Evidence for the Implementation 
of the Final Solution

Christopher R

Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Washington  

Part III

Part I  Part II  Part III  Part IV  Part V  


V.  The Evidence for the Killing of Jews through Gas in Chelmno, Semlin, Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka:  

A.  Documentary Evidence for the emergence of a program to kill the Jews of Europe:

     The Nazi program to murder all the Jews of Europe within the German grasp was called the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" (Endlösung der Judenfrage).  While historians who have done extensive archival research on Nazi Jewish policy agree that such a program was implemented by the Nazi regime, they are not unanimous in their conclusions about several important aspects of historical interpretation.  In particular, they do not agree as to precisely when the Nazi regime decided upon a policy of systematic and total mass murder, and they do not agree upon Hitler's precise role in this decision-making process.  Such disagreements over historical interpretation are, of course, not at all unusual.  On the contrary, it is a quite normal occurence.  What follows is my interpretation concerning the emergence of the Final Solution;  it is not shared in every aspect by other able and learned historians of the Holocaust.

     In the wake of the Kristallnacht pogrom, Hitler placed Hermann Göring in charge of coordinating Jewish policy.  In turn, Göring delegated jurisdiction over Jewish policy that involved policing and emigration to the SS, and on January 24, 1939, Hermann Göring authorized Reinhard Heydrich to take charge of Jewish emigration from the Third Reich. [75]   Heydrich's jurisdiction expanded to include the expulsion of Jews, Poles, and Gypsies from the Polish territories incorporated into the Third Reich in the fall of 1939.  In the spring of 1941 Heydrich began organizing the Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and Security Service, which spearheaded the murderous attack on Soviet Jewry that summer.  Then on July 31, 1941, Heydrich expanded his jurisdiction yet further, when he procured an authorization again signed by Göring, entrusting him with the task of making "all necessary preparations" for a "total solution to the Jewish question" (Gesamtlösung der Judenfrage) within the German sphere of influence in Europe.  Heydrich was to submit a "comprehensive draft" (Gesamtentwurf) of the preliminary measures for this "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" (Endlösung der Judenfrage) promptly. [76]   This was not an order for the Final Solution, but Heydrich, the man who was currently in charge of the Einsatzgruppen killing campaign on occupied Soviet territory, was now authorized to draw up plans concerning the fate of all other Jews under German control.

     No "comprehensive draft" for a Final Solution is among the surviving German documents found after the war.  But other documents have survived that indicate a series of changes in Nazi Jewish policy in the fall of 1941 that, taken together, constituted a program for the systematic mass murder of European Jewry.  The first was a reversal of Hitler's previous policy that the deportation of German Jews would not take place until after the war.  On September 18, 1941, Himmler informed the Gauleiter of the Warthegau, Arthur Greiser:  "The Führer wishes that the Old Reich and Protectorate be emptied and freed of Jews from west to east as quickly as possible."  Thus Himmler intended, "as a first step" (als erste Stufe), to deport the Jews to the incorporated territories (especially the ghetto of Lodz) "in order to deport them yet further to the east the next spring." [77]   On October 10, Heydrich in Prague announced that Riga and Minsk would also be destinations for the deportation of German Jews. [78]   The deportations, first to Lodz, then began on October 15.

     The second major change in German policy was the ban on Jewish emigration overseas.  In August 1941 a number of Spanish Jews living in Paris had been arrested, which led the Spanish government to suggest the possibility of evacuating all Spanish Jews (some 2,000) to Spanish Morocco--a proposal endorsed by the German Foreign Office as fully in line with previous German policy of emigrating or expelling Jews overseas.  On October 17, Heydrich blocked the Spanish proposal for two reasons.  First, the Spanish would not effectively guard them in Morocco.  Second, "In addition these Jews would also be too much out of the direct reach of the measures for a basic solution to the Jewish question to be enacted after the war." [79]   On October 23, 1941, the chief of the Gestapo, Heinrich Müller, then dispatched a circular to all police agencies announcing Himmler's order that Jewish emigration was to be stopped. [80]

     What did the end of Jewish emigration overseas so that even Spanish Jews would not be "too much out of the direct reach of the measures for a basic solution to the Jewish question to be enacted after the war" mean?  What did the deportation of German Jews first to Lodz, Minsk, and Riga and then "yet further east the next spring" mean?  Did they mean nothing more than expulsion into eastern Russia or Siberia after the defeat of the Soviet Union still expected by the spring of 1942?  A combination of three documents dating from the end of October 1941 suggest otherwise. 

