Evidence for the
Lutheran University , Tacoma,
Evidence concerning the Camps of Belzec,
Sobibor, and Treblinka:
If the documents concerning the Einsatzgruppen and the
"special trucks" speak openly about the methods of killing,
i.e. shooting and gassing, such is not the case with the documents
concerning the camps located in the three tiny villages of Belzec,
Sobibor, and Treblinka, to which most Polish Jews were deported.
Nonetheless, the quite scant surviving documentation makes
clear that these were neither labor camps nor transit camps, and Jews
were sent there simply to be killed.
In March 1942 the Nazi regime began two simultaneous programs: the deportation of Jews from the Third Reich and Slovakia
into the General Government, and the deportation of Jews in the
General Government (initially from the districts of Lublin and
Galicia) to a camp at Belzec--a small village on the Lublin side of
the border between these two districts.
The clearing of the Lublin ghetto began on March 16, as noted
in a weekly report circulated by the propaganda division on March 21,
of the Jews. Since
Monday, March 16, the ghetto of Lublin is being cleared of Jews.
Daily some 2,000 Jews are seized and sent eastward.
Only a small Jewish quarter is being preserved for the Jews who
still work for German agencies. It
is therefore reckoned that the action will be completed by April 1,
with the deportation of 35-38,000 Jews.
In preparation for the simultaneous influx of Jewish transports
from outside the Third Reich and Slovakia, Hermann Höfle on
Globobnik's staff met with Richard Türk of the Lublin district's
Department of Population and Welfare on March 16, 1942, the same day
that the clearing of the Lublin ghetto began.
Türk reported the results of the conversation:
It would be expedient to divide the Jews in the transports coming into
the district of Lublin already at the departure station into those
capable and those not capable of work.
If this separation is not possible at the departure station,
one must then switch over to dividing the transport in Lublin
according to the above-mentioned viewpoint.
Jews not capable of work must all go to Belzec, the furthest
border station in Kreis Zamosc.
Hauptsturmführer Höfle intends to build a large camp, in
which the Jews capable of work can by classified according to
profession and requisitioned.
Piaski will be freed of Polish Jews and become the collection point
for Jews coming from the Reich.
conclusion he declared, he could receive daily 4-5 transports of 1,000
at the end station of Belzec. These
Jews would cross over the border and would never return again to the
On March 20, 1942, Türk again reported on a discussion that
had taken place between Höfle and two Kreishauptmänner
(county heads) in the Lublin district.
Weienmeyer has as yet been able to learn nothing about final outcome
of the deportation; all
that is known is the existence of a collection camp some distance from
the Belzec train station on the district border, that is entirely
closed off, and the arrival of a SS-commando of some 60 men.
After the clearing of the Lublin ghetto, deportations were
carried out in various parts of the Lublin district.
For instance, the Kreishauptmann of Pulawy reported on May 13,
1941: "In the period
from May 6-12 inclusive, 16,822 Jews from the Kreis Pulawy were
expelled over the Bug on the instruction of the SS and Police
Leader." (The Bug
River was the demarcation line between the German and Soviet
occupation zones in 1939-41 and formed the boundary between the
districts of Lublin and Galicia thereafter.)
With the exception of sick and old Slovakian Jews in the ghetto
of Opole, only working Jews remained.
In short, the German documents make clear that tens of
thousands of Jews were being sent to the camp at Belzec in the spring
months of 1942. There was no pretense that this was a work camp, for only
non-working Jews were sent there.
There was no pretense that such numbers of Jews could all
remain in Belzec, in a tiny village guarded by a mere 60 men.
Thus the explanation given by the SS was that these Jews were
"expelled over the Bug," that is sent across the border into
the district of Galicia, with the guarantee that they would never
return. Two factors make the acceptance of such an explanation
First, on March 27, 1942, shortly after the clearing of the
Lublin ghetto began, Josef Goebbels confided to his diary about the
fate of the non-working Jews, i.e. precisely those sent to Belzec:
with Lublin, the Jews in the General Government are now being
evacuated eastward. The
procedure is a pretty barbaric one and not to be described here more
definitely. Not much will
remain of the Jews. On
the whole it can be said about 60 percent of them will have to be
liquidated whereas only about 40 percent can be used for forced labor.
Second, German documents from the district of Galicia make
clear that not only were Jews not arriving in their district from the
Lublin district via Belzec, but on the contrary, Jews were
simultaneously being deported from the district of Galicia westward to
Belzec. The Oberfeldkommandant
in Lwow (Lemberg) reported on March 19, 1942:
the Jewish population of Lemberg a noticeable unrest has spread in
regard to a deportation action that has begun, through which some
30,000 elderly and other unemployed Jews shall be seized and allegedly
transferred to a territory near Lublin.
