The Werner Oder and Mark Goldfinger Meeting
Over 60 years later, in the author's home town, an extraordinary article appeared in the local newspaper. Mark Goldfinger, who had lived near the Rabka School as an 11-year-old boy, met up with Werner Oder, the son of SS-Unterscharfuehrer Wilhelm Oder.
The Salisbury Journal: ‘Bringing hope after Holocaust’, Thursday 29th January 2009
‘A telephone call two years ago sparked an extraordinary friendship that has its origins in the horrors of the Holocaust. The call brought together a survivor of the concentration camps and the son of a Nazi war criminal who, this evening at Salisbury City Hall, will tell their remarkable stories and how their paths crossed.
Werner Oder was born in Hitler's Austrian home town of Linz five years after the war ended and spent his formative years in a household that still cleaved to its Nazi past. I grew up in a home I thought was normal but I grew up with anti-Semitism, I grew up hating the Jews,' he says. There was this post-war insanity of blaming the Jews, regretting that Germany didn't win the war and that they weren't all killed. His father was absent from home and it was some years before he was told that Wilhelm Oder was in prison, sentenced for war crimes committed as a member of the German SS. Even before the war he had been pro-German and, in 1940, Wilhelm Oder resigned from the Catholic Church and joined the SS.
In March 1942 he arrived in the small Polish town of Rabka, halfway between Krakow and Zakopane, where he was to be a deputy commandant of the Sipo- SD Police School, the only one of its kind in Poland. They requisitioned the girls school, which they changed into a school where they trained German, Ukrainian and Austrian soldiers to become executioners, teaching them killing technique—my father was an expert in that, says Werner. You must understand that you can't get an ordinary person to just start killing women and children. It was a prestigious thing to get into the SS, but many of them didn't know what they would be commanded to do, so they had to be hardened first. This was my father's job.
Rabka's purpose was to desensitise the men who would carry out Hitler's Final Solution. They were using children as target practice. They were observed while they were doing it and if they showed any emotions, they would have to do it again, Werner says. The atrocities committed at Rabka make unbearable reading as Jewish families in the village and then from further afield were rounded up and used as practice for hangings, shootings, beatings, and religious vilification. The Nazis used the Jewish population of Rabka first as workers then simply as fodder for their training sessions.
Born in Krakow, Mark (or Marek) Goldfinger was an 11-year-old Jewish boy, living just a few hundred yards from the school in Rabka when Werner's father arrived there. His own father was a POW in Siberia and his sister, some ten years older than Mark, worked as a nanny and housemaid at the school:
I lived a few yards from the school, Mark tells me. I could hear what was going on—terrible things—I could hear the screaming. Our family knew exactly what was going on in the school, that Jews were being systematically killed by shooting. We all lived in fear of the happenings
in Rabka. Our home was so close that we could hear the gunfire, and when the wind was in the right direction we could hear the screams and distress of the prisoners.
In May 1942, his grandmother was among those rounded up and executed. One day, the commandant's mistress quietly warned Mark's sister that she and her family should disappear that night. We did, says Mark (now 78). I was one of four people who escaped in the middle of the night—me, my mother and my sister—and my sister took a girl friend of hers. The following day, all Jews who remained in Rabka were rounded up and sent to the concentration camp at Belzec. Mark and his family travelled to Krakow and endured the harsh conditions of life in the ghetto, before escaping the horror briefly to stay with an uncle outside the city. His mother was murdered by the Nazis as they returned to the ghetto and Mark was sent first to Plaszow, the factory camp where Oskar Schindler's ‘list’ saved many Jewish lives, and thence to Buchenwald. I travelled on these cattle trucks that you must have seen to Buchenwald. There were difficult times, dangerous times but not final times, he says. I was just nine years old when the war broke out and when it finished, on April 11, 1945 (the day they liberated Buchenwald), I was not quite 15 years old. His sister (Lucia Schon), narrowly escaping transportation to Auschwitz, had crossed Europe to Palestine and now lives in Tel Aviv. She returned to Hamburg to testify at the war crimes trial of Rabka's commandant Wilhelm Rosenbaum. Mark's father survived the Siberian prison camp and through the Red Cross arranged for Mark to be taken to England where he has lived ever since. A great grandfather, his home is in Bournemouth—astonishingly, not three miles from where Werner Oder now lives.
Werner's childhood had been troubled. Surrounded by hate, he admits he went badly off the rails, constantly in trouble with the police, but an encounter with a church minister when he was 15 changed his life. He underwent a spiritual conversion that he says is difficult to explain or understand. I gave my life to Christ and asked him to forgive me, says Werner, who is now a minister at Tuckton Christian Fellowship. From that day onwards, a change took place. The hatred and insanity disappeared—I suddenly had an interest in the Jews and I wanted to find out more. I started to research and discovered my father's history and I was absolutely aghast.
His research also revealed that his uncle Herman, had never been associated with Rabka, or at any time a member of ODESSA, the organisation that helped prominent Nazis escape prosecution by spiriting them away to South America.
Alienated from his family, Werner came to England to study at bible school but continued his research. I found out about Rabka, the war crime trial that my father was in, and I kept reading a name Goldfinger—a woman who was giving evidence in the trial—and I was curious to know whether these people were still alive. It was then that he read an article about Mark in the Bournemouth Echo and managed to make contact with him.
Mark takes up the story: I had no idea what it was about, just that someone called Werner wanted to talk to me. When I asked: ‘What is your name?’ and he said: ‘Oder O-D-E-R,’ I said: ‘I think I know that name.’ Initially, when I heard the name Oder, I went silent—it was as if curtains opened up, memories came back. Mark says he ran errands in Rabka and knew all of the officers by sight. It's almost certain Werner's father was one of them. Does he still harbour animosity, I ask? Of course I hated the Nazis but I could not bring myself to hate the generations that followed. You can never forget what happened. I have been helped by Germans, even saved by Germans; there were Germans who selected me to be killed, not once, not twice, but three times in one day, but it did not happen. I believe in God and am religious in a quiet way, but what is definite is that I am extremely lucky—I must have been guarded by a regiment of angels. My existence is living proof that somebody, if not the angels, was protecting me.’
Wilhelm Rosenbaum is let out on bail to public dismay:
Newspaper of the Association of Jewish refugees, Volume XXXII No. 3rd March, 1977.
Ref: Wilhelm Rosenbaum and others#&133;
The Parole Committee of the Hamburg Senate has provoked a imprisonment for mass murder, for periods of six months. Wilhelm Rosenbaum, 61, was sentenced to hard labour for life in 1968 for the murder of 168 Jews in the Bad Rabka area of Poland. Max Krahner, 72, received the same sentence for complicity in the murder of more than 500 Jews in Poland and Russia. He headed a special operations unit which destroyed evidence of wartime atrocities and subsequently killed Jewish prisoners who were forced to assist him in this task. Otto Drews and Otto Goldapp, both 78, were punished for the same offence. Drews committed suicide when he was due to return to jail after six months.
The action of the Parole Committee was attacked by members of all parties in the Senate, but Justice Senator Professor Klug said that Nazi criminals should not be treated differently from other life prisoners. The Christian Democratic Union proposed a vote of no confidence and demanded the resignation of Senator Klug, but the Socialist Free Democratic Coalition Government did not support them. The leader of the C.D.U., Jurgen Echternach, said the outcome was an insult to the survivors of Rosenbaum's victims. Hamburg's Lord Mayor Klose had been in Israel when this happened, but on his return said that he, too, was of the opinion that even Nazi prisoners were eligible for parole.
The author has visited this location many times. Sometimes alone, and sometimes taking small groups from many different countries. This is the place where Mojzesz and Rachel Künstlich, the subjects of this book's dedication, were murdered. The cemetery in Rabka particularly distinguishes itself in the history of local Jewish people due to the fact that it became the symbol of martyrdom and innocent deaths of hundreds of people. Situated on the hillside of the Grzebien Mountain, on a small forest glade near the Gorzki Stream, it occupies an area of around five hectares. The place is closely attached to the ‘Tereska’ building, situated on Sloneczna Street. It is in this building that during the war, the infamous School for the Commanders of the Security Police and Security Service was located. The course participants from this school along with Commandant Wilhelm Rosenbaum were responsible for the persecution and extermination of the Jewish population in Rabka. The wood near ‘Tereska’ was chosen as the murder place.
According to various sources, there are 400-500 victims buried in the mass graves. Most of them are Jews, though, according to some sources, not all of them. Also, the inhabitants of Rabka were among the victims; those that either resembled Jews or, for other reasons, were sentenced to death. Between May and July 1942, mass executions of Jewish people coincided with the arrival of transports from Nowy Sacz. The area of the current cemetery, which is a monument to Jewish martyrdom, is a symbolic place. It includes 16 concrete slabs which indicate the places of mass graves. There are also unmarked graves scattered around the local wood. After the war, it was made sure that the place would be saved from oblivion. It is surrounded with a metal fence. On the gate there is the symbol of the Star of David along with a plaque giving information about the solemn nature of this place.
A commemorative plaque was set up with the following inscription carved on it: ‘Let's honour the martyrs who died from the hands of the Nazi perpetrators of genocide 1941-1942’. It also includes an inscription in Yiddish. From the plaques found in the wood, a Jewish Martyrdom Monument was formed. The plaques probably come from the cemetery in Jordanow. They were used during the war to regulate the Gorzki Stream. An interesting fact is the presence of the only Catholic gravestone in this place. It is the gravestone of Dr Olga Rubinow- Horoszkiewicz and it includes the date of her death: 17th May 1942. In the cemetery, there are also two plaques which belong to the sponsors of the renovation works in this area. One is from 1989. It tells about the establishment of 11 new gravestones and it comes from the Peller Sisters' Foundation. It has an inscription saying: ‘Peace for the innocently murdered.’ The other plaque has information in three languages, including Polish. It says that the cemetery of Jewish victims was renovated by Mr Leo Gaterer from Dobra with the help of the Municipal Council. According to the accounts of the inhabitants, the cemetery is often visited by foreign pilgrims, which is reflected in the eternal lights on the cemetery that were brought from Israel. The cemetery is taken care of by the Municipal Council as well as students from the local high school. There is a small problem connected with the location of the place because the path leading to it is not marked.
