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Crossover from Euthanasia to Genocide

On July 17,1941, Globocnik was appointed Der Beauftragte des Reichsführers-SS für die Errichtung der SS- und Polizeistützpunkte im neuen Ostraum (Plenipotentiary for the Construction of SS and Police Strongpoints in the new Eastern Area.[1] Between July 1941 - April 1942, there was a plethora of coded radio transmissions between Globocnik and commanders of the SS- und Polizeistützpunkte in Riga (SS-Obersturmführer Georg Michalsen), Bialystok/Minsk (SS-Untersturmführer Kurt Classen), and Mogilev (SS-Hauptsturmführer Hermann Höfle). Also in the Soviet Union at this time and closely involved with Globocnik were SS-Obersturmführer Richard Thomalla (later to be overall supervisor of the construction of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka) and SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Dolp (in 1940, in general command of the labor camp complex centred on Belzec). When Globocnik was relieved of this construction task on 27 March 1942, with the exception of Dolp, all of these officers played important roles in Reinhardt.[2]

In my view there were three steps to total genocide: in situ mass killing operations post -Barbarossa (June – December 1941); first phase at Belzec (March - June 1941); second phase at Belzec, Sobibór and Treblinka (July 1942 - October 1943). This was a progressive war of annihilation against the Jews, brought to fruition gradually by a crazed anti-Semitic, all-powerful bully.[3]

The escalation of decision-making in the 'Final Solution of the Jewish Question' took place in October 1941. At a 'Final Solution' conference at the RSHA on October 10, the decision was made to deport Reich Jews eastwards where they would be held in camps. On October 19, the Jews of Frankfurt were targeted for deportation by the Gestapo, and three months later, after the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, German and Austrian Jews were dispatched in a wave of deportations to killing centers in the Soviet Union (Minsk, Riga, Kovno) and Poland (£ódz, Chelmno Sobibór, Treblinka, Majdanek, Belzec, Auschwitz), sometimes via the 'Durchgangsghetto' in Theresienstadt (Terežin) in Czechoslovakia.

The leading decision- makers in the Nazi hierarchy who argued for total Jewish extermination by gassing were now coming to the fore, and among the leading advocates in the General Government who were in favor of gassing were Dr. Wilhelm Dolpheid, SS-Obersturmbannführer, Dr. Ludwig Losacker, SS-Obersturmbannführer Helmut Tanzmann, SS-Gruppenführer and Governor, Otto Wächter. It is intriguing to note that in November 1941, Dr Dopheide negotiated with SS-Oberführer Viktor Brack at the Führer's Chancellery in Berlin to use the expertise of T4 personnel to solve the Jewish Question in his area. If this is so, Dolpheid did not know the purpose of Belzec, which was already being constructed.[4]

The years-long debate by scholars about the decision-making process for the Final Solution has produced a wide spectrum of interpretations and overviews. No direct evidence of the 'order,' written or unwritten, has surfaced, or is likely to.[5] The debate continues because it is crucial for understanding the historiography of the Nazi State. One could even say it is the 'holy grail' of Holocaust research and is likely to remain so. New research shows that it was a gradual and complex process and that the crucial decisions were taken in the summer and autumn of 1941.

Opinions vary about the most probable time or period that the decision was taken, but the consensus is that the optimum period was in the latter half of 1941. Christopher Browning, who for some years has been a leading researcher on this point, argues that it was a two-stage decision, one for Soviet and another for European Jewry - based on the euphoria of victory in mid-July and early October 1941, respectively.[6] If this is so, I would add that those decisions were also implemented in two main stages - predominantly in late 1941, to rid the Reich of unproductive Jews (confirmed by the Wannsee conference), and in July 1942 - the period of accelerated deportations of all Jews under German occupation, with the exception of Jews selected for labor.[7] Bogdan Musia,l in his case study of Jewish persecution in the General Government 1939-1944, concludes that the order was given in the first half of October 1941, based on the initiative of Globocnik and connected with his orders to Germanize first the Lublin District, and then the entire General Government.[8]

Peter Longerich suggests that the deportations from the Reich in the autumn and winter of 1941/42 precipitated the clearance of ghettos in the Warthegau and the Lublin area in order to make room for the deportees. It is proposed that the consequent commencement of mass gassings at Chelmno and Belzec.were not "The Final Solution" in action as such, which was at that stage still being contemplated by at least some of the Nazi hierarchy in a post-war "territorial" context, but rather as specific operations to murder Polish Jews `unfit for work', albeit in the knowledge and with the consent of the Himmler-Heydrich Executive. Longerich further proposes that it was Hitler's declaration of war on the United States on December 11,1941 that made the concept of using Western and Central European Jews as hostages against American participation in the war obsolescent and ultimately was responsible in part for the escalation to continent-wide genocide in the spring and summer of 1942. It had always been the intention to eliminate the Eastern European Jews, either through labor, starvation, shooting or finally by gassing. However, what had been initially conceived of as a post-war "solution" now became a wartime imperative.

