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The Holocaust History Project.

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka:
The Operation Reinhard Extermination Camps

Essays on the Extermination Camps of Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor

Introduction to the Operation Reinhard Extermination Camps (6600 words) by Gord McFee (hereafter)

Other essays, studies and additions

Final Destination Treblinka (11,400 words), by Stephen Potyondi.

Uprising in Treblinka by Samuel Rajzman.

The Reconstruction of Treblinka (20,000 words, 67 photos) by Alex Bay

The Reconstruction of Belzec (98 photos) by Alex Bay

The ‘Disappearance’ of SS-Hauptscharführer Lorenz Hackenholt by Michael Tregenza.

Introduction to the Operation Reinhard Extermination Camps

by Gord McFee

The first thing that comes to many people's minds when they think of the Holocaust is the Auschwitz concentration camp where about 1 million people, mainly Jews, were gassed to death between 1941 and 1945. In some ways, Auschwitz has come to symbolize the Holocaust. On the other hand, the names Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor are nowhere nearly as well known. Yet, it is estimated that 1.7 million Jews were gassed to death in those camps in just two years - 1942 and 1943.1 These are the Operation Reinhard death camps.

Incidentally, there is some debate about whether "Reinhard" should be spelled "Reinhard" or "Reinhardt", which also leads to debate about whether the operation was named after Reinhard Heydrich or State Secretary of Finance Fritz Reinhardt. This has been put to rest by historians Peter Witte and Stephen Tyas. They explain, that Fritz Reinhardt's ministry only became involved in the operation after it had already received its name and that, as reported by Himmler himself, Heydrich had spelled his name both Reinhard and Reinhardt in the 1930s.2


The Operation Reinhard death camps were an integral part of the so-called "final solution of the Jewish question". Since the Nazis had taken power in 1933, they had gradually isolated the Jewish community in Germany and Austria, and deprived them of their rights as citizens, and their property3. Now four pivotal events occurred.

First, with the outbreak of World War II, and the subsequent conquest of Poland, large parts of Scandinavia and much of the Soviet Union, there had been a tremendous number of Jews who fell under Nazi control. At the same time, Himmler had begun his project to depopulate large areas of Poland of Poles and Jews, and repopulate them with ethnic Germans. The Jews had to be moved somewhere.4

Second, the war had truly become a world war with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war by Germany on the United States in December 1941. Hitler had threatened more than once that if the war became global, the Jews would pay the price. Although mass shootings had begun by the Einsatzgruppen in July 1941, it would appear that an ultimate decision to kill all the Jews was made by Hitler around this time.

Third, the Einsatzgruppen shootings took a heavy toll on the executioners, who were repelled by the fact that they had to murder unarmed men, women and children, and complained about it. There were also concerns about the openness of the process and the risk of loss of secrecy. These complaints reached Himmler's ears, who decided that a more efficient, secure and "humane" way had to be found to kill Jews.5 In the strange world that was the SS, the Jews had to be murdered, but they were not to be mistreated while it was taking place. It must however be noted that "humane" referred more to the effect on the murderers than the victims who were being murdered. It was felt that a less "violent" method of killing the Jews would accomplish both purposes.

Fourth, experiments with mobile gassing vans that had begun in late 1941, as well as their use in the so-called T4 "euthanasia" killings of the mentally insane, revealed that they could quite easily be adapted to kill Jews. The victims were loaded into the back of the van and driven to a burial spot. The van was rigged so that its engine exhaust was pumped back into the back of the van, effectively killing the passengers with carbon monoxide gas. As we shall see, variations on this method were used at all three Operation Reinhard camps.6

Organization of Operation Reinhard and establishment of the camps

Following the Wannsee Conference (January 1942), which had as its purpose the coordination of the planned measures for the Final Solution with the central agencies responsible for its implementation, organizational work began. It should be noted that representatives of the Generalgouvernement7 attended the Wannsee Conference and it is in the Generalgouvernement that Operation Reinhard took place. Operation Reinhard derives its name from Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office and the man charged by Göring with the preparation of the administrative and organizational plans for the Final Solution.