The Menten Case
Historical Research as an Answer to Critical Political Questions: The Example of the Menten Case
Politicians occasionally request that historians conduct character; political, because among other things the credibility and reputation of past and present politicians, indeed the careers of these politicians and of other public figures, are at stake. In the Netherlands during the period from 1966 to 1980, leading politicians made several such requests. Three times historical investigations were required into real or alleged wrongdoings during World War II, and, occasionally, into the post-war reaction to such wrongdoings. (It was this post-war reaction that led to the challenging research task to be discussed here.) Each time, the political boat was severely rocked, and great pressure was brought to bear upon the cabinet to order an investigation. Because the government of the day had a direct stake in the findings, it was imperative that the investigation be conducted not by civil servants, but by independent researchers or a research committee specially set up for this purpose.
I will focus here on the research demands placed upon the shoulders of scholars engaged in ‘applied’ or ‘public’ history. As an example I will provide an account of the investigation of the so-called ‘Menten case’, which I undertook with some colleagues. (I might add that the case has already become nearly forgotten history, perhaps as a result of the success—from historiography's point of view—of our research.)
The Menten Affair, 1976 -1981
The political upheaval and public outcry which surrounded the Menten case in the summer of 1976 had a rather inconspicuous beginning. On May 22nd the largest-selling Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf published a full-page article about
the then seventy-six-year-old Pieter Nicolaas Menten and his art collection, part of which was to be sold at a public auction because he was ‘cramped for space.’ The rather obvious purpose of the article was to draw attention to the auction, thereby raising the bidding prices. By coincidence, however, this article provided leads for journalist Hans Knoop, who at the time was working for the then struggling weekly magazine Accent, which has since folded. Knoop was investigating Menten at the suggestion of his Israeli colleague Chaviv Kandan, who was convinced that Menten was a war criminal but who had been unable in the late forties and early fifties to persuade the Dutch Department of Justice to take action. Kandan, in turn, had been tipped off by Henrietta Boas, a Dutch correspondent. Very soon Knoop was able to supply ample evidence which, though incomplete, was nevertheless very incriminating for Menten. Knoop's articles and his direct involvement with a broadcasting organization, which produced television programs about this case, drew national attention. Perhaps in poor taste, the scandal nevertheless appealed very much to the public imagination. Menten himself, in fact, welcomed the publicity and attempted to apply it to his advantage. He flatly rejected all accusations and argued that, as long ago as 1950, his case had been investigated and that he had been cleared of all charges. He frequently referred to public officials from those days by name. Most prominent of these was the former Speaker of the House, Dr. L. J. Kortenhorst. This Catholic politician had at the time been Menten's lawyer and had supposedly demonstrated his innocence of the charges.
In the public debate at least two distinct matters were confused. First, was Menten indeed a war criminal, and if so, how serious were the crimes which he committed? Was he actually a mass-murderer or an accessory to such acts? If so, should he still be prosecuted? Secondly, did Menten avoid prosecution or at least conviction after the war by bribing the judicial and political officials or by blackmailing them? If any of these charges were indeed true, wasn't it time that the facts about them were finally made public?
At first the Ministry of Justice opposed taking action. They considered the issue overblown, merely a passing public mood. They also wondered how strong the prosecutor's case would be, whether there would be sufficient reliable witnesses, and whether the case had not already been dealt with at an earlier date and then dismissed. The press displayed little sympathy for such arguments. To them this hesitation appeared in fact as heel-dragging. It seemed as if the Minister of Justice, A. A. M. Van Agt, preferred to turn a blind eye on the whole matter. After all, he had been in political hot water before when handling affairs involving war criminals. At that time he had wanted to pardon three German war
criminals still in prison, the so-called ‘Three of Breda’. After many very emotional protests on the part of war victims, however, Van Agt withdrew his proposal. Now once again he appeared to be over-lenient and insensitive to the feelings of those who had suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Moreover, he was suspected of conspiring to protect those who twenty-five to thirty years earlier had been members of his own political party from possible revelations about corruption or political wrongdoings. Best known perhaps is the case of Dr Kortenhorst, who had been accused of having used the influence of his position as speaker of the house on behalf of Menten in return for the (at that time) a staggering sum of Hfl. 200,000—in other words, to have received bribes.
The Ministry soon changed its attitude about prosecuting Menten, due not to the influence of the press or Parliament, but to the strength of the evidence. The Ministry made a preliminary legal investigation in July 1976. It would take too long to discuss in detail the course of these legal proceedings. Suffice to say that it was very complicated, offering great excitement for the public, with many court sessions resulting in various differing verdicts. Not until 1981, after a long juridical struggle, was an irreversible verdict reached whereby Menten was declared guilty of war crimes in Poland. He was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment and fined one hundred thousand guilders.
At first Minister of justice Van Agt remained opposed to a special inquiry about the possibility that Menten had obtained protection during the immediate post- war years. However, extensive material relevant to the case emerged from the post-war years 1945 to 1955. In those early years Menten's name had repeatedly cropped up in the press and in official inquiries. One could even say that at that time there were several Menten cases. In addition, Menten exacerbated the embarrassment of the Department of Justice, and especially Minister Van Agt, by making a successful escape from the country, an escape cut short only by journalist Hans Knoop, who doggedly tracked him down. Suspicion of Menten, and also of Van Agt, increased steadily. Finally it became clear that the minister was no longer able to stave off public and parliamentary pressure. A number of fierce debates in Parliament followed. These forced the hand of Van Agt to initiate an official investigation into the proceedings surrounding the prosecution of Menten from the period immediately after the war until the summer of 1976, and into the role and effect of possible means of influence which affected the outcome of these prosecutions. This investigation was to be carried out by a specially appointed investigator or a group of investigators.
For several reasons Van Agt was initially unable to find a qualified and prestigious investigator willing to take charge of such research. At last Dr I. Schoeffer, who holds the chair of Dutch history at Leyden University, said he was willing to form such an investigative committee, which he presented to the public at the beginning of 1977. Schoeffer requested the cooperation of Dr A. C.'t Hart, professor of criminal law at the Catholic University of Tilburg, and the author. Our official title was ‘The Committee of Investigation Concerning Menten.’ At the end of January we began our proceedings, with the initial expectation that it would not take very long to complete our work. Schoeffer was thinking on the order of three months, but in fact this timetable was grossly overoptimistic. After having worked nearly full-time for 18 months, and then half-time for another year, we were able to present the final report, The Menten Case 1945-1976, in September 1979.
The so-called ‘Menten case’ involved several extremely complicated affairs which could perhaps be examined as a set of separate cases, but which in fact are very much interconnected. Menten himself was not even directly involved in a number of these, including several court cases dealing with wartime behaviour, crimes committed after the war, business transactions, and claims for payment of compensation, perjury, and slander. The committee also had to investigate press manipulations and political manipulations, or at least attempts toward the latter. In our report we examined each of these cases separately in as detailed a manner as possible, and we tried to describe the various interlinkages.
We paid explicit attention to all suspicions and accusations related to these cases which had been raised up to 1976 and thereafter, even if there were no reasonable grounds to substantiate them. In addition we demonstrated that a convincing explanatory interpretation required careful examination of three main aspects. First, the exact chronological sequence of the events. Second, the fluctuations in the political moods which took place after the war in the Netherlands, especially with respect to the desirable treatment of political delinquents. (Later on the Cold War influenced the concept of what constituted desirable treatment.) Third, the very aggressive manner in which Menten, his lawyers, and other advisers defended his interests.
Following this approach we attempted to do more than merely research the scandals in which Dutch judicial and political officials had allegedly been involved. These officials certainly made mistakes. Often they had been slow in acting, and they handled a number of matters very clumsily. Moreover a number of their activities were questionable and deserving of condemnation. But on the
whole no evidence turned up which demonstrated that the more serious and scandalous allegations were justified. In this respect the report was anticlimactic. Much more importantly, however, the report lived up to its main requirement, the reconstruction of the facts and this reconstruction has not been challenged. The committee's interpretations elicited only a few negative comments. The reactions in the public media and professional circles were very complimentary to the activities of the committee. The publication of the report brought to an end this aspect of the Menten case which was formally wrapped up with a short parliamentary debate in February 1980.
Although the committee's research did not essentially deviate from the approach of the historical research, we encountered some problems and circumstances characteristic of this type of research. First of all there is the matter of tracing documents. A government's promise to cooperate is not in itself sufficient, since the documents that one would like to examine need to be located. This turned out not always to be possible. In some cases the archives had been destroyed in line with official guidelines, while other archives had been lost for other reasons (especially in the chaos of the first months following the Second World War). Fortunately it was sometimes possible to locate particular materials, either the original documents or copies of them, by calling in the assistance of specialized archivists.
Nevertheless, in the end there remained a list of documents which could neither be located nor accounted for. This provided fuel for rumours that evidence which incriminated either Menten or certain public officials had been destroyed deliberately, and in fact such suspicions were voiced in the public media. This deliberate destruction of evidence had allegedly taken place between 1945 and 1955, although later dates were suggested, such as summer and autumn 1976, when the Menten case had received renewed attention but the investigation had not yet started. For our purposes, the alleged destruction of documents did not matter very much, since the missing documents were not needed to complete the overall picture. Moreover, nothing suggested any deliberate destruction or removal of evidence. Nevertheless, the absence of these documents might have reduced the credibility of the final report. Fortunately, we found some very important dossiers, purely by coincidence.