Dieter Pohl,[9] Peter Witte[10] and Götz Aly, among others,[11] nominate late August and early September as the initial decision date. Certainly, there were a number of high-level communications as recorded in Himmler's diary for October: Globocnik appears in the diary on five occasions between October 9 and 25.[12] When Philipp Bouhler and Viktor Brack from the Führer's Chancellery visited Lublin at the beginning of September 1941, within two weeks of the termination of the T4 gassings in the Reich, Globocnik spoke to him about his 'special task' and referred to the Jews who were to be deported from the Reich.[13]

The realization of the enormous task entrusted to Globocnik (and Wirth) is brought into focus by Brack, who had directed the euthanasia program. During his meeting with Globocnik, Brack decided that additional personnel from T4 would be placed at Globocnik's disposal:

“In 1941, I received an oral order to discontinue the euthanasia program. I received this order either from Bouhler or from Dr (Karl) Brandt. In order to reserve the personnel relieved of these duties and to have the opportunity of starting a new euthanasia program after the war, Bouhler requested, I think after a conference with Himmler, that I send these personnel to Lublin and put them at the disposal of SS Brigadeführer Globocnik. I then had the impression that these people were to be used in the extensive Jewish labor camps run by Globocnik. Later, however, at the end of 1942 or the beginning of 1943, I found out that they were used to assist in the mass extermination of the Jews, which was then already common knowledge in the higher Party circles”[14]

In mid-1942, Brack wrote to Himmler where he again referred to Globocnik's role in this genocide. At about this time the pace of Reinhardt was already being markedly accelerated. Eichmann's trains were generally running on schedule and Globocnik's and Wirth's killing teams were in full swing. Brack continues:

“On the recommendation of Reichsleiter (Philip) Bouhler, I put my men at Brigadeführer Globocnik's disposal for the execution of his special tasks. Having received a further request from him I sent him more people. Brigadeführer Globocnik has stated that the campaign against the Jews should be carried out as quickly as possible, as unforeseen difficulties might stop the campaign altogether and then we should be stuck in the middle of the road. You yourself, Reichsführer, some time ago drew my attention to the necessity of finishing this work quickly, if for no other reason than the necessity to mask it. In view of my own experience I now regard both attitudes, which after all have one and the same end in view, as all the more justified. ”

The very first sentence of this letter confirms that the SS-garrison (T4) was in the pay of the KdF and was in no way connected to the service of the RSHA.[15] After Wirth's experimental period at Belzec, it was apparent that the capacity of the Reinhardt camps was not sufficient to cope with the planned increase in deportations. Brack's use of the words 'my men' confirms the status of T4 personnel. What we are seeing here then are the establishing principals and protocols as to how Reinhardt would operate independently and completely outside of all normal state functions. Brack was not simply an extermination planner sitting behind a desk for he is known to have visited Lublin at least once. According to Josef Oberhauser, Brack's visit came as a surprise.[16]

I find no support for the contention of the scholars who maintain that the initial decision was made outside this period, i.e. December 1941, or even later. My own conclusions as to the decision date are in agreement with Aly, Pohl, Musial and Witte. Although I am in agreement with many of their conclusions, one of the objectives of my own research is to pinpoint the activities of Wirth in the late summer of 1941, and the discharge of many members of T4 on 24th August 1941, and their emergency recall two weeks later[17] when Phillip Bouhler was requested to transfer them to Globocnik in Lublin.[18] Clearly, whatever decision and whenever it was made, once it had commenced there was no let-up, regardless of whether the killings were to take place in the execution pits in the Galician forests, or in the gas chambers at Belzec.

Much has been made of a visit to Lublin and Belzec by Adolf Eichmann but when he made this visit is difficult to determine. According to the evidence he gave at his trial, his visit was in the late summer or early autumn (two to three months after the invasion of Russia). This is unlikely, as the construction of Belzec only commenced on November 1, although the survey inspections must have been carried out before then, at least late September early or mid October 1941, as it is not usual to decide in one day to build a death camp and immediately commence laying the foundations the following day. The site had to be cleared first by cutting down the trees and undergrowth, (see:1940 aerial photo of the site). After that, only the concrete foundations for the first gas chambers had to be laid; the rest of the barracks – probably no more than half-a-dozen – were assembled from prefabricated parts. The fact that it took almost two months to build such a primitive camp was due to the appalling weather conditions – blizzards, fog, and temperatures as low as minus 25°C which halted work for days on end. The fences and watchtowers were not erected until after New Year 1942.

