The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: camps/aktion.reinhard/yvs.camps.01

Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Yad Vashem Studies IV: The Nazi Concentration Camps (1/4)
Summary: Structure and Aims, The Image of the Prisoner, The 
         Jews in the Camps. Operation Reinhard
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Nizkor Project -
Keywords: Yad Vashem,treblinka,sobibor,belzec

Archive/File: orgs/israeli/yad-vashem/yvs.camps.01
Last-modified: 1996/06/23 

                          THE NAZI CONCENTRATION

              Structure and Aims * The Image of the Prisoner
                          The Jews in the Camps


                        Jerusalem, January 1980
                              YAD VASHEM
                            JERUSALEM 1984

                           SEVENTH SESSION
                         Chairman: Bela Vago

                          EXTERMINATION CAMPS

                             YITZHAK ARAD

A. "Operation Reinhard" Camps

                    The Erection of the Camps

   At the same time that preparations were being made for the destruction
   of the Jews in the General-Government in Poland, in what was called
   Operation Reinhard (Einsatz Reinhard), three death camps were being
   erected in the Lublin region--at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.  The
   first camp, at Belzec, was set up alongside the Tomaszow-Lwow
   railroad and went into operation in March 1942; the second, Sobibor,
   was erected near the Brest-Litovsk-Wlodawa-Chelm railway line and
   became operational in April 1942; the third, Treblinka, was set up
   near the Warsaw-Bialystok railway and started operating on July 23,
   1942.  These three camps were placed under the command of the SS and
   Police Leader of the Lublin district (SS und Polizeifu"hrer--SSPF),
   SS General Odilio Globocnik, even though the Treblinka camp was
   located in territory under the control and responsibility of the SS
   and Police Leader of the Warsaw district.  The intention was to
   concentrate all the annihilation activities of Operation Reinhard
   under a unified command.

   The key people and professional staff at Operation Reinhard
   headquarters and the staff of the camps came from the T-4
   organization, which had conducted Operation Euthanasia--the killing
   of mental patients and the chronically ill in the Reich.  These
   activities had been stopped in the fall of 1941 in the wake of
   pressure from church groups and public opinion in Germany.  Himmler
   made ninety-two of the 400 people in the T-4 organization available
   to Globocnik.  The key member of the group of transferred personnel
   was Sturmbannfu"hrer Christian Wirth.  Wirth and his men had
   technical and professional experience in killing people by gas.  This
   was the method they had used in Operation Euthanasia and which they
   now introduced in Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.  Wirth was
   commandant of the Belzec camp, the first that was put into operation,
   and served in that post until August 1, 1942.  At that time he was
   appointed supervisor of the three camps, with his office located in
   Lublin.  The first commandant of the Treblinka camp was Dr.  Eberl,
   and Franz Stangl, who succeeded him, was the first commandant of
   the Sobibor camp.  They, too, had been on the staff of Operation

   The three camps were erected according to the same basic plan, and
   Sobibor and Treblinka were virtually identlcal in structure (see the
   following sketch of the Treblinka camp)[Not included in this
   transcription.  knm].  They occupied a relatively small area, from
   one-quarter to one-half sq.  km.  (about the size of a football
   field).  The camp was divided into two separate sub-camps.  each
   having its own distinct function.  Camp A included the railway
   platform, the staff housing, the quarters of the Jewish prisoners,
   the camp offices, warehouses, and an open square for handling the
   people who arrived on the transports and for dealing with their
   belongings.  Camp B, called the "extermination area," included the
   gas chambers.  burial pits, fire pits for burning the corpses, and
   the quarters of the Jewish prisoners who were employed at various
   jobs in this part of the camp.  A narrow path, from 2 to 4 meters
   wide, fenced on both sides and running for about 100 meters, led from
   the area where the victims had to undress to the gas chambers in the
   extermination area.  This path was called Heaven Street
   (Himmelstrasse) or The Tube (Schlauch).  Both sections of the camps
   were surrounded by two or three barbed-wire fences, some of which
   were camouflaged with tree branches so that it was impossible to
   observe from outside what was going on inside the camp.  The
   extermination area and the path leading to it were also blocked off
   from the rest of the camp with fences, tree branches, and earth
   embankments, so that even from the other parts of the camp it was not
   possible to see what was going on there.

                          The Camp Staff

   The permanent staff of each of the Operation Reinhard death camps was
   comprised of German SS men and Ukrainians.  In addition, Jewish
   prisoners were kept and employed for various tasks.

                          The SS Staff

   The number of SS people ranged from twenty to thirty.  The SS people
   occupied the command and administrative positions in the camp and
   were responsible for the various installations, which were operated
   by the Ukrainians or by the Jewishh prisoners.  The camp commanders
   had the rank of Hauplsturmfuhrer--Stangl in Treblinka, Reichleitner
   in Sobibor and Hering in Belzec.  The assistant camp commanders Kurt
   Franz in Treblinka and Niemann in Sobibor had the rank of
   Untersturmfu"hrer.  The remaining SS people bore a variety of ranks,
   Unterscharfu"hrer, Scharfu"hrer, Oberscharfu"hrer.  All the SS in the
   camp wore grey army-like uniforms.