     Between October 18 and 21, 1941, the Foreign Office expert for Jewish affairs, Franz Rademacher, and Eichmann's second deputy, Friedrich Suhr, visited Belgrade.  After the trip Rademacher reported how the adult Jewish men in Serbia had been shot by the German army.  Concerning the fate of the Jewish women, children, and elderly, Rademacher reported:  "Then as soon as the technical possibility exists within the framework of the total solution to the Jewish question, the Jews will be deported by waterway to the reception camp in the east." [81]   In short, Jews deported from Europe were not simply going to be expelled into eastern Russia, but rather they were to be interned in a German "reception camp" not yet built.  Furthermore, as this reception camp was for women, children, and elderly, it clearly was not a labor camp.

     A second relevant document is a short hand-written letter of October 23, 1941, that Franz Rademacher found waiting for him from the foreign editor of Der Stürmer, Paul Wurm, when he returned to Berlin.  Wurm wrote:

Dear Party Comrade Rademacher! 

On my return trip from Berlin I met an old party comrade, who works in the east on the settlement of the Jewish question.  In the near future many of the Jewish vermin will be exterminated through special measures. [82]

     What did Wurm mean by "special measures" for the destruction of Jews in the east?  On October 25, 1941, Rademacher's counterpart in the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, Eberhard Wetzel, met first with Viktor Brack of the Führer Chancellery (where he was involved with the so-called euthanasia program for the killing of mentally- and physically handicapped patients in German hospitals and asylums) and then with Adolf Eichmann (Heydrich's special advisor on Jewish policy).  Wetzel then drafted a letter to be sent by his boss, Alfred Rosenberg, to Hinrich Lohse, who was not happy about the imminent deportation of German Jews to Riga.  According to Wetzel, Brack declared himself ready to aid in the construction of "gassing apparatuses" ("Vergasungsapparate) on the spot in Riga.  Eichmann confirmed to Wetzel that Jewish camps were about to be set up in Riga and Minsk to receive German Jews.  Those capable of labor would be sent "to the east" later.   Under the circumstances there were no objections "if those Jews who are not fit for work are removed by Brack's device" in the meantime. [83]

     In short, surviving documents show that by late October 1941 the Nazi regime: 1) had ended a longstanding policy of creating a Europe free of Jews through emigration and expulsion overseas; 2) had begun deporting German Jews to the east into ghettos where they awaited deportation further east the following spring; 3) was planning a "reception camp" in the east for non-working Jewish women, children, and elderly; 4) was planning for the destruction of Jews through "special measures"; and 5) was discussing the construction of "gassing apparatuses" in Riga, so that German Jews incapable of work could be "removed" immediately.

     These documents suggest that a policy of systematic extermination, including deportation to reception camps and the use of gassing as a method of killing, was taking shape by late October 1941, even if it was not to be implemented until the following spring (after the expected end of the war).  The statements of leading Nazis in the following months certainly point to a widening recognition that mass killing, not expulsion, was now the goal of the regime.  On November 15, 1941, Himmler had a four-hour discussion with Alfred Rosenberg. [84]   Three days later Rosenberg gave a "confidential" background report to the German press.  The reporters were not yet to print the details of what was happening in the east, but they needed sufficient background so that the press could give its treatment the proper "color" (Farbe), he explained.  Among the topics Rosenberg dealt with was the Jewish question.

In the east some six million Jew still live, and this question can only be solved in a biological eradication of the entire Jewry of Europe.  The Jewish question is only solved for Germany when the last Jew has left German territory, and for Europe when not a single Jew lives on the European continent up to the Urals.  ...for this reason it is necessary to expel them over the Urals or eradicate them in some other way. [85]

     On November 28, 1941, Hitler met with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.  Hitler stated:  "Germany was resolved, step by step, to ask one European nation after the other to solve its Jewish problem, and at the proper time, direct a similar appeal to non-European nations as well."  When Germany had defeated the Soviet Union and broken through the Caucasus into the middle east, Germany would have no imperial goals of its own and would support Arab liberation, Hitler assured the Grand Mufti.  But he did have one goal:  "Germany's objective would then be solely the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere under the protection of British power." [86]

     In December 1941, after the Soviet counter-offensive around Moscow, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the German declaration of war on the United States, there could be no doubt any longer that there would be no end to the war by the following spring.  Yet Hitler made clear in a speech to the top echelons of the Nazi party on December 12, 1941, that this did not change the emerging German policy of systematic mass killing.

