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CHAPTER 13

Transfer of Reinhardt personnel to Italy

The old rice factory (La Risiera)
(adjacent to the San
Sabba crematorium )
in Trieste.
[1] )
(* On the San Sabba photograph,
traces of the crematorium built by
Erwin Lambert in the inner courtyard
can be seen to right of the tower.)

Internet

Although Italy may appear to be far removed from Lublin and the Reinhardt death camps, the HHE continued to direct their attention to the Jewish Question. With the downfall of Mussolini on July 25, 1943 and the surrender of his satrap Marshall Badoglio to the Allies, Germany quickly entered the fray by occupying northern Italy and disarming all military forces. In early September 1943, vast numbers of German administrators and security forces entered the areas of occupation, just as they had in Poland in 1939 and Soviet territory in1941 to maintain the status quo.

On September 25, 1943, the HHE were again quick off the mark, outflanking their civilian cohorts and immediately proceeding with anti-Jewish measures as a priority over all other economic and military objectives.[2] The SS in Berlin continued pulling the strings, so to speak, by installing their most experienced and well- proven anti-Semite operators in high positions: Dr Otto Wächter, formally of Kraków and Governor of Galicia, was now chief of military administration, and Globocnik was installed as District Police Commander, accompanied by a full contingent of elite Reinhardt personnel.

Post Reinhardt deployment: San Sabba and Programme 'R'

Globocnik arrived in Trieste on September 23, 1943 to take up his appointment as the HSSPF and overseer of the 'Einzatz Poll' fortifications.[3] Accompanying him to Trieste was the old team from Lublin: Wirth, Stangl, Oberhauser and 120 other men, 10 of them from Treblinka, and a number of non-commissioned officers and five Volksdeutsche. Under Globocnik's leadership the Reinhardt team was known as 'Einsatz R'.[4] This unit was commanded by Christian Wirth until his suspicious death in May 1944, when Dieter Allers, who had been transferred from Hitler's Chancellery (KdF) to Trieste, succeeded him.[5]

Globocnik installed several regional offices with the central base in Trieste: R I (Fiume-Sušak) under Hering, R II (in Undine) under Reichleitner, and R III under Stangl. Another unit, R IV, was based in Metre, which was outside the Adriatic Coastland region. Einsatz R, under Wirth's overall command, was responsible for all Jewish measures and Italian and Yugoslav partisans). A transit camp for Italian Jews and captured Italian and Yugoslav partisans was established in an abandoned rice mill ('La Risiera') in the San Sabba suburb of Trieste, which was operational from October 30, 1943 to April 30, 1944.

San Sabba was established solely as a transit camp for deporting the last few Italian Jews to the labor camps in Germany or direct to Auschwitz. While Wirth was in control, San Sabba remained the headquarters of the Einsatz R units under Dieter Allers right up until they withdrew across the border into Austria towards the end of the war.

Excess T4 personnel who had returned to Berlin after Reinhardt closed in Poland were hastily recalled on Christmas Eve 1943 to report directly to Wirth in Italy.[6] All the old familiar faces from Belzec, Sobibór and Treblinka were now ensconced together under the same proven police leadership.[7] Wirth and Hering had not lost their touch or commitment to the Jewish Question. They introduced the necessary accoutrements for mass murder by establishing gas van facilities and crematoria.[8] The 'R' staff continued to use the methods used in Poland: beating prisoners to death, torturing, and ordering young children to collect firewood to light the fires for their own cremation.

