Evidence for the
Lutheran University , Tacoma,
Evidence for the Killing of Jews through Gas in Chelmno, Semlin,
Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka:
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
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
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.
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.
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."
On October 10, Heydrich in Prague announced that Riga and Minsk
would also be destinations for the deportation of German Jews.
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."
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.
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."
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:
Party Comrade Rademacher!
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.
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.
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"
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Evidence concerning the gassing of Jews at Semlin, Chelmno, and on
Soviet occupied territory in gas vans:
A surviving file of documents
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."
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.
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
On April 11, 1942, the head of the military administration in
Serbia, Harald Turner, wrote to Himmler's adjutant, Karl Wolff:
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....
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.
On May 29, 1942, Franz Rademacher at the Jewish desk in the
Foreign Office wrote: "The Jewish question in Serbia is no longer
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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
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.