Whatever the date of Eichmann's visit the 'decision' must have been made well before construction commenced at Belzec on November 1st, and in my view, any autumnal visits by Eichmann can be disregarded for these reasons: Eichmann clearly states that he met Wirth (police captain) at Belzec and was taken into the camp where the final touches to the construction and sealing of the gas chambers were being made.[19] The evidence shows that Globocnik had handed Eichmann over to his deputy Höfle for a tour of inspection of the experimental camp. This entourage descended on the camp where they found Wirth, with sleeves rolled up, in the process of sealing the gassing barrack doors. After showing Eichmann the zinc-lined rooms (to facilitate cleaning) Wirth explained how the system operated:

“When he had made everything airtight then he would hook up a Russian U-boat engine, and the exhaust gas from this engine would be let in and the Jews would be poisoned.” „(Wenn er dies alles schön dicht gemacht hätte, denn hier würde ein Motor eines russischen U-Bootes (arbeiten?) und die Gase dieses Motors würden hier hineingeführt und dann würden die Juden vergiftet werden“)[20]

After taking note of the operation, Eichmann returned to Berlin where he submitted his report to his immediate superior, Heinrich Müller, head of the Gestapo, and to Heydrich.[21] Wirth did not take charge of the camp from the SS construction team until December 22,1941, and then went away, returning after Christmas 1941 to convert one of the barracks into a gas chamber. Any suggestion that Eichmann was there in the autumn is without foundation. A December visit by Eichmann, as first suggested by Christian Gerlach, is most unlikely,[22] as is Philippe Burrin's conclusion that at this time he also visited Chelmno, which was functioning, so he concludes that the visit must have been after December.[23] Gerlach later amends his views to a date after Wannsee.[24]

The exact date on which Eichmann visited Lublin is immaterial apart, that is, from indicating the connection between Belzec and the decision-makers in Berlin. Any suggestion that Belzec was one of Globocnik's localized cavalier solutions to the Jewish Question can be dismissed as fanciful. It is clear that Eichmann's visit could only have been at the final phase of the construction, therefore dating it probably t after the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942.[25]

The 'order,' therefore, must be calculated from circumstantial evidence. The evidence suggests that in mid-summer 1941, the orders had been issued on a 'need to know' basis. More substantial evidence appears in late 1941, early 1942. A corroborative factor and a signpost may be gleaned from the time when Globocnik received orders from Himmler to implement Reinhardt. Eichmann, in his evidence at his trial in Jerusalem, stated that Heydrich informed him two or three months before the invasion of Russia that the Führer had ordered the physical annihilation of the Jews.[26] Later, on a date not determined, Heydrich ordered Eichmann ''to drive to Globocnik. The Reichsführer has already given him corresponding orders. Look, see how far he has gone with this project.”[27]

We have the autobiographical notes of Rudolf Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz, who states that in the summer of 1941, he received “the order from Himmler personally,” to “prepare a site for mass extermination.”[28] “The existing extermination camps in the East are not in a position to carry out the large 'Aktionen' which are anticipated. I have therefore earmarked Auschwitz for this purpose.”[29] If Hoess had been instructed during the summer of 1941, why not Globocnik, who had to perform the same tasks? It is inconceivable that Globocnik was not aware of this. [30]

Globocnik met Himmler again on October 13,1941 to discuss proposals limiting `the influence of Jews' against whom it was necessary to take steps `of a security police nature.' It is conceivable that it was at this meeting that Globocnik received authorization to proceed with the construction of Belzec, where a preliminary survey may have already have been carried out. Following his return from meetings in Germany in October 1941, Hans Frank organized an important series of conferences in the district capitals of the Generalgouvernement. At the meeting In Krakow on October 20, Wächter commented “that an ultimately radical solution to the'Jewish Question' is unavoidable.”

One point that emerges is that the HHE/KdF had made 'the decision' but were uncertain how it was to be carried out. T4 technology and experience wrre useful, but the scale of destruction now proposed required much more technical support. This accounts for Belzec's importance as the experimental, prototype death camp.[31]

Once this problem of the mechanism for mass destruction had been solved, there was only the organization and implementation of resettlement that remained outstanding. For this, the Wannsee conference was convened as the final piece of the jigsaw. Reinhardt, according to Globocnik's own statements, was to be divided into separate sections dealing with deportations, exploitation of the work force, utilization of property and securing the valuables,[32] which according to the Nuremberg was the definition of Reinhardt.

The SS-officers present at Wannsee included Dr Eberhard Schöngarth, security chief in the General Government (BdS). Members of other government departments concerned with the Jewish Question in their districts also attended. When Heydrich outlined his thoughts on possible solutions he could not be sure that the Reich departmental representatives would back him. Lurking in the background to his preamble to the conference was Heydrich's 'real intent': to deport the Jews to the East to the newly constructed death camp at Belzec (which was only privy to the SS). Coming to Heydrich's aid and to carry the day for the SS was Staatsekretär Dr Joseph Bühler (Hans Frank's representative for the General Government) and Gauleiter Dr. Meyer (Eastern Territories), who drew attention to the 2.5 million Jews within the General Government who, he claimed, were a major health hazard and unemployable, and should be removed as fast as possible. Dr. Bühler emphasised to the waverers that transport and other technical difficulties were not a problem. Wannsee had the desired result with the unanimous agreement of all those present that deportation to the East should go ahead with all that it implied.[33]

The only matter outstanding, which was to prove a major sticking point, was the definition of 'Jew'. To the Nazis, defining who was and who was not a Jew was important when their deportation policies were discussed. This issue was never completely resolved.