To direct Operation Reinhard, Heinrich Himmler appointed SS-Brigadeführer [Major-General] Odilo Globocnik, the SS- und Polizeiführer [SS and Police Leader} for Lublin to take the lead. Globocnik drew on personnel who had been involved in the T4 euthanasia killings, as well as other SS staff, to carry out the detailed organization. Chief among these were Sturmbannführer [Major] Hermann Höfle8, who was in charge of administration and Sturmbannführer Christian Wirth, who was in charge of the construction of the camps and was later their inspector.

That Hitler was well aware of this is demonstrated by the fact that Globocnik was received by Himmler at the Reich Chancellery in 1942, likely in October. Himmler never received subordinates at the Reich Chancellery, but rather at his own headquarters in the Prinz Albrechtstrasse. Himmler's notes for a discussion with Hitler on October 7, 1942, read: "Conditions Gen. Gouv. Globus" [Conditions Generalgouvernement Globus]. "Globus" was Globocnik's nickname. And it is around this time that Globocnik visited the Reich Chancellery. It is most likely that he briefed Himmler, who then went down the hall to brief Hitler.9

In this context, it is noteworthy that almost the entire personnel of the Operation Reinhard camps was drawn from the T4 organization.10 T4 had been established by personal order of Hitler in 1939 - the order was written on his personal letterhead in October and backdated to September 1 - and was the responsibility of Hauptamt II of the Führer Chancellery, headed by Viktor Brack. It is estimated that at least 120,000 people were gassed to death in this operation.11 Mail and other materials passed weekly from the T4 center in Berlin to Globocnik's headquarters in Lublin.12 This is no coincidence.

The camps were built in late 1941 and early 1942 and went into operation in the spring. The three camps were:

  • Belzec, located on the southeastern border of the Lublin district. Construction began in the late autumn of 1941 and mass exterminations began in the camp in March 1942. Its first commandant was Christian Wirth.
  • Sobibor, located on the eastern border of the Lublin district. Construction began in March 1942 and mass exterminations began in May. Its first commandant was Obersturmführer [First Lieutenant] Franz Stangl.
  • Treblinka, located northeast of Warsaw. Construction began in late May 1942 and mass exterminations began in late July. Its first commandant was Irmfried Eberl, who was removed after only a few weeks and replaced by Stangl.

All of the camps were chosen because they were in sparsely populated areas, which made their concealment more easy, and for their proximity to railroad lines, which allowed the Nazis to transport Jews to them with a minimum of disruption. At the same time, they were well positioned to receive their victims. Belzec was ideally positioned to receive deportations from southwestern and southeastern Poland. Sobibor most accessible to deportations from central Poland. The northern part of Poland was most convenient for Treblinka, which lay less than 80 miles to the northeast of the large Jewish population of Warsaw.13

But concealment of the mass killing was not always entirely successful, as this Wehrmacht War Diary entry shows: "Supreme Command Ostrow informs that the Jews in Treblinka are not adequately buried and that, as a result, an unbearable body stench befouls the air."14

Operation of the Camps

Deadly Efficiency

The three camps were set up roughly at the same time in early 1942. As opposed to concentration camps, or hybrid camps such as Auschwitz, the Operation Reinhard camps were pure extermination camps. They existed for no other purpose than to kill Jews. There was no forced labour, and no work for inmates, other than that directly associated with the killing process, such as processing arrivals, removing corpses from the gas chambers, disposing of corpses and other such ghastly work. In this way, the Operation Reinhard camps are virtually unique in the Holocaust experience. As Erich Bauer, the so-called Gasmeister (gas master) of Sobibor put it:

I estimate that the number of Jews gassed at Sobibor was about 350,000. In the canteen at Sobibor I once overheard Frenzel, Stangl and Wagner. They were discussing the number of victims in the extermination camps of Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor and expressed their regret that Sobibor 'came last' in the competition.15

At the height of its activities in July 1942, Treblinka was receiving 5000 Jews a day.16 The absolute efficiency of the camps as industries of death is demonstrated by the fact that, as opposed to other camps, there are very few survivors. For example, it is believed that of the people at Belzec for more than just a few hours, only one or two survived the war, while at least 600,000 were murdered.17

