Gerstein Kurt, Poland

Newsgroups: alt.revisionism,soc.history
Subject: Holocaust Almanac – Gernstein & the Polish Extermination Camps
Summary: The Gerstein statement, outline of Reinhard camps
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Archive/File: people/g/gerstein.kurt/poland.002
Last-Modified: 2002/06/19

“For unknown reasons, probably because of a shortage of rolling
stock, the project was not carried out in the USSR but in Poland,
for the most part in the territories annexed to the Reich, but also
in the Government General, and always with the capable cooperation
of Viktor Brack’s ‘people.’ [Note: Poliakov here refers to the
euthanasia ‘experts’. knm]

The first camp, Chelmno, near Lodz, began operations in the annexed
territory in December 1941; it had a maximum rate of a thousand
executions a day. Chelmno as yet had no permanent gas chambers;
only a large garage on an isolated piece of property containing
several ‘gas trucks’ similar to those going up and down the roads
of invaded Russia. In March 1942 the completion of the Belzec camp,
with a daily rate of several thousand executions, made a real start
on the ‘final solution’ possible; with the completion of Sobibor
and Treblinka in May and July 1942, respectively, ‘production’
speeded up still more. All these camps were under the supreme
authority of Odilo Globocnik, who had the help of a team of
euthanasia technicians directed by Christian Wirth.<20> They had
been ‘loaned’ to Globocnik by Bouhler and Brack, on the express
condition that these indispensable specialists would be returned
when the euthanasia campaign started again in the Reich.<21> It
should be noted tha the Maidanek camp, near Lublin, was not an
extermination camp proper, but a work camp – that is to say, a
delayed extermination camp where according to the conclusions the
commission of investigation of the Polish Government, over 200,000
Jews, as well as non-Jews, died during 1943 and 1944.<22>
(Auschwitz, as we shall see, combined these two methods.)

The victims are no longer alive to testify; the executioners have
also disappeared or gone into hiding. Among the few statements that
we have on the wrokings of these camps is one from an SS chemical
engineer closely involved in the development of methods for mass
murder. It is an indication of the hellish darkness into which the
Nazis plunged Germany that this same man had unquestionably been an
active anti-Nazi and had been imprisoned in 1936 for an offense
against the security of the Reich; from 1942 on he had tried to
alert the world to what was going on through Swedish diplomats and
other channels. But the name of Kurt Gerstein will always be
associated with the manufacture and distribution of the ‘Cyclone B’
gas. Here, then, is his story, written in an uncertain French: (5)

In January, 1942, I was named chief of the Waffen SS technical
disinfection services, including a section for extremely toxic
gasses….One day SS-Sturmbahhfuehrer Gunther of the RSHA came
into my office, dressed in civilian clothing. I did not know
him. He ordered me to get him 100 kilos of prussic acid and to
go with him to a place known only to the truck driver. When the
truck was loaded, we ledt for Lublin (Poland). We took along Dr.
Pfannenstiel, occupant of the chair of hygiene at the University
of Marburg. SS Gruppenfuehrer Globocnick was waiting for us at
Lublin. He told us, ‘This is one of the most secret matters
there are, even the most secret. Anybody who talks about it will
be shot immediately.’ He explained to us that there were three

1) Belzec, on the Lublin-Lwow road. A maximum of
15,000 people per day.
2) Sobibor (I don’t know exactly where it is),
20,000 people a day.
3) Treblinka, 120 kilometers NNE of Warsaw
4) Maidanek, near Lublin (under construction).