It is interesting to note that in October 1941, three months before the Wansee Conference, preparations had begun to convert the old mansion at Chelmno into a killing center, and the mass gassings (in gas vans) began on December 8 1941).[34]Construction at Belzec started at the beginning of November.

The construction of these death camps, the very first, in relation to the date of the Wannsee Conference, is revealing as it shows that at Chelmno the mechanics of destruction were already in place and in operation, and Belzec was almost completed before the conference was convened. The physical extermination of unproductive Jews was already being carried out at Chelmno with gas vans. The gas van in Belzec was used during February 1942, and the experimental gassings in the first gas chambers at the beginning of March. The actual beginning of the Reinhardt exterminations was March 17, 1942 in Belzec. The experiments were not considered a part of the extermination operation, according to Oberhauser, and he should know.

Chaim Kaplan's extraordinary perceptions in his diary of the Warsaw Ghetto, as early as 1939, a few weeks into the war, had foreseen and predicted exactly this tragedy - the annihilation of the Jewish people.[35]

The connection between the T4 euthanasia operation and the ultimate decision to implement the 'Final Solution to the Jewish Question' are inextricably linked, as we have discussed. It cannot be simply coincidence that the technology for the destruction of those in the gas chambers of the T4 killing centers was at the optimum moment to the decision making process, in mid-to-late-1941, sealing the fate of the Jews of Europe.[36]

After the 'suspension' and within the period I have suggested above, this 'recall' is very significant. This sudden reversal was unquestionably the product of policy-making within the HHE and was probably the result of several high-level meetings: Viktor Brack at the KdF Hinrich Lohse, Reichskommissar of the Ostland, Dr Erhard Wetzel, from 1941 Adviser on Jewish Affairs at the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, and Adolf Eichmann, all of whom were very influential individuals advising the main planners of the 'Final Solution'.[37] Simultaneously, Himmler and Hoess were discussing the enlargement of Auschwitz, specifically with Jewish extermination in mind.[38]

In November 1941, a high-level conference of euthanasia personnel was convened at Sonnenstein where, according to the Hadamar 'gassing physician', Hans- Bodo Gorgass, '…the action was not to be ended as had occurred in August 1941, but it will continue…in some other form.[39] It is clear therefore that something was being considered for the T4 operatives. While many of the T4 personnel were in limbo, decisions were being taken elsewhere. Exactly what was discussed at these meetings is not clear, but shortly afterwards, Brack committed T4 personnel to undisclosed duties in the East.[40] By January 1942, when construction of the Belzec camp was nearing completion, the T4 leadership were on the Eastern Front under the camouflage of Organisation Todt.[41]

The HHE/KdF were now engaged in compiling lists of other T4 personnel for 'special duty'.[42] One such list entitled, 'Sonderführer', was sent to HSSPF Krüger in Kraków. It consisted of an unknown number of men who were probably to serve alongside the Ordnungspolizei who were becoming increasingly more active. Although it is not known where these men were eventually sent, it is possible they were sent to Chelmno to assist the police units gathering there.[43] Another list of 92 T4 staff that Wirth helped compile with Brack, Blankenburg and Professor Heyde) were designated for special duty in Lublin.[44] These men were not executives but the T4 artisans: drivers, builders, guardsmen, clerks and the SS-NCOs and policemen employed in the Sonderstandesämter of the killing centers. Even Wirth, and later Stangl, were at this point intermediary cogs in this machine that was gathering momentum.

We can ascertain on the basis of post-war interrogations that the KdF, for the Final Solution program under Globocnik's direction, gathered these men to form the nucleus of gassing specialists to staff the first prototype death camp at Belzec. To bide their time and keep this specialist unit together, many were sent to the Russian front to aid wounded German soldiers (Aktion Brandt).

Central to this group of medical experts was Dr. Irmfried Eberl (later commandant at Treblinka, who set up a medical unit near Minsk. Absent was Christian Wirth, the inspector and trouble-shooter of T4. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some T4 medical orderlies gave deadly injections to brain-damaged solders.[45]

There were many male and female T4 nurses in these units, as well as the SS bus drivers who had been 'burners' in the T4 killing centers. The statement by nurse Pauline Kneissler, who started her career in murder at Grafeneck, that she and her unit administered lethal injections to brain-damaged, blinded, mutilated troops and amputees, is accepted as fact. The account that she was later 'terrified of thunderstorms' shows just how close they operated to the frontline. Before the T4 men could finally be put to work, they had to have a killing center.[46]

As Brack testified at the Nuremberg Medical Trial in 1946:

“In 1941, I received an order to discontinue the euthanasia program. In order to retain the personnel that had been relieved of these duties and in order to be able to start a new euthanasia program after the war, Bouhler asked me – I think after a conference with Himmler – to send these personnel to Lublin and place them at the disposal of Brigadeführer Globocnik.”[47]