These dossiers, which incidentally also proved to be very important later on in the court case against Menten, contained the files of the most important lawsuits
against Menten during the period 1945-1955. According to the public media, these files had been lost deliberately. They were found together with several other documents hidden behind a file case in the attic of the Palace of Justice in Amsterdam. In 1955 the attorney general in Amsterdam (in the Netherlands a high-ranking public prosecutor) had kept these and other documents separate from the regular archives because of their delicate nature. Since then they were moved a few times and in 1976 and 1977 only one person remained who knew of the documents which were hidden among various kinds of rubbish. He had not made the connection with the Menten case, but when some other names were mentioned he remembered the existence of these documents. So the Menten files eventually re-emerged, discrediting those who argued that the documents had been stolen.
Our research was hampered, however, in other ways. Only a few private archives provided us with additional information. And most lawyers maintained that, regardless of the age of the files in question, examination of them would constitute a threat to the confidential character of their relation with their clients. They therefore refused to have them examined—quite rightly so, in our opinion.
Altogether different was the issue with respect to the files held in the family archives of Menten's former lawyer, the aforementioned Dr Kortenhorst. There were at least several reasons why in this case ‘confidentiality’ could not be invoked as a persuasive excuse to refuse access to them, and initially the family did not use this argument. The fact was that they considered the committee to be their acknowledged enemy. Their lack of cooperation did not hamper our research to a large extent, but the fact remains that others, notably the lawyer representing Menten in a fresh war criminal case, were permitted to examine these files. Significantly, they revealed nothing new or startling. In fact, they even failed to produce those documents which existed according to Menten and which were supposedly very favourable to his defence, though incriminating to several politicians who had served as ministers of justice during the early 1950s. The committee doubted that these documents ever existed at all. Nevertheless, when the committee had completed its research and presented it publicly, we were challenged and were forced to concede that we had not been allowed to examine the Kortenhorst archives. Such files would normally have constituted an important component of the kind of research conducted by the committee. This (imposed) omission, therefore, was very unfortunate indeed. In the evaluations of the report this omission has been mentioned frequently.
Another problem concerns contact with ‘witnesses’ and their testimonials. The committee wanted to talk to as many of those people who had been involved
with the Menten case(s) as possible. We contacted about 150 people, on the whole with very disappointing results. The explanation for this is rather simple: most of these people were civil servants who had been involved in some capacity with one of the many cases which the committee was researching. Most of the information we wanted concerned the details of cases which had taken place twenty-five years ago. Understandably, memories from so long ago were dim, and on balance, the information obtained from the files proved considerably more reliable. Moreover, several people who were at the time closely associated with Menten refused to cooperate. Menten himself broke off all contacts with the committee after a few interviews. During these conversations he made some rather obvious attempts to get the committee entangled in the current court case against him. It is a pity that we had so little cooperation from these circles, because otherwise we could have explained some aspects of the behaviour of Menten and his consorts more satisfactorily. During the period from 1945 to 1955, however, Menten and his ‘party’ had produced such an abundance of material that information highlighting their point of view was readily available.
The conclusion must be that the oral history method is not particularly suitable for this type of research. Only in a few cases was useful information obtained as a result of the personal contact with the people involved in these cases. I hasten to add that this observation is not intended as a general evaluation of the methodology of oral history per se. This method can be applied very successfully, but to research of a different nature. In retrospect it was perhaps predictable that this method yielded limited results. Details were of prime importance for our research, and several of the people interviewed still had direct interests at stake. However, the credibility of our research would have suffered if we had omitted such interviews.
Another complication was brought about by the fact that the court case pertaining to Menten's behaviour during the war took place at the same time as our research. Thus there was the constant danger that the committee would become entangled in the court case. (Menten, in fact, wanted this to happen.) Despite the careful defining of the issues and the separation of cases concerning Menten's behaviour during the war from cases dealing with post-war developments, it proved to be impossible to separate clearly the respective investigations. In the court case the judicial developments after the war were relevant in connection with the judicial procedure of ‘ne bis in idem’, which states that a person cannot be brought to trial twice for the same offense. As a consequence, the committee and the judges not only had to study the same documents, but they also had to come up with an interpretation of the same problems.
Several problems arose due to this entanglement of investigations. At the start of its research the committee made an unfortunate and rather naive mistake when it let the examining magistrate look at a very provisional draft of a list of dates, which ended up in the actual dossiers of the court case. Later on it became clear that this list contained several errors. Menten's lawyer used one of these errors as part of his defence case, and naturally this aroused undesirable publicity for the committee
The committee faced another thorny problem when in the court proceedings a particular issue became very important. Once the committee had completed its ‘reconstruction’ of this issue it decided that, given the developments in court, it should not withhold the results of its research. So the committee published an ‘interim report,’ thereby risking the possibility of standing accused of interference in the proceedings of a criminal investigation. The court's reconstruction differed, unfortunately, from the one by the committee. Although the verdict was annulled in appeal, the committee felt obliged to discuss this question in the final report, because it considered the court's reconstruction to be based on false grounds. This course of events attracted a lot of unfavourable public attention. Although inevitable, proceedings of this nature can hardly be considered a showcase of judicial elegance. Fortunately, these developments did not tarnish all of the committee's work, especially since its interpretation was not convincingly challenged.
The eager interest of the press also presented some problems. To some extent the very existence of the committee was brought about by the activities of the press. After all, newspaper publications provided the momentum which built up sufficient parliamentary pressure upon the cabinet to set up an inquiry. Moreover, the discoveries of several journalists had provided a basis from which the research could proceed. So there was in fact every reason to have a positive attitude toward the press. However, this very same eagerness of the press was potentially disturbing to our research activities. Shortly after beginning its research the committee attempted to court the press by inviting all those journalists who had produced valuable publications about the Menten case to discuss their work. The committee inquired extensively into the journalists' sources and interpretations. Because the committee had just begun its research, it was unable to provide anything in exchange at that time. We explained to the journalists that we were going to make a careful and original inquiry into these cases, strongly resisting any outside influence. Only after completion of our task would we publish a final report, and no interim information would be provided to the press. The committee pleaded for understanding regarding this position
and on the whole, our request was honoured. With few exceptions, such as the one mentioned above, relatively little publicity about our research appeared at that time. The fact that the journalists themselves did not come up with anything of real significance after the committee was established was helpful, because it meant that the journalists did not have any incentive for further publications besides reporting on the developments in court. After the committee had completed its research and published the final report we stated our willingness to respond to any questions which the press wished to direct to us, though in fact all relevant information could be found in this final report.
Several important decisions preceded the determination of what should be included in the committee's final report. Foremost was the question of how detailed the report should be. On the one hand it was desirable to be brief and to prevent wasting energy on relatively unimportant aspects, while on the other hand so much excitement had been aroused that a detailed account seemed desirable. After careful consideration the committee decided on a detailed report. Since the research had been intended to calm the waters by providing reliable information, it was imperative that no questions be left hanging in the air.
Another exception was the journalist N. Polak, who published about the Menten case in ‘Het Vrije Volk’ in De Haagsche Post. For his views and the comments of the committee on them see the report of the committee.
Each and every open question and every fact which third parties (such as the press) might legitimately argue had been omitted by the committee would provide a basis for undermining the conclusions of the research. This is the main reason for the length of the report (922 pages). (In relation to Dutch history as a whole, this case was much less important than the size of the report would suggest.) The committee presented the report in a format which made the central issues stand out, while the more peripheral ones were presented either in footnotes or printed in small lettering, enabling the reader to skip those parts without losing the thread of the argument.
The committee also had to decide whether to publish the most important documents and accompany them with a limited amount of ‘commentary,’ or whether to write an extensive report providing references to the original documents in footnotes. For two primary reasons, the committee decided to follow the latter course. First, the number of documents which would have to be published to
enable the reader to reconstruct the case would be so large that the resulting publication would have been much more voluminous than the existing (already very sizeable) report. (In fact, readers would not have been able to find their way through such a maze without spending several months.) This consideration would have sufficed in itself. Moreover, while it may seem that the publication of the actual documents is more objective than a story produced by historians, this is not really so. After all, the very selection of the documents would have reflected the subjective interpretation of the historians. As a matter of principle, therefore, it is more legitimate for investigators to present their findings in a narrative fashion. The committee's publication contained, first of all, a chronological and thematic history followed by a number of concluding remarks which link up the main interpretative elements; secondly, an account of the sources used; and finally, an illustrative sample of the most important documents.
Closely related is one last issue, value judgments on the part of historians. On the whole I feel it is preferable for historians to restrain themselves, expressing as few moral and political judgments about the people whose actions they describe as possible. The objective of historical research is the reconstruction of events and the accompanying analytical explanatory evaluations (the interpretation). The latter have to be clearly and explicitly stated. In this case, however, issues of a political and moral character brought about the research in the first place. Consequently, their omission would have seemed contrived. This is why, in addition to the analytic explanatory judgments, the committee at times expresses approval or disapproval of the behaviour of various parties. The committee did attempt to restrain its tone and to display an understanding of the situation at the time that these acts took place. After all, it was not the committee's task to serve as hangman, and the committee had the benefit of hindsight and the necessary time to weigh the arguments after examining the case from all angles. The public officials who dealt with such cases at the time were handling many cases simultaneously and their time was quite limited. The committee took these considerations into account when formulating its concluding opinions. Readers of the report must decide whether the committee was fair. However, we maintain that on the whole we succeeded in reaching our main objective, which was to clear up all questions concerning the Menten case(s).
In closing, I would like to point to a side effect of research like ours. Although our project originated from the desire to contribute to the solving of an immediate political problem, it turned out to have wider significance. As some professional historians reacting to our work have claimed, our report also makes a useful contribution to the scholarly historiography of the post-war period.