The Killing Process18

Although there were some differences between the three camps, the killing process was similar in all three. It was ruthlessly efficient and has been described as a conveyor belt by an SS doctor.19 Each person in the process had a precise role to play and in a particular sequence. The twin goal was to conceal the reality of what was happening from the Jews as long as possible and to kill them as quickly and effortlessly as possible. The two processes of concealment and "conveyor belt" took place simultaneously. For this to occur seamlessly, a several-stage exact process covered the time from arrival of a "transport" (as they were called) to the actual killing of the Jews. This process resulted in most Jews being killed within two hours of their arrival at the camp.

In fact, the killing process really began before the Jews arrived. As soon as the camp was notified that a transport was about to arrive, the various participants were deployed to their positions. Since the three Operation Reinhard camps were too small to accommodate large trains, a few cars at a time would be backed up to a ramp in the camp and the occupants unloaded. The participants in the killing process included SS, Ukrainian auxiliaries, Jewish prisoners, and the victims. Only the SS and Ukrainians participated for the most part willingly.

The unloading of the victims was the first stage in the process. Jews arriving at the Operation Reinhard camps had usually been sealed in cattle cars for several hours and deprived of food and drink. Many died during transit. Those who survived the trip were almost always in a greatly incapacitated condition - starving, hungry, sick. They were in no condition to resist their fate, even the very few who might have guessed it, but the SS left nothing to chance. As soon as the door of the trains opened, the arrivals were swarmed by SS and auxiliaries armed with submachine guns and whips. Attack dogs were also employed to instill fear. In Belzec, an orchestra played music as the arrivals disembarked. The show of overwhelming force, the music, and the incapacitated state of the victims combined to disorient and confuse them, and render them more likely to believe and do what they were told. Often at this point, an SS man spoke to them, saying that they had arrived at a transit camp, that they would soon be put to work, but that they first had to be deloused or disinfected. If they did exactly what they were told, they would soon have a bath and a hot meal, receive new clothes and then be assigned to work details. This camouflage, which only had to work for a few short minutes, was usually very effective.

The second part of the process was the transfer of the Jews from the arrival ramp to the gas chambers. This involved determining which Jews would be gassed and which shot, separating them by gender, having them undress and herding them into the gas chamber. Determining which Jews were to be gassed was quite easy, and quickly done and did not involve a large-scale selection process, as was the case at Auschwitz. In the Operation Reinhard camps, virtually all of the arrivals were gassed shortly after arrival. The only exceptions were some who were too weakened, young, aged, or infirm to walk to the gas chamber; these individuals were taken off to another area, and shot. Their bodies were then dumped into pits and later burned.

With the exception of a very few strong individuals who were selected for labor (usually they would serve as Sonderkommando), all the rest were destined for the gas chambers. They first were sent to separate barracks where they undressed. They were given the impression that they had to remember where their clothing was, or to mark it, since they would need it later. SS officers explained to them that they were being processed for work, either in Germany, in the east, or in one case, in a future Jewish state in the Ukraine.20 The women also had their hair shorn.

Then they were forced to run through the Schlauch [tube], which connected the reception areas of the camps (unloading ramp, undressing hut, hair shearing hut, etc.) and the extermination section. The "tube" at Treblinka is described thus:

Transport Square in the Lower Camp was connected to the extermination area by the "tube", or, as the Germans called it derisively, "the road to heaven" [Himmlelstrasse]. The "tube" was nearly 100 meters long and 4.5 to 5 meters wide. It began near the women's undressing barrack, continued east and then south to the extermination area. It was fenced on both sides with barbed wire 2 meters high and intertwined with tree branches so that it was impossible to see in or out. The "tube" crossed a thin grove of trees, which continued eastward up to the camp fence. At the entrance to the "tube", near the women's undressing hut, a sign said: "To the Showers" [Zur Badenanstalt].21
The men were usually run through the tube first, since they represented the greatest security threat, should they figure out what was going on.

