Chełmno extermination camp (German: Vernichtungslager Kulmhof), built during World War II, was the first of the Nazi German extermination camps and was situated 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of the metropolitan city of Łódź (renamed to Litzmannstadt), near the village of Chełmno nad Nerem (Kulmhof an der Nehr in German). Following the invasion of Poland in 1939 Germany annexed the area into the new territory of Reichsgau Wartheland, aiming at its complete "Germanization"; the camp was set up specifically to carry out ethnic cleansing through mass killings. It operated from December 8, 1941 parallel to Operation Reinhard during the most deadly phase of the Holocaust, and again from June 23, 1944 to January 18, 1945 during the Soviet counter-offensive. Polish Jews of the Łódź Ghetto and the local inhabitants of Reichsgau Wartheland (Warthegau) were exterminated there. In 1943 modifications were made to the camp's killing methods because the reception building was already dismantled.
At a very minimum 152,000 people (Bohn) were killed in the camp, which would make it the fifth most deadly extermination camp, after Sobibór, Bełżec, Treblinka, and Auschwitz. However, the West German prosecution, citing Nazi figures during the Chełmno trials of 1962–65, laid charges for at least 180,000 victims. The Polish official estimates, in the early postwar period, have suggested much higher numbers, up to a total of 340,000 men, women, and children. The Kulmhof Museum of Martyrdom gives the figure of around 200,000, the vast majority of whom were Jews of west-central Poland, along with Romani from the region, as well as foreign Jews from Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, Germany, Luxemburg, and Austria transported to Chełmno via the Łódź Ghetto, on top of the Soviet prisoners of war. The victims were killed with the use of gas vans. Chełmno was a place of early experimentation in the development of Nazi extermination programme, continued in subsequent phases of the Holocaust throughout occupied Poland.
The Red army troops captured the town of Chełmno on January 17, 1945. By then, the Nazis had already destroyed evidence of the camp's existence leaving no prisoners behind. One of the camp survivors who was fifteen years old at the time testified that only three Jewish males had escaped successfully from Chełmno. The Holocaust Encyclopedia counted seven Jews who escaped during the early 1940s; among them, the author of the Grojanowski Report written under an assumed name by Szlama Ber Winer, prisoner from the Jewish Sonderkommando who escaped only to perish at Bełżec during the liquidation of yet another Jewish ghetto in German-occupied Poland. In June 1945 two survivors testified at the trial of camp personnel in Łódź. The three best-known survivors testified about Chełmno at the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Two survivors testified also at the camp personnel trials conducted in 1962–65 by West Germany.
|Chełmno extermination camp|
Chełmno extermination camp
Location of Chełmno in modern Poland
|Known for||Genocide during the Holocaust|
|Location||Near Chełmno nad Nerem, Reichsgau Wartheland (German-occupied Poland)|
|Commandant||Herbert Lange Christian Wirth|
|Original use||Extermination camp|
|Operational||December 8, 1941 – April 11, 1943 (1st period), |
June 23, 1944  – January 18, 1945 
|Number of gas chambers||3 gas vans|
|Liberated by||Red Army, January 20, 1945|
|Notable inmates||Mordechaï Podchlebnik, Szymon Srebrnik, Szlama Ber Winer|
Chełmno (Kulmhof) was set up by SS-Sturmbannführer Herbert Lange, following his gas van experiments in the murder of 1,558 Polish prisoners of the Soldau concentration camp northeast of Chełmno. In October 1941, Lange toured the area looking for a suitable site for an extermination centre, and chose Chełmno on the Ner, because of the estate, with a large manor house similar to Sonnenstein, which could be used for prisoner' admissions with only minor modifications. Staff for the facility was selected personally by Ernst Damzog, Commander of Security Police and SD from headquarters in occupied Poznań (Posen). Damzog formed the SS-Sonderkommando Lange (special detachment), and appointed Herbert Lange the first camp commandant because of his experience in the mass killing of Poles from Wartheland (Wielkopolska). Lange served with Einsatzgruppe VI during Operation Tannenberg. Already by mid-1940, Lange and his men were responsible for the murder of about 1,100 patients in Owińska, 2,750 patients at Kościan, 1,558 patients and 300 Poles at Działdowo, and hundreds of Poles at Fort VII where the mobile gas-chamber (Einsatzwagen) was invented. Their earlier hospital victims were usually shot out of town in the back of the neck. The two so-called Kaisers-Kaffe vans, manufactured by the Gaubschat factory in Berlin, were delivered in November. Chełmno began mass gassing operations on December 8, 1941 using vehicles approved by Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich from RSHA. Two months later, on January 20, 1942 Heydrich, who had already confirmed the effectiveness of industrial killing by exhaust fumes, called a secret meeting of German officials to undertake the European-wide Final Solution to the Jewish Question under the pretext of "resettlement".