Rudolf Reder's Bełzec:
The End Product of ‘The Rabka Four's’ Activities in Distrikt Galicia
Originally published in Polin: ‘Studies in Polish Jewry’, Volume 13: The Holocaust and its Aftermath, edited by Antony Polonsky and published by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization for the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies and the American Association for Polish-Jewish Studies (Oxford and Portland, Oregon, 2000). Translated by the respected historian Margaret Rubel.
In 1946 a slim volume entitled Belzec came out in Krakow. It was published by the Jewish Regional Historical Commission, which collected the testimonies of Holocaust survivors. The booklet included an introduction by Nella Rost, who was on the committee's editorial board, and Rudolf Reder, a former soap manufacturer from Lvov who managed to escape from the camp and lived long enough to tell his story. He was one of only two known survivors of Belzec death camp. The other, Chaim Hirszman, was murdered in Lublin in 1946 by two youth members of a Polish underground organization the day he began to testify about the camp to the Lublin branch of the Jewish Historical Commission. Thus, Reder's booklet remains to this day the only document written by a victim concerning this most obscure murder camp.
Belzec murder camp was the first camp set up by Action Reinhardt, an operation whose purpose was to dispose, in the least obtrusive manner, of the Jewish population of the Generalgouvernement and adjacent countries under Nazi rule. The other two camps were Treblinka and Sobibor. The building of Belzec started towards the end of November 1941, and at the beginning of March 1942 the camp was ready. On 17 March the first transport arrived; about 10 December that year saw the last. Between those two dates, with a break for ‘modernization’ which lasted six weeks, Belzec murder camp claimed between 500,000 and 650,000 victims, of whom over three-quarters came from the provinces of Krakow and Lublin, and the Distrikt Galizien. The remaining 150,000 or so consisted of Jews expelled from those parts of pre-war Poland which had been incorporated into the Third Reich, Austria, and Czechoslovakia.
Like the other two camps of Action Reinhardt, Belzec had no attached labour camp and no ordinary prisoners. It consisted of rudimentary murder facilities: an undressing barracks for men, another for women to have their hair cut, and yet another with the gas chambers, about thirty pits of different sizes for burying corpses, a couple of barracks for the Jewish death brigade, and living quarters for the Ukrainian guards, or askers, who numbered about 100. Its SS garrison was small: about twenty all told.
Into this camp Rudolf Reder was brought with one of the first transports of Jews from Lvov caught during the great Action, which lasted for two weeks in August 1942 and which netted about 50,000 victims. He came alone: his son, Bronislaw, had been apprehended in Lvov on 10 August and was never seen again. His daughter, Sophia, managed to survive the war in Krakow; she emigrated to England, where she married. It is not known what happened to his wife. Although Reder was then 61, he was one of the lucky few to be selected on
arrival at the unloading ramp to join the Jewish death brigade and to become the camp's odd-job man. He remained in the camp for a little over three months. Towards the end of November he was taken to Lvov, where he managed to escape. He survived the war in Lvov, hidden by his former housekeeper.
Reder arrived in Belzec at the height of the camp's activity. Because of his position as odd-job man he was allowed considerable freedom of movement. He was used as a spare pair of hands to dig pits, he was called upon to help repair the machinery which produced the carbon monoxide pumped into the gas chambers, and he also worked as a bricklayer. He was therefore able to describe the camp, its installations, and its functioning in considerable detail. But his story is also the deeply harrowing account of someone who witnessed with horror the slaughter of innocents which went on day after day. And this, together with the relevant details which, without his description, might have remained for ever obscure, make Reder's booklet a unique document of this terrible but little- known chapter in the history of the Holocaust.
Reder was born on 4 April 1881 in Debica, in the voivodeship of Krakow. From the 1910s he lived in Lvov. Soon after the end of the war he must have left the town (which was then incorporated into the Soviet Union) for Krakow, where he testified about the camp three times in 1945, twice for the Jewish Historical Commission, and the third time for Jan Sehn, a district attorney who collected evidence on behalf of the regional commission investigating German crimes in Poland. In 1946 Reder collaborated with Nella Rost on the booklet about Belzec, which appeared under his name, but was probably written by her. He emigrated to Canada perhaps in the early 1950s under the assumed name of Roman Robak, the name of his former housekeeper, whom he married. In August 1960 he was in Munich, where he made a deposition at the office of the public prosecutor concerning Belzec (‘The Case against Josef Oberhauser et al.’) in preparation for the Belzec trial, which took place in Munich in January 1965. He died in the late 1960s or early 1970s in Canada.
M. M. Rubel
Nearly two weeks before deportation everyone was talking about it as an imminent disaster. We were in despair, since we all already knew well what the word Aussiedlung (Jewish resettlement) meant. We were being told the story of a worker who had once belonged to a death commando in Belzec, but then eventually managed to escape. While still there he was employed in building chambers disguised as baths which in fact were intended for gassing people. He forecast that none of those who had gone there would ever return. We had also heard the story of a Ukrainian guard employed there in murdering Jews recounting his experiences to his Polish girlfriend. The woman was so terrified by what she had heard that she decided to pass the news round in order to forewarn prospective victims. That is how we got to know about Belzec.
Belzec's legend thus became a reality, which we all knew and dreaded. That is why, for several days before 10 August, the streets of the Jewish quarter were filled with frightened and helpless people repeatedly asking each other the same question: what should they do and where should they go? Early in the morning of 10 August all exits leading out of the Jewish quarter were sealed by German patrols. The Gestapo, SS, and in groups of five or six patrolled the streets a few paces apart. They were enthusiastically assisted by the Ukrainian police.
Two weeks earlier Generalmajor Katzman, the chief butcher of Lvov and eastern Galicia, had distributed permits among some of the ghetto workshops. Other workshops got theirs from a police station at Smolka Square. The lucky ones were not very numerous. The vast majority of Jews, overcome by mortal fear, tried all sorts of rescues or escapes, but no one really knew what to do or how to save himself.
Meanwhile, for a few consecutive days, German patrols combed one house after another, looking into every nook and cranny. Some of those caught by the Gestapo had their permits honoured, others did not. All those without permits, or
whose permits the Germans did not honour, were driven out of their houses without food or clothing. Next the Germans herded people into large groups. Those who resisted were shot on the spot. I myself was in my workshop working. I did not have a permit. I locked the front door and did not open up, even though I heard them banging outside. Eventually the Gestapo forced their way in. They found me hiding in a corner, beat me on the head with a stick, and took me away. They squeezed us like sardines into trams and transported us to the Janowska camp. We could neither move nor breathe.
Night was already falling. All 6,000 of us were squeezed into a meadow. We were ordered to sit down, and forbidden to move, raise an arm, stretch a leg, or get up. A watchtower directed its blinding light at us. It became as light as if it were day. We sat there, packed tightly together, young and old, women and children alike. A few well-aimed shots were fired in our direction. Someone got up and was shot on the spot. Perhaps he wished to die a quick death.
And so we passed the night. The crowd was deathly silent. Not even women or children dared to cry. At six o'clock in the morning we were told to get up off the wet grass, on which we had been sitting all night, and to arrange ourselves in a column, four in a row. The long line of condemned was then made to march in the direction of Kleparowski railway station. Our column was guarded on both sides by the Gestapo and Ukrainian police. There was not the slightest chance of escape. Our column was driven to the railway station and onto a ramp, where a long train of cattle-trucks was waiting. The Germans began to load the train. They opened the doors to each truck. On both sides of the doors stood the Gestapo men, two on each side, whips in hand, slashing each of us on our faces and heads. All the Gestapo men were alike. They all beat us so badly that each of us had marks on our faces or bumps on our heads. Women sobbed; children in arms cried. Thus driven along and beaten mercilessly, we climbed on top of one another. The doors to the trucks were high above the ground. In the general scramble we trampled those who were below. We were all in a hurry, wanting to have all this behind us. On the roof of each truck sat a Gestapo man with a machine-gun. Others beat us while counting 100 people to each car. It all went so fast that loading a few thousand people took no more than an hour. Our transport contained many men, including some who had the so-called ‘secure’ work permits, young girls, and women. Finally they sealed all the trucks. Squeezed into one trembling mass we stood so close to each other that we were almost on top of one another. Stifling heat was driving us mad. We had not a drop of water or a crumb of bread. The train started to move at eight o'clock. I knew that the train-driver and fire-stoker were Germans. The train went fast,
although it seemed to us that it moved at a snail's pace. It stopped three times, at Kulikowo, Zolkiew, and Rawa Ruska. I suppose it was giving way to other railway traffic. During those stops Gestapo thugs got down from the roofs in order to stop anyone coming near the trucks. They were there to prevent anyone from the outside from showing us a little mercy and giving water through the small window secured by barbed wire to those who were dying of thirst inside.
We went on and nobody spoke, completely apathetic and silent. We knew that we were being taken to our deaths and that we couldn't do anything about it. Although all our thoughts were occupied with escape, we saw no possibility of success. Our truck was a new one; its windows were so narrow that I would not have been able to squeeze through. In other trucks it was possible to smash doors. Every few minutes we heard shots being fired after breakaways. No one said a word to anyone else; no one tried to console lamenting women or to calm crying children. We all knew one thing: that we were going towards a certain and terrible death. What we all wished for was that it would be quick. Perhaps somebody managed to escape, but I do not know. Escape was possible only from the train.
About midday the train pulled into Belzec. It was a small station surrounded by little houses occupied by the Gestapo. Next to the station stood a post office and the lodgings of the Ukrainian railwaymen. Belzec is on the line between Lublin and Tomaszow, 15 kilometres from Rawa Ruska. At Belzec our train left the main line and moved onto sidings about a kilometre long, which led directly into the camp. At the main station in Belzec an old German with a thick black moustache mounted the engine. I do not know his name, but I would recognize him at a glance. He looked like a butcher. He took charge of the train, bringing it into the camp. The journey lasted no more than two minutes. During my four months in Belzec I saw no one but this thug doing the job.
