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The SS: A Government in Waiting

The picture developing from activities at this time appears to confirm that moves were afoot in the establishment of a 'Schutzstaffel' administration, or SS-government, centered in the city of Lublin. To feed their economic plans and reorganization of society, the SS intended to Germanize this region by experimental social engineering. They planned to build a vast network of factories and work-camps specifically geared to SS requirements. The Frank-Himmler squabbles enacted daily were at the cutting edge of SS frustration in their attempts to pursue their philosophy.

Governor General Frank, still smarting over the 'Jewish reservation policy' and the hope that he would get rid of the Jews in the General Government, realized that he was being sidelined by the SS who were taking over the 'reservation' policy decisions. What annoyed him was the fact that the deportation of the Jews from his domain, which had been approved by Hitler, suddenly changed and the Poles were now considered top priority for deportation to avoid international protest after the war. Frank's 'Jews' in the General Government had been placed on hold.

Despite all the set-backs and disappointments Frank had endured regarding his Jewish problem, on December 16, 1941, he informed his associates of a reversal of policy and that it had been decided to kill the Jews regardless of their labor: “If the Jews survive the war while Germans sacrifice their 'best blood,' then the war would only be a partial success.” A year later, in December 1942, he tells a different story, regretting the loss of Jewish labor. “In our time-tested Jews we have had a not insignificant source of labor manpower taken from us.”

There is no doubt that the SS had laid claim to the 'East' and were prepared to go to any lengths to hold it, much to Frank's chagrin. The 'Jewish Question' was an impediment to the greater war plan, but 'solving it' was totally necessary from the ideological point of view and it would remain high on the agenda, even to the perceived detriment of economic and war considerations. As it turned out, contrary to its original purpose, Reinhardt was to evolve into an extensive industrial enterprise, where vast profits were made on the backs of Jewish slave labor to feed the ultimate aim of SS dominance.

The SS were in a great hurry to establish and protect their prominence over the civilian government and what ultimately emerged was a two-pronged assault, one directed toward SS superiority and dominance based on economic reconstruction, and the second, to deal with the Jewish problem as quickly as possible. It was only the method for carrying the latter that had to be resolved. Perhaps this is why we see Christian Wirth emerging as the main linchpin of Jewish destruction, while his immediate superior, Globocnik, although the nominated leader of Reinhardt, was largely occupied elsewhere -building up the SS Empire through a string of Jewish camps, factories and workshops in Lublin District.

Camp System

Theodor Eicke, SS-Obergruppenführer, was the father of the German concentration camp system after Dachau, the original concentration camp. Commissioned by Reichsführer-SS Himmler in 1933 to build up a concentration camp system within the Reich, Eicke, a confirmed Nazi, set about his task with vigor and single-mindedness. Initially, the local SA and local police were used to man these camps, but after a short period, because his Nazi ideas clashed with the German police, they were replaced by his own SS-men. A new politically hardnosed group of devoted Nazis were formed, known as the 'Totenkopf Verbände' ('Death's Head') formations. Eicke's policy and his new camp SS-staff confirm two points: the SS and the police were incompatible, and the SS camp personnel-- with their politically indoctrinated Nazi ideals and who would shrink at nothing when ordered--were ideal fodder for T4 and later in the death camps. SS-Oberscharführer Joseph Oberhauser, Christian Wirth's right-hand man and constant companion in the Reinhardt death camps, is an example of this new breed of tough murderous jailers.

The camp system in the occupied territories was multi-faceted and complex. Oswald Pohl's SS-Wirtschafts-und Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Main Office for Economy and Administration), which in March 1942 absorbed the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps, was more focused on the economic requirements of the war, and because of the need for a work force developed a strategy of extermination through labor.

Although Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Janowska were major genocidal establishments, they were not within the Reinhardt circle of pure death camps. However, after the closure of Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka by late 1943, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek took on the final implementation of genocide, well into 1944/5.

Camps within the political system of the Reich were duel purpose: the incarceration of political prisoners and the exploitation of forced labor. There were camps within camps where Jews were segregated, as in Auschwitz and Plaszow. The system also included a women's camp at Ravensbrück in Mecklenburg. Even the concentration camps like Mauthausen were for labor but with a clear emphasis on death through labor. As has been shown under the 13f14 protocols, there were many prisoner group-killings which took place within and outside camp jurisdictions, i.e, in the T4 euthanasia centers.