Resettlement actions

On October 9th, working on orders from the HHE independently of Einsatz R, the SD began the round-up of Jews for resettlement and the handover of Jewish property to Globocnik's coffers.[9] These Jews were the first to be deported from Trieste to Auschwitz in a co-ordinated resettlement action originating from Milan. Many Jews who managed to avoid previous actions and resettlements were now caught-up in the security sweeps by an even more determined enemy.[10]

According to Italian court documentation, Globocnik's units murdered over 3,000 people in the San Sabba that included captured Italians, Yugoslav Partisans, and Jews. The records confirm that 22 deportation trains were organized in Trieste sending Jews and political prisoners to Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, and Bergen-Belsen. As in Poland, the old and the sick were weeded out and shot before deportation. These actions only terminated when the war front was getting closer and defeat appeared imminent.[11] Even so, the Jews in Trieste fared far better than in other districts.[12]

Personnel knew too much

Many of the T4/SS staff believed that the true reason for their transfer into this dangerous and partisan-infested district was a determined policy by Berlin to get rid of them. The question arose frequently among the men that because of the genocidal crimes they had carried out in Reinhardt, the HHE were mindful of their special knowledge that could tie them inextricably to the genocide and unravel the secrecy at some time in the future. It was accepted by some of those in authority that the war was already lost and it was only a matter of time before Germany would have to answer for her crimes.

Within this atmosphere and fear of possible retribution, the HHE may have considered a solution whereby these men could be placed in situations where their lives were more likely to be lost more quickly. Rumors abounded among the old Reinhardt garrisons as to how their fate would eventually be decided. Stangl explained, “We were an embarrassment to the brass. They wanted to find ways to get rid of us.”[13] Wirth had confided in a similar tone to his men in Treblinka in August 1942, “The Jews are here to be killed. The Ukrainians, after the job is done, will be killed too. What will happen to us we do not know. It could be that we, too, will die.”[14] Globocnik had also made known his feelings, “I, too, am no longer in it with all my heart. However, I am so deeply implicated in the matter that I have no choice – I must win, or perish with Hitler.”[15] The rumors continued among the men for many months and were often the subject for discussion in the mess. The men felt deeply uneasy, and they were proved right. Josef Oberhauser stated, in answer to the Prosecution Counsel at the Munich court on June 24, 1963:

“It is right that the members of T4 cultivated the rumor that after the 'final victory', or at some time when the military situation justified it, at the wish of the highest leader of the NSDAP (Hitler), we were to be sent on a 'Strength Through Joy' voyage.[16] The object of this pleasure trip was to gather all those with the unpleasant knowledge of the Jewish extermination operation and eliminate them. This rumor struck home and was naturally not good for morale. Wirth was interested enough to investigate the affair and to procure the certainty as to whether it was a rumor or an actual intention of the state leadership which had somehow leaked out.

Wirth had the opportunity to mention these fears when Blankenburg (KdF) came to see Globocnik. Without further ado, Wirth took hold of Blankenburg and reproached him with the rumor among the troops about the 'Strength Through Joy' voyage – and demanded an explanation. I (Oberhauser) personally heard this conversation. I stood immediately next to Wirth. This stunned Blankenburg. He fumed a glaring red, exactly as if one had confronted a murderer who believed until now he was undetected. His psychological reaction was unusual. He was unable to say anything and when he had pulled himself together, he muttered that he would go immediately to Reich Leader Bouhler and Reich Leader Bormann to bring a stop to this at the highest levels. In fact, one had the impression that he was completely in the picture, and that it was not a rumor but a secret intention of the NS-leadership, which through some kind of indiscretion had leaked out.

We never heard anything more about this subject. It is possible that Blankenburg had been directed to undermine the morale of the troops, but the rumor was never scotched.”

Franz Suchomel (SS-Scharführer Treblinka), who was no friend of Oberhauser, corroborates this rumor and although he thought it was unlikely, he says that “anything was possible.”[17]

Christian Wirth is shot dead!

By December 1944, the rumors circulating about a possible 'secret action' against the Reinhardt men had receded and were no longer the topic of conversation. Then suddenly, without warning, on May 26, 1944, Wirth, Reichleitner, Schwarz, Gringers, and others from the Einsatz R units, were dead in quick succession, allegedly shot in partisan operations or killed under mysterious circumstances. Whether this was the case or not has never been clearly established. Wirth, by all accounts, had just disappeared from his place of duty and was presumed dead, killed by partisans.