Globocnick said: ‘You will have to disinfect large piles of
clothing coming from Jews, Poles, Czechs, etc. Your other duty
will be to improve the workings of our gas chambers, which
operate on the exhaust from a Diesel engine. We need a more
toxic and faster working gas, something like prussic acid. The
Fuehrer and Himmler – they were here the day before yesterday,
August 15 – ordered me to accompany anybody who has to see the
installation.’ Professor Pfannenstiel asked him: ‘But what does
the Fuehrer say?’ Globocnick answered: ‘The Fuehrer has ordered
more speed. Dr. Herbert Lindner, who was here yesterday, asked
me, ‘Wouldn’t it be more prudent to burn the bodies instead of
burying them? Another generation might take a different view of
these things.’ I answered: ‘Gentlemen, if there is ever a
generation after us so cowardly, so soft, that it would not
understand our work as good and necessary, then, gentlemen,
National Socialism will have been for nothing. On the contrary,
we should bury bronze tablets saying that it was we, we who had
the courage to carry out this gigantic task!’ Then the Fuehrer
said: ‘Yes, my brave Globocnick, you are quite right.”

The next day we left for Belzec. Globocnick introduced me to SS
[Wirth?] who took me around the plant. We saw no dead bodies
that day, but a pestilential odor hung over the whole area.
Alongside the station there was a ‘dressing’ hut with a window
for ‘valuables.’ Further on, a room with a hundred chairs,
[designated as] ‘the barber.’ Then a corridor 150 meters long in
the open air, barbed wire on both sides, with signs: ‘To the
baths and inhalants.’ In front of us a building like a bath
house; to the left and right, large concrete pots of geraniums
or other flowers. On the rood, the Star of David. On the
building a sign: ‘Heckenholt Foundation.’

The following morning, a little before seven there was an
announcement: ‘The first train will arrive in ten minutes!’ A
few minutes later a train arrived from Lemberg: 45 cars with
more than 6,000 people, Two hundred Ukrainians assigned to this
work flung open the doors and drove the Jews out of the cars
with leather whips. A loud speaker gave instructions: ‘Strip,
even artificial limbs and glasses. Hand all money and valuables
in at the ‘valuables window.’ Women and young girls are to have
their hair cut in the ‘barber’s hut.” (An SS Unterfuehrer told
me: ‘From that they make something special for submarine

Then the march began. Barbed wire on both sides, in the rear two
dozen Ukrainians with rifles. They drew near. Wirth and I found
ourselves in front of the death chambers. Stark naked men,
women, children, and cripples passed by. A tall SS man in the
corner called to the unfortunates in a loun minister’s voice:
‘Nothing is going to hurt you! Just breathe deep and it will
strengthen your lungs. It’s a way to prevent contagious
diseases. It’s a good disinfectant!’ They asked him what was
going to happen and he answered: ‘The men will have to work,
build houses and streets. The women won’t have to do that, they
will be busy with the housework and the kitchen.’ This was the
last hope for some of these poor people, enough to make them
march toward the death chambers without resistance. The majority
knew everything; the smell betrayed it! They climbed a little
wooden stairs and entered the death chambers, most of them
silently, pushed by those behind them. A Jewess of about forty
with eyes like fire cursed the murderers; she disappeared into
the gas chambers after being struck several times by Captain
Wirth’s whip. Many prayed; others asked” ‘Who will give us the
water before we die?’ [A Jewish rite] SS men pushed the men into
the chambers. ‘Fill it up,’ Wirth ordered; 700-800 people in 93

[Transcription note: This figure appears to be incorrect. The
original gas chamber consisted of 3 units of 3 units, while
those installed in mid-1942 consisted of 10 units. See and]