The sidings led through empty fields: not one habitable building in sight. The German who brought the train climbed down from the engine in order to ‘help’. With shouts and kicks he drove people out of the trucks. Then he went to inspect each truck personally, in case someone was trying to hide. He took care of everything. When the whole train was empty and checked, he signalled with a flag and moved the train away from the camp.
The camp was under the total control of the SS. No one was allowed to come near. Those who found themselves in the area by mistake were shot at. The train would come into a courtyard 1 square kilometre in size enclosed on all sides by barbed wire and wire netting to a height of 2 metres. This fencing was not
electrified. The entrance to the courtyard was through a large wooden gate covered with barbed wire. Beside this gate was a guardhouse with a telephone. By the guardhouse stood a few SS men with dogs. When the train had been brought into the courtyard, one of the men would come out of the guardhouse, shut the gate, and then go back in. At this moment the reception of the transport began. Several dozen SS men yelling ‘Los’ opened the trucks, chasing people out with whips and rifle-butts. The doors were about a metre from the ground, and the people, young and old alike, had to jump down, often breaking arms or legs. Children were injured and all tumbled down exhausted, terrified, and filthy. The SS men were assisted by the so-called Zugsfuehrers, who supervised the Jewish death commando. They were dressed in everyday clothing without any distinctive marking. The sick, the old and small children in other words, all those who could not walk on their own were thrown onto stretchers and taken to pits. There they were made to sit on the edge, while Irrmann, one of the Gestapo, shot them and pushed their bodies into the pit with a rifle-butt.
This Irrmann, who specialized in murdering old men and small children, was a tall, dark, handsome man, quite normal-looking. Like the others, he lived in a small house next to the railway station in Belzec. Alone like the rest, without women or family. He used to turn up at the camp early in the morning and stay the whole day receiving death transports. As soon as the train was empty, all the victims were assembled in the courtyard and surrounded by the askers. It was then that Irrmann would give a speech. There was deathly silence. Irrmann stood close to the crowd. Everybody wanted to hear him. We all suddenly hoped that, if we were spoken to, then perhaps it meant that there would be work to do, that we would live after all, Irrmann spoke loudly and clearly: ‘Ihr geht jetzt baden, nachher werden Ihr zur Arbeit geschickt.’ That was all.
The crowd rejoiced; the people were relieved that they would be going to work. They applauded. I remember his words, repeated day after day three times a day on average, during the time I was there. It was a moment of hope, of illusion. The crowd was peaceful. And in silence they all went forward: men straight across the courtyard to a building bearing the inscription ‘Bade und Inhalationsräume’ in large letters, the women, some 20 metres further on to a large barracks, 15 by 30 metres. They were led there not knowing why. For a few minutes more there was peace and quiet. I saw that when they were handed wooden stools and ordered first to stand in a line and then to sit down, and when eight Jewish barbers, silent as death, came in to shave their hair to the bare skin, it was at this moment that they were struck by the terrible truth. It was then that
neither the women nor the men already on their way to the gas could have had any illusions about their fate.
With the exception of a few men chosen for their trade, which could be handy in the camp, all the rest, young and old, women and children went to certain death. Little girls with long hair had it shaved; others with short hair went to the gas chambers directly, together with the men. And all of a sudden, without any transition from hope, they were overcome by despair. There were cries and shrieking. Some women went mad. Others, however, went to their death calmly, young girls in particular. Our transport consisted largely of the intelligentsia. There were also many young men, but, as in every other transport I saw, women were in the majority.
I stood to one side with others left to dig pits, watching my brothers, sisters, friends, and acquaintances being driven to their deaths. While the women, naked and shaved, were rounded up with whips like cattle to the slaughter, without even being counted ‘Faster, faster’ the men were already dying. Shaving the women took approximately two hours. Two hours was the time it took to prepare for murder and for the murder itself.
A dozen or so SS men drove the women along with whips and fixed bayonets all the way to the building and from there up three steps to a hall. There the askers counted 750 people for each gas chamber. Those women who tried to resist were bayoneted until the blood was running. Eventually all the women were forced into the chambers. I heard the doors being shut; I heard shrieks and cries; I heard desperate calls for help in Polish and in Yiddish. I heard the blood- curdling wails of women and the squeals of children, which after a short time became one long, horrifying scream. This went on for fifteen minutes. The engine worked for twenty minutes. Afterwards there was total silence. Then the askers pushed open the doors that led outside. It was then that those of us who had been selected from different transports, in unmarked clothing and without tattoos, began our work.
We pulled out the corpses of the people so recently alive. We dragged them to pits with the help of leather straps while an orchestra played from morning until night.
After a while I came to know the whole area well. The camp was surrounded by dense forest of young pine. Although the forestation was thick, extra branches were cut and interwoven with the existing ones over the gas chambers to allow a minimum of light to penetrate. Behind the gas chambers was a sandy lane along which we dragged the corpses. Overhead the Germans had put wire netting interwoven with more branches. This part of the camp was covered by a sort of roof of greenery and was darker than elsewhere. I suppose the Germans wanted to conceal the area from aerial observation. The main gate led to a sizeable courtyard. There was a substantial shed where the women had their hair shaved. Next to the shed was another small courtyard, surrounded on all sides by a fence 3 metre high. It was made of close-fitting wooden boards, greyish in colour. The courtyard led directly to the gas chambers. Thus no one on the outside would have been able to see what was happening within.
The building containing the gas chambers was not high, but long and wide. It was made of grey cement blocks, and was covered by a flat roof made of asbestos sheets. Immediately above it stretched wire netting covered with branches. The door to the building was approached by three steps a metre wide and without railings. In front stood a large flower-pot filled with plants. There was an inscription in large letters on the front: ‘Bade und Inhalationsräume’. The steps led to a completely empty and unlit corridor: just four cement walls. It was very long, though only about a metre and a half wide. On both sides of it were doors to the gas chambers. These were sliding doors made of wood, with wooden handles. The gas chambers had no windows. They were dark and empty. In each gas chamber there was a round hole the size of an electric socket. All the walls and floors were made of cement. Both the corridor and the gas chambers were no more than 2 metres high. On a wall opposite the entrance to each gas chamber were more sliding doors 2 metres wide. Through these the corpses of the gassed were thrown outside. On one side of the building was an adjoining shed no bigger than 2 metres square. This housed the engine, which was petrol-driven. The gas chambers were about a metre and a half above ground level. The doors leading to the ramp, onto which the bodies of the victims were thrown, were on a level with the gas chambers.
There were also barracks for the camp's death commando. The first served the workers doing miscellaneous jobs; the other was for the so-called ‘professionals’. They were identical. Each had space for 250 people. There were bunks on two levels, consisting of bare wooden boards with one small angled board as a
headrest. Not far from the barracks was a kitchen, the camp's store, an office, a laundry, a tailor's shop, and, finally, comfortable barracks for the askers.
There were mass graves on both sides of the building housing gas chambers. Some were already full; others were still empty. I saw many graves filled to capacity and covered high with sand. It took quite a while for them to level down. There always had to be one empty pit, just in case.
I stayed in Belzec death camp from August until the end of November. This was a period which saw the gassing of Jews on a massive scale. I was told by some of the inmates who had managed to survive from earlier transports that the vast majority of the death convoys came during this precise period. They were coming each and every day without respite. Usually they arrived three times a day. Each convoy was composed of fifty cattle-trucks, each truck containing 100 people. If a transport happened to come during the night, the victims were kept in locked cars until six in the morning. The average death toll was 10,000 people a day. Some days the transports were not only larger, but even more frequent. Jews were brought in from everywhere: no one else, only Jews. I never saw anybody else. Belzec served no other purpose but that of murdering Jews. All the transports were unloaded by the Gestapo, askers, and Zugfuehrers. Further on, in the courtyard where the people undressed, there were also Jewish workers. We would ask in a whisper, ‘Where are you from?’ In a whisper they would answer, ‘From Lvov’, ‘From Krakow’, ‘From Zamosc’, ‘Wieliczka’, ‘Jaslo’, ‘Tarnow’, and so on. I witnessed this once, twice, even three times every day.
Each transport received the same treatment. People were ordered to undress and to leave their belongings in the courtyard. Each time there was the same deceptive speech. And each time people rejoiced. I saw the spark of hope in their eyes, hope that they may be going to work. But a minute later, and with extreme brutality, babies were torn from their mothers, old and sick were thrown on stretchers, while men and little girls were driven with rifle-butts further on to a fenced path leading directly to the gas chambers. At the same time, and with the same brutality, the already naked women were ordered to the barracks, where they had their hair shaved. I knew exactly the moment when they all suddenly realized what was in store. Cries of fear and anguish, terrible moans, mingled with the music played by the orchestra. Hustled along and wounded by bayonets, first the men were made to run to the gas chambers. The askers counted 750 people to each chamber. Before all six chambers were filled to capacity, those in
the first had already been suffering for nearly two hours. It was only when all six chambers were packed with people, when the doors were locked into position that the engine was set in motion.
The engine was large, about a metre by a metre and a half. It consisted of a motor and wheels. The engine whirred at intervals and worked so fast that one could not see the spokes turning. It worked for twenty minutes. Afterwards it was turned off. The doors leading from the gas chambers onto the ramp were then opened. Bodies were thrown out onto the ground in one enormous pile a few metres high. The askers who opened the doors took no precautionary measures. We did not smell any particular odour; I saw no balloons filled with gas, or any powder thrown in. What I saw were petrol canisters. The machine was manned by two askers. But once, when the engine went wrong, I was called in to put it right. In the camp they called me an Ofenkünstler (stove- setter). That's why they selected me. I looked it over and saw glass tubes connected to metal pipes, which led to each gas chamber. We thought that the engine worked either by producing high pressure, or by sucking air away, or that the petrol produced exhaust fumes, which suffocated the people. The calls for help, shrieks, and terrible moans of people locked in and slowly asphyxiated lasted between ten and fifteen minutes. Horribly loud at first, they grew weaker and weaker, until there was complete silence. I heard desperate cries in many different languages. Apart from Polish Jews there were also transports of Jews from other countries. The majority of foreign transports came from France. There were also Jews from Holland, Greece, and even Norway. I do not recall seeing German Jews. On the other hand, I do remember Jews from Czechoslovakia. They were brought in cattle-trucks like the Polish Jews, although they were permitted to take their personal luggage and food. Transports from Poland were full of women and children. In contrast, transports from abroad consisted mostly of men. Children were few. Evidently their parents were able to leave them in the care of goyim in their respective countries, so they were able to save them from a terrible fate. The foreign Jews had no idea of their future. They were sure that they were being brought to Belzec to work: they were well dressed and carefully prepared for the journey. Once there, they were treated by the German thugs in the same way as the Jews from other transports. And they were murdered by the same method, perishing in an equally horrible manner. About 100,000 foreign Jews might have been brought to the camp while I was there. They were all gassed.