Stangl, who appears to have accepted the war's outcome, had slipped away to his native Austria, probably to mount a cover story for times gone by, but not before he had seen Wirth lying dead! In the Sereny interview, Stangl casually mentions seeing Wirth dead just before leaving Trieste: “I saw him dead. They said partisans killed him but we thought his own men had taken care of him.”[18]

The assassinations of Reichleitner, Wirth and Schwarz by partisans are well documented in Ludwigsburg archives in Germany, and in the Ljubljana archives in Slovenia. There's a whole file at the Public Record Office on Globocnik's last days and suicide. Maj. Ken Hedley who, arrested Globocnik in the mountain chalet and received very interesting information from former SS-Stubaf. Ernst Lerch, who was sent by Globocnik with an SS unit to hunt down Wirth's killers. In the Tregenza collection in Lublin (TAL), a copy can be seen of the diary of Yugoslav partisan leader who arranged Wirth's assassination.

There were certainly a number of former concentration and death camp officers who either died in uncertain circumstances or just disappeared and were presumed dead. Among them were the deaths in suspicious circumstances of Hering, Globocnik, and Wilhelm Krüger (HSSPF Kraków).[19]

Wirth, Schwarz and Reichleitner all found their final resting place in the German cemetery on the hilltop town of Costermano on the slopes of Monte Baldo, between the eastern shore of Lake Garda and Verona, where they still remain.[20] Although their names have been removed from the book of memory and the register of war dead and on the gravestones, once a year, flowers are laid on the graves and unidentified visitors attend to pay homage. They have been observed giving the Nazi salute.

Final Accounting

The Führer's Chancellery and the higher echelons in the Reich opened a special department designed especially to control the efficient manner of killing several million people. The Economics Ministry, the Reichsbank, and central institutions of the German Reich, were involved in dividing up the spoils and in this manner all became accomplices in the killing process. Large German industrial establishments received Jewish materials for recycling which were distributed by the Economics Ministry. The Commercial Register in Berlin registered the above-mentioned fictional firm that was created by the Nazi hierarchy of the SS and Police to exploit Jews as slave labor.[21]

In Lublin, SS-Judge Konrad Morgan and SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Heinrich Wilhelm Weid from the SS-investigation squad of the RSHA, scented blood as the whole complexity of Reinhardt had now been fully exposed. Globocnik had read between the lines and immediately began a cover-up operation.[22]

Hoess, a knowledgeable insider, considered the whole Reinhardt program in Lublin to be a center of corruption and theft which enriched everyone involved.[23]

It was from his headquarters in Trieste that Globocnik confirmed in writing to Himmler (at the very time of the massacres occurring in Majdanek on November 4, 1943) that Reinhardt had been officially concluded on October 19, 1943, only five days after the revolt in Sobibor.

Globocnik's 38 -page document that makes up his final report for Reinhardt, confirms that the extermination of several million Jews from different European countries was a massive act of industrial killing. The report is divided into two separate sections with appendices, which contained a number of significant explanations and requests. The documents included details of the resettlement of Jews from the Lublin District, the retention of working[24] Jews for manufacture and, furthermore, that he (Globocnik) had finally handed over the Jewish work camps to Oswald Pohl, who was in charge of all concentration camps. A specific schedule showed (minus Reich Marks) currency from 29 countries.[25]

Medals and Promotions

In the same report, Globocnik reminded Himmler of his promise that for extraordinary achievements in fulfilling this work it would be possible to have the Iron Cross awarded to the men of Reinhardt. He requested permission to lodge special application forms and added that the had received such recognition for the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, which was only a small part of the task that had been Reinhardt. Globocnik concluded with the words that he would be grateful if the Reichsführer recognized the hard work of his subordinates.[26]

Himmler's reply to Globocnik on November 30,1943 was brief:

“Dear Globus!