To what extent this evacuation can be equated with a decimation
remains to be seen.
The Oberfeldkommandant reported the following
Jewish population displays the deepest depression, which is completely
understandable because on the one hand in various locations in the
district the well-known actions against the Jews occur again and on
the other hand in Lemberg the temporarily interrupted resettlement of
Jews resumes; in the meantime it is whispered also among the Jews that
the evacuees never reach the resettlement territory that is alleged to
them as the destination.
The deportations from Galicia broke off during the
months of May, June, and July 1942, but resumed in August.
In October the Oberfeldkommandant reported again:
resettlement actions continue undiminished.
The Jews are informed of their fate.
Indicative is the statement of a member of the Lwow Jewish
council: We all carry our
death certificates in our pocket--only the date of death is not yet
The trains deporting Jews from Galicia did indeed go to Belzec,
as can be seen in the report of Reserve Lieutenant Westermann of the
7th company of Police Regiment 24, whose men helped round up the Jews
in Kolomyja and nearby towns and then guarded two transports to Belzec
on September 7 and 10, 1942. The
first contained 4,769 Jews in 50 train cars and went without incident.
The second involved 8,205 Jews.
Many had been held for days without food and force-marched
35-50 kilometers to the train in blistering heat.
They were then packed into train cars, in many cases 180-200
per car, virtually without ventilation.
As Lieutenant Westermann concluded:
"The ever greater panic spreading among the Jews due to
the great heat, overloading of the train cars, and stink of the
dead--when unloading the train cars some 2,000 Jews were found dead in
the train--made the transport almost unworkable."
Nevertheless the train that left Kolomyja at 8:50 pm. on
September 10 finally crawled into Belzec at 6:45 pm on September 11.
As in the rest of Hitler's Europe, the Germans in Galicia were
busy insuring that their district was becoming free of Jews.
The SS and Police Leader, Friedrich Katzmann, reported that as
of November 10, 1942, 254,989 Jews had been resettled.
By June 23,1943, the total had reached 434,329 Jews
"resettled" (ausgesiedelt) with only 21,000 Jews still in
In short, the allegation that Belzec was a transit camp through
which Jews were expelled from Lublin into Galicia is totally disproven
by German documentation. Month
after month, in train after train, tens of thousands of Jews were
taken to the little village of Belzec, and the trains came from both
Lublin and Cracow to the west and Galicia to the east.
If Höfle clearly lied about the purpose of Belzec, in one
regard he told the truth: with
the exception of a handful of escapees, the Jews sent to Belzec never
The camp at Treblinka was located in a tiny village just off
the main railline between Warsaw and Bialystok near the eastern border
of the General Government. Massive
deportations from Warsaw to Treblinka began on July 22, 1942, as can
be seen in the letter from the State Secretary for the Transportation
Ministry, Albert Ganzenmüller, to Himmler's adjutant, Karl Wolff:
"Since July 22, one train with 5,000 Jews departs daily
via Malkinia to Treblinka. Moreover,
twice per week a train with 5,000 Jews departs Przemysl for
When deportations from the city and surrounding district of
Warsaw came to an end in early October, the district governor Fischer
reported that a total of 400,000 Jews had been deported.
Surviving fragmentary train schedules also show that Jews were
deported from northern Lublin district, Radom district, and the
Bialystok district to Treblinka as well.
The deportations from Bialystok, a district east of Treblinka,
are of special significance for two reasons.
First, these deportations from Bialystok make clear that
Treblinka was not a transit camp for the expulsion of Jews eastward
from the General Government. Rather
the tiny village of Treblinka, like Belzec, was a point at which
transports of Jews converged from east and west. Moreover, the fate of the Bialystok Jews in the fall of 1942
was clearly stated in Himmler's report to Hitler of December 31, 1942.
The Jews of Bialystok were among the 363,211 "Jews
executed." The fate
of the Jews sent to Treblinka is also reflected in a report noted in
the October 10, 1942, entry to the War Diary of the Oberquartiermeister
of the military commander in Poland.
Ostrow, it should be noted, was some 20 kilometers
The documentary evidence makes clear that Belzec and Treblinka
were camps to which hundreds of thousands of Jews were sent to be
killed, though without specifying the method of killing.
The scant surviving documentary evidence concerning the purpose
of Sobibor indicates that the Germans considered it in the same
category as Treblinka and Belzec, but that it was inaccessible due to
railline repairs during the peak months of the killing campaign of
July-October 1942. Like
Belzec, Sobibor received transports of Jews deemed incapable of work,
as can be seen in the report of Lieutenant Fischmann of June 20, 1942.