Initially, the Camp Inspectorate supervised Jewish labor and subcontracted the labor force to outside agencies, but in 1943 the SS superseded the Inspectorate controlling and exploiting Jewish labour. The Schindler factory in Lipowa Street, Krakow, is a good example of this, where Jews from concentration camp Plaszów were hired out at so many zloty per prisoner to the factory owners who paid the SS directly. The profit was made by the low differential cost between maintenance of the prisoners in the camps and the costs charged by the SS to the industries that employed them.

The nearest Globocnik came to setting up his own profit-making hybrid camps was when he went into partnership with the German industrialists Toebbens and Schwarz, based in Warsaw, to exploit Jewish slave labor in the subsidiary camps of Dorohucza, Poniatowa, and Trawniki. These centers of SS industry were connected with 14 other similar camps in the Lublin district. They were very profitable for the SS and remained so until the camps and all the workers were liquidated in November 1943 during the 'Entefest' ('Harvest Festival') massacres at the termination of Reinhardt.

In the Reinhardt camps, we are left in no doubt as to their purpose as self-financing human abattoirs run on the industrial principal of mass disposal, with the sole aim of killing Jews. No unauthorized person who entered these camps left alive unless they escaped. As we know, of no fewer than 500,000 Jews who perished in Belzec, only six succeeded in escaping and only two survived the war.

Globocnik's Labor Camps

In 1940 Globocnik opened a group of labor camps specifically to supply labor for the construction of the fortification sites being built in readiness for a possible drive east. The idea of erecting a defense line on the border with the Soviet Union, which came from Himmler in the autumn of 1939, received strong support from the Wehrmacht. Himmler realized that such a construction project would allow the concentration of several thousand Jews in the East to be placed in large labor camps for an indefinite period.

Known as the 'Otto Line,' this fortification extended 140 kilometers in length between the Bug and San Rivers, with a 50-kilometer section from the Upper San to the Sokolija Rivers on the border of the General Government and the Soviet Union. There were three main centers of rampart fortifications: at Miedzyrzec, east of Warsaw, Belzec ,and Cieszanow.

After the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the 'Otto' program was extended to East Galicia, where plans were to construct or repair a further 6,000 kilometers of strategic highways and other constructions.

All these projects came under the auspices of Globocnik in Lublin, who set up a Jewish labor administration to control the movement of Jewish labor throughout eastern Poland. To oversee these major changes, SS-Obersturmführer Karl Hofbauer was placed in command to oversee the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forcibly rounded-up for the scheme. Globocnik's Volksdeutsche auxiliaries and the Selbstschutz, under the command of the Befehlshaber der Ordnungsplizei (BdO), Commander of the Order Police, were the tools used for the security and control of this huge labor force. On April 22,1940, Globocnik announced that over 5,000 Jews were to be sent to the border at Belzec. A few weeks later, the first detachment of the SS-Grenzsicherungsbaukommando (SS Border Security Construction Detachment) arrived in the Belzec area to set up the camps. The Belzec labor camps became models for the accomplishment of 'destruction through labor' and would remain so until the death camps became fully established. The camps were closed down at least a year before the construction of the death camp began.

Already living in appalling conditions, which were the subject of much concern to the civil authorities as there were reports of typhus breaking out, Jews and Gypsies were rounded up and imprisoned in temporary camps and buildings surrounded by barbed-wire fences.

There were 20 camps along the 'Otto line fortifications.' A labor camp was constructed near the Belzec railway station in the mill and locomotive shed, 400 meters from the death campsite. Over 2,500 people, mainly Jews and Gypsies, were used to build this rampart and were imprisoned in the work camp. Jews were seized from Lublin and other towns and transported directly to the Belzec labor camps. Zygmunt Klukowski, a Polish doctor living in Zamosc, noted in his diary on October 1,1940:

“Today was a good day for the Jews because almost all of the men taken a few weeks ago to the Belzec (labor) camp have returned. For this the Jewish community paid 20,000 zloty.”

In Warsaw, the Chairman of the Judenrat, Adam Czerniakow, and the diarist Chaim Kaplan recorded in their diaries these deportations of Jews sent to supply labor for the 'Otto Line' in the Belzec area.

Within a few months, the whole area had become one string of labor camps serving these massive fortifications. The resident SS commander of the entire Belzec complex, SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Dolp, was a cruel, sadistic, and uncompromising overseer who had previously supervised the Jewish labor camp on Lipowa Street, Lublin.