The use of the killing centre at Chełmno for the mass murder of rapidly growing number of Jews deported to the Łódź Ghetto ("Special Handling", the Sonderbehandlung) was initiated by Arthur Greiser, the Governor of Reichsgau Wartheland. In a letter to Himmler dated May 30, 1942 Greiser referred to an authorization he had received from him and Reinhard Heydrich; stating that the clandestine program of killing 100,000 Polish Jews, about one-third of the total Jewish population of Wartheland, was expected to be carried out soon. Greiser's plan was based on the German government's decision of October 1941 to deport German Jews to the Łódź Ghetto. Greiser and the SS decided to create space for the incoming Jews by annihilating the existing Polish-Jewish population in his district.
According to post-war testimony of Wilhelm Koppe, Higher SS and Police Leader for Reichsgau Wartheland, Koppe received an order from Himmler to liaise with Greiser regarding the Sonderbehandlung requested by the latter. Koppe entrusted the extermination operation to SS-Standartenführer Ernst Damzog from Security Police in Poznań. Damzog supervised the camp's daily operations thereafter.
The killing center consisted of a vacated manorial estate in the town of Chełmno on the Ner river, and a large forest clearing about 4 km (2.5 mi) northwest of Chełmno, off the road to Koło town with a sizable Jewish population which had been previously ghettoized. The two sites were known respectively as the Schlosslager (manor-house camp) and the Waldlager (forest camp). On the grounds of the estate was a large two-story brick country house called "the palace." Its rooms were adapted to use as the reception offices, including space for the victims to undress and to give up their valuables. The SS and police staff and guards were housed in other buildings in the town. The Germans had a high wooden fence built around the manor house and the grounds. The clearing in the forest camp, which contained large mass graves, was likewise fenced off. The camp consisted of separate zones: an administration section with nearby barracks and storage for plundered goods; and the more distant burial and cremation site to which victims were delivered in hermetically proofed superstructures.
The SS-Sonderkommando "Lange" was supplied with two vans initially, each carrying about 50 Jews gassed en route to the forest. Later on, Lange was given three gas vans by the RSHA in Berlin for the killing of greater numbers of victims. The vehicles had been converted to mobile gas-chambers by the Gaubschat company in Berlin which, by June 1942, produced twenty of them in accordance with the SS purchase order. The sealed compartments (also called superstructures) installed on the chassis had floor openings – about 60 millimetres (2.4 in) in diameter – with metal pipes welded below, into which the engine exhaust was directed. The exhaust gases causing death by asphyxia were tested by a chemist from T-4 to make sure they contained large enough amounts of carbon monoxide (or 1% concentration), to form carboxyhaemoglobin, a deadly blood agent, in combining with haemoglobin in the cells. The victims were thereby deprived internally of life-giving oxygen before death.
The SS had first used pure carbon monoxide from steel cylinders to kill mental patients in extermination hospitals of Action T4, and therefore had considerable knowledge of its efficacy. For all practical purposes, the extermination by mobile gas vans proved equally efficient following Operation Barbarossa of 1941. In the newly occupied territories, the gas vans were used to kill mental patients as well as Jews in the extermination ghettos. By employing just three vans on the Eastern Front (the Opel-Blitz and the larger Saurerwagen), without any faults occurring in the vehicles, the Einsatzgruppen were able to "process" 97,000 captives in less than six months between December 1941 and June 1942. The SS relayed urgent requests to Berlin for more vans.
The rank and file of the so-called SS Special Detachment Lange was made up of Gestapo, Criminal Police, and Order Police personnel, under the leadership of Security Police and SD officers. Herbert Lange was replaced as camp commandant in March (or April) 1942 by Schultze. He was succeeded by SS-Captain Hans Bothmann, who formed and led the Special Detachment Bothmann. The maximum strength of each Special Detachment was just under 100 men, of whom around 80 belonged to the Order Police. The local SS also maintained a "paper command" of the camps Allgemeine-SS inspectorate, to which most of the Chełmno camp staff were attached for administrative purposes. Historians do not believe members of the 120th SS-Standarte office established in Chełmno performed any duties at the camp.