Fischmann commanded the police guard that accompanied a train
that departed Vienna with 1,000 Jews from Vienna for the Lublin
Pohl of Globocnik's staff met the train in Lublin on June 16 and
selected 51 Jews between the ages of 15 and 50, who were deemed
capable of work. On June
17 Lieutenant Stangl took delivery of the remaining 949 Jews in
In the same letter in which Ganzenmüller informed Wolff of the
daily transports from Warsaw to Treblinka and the twice-per-week
transports from Przemysl to Belzec, he also noted that further
transports to Sobibor were not possible until October due to
construction on the railline.
The protocol of a meeting in Berlin on September 26 and 28,
1942, to plan allocation of transportation for the future
"evacuation of 600,000 Jews" of the General Government
the completion of the restoration of the line Lublin-Chelm, probably
from November 1, 1942, the other urgent transports can also be carried
out, namely: 1 train per
day from the district of Radom to Sobibor; 1 train per day from the
northern Lublin district to Belzec and 1 train per day from the
central Lublin district to Sobibor....
And in his promotion recommendations to Himmler's
chief of personnel, Herff, Globocnik included Franz Stangl, the
commandant at Sobibor who was then transferred to Treblinka.
According to Globocnik, Stangl was "the best camp
commander, who had the greatest share of the entire action...." Included on the list of promotion recommendations for the SS-Sonderkommando
"Einsatz Reinhard" were personnel from all three camps of
Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.
Clearly, Sobibor was a camp no different in purpose than Belzec
Testimony concerning Gassing at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka:
While surviving German documentation reveals that hundreds of
thousands of Jews not considered essential for labor were sent to the
three small villages of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka from areas both
to the east and west and were never seen again, and moreover that the
military 20 kilometers from Treblinka complained about the
pestilential smell caused the inadequate burial of the Jews there, no
contemporary document specifically states how the Jews sent to these
three camps were killed. A
very large body of testimony--from numerous German, Jewish, Polish,
and Ukrainian eyewitnesses--provides evidence that the Jews sent to
Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were killed in gas chambers with carbon
monoxide from engine exhaust. As
in any body of eyewitness testimonies, there are errors and
contradictions as well as both exaggerations and apologetic
obfuscation and minimization, but in this case there is above all
overwhelming concurrence on three facts:
gas chambers existed in these camps, they were used to kill
Jews, and the corpses of the murdered Jews were first buried and then
It is not possible in the framework of this report to identify,
summarize, and analyze the individual testimony of each of more than
one hundred relevant eyewitnesses.
I will instead identify five categories of eyewitnesses and
then provide examples of testimony from each category.
Category I: German
visitors to the camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.
Category II: German
personnel stationed in the camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.
Category III: Ukrainian
auxiliaries taken from POW camps, trained at Trawniki, and assigned as
guards to these three camps.
Category IV: Poles
living in the immediate area of these three camps.
Category V: Jewish
escapees from these three camps.
The first category, testimonies of German visitors, is easily
the smallest. The
testimonies of three such visitors are very important, however.
The first is Adolf Eichmann.
In the late 1950's he gave an interview to a Dutch journalist
Willem Sassen and corrected the resulting transcript.
A brief summary of the interview was published in Life
After his arrest, he was interrogated extensively in Israel.
He composed his hand-written "Meine Memoiren."
He prepared notes for his defense attorney, Servatius, that
remained in the private papers or Nachlass of the latter that
were donated to the Bundesarchiv.
He gave testimony in court.
And his widow, with the editorial help of the lawyer Rudolf
Aschenauer, had a posthumous memoir published in 1980, entitled Ich
Adolf Eichmann. Ein
historischer Zeugenbericht, based primarily upon the Sassen
In all of these testimonies, Eichmann confirmed that he had
been in charge of organizing the deportation of Jews from all over
Europe, in order for them to be killed in the death camps in Poland as
part of the Final Solution. In
several accounts he also described his visits to Auschwitz, Chelmno,
Treblinka, and one other camp in the fall of 1941 whose name he did
not remember (he remembered only that it had a more Polish-sounding
name than Treblinka) but which fits the description of Belzec at that
According to Eichmann, he was sent by Heydrich to Globocnik in
Lublin to report on how Hitler's order to kill the European Jews was
going to be carried out. It
was the fall of 1941, when the autumn colors were at their peak.
Hermann Höfle on Globocnik's staff drove him out of Lublin to
a site where he was introduced to an Order Police captain.
Eichmann and his escort then crossed the highway to a place
where 2-3 wooden buildings were under construction.
The Order Police captain explained to Eichmann that one
building had to be made airtight to serve as a gas chamber, in which
Jews would be killed by carbon monoxide exhaust from a Russian U-boat
motor that would be attached. The
camp was still empty and the motor was not yet there.
In the following summer of 1942, Eichmann visited another camp,
where he remembered the railway station with the sign Treblinka.