At the end of the "tube" was the extermination area. It was composed of the gas chambers, burial pits or crematoria, and living quarters for the prisoners (Sonderkommando) who were forced to participate in the killings. These prisoners did not last very long - they were murdered on regular occasions and replaced. There were slight differences between the camps, but the general design was consistent throughout.22

Once the Jews had been run through the "tube", they came to the gas chambers. The gas chambers represented ordinary baths. Once here, the Jews were crammed into the gas chambers, and there was no longer any need for deception. Guards hit them with clubs and whips to force them the last few meters into the gas chamber. Once inside, the doors were sealed and the gas was introduced. Several descriptions of the gassing process survive and they all concord with the following observations by Wilhelm Pfannenstiel, a Waffen-SS hygienist, of a gassing at Belzec:

[The Jews] ran naked from the hut through a hedge into the actual extermination centre. The whole extermination centre looked just like a normal delousing institution. In front of the building were pots of geraniums and a sign saying "Hackenholt23 Foundation", above which were a Star of David. The building was brightly and pleasantly painted so as not to suggest that people would be killed there. From what I saw, I do not believe that the people who had just arrived had any idea of what would happen to them.

Inside the building, the Jews had to enter chambers into which was channelled the exhaust of a [100(?)]-HP engine, located in the same building. In it, there were six such extermination chambers. They were windowless, had electric lights and two doors. One door led outside so that the bodies could be removed. [...] Once the engine was running, the light in the chambers was switched off. This was followed by palpable disquiet in the chamber. In my view it was only then that the people sensed something else was in store for them. [...] After about twelve minutes, it became silent in the chambers.24

It became silent because the Jews were all dead.

Despoilment of the Dead

Equally important as the killing of the Jews was the disposal of their bodies, since no trace could be left of them. At the same time, the Jews, even in death, were the object of a gruesome despoilment by their killers. The plunder included not only their valuables, but even their bodies.

Once the Jews were dead, the gas chambers were opened and ventilated and the bodies removed through the back doors by Jews who were forced to assist in the operations. They were variously called Sonderkommando [Special Commandos] or Arbeitsjuden [Work Jews]. Their job was to drag the bodies to the burial areas and there to bury them in large pits that were nearby. Before they were thrown in the pits, the bodies were searched for any hidden valuables, including the genital cavities. Dentists examined the mouths of the victims, looking for gold or silver teeth that were extracted with pliers. The horror of this is evidenced in the recollections of Jankiel Wiernik, one of the less than one hundred survivors of Treblinka:

I was put with a group that was assigned to handle the corpses. The work was very hard, because we had to drag each corpse, in teams of two, for a distance of approximately three hundred meters [328 yards]. Sometimes we tied ropes around the dead bodies to pull them to their graves.

Suddenly, I saw a live woman in the distance. She was entirely nude; she was young and beautiful, but there was demented look in her eyes. She was saying something to us, but we could not understand what she was saying and could not help her. She had wrapped herself in a bed sheet under which she was hiding a little child, and she was frantically looking for shelter. Just then one of the Germans saw her, ordered her to get into a ditch and shot her and the child. It was the first shooting I had ever seen.


We had to carry or drag the corpses on the run, since the slightest infraction of the rules meant a severe beating. The corpses had been lying around for some time and decomposition had already set in, making the air foul with the stench of decay.25

Sorting squads sorted and stacked the clothing that had been left behind. The hair that had been shorn from the victims was returned to Germany to make blankets for the Wehrmacht. So-called Goldjuden [Gold Jews] were responsible for sorting and packing valuables and foreign currency for remission to the Reichsbank.26 Clothing was disinfected and sent to Germany for reuse. Watches were often sent to the Wehrmacht for distribution to soldiers. Much jewelry and other precious materials were plundered.

The Jews however had been disposed of.

