Starvation. Mass shootings. Gas chambers. Beatings. Mass murder. In the early 1940 s, perhaps the most brutal atrocities ever committed on a people in our world’s history took place.
It was World War II. The Nazi Regime, led by Adolf Hitler, was waging war across Europe. Occupied Poland became the place where those prisoners and captives held by the Nazis were sent to be eliminated. From 1941 through 1945 a total of some 3. 5 million Jews met their deaths in Nazi extermination camps. These “death camps” as they are often referred to had the single goal of eliminating the Jews while hiding these crimes under a shroud from the rest of the world.
Unlike the “concentration camps” of the same time, where Jews were brainwashed and ordered to do labor for the Germans yet still often killed, the death camps were devised solely for the mass killings of prisoners. There was no discrimination. Men fit for work, women and children of all ages were not sorted and suffered the same fate. These events would be known as “the Final Solution” to the Jewish problem faced by the Nazis. Captive Jews were held in areas called “ghettos” ultimately commanded by the Germans. Following through with the elimination of the Jews, the Nazis gave them fierce living conditions often housing dozens of people in small buildings.
Food was administered in very small amounts. Those that did not starve to death were either shot or sent to camps. Some were sent to concentration camps. There were also labor camps.
Concentration Camps The Holocaust was one of the most terrible catastrophes in modern history. Before world war II about nine million Jews lived in Europe. Six million died in the war and a lot of them died in the concentration camps. The Nazis set up their first concentration camp in 1933, six years before World War II. It was called Dachau. The S. A and SS guards, members of the Nazi army, ran ...
During some of these trips, prisoners would be told that they were being relocated. Many of these people instead arrived at the extermination camps never to be heard from again. The Polish town known as Kulmhof, though more popularly known as Chelmno, was the first place where mass killings by gas took place as part of the “Final Solution.” It was established in December of 1941. The first man in charge of this operation was Herbert Lange. This “Sonderkommando” or special commander, was once in charge of a T 4 euthanasia program in which he was the overseer of the murder of psychiatric patients in the town of Posen. He had control of about 150 assorted German security police and uniformed police.
Twenty members had posts within the camp as well as many secondary units. There was also a group, called the Waldkommando, who operated in the surrounding forest to make sure no one could see what was happening inside. The shipments of prisoners, consisting almost primarily of Jews (there were also some Gypsies) came in on well guarded trains and a very few by truck. They were divided into groups of fifty and then told to hand over all of their valuables and told to undress.
Next they were taken to their deaths. The victims were told they were to be showered and then relocated. Signs saying things such as “To the Washroom” were hung in the castle passage (the town of Chelmno had a palace which was converted into appropriate headquarters and facilities for the Nazis) that led to a ramp angling down. Any hopes of resistance were halted by severe beatings.
The passage led to one of three specially made vans which held 50 people and sometimes more at a time. Once packed inside, the driver would cut on the engine and a pipe leading into the sealed compartment would pump carbon monoxide into the chamber. After about ten minutes, all inside would be dead by asphyxiation. The driver would then make a 2. 5 mile drive out to the woods. Here, Jewish prisoners had dug four mass graves according to accounts from survivor Jacob Grojanowski (the only other survivor who escaped was Moro ka Podchlebnik).
The bodies were taken from the vans by these same Jewish prisoners and dumped into the holes. This group of “gravediggers” were selected from the deportees that came to Chelmno. They total led usually up to forty people. The ones who could not meet the Nazi standards for work were simply shot and replaced come next shipment. At nightfall, they were taken back to the palace and held in a guarded room. The camp operated from December 1941 through March 1943.
On January 30, 1933 the Nazis assumed they had full power of Germany. Immediately after this, they decided to start concentration camps to rid the German society of "inferiors." This included: communists, socialists, religious rebels, Jehovah's Witnesses and most of all, Jews. During the 1930's there were six main camps established. These were: - ~Da chua ~Sachsenhausen ~Buchenwald ~Flassenburg ~ ...
All Jews in the surrounding areas had been killed so the camp was dismantled. But in June of 1944, the camp was reconstructed and shipments began anew. A total of over 320, 000 people died in Chelmno. The crimes committed here were not isolated, however.
Other Nazi death camps existed. One called Belzec was among the first to have used gas chambers, not vans, to eliminate resistance. Belzec was located in Southeastern Poland. The camp was originally setup as a labor camp, with Jewish prisoners digging trenches along the then Soviet occupied Poland line (these same trenches would later be mass burial sites).
It was temporarily shutdown but then reopened in November of 1941 to become an extermination camp. Belzec initially had three gas chambers.
They were devised with double walls and reinforced with sand in between to insulate the area. A door led into them and there was another opening for the removal of bodies. Pipes would shoot carbon monoxide gas into the chambers driven by a 250 horsepower diesel engine (Zyklon-B gas was used later at other camps due to it being more efficient).
It was in February of 1942 that the chambers began operation. The first trial run of the gas chambers were the very Jewish prisoners who had constructed it along with other Jews shipped in from Luby cze Krolewska. By March of 1942, the mass extermination program began.
From the new arrivals, well-to-do males were put to work. This would only delay their deaths by one or two days as they too would be killed in the gas chambers. Those arriving a few days later would then take over their duties and the process would repeat (the Germans did this to keep the freshest prisoners available working).
On other occasions, larger groups of Jewish males ranging from 700 to 1000 work in the extermination area. They were split into groups in which some would have to clean the freight cars that brought new prisoners and remove the bodies of the ones who did not survive the journey. Another group was given command of taking the clothes and belongings of the victims that arrived.
Night From the View of an S. S. Officer This whole situation started out simple enough. The men and myself first moved into a little town called Sighet. The people there seemed so naive. None of them realized what was about to happen; none of them realized what happened when the Germans move into town. We first started by imprisoning the officials and made all the Jews were yellow stars. The Jews ...
It has also been told that there was even a group in later stages of Belzec that would cut off women’s hair to make footwear and yet another to search the bodies of the dead for “gold” in their teeth. Much like Chelmno, the prisoners were told that they were being taken to the “showers” before their deaths. Once stripped, they were marched to the chamber and killed. In the beginning, the process took for three to four hours. As the overseers became more efficient, though, the ordeal might last from only 60 to 90 minutes. During this time, around April of 1942, the existing gas chambers were demolished and reconstructed.
The new chamber could hold up to 1200 victims. This number would be about half of the Jews brought in on 20 freight cars. The horrors at Belzec finally came to an end in December of 1942. The Jews in the surrounding area had been eliminated. The 600 prisoners left were shipped to another camp called Sobibor. Over 600, 000 people were murdered at Belzec, almost all of them Jewish.
Of the thousands of survivors from the Nazi concentration camps, only a handful of survivors escaped the Nazi extermination camps. The worst camp of all, though not mentioned in the above writings, is the notorious Auschwitz-Birkeneau camp. Some 2. 5 million Jews died there. Others say the number more realistically is closer to 4 million. Regardless, the crimes committed in these times of war should never be repeated.
Luckily, history has a few heroes to relate to us these horrors so that they might never happen again.