                     The Ukrainian Staff

   On the staff of each of the camps there were approximately 80-120
   Ukrainians.  Their main job was to guard the camp.  They manned the
   guard towers and other positions and patrolled along the fences
   between positions.  When transports arrived the Ukrainians provided
   armed cover at the railway platform, in the reception square and
   along the path to the gas chambers (the guarding of the train on its
   way to the camp was carried out by a different guard unit and was not
   the camp's responsibility).  They also guarded within the camp and
   prevented contact between the Jews in the camp and those in the
   extermination area, and operated the motors that supplied the gas for
   the gas chambers.  Like the German personnel, they, too, took part in
   the shooting executions.  The Ukrainian staff in the death camps had
   been organized beforehand and had been trained in the Trawniki camp
   near Lublin.  Some of them were Soviet prisoners of war and some were
   local Ukrainians who volunteered for the German service.  Among the
   Ukrainians there were also Volksdeutsche from Soviet areas.  They
   wore black uniforms, and their personal weapon was a service rifle.
   Some of the guard towers manned by the Ukrainians were equipped with
   machine guns.

   The Jewish Prisoners.  The number of Jewish prisoners kept for
   various service jobs in the camp ranged from 700 to 1,000, with about
   600-700 in camp A and 150-300 in camp B.

   The Jews in the first group were divided into two groups: the first
   was facetiously called the "court Jews" (Hofjuden) and the second was
   called the "square Jews" (Platzjudend).  Most of the "court Jews"
   were skilled workers or were employed in workshops or in building the
   camp.  Compared to the others, their situation was relatively good.
   The "Jews of the square" were also divided into a number of groups:
   one group was employed on the railway platform when the transports
   arrived.  Their job was to remove from the cars the bodies of those
   who had died en route, to remove the packages and to clean the cars.
   Other groups were positioned in the square where the Jews were
   ordered to undress; their job was to sort and arrange the clothing
   and belongings and to ready them for shipment to Germany.  In
   addition, there were the so-called "gold Jews" who sorted gold and
   other valuables, and a group of barbers who sheared the women's hair
   before they were sent to the gas chambers.  From time to time 
   additional groups of workers were formed for various jobs, including
   camouflaging the camp fences with branches brought from the nearby
   forest, construction, paving roads in the camp, and the like.  Among
   the Jewish prisoners there was also a group of women.

   The Jews who were kept in the extermination area worked mainly at
   removing the dead bodies from the gas chambers and transferring them
   to the pits.  When it was decided to cremate the bodies, on a pile of
   discarded old rails set aside especially for that purpose, they were
   also put to work at that.  Another group of working Jews was called
   the "dentists"; they extracted gold teeth from the bodies that had
   been removed from the gas chambers before they were brought to the
   pits.  There were others who worked in the services in the
   extermination area--the kitchen, laundry, and the like.  The Germans
   prevented any contact between the Jews in the two parts of the camp.
   At times Jews were shifted from the first camp to the second, but
   never back from there.  To head the group of Jews the Germans
   appointed a "camp elder" (Lagera"lteste), or, as he was sometimes
   called, "head Capo" (Oberkapo).  Each of the two parts of the camp
   had its own "camp elder," and the Germans also appointed a Jewish
   Capo for each work group.  To keep a check on what the Jewish
   prisoners were thinking and doing, the SS found informers among them,
   but the prisoners quickly learned to recognize these informers and to
   take precautionary measures.

   The relatively small size of the camp and the manner in which it was
   constructed, including the system of barbed-wire fences and the guard
   towers, which provided an unobstructed view of the camp area, plus
   the size of the German and Ukrainian staff and its activity in all
   parts of the camp, enabled maximum control and surveillance of the
   goings-on in the camp and of the movement of Jewish prisoners.  The
   only places where the Jews were not under constant observation were
   the workshops in the daytime and the barracks at night.  But the
   Germans paid frequent visits there, too, and the presence of
   informers facilitated surveillance of what was going on inside.

   Secrecy and Deception as the Major Principle in the Operation of the
                    German Annihilation Apparatus

   In order to understand why the uprisings in Sobibor and Treblinka
   were carried out by the few hundred Jews retained to work in the camp
   and not by the hundreds of thousands brought there for extermination,
   we must consider the system of secrecy and deception and the
   technique of extermination used by the Nazis.  We must also deal with
   the question of what was known to the Jews who were brought on the
   transports of the fate awaiting them.