Concealment of the Dead

The Jews were buried in large pits in the general location of the gas chambers, that is, in the extermination area of the camps. For a time, this sufficed. But eventually, the sheer volume of corpses, and the decaying process began to cause difficulties. First, there were so many bodies that the killers ran out of room. Bodies were stacked on top of each other, and covered with layers of lime or dirt. Eventually, the pits filled up, at which point they were covered with a final layer of dirt and another pit started. As the number of dead reached massive proportions, the available space was used up. The natural human decomposition process, in combination with the hot weather, caused the decaying bodies to swell up with gases, and expand, thus increasing their volume to the point where they began to cause the tops of the pits to move. They also emitted a terrible odor.

At around the same time, the Nazis decided to obliterate the remains of the over one million people shot by the Einsatzgruppen. This task was entrusted to Standartenführer Paul Blobel, who had been commandant of an Einsatzkommando and now was assigned the task of disposing of the corpses of the dead - the so-called Enterdungsaktion. The code name for this was "Aktion 1005" and it involved the exhumation and burning of bodies in the Soviet Union and Poland.27 Blobel also supervised the burning of bodies at Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor. The pits were doused with inflammable materials and the bodies burned down to the bottom of the pit. According to Blobel's affidavit, this sometimes took up to three days for each pit.

In addition, at Treblinka at least, machines were used to crush the bones of the bodies so that no trace would be left. But it did not always work. Sixteen years later, in 1959, historian Martin Gilbert had the following experience on a visit to Treblinka:

I stepped down from the cart on to the sandy soil; a soil that was gray rather than brown. Driven by I know not what impulse, I ran my hand through that soil, again and again. The earth beneath my feet was coarse and sharp: filled with fragments of human bone.28

In addition, excavations at all three extermination camps have found evidence of mass murder.29

Destruction of the Camps30

The three camps only operated for two years, from early 1942 until late 1943. They were taken down because, to put it simply, they had completed their work. The Jews of Poland had largely been annihilated, and the few that were left could now be dispatched to Auschwitz, which had the capacity to absorb them.

Belzec was the first camp to be dismantled. The last gassings had taken place in December 1942, but it took until March 1943 to complete the cremation of the exhumed bodies. The camp was emptied and the last Jews transferred from there to Sobibor in July 1943. The gas chambers and all the other buildings were demolished. Trees were planted and a farm was built over the camp for a Ukrainian guard, who received a salary to maintain the place and live there with his family. One of the reasons a guard was required was to prevent the villagers of the surrounding towns from digging up the ground, in a macabre search for jewelry and valuables. Many of the personnel from Belzec were transferred to Sobibor and Treblinka.

The second camp to disappear was Treblinka. Gassing operations ceased on August 19, 1943. In September 1943, Globocnik was promoted to Höherer SS- und Polizeiführer [Higher SS and Police Leader] for Trieste in Italy and left with several of his men (Stangl and Wirth among others). Stangl was succeeded as commandant at Treblinka by Kurt Franz, who was given the job to dismantle and destroy the camp. This he did, assisted unwillingly by thirty Jewish prisoners. At the end of November, Franz and his men were transferred to Sobibor, after killing the remaining Jewish prisoners. Once again, a farm was built on the remains of the camp and once again, it was manned by a Ukrainian guard and his family.

Sobibor was the last camp to be abandoned. There had been an uprising there in October 1943, after which most of the Jews who escaped, and the ones who did not, were shot. The thirty Jews mentioned above were brought to Sobibor and forced to carry out the dismantling activities. Once again, a farm was built over the remains of the camp. The few remaining Jews were murdered, and the SS personnel left the camp in December.

The Operation Reinhard death camps had finished their murderous work.

The Final Death Toll

Although they operated for less than two years - from around March 1942 to December 1943 - the Operation Reinhard camps resulted in the death of as many as 1.7 million Jews. Exact numbers are difficult to determine, since the Germans destroyed all the records in an attempt to cover their tracks. Hilberg estimates the death toll at 1.5 million (Belzec: 550,000, Treblinka: 750,000 and Sobibor: 200,000)31, while Arad places it at 1.7 million (Belzec: 600-700,000, Treblinka: 763,000, Sobibor: 250,000).32 Martin Gilbert estimates the total at 1.69 million (Belzec: 600,000; Treblinka: 840,000; Sobibor: 250,000).33

Determination of a precise figure is complicated by the fact that almost all of the Operation Reinhard records were destroyed, so that researchers are obliged to use other sources and methods to estimate the numbers. For example, in the case of Belzec, Arad based his estimate on surviving German railroad records, ghetto censuses, and Judenrat records. He is able to detail deportations to Belzec that total about 519,392.34 Based on the known incompleteness of the records, he estimates the overall Belzec death toll to be at least 600,000.