Concerning the Jewish question, the Führer is determined to make a clean sweep.  He prophesied that, if they were once again to cause a world war, the result would be their own destruction.  That was no figure of speech.  The world war is here, the destruction of the Jews must be the inevitable consequence. [87]  

     Hans Frank, who attended this meeting, returned to the General Government and explained what he had learned in Berlin to his district governors and division leaders.

We must put an end to the Jews, that I want to say quite openly.  The Führer once spoke these words:  If united Jewry should once more succeed in unleashing a world war, then the peoples who have been incited to this war will not be its only victims, because the Jew in Europe will also have found his end.  ...Before I continue to speak I would ask you to agree with me on the following principle:  we want to have compassion only for the German people, otherwise for no one in the whole world.  Others have had no compassion for us.  As an old National Socialist, I must also say:  if the Jewish tribe were to survive the war in Europe, while we had sacrificed our best blood for Europe's preservation, then this war would be only a partial success.  Thus vis-a-vis the Jews I will in principle proceed only on the assumption that they will disappear.  They must go.  I have entered into negotiations for the purpose of deporting them to the east.  In January a large meeting will be convened in the Reich Security Main Office by SS-Obergruppenführer Heydrich.  In any case a large migration of Jews will be set in motion.

     But what is to happen to the Jews?  Do you believe that they will be lodged in settlements in the Ostland?  In Berlin we were told:  why all this trouble; we cannot use them in the Ostland or the Reichskommissariat either; liquidate them yourselves!  Gentlemen, I must ask you, arm yourselves against any thoughts of compassion.  We must destroy the Jews, wherever we encounter them and wherever it is possible, in order to preserve the entire structure of the Reich.

Frank did not yet know how unprecedented destruction on this scale could be done, but he assured his audience that "nonetheless we will take some kind of action that will lead to a successful destruction, and indeed in conjunction with the important measures to be discussed in the Reich." [88]

     What Frank called the "large meeting" in Berlin under the chairmanship of Heydrich, where "important measures" were to be discussed in January, had originally been scheduled for December 8, 1941, but was postponed until January 20, 1942.  Known as the Wannsee Conference, it was attended by the State Secretaries of the ministries of the Interior (Stuckart), Justice (Freisler), the General Government (Bühler), and the Occupied Eastern Territories (Meyer and his deputy Leibbrandt), as well as the Office of the Four Year Plan (Neumann) and Party Chancellery (Klopfer), the Undersecretary of the Foreign Office (Luther), and ministerial director of the Reich Chancellery (Kritzinger).  The State Secretaries, just beneath the cabinet minister level, were by protocol the highest ranking officials that Heydrich could invite to a meeting over which he--as Himmler's deputy--would preside.  Also attending were the heads of the Gestapo (Müller), the Race and Resettlement Main Office (Hofmann), and the Security Police in the General Government (Schöngarth), as well as Heydrich, Eichmann, and Rudolf Lange, commander of Einsatzkommando 2 in Latvia.  Heydrich's invitations to the meeting were accompanied by copies of his authorization, signed by Göring on July 31, 1941, to prepare a Final Solution to the Jewish question throughout Germany's sphere of influence in Europe.  There is no record of Heydrich having chaired any other meeting with such an illustrious list of leading officials of the Nazi regime in attendance in his entire career. 

     Heydrich briefly reiterated his authority to prepare a European-wide Final Solution and reviewed the policy of emigration until its prohibition in the fall of 1941.  Heydrich then stated:  "In place of emigration, the evacuation of the Jews to the east has now emerged, after the appropriate prior approval of the Führer, as a further possible solution.  A total of 11 million European Jews, including even those from neutral countries like Ireland, Switzerland, and Sweden, would be involved, according to Heydrich.  The evacuations, however, were to be regarded "solely as temporary measures" (lediglich als Ausweichmöglichkeiten), for "practical experiences" (praktischen Erfahrungen) were already being gathered that would be of great significance for the "imminent" (kommende) Final Solution.  Heydrich then went on to explain just what he meant by this.  The Jews would be utilized for labor in the east.