I acknowledge your letter of 11-4-43 and your report about the end of 'Operation Reinhardt.' In addition, I thank you for the attached files. I acknowledge your great and unique service in accomplishing 'Operation Reinhardt' for the glory of the whole German Nation. My thanks and appreciation.

Heil Hitler!

Sincerely yours,

H.H.”

There was no mention of Iron Crosses or Reinhardt accounts in Himmler's reply.[27]

During Himmler's last visit to Lublin on February 12, 1943, he promoted Globocnik's Reinhardt leadership. All kinds of difficulties appear to have arisen regarding these promotions.[28] Further promotions of this team was frustrated by the RSHA; some were later confirmed while others were rejected. Wirth's promotion to SS-Obersturmführer was rejected by the RSHA Personnel Department, as Wirth had not held the intermediary rank of SS- Hauptsturmführer.[29] Hering had been promoted to Police Inspector of the Kriminalpolizei and recommended for promotion to the SS-aligned rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer, which was rejected, as he had never been a member of the Waffen SS.[30] (Hering was later promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer after Himmler's intervention with the SS Main Personnal Office in Berlin). However, SS-Oberscharführer Josef Oberhauser, who was a bona-fide member of the SS, was promoted to SS-Untersturmführer in June 1943. The confusion continued when Globocnik tried to secure promotions for his police commandants, Reichleitner and Stangl, neither of whom held Orpo or SS ranks, and, as mere Kriminalsekretäre, were not qualified for the SS rank of Obersturmführer.[31]

It is interesting to note in this exchange that Globocnik confirmed that Stangl was not SS at all, but was a police officer working under cover: “Stangl is the best camp commander who was the most prominent individual in the whole action. While still in the Austrian police, he served as an undercover SS man.”[32] If Globocnik took this view about Stangl, and he should know, then the same view should apply to the majority of other personnel who were not SS; i.e., that they, too, were all working undercover, carrying out their duties in mass murder and, at the same time, by wearing the uniform of the SS, were also impersonators. However, they were entitled to wear SS-uniform for the duration of Reinhardt simply because that operation (in Trieste) was run by the SS. Karl Frenzel (former Scharführer at Sobibòr), who had previously been a carpenter in T4 where he progressed to Brenner'(burner of corpses) ,stated, '”I was not SS. There were only five SS. The rest were civilians in SS uniforms.”[33] Even Rudolf Hoess of Auschwitz referred to this group as Globocnik's “collection of misfits” and claimed that the men under him were out of control.[34]

These anomalies were to pervade Reinhardt to the end. These men, of whatever status, expected that their commitment and success in their tasks should be rewarded with advancement. The fact that some did not have the military background for promotion was a continuing running sore for them. Globocnik entered the row directly with Himmler and in addition to the promotions controversy, requested Iron Crosses for his team for their outstanding performance during the Warsaw Ghetto destruction, but again there was no response.[35] Himmler, probably reluctantly, and no doubt trying to distance himself from the corrupt side of Globocnik's Reinhardt activities, enforced the promotion issue but dallied on the issue of medals.[36]

With Wirth and Reichleitner dead and Stangl having fled to Austria, Globocnik stuck it out until mid-May 1945. In the general retreat of German forces, Globocnik teamed up with other fleeing Reinhardt personnel: Gauleiter Friedrich Rainer, Ernst Lerch, Hermann Höfle, Georg Michalsen, and Karl Helletsberger.