On the other hand, an Allied intercept of a telegram from Hermann Höfle to SS-Obersturmbannführer Heim, deputy commander of the Security Police and SD for the General Government in Cracow, contains a figure of 434,508 for Belzec as of December 31, 1942.35 This apparent contradiction may be explained by the fact that we are not sure as of what date Höfle's records began to be kept, or it could be that the Höfle records are more accurate, but the point is that it underscores the difficulty in capturing the exact numbers and the extent to which the Nazis succeeded in destroying their records.

Be that as it may, there is no doubt that, along with Auschwitz and the Einsatzgruppen, the Operation Reinhard camps had effectively annihilated Polish Jewry. Overall, it is estimated that up to 3,000,000 of Poland's Jews, or 90%, perished in one way or another during the Final Solution.36 Polish Jewry has never recovered. Only about 10,000 Jews, most of them elderly, remained in Poland in 1991.37

The Plunder

Having murdered the Jews, the Nazis saw no reason why they should not confiscate their valuables, and assign them to their own uses. An order dated September 26, 1942 from the SS Economic and Administration Head Office to Operation Reinhard headquarters in Lublin laid down precise guidelines. It detailed exactly to which agency any confiscated goods were to be sent. The list was exhaustive. It included amongst others things: all German money, all foreign money, rare metals, diamonds, precious stones, pearls, gold teeth, pieces of gold, watches, fountain pens, lead pencils, shaving utensils, pen knives, scissors, pocket flashlights, purses, men's clothing and underwear, women's clothing and underwear, feather bedding, blankets, umbrellas, baby carriages, handbags - the list is almost endless.38 It is noteworthy that it covers virtually every aspect of a person's existence. As described above, this necessitated the employment of teams of Jews, the so-called Arbeitsjuden or Work Jews, who were spared immediate execution by working in one of the many details that processed this material. This was the only "work" done in the Operation Reinhard camps, as opposed to camps such as Auschwitz.

It is estimated that over one thousand railway cars of confiscated belongings left Treblinka alone.39 The overall estimate of the plunder of the Operation Reinhard camps defies comprehension. Various documents that survive include figures such as 270,000 kilograms (594,000 pounds or 297 tons) of bed feathers, 3,000 kilograms (6,600 pounds or 3 tons) of women's hair, and 262,000 complete men's and women's outfits. It is estimated that the total haul in currency and precious metals approaches RM 178,745,960.59 [Reichsmarks], or $71,200,000 at the existing rate of exchange.40 That works out to about $740,180,960 in 2002 dollars.41

It should be remembered that these totals do not include the materials stolen from the Jews by the SS at the camps.

An attempt to sum up

One reads the story and attempts to contemplate the baseness to which humanity can sink. One hopes that trying to understand this better will induce us to strive not to do so again. Thus, we begin to understand why the story must be told and why the Holocaust History Project has as its mission the preservation of the truth and the rebuttal of those who would deny it.

Deborah Lipstadt speaks of this in her witness statement in the lawsuit brought against her by David Irving:

The deniers are not engaged in a physical destruction. They are engaged in an attempt to pervert the world's memory of how a state almost succeeded in destroying an entire people, along with many others. Currently they are trying to taint the world’s memory of those who were entrapped in this horror. If they succeed at that they will then seek to eradicate any memory of them. This is a "double dying." One hopes to prevent that second dying. It is too late to do anything about the first.42

The Operation Reinhard camps stand out from the other camps where Jews were exterminated in two main ways. First, their only purpose was to kill Jews. They contributed nothing else to the German war effort unless it happened to be a byproduct of the killing. The money, the jewels, the clothing: none of these was the reason for the existence of the camps. They were merely a collateral advantage gained from them. Killing was the only reason for the camps, and as soon as there was no one left to kill, the camps were dismantled.