On October 25, 1941, Amtsgerichtstrat Dr. Alfred Wetzel ( Jewish affairs at the Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories), wrote to Heinrich Lohse, (the Reichskommissar Ostland,) with a proposal advanced by Brack.[48] In his so-called 'Gaskammerbrief' ('Gas Chamber Letter'), Wetzel suggest the 'Brack remedy' for Jews no longer able to work, while Jews 'fit' for labor might be transported east for further use.[49] Brack's suggestions were never implemented in Riga as originally planned, but Reinhardt strategists now called in his offer to loan T4 personnel for the gassing of Jews in the General Government. On December 14, 1941, Brack kept a noon-time appointment with Himmler, ostensibly to discuss his recent proposal and perhaps also to secure or arrange the delegation of T4 personnel to Lublin. The meeting was followed by a noon-time luncheon attended by Hitler, Himmler, Bouhler, and Rosenberg.[50]

The construction of Belzec did not commence until early November and the camp was not operational until December 1941 when the first trickle of T4 personnel began to appear for duty.[51] Schwarz and Oberhauser were the first SS-men to arrive in Belzec at the end of October. The rest, a group of 10 men, arrived from Bernburg at the very beginning of January 1942. For the initial postings to Reinhardt, only a small group were sent. Other T4 personnel returned to their euthanasia institutions on a temporary basis.[52] In each man's pay book the red page endorsement read, 'not to be employed at the front line.' This was meant to ensure that the no secrets could leak in the event of capture.[53]

The second transfer of T4 men to Reinhardt took place in July 1942 in time for the second, main gassing phase from August 1. As this group were civilians, few of whom had had any military experience, they were sent first to Trawniki for a two-week basic military training course before joining the SS-garrisons in the death camps.[54] In fact, during the early days at Belzec everyone wore civilian clothes. Their assimilation was further enhanced when SSPF Globocnik, ordered SS-Sturmbannführer George Wippern, the SS-Standortverwaltung, to issue the men with Waffen-SS uniforms.[55] At first he did not want to issue the uniforms as these men were not under his SS-administration. He checked with Kraków and Berlin and was told to just get on with it and do whatever Wirth wanted without discussion or argument.

These uniforms were without SS runes on the collars. Even Josef Oberhauser referred to these men as 'civilians in uniform.'[56]Issuing the grey Waffen -SS uniforms and the designation of Scharführer (Sergeant) rank to the Belzec garrison gave some semblance of order and, perhaps, set an example to the Ukrainian guard unit there who were set apart and dressed in their own distinct military uniform similar to the SS-uniform. It may also have been a direct message to the local Polish and Ukrainian inhabitants to indicate an armed presence in the district.[57]Wirth, dressed in the uniform of a Stuttgart police superintendent, enforced this message to the residents of Belzec by leading his men on daily marches through the streets.[58] Conferring these men with the rank of Scharführer confirms the view that this was a special arrangement. To promote a civilian with no military background directly to rank of Scharführer was both odd and unprecedented, even in Nazi organizations.

It had long been appreciated by the KdF that the T4 men assigned to Reinhardt would no longer be fit for euthanasia duties inside the borders of the Reich and were now expendable.[59] In fact the T4 personnel had to wear the uniform because the extermination of the Jews was an SS operation; hence only the nominal ranks of Unterscharführer, Scharführer and Oberscharführer. Oberhauser reported the presence of 'an SS-unit' in Belzec to the local commander in Tomaszow-Lubelski as a matter of normal military courtesy. The marches in formation through and around Belzec village took place on days when there was nothing to do in the camp, simply to keep the men occupied, as well as to show themselves to the locals.

The Berlin leadership had let the 'genie out of the bottle,' so to speak. Aktion Reinhardt was so secret in its purpose that the HHE (Himmler-Heydrich-Executive) had to protect and cover the actions of its T4 trained murder cadre in the death camps. Extraordinary measures were adopted, regardless of the consequences, which led to an arrogant disregard for outside authority by Reinhardt personnel.They had no reason to pay attention to any authority other than the KdF, via T4, and SSPF Globocnik. They were 'untouchable' and everyone knew it. This was condoned by Berlin in that no outside interference was tolerated from any quarter. This being so, any measure could be either adopted or circumvented in the interests of State secrecy.

The distinction between hybrid concentration camp (Auschwitz and Majdanek), their subsidiary camps, and the Reinhardt death camps, was also apparent by virtue of the leadership personnel. In Reinhardt, the SSPF in Lublin, Odilo Globocnik, had specific qualifications for this task decided by Himmler, who had clearly indicated that Auschwitz was to be used as an overflow killing facility for Reinhardt: “The existing extermination centers in the east are not sufficient to carry out the large actions which are anticipated.'”[60]

Built under the direction of SS-Untersturmführers Hautz and Neumann from the SS-Zentralbauleitung, Lublin, Majdanek grew to be a major extermination site for Jews only in September 1942. Subsequently, a third of the Jews from the Warsaw and Bialystock ghettos were gassed in Majdanek.