The SS and police began killing operations at Chełmno on December 8, 1941. The first people transported to the camp were the Jewish and Romani populations of Koło, Dąbie, Sompolno, Kłodawa, Babiak, Izbica Kujawska, Bugaj, Nowiny Brdowskie and Kowale Pańskie. A total of 3,830 Jews and around 4,000 Romani were killed by gas before February 1942. The victims were brought from all over Landkreis Warthbrücken to Koło by rail with the last stop in Powiercie. Using whips, the Orpo police marched them toward the Warta river near Zawadka, where they were locked overnight in a mill, without food or water. The next morning, they were loaded onto lorries and taken to Chełmno. At "the palace" they were stripped of possessions, transferred to vans, and gassed to death with the exhaust fumes on the way to the burial pits in the forest. The daily average for the camp was about 6 to 9 van-loads of the dead. The drivers used gas-masks. From January 1942 the transports included hundreds of Poles and Soviet prisoners of war. In addition, they included over 10,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Moravia and Luxemburg, who had first been deported to the ghetto in Łódź and subsided there already for weeks.
As soon as the ramp had been erected in the castle, people started arriving in Kulmhof from Litzmannstadt (Łódź) in lorries... The people were told that they had to take a bath, that their clothes had to be disinfected and that they could hand in any valuable items beforehand to be registered.
When they had undressed they were sent to the cellar of the castle and then along a passageway onto the ramp and from there into the gas-van. In the castle, there were signs marked "to the baths". The gas vans were large vans, about 4–5 metres [13–16 ft] long, 2.2 metres [7.2 feet] wide and 2 metres [6.6 feet] high. The interior walls were lined with sheet metal. A wooden grille was set into the floor. The floor of the van had an opening which could be connected to the exhaust by means of a removable metal pipe. When the lorries were full of people, the double doors at the back were closed and the exhaust connected to the interior of the van. — SS-Scharführer Walter Burmeister, The Good Old Days 
In late February 1942, the secretary of the local Polish council in Chełmno, Stanisław Kaszyński (b. 1903), was arrested for trying to bring public attention to what was being perpetrated at the camp. He was interrogated and executed three days later on February 28, 1942, near a church along with his wife. His secret communiqué was intercepted by the SS-Sonderkommando. Today, there is an obelisk to his memory erected at Chełmno on August 7, 1991. Over 4,500, Czech Jews from Prague were sent to the Łódź Ghetto before May 1942. One of the sisters of author Franz Kafka, Valeria Pollakova (born 1890), died with them before mid-September.
During the first five weeks, the murder victims came only from the nearby areas. On reaching their final destination before "transport" to Germany and Austria, the Jews disembarked in the courtyard of the Schlosslager manor where the SS men wearing white coats and pretending to be medics waited for them with a translator released earlier from the Gestapo prison in Poznań. The victims were led to a large empty room and ordered to undress; their clothing stacked for disinfection. They were told that all hidden banknotes would be destroyed during steaming and needed to be taken out and handed over for safe-keeping. Occasionally they were met by a German officer dressed as a local squire with a Tyrolean hat, announcing that some of them would remain there.
Wearing just underwear, with the women allowed to keep slips on, the victims were taken to the cellar and across the ramp into the back of a gas van holding from 50–70 people each (Opel Blitz) and up to 150 (Magirus). When the van was full, the doors were shut and the engine started. Surviving witnesses heard their screams as they were dying of asphyxiation. After about 5–10 minutes, the vans full of corpses were driven 4 km (2.5 mi) to the forest Waldlager camp. The vans were unloaded to excavated mass graves, and cleaned by the Waldkommando before returning to the manor house. Scharführer Walter Burmeister, a gas-van driver, made sure his own vehicle "would be cleaned of the excretions of the people that had died in it. Afterwards, it would once again be used for gassing" at the loading dock.
On January 16, 1942, the SS and police began deportations from the Łódź Ghetto lasting for two weeks. The German officials with the aid of Ordnungspolizei rounded up 10,000 Polish Jews based on selection by the ghetto Judenrat. The victims were transported from the Radegast train station in Łódź, to Koło railway station, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) northwest of Chełmno. There, the SS and police personnel supervised transfer of prisoners from the freight as well as passenger trains, to smaller-size cargo trains running on narrow gauge tracks, which took them from Koło to a much smaller Powiercie station, just outside Chełmno.
As round-ups in Łódź normally took place in the morning, it was usually late afternoon by the time Jews disembarked from the Holocaust trains in Powiercie. Therefore, they were marched to a disused mill at Zawadki some two kilometres distance where they spent the night. The mill building continued to be used after the railway repairs, if transports arrived late. The following morning the Jews were transported from Zawadki by truck, in numbers which could be easily controlled at their destination. The victims were "processed" immediately upon arrival at the manor-house. Beginning in late July 1942, the victims were brought to the camp directly from Powiercie after the regular railway line linking Koło with Dąbie was restored; and the bridge over the Rgilewka River had been repaired.