Separated by sex, the Jews capable of work will be led into these areas in large labor columns to build roads, whereby a large part will doubtless fall away through natural diminution.

The remnant that finally survives all this, because it is undoubtedly a question of the part with the greatest resistance, will have to be treated accordingly, because this remnant, representing a natural selection, must be regarded as the germ cell of a new Jewish reconstruction if released.

If the protocol indicates that Jews capable of work were to be subjected to such strenuous labor that most would die, and those who did not would be "treated accordingly," it makes no mention of what was to happen to those Jews who were not capable of work to begin with.  Bühler understood perfectly well that the Final Solution meant more than working Jews to death, for he urged that it begin in the General Government, because there was no transportation problem there and most of the Jews there were already incapable of work. 

     The protocol summarized in detail lengthy discussions about policy toward Jews in mixed marriage and their children without resolution.  On one point the protocol was exceptionally brief, however, and that concerned the question Frank had raised in December, namely how were the Jews to be destroyed.  Without any explanation as to actual content of the discussion, the protocol merely noted cryptically:  "Finally there was a discussion of the various types of possible solutions...."

     Thirty copies of the protocol of the Wannsee Conference were made, and the only surviving copy is the one that was sent by Heydrich to the Foreign Office on January 26, 1942. [89]   Apparently the Reich Interior Ministry received a copy at the same time, for already at another meeting on January 29, 1942, its Jewish expert, Bernhard Lösener, made reference to the conference of January 20. [90]  

     One notable Nazi leader had not sent a representative to the Wannsee Conference, namely Heydrich and Himmler's disliked rival, Josef Goebbels of the Propaganda Ministry.  It would appear that Goebbels received an expurgated version of the protocol only much later.  He noted in his diary entry of March 7, 1942, concerning a report "from the SD and police regarding the final solution of the Jewish question."  He noted the Wannsee Conference figure of 11 million Jews in Europe and then wrote:  "They will have to be concentrated later, to begin with, in the East; possibly an island, such as Madagascar can be assigned to them after the war." [91]   In reality, of course, the Jews were neither going to be concentrated "later," nor sent to Madagascar after the war.  The Jews of the Warthegau were already being gassed at this moment, and the gassing of Serbian Jews in the Semlin camp outside Belgrade was imminent.  Moreover, the "concentration" of the Jews of Poland in the three tiny villages of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka was about to begin.  

B.  Documentary Evidence concerning the gassing of Jews at Semlin, Chelmno, and on Soviet occupied territory in gas vans:

     A surviving file of documents [92] shows that gas vans called "special trucks" (Spezialwagen and Sonderwagen) were constructed and dispatched by Office II D 3 (Friedrich Pradel's motorpool section of Walter Rauff's division for technical affairs) within Heydrich's Reich Security Main Office.  Demand exceeded supply.  In one surviving letter, Rauff informed the Criminal Technical Institute that the staff doctor at the Mauthausen concentration camp had requested a gas van.  However, "The special trucks constructed by us are at this time all in action in accordance with the order of the Chief of the Security Police and SD."  Moreover, one would not be available for some time.  Thus Rauff asked the Criminal Technical Institute, where the chief chemist Albert Widmann had earlier advised the euthanasia program on the use of carbon monoxide in gas chambers to kill mentally- and physically handicapped patients, for help.  "Because I assume that the concentration camp Mauthausen cannot wait for an indefinite time for availability, I request the procurement of steel canisters of carbon monoxide or other remedies for implementation be initiated from your end." [93]   No gas van was available for Mauthausen at this time, because they were all in use in three other places:  Semlin near Belgrade, Chelmno (Kulmhof) near Lodz, and with the Einsatzgruppen on occupied Soviet territory.  