Globocnik's Suicide

At 11:00 on May 31,1945, realizing that the game was up, Globocnik committed suicide by swallowing a potassium cyanide capsule, at Paternion.[37] Perhaps Globocnik recalled Himmler's speech at Poznan and decided to take with him to the grave the knowledge about the genocide of the Jews. Earlier, however, Globocnik had been unofficially exonerated by SS-Gruppenführer Maximlian von Herff, the Chief of SS the main personnel office in May 1943:

“Although Globocnik's unauthorized acts were named, they were not criticized, but excused and judged right, because they were successful.”[38]


Footnotes

  1. See: Heberer. Adolfo Scapelli and Enzo Collotti, San Sabba: Istruttoria e processo per il Lager della Risiera, Associazione nazionale ex deportati politici nei campi di sterminio nazisti, Milan 1995. Return

  2. The RSHA sent a circular to all stations instructing that “all Jews of listed nationalities could now be included in deportation measures”, see: Hilberg, Destruction, vol. 2, 669. Return

  3. Construction project in the Po valley where 500,000 Italian workers were used as forced labour. Return

  4. 'R' as in 'Reinhardt', the name also stands for the program of this unit. According to Pucher 'R' may be identical to 'special account 'R' which existed before Heydrich's death and into which flowed donations from the 'circle of friends of the Reichsführer-SS'. Return

  5. Rückerl, NS-Prozesse, 75. Return

  6. TAL/ZStL, Belzec Case: Statement of Heinrich Gley, 4 December 1961. Return

  7. San Sabba personnel: (Globocnik?), Wirth, Hering, (Reitlinger?), Stangl. (* Reichleitner and Stangl were not members of San Sabba Staff – they led their own 'R' units). Plus 18-20 SS from Sobibór and Treblinka. There were nine from Belzec: Oberhaser, Franz, Hackenholt, Tauscher, Dubois, Gley, Jührs, Girtzig and Barbl. Return

  8. The gassing location was a large garage that was converted by SS-Scharführer Erwin Lambert (T4), the master builder who had constructed the gas chambers at T4 and in Reinhardt. As in Belzec, exhaust gasses were used. See Friedlander, Origins, 215. (* Lambert also constructed the San Sabba crematorium). Return

  9. Pucher. That Globocnik's 'R' units were engaged and in command of Jewish operations is shown by preserved arrest certificates that show the letter heading of the SD/Sipo had been crossed out and 'R I' inserted by hand. Unit 'R' in San Sabba stored all Jewish property. Return

  10. The Italian public have a long tradition in protecting their Jews and this was the case when the Nazi security forces began their Jewish operations. Even the Fascist element advised the Jews to leave and seek safety. Return

  11. For an overview of Jewish resettlement polices, see: Hilberg, Destruction, vol. 2, 665-678, and Susan Zuccotti, The Italians and The Holocaust, New York 1987, 133. See also: Blatt, Sobibor, 94. Return

  12. The Donati Chart, in: Hilberg, Destruction, vol. 2, 678 n. 74. Return

  13. Ibid., 134. Return

  14. TAL/ZStL, Belzec Case: Statement of Josef Oberhauser, 12 February 1963, Munich. See also: Statement of Franz Suchomel, 12 February 1963, and Blatt, Sobibor, 95. Return

  15. Tregenza, Wirth, 51. Return

  16. Ibid. 'Strength Through Joy', was introduced in 1936 when the Nazis arranged special excursions for the 'volk' (subsidised travel). Return

  17. TAL/ZStL, Treblinka Case: Statement of Franz Suchomel, 12 February 1963. Return

  18. Sereny, Stangl, 262: Stangl always maintained that Wirth's pugnacious character had been his undoing: “They said that the partisans killed him, but we believed that his own men did him in [ihn erledigt hätten].” See also Blatt, Sobibor, 95. Return