The German SS staff selected young Jewish prisoners from incoming transports to join the camp Sonderkommando, a special unit of 50 to 60 men deployed at the forest burial camp. They removed corpses from the gas-vans and placed them in mass graves. The large trenches were quickly filled, but the smell of decomposing bodies began to permeate the surrounding countryside including nearby villages. In the spring of 1942, the SS ordered burning of the bodies in the forest. The bodies were cremated on open air grids constructed of concrete slabs and rail tracks; pipes were used for air ducts, and long ash pans were built below the grid. Later, the Jewish Sonderkommando had to exhume the mass graves and burn the previously interred bodies. In addition, they sorted the clothing of the victims, and cleaned the excrement and blood from the vans.
A small detachment of about 15 Jews worked at the manor house, sorting and packing the belongings of the victims. Between eight and ten skilled craftsmen worked there to produce or repair goods for the SS Special Detachment.
Periodically, the SS executed the members of the Jewish special detachment and replaced them with workers selected from recent transports. The SS held jumping contests and races among the prisoners, who were shackled with chains on their ankles, to deem who was fit to continue working. The losers of such contests were shot.
The early killing process carried out by the SS from December 8, 1941 until mid January 1942, was intended to kill Jews from all nearby towns and villages, which were slated for German colonization (Lebensraum). From mid-January 1942, the SS and Order Police began transporting Jews in crowded freight and passenger trains from Łódź. By then, Jews had also been deported to Łódź from Germany, Bohemia-Moravia, and Luxembourg, and were included in the transports at that time. The transports included most of the 5,000 Roma (Gypsies) who had been deported from Austria. Throughout 1942, the Jews from Wartheland were still being processed; in March 1943 the SS declared the district judenfrei. Other victims murdered at the killing center included several hundred Poles, and Soviet prisoners of war.
During the summer of 1942, the new commandant Bothmann made substantial changes to the camp's killing methods. The change was prompted by two incidents in March and April of that year. First, the gas-van broke down on the highway while full of living victims. Many passers-by heard their loud cries. Soon after that, the Saurer van exploded while the driver was revving its engine at the loading ramp; the gassing compartment was full of living Jews. The explosion blew off the locked back door, and badly burned the victims inside. Drivers were replaced. Bothmann's modifications to the killing methods included adding poison to gasoline. There is evidence that some red powder and a fluid were delivered from Germany by Maks Sado freight company, in order to kill the victims more quickly. Another major change involved parking the gas vans while prisoners were killed. They were no longer driven en route to the forest cremation area with living victims inside.
After having annihilated almost all Jews of Wartheland District, in March 1943 the Germans closed the Chełmno killing centre, while Operation Reinhard was still underway elsewhere. Other death camps had faster methods of killing and incinerating people. Chełmno was not a part of Reinhard. The SS ordered complete demolition of Schlosslager, along with the manor house, which was levelled. To hide the evidence of the SS-committed war crimes, from 1943 onward, the Germans ordered the exhumation of all remains and burning of bodies in open-air cremation pits by a unit of Sonderkommando 1005. The bones were crushed on cement with mallets and added to the ashes. These were transported every night in sacks made of blankets to river Warta (or to the Ner River) on the other side of Zawadka, where they were dumped into the water from a bridge and from a flat-bottomed boat. Eventually, the camp authorities bought a bone-crushing machine (Knochenmühle) from Schriever and Co. in Hamburg to speed up the process.
On June 23, 1944, in spite of earlier demolition of the palace, the SS renewed gassing operations at Chełmno in order to complete the annihilation of the remaining 70,000 Jewish prisoners of the ghetto in Łódź, the last ghetto in occupied Poland to produce war supplies for the Germans. The Special Detachment "Bothmann" returned to the forest and resumed killing operations at a smaller camp, consisting of brand new wooden barracks along with new crematory pyres.
First, the victims were taken to the desecrated church in Chełmno where they spent the night if necessary, and left their bundles behind on the way to the reception area. They were driven to the forest, where the camp authorities had constructed two fenced-out barracks for undressing before "shower", and two new open-air cremation pits, further up. The SS and police guarded the victims as they took off their clothes and gave up valuables before entering gas-vans. In this final phase of the camp operation, some 25,000 Jews were murdered. Their bodies were burned immediately after death. From mid-July 1944, the SS and police began deporting the remaining inhabitants of the Łódź ghetto to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In September 1944, the SS brought in a new Commando 1005 of Jewish prisoners from outside the Wartheland District to exhume and cremate remaining corpses and to remove evidence of the mass murder operations. A month later, the SS executed about half of the 80-man detachment after most of the work was done. The gas vans were sent back to Berlin. The remaining Jewish workers were executed just before the German retreat from the Chełmno killing center on January 18, 1945, as the Soviet army approached (it reached the camp two days later). The 15-year-old Jewish prisoner Simon Srebnik was the only one to survive the last executions with a gunshot wound to the head. Historians estimate that the SS killed at least 152,000–180,000 people at Chełmno between December 1941 and March 1943, and from June 23, 1944 until the Soviet advance. Note: a 1946–47 report by the Central Commission for Investigation of German Crimes in Poland (IPN) placed the number closer to 340,000 based on a statistical approach, as the camp authorities had destroyed all waybills in an effort to hide their actions.