1.  Semlin

     After the male adult Jews in Serbia had been shot in the fall of 1941, the women, children, and elderly were interned in a makeshift camp constructed in the old fair grounds of Semlin across the river from Belgrade.  The planned deportation to a "reception camp" in the east never took place, and by late March 1942 the number of Jews in Semlin had reached 6,280. [94]   On April 11, 1942, the head of the military administration in Serbia, Harald Turner, wrote to Himmler's adjutant, Karl Wolff:

Already some months ago I had everything that could be got hold of in the way of Jews in this land shot, and had all the Jewish women and children concentrated in a camp and at the same time, with the help of the SD, procured a 'delousing vehicle' that will now finally have carried out the clearing of the camp in some 14 days to 4 weeks.... [95]

     The 10-day reports of the military commander in Serbia document a steady decrease in the number of Jewish inmates in the Semlin camp between early March and late May.  They register a population of 5,780 Jews--"mostly women and children"--in the "Jewish camp Semlin" on March 3, 1942, and this number declined to 491 Jews as of May 22.  The reports cease to mention the presence of any Jews or even the existence of a "Jewish camp" in Semlin as of June. [96]   On May 29, 1942, Franz Rademacher at the Jewish desk in the Foreign Office wrote: "The Jewish question in Serbia is no longer acute." [97]   Ten days later the head of the Security Police in Belgrade, Emanuel Schäfer, informed the commanding general in Serbia, Paul Bader, and the Military Commander Southeast, Walter Kuntze, that there was no longer a Jewish question in Serbia. [98]   And Schäfer reported to Berlin, concerning the "special Saurer truck" (Spezialwagen-Saurer)--Saurer was the larger of the two truck models used for conversion into gas vans--that the two drivers, Goetz and Meyer, "had carried out their special task", and therefore they and the truck were being sent back. [99]  

2.  Chelmno:

     Beginning in December 1941, Jews from the Lodz ghetto and other towns in the Warthegau were deported to the small village of Chelmno.  On May 1, 1942, Arthur Greiser wrote to Himmler:  "The special treatment of some 100,000 Jews in my territory in an action approved by you in agreement with the Chief of the Reich Security Main Office SS-Obergruppenführer Heydrich will be completed in the next two to three months." [100]  

     The completion of this task was not without incident, however, as can be seen in a report in the motor pool section of the RSHA of June 5, 1942, concerning technical alterations in the production of the "special trucks."

Since December 1941, for example, 97,000 were processed by three trucks in action, without any defects in the vehicles being encountered.  The known explosion in Chelmno must be deemed an isolated case.  Its cause must be traced to operator's error. [101]

The deportations from the Warthegau to Chelmno continued in 1942 until the provinces had been made free of Jews and the population of the Lodz ghetto had been reduced from more than 160,000 to less than 90,000. [102]

3.  Einsatzgruppen

     On May 16, 1942, Dr. August Becker submitted a secret report to Walter Rauff concerning his inspection tour of the gas vans being used by the Einsatzgruppen.  The large model Saurer trucks with Einsatzgruppen C and D, he reported, could travel cross country only in dry weather but were unusable after a rain.  Moreover, the rough terrain had loosened seals and rivets, so that many trucks were no longer airtight.  The trucks of Einsatzgruppe D had become so well known to the civilian population that they openly referred to them as "death trucks." (Todeswagen)  He had had them disguised by painting windows on the side, but he did not think this subterfuge would preserve secrecy for long. 

     However, the greatest problems with the gas vans, according to Becker's report, were not technical.  The men suffered "enormous emotional and health injuries" (ungeheure seelische und gesundheitliche Schäden) and complained of headaches after each unloading.  "The gassing is without exception not undertaken properly.  In order to finish the job as quickly as possible, the drivers without exception open full throttle.  For this reason those to be executed suffer death from suffocation and are not, as intended, put to sleep peacefully."  The result was gashlty--horribly distorted faces and bodies covered with excrement and vomit (verzerrte Gesichter und Ausscheidungen). [103]

     Despite such problems, the gas vans were still in demand.  The chief of security police in Riga reported in mid-June 1942, one month after Becker's report, that in German-occupied Belarus "a Jewish transport arrived weekly that had to be subjected to a special treatment.  The 3 special trucks on hand there did not suffice for this purpose!"  He thus requested an additional large Saurer model to add to the other Saurer and the two small Diamond model trucks. [104]  

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