   The decisions reached at the highest levels of the Third Reich about
   the destruction of the Jews and the instructions for carrying them
   out, which were passed on to the lower levels of the German
   administration were a closely guarded state secret.  The
   concentration of the Jews in their various countries of residence in
   occupied Europe and their transport in trains to the annihilation
   camps in Poland engaged a large bureaucratic and operational
   apparatus that included both Germans and non-Germans.  Many SS, local
   police officials, government officials and railroad workers were part
   of this apparatus.  Yet despire the involvement of thousands of
   people in these activities, the Nazis succeeded in keeping the
   purpose of the transports, their real destination, and the fate
   awaiting the deportees a secret, even from parts of the Nazi
   apparatus that dealt directly with the deportations and
   transportation of the Jews to the death camps.  Those levels and
   sections within the Nazi annihilation apparatus that knew the truth
   about the destination of the transports kept this secret very well.
   In fact, the SS uho took part in Operation Reinhard were required to
   sign a special declaration of secrecy.

   The millions of Jews who were taken from their places of residence,
   ghettos or transit camps did not in any way know that they were being
   brought to extermination camps nor did they kn(ow what fate awaited
   them.  Most of them had not even heard of the existence of such
   camps.  Rumors about the death camps did, it is true, reach Warsaw
   and other ghettos in Poland, but the public for the most part did not
   want to helieve them.  Even most of those who escaped from the trains
   that were on their way to the extermination camps did not know the
   trains' real destination.

   More than one-quarter of a million Jews from the Warsaw ghetto, who
   from July to September 1942 were brought to Treblinka--which was only
   80 kilometers from Warsaw--did not know what fate awaited them.  When
   they got off the train at the camp platform they were met by a heavy
   guard of SS men and Ukrainians, but their eyes immediately
   encountered the large sign announcing the following in Polish and

      Jews of Warsaw, for your attention!  You are in a transit
      camp (Durch-gangslager) from which you will be sent to a
      labor camp (Arbeitslager).  As a safeguard against
      epidemics you must immediately hand over your clothing and
      parcels for disinfection.  Gold, silver, foreign currency
      and jewelry must be placed with the cashier, in exchange
      for a receipt.  These will be returned to you at a later
      time upon presentation of the receipt.  For bodily washing
      before continuing with the journey all arrivals must attend
      the bathhouse.  (Adalbert Ruckerl, Nationalsozialistische
      Vernichtungslager im Spiegel deutscher
      Strafprozesse--Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Munich,
      1977, 219)

   This announcement was also delivered to the prisoners orally by a SS
   officer, who also announced that the old and sick for whom walking
   was difficult would be transferred to a field hospital (lazarett)
   near the train platform; they would be assisted by Jews who worked in
   the camp.  He promised that in the hospital the old and infirm would
   receive medical attention.

   From the moment a "shipment" of several thousand people set foot on
   the platform until its total liquidation in the gas chambers, no more
   than an hour or an hour and a half passed, sometimes even less.
   During that time the men were separated from the women and children;
   they were ordered to undress, and their clothing was arranged in
   packages; they handed over their valuables; the women's hair was
   shorn, and the people were led to the "showers," which of course were
   the gas chambers.  They were forced to do all of these things at a
   run, under a hail of shouts, blows and bullets from the So men and
   the Ukrainians, and the barking and biting of dogs.  The suddenness
   and speed with which all of this was done, the constant running, and
   the atmosphere of terror and threat put the people in a state of
   shock that kept them from thinking about what was happening around
   them or from taking any action of resistance.

   This method was used with all the extermination transports that
   arrived in sealed freight cars in the latter part of 1942 from the
   territory of the General-Government in Poland and from the occupied
   territories of the Soviet Union.  A slightly different method was
   used for transports that arrived from Western Europe, the territory
   of the Third Reich, Czechoslovakia and the Balkans from the end of
   1942 until the middle of 1943.  These transports arrived in passenger
   cars.  Upon arrival they found an "ordinary" railway Station with
   signs pointing to ticket windows, tables indicating the departure
   times of trains to various destinations and other normal station
   installations -- all, of course, fake.  The alighting from the train
   was carried out in a polite and calm manner.  The camp personnel
   encouraged the arrivals to write postcards to their families and
   friends telling them that they had come to a labor camp; they were
   even given an address for receiving mail (those arriving in Sobibor
   were told to write Arbeitslager Wlodawa [Wlodawa Labor Camp]).

   After the postcards were sent, everything having been done in a
   peaceful and polite atmosphere, the situation changed radically: a
   torrent of shouts, blows, dog bites and bullets rained down on the
   people, who were stricken by an even greater shock and paralysis than
   that felt by the Jews from Poland and the Soviet Union.  In this way
   they were driven toward the gas chambers.

   It is thus clear why those hundreds of thousands of Jews were unable
   to organize and respond.  It is equally clear why the underground
   that carried out the uprisings was formed by some of those few Jews
   who had been selected from the transports to work for a certain
   period at various jobs in the camp.  They came to know what was
   happening in the camps and what fate awaited them; in addition, they
   had the time to organize their resistance.

[Continued in yad_vashem YVS.Camps.02]

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