square meters. The doors closed. Then I understood the reason
for the ‘Heckenholt’ sign. Heckenholt was the driver of the
Diesel, whose exhaust was to kill these poor unfortunates. SS
Unterscharfuehrer Heckenholt tried to start the motor. It
wouldn’t start! Captain Wirth came up. You could see he was
afriad because I was there to see the disaster. Yes, I saw
everyting and waited. My stopwatch clocked it all: 50 minutes,
70 minutes, and the Diesel still would not start! The men were
waiting in the gas chambers. You could hear them weeping ‘as
though in a synagogue,’ said Professor Pfannenstiel, his eyes
glued to the window in the wooden door. Captain Wirth, furious,
struck with his whip the Ukrainians who helped Heckenholt. The
Diesel started up after 2 hours and 49 minutes, by my stopwatch.
Twenty-five minutes passed. You could see through the window
that many were already dead, for an electric light illuminated
the interior of the room. All were dead after thirty-two
minutes! Jewish workers on the other side opened the wodden
doors. They had been promised their lives in return for doing
this horrible work, plus a small percentage of the money and
valuables collected. The men were still standing, like columns
of stone, with no room to fall or lean. Even in death you could
tell the families, alll holding hands. It was difficult to
separate them while emptying the rooms for the next batch. The
bodies were tossed out, blue, wet with seat and urine, the legs
smeared with excrement and menstual blood. Two dozen workers
were busy checking mouths which they opened with iron hooks.
‘Gold to the left, no gold to the right.’ Others checked anus
and genitals, looking for money, diamonds, gold, etc. Dentists
knocked out gold teeth, bridges, and crowns, with ahmmers.
Captain Wirth stood in the middle of them. He was in his
element, and, showing me a big jam box filled with teeth, said,
‘See the wieght of the gold! Just from yesterday and the day
before! You can’t imagine what we find every day, dollars,
diamonds, gold! You’ll see!’ He took me over to a jeweler who
was responsible for all the valuables. They also pointed out to
me one of the heads of the big Berlin store Kaufhaus des
Westens, and a little man whom they forced to play the violin,
the chiefs of the Jewish workers’ commandos. ‘He is a captain of
the Imperial Austrian Army, Chevalier of the German Iron Cross,’
Wirth told me.

Then the bodies were thrown into big ditches near the gas
chambers, about 100 by 20 by 12 meters. After a few days the
bodies welled and the whole mass rose up 2-3 years because of
the gas in the bodies. When the swelling went down several days
later, the bodies matted down again. They told me that later
they poured Diesel oil over the bodies and burned them on
railroad ties to make them disappear.<23>

There is little to add to this description, which holds good for
Treblinka and Sobibor as well as for the Belzec camp. The latter
installations were constructed in almost the same way, and also
used the exhaust carbon monoxide gases from Diesel motors as the
death agent. At Maidanek, which was built later and lasted until
the last days of the German occupation, the method of asphyxiation
by prussic acid fumes (Cyclone B) was introduced after the example
of Auschwitz, although, as we have pointed out, Maidanek was not an
extermination camp proper.

The inquiries of the Polish Commission for War Crimes have
established that the total number of victims at Belzec was close to
600,000, 250,000 at Sobibor, more than 700,000 at Treblinka, and
more than 300,000 at Chelmno.<24> More than 90 per cent were Polish
Jews. However, there was not a European nationality unrepresented
in the remaining 8 to 10 per cent. Of the 110,000 Jews deported
from the Netherlands, at least 34,000 were exterminated at

The Belzec camp ceased functioning in December 1942 after nine
months of activity. In the fall of 1943 Sobibor and Treblinka were
also shut down, once the ‘final solution’ was practically completed
in Poland, and their remains concealed as far as possible, the
buildings dismantled or destroyed, and the terrain reforested. Only
the first one, the Chelmno camp, functioned continuously until
October 1944, being shut down only in January 1945.

Every Jew sent to one of these four camps was doomed to immediate
extermination. There were few exceptions to this rule. In a small
number of cases quick ‘selections’ were made when the convoy
arrived. Thus, in 1943, after the revolt of the Warsaw ghetto, when
the last convoys were reaching Treblinka, the Germans took away men
who seemed able-bodied, in order to send them to Maidanek.<26> Some
of these have survived. At Sobibor, too, as a survivor reports,
appeals were made on the arrival of certain convoys for ‘volunteers
for hard work.'<27> In any case, however, the number of these
survivors was scarcely more than a few dozen. Of the 34,313 Dutch
Jews deported to Sobibor from March to July 1943, 19 people (16
women and 3 men), who were included in these rapid selections,
lived to return to the Netherlands. According to them, the
selections involved only 35 to 40 persons in each convoy.<28> On
the other hand, we know of only one survivor of Belzec.<29>