Second, they were lethal in their efficiency. Unlike some of the other camps, there were very few survivors of the Operation Reinhard camps. One person survived Belzec. Only around one hundred survived Treblinka. Yet, these two camps killed between them about 1,350,000 Jews. This translates into a killing "efficiency rate" of 99.99%.

Words seem inadequate to sum up the enormity of this. Lucy Dawidowicz, who includes Auschwitz among the extermination camps, calls them the "kingdom of death."43 Martin Gilbert, who points out that 400,000 Jews were exterminated in August 1942 alone, entitles one of his chapters that dealt with Treblinka: "The most horrible of all horrors".44 And as awful as those words are, they do not completely capture the totality of the deed.

Numbers suffer the same fate. After a time, the mind numbs itself against the next onslaught of statistics. It almost seems trivial - disrespectful even - to argue whether 1.5 million, or 1.69 million, or 1.7 million Jews were exterminated in the three camps. Perhaps the one most palpable statistic is the report cited above that mentions that the Nazis "collected" 3 tons of women's hair in the three camps.

Attempts at comparative analysis also fail. How a person was killed does not alter the fact that the person was killed. And it must be remembered that the victims here were ordinary men, women and children who were killed because, and only because, they were Jews. Descriptions of different methodologies of death cannot capture this awful fact.

Perhaps the insensitivity of the Nazis to what they were doing, as is shown over and over again in their postwar testimonies and interrogations, comes closest to representing the evil that happened. As historian Konrad Kwiet puts it:

Almost all the perpetrators distinguished themselves in the event through their ability, after having committed murder, to revert to the routine of everyday life and live a "normal" life. Most of them reacted with surprise, bewilderment and irritation when they were investigated and reminded of the past in the course of the criminal prosecution of the Nazis. Ignorance and innocence were stressed at the trials. The murderers remained - with some exceptions - spared the traumatic experiences that was their legacy to the surviving victims.45

In the end, perhaps the best service one can render to those who perished and those who survived, many scarred for life, is to ensure that the facts continue to be published, so that the truth may be preserved.


  1. Yitzhak Arad, The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, page 379.

  2. Peter Witte and Stephen Tyas, A New Document on the Deportation and Murder of Jews during "Einsatz Reinhardt" 1942 in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Volume 15, Issue 3: Winter 2001, pages 474-475

  3. See the excellent analysis by Saul Friedländer in Nazi Germany and the Jews, volume 1

  4. See Götz Aly, Endlösung: Völkerverschiebung und der Mord an den europäischen Juden [Final Solution: Displacement of people and the murder of the European Jews], Chapters I, II and III.

  5. Arad, op cit., page 8

  6. On the loan of 100 of the euthanasia murderers to Operation Reinhard, see Götz Aly, op cit., page 331

  7. The Generalgouvernement was the official name for the parts of Poland not annexed by the Nazis and was comprised of the Cracow, Warsaw, Radom and Lublin districts.

  8. Some writers (Raul Hilberg, Gerald Reitlinger, Götz Aly, and Gerald Fleming) have described him as Hans Höfle, possibly because he later had the cover name of Hans Hartmann when he briefly worked for the American CIC in the 1950s, and the authors, aware that there was another Hermann Höfle, and assuming there could not have been two, erroneously deduced that his name was Hans. In fact, there were two Hermann Höfles - Sturmbannführer (Major) Hermann Julius Höfle (1911-1962), who was employed with Globocnik in Lublin, and a second Hermann Höfle (1898-1947), who achieved the rank of Obergruppenführer (General), and was Higher SS and Police Leader in Slovakia. He was executed in Czechoslovakia in 1947. On this, see http://www.nachkriegsjustiz.at/prozesse/geschworeneng/hoefle.php, http://web.genealogie.free.fr/Les_militaires/2GM/Allemagne/Waffen-S.S/S.S.Obergruppenfuhrer.htm, and http://www.archives.gov/iwg/research_papers/hoefle_irr_file.html.

