remarked the railway policeman….
Camp Belzec is supposed to be located right on the railway line
and the woman promised to show it to me when we pass it.
6.20 pm. We passed camp Belzec. Before then, we travelled for
some time through a tall pine forest. When the woman called,
‘Now it comes,’ one could see a high hedge of fir trees.
A strong sweetish odour could be made out distinctly. ‘But they
are stinking already,’ says the woman. ‘Oh nonsense, it is only
the gas,’ the railway policeman said laughing. Meanwhile – we
had gone on about 200 metres – the sweetish odour was
transformed into a strong smell of something burning. ‘That is
from the crematory,’ says the policeman. A short distance
farther the fence stopped. In front of it, one could see a guard
house with an SS post. A double track led into the camp. One
track branched off from the main line, the other ran over a
turntable from the camp to a row of sheds some 250 metres away.
A frieght car happened to stand on the table. Several Jews were
busy turning the disc. SS guards, rifle under the arm, stood by.
One of the sheds was open; one could distinctly see that it was
filled with bundles of clothes to the ceiling. As we went on, I
looked back one more time. The fence was too high to see
anything at all. The woman says that sometimes, while going by,
one could see smoke rising from the camp, but I could notice
nothing of the sort. My estimate is that the camp measures about
800 by 400 metres.” (Gilbert, 92-95)
Gilbert, Martin. Final Journey: The Fate of the Jews in Nazi
Germany. New York: Mayflower Books, 1979