Within the extermination camps there was a category of Jews not
doomed to immediate death. These were members of the commandos
assigned to clean out the installations: to pull the bodies from
the gas chambers, search them, bury or burn them. The imagination
finds it hard to conceive a matter in which physical and moral
horror are so intimately blended; we shall have to come back again
to this terrible subject. The members of these ‘Sonderkommandos,’
or special commandors, who were themselves exterminated at regular
intervals and replaced with new teams, rebelled at various times.
Thus, on August 2, 1943, an armed revolt broke out at Treblinka.
Part of the plant was set afire and more than ten SS men and
Ukrainian guards were killed. The camp was closed down a few weeks
after this revolt. The last surviving members of the Jewish
Sonderkommando of Chelmno, forty-seven of them, also rebelled on
January 18, 1944, on the eve of their execution; two of them,
Srebrnik and Surawski, succeeded in escaping and are at present its
only survivors.<30>” (Poliakov, 192-197)

<20> Trial of the major war criminals, interrogation of Konrad Morgen,
session of August 8, 1946
<21> Interrogation of V. Brack during “The Doctors’ Trial,” session
of May 14, 1947
<22> German Crimes in Poland, complete edition (in Polish), IV, 97.
<23> Testimony of Kurt Gernstein. (PS 1553)
<24> Les Crimes allemands en Pologne, French edition, Warsaw, 1948,
p. 106-32
<25> Het doedenboek van Auschwitz, s’Gravenhage, Dutch Red Cross,
<26> Testimony of Rothbalsam from the collection of Mme. A.
<27> Report by a Jewish deportee, returned to Slovakia, August 17,
1943. (LXX, 77)
<28> Sobibor. s’Gravenhage, Dutch Red Cross, 1947.
<29> The recollections of this sole survivor, Rudolf Reder, have
been published under the title ‘Belzec.’ (Cracow, 1946)
<30> Les Crimes allemands en Pologne, op. cit., p. 110, 120, 127

(5) On May 5, 1945, the eve of German surrender, two officers of
the American Sixth Army Corps, Major Evans and Captain Haught, were
approached in the small Black Forest town of Rothweil by a man who
introduced himself as Kurt Gernstein, former head of the
disinfection service of the Waffen SS. He assured them that he had
important information and handed over a memorandum in French, which
we reproduce in substantial part. To lend more weight to his
statement he also handed over a set of bills for the purchase of
‘Cyclone B’ gas (the toxic gas used for exterminations) by the
RSHA. These bills were in his name. He later was captured and as a
war prisoner placed in a French prison, where he committed suicide
in the summer of 1945.

In his story, dated May 5, 1945, were certain details that could be
known at that time only by a limited number of IVb officials. Some
ten witnesses, most from the Lutherin Church (among others, the
famous Pastor Niemoeller), have testified that they knew Gerstein
for many years; they guaranteed his veracity and the authenticiity
of his anti-Nazi sentiments. Finally, Gernstein swore that at the
risk of his life, in Augst 1942, he had informed a member of the
Swedish Embassy about what he had been able to learn; the truth of
this statement has been confirmed by the Swedish Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, which in due time had transmitted the information
obtained in this way to London.

Gerstein himself asserted that he had enlisted in the Waffen SS in
1941 only to trick his persecutors and to learn the truth about the
‘euthanasia program’ which then preoccupied the German Lutherin
Church. This is how he had found himself caught in the machinery.
According to one of his correspondents, Pastor Mochalski: ‘By
underestimating the SS system, he [Gernstein] succumbed to it, and
offered his service for the extermination action, which he had
wanted to fight. I consider it likely that he tried, or at least
intended, to mitigate the sufferings of the internees, and to
sabotage the delivery of prussic acid. I do not know whether he was
able to do so.’

Work Cited

Poliakov, Leon. Harvest of Hate: The Nazi Program for the
Destruction of the Jews of Europe. Syracuse University Press.,