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Chapter Ten

Destroy the Evidence

 

SS guards with prisoner
SS guards with prisoner

 

The ghetto in Podgorze existed until March 13, 1943.[1] In the final Action the SS, with the help of Ukrainian volunteers, ended the Jewish community of Krakow, known also as “Kehila Kedosha Kruke” - the holy community of Krakow. Only its famous synagogues, the Alte Schul, the Remu synagogue, the synagogue of Rabbi Isaac, and others are preserved to this day. The newer cemetery on Miodowa Street was devastated. Here the tombs and tombstones were overturned and broken, granite and marble monuments were torn out. Large black marble slabs were prepared for export, because they were needed for paving the walks leading to the villas of the German dignitaries; two more remote cemeteries were totally destroyed.

When the Germans realized that their war was not quite going according to plan they began to contemplate the possible aftermath of their genocidal policies. On April 30, 1942, District Commissars had throughout the occupied territories received instructions requesting them to immediately submit details of all mass graves in their district to Berlin.[2] The reasons were not long in becoming clear. Because of a number of military setbacks and the possible consequences, Himmler directed that all traces of mass killings must be obliterated throughout the occupied areas. The task of coordinating and carrying out these measures was assigned to SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel.[3] Due to his reputation for drunkenness and belligerency, Blobel was regarded by Berlin as a disgraced officer who had attracted the wrath of his superiors, and as a punishment he was transferred to other duties (Amt 1VB4), under the supervision of SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller, Eichmann's immediate superior. Blobel had been a successful Einsatzgruppen commander in Kiev where he had butchered 35,000 Jews at Babi Yar during a three-day period.[4]

Paul Blobel was entering new and untried territory when given the task of pinpointing all the mass graves throughout the eastern territories. With a small team of operators, known as Sonderkommando 1005, Blobel went to Chełmno (Kulmhof) to investigate the mass burial sites of the many thousands of victims murdered in gas vans. Blobel began his experimental burning of corpses by adopting various concoctions of fuel and pyres; even explosives were used in these experiments.[5] Although Blobel was charged with this task, it is evident that the order was more widespread and that in individual camps the destruction was to begin immediately on the commandant's own responsibility. This was common sense, as Blobel himself could in no way complete this task single-handedly. Thus, in June 1942, independent of Blobel, the exhumation of the bodies, cremation, and bone crushing started in the Janowska and Krakow camps. Blobel's instructions were probably to find the best and most economical way forward which would form the basis of procedures throughout the occupied areas.

Depending on the magnitude of the exhumation and cremation tasks, the groups of Jews assigned to this work averaged 40-80 workers. Among the group employed in Krakow were four doctors, a pharmacist, an engineer, a mechanic, an artist, a lawyer, and various other professional and working men. In the camps, ghettos, the death camps and any other place of confinement, the composition of personnel was the same. The only thing they had in common was that they were all Jews. On completion of their task, they were all shot and a new Kommando formed to take their place and move on to other designated sites.[6]

The task was so vast and deemed to be so urgent that camp commanders at other locations where mass killings had taken place organized their own “1005” Kommandos. In Plaszów KZ, SS-Hauptsturmführer Amon Goeth chained his Jews together, even when sleeping. When the work had been completed they too were all shot and a new team selected. Sonderkommando 1005 were held incommunicado and shackled each day. The chains, weighing two kilos apiece and fastened around both ankles and the waist, were worn permanently for approximately six months. Heavily guarded, the Kommandos were marched to the pits daily where they worked in the most gruesome conditions, including the common occurrence of exhuming their close relatives who had been shot or gassed several months before.[7] These men became immune to all sensitivity. Caked in mud and body fluids, poisoned, abandoned and lost, only their spirit drove them on in the hope, that some day, vengeance would be possible.

Due to the large number of killing sites, many were overlooked. For example, the Sipo-SD Academy at Bad Rabka (where Schindler and Goeth regularly dined with the commandant, SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Wilhelm Rosenbaum), had been used as an execution site for that area of southwest Galicia, but the mass graves containing over 2,000 corpses were not considered important enough to warrant special attention.[8]

A secret radio message sent from Lublin, which was intercepted and decoded by British Intelligence, refers to the escape in the night of 20 or so Geheimnisträger (bearers of secrets) from an unspecified camp near Krakow. The prisoners had removed their shackles and broken out of a tunnel beyond the camp perimeter.[9] These prisoners were Jews from a Sonderkommando 1005 team engaged in removing and cremating corpses. It didn't take long for word to get back to Schindler and the Jews in Plaszow.

There had been three execution sites in Plaszow. The first was Hujowa Gorka on the south -western part, the remains of an old military fort from the First World War which was set up on a hill within Plaszow camp.[10] This was the main execution site where daily shootings took place. The second killing site was on the south-eastern part called Lipowy Dolek where large pits had been dug by the prisoners between 1942 and 1944. This is where the bodies from the Ghetto liquidation were buried. The third site was on the northern part of the camp at the old cemetery.

Now we must turn to another protagonist of that period, Amon Leopold Goeth – “The Mad Dog of Lublin.”

 

Footnotes
  1. The Judenrat, and Gutter at its head, tried for several successive days to postpone the date of the liquidation, using whatever means possible. All attempts failed. Haase refused to agree to a delay of even one day.
  2. Return
  3. Interview by the author in Vilnius, November 1996, with Dimitri Gelpernas, deputy partisan leader in Kovno, who cites: 'Masines zudynes Lietuvoje 1941-1944', Dokumentu rinkinys, 11 Dalis, Vilnius 1973, 377-379.
  4. Return
  5. Hilberg, Destruction, vol. 3, 977.
  6. Return
  7. Leon W. Wells, The Death Brigade : The Janowska Road, Macmillan 1963). (Hereafter: Wells, Janowska).
  8. Return
  9. Hilberg, Destruction, vol. 3, 977.
  10. Return
  11. Wells, Janowska, 43.
  12. Return
  13. Ibid. Faitelson identified both his parents at the IX fort: in Belzec, Chaim Herszman identified his wife among a pile of bodies outside the gas chambers, and in Vilna, Szloma Gol recognised his brother.
  14. Return
  15. Investigations carried out by the author at Rabka.
  16. Return
  17. PRO (Tyas): HW 16/69: Message transmitted 27 February 1944.
  18. Return
  19. On the site of 'Hujowa Gorka' which is now a large bowl in the ground, are two monuments to the victims of fascism and the Jews. (1996)
  20. Return

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