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Chapter Nine

“All roads lead to Bełżec”

 

Painting by the author
Painting by the author depicting a resettlement transport from the Polish town of Kołomyja to Bełżec 1942[1]

…half fare for adults and all children between 10 years and four years; those under four years traveled free!
The two figures bottom right: the author and Michael Tregenza, who were engaged for many months
in the archaeological investigations at Bełżec.

 

Central control of deportation trains

The administrative center of the transports to the death camps was the RSHA in Berlin. From the offices of 1V B4, the Jewish Affairs department of the Gestapo, Adolf Eichmann supervised a web of deportation transports. In a co-ordinated exercise, the offices of the Ministry of Transport and the senior police chiefs in the Generalgovernment were brought together and between them planned and organized a systematic program of destruction.. Through the three regional Reichsbahn operational centers, the Ministry administered the timetables, fare rates, concessions, and arrangements for the escorting security personnel.

A commercial deal was concluded between Eichmann's 1V B 4 office and the Ministry of Transport. Exact times of departure were specified with details of the locomotives and number of cars/wagons. Sonderzuge (Jewish transports) took priority over Wehrmacht (OKW) transports. The minimum charge per transport was 200 Reichsmarks, with no charge for the return of trains after they had been emptied of their human cargo. A cargo of 1,000 persons per train was the norm, but for the Sonderzug the norm was 2-5,000 for short hauls (within Poland) allowing 2 sq. ft per person, and adjusted accordingly for transports elsewhere in Europe. That is one of the reasons why there was no shortage of resettlement transports - it was good business.

We have first-hand details of the resettlement transports to Bełżec of men, women, and children. We also know that the organizers of these deportations were Ordnungspolizei (Order Police), Shutzpolizei (City Police), Ukrainian guards, Polish collaborators (public officials), rail personnel, Sipo – SD, and the SS. The Jewish Ordnungsdienst (OD) Order Police on orders from the Judenrat were also involved.[2]

All resettlement rail transports to Bełżec from East and West Galicia districts were controlled from the Head Office of all Eastbound Traffic in Krakow.[3] The coordinating center for Reinhardt death camps was the Aktion Reinhardt HQ at the Julius Schreck barracks in Lublin.[4] The organization of a death transport for Jews from Krakow to Bełżec received exactly the same attention as 50 wagons of freight, military personnel, or armaments to any other designated location. Providing the bill was paid, it was only another entry in the ledger and surprisingly, the movements were not marked secret.[5]

In present-day travel offices, leaflets point out the benefits of group travel. This is exactly how it was in the occupied territories in 1942. The Reichsbahn offered the SS special rates for Jewish transports. For these resettlement policies of Reinhardt, Jews were transported at discount rates from these areas. There were special rates for large parties of more than 400 people, half fare for adults and all children between 10 years and four years; those under four years traveled free! The agency responsible for payment to Gedob was, of course, the SD, via Eichmann's Department 1V B 4 at the RSHA in Berlin[6], who then in turn reimbursed themselves from Jewish assets. This is another reason why there never was any shortage of trains for Jewish transports.[7]

The RSHA was invoiced per transport at single fare (return was of course not necessary), with appropriate discount adjustments for the children, plus return fares for the guard detachment accompanying the transports. There may have been other adjustments resulting from damage to rail property, the damage caused by Jews breaking and jumping (known as “jumpers” or “parachutists”) and from the trains to Bełżec. Another considerable cost was for the labor to remove the dead and clean transports before the return journey. All these tasks were billed to Eichmann's department in Berlin, which paid the rail authorities from a special Reinhardt bank account that was continually swallowing up Jewish assets.[8] The principle was very simple - Jews paid for their own demise.[9]

The Nazi killing policy may be summed up as follows. Up to June 1941, approximately 80,000 had been murdered under the euthanasia program. Up to March 1942, two million Soviet prisoners of war had been murdered. In March, 1942, 20% of the Jews had been murdered; 80 % were alive in the ghettos and camps. By February 1943, it was the reverse: 80% had been murdered and only 20% lived.[10] Sonderbehandlung (Special Treatment) was raging throughout the occupied lands, but the operation, Aktion Reinhardt, was so secret that few people in Greater Germany were aware of the death camps built specifically for killing Jews.

In spite of everything, the thought of mass murders, gas chambers and crematoria was not yet conceivable. By their art of deception the Germans had managed to shield their actions. Then, one sunny day in late 1942, a young dentist named Bachner, who had previously been deported from Prokocim to Bełżec, arrived back in the Krakow Ghetto, where he told his story of unbelievable horror. On arrival at Bełżec from the June deportation train, Bachner avoided the guards and concealed himself under a pile of clothing waiting sorting. When the coast was clear he dived into the nearby latrine pit. Immersed up to his chest in human waste he remained there and was a witness to the mass slaughter of his fellow beings. When the last of the deportees had been processed and stillness returned, he escaped by tunnelling under the wire fence and found his way back to the Ghetto, where he related what he had seen and heard of the destruction of the Jews from the June deportations of the Krakow Ghetto.[11] There seems little doubt that Schindler and Madritsch knew of the Bachner testimony from Stern and that the information must be passed to the Jewish organizations in the West. execution. It became known at a later date that they survived the OD executions due to the intervention of Tadeusz Pankiewicz.