After the war, some Chełmno extermination camp personnel were tried in Poland as well as in other court cases spanning a period of about 20 years. The first judicial trial of three former members of the SS-Sonderkommando Kulmhof, including camp's deputy commandant Oberscharführer Walter Piller, took place in 1945 at the District Court in Łódź. The examination of evidence during the investigation was carried out by Judge Władysław Bednarz. The subsequent four trials, held in Bonn, began in 1962 and concluded three years later in 1965 in Cologne.
Adolf Eichmann testified about the camp during his 1961 war-crimes trial in Jerusalem. He visited it once in late 1942. Simon Srebnik, from the burial Sonderkommando, testified in both the Chelmno Guard and Eichmann trials. Nicknamed Spinnefix at the camp, Srebnik was recognised by the Chelmno Guards only by this moniker. Walter Burmeister, a gas-van driver (not to be confused with the camp's SS-Unterscharfuehrer Walter Burmeister), testified in Bonn in 1967.
According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia, a total of seven Jews from the burial Sonderkommando escaped from the Waldlager. Determining the identities of the few survivors of Chełmno had presented ambiguity because records use different versions of their names. One survivor may not have been recorded in the early postwar years because he did not testify at trials of camp personnel. Five escaped during the winter of 1942, including Mordechaï Podchlebnik, Milnak Meyer, Abraham Tauber, Abram Roj and Szlama Ber Winer (Szlamek Bajler) whose identity was recognized also as Yakov or Jacob Grojanowski. Mordechaï Zurawski and Simon Srebnik escaped later. Srebnik was among Jews shot by the Germans two days before the Russians entered Chełmno, but he survived. Winer wrote under pseudonym Grojanowski about the operations of the camp in his Grojanowski Report, but he was rounded up with thousands of others and murdered in the gas chamber of Bełżec extermination camp.
In June 1945, both Podchlebnik and Srebnik (then age fifteen), testified at the Chełmno trials of camp personnel in Łódź, Poland. In addition to being included in the Holocaust Encyclopedia, Mordechaï Zurawski is included as survivor in three other sources, each of which documents his testifying, along with Srebnik and Podchlebnik about his experience at Chełmno, at the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. In addition, Srebnik testified in the Chelmno Guard Trials of 1962–63. The French director Claude Lanzmann included interviews with Srebnik and Podchlebnik in his documentary Shoah, referring to them as the only two Jewish survivors of Chełmno, but he was in error. Some sources repeat that only Simon Srebnik and Mordechaï Podchlebnik survived the war but these are also in error. Podchlebnik is sometimes referred to as Michał (or Michael), in Polish and English versions of his name.
Not all escapees have been identified in the postwar period. In 2002 Dr. Sara Roy of Harvard University wrote that her father, Abraham Roy, belonged to the aforementioned survivors. She said that her father was the escapee recognized by the Holocaust Encyclopedia as Abram Roj, although she was mistaken about their total number. Two other survivors of Chełmno include Yitzhak Justman and Chaim Yerachmiel Widawski who escaped together from the forest burial commando in the winter of 1942. They arrived at Piotrków Trybunalski Ghetto in March 1942 and deposited their testimonies with Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau. Widawski spoke with Rabbi Lau as well as some members of the prewar Communal Council before he left the ghetto, robbing them of their peace of mind with earth-shattering facts about the extermination process. Widawski saw the bodies of thirteen relatives murdered in gas vans including his own fiancée. Both fugitives, Justman and Widawski, arrived also at the Częstochowa Ghetto and met with Rabbi Chanoch Gad Justman. They headed in various directions and made a tremendous effort to inform and warn the Jewish communities about the fate that awaited them, however, many people refused to believe their stories.
Text from USHMM has been released under the GFDL. The website can offer no guarantee that the information is correct in each circumstance.
|accessdate=(help)CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)). Quote: "The Main Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against the Polish Nation - The Institute of National Memory... has a fifty years long history (1995). The creation of the Main Commission... was preceded by work done in London since 1943 by the Polish Government in Exile."
Source: Office of the United States Chief Counsel for Prosecution of Axis Criminality: Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression – Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Office, 1946, Vol III, p. 418.
Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (1990), Baranowski, Dobroszycki, Wiesenthal, Yad Vashem Timeline of the Holocaust, others.