  19. Michael Elkins, Forged in Fury, London 1996, 185-6. Elkins (now deceased) was a well-respected journalist but in the individual details fails to definitively source his information. Other personnel claimed to have been disposed of by 'DIN': SS-Brigadier General Dr Wilhelm Albert (SD Chief in Lódz), SS-Major Dr Wilhelm Altenloch (SD Chief in Bialystok), SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Aumeier (Commandant, Camp I in Auschwitz), SS-Major Hans Bothmann (Commander at Chelmno), SS-Colonel Dr Hans Geschke (SD Chief Hungary), Paul Giesler Gauleiter Munich), SS-Lieutenant General Richard Glücks, Inspector General of KZs, SS-Brigadier General Dr Ernst Grawitz (Chief Medical Officer Ravensbrük), SS-Colonel Albert Hohlfelder (Sterilisation programme), SS-Lieutenant Kurt Mussfeld (Majdanek and Auschwitz), SS-Major Adalbert Neubauer (AR), and SS-Major Karl Puetz (SD Chief in Rovno). Further corroboration has now come to notice, see The Times newspaper 27 April 2000, 15: 125 Nazis believed to have been executed by a team of 35 Jewish soldiers. Return

  20. There was a long played out international dispute and protests, but oddly enough, the mayor and people of Costermano don't seem to care much about the scandal. Costermano is happily twinned with a town in Bavaria and regular cultural exchanges and holidays take place. Return

  21. Piotrowski, Misja. Return

  22. Ibid. Return

  23. Ibid., 261. Return

  24. Working Jews/work Jews discussed in Götz Aly, Endlösung, 263-268. Return

  25. Piotrowski, Misja. Return

  26. Ibid. Return

  27. Blatt, Sobibor, 92. SS-Obersturmbannführer Konrad Morgan had already commenced his investigations into Reinhardt..(My brackets.) Return

  28. BDC/YV 862. Return

  29. BDC/YV 862: Wirth's personal file sent to the author by Yad Vashem. The initial promotions are shown on document dated 19 August 1943 'Feld-Kommandostelle' (Field Headquarters), Personalhauptamt, Berlin, 'Bei seinem letzten Besuch in Lublin am 12. 2. 1943 hat der Reichsführer-SS die Beförderung von…..'After Himmler's visit to Treblinka in 1943, he came away impressed with the dedication of his Reinhardt personnel and decided to promote the camp commanders and several non-commissioned officers. Globocnik had already submitted a list recommending certain promotions to the head of personnel (RSHA) listing 28 of these men. For some reason the report was lost. In a follow-up report of 23 May 1943, Globocnik made a further request: 'to explain the whole matter, I would like to add the following. The above-mentioned: Wirth, Hering, Reichleitner and Stangl are the commanders who were at the forefront of the action in 'Operation Reinhard.” The RSHA stated that there were 'obstacles' to their promotion. After much pressure, the following promotions took place: Wirth - Sturmbannführer, the camp commanders, Hering, Reichleitner and Stangl to Hauptsturmführer. The three deputy commanders: Schwarz (Belzec), Niemann (Sobibór), and Franz (Treblinka) were promoted to SS-Untersturmführer See also: Arad, Belzec, 168. Return

  30. Ibid. See also: Hilberg, Destruction, vol. 3, 897 n. 18. Return

  31. BDC/YV 862: Letter from Globocnik (Sonderkommando 'Einsatz Reinhard') to the RSHA, re: promotions for his men who had distinguished themselves (file from SS-Oberführer Dr. Katz, dated 21.4.1943). See appendix Return

  32. Ibid. Stangl had temporary service with the Ordnungspolizei and appears to have had difficulty establishing his rank and status in the SS Personnel Main Office. See: Hilberg, Documents, 204. Return

  33. Blatt, Sobibor, 115: Thomas Blatt in conversation with former SS-Scharhührer Karl Frenzel in Hagen in 1983. Return

  34. Rudolf Höß: Auschwitz, 262. Return

  35. Reitlinger, Final Solution, 296. Return

  36. Ibid. Himmler had long suspected that Globocnik had been pilfering Jewish assets but had ignored his protégé's corrupt practices. When the RSHA auditors descended on Lublin in late 1943, they confirmed Himmler's suspicions. He had not learnt any lessons from his mixing-up of Party funds as Gauleiter in Vienna. Return

  37. This seems the most plausible account of Globocnik's demise. Return

  38. Pucher, Globocnik, Return

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