When, after twenty minutes of gassing, the askers pushed open the tightly shut doors, the dead were in an upright position. Their faces were not blue. They
looked almost unchanged, as if asleep. There was a bit of blood here and there from bayonet wounds. Their mouths were slightly open, hands rigid, often pressed against their chests. Those who were nearest to the now wide-open doors fell out by themselves. Like marionettes.
Before they were murdered, all the women were shaved. While the first group was rushed to the barracks, others waited their turn, naked and barefoot even in winter and snow. Lamenting and nearly mad mothers pressed their children close. Each time I watched them with a bleeding heart. I could not really stand the sight of them. A group of women already shaved was hustled along, while those who followed waded through the hair of many shades which covered the entire floor of the barracks like some soft and silky carpet. When all the women had been shaved, four workers using brooms made from the branches of lime trees swept the floor and collected the hair into a large pile the size of nearly half a room. Then with bare hands they put this multicoloured pile into jute sacks, which they carried to a store.
The store where the hair, undergarments, and outer clothing of the victims were collected was in a small barracks not larger than 7 by 8 metres. Hair and personal possessions were kept there for ten days. After this time the hair in sacks was put on one side and personal possessions on the other, both ready to be loaded onto a goods train, which came to take away the spoils. Those who worked in the camp's offices told us that the hair went to Budapest. One Jew in particular told us all he knew. His name was Schreiber, a lawyer from the Sudetenland. Schreiber was an honest man. Irrmann had promised to take him on holiday. One day Irrmann took a short break. I heard Schreiber asking, ‘Nehmen Sie mich mit?’ (‘Are you going to take me with you?’) Irrmann answered, ‘Noch nicht’ (‘Not yet’). And so he kept Schreiber hoping. But I am sure that he perished, just like all others. It was he who told me that every few days a railway truck full of hair went to Budapest.
Apart from hair, the Germans also sent away baskets filled with gold teeth. In those few hundred metres separating the gas chambers from the pits stood some dentists with pliers. They stopped everyone as they dragged the corpses away. They opened the mouths of the dead and yanked out the gold teeth, which they then threw into baskets ready for the purpose. There were eight dentists, usually young men specially selected to do the work. I knew one of them well. He was called Zucker and came from Rzeszow. The dentists occupied a small separate
barracks, which they shared with a doctor and a chemist. At dusk they went back to the barracks with baskets full of teeth, gold crowns, and bridges. There they separated the gold, which they melted into ingots. They were supervised by a Gestapo man called Schmidt, who beat them when he thought they were not working fast enough. The gold was turned into ingots 1 centimetre thick, 50 millimetres wide and 20 centimetres long.
Every day the SS men collected jewellery, money, and dollars from the store. They loaded them into suitcases, which a Jewish worker carried to the camp's main office in Belzec. A Gestapo man went ahead, while the suitcases were carried by Jewish workers. The main office was a short distance away, no more than twenty minutes on foot. Belzec murder camp was run from this office. Jews who worked in the administration told us that a whole transport of gold and precious objects was dispatched to the headquarters in Lublin, of which the camp in Belzec was a branch.
Clothing torn from the Jewish victims was carried by workers to the store, where another ten workers took each garment apart in search of gold and money. These workers were supervised by SS men, who beat them frequently. The SS men divided the money found in clothing between them. These SS supervisors were specially chosen for the job; they never changed. The Jews who worked there never took anything for themselves. Nor did they want to. For what could we do with money or jewellery? We could not buy anything. We had no hope of staying alive. No one believed in miracles. But although each worker was searched very thoroughly, it often happened that we trod on dollar bills which nobody had noticed. But we did not even try to pick them up. They served no useful purpose. One day a shoemaker took a five-dollar note. He did it deliberately and openly. He was shot together with his son. He went to his death quite obviously glad of the fact that soon he would leave all this behind him. Death was a certainty, anyway. There was no reason to prolong this agony. In Belzec dollars helped us to die an easier death.
I was a member of the permanent death commando. We were 500 men all told. The ‘professionals’ accounted for half of the total, but even they were employed where no special skills were required, like digging pits and dragging corpses. We dug pits, enormous mass graves, and pulled bodies along. After they had done their own work, all the professionals had to take part in this job. We dug with spades, but there was also a machine which loaded sand, brought it to the
surface, and emptied it beside the pits. There was a mountain of sand which we used to cover the pits when they were filled to overflowing. On average 450 people worked round the pits on a daily basis. What I found most horrible was that we were ordered to pile bodies to a height of about a metre above ground- level, and only then to cover them with sand. Thick, black blood ran from the mounds and covered the whole area like a sea. In order to get to the next empty grave we had to cross from one side of an already full pit to another. Ankle deep we waded through the blood of our brothers. We walked over mounds of bodies. And this was most dreadful, most horrible.
We were supervised on this job by Schmidt, a complete thug, who punched and kicked. If somebody was not working fast enough in his opinion, he ordered the man to lie on the ground to receive twenty-five lashes with a riding-crop. The poor fellow had to count the lashes. If he made a mistake, he was given fifty. The mangled victim had no chance of survival. He was hardly able to crawl back to the barracks, where he was usually found dead the next morning. The same thing went on several times a day.
No fewer than thirty or forty workers were shot each day. Usually it was a camp doctor who prepared a list of those too weak to work, but sometimes it was a kapo with the function of Oberzugsfuehrer who submitted names of so-called criminals. At least thirty to forty men from the death commando were shot daily. They were taken to the pits during the lunch break and shot. The death commando was supplemented daily by other men from the incoming transports. One of the jobs of the camp's administration was to keep records of all the workers of the death commando, both past and present, in order to make sure that the figure of 500 was always kept up. But there were no records concerning the number of transports or victims. We knew, for example, that Jews built this camp and set the death machine in motion. Not one of those who worked on the original installations survived until my arrival there. It was a miracle if anyone survived for longer than five or six months at the most.
The gassing machine was serviced by two Askers, always the same two murderers. When I came to Belzec they were on the job, and they were still at it when I left. The Jewish workers had no contact with either of those two, or with any other askers for that matter. When the people in the transports begged for a drop of water, the askers shot those Jewish workers who tried to bring some.
Besides digging graves the commando was also employed in emptying the gas chambers, piling the bodies on a ramp, and dragging them all the way to the pits.
The ground was sandy. Two workers dragged one body. We had leather straps with metal braces, which we put round the hands of a corpse. Then we pulled, while the head of the dead man often dug deep into the sand. As regards small children, we were ordered to carry them in pairs on our backs. If we dragged the dead, we did not dig graves. When we dug graves we knew that thousands of our brothers were being murdered at the same time. And on those jobs we spent our days, from morning until night. Dusk signalled the end of a day. This ‘work’ was done only in full daylight.
At half past three in the morning an asker-posten (guard on duty) who kept watch of our barracks during the night would bang at the door shouting ‘Auf! Heraus!’ (‘Up! Out!’) We were barely up when this thug Schmidt would burst in, chasing us outside with his riding-crop. We would run out, often barefoot, holding our shoes in our hands. We seldom undressed for the night. Often we also lay down in our shoes, since we rarely had enough time in the morning to put them on. It was still dark when we were woken up. Schmidt would run through the barracks like a madman, slashing his riding-crop left and right. We got up as exhausted and desperate as we had been the night before. We were given one thin blanket, either to lie down on or to use as a cover. They always chose for us old and worn rags to dress in. If anyone so much as sighed, he was hit about the face. We were allowed a light on for half an hour in the evening; then it was switched off. An Oberzugsfuehrer went round the barracks, whip in hand. He did not allow us to talk. We communicated in whispers with our neighbours.
The death commando consisted mostly of men, who had seen their wives, children, and parents gassed. Many of us managed to smuggle a tallit and tefillin from the store. After our barracks had been secured for the night, a murmur of Kaddish could be heard from the bunks. We prayed for our dead. Later there was silence. We were so benumbed that we never complained. Perhaps those fifteen Zugsfuehrers still cherished some hope. We didn't.
We moved around like people without a will of their own: like one body. I remember some names, but not too many. It was of no importance in the camp who-was-who before, or what name he bore. I recall that one camp medic was a young doctor called Jakubowicz. He came from the vicinity of Rzeszow. I also knew a merchant and his son, both from Krakow. Their name was Schlüssl. Also a Czech Jew called Ellbogen. He said he had once owned a bicycle shop. There was also a Goldschmidt, once a well-known cook from the Brüder Hanicka
restaurant in Carlsbad. No one was really interested in anyone else. We were just carrying on this dreadful existence mechanically.
We got our lunch at midday. At the first window we got a bowl, at the other a pint of watery soup with a potato thrown in if we were lucky. Before lunch and also before the evening meal we were forced to sing songs. At the same time we heard the moans of those who were being gassed, an orchestra played, and opposite the kitchen stood the gallows.