During the period October 1941 - February 1942, productive Jews were still being sent east to supply these massive building projects. The Jewish labor camps' defense and road construction projects at that time were the predominant Nazi policy for the decimation of unskilled Jewish labor. The human cost was staggering, and once the Jewish workers had been forced to work on the anti-tank ditches under the most dreadful conditions, they were useless for any other kind of work. Even when the death camp at Belzec opened in March 1942, the 'Otto Line' and several of the labor camps supporting it were still functioning but with reduced importance. The newly opened Belzec death camp was designated as the central establishment for Jewish destruction for the Lublin environs and the District of East Galicia. The Jewish labor camps in the General Government continued to function until 1943, when most of them were systematically liquidated.

Belzec: The Beginnings

In September 1941, Reichsleiter Bouhler, head of the KdF, and SS-Oberführer Brack, head of Hauptamt II under Bouhler. Himmler and Globocnik met in both Lublin and Berlin on no less than six occasions in October 1941 (5 meetings in Lublin, 1 in Berlin). Following these conferences, gassing experts from T4 started to arrive at Belzec to assess the site. It is interesting to note that on Monday, October 13, 1941, Himmler conferred for two hours with Krüger, the HSSPF for the Government General, and Globocnik, SSPF for the Lublin District, in which Belzec was located. It is probable that the order to build Belzec was given at this conference.

Gassing: Experimental Operations

In a real sense Reinhardt death camps were the final stage in a direct line of development from the first concentrations camps founded in 1933. By 1939, a set pattern of political and labor camps was well established. In December 1941, with the expertise gained from the euthanasia program and experiments by the RSHA chemists, new mobile killing facilities emerged. Leading these prototype-killing facilities were, in the first instance, the gas vans used in Chelmno, near Lodz, which were supplanted by the system employed at Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka.

All the genocides undertaken in the Nazi killing centers were based on the use of some form of poison gas. Experiments using the exhaust fumes from a van had been completed in Serbia, where women and children were subjected to this killing method. Gas vans had also operated at Chelmno and in Russia by the Einsatzgruppen, but not without problems. In a handwritten report dated May 16,1942, from SS-Untersturmführer Becker to SS-Obersturmbannführer Rauff, the problems arising from the use of gas vans was explained.

The RSHA chemists had for some time been experimenting with gas vans but not without some unpleasant results. SS-Untersturmführer Dr. Becker, the roving chemist of the gas van technique, complained to special Kommandos that instructions for operating the system were not being carried out correctly. Dr. Becker had to remind the vehicle operators several times that pressing down hard on the accelerator to the fullest extent did not achieve the best results. By this method the victims died from suffocation and not death by dozing off, as was planned. By the correct adjustment, he emphasised, the victims would fall asleep peacefully. Distorted faces and excretions, as seen before, would no longer be experienced. Becker was concerned that by not operating the system correctly, the operators would be affected both physically and psychologically. The men, he said, were suffering from headaches at each unloading, caused by the residues of gas. The gruesome sight of the dead also upset them. Finally, he mentions that the men were afraid that the prisoners engaged in unloading the vans would take the opportunity to escape.

Gassing operations in Serbia and at Chelmno using stationery Sauer gas vans had proved very effective. The system was improved at Chelmno when the victims were collected from the Chelmno holding camp in Sauer vehicles and were killed killing en route to the burial pits in the forest. However, when gas vans were used elsewhere, for some reason the procedures changed. The victims were transported by other means to the execution site to await the arrival of the gas vans. Einsaztgruppen D and C, in the remote regions around Kiev, used this method. In experimental gassings in Kiev, the wet weather was the main cause for breakdown for the first-series Sauer vans. In the second-series vans it was not a question of the vans working better; it was the case that the vans would only work in totally dry weather. Becker cited the difficulties. Only in good weather could the van be brought to the execution site, which is usually 10-15 km away from the highways, so in wet weather the site was not accessible; victims waiting soon realized what was going to happen and became restless. Becker realized the acute problems and suggested that the victims should no longer be transported to the gas vans; instead, the gas vans should collect the victims (as at Chelmno) and drive them to the executions site, killing them en route.

In addition to these suggested changes, Becker also recommended that the vans should be camouflaged as house trailers with shutters placed on the sides to appear similar to other transports familiar to the area. The secret purpose of these vans, he added, could not otherwise be guaranteed. Further problems arose: driving the vans over such vast distances resulted in many breakdowns with no suitable repair shops en route. To return them to Berlin for repair was neither economic nor practical. To overcome this Becker suggested that quantities of spare parts be made available and carried in each van.