  9. Gerald Fleming, Hitler and the Final Solution, pages 63-64

  10. Adalbert Rückerl, NS-Vernichtungslager, page 72

  11. Wolfgang Benz, Hermann Graml and Hermann Weiß [editors], Enzyklopädie des Nationalsozialismus, page 355. See also Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis, pages 252-261

  12. Rückerl, op cit., page 73

  13. Martin Gilbert, Atlas of the Holocaust, map 131, page 108.

  14. Kriegstagebuch Nr. 1 24.10.1942 [October 24, 1942].

  15. Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen and Volker Riess [Editors], The Good Old Days, page 232.

  16. Klee, Dressen and Riess, op cit., page 233.

  17. Arad, op cit., pages 264-265; Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, volume 3, page 971.

  18. Rather than clutter the text with footnotes, this section is based on Arad, op cit, Hilberg, op cit., Claude Lanzman, Shoah, Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust, Klee et al, op cit. and Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness

  19. Affidavit by Friedrich Entress, quoted in Raul Hilberg, op cit., volume 3, page 968.

  20. Adalbert Rückerl, NS-Vernichtungslager, page 167, quoted in Hilberg, op cit., page 971.

  21. Arad, op cit., page 42.

  22. Arad has reproduced plans of the three Operation Reinhard Camps. op cit. Belzec is at page 437, Sobibor at page 35 and Treblinka at page 39.

  23. Hackenholt was the SS officer in charge of the engine that introduced the gas into the chamber.

  24. Klee, Dressen and Riess, op cit., page 241-244.

  25. Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust, pages 432-33.

  26. Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, entry: Treblinka, page 964.

  27. Blobel was convicted at the Einsatzgruppen Trial and hanged in 1951. His affidavit is available on the Web.

  28. Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust, page 17.

  29. At Sobibor, as reported by the Associated Press on November 23, 2001; at Belzec, see Andrezej Kola, Belzec. The Nazi Camp For Jews In The Light of Archaeological Sources: Excavations 1997-1999.

  30. See Arad, op cit., chapter 46; Gilbert, The Holocaust, chapters 26 and 30.

  31. Hilberg, op cit., Volume III, page 1219.

  32. Arad, op cit., Chapter 17 passim; page 379; Appendix A. He says that the 600,000 figure for Belzec is the absolute minimum (page 127).

  33. Martin Gilbert, Atlas of the Holocaust, Map 217, page 169.

  34. Arad, op cit., Appendix A, pages 383-389.

  35. Witte and Tyas, op cit., pages 469, 472.

  36. Martin Gilbert, Atlas of the Holocaust, Map 316, page 244; Hilberg, op cit., Volume III, Appendix B, Table B-2, page 1220; Lucy Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews, Appendix B, page 403.

  37. According to the Country and Study Guide to Poland http://reference.allrefer.com/country-guide-study/poland/poland79.html

  38. Rückerl, NS-Vernichtungslager, pages 109-111. See the entire list in English in Arad, op cit., pages 154-155.

  39. Arad, op cit., page 158

  40. Ibid. page 161

  41. Each 1943 dollar is equal to $10.3958 in 2002 dollars. See http://www.aier.org/2003pubs/RR01.pdf

  42. Lipstadt witness statement, paragraph 73, at Holocaust Denial on Trial

  43. Dawidowicz, op cit., page 129

  44. Gilbert, The Holocaust, page 419

  45. Benz, Graml and Weiß, Enzyklopädie des Nationalsozialismus, page 64. Translation by the author. German original: "Fast alle Täter zeichneten sich in der Tat durch die Fähigkeit aus, nach der Verübung der Mordtat wieder in die Routine des Alltags zurückzukehren und ein "normales" Leben zu führen. Mit Überraschung, Verwirrung und Ärger reagierten die meisten, die im Zuge der NS-Strafverfolgung ermittelt und an die Vergangenheit erinnert wurden. Vor Gericht wurden Unwissenheit und Unschuld betont. Die Mörder blieben - von Ausnahmen abgesehen - von den traumatischen Erfahrungen verschont, die sie den überlebenden Opfern hinterlassen haben.


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