Text from USHMM has been released under the GFDL. The website can offer no guarantee that the information is correct in each circumstance.
Artur Hojan (7 August 1973 – found dead, 9 February 2014) was a journalist and published author specializing in the history of the Chełmno extermination camp and the Nazi involuntary euthanasia programme conducted in the territory of occupied Poland by the SS during World War II. Hojan was the co-founder of the Tiergartenstrasse4 Association in 2005 (together with Cameron Munro) devoted to Aktion T4 history, with emphasis on the Kościan psychiatric hospital located where he lived. Hojan, age of 40, left home in the evening of 1 December 2013 at 8 p.m. for a walk around town and disappeared. His body was found two months later on 9 February 2014 floating in the Obra canal near the town of Kiełczewo, and identified later. The cause of death has not been determined. He was buried at the Kościan cemetery on 15 February 2014. He left behind a wife and young daughter. The monograph Treblinka Death Camp: History, Biographies, Remembrance by Chris Webb, the co-founder of H.E.A.R.T (also known as the HolocaustResearchProject.org), is dedicated to his memory.Chełmno nad Nerem
Chełmno, often known by its full name Chełmno nad Nerem (pronounced [ˈxɛu̯mnɔ ˌnad ˈnɛrɛm]; meaning Chełmno on the Ner river) is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Dąbie, within Koło County, Greater Poland Voivodeship, in west-central Poland. It lies approximately 19 km (12 mi) south-east of Koło and 135 km (84 mi) east of the regional capital Poznań. The village has a population of 350. It is the location of the Chełmno Extermination Camp Museum (pl) founded in 1994.Chełmno trials
The Chełmno trials were a series of consecutive war-crime trials of the Chełmno extermination camp personnel, held in Poland and in Germany following World War II. The cases were decided almost twenty years apart. The first judicial trial of the former SS men – members of the SS-Sonderkommando Kulmhof – took place in 1945 at the District Court in Łódź, Poland. The subsequent four trials, held in Bonn, Germany, began in 1962 and concluded three years later, in 1965 in Cologne.
A number of camp officials, gas-van operators and SS guards, were arraigned before the court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed at Chełmno (a.k.a. Kulmhof) in occupied Poland in the period between December 1941 and January 1945. The evidence against the accused, including testimonies by surviving witnesses, former prisoners, and mechanics attending to repair needs of the SS, was examined in Poland by Judge Władysław Bednarz of the Łódź District Court (Sąd Okręgowy w Łodzi). Three convicted defendants were sentenced to death, including the camp deputy commandant Oberscharführer Walter Piller (wrongly, Filer); the gas van operator Hauptscharführer Hermann Gielow (Gilow), as well as Bruno Israel from Order Police (his sentence was commuted to life). All three were members of the SS Special Detachment Kulmhof responsible for the extermination of Jews and non-Jews, during the Holocaust in occupied Poland.In the years 1962–65, a dozen SS-men from Kulmhof were arraigned before the German court (Landgericht) in Bonn, RFN. They were charged with the murder of 180,000 Jews in the camp. The jury deliberations continued for three years, with sentences ranging from 13 years' imprisonment to 13 months and 2 weeks. Half of the defendants were cleared of all charges and released by Germany.Chełmo
Chełmo [ˈxɛu̯mɔ] is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Masłowice, within Radomsko County, Łódź Voivodeship, in central Poland. It lies approximately 21 kilometres (13 mi) east of Radomsko and 82 km (51 mi) south of the regional capital Łódź.The village has an approximate population of 1,000.