Here he saw naked Jews standing in line behind the barbed wire
about to be driven into the gas chambers.
By his own account, he also witnessed the gassing of Jews in a
gas van at Chelmno. In
his hand-written notes to his attorney Servatius, he designated
Chelmno as a "permanent gassing camp" (Ständiges
in his hand-written notes in the Servatius papers, Eichmann noted that
he had seen the two peasant huts converted to gas chambers at
Birkenau, though here as elsewhere he vehemently denied the claim of
Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss that he had played a key role in the
selection of the gas chamber sites and gassing method there.
second German visitor was Kurt Gerstein, a covert anti-Nazi who
infiltrated the SS and became head of the Disinfection Services of the
Waffen-SS. According to
he was ordered by Eichmann's deputy, Rolf Günther, to take 100 kilos
of prussic acid to Globocnik in Lublin.
They were accompanied by a Professor of Hygiene at the
University of Marburg/Lahn, Wilhelm Pfannenstiel.
They arrived on August 17, 1942, and met with Globocnik, who
boasted (falsely) of a recent visit by Hitler.
According to Gerstein, Globocnik also claimed (with great
exaggeration) that in Belzec, Treblinka, Sobibor respectively 15,000,
25,000, and 20,000 Jews were killed daily with "diesel exhaust
Gerstein's task was to disinfect the huge amounts of clothing
taken from the Jews, and on August 19, he and Pfannenstiel travelled
to Belzec and were shown around the camp by SS-Hauptsturmführer
On the following morning, August 20, they witnessed the arrival
of a 45-wagon transport from Lwow (Lemberg) with 6,700 Jews, of whom
1,450 were already dead. The
Jews were forced to undress (the piles of shoes were allegedly 25
meters high), the women's hair was cut off, and then the naked Jews
were driven between two barbed wire fences to the gas chambers by
Ukrainian guards. An SS
man offered soothing assurances that they should inhale deeply to
prevent lung infection, and then the men would be sent to work.
Approximately 750 Jews were driven into each of four gas
chambers, measuring 5 x 5 meters apiece.
For 2 hours and 49 minutes, SS Sergeant Heckenholt
struggled to start the engine. Pfannenstiel,
looking through glass peep hole in the door of one of the gas
chambers, commented that the Jews were weeping "as they do in the
the engine started, and the gassing took 32 minutes.
Then Jewish workers opened the outside doors to the gas
chambers and took out the bodies.
Before the corpses of the Jews were tossed into a large trench,
they were searched for valuables and gold dental work was broken out.
The following day Gerstein drove to Treblinka, where the
gassing facilities were larger, and he saw "veritable mounds of
clothing and underwear, 115 to 130 feet high."
At a dinner in the visitors' honor, Pfannenstiel made a speech
about "the greatness of the work" being done there.
On the night of August 21-22, Gerstein travelled by train from
Warsaw to Berlin, and accidently encountered the Secretary to the
Swedish Embassy in Berlin, Göran von Otter.
In a feverish conversation lasting hours, Gerstein told the
Swede all he had just seen and urged him to make it known to the
outside world. Von Otter
later confirmed this encounter with Gerstein.
Gerstein wrote one handwritten French and two type-written
German versions of this report in April 1945 and died in a French
prison cell the following July. His
death was ruled a suicide by French prison officials.
A third eyewitness account is that given by Professor Wilhelm
Pfannenstiel in a series of depositions he gave to judicial
authorities in Germany in the 1950's.
Pfannenstiel claimed that Gerstein's version was
"false" and "full of exaggerations."
Günther did not accompany them to Lublin.
He did not go to Treblinka after visiting Belzec and thus did
not give a speech there. The
gassing at Belzec had taken only 18 minutes, not 32 minutes, and he
had not made any remark about the Jews weeping as they do in a
synagogue. He did confirm
that the Jews had to strip naked, the women had their hair cut, an SS
officer made soothing remarks, the Jews were driven into four of six
gas chambers in the building, exhaust gas from an engine was piped in,
and gold teeth were taken from the corpses before they were stacked in
a trench by Jews who did the "dirty work."
Many aspects of Gerstein's testimony are unquestionably problematic. Several statements he attributes to Globocnik are clearly exagerrated or false, and it is not clear whether Gerstein or Globocnik was the faulty source. In other statements, such as the height of the piles of shoes and clothing at Belzec and Treblinka, Gerstein himself is clearly the source of exaggeration. Gerstein also added grossly exaggerated claims about matters to which he was not an eyewitness, such as that a total of 25 million Jews and others were gassed. But in the essential issue, namely that he was in Belzec and witnessed the gassing of a transport of Jews from Lwow, his testimony is fully corroborated by Pfannenstiel. It is also corroborated by other categories of witnesses from Belzec.