Himmler directed the building of Majdanek on July 20,1941, for the purposes of holding 25-50,000 to be used for labor. Majdanek had two masters: the SS-WVHA and SSPF Globocnik. Majdanek was probably one of the most versatile penal establishments in the Reich. Commanded by SS- Standartenführer Karl Otto Koch, who had been transferred from KZ Buchenwald, the camp was a central melting pot as a workforce reservoir for multi-national prisoners, including Jews.[61] It also acted as a clearing and economic counting house for Reinhardt. Gas chambers, which were' dual-purpose' – killing and disinfection-- were built in October 1942, and were used only sporadically for gassings until September 1943, when for some unknown reason the mass killings ceased.

Although approximately 70,000 Jews died there, it was not, strictly speaking, a Jewish death camp. The meeting of minds between the WVHA and Reinhardt was never fully realized as the WVHA was primarily concerned with labor pools, while the other, Reinhardt, carried out gassings of Jewish prisoners once they had proved ineffectual for work in Globocnik's enterprises.[62]

In July 1942, Himmler ordered that all camps and ghettos in the General Government must be cleared of Jews by the end of the year. As the ghettos and transit camps were emptied, many thousands arrived in Majdanek to work in SS enterprises. By the beginning of 1943, thousands of Jews deported from Greece, Holland and France arrived at the camp. Although Majdanek was outside the Reinhardt loop and administered by the WVHA, Globocnik used the camp for Reinhardt purposes in that the loot taken from murdered Jewish prisoners was added to the Reinhardt account. It is interesting to note that Majdanek is included alongside Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka in the secret telegram SS-Sturmbannführer Höfle sent from Lublin to Krakow giving the numbers of victims for 1942.

Majdanek continued to operate until 1944, receiving political prisoners from other camps in Germany and Austria. The camp functioned until early July 1944, when the Russians crossed the River Bug. Orders to abandon the camp resulted in over a 1,000 prisoners being marched towards Auschwitz and Gross Rosen. Very few survived. Commandant Rudolf Hoess, although deeply implicated in the destruction of European Jewry, was an outsider to Globocnik's camps in the East.

What the HHE/KdF was about to embark on was both unorthodox and of such magnitude that serious implications were emerging as to the integrity of the much - cherished Prussian military ethos and command structure. The German tradition of exemplary discipline and order in the military rank structure was being undermined and was disintegrating. When Rudolf Hoess was summoned to see Himmler in the summer of 1941 and told of his duties in the genocide policy, he was instructed to keep his orders in absolute secrecy even from his immediate superiors.[63] When SS-Obergruppenführer Jakob Sporrenberg replaced Globocnik in September 1943, he was expressly warned by Himmler to keep away from 'Jewish matters.' Sporrenberg, ignoring this advice, was curious to know exactly what was going on and went to Sobibór with the intention of inspecting the camp.[64] The commandant at Sobibór at that time was SS-Hauptsturmführer Reichleitner (a police captain and T4 graduate), who refused to open the gates and advised the Obergruppenführer to return to Lublin.

This action by Reichleitner in refusing to obey an officer, who was by any normal criteria his most senior local officer, emphasizes the complete disregard for rank and the belief by these men that they were untouchable, above the law and only answerable to the very highest authority.[65]

The duties of T4 specialists was initially to supervise mass gassings and they expected a certain amount of or even violent protests by the victims for which they were well prepared. The first line of defence, instigated by Wirth, was deception techniques designed to lure the victims to their fate with false promises. If that failed, overwhelming deadly force of arms was used by brutality, cruelty and disregard for life by the Ukrainian guards who supervised the continuous flow of victims. The SS, however, rapidly became indifferent or immune to the ultimate fate or the pleadings of the victims. They had eradicated any personal feelings or moral responsibility for what they were doing to innocent people. As Franz Stangl aptly put it:

“They were cargo. It had nothing to do with humanity – it could not have, it was a mass – a mass of rotting flesh. Wirth had said, 'What shall we do with this garbage'? I think unconsciously that started me thinking of them as cargo.”[66]

The men now engaged in Reinhardt were not the same men who had sought career advancement and family security when they initially joined T4 … they had become the butchers of men.


  1. Dienstkalender: See also: PRO (Tyas), HW 16/32: message transmitted 5 September 1941, where Globocnik uses his new title. Return

  2. BDC/YV, Globocnik's SS file sent to the author by Yad Vashem.Return

  3. See Longerich for an overview: Politik der Vernichtung: Eine Gesamtdarstellung der nationalsozial- istischen Judenverfolgung, Munich, 1998, 577–86 and 448, 457, 465, as cited by Browning in: Nazi Policy, 170-171. Return

  4. Sandkühler, Endlösung, 126 n. 48. Return

  5. However, see evidence of Georg Konrad Morgan at Nuremberg, re: Himmler's verbal orders to Hoß and Wirth, and evidence of Dieter Wisleceny who claims to have seen a written order from Himmler to Eichmann. Return