This village should not be confused with Chełmno, the site of the Nazis' Chełmno extermination camp.Christian Wirth
Christian Wirth (German: [vɪʁt] (listen); 24 November 1885 – 26 May 1944) was a German policeman and SS officer who was one of the leading architects of the program to exterminate the Jewish people of Poland, known as Operation Reinhard. His nicknames included Christian the Terrible (German: Christian der Grausame) and The Wild Christian.Wirth worked at scaling up the Action T4 program, in which people with disabilities were murdered by gassing or lethal injection, and then at scaling up Operation Reinhard, by developing extermination camps for the purpose of mass murder. Wirth served as Inspector of all Operation Reinhard camps. He was the first Commandant of Bełżec extermination camp. He was later killed by Yugoslav partisans in Hrpelje-Kozina near Trieste.Gas van
A gas van or gas wagon (Russian: душегубка (dushegubka); German: Gaswagen) was a vehicle reequipped as a mobile gas chamber. The gas van was invented in the Soviet Union in 1936, by Isay Berg, the head of the administrative and economic department of the NKVD of Moscow Oblast. The vehicle had an air-tight compartment for the intended victims, into which exhaust fumes were transmitted while the engine was running. The victims were gassed with carbon monoxide, resulting in death by carbon monoxide poisoning and suffocation. The gas van was used by the Soviet secret police in the 1930s. During World War II Nazi Germany used gas vans on a large scale as a extermination method to murder inmates of asylums, Romani people, Jews, and prisoners in occupied Poland, Belarus, and Yugoslavia.Grojanowski Report
The Grojanowski Report is an eye-witness account about atrocities in the German Chełmno extermination camp, written in 1942 by Polish-Jewish escapee from the camp, Szlama Ber Winer (also known incorrectly as Szlawek Bajler), under the pseudonym of Yakov (or Jacob) Grojanowski. Szlama Ber Winer managed to make his way from Chelmno to the Warsaw Ghetto and gave detailed information about his week-long experience with the Sonderkommando at that death camp to the Ghetto's Oneg Shabbat group, headed by historian Emanuel Ringelblum.Gustav Laabs
Gustav Laabs (20 December 1902 – 12 March 1980) was a German SS commander during the Nazi era. During the Second World War, he worked as a gas van operator at the Chełmno extermination camp in Wartheland. As an operator of a gas van, Laabs was directly involved in the genocidal extermination of over 100,000 men, women and children, most of whom were Jewish. In November 1963, he was tried and convicted for crimes against humanity, and sentenced to 15 years (subsequently reduced to 13 years) by a regional court in Landgericht Bonn, Germany.Hans Bothmann
SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Bothmann or Hans Johann Bothmann (November 11, 1911 – April 4, 1946) was the last commandant of the Chełmno extermination camp from 1942 on (SS card number 117630); leader of the SS Special Detachment Bothmann conducting the extermination of Jews from the Łódź Ghetto and other places. He committed suicide in British custody in April 1946 while in Heide.Herbert Lange
Herbert Lange (29 September 1909 – 20 April 1945) was an SS-Sturmbannführer and the commandant of Chełmno death camp until April 1942; leader of the SS Special Detachment Lange conducting the murder of Jews from the Łódź Ghetto. He was responsible for numerous crimes against humanity including the murder of mental patients in Poland and in Germany during the Aktion T4 "euthanasia" programme.Herbert Mehlhorn
Georg Herbert Mehlhorn (24 March 1903 – 30 October 1968) was an SS Oberführer, Nazi legal expert, and Gestapo official. Mehlhorn was involved in the camouflage of the mass graves of the Jewish victims in the forest of the Chełmno extermination camp. He operated gas wagons at the Chełmno camp to murder the sick Jewish prisoners who were sent from the Wartheland ghettoes. He was also a director of Stiftung Nordhav, a front organization of the Sicherheitsdienst founded in 1939 by Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Holocaust. He was the mentor of SS-Brigadeführer Walter Schellenberg while at the SS-Hauptamt.Irmfried Eberl
SS-Obersturmführer Irmfried Eberl (8 September 1910 – 16 February 1948) was an Austrian psychiatrist and medical director of the euthanasia institutes in Brandenburg and Bernburg, who helped set up and was the first commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp where he worked from 11 July 1942 until his dismissal on 26 August 1942. He was arrested after the end of the war in January 1948. Eberl hanged himself the following month to avoid trial.Jewish ghettos in German-occupied Poland
Jewish ghettos in German-occupied Poland were established during World War II in hundreds of locations across occupied Poland. Most Jewish ghettos had been created by Nazi Germany between October 1939 and July 1942 in order to confine and segregate Poland's Jewish population of about 3.5 million for the purpose of persecution, terror, and exploitation. In smaller towns, ghettos often served as staging points for Jewish slave-labor and mass deportation actions, while in the urban centers they resembled walled-off prison-islands described by some historians as little more than instruments of "slow, passive murder", with dead bodies littering the streets.In most cases, the larger ghettos did not correspond to traditional Jewish neighborhoods, and non-Jewish Poles and members of other ethnic groups were ordered to take up residence elsewhere. Smaller Jewish communities with populations under 500 were terminated through expulsion soon after the invasion.Karl Streibel
SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Streibel (11 October 1903 – 1986) was the second and last commander of the Trawniki concentration camp – one of the subcamps of the KL Lublin system of Nazi concentration camps in occupied Poland during World War II.Streibel was born in the area of Chiemgau in Oberbayern (Upper Bavaria). He joined the NSDAP and the SS at the age of 29, in November 1932. He was promoted to Obersturmführer just before the Nazi German invasion of Poland. He was appointed leader of Trawniki by Globocnik on 27 October 1941 to conduct training of the collaborationist auxiliary police a.k.a. "Hiwis" (Hilfswilligen, lit. "those willing to help") for service with Nazi Germany in the General Government. His camp had also imprisoned Polish Jews condemned to slave labor. The Jews were all massacred in Operation Harvest Festival on 3 November 1943.The Trawniki men (German: Trawnikimänner) took part in Operation Reinhard, the Nazi extermination of Jews. They conducted executions at death camps and in Jewish ghettos including Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka II, Warsaw (three times, see Stroop Report), Częstochowa, Lublin, Lwów, Radom, Kraków, Białystok (twice), Majdanek as well as at Auschwitz, not to mention Trawniki itself, and the remaining subcamps of KL Lublin/Majdanek including Poniatowa, Budzyn, Kraśnik, Puławy, Lipowa, but also during massacres in Łomazy, Międzyrzec, Łuków, Radzyń, Parczew, Końskowola, Komarówka and all other locations, augmented by the SS and the Reserve Police Battalion 101 from Ordnungspolizei (Orpo).List of Axis war crime trials
The following is a list of war crime trials and tribunals brought against the Axis powers following the conclusion of World War II.