Simultaneously with the gas van experiments, the first static gas chambers were built within the euthanasia program of 'Lebensunwerten Leben' ('Life unworthy of life'). The first static gas chambers were built using bottled gas and were operated by a medical technician. So successful were these experiments that they became the accepted form by which groups of people could be economically 'dealt with,' quietly and quickly. Following on from the successful gassings within euthanasia, the KdF quickly centered on the static gas chamber as the preferred killing method in a death camp. Belzec was the first of these.

There is some debate as to whether Chelmno or Belzec can lay claim to being the first pure death camp. Chelmno was essentially a holding and facilitating camp - a base from which the perpetrators operated, transporting the Jews through one door and out the other directly into the gas vans. Apart from a few Jews who were kept for labor duties, no extermination was carried out there. The modus operandi of liquidation was different: Jews deported there were asphyxiated in the specially designed vans which pumped the engine's exhaust into the sealed rear compartment, as per Dr. Becker. This occurred while the trucks were driven from the loading point, a small church in the end of the village, which acted as a holding center for the victims. From there they were taken to the old country mansion close by for loading into the vans and taken to the nearby forest where the bodies were dumped and burned. The distance between the mansion and Rzuchów Forest, where the mass graves were located, was 4 km. Cremations were carried out later. There is, therefore, a marked disparity between operations and staffing at Chelmno, and those at Belzec. A better description of Chelmno may be 'Killing Center.'

What we have at this point are killing institutions governed by separate methods and separate groups of perpetrators, but all working under the auspices of the HHE or KdF. However, all had just one purpose in common: to murder according to the ideological creed of Nazism.

With the new gassing technology now approved, it was not long before requests emerged to make use of them. Gauleiter Greiser of the Wartheland requested and was given the authority to use the technology to kill 100,000 Jews in his district. To carry out these duties a special Kommando of HSSPF Koppe was put into action. This Kommando, known as the Lange Kommando, had already been in action in East Prussia, killing mental patients long before Chelmno was established. Lange Kommando was made up of about 15 men drawn from the Poznan and Lódz Gestapo and from the Lódz Schutzpolizei. The Chelmno gassings continued until March 1943, accounting for over 100,000 Jews and Gypsies before they were stopped. However, in early 1944, the Kommando regrouped (under 'Bothmann Kdo) and returned to complete the gassing of the remaining Jews from the Lódz ghetto. The whole gassing operation at Chelmno remained a police assignment throughout. In this whole dirty business of the mass murder of the innocent in the Reinhardt camps, police officers, who not long before (pre-1933, under the HHE the police became and acted by stages outside the law) had been guardians of law and order in the most civilized cities of Germany and Austria, were now mass murderers.

Ghetto Clearance

Some thought and planning by the SS had gone into the procedures for clearing ghettos and other resettlement actions. The architect of these procedures, which were adopted in the General Government, was SS-Hauptsturmführer Amon Leopold Goeth, who was attached to the Reinhardt office in Lublin. Goeth, known as 'the Mad Dog of Lublin', was a great believer in getting the Jews to do the 'dirty work' in the selections and loading resettlement transports, and at the same time making them contribute and pay for the privilege of deportation. Many of Goeth's theories were so successful that they were adopted in nearly every Jewish resettlement operation in the General Government, which depended on order, deceptions. and brutal force. Goeth was well known for his brutality and favored the 'Blitzkrieg' method of surprise and fear, accompanied by immediate executions. It was Goeth's belief that all operational Jewish actions should be paid for by the Jews themselves - even payment for the bullets used in mass shootings. Goeth had only one equal in this regard, SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Krüger, who operated in East Galicia. Goeth is best known as the feared commandant of Plaszow KZ in the film Schindler's List.

From the autumn and winter of 1941, non-productive Jews, ('Arbeitsunfähige') were massacred on a daily basis. With the commissioning of Belzec in mid-March, a new system of mass murder came into operation. Even the opening of the death camps was not enough to quench the Nazi appetite for indiscriminate round-ups and shootings, which affected both Jew and Pole alike. By using the 'Goeth principle' of making the Jews pay for the 'privilege' of being killed, on May 11, 1942 in the small town of Szczebrzeszyn in Lublin District, the Gestapo ordered the Judenrat to pay 2,000 zloty and 3 Kilos of coffee for the ammunition used to kill Jews.

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