The SS men lived without women both in Belzec and in the camp. Even their drinking parties took place in male company only. All the work in the camp was done by men alone. But this changed in October. In that month a transport came from Zamosc carrying Jewish women from Czechoslovakia. Among them were several dozen women whose husbands worked in the death commando. We decided to save some. Forty were assigned jobs in the kitchen, laundry, and tailor's shop. They were forbidden to communicate with their husbands. In the kitchen they peeled potatoes, washed up pots and pans, and carried water from a well. I do not know what happened to them. Presumably they went the same way as the others. These were educated women, belonging to the intelligentsia. They brought their personal possessions to Belzec. Some even carried butter. They gave us all they had. They also helped those who worked either in the kitchen itself or in the vicinity. They lived in a small separate barracks supervised by a female Zugsfuehrer. I often saw them talking (my job of stove-repairer gave me an opportunity to move around freely). They did not seem to have been as maltreated as we were. They finished their work at dusk and stood in pairs waiting for their portion of soup and coffee. Like us, they had kept their original clothing: no striped uniforms in Belzec. I suppose it did not pay the Germans to introduce uniforms for a crew which was to stay alive for a very short period.
Straight from a transport, dressed in their own clothes and with their hair intact, these women were sent to workshops and the kitchen. Through the windows of their workplaces they could see the death convoys arriving daily.
The camp heaved with mass murder. The days were full of mortal fear and death. But there were also cases of individual butchery. I saw some of those. There was no roll-call in Belzec. Nor was it needed. Spectacles of horror were played out to
a gallery without any special announcement. I must tell you about a transport from Zamosc. It arrived some time about 15 November. It was already cold. Snow and mud covered the ground. The transport from Zamosc came in a snowstorm. It was one of many. It carried the entire Judenrat. When, in accordance with the usual procedure, the victims were all naked, the men driven to the gas chambers and the women into the barracks to have their hair shaved, the president of the Judenrat was ordered to stay back in the courtyard. Then, while they were driving everybody to their deaths, the SS men paraded round the man. No, I do not know his name. I saw a middle-aged man, deathly white and very still. The SS men ordered an orchestra to come to the courtyard and await further orders. The orchestra, composed of six musicians, was in its usual place on the path between the gas chambers and the pits. The musicians played on instruments which had belonged to the victims. I was working in the vicinity, doing some brickwork, and so I saw it all. The SS men ordered the orchestra to play ‘Es geht alles vorüber, es geht alles vorbei’ and ‘Drei Lilien, kommt ein Reiter, gefahren, bringt die Lilien’ (‘Everything passes, everything goes by’ and ‘Three lilies, comes a rider bringing lilies’). And the orchestra played those tunes on violins, flutes, and an accordion. This went on for quite a while. Afterwards they ordered the man to stand against a wall and lashed him about the head and face with riding-crops tipped with lead until the blood ran. Irrmann participated in this savagery, and also that fat pig Schwarz, and Schmidt and some askers. While he was being beaten, the victim was ordered to dance and jump to the rhythm of the music. After a few hours he was given a chunk of bread and beaten again in order to force him to eat it. Covered in blood he stood there, indifferent and solemn, without as much as a moan. For seven hours he was tortured. The SS men stood there laughing. ‘Dasist eine höhere Person, Präsident des Judenrates’ (‘What a distinguished person, the president of the Judenrat’), they called in harsh voices. It was not until six o'clock in the evening that Schmidt drove the man to a pit, shot him in the head, and kicked the body onto a pile of other corpses.
There were other singular events. Soon after my arrival at Belzec the Germans picked out from a transport (we did not always know the name of the locality a transport came from) several young men, including a young boy. He was the picture of youth, health, and strength. He also amazed us by his good humour. He looked round and asked almost playfully, ‘Did anyone ever sneak out of here?’ And that was that. He was overheard by some Germans. As a result this young boy, practically a child, was tortured to death. They stripped him naked and hung him upside-down on the gallows. He was there for three hours and he
was still alive. So they took him down, threw him onto the ground, and pushed sand down his throat with sticks. He died.
From time to time a transport larger than usual arrived; instead of fifty cattle- trucks, there could be sixty or more. Not long before my escape one such transport arrived. The Germans calculated that they had to keep aside 100 men already naked to help with burying the murdered, who were too numerous for the death commando to manage in one day. They chose young boys only. Whipped and bludgeoned, the boys dragged corpses to the pits, naked in the snow and cold, without even a drop of water. In the evening Schmidt took them to the pits and shot them one by one with a pistol. He ran short of bullets for the last few, so he killed them with the handle of a pickaxe. I did not hear them moaning, but I saw them trying desperately to jump the death queue, tragic and helpless relics of youth and life.
The camp was under the constant surveillance of armed askers and several dozen SS men, but only a few were particularly active. Some of them stood out for their cruelty. They were real animals. Few murdered in cold blood. Others clearly enjoyed it. I saw their happy and contented faces at the sight of naked and wounded people driven to the gas chambers at bayonet point. They took evident pleasure in the sight of the resignation and despair of the young people, who were shadows of their former selves.
We knew that the nicest house next to the railway station in Belzec was occupied by the commandant of the camp. He held the rank of Obersturmfuehrer.
No matter how hard I try, I cannot remember his name. It was short. He did not come often to the camp, except on special occasions. He was tall and thick-set, over 40 years old, and with a boorish air, a real bully and a complete pig. One day the death-machine went out of order. When he was informed, he came on horseback and ordered an immediate repair. He did not allow the gas chambers to be opened to let the people out: let them asphyxiate slowly and die in agony for a few hours longer. He crouched beside the engine, yelling and shaking with fury. Although he seldom came to the camp, for the other SS men he was a terror. He lived alone, attended by an asker who did all sorts of work and brought daily records from the camp.
Neither the commandant nor the other Gestapo had personal daily contact with the camp. They had their own canteen and a cook from Germany, who prepared meals for all the Germans. No family ever came on a visit. None of them lived with a woman. They kept large flocks of ducks and geese. People said that early in the summer they received whole baskets of cherries. Deliveries of wine and other alcohol arrived daily. I repaired an oven there once and saw two young Jewish women plucking geese. They threw me an onion and some beetroot. I also saw a village girl working there. There was no one else besides them, except orderlies. Every Sunday they took an orchestra from the camp and had a drinking orgy. The Gestapo drank and stuffed themselves like pigs. No one else was there. They threw scraps of food to the musicians. When the commandant visited the camp, I saw the Gestapo and askers shake with fear and apprehension.
Besides them, the Belzec slaughterhouse was run and controlled by four other thugs. It is difficult to imagine anyone more depraved than those four criminals. The first was Franz Irrmann. About 30 years old, with the rank of Stabscharfuehrer, he was responsible for the camp's supplies. His little sideline was shooting old people and small children. He performed his murderous tasks coolly. Not talkative, he liked to give the impression of inscrutability. Every day he reassured people about to be murdered that they were going to work, having bathed first: a conscientious murderer.
An altogether different sort of murderer was Oberscharfuehrer Reinhold Feix. It was said that he came from Gablonz, on the Nissa, and was married and the father of two children. He spoke like an educated man, but fast. If someone failed to get his meaning first time, he punched and yelled like mad. One day he ordered the repainting of a kitchen. The person doing the job was a Jew with a degree in chemistry. He was high up a ladder when Feix came in. Every few minutes he ordered him to come down and beat him about the face with a riding- crop until the man was covered with blood and swollen all over. This is how Reinhold did his work. He gave the impression of being abnormal. Feix played the violin and ordered the orchestra to pay endlessly the tune ‘Goralu czy ciniezal?’ (‘Mountaineer, do you not feel sad? (That you have to leave your own land)’), forcing people to dance and sing while he laughed and beat them. A mad dog.
I do not know which of them was more diabolical and cruel: Feix or the fat, squat, dark-haired Schwarz.
He came from somewhere deep in Germany. He took care that the askers did not show us any sympathy. He also supervised us when we were digging pits. Whipping and yelling, he drove us to the gas chambers, where piles of bodies awaited their final journey to the mass graves. Once he had driven us to the gas chambers, he ran back to the pits again. There, staring blankly into the depths, with a lunatic gaze in their eyes, stood old people, children and the sick, all waiting to be shot. They had been given plenty of time to see the corpses, to breathe the smell of blood and putrefaction, before they were shot by Irrmann. Schwarz beat everyone constantly. He did not allow anyone to protect his face against the blows. ‘Hände ab!’ (‘Take your hands away!’), he yelled. Tormenting was his pleasure and joy.
Even more beastly was a young officer called Heni Schmidt. Probably a Latvian, Schmidt spoke German with a strange accent. He pronounced ‘s' as ‘t’ (not ‘was’ but ‘wat’). And he spoke Russian. He was in the camp every day. Agile, thin, and quick—looking like a real cut-throat and constantly drunk, Schmidt rushed around the camp from four o'clock in the morning until night. He beat whomever he could find with evident pleasure. ‘This one is the worst,’ we whispered among ourselves, adding immediately: ‘They are all equally bestial.’ Schmidt always turned up where harassment was at its worst. He never missed an opportunity to see victims being driven to the gas chambers. He stood there listening to the terrible piercing cries of women being gassed. He was the real soul of the camp, bloodthirsty, monstrous, and degenerate. It gave him real pleasure to observe the expressionless features of the death commando returning exhausted to the barracks at night. On the way back each one of us received a blow on the head from his riding-crop. If anyone tried to evade it Schmidt would run after him.
There were also others perhaps less memorable, but they were all inhuman monsters. Not for a moment did any of them show any human feelings. They tormented and tortured thousands of people from morning until night. At dusk they went back to their little houses by the railway station in Belzec. During the night the camp was guarded by the askers, who manned the machine guns. During the day it was the Gestapo who ‘welcomed’ the death transports.