Nuremberg Trials of the 24 most important leaders of the Third Reich, 1945–1946
Subsequent Nuremberg Trials
Dachau Trials held within the walls of the former Dachau concentration camp, 1945–1948
Auschwitz Trial held in Kraków, Poland in 1947 against 40 SS-staff of the Auschwitz concentration camp death factory
Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials
Belzec Trial before the 1st Munich District Court in the mid-1960s of the eight SS-men of the Belzec extermination camp command
Majdanek Trials, the overall longest Nazi war crimes trial in history spanning over 30 years
Sobibor Trial held in Hagen, Germany in 1965, concerning the Sobibor extermination camp officials
Chełmno Trials of the Chełmno extermination camp personnel, held in Poland and in Germany. The cases were decided almost twenty years apart
Supreme National Tribunal for Trial of War Criminals active in Poland from 1946 to 1948
Empire of Japan
International Military Tribunal for the Far East
Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal (Tribunal created by the government of Chiang Kai-shek for crimes committed in China)
Manila Tribunal (American military tribunal where were judged Tomoyuki Yamashita and Masaharu Homma)
Yokohama War Crimes Trials, tried by the US Military Commission at Yokohama 1945-1949
Khabarovsk War Crime Trials
Hungarian People's Tribunals
Romanian People's Tribunals
Bulgarian People's Tribunals
Yugoslav People's Tribunals
War-responsibility trials in Finland
Czechoslovak People's TribunalsMordechaï Podchlebnik
Mordechaï Podchlebnik or Michał Podchlebnik (1907 – 1985) was a Polish Jew who managed to survive the Holocaust. He was a member of the Sonderkommando work detail for nearly two years at the Chełmno extermination camp in occupied Poland. Podchlebnik was one of three (or more) prisoners who escaped into the surrounding forest from the mass burial zone.Roman Halter
Roman Halter (7 July 1927 in Chodecz – 30 January 2012) was a Polish painter, sculptor, writer, architect and Holocaust survivor.
He managed to escape from a cart while on a transport to Chełmno extermination camp. His mother, sister and her family died in Chełmno. After the war he moved to Britain and became an architect, establishing practices in London and Cambridge.
In 2007 he published a biographical book, Roman's Journey.Szlama Ber Winer
Szlama Ber Winer, nom de guerre Yakov (Ya'akov) Grojanowski (23 September 1911 – c. 10 April 1942), was a Polish Jew from Izbica Kujawska, who escaped from the Chełmno extermination camp during the Holocaust in Poland. Szlamek (the diminutive form of Szlama) is sometimes incorrectly referred to as Szlamek Bajler in literature by the surname of his nephew, Abram Bajler, from Zamość (see postcard). Szlama Ber Winer escaped from the Waldlager work commando at Chełmno (German: Kulmhof), and described in writing the atrocities he witnessed at that extermination camp, not long before his own subsequent death at the age of 31, in the gas chambers of Bełżec. His deposition is commonly known as the Grojanowski Report.Szymon Srebrnik
Szymon (Shimon, Simon) Srebrnik (April 10, 1930 – August 16, 2006) was a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor of the Chełmno extermination camp – a German Nazi death camp established in occupied Poland during World War II. Srebnik escaped after being shot in the back of his head at close range, two days before the Russians arrived in 1945. His testimony along with that of the few other witnesses was critical to prosecution of camp personnel and other Nazi officials, because of the destruction of evidence by the Germans of their mass extermination of Jews in Chełmno.At the age of fifteen, Srebrnik testified in June 1945 in the Polish trial of Chełmno personnel. He testified again about Chełmno in the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, and in the Chełmno trials in Germany (1962–1965) of the former SS men from the SS Special Detachment Kulmhof.