  6. Browning, Nazi Policy, 26-27. For general background see: Browning, Fateful Months, 86-121. Return

  7. Ibid, 76 who also brings to notice the work of Christian Gerlach in this regard ('Die Bedeutung der deutschen Ernährungspolitik für die Beschleunigung des Mords an den Juden 1942' in: Krieg, Ernährung Völkermord, Hamburg 1998, 167-257). Return

  8. Bogdan Musial, The Origins of 'Operation Reinhard', 116-18.Return

  9. Pohl, Judenpolitik, 97-106. Return

  10. Witte, Two Decisions, 318-45. Return

  11. Aly, Endlösung, 97-106. Return

  12. Philippe Burrin, Hitler and the Jews, London 1994, 127; see particularly notes 37-39. Return

  13. Ibid. Return

  14. TAL/IMT: Statement of Viktor Brack, 15 September 1946. That last sentence is, of course, wishful thinking on Brack's part. See the Nuremberg interrogation in which the interrogator 'looses his cool', calls Brack a liar and reduces him to tears.) Return

  15. They came under Globocnik's direct orders, but formally remained employees of the T4 organization. Officials in the Tiergartenstraße managed all personnel issues for the new Reinhard recruits, including salary and benefits. A special courier from the T4 Central Office came to Lublin every week with special payment and mail for the former euthanasia functionaries. Return

  16. TAL/ZStL, Belzec Case: Statement of Josef Oberhauser. Oberhausr had to say this to distance himself from 'inside knowledge'. Why was he in Lublin collecting more building materials for Belzec if not for expanding the camp? Is it believable that he, as Wirth's 'right-hand man and constant companion, knew nothing, as he claims? He himself admits to being present at meetings between Wirth, Brack and/or Blankenburg, and they weren't discussing the price of Polish beer! Return

  17. Ibid Return

  18. Browning, Path, 115. Return

  19. See Burrin, Hitler and the Jews, 125. Return

  20. Sandkühler, Endlösung, 159. Return

  21. Ibid. Return

  22. See Browning, Nazi Policy, 28/41 Return

  23. Burrin, Hitler and the Jews, 127, n. 29. Return

  24. Browning, Nazi Policy, 43. Return

  25. See: Kershaw, Hitler, chapter 10, note 103 (962, for remarks re: Eichmann's visit). Return

  26. YVA: Eichmann Trial: Transcript. Interrogation notes by Captain Avner Less (Israeli Police), 30 May 1960, tape No. 5, 172. Return

  27. Ibid. Return

  28. Rudolf Höß, Auschwitz, 206. Return

  29. Hilberg, Documents, See also Rudolf Höß, Auschwitz, 164. Return

  30. See: Himmler Diary, p. 186 and n.17. It has been accepted that Globocnik was informed verbally by Himmler during a conference in Lublin on 20th July 1941. Oswald Pohl and Hans Kammler were in Lublin on the same day. Return

  31. Gassing experiments were conducted at Novinki and Mogilev in September 1941, by Dr Widmann, the KdFs expert on gassing for T4. Return

  32. Pucher, Globocnik, Return

  33. For a summary of Wannsee see Longerich, Unwritten Order, 95-98. Return

  34. Browning, Path, 140. Two distinct methods of operating separated Chelmno and Belzec: Chelmno used gas vans operating from an adapted building, Belzec were constructed from scratch and improvise as the work progressed. Even so, Belzec gassings were not far behind Chelmno. Return

  35. Abraham I. Katsh (ed.), Scroll of Agony: The Warsaw Diary Chaim Kaplan, Indianapolis 1999. Return

  36. See Browning, Nazi Policy, 29: n 11 (Longerich's assessment on this point). Return

  37. Phillippe Burrin, Hitler and the Jews, 127. See also Yahil, Holocaust, 310. Return

  38. Rudolf Höß, Holocaust, 147-206. Return

  39. See: Patricia Heberer, 'Continuity in Killing Operations', Conference 'Aktion Reinhardt': Der Völkermord an den Juden im Generalgouvernement, Lublin, Poland, 8 November 2002. Hans Bodo Gorgass, quoted in: Klee, Euthanasie, 418. Return

  40. Pohl, Judenpolitik, 101-2. Return

  41. Heberer, Conference. See: Verfahren gegen Adolf Wahlmann u. a. Testimony of Lydia Thomas, 25 February 1947, 59). Fritz Todt was killed in an airplane crash after visiting Hitler's Wolfsschanze headquarters on 8 February 1942. Return

  42. TAL/IMT: Statement of Viktor Brack, 15 September 1946, Nuremberg. Return

  43. The security and police personnel at Chelmno consisted of: 10-15 SD and about 80 Ordnungspolzei. Within a 24-hour period, there were on average, 12 Orpo men, assisted by a few Polish prisoners and approximately 60 work-Jews, 20 of which were always chained when unloading the bodies from the gas vans. The Poles were allowed Jewish women for entertainment. As in the Reinhardt camps, the Germans were given extra pay and rations and allowed to take Jewish property. Return