The biggest event for those thugs was Himmler's visit. It took place sometime towards the middle of October. That day we knew that something unusual was afoot. There was an air of secrecy all around. Everything was done with great speed. Even the process of murder took a much shorter time that day. Irrmann announced that because ‘Es kommt eine höhere Person, Ordnung muss sein’ (‘A
distinguished guest is coming; everything must be in order’). He did not elaborate, but we all knew from the whispered exchanges of the askers.
About three o'clock in the afternoon Himmler arrived, escorted by Generalmajor Katzman (the butcher of Lvov and eastern Galicia), an aide-de-camp, and ten Gestapo. Irrmann and others conducted him to the gas chambers just in time for him to see corpses falling out: a terrible pile of bodies of very young people, small children, and babies. The Jewish death commando dragged the corpses along while Himmler stood there watching. He stayed and watched for half an hour and then left the camp. I saw how pleased and uplifted the Gestapo felt. I saw their joy and I heard them laughing. I also heard them talking of promotions.
Words are inadequate to describe our state of mind and what we felt when we heard the terrible moans of those people and the cries of the children being murdered. Three times a day we saw people going nearly mad. Nor were we far from madness either. How we survived from one day to the next I cannot say, for we had no illusions. Little by little we too were dying, together with those thousands of people who, for a short while, went through an agony of hope. Apathetic and resigned to our fate, we felt neither hunger nor cold. We all waited our turn to die an inhuman death. Only when we heard the heart-rending cries of small children ‘Mummy, mummy, but I have been a good boy’ and ‘Dark, dark’ did we feel something. And then nothing again.
I had been in this nightmare for nearly four months when, towards the end of November, Irrmann told me that the camp would need metal sheets, and a lot of them. I was swollen and blue all over. Pus ran from open wounds. Schmidt bludgeoned me about the face with a truncheon. With an ironic smile Irrmann told me that I would go to Lvov under escort to fetch the sheets, adding ‘Sollst nicht durchgehen’ (‘don't try to escape’). Off I went in a lorry with one guard and four Gestapo. After loading the whole day, I stayed in the lorry guarded by one of the thugs, while the others went away looking for fun. I sat there for a few hours without moving or thinking. Then, quite by chance, I noticed that my guard was asleep and snoring. Instinctively and without a thought, I slipped down from the lorry and stood on the pavement pretending to adjust the load. Then I slowly backed away. Legionowa Street was full of people. There was a blackout. I pushed my cap down lower and no one noticed me. I remembered the address of my Polish housekeeper and went straight to her flat. She hid me. It took twenty months for the physical injuries to heal. But what of the mental
wounds? I was haunted by images of past horror, hearing the moans of the murdered and the children crying, and the throb of a running engine. Nor could I wipe from my memory the faces of those German thugs. And in such a state of continuous nightmare I survived until the liberation.
When the Red Army expelled the Germans from Lvov and I was finally able to come out of hiding without fear, to breathe fresh air and to begin to feel and think again, I was seized by a desire to go back to this place where two and a half million of our people met their terrible death. I went there soon and spoke at length with the locals. They told me that in 1943 a much smaller number of transports came to the camp. The murder centre for the Jews moved further west, to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
In 1944 the Germans opened up the pits and burned the bodies with petrol. Dark, heavy smoke rising from the enormous open-air pyres hung over an area of several dozen square miles. The wind carried the stench still further, for many long days, nights, and weeks.
And later, the locals told me, the Germans pounded the remaining bones to powder, which the wind blew away over the fields and forests.
The machine for pounding the bones had been put together by someone named Spilke, a prisoner from Janowska camp brought to Belzec for the purpose. He told me that he found nothing in the camp except mounds of bones. All the buildings had already gone. (Spilke managed to escape, and survived the war. He now lives in Hungary. He told me all this in Lvov, where we met after the liberation.) When the production of ‘artificial fertilizer’ from human bones came to a halt, the open pits were filled with soil and the blood-soaked earth scrupulously levelled. The German murderers covered this graveyard for millions of murdered Jews with fresh greenery.
I said goodbye to my informants and went along the familiar siding. The railway line was gone. Through a field I reached a young and sweet-smelling pine forest. It was very still. In the middle of it was a large, sunny clearing.
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Action Reinhardt: Code name used by the Nazi for their Jewish genocidal policies.
T4: The centre for state sponsored murder of so-called ‘incurables’ – T4 is a shortened title taken from the address of the central office in Berlin, Tiergartenstrasse 4.
BDC: Berlin Document Centre – Personnel files of members of the SS.
BdO: Befehshaber der Ordnungspolizei (Commander of Orpo – Order Police).
BdS: Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD (Commander-in-Chief of the Sipo-SD).
Einsatz/Einsatzgruppen: Groups/Security Police and SD.
Gauleiter: The supreme territorial or regional Nazi Party authority, used in Germany and some annexed territories. The geographical units were termed Baue, headed by Gauleiter (the term is singular and plural).
GDG: Gouverneur des Distrikts Galizien (Governor of Galicia).
GDL: Ibid (Governor of Lublin District).
GedOb: Generaldirektion der Ostbahn (Director of Eastern Rail).
Gestapo: Gestapo is a portmanteau contraction of the name of the official secret police force of Nazi Germany, Geheime Staatspolizei, (German for ‘secret state police’). During the reign of Nazi Germany, the Gestapo was the central intelligence agency of Germany, under the overall administration of the SS. It was administrated by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt and was considered a dual organization of the Sicherheitsdienst and also a sub-office of the Sicherheitspolizei.
GG: Generalgouvernment. Main part of occupied Poland made up of four districts (later five, including Galicia).
GPK: Grenzpolizei – Kommissariat: A regional frontier HQ of the Grenzpolizei-controlled Grenzposten (border posts).
Hilfspolizei: Auxiliary Police, recruited from Nazi Party formations and sympathisers in occupied territories that assisted the regular police and security services in various functions but were not part of the Ordnungspolizei (Orpo).
HHE: Himmler-Heydrich-Executive Used to identify the main protagonists ofgenocide within the RSHA (Reich Security Main Office).
HSSPF: Höhere SS- und Polizeifuehrer (Senior SS and Police Commander): Himmler's personal representative in each district and liaison officer with the military district commander and regional authorities (Nominally the commander of all SS and police units in the occupied territories).
KdF: Hitler's Chancellery.
KdO: Kommandeur der Ordnungspolizei (See Ordnungspolizei).
KdS: Kommandeur der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD (See Sipo-SD). Hans Krueger was the KdS Regional Commander in Stanisławow. Krueger's immediate superior was Dr Schoengarth, the KdS commander of the SD in Krakow. The KdS was the cadre responsible for mass executions and resettlement. The KdO (units) were on the periphery of events and only utilised when requested by the KdS commanders.
KdSch: Kommandeur der Shutzpolizei (Commander of the City Police). Kreishauptleute/Kreishauptman: City Governors during the occupation in Galicia. Many were with the SD and very active in the Jewish resettlement programme.
Kriminalassistent: Lowest grade of criminal police (Criminal Investigation Department).
Kriminalkommissar: The lowest rank in the upper officer class of the CID (Obersturmfuehrer). Promotion to Kriminalrat (Hauptsturmfuehrer). For the outsider, the rank alignment is complicated: An officer could hold the rank of Kriminalkommissar but also hold a higher rank in the SS as SS- Hauptsturmfuehrer. In many of the Security offices, the lower grade CID officer could out-rank his boss with SS rank, and although this situation should not have presented any problems, sometimes it led to an awkward awareness within the office.
Kripo: Kriminalpolizei; Detective Police.
NSDAP: Nazi Party. National Socialist German Workers Party.
OKW: Obercommando der Wehrmacht – the high Command of the Third Reich armed forces.
Orpo: Ordnungspolizei (Order Police): Separate from the Gestapo and Criminal police. The Orpo within Germany handled civilian matters such as traffic patrols and routine police business. However, in the occupied territories or regions – notably Poland and Russia – Orpo often had Einsatzgruppen roles, including carrying out mass killings. Since 1933, the Ordnungspolizei and Shutzpolizei had become the foot soldiers of the Nazi Security Service.
Reichsleiter: Member(s) of an executive board of the Nazi Party.
RFSS: Reichsfuehrer-SS (Chief of all police cadres – Himmler).
RSHA: Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office), formed in 1939 under Reinhardt Heydrich. The department included the Gestapo, the Criminal Police and the SD.
SA: Sturmabteilung (Brown Shirts, Storm Troopers).
Schupo: Shutzpolizei. Auxiliary police recruited in the eastern occupied territories from the local population.
Sipo-SD: SD Sicherheitsdienst:(+ Sicherheitspolizei = Sipo-SD of the RSHA).
Selbstschutz: A militia as used by Globocnik in the early stages of Jewish oppression in the Lublin area.
Sonderdienst: A militia that replaced the Selbstschutz in name only.
SS-Schutzstaffel: (Lit. ‘Defence echelon’).
SSPF: SS-und Polizeifuehrer (commander of a police district e.g. Globocnik in Lublin).
Volksdeutsche: ethnic Germans, that is, people of German origin whose families had lived outside Germany for generations. Reichsdeutsche refers to German nationals living within the pre-1939 boundaries of the Third Reich.
WVHA: Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt der SS: Economic Division RSHA, which administered and supervised the vast web of concentration camps (but not the ‘Reinhardt’ camps).
zbV: Einsatzgruppen zur besonderen Verwendung (Einsatzcommando, zbV for special purposes).
This 500 Zloty currency note dated 1940 (to-days value £100) came into the author's possession in 1990, having been given to him by a former Polish police officer who had served in Rabka, June 1942. Wishing to remain anonymous, the former officer stated that he had taken the money as a bribe to release a Jewish male in his custody on Zaryte Street, Rabka during the deportation round-up for the Belzec death camp.
The author has donated the currency note as a gift to Pastor Werner Oder (the son of former SS Scharfuehrer Wilhelm Oder) and to his church: the Tuckton Christian Centre.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
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