 

Footnotes
  1. The two figures shown bottom right of the painting are the author (left) and Michael Tregenza. The painting depicts Adolf Eichmann's policy of offering cut price travel for Jews who voluntarily agreed to relocate to work camps. It shows the community entering the transport but on arrival at the supposed place of work, they are ushered out of the transport into the gas chambers. Painting taken from an original idea by Josef Bau to the author, Israel 1994.
  2. Return
  3. Ibid. See also: YVA 04/32. Main sources: Investigation by Jewish Committees in 1945 - Tuviah Friedmann (Documents), Director of the Institute of Documentation, Haifa, Israel. Friedmann investigated the Kołomyja murders and personally interviewed the surviving witnesses, including the testimonies of the brothers Moshe and Joseph Schliesser in Vienna in the summer of 1947. Friedmann was the driving force that culminated in the eventual prosecution of several of those mentioned, albeit the sentences bore no relation to the crimes committed.
  4. Return
  5. Generaldirektion der Ostbahn (Gedob): General Management of Eastern Railways. Gedob worked very closely with the 'Otto' programme (Operation Todt - 'OT') in the reconstruction of bridges and modernisation of over 600 km of track on the East-West line. Initiated in Krakow in November 1939, Gedob operated the expropriated Polskie Koleje Państwowe (PKP) - Polish State Railway, under the auspices of the Reichsbahn which in turn came under the Reich Ministry of Transport. The Gedob headquarters in Kraków was headed by Reichsbahnrat Dr Peicher, with branch offices in Warsaw, Lublin and Radom, and from the summer of 1941 in Lwów, and employed a staff of over 70,000. The Jewish deportation trains came under Department V (Operations), headed by Erwin Massute.
  6. Return
  7. Lanzmann, Shoah, 132-145: interviews with Raul Hilberg and with Walter Stier, head of Reichsbahn Abteilung 33 (Reich Railways, Department 33) These centres controlled all traffic (military, civilian and goods) and were the lynchpin of all Jewish Resettlement Trains (special trains) ordered by the Sipo-SD. operated in a buildings adjacent to HSSPF Odilo Globocnik's Reinhardt Headquarters, located at 14 Finkstrasse (1942), to-day 14, Niecala Street and the local unemployment centres in Lublin.
  8. Return
  9. Ibid. In a typical Fahrplananonordnung (Timetable Order) at Yad Vashem, nowhere does the word 'Geheim' ('Secret') appear. Hilberg also draws attention to this and concluded that classifying these documents as secret would only have drawn attention to them.
  10. Return
  11. Lanzmann, Shoah, 138. The 'Mittel Europ&auuml;ische Reisburo' (Central European Travel Agency), an agency one might find on the high street of any town
  12. Return
  13. Raul Hilberg, German Railroads - Jewish Souls, London 1976, 60-76.
  14. Return
  15. Ibid. There was no budget for destruction - the Jews themselves paid for their own extermination!
  16. Return
  17. The only occasions on which the railway authorities lost out on a payment was for the Jews transported to Auschwitz from Salonika in Greece because the Reichsbahn only accepted RM. The commanding officer where the transports were initiated (Salonika) was responsible for transport payment, and although the SD in Greece had Jewish money, Greek Drachmas, this was a currency neither acceptable nor exchangeable. This could only be overcome if the SD conveyed RM from Greece to Germany, which in wartime was difficult. Hilberg in: Lanzmann, Shoah, 144.
  18. Return
  19. Christopher R. Browning. The Path to Genocide, Cambridge, 1992, ix
  20. Return
  21. See Keneally, 150/151 where he gives a detailed account of operations in Bełżec. Pankiewicz corroborates the Bachner incident without the detail, see 59/60. It would be interesting to know if the Judenrat, i.e. Gutter, knew of this, and whether this was passed on to the Germans. Also it would be interesting to know Bachner's subsequent history. Corroboration of the Bachner story was vital. It was to come from an unlikely source, SS - Hauptsturmfuhrer Kurt Gerstein. At Auschwitz, gassing was carried out by commercial pesticide, Cyclon B. At Bełżec, Chelmno, Treblinka and Sobibor, the four death camps, Jews were killed by exhaust fumes from diesel engines: carbon monoxide poisoning. At Treblinka, it was the engines of captured Russian tanks and trucks which provided the exhaust. At his HQ in Lublin, on the 17th August, 1942, SS Oberstgruppenfuhrer Globocnik conferred with Gerstein about a more efficient agent. On August, 18th Globocnik took Gerstein and Dr Wilhelm Pfannenstiel, Professor of Hygiene at the University of Marburg, to Bełżec. At Bełżec the gassing of several thousand Jews that had arrived from Lvov was demonstrated.
  22. Return

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