  44. Ibid. At about this time (late summer 1941), Wirth had confided to a T4 doctor that he had been transferred to a new installation in the Lublin area. Return

  45. Klee, Euthanasie (NS-Staat), 372-3. In 1948, a close friend of Pauline Kneissler told post-war investigators that Kneissler had revealed she had '(given) injections at a reserve military hospital in Russia, from which soldiers died painlessly…' Grateful to Patricia Herberer for this information. Return

  46. See: Brack's meeting with Himmler at 12:00 hours on Sunday, 14 December 1941, and comments by Witter et al., re: a possible discussion point: Diensttagebach Himmler, 290 n. 48. . Bouhler and Brack met Globocnik in Lublin in September 1941 and for sure discussed Reinhardt and the transfer of personnel, then inspected the Old Lublin Airfield camp. Return

  47. Heberer, Conference. See: Testimony of Viktor Brack, Nuremberg Medical Trial, quoted in Arad, Belzec, 17. Return

  48. See Heberal: Conference. Dr. Alfred Wetzel, Reich Ministry for the Eastern Territories, to Heinrich Lohse, Reichskommissar Ostland, re: The Solution of the Jewish Question (“Gaskammer Brief”) reprinted in: Jeremy Noakes and Geoffrey Pridham (eds.), Nazism 1919-1945, vol. III. Foreign Policy, War, and Racial Extermination: A Documentary Reader, University of Exeter Press 1991/1995, 1144. Return

  49. Ibid. Wetzel wrote: 'In the present situation, there are no objections to getting rid of Jews who are unable to work with the Brack remedy. Incidents such as those that took place during the shooting of Jews in Vilna, according to the report I have received, can hardly be tolerated, in view of the fact that the executions took place in public; and the new procedures will ensure that such incidents will no longer be possible. On the other hand Jews who are fit for work will be transported further east for use as labour. It is clear that men and women in this latter group must be kept apart from one another. Please report to me about any further measures you may take.' Return

  50. Witte et al., Der Dienstkalender, 290. Lunch with Hitler was at 13:30, at which Bouhler and Rosenberg were present. Return

  51. For a further assessment concerning the date when Belzec was constructed see: Browning, Fateful Months, 30-31. Return

  52. See: Heberer, 'Exitus Heute' in Hadamar: The Hadamar Facility and 'Euthanasia' in Nazi Germany. (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Maryland at College Park, 2001). Return

  53. Arad, Belzec, 18. Return

  54. Ibid. Return

  55. TAL/ZStL, Belzec Case: Statement of George Wippern, 21 September 1967. ZStL, File No. 147 Js 7/72, vol. 73: Verfahren gegen Dr. Ludwig Hahn u. a. Testimony of August Wilhelm Miete, 23 April 1964, Düsseldorf, 14110-14119; Klee, 'Von der 'T4' zur Judenvernichtung', 147. Return

  56. TAL/ZStL, Belzec Case: Statement of Josef Oberhauser, 12 December 1962. Return

  57. Blatt, Sobibor, 24. Return

  58. TAL/ZStL, Belzec Case: Statement of Kurt Franz, 14 September 1962. Return

  59. Friedlander, Origins, 298. Return

  60. Rudolf Höß, Auschwitz, 206. Return

  61. The first Jews arrived in the camp between December 1941 - March 1942. Over 2,000 Jewish males were sent from the Lublin ghetto, which at the same time was sending the first transports to Belzec extermination camp. On the implementation of Reinhardt, further transports of Jews arrived from western European countries. Jews were now being transported from all over into the Lublin transit camps waiting their turn to be sent to the exterminations camps at Belzec and Sobibór. Those fit for work were sent to other ghettos in the district from where in time they also would go to the death camps. Many thousands were held in Majdanek for labour. Return

  62. By the autumn of 1942, three medium size gas chambers, (* There were originally two, one was later divided in half by a concrete wall. There were two much bigger chambers in a barrack in Field 2 which also still exist) a mortuary and crematoria were built. The gas chambers, similar in principle to those at Auschwitz, utilised Zyklon B gassing techniques. This killing complex was established in one unit with a 12 metre high chimney at the far end of the camp. (* The new crematorium was not constructed until late 1943 and did not have a gas chamber, it is now accepted that this room was the mortuary). Return

  63. PRO, File No. WO 309/1217: Interrogation of Höß, 14 May 1946. See also Höß, Auschwitz, 206. Return

  64. It is inconceivable (or most unlikely) that senior SS officials outside Reinhardt, were unaware of the situation and what was being perpetrated in the East. Return

  65. PRO, File No. WO 208/4673: Statement of Jakub Sporrenberg, 25 February 1946. Another incident occurred in the spring of 1942, when a drunken sergeant who had been sent by Globocnik with a message approached Stangl, the newly installed commandant of Sobibór. Stangl was affronted at the manner he was spoken to. The sergeant passed the message: 'If the Jews did not work properly just bump them off and get some others' (Sereny, Stangl, 110). Return

  66. Sereny, Stangl, 201. Return

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