The Systematic Character of the National Socialist Policy for the Extermination of the Jews: Electronic Edition, by Heinz Peter Longerich

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H. Conclusions >>

B. The Transfer of Technology for Killing by Means of Gas to Eastern Europe

1.Parallel to the beginning of the deportations, the transfer of gas-killing technology into the Eastern European region was begun. This technology had been under development in the context of the "euthanasia" programme since 1939.
2.This transfer was initiated after the programme of "euthanasia" had been stopped on 24 August 1941. The programme had comprised the planned murder of approximately 20 percent of all inmates of psychiatric institutions in the Reich. Altogether more than 70.000 people had been killed in the framework of the so-called "Operation T4" (Aktion T4) when it was brought to an end.224 Only a few weeks later, the first preparations can be documented for the construction of gas-chambers in Eastern Europe.
3.- The decision to build the first extermination camp in Belzec was made in mid-October. The killing was to proceed by means of exhaust from a permanently installed motor. Construction started at the beginning of November, and the killing experts of Operation T4 were ordered to Belzec in December 1941. (This will be described in more detail in another section of this report.)225
4.- Likewise in October 1941, preparations were put into place by the Chancellery of the Führer, which was responsible for Operation T4, to build gas-chambers in Riga. This can be taken from a letter of 25 October by Wetzel, the specialist for racial affairs of the Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, to Reichskommissar Lohse, head of the Reichskommissariat Ostland:226  
In reference to my letter of 18 October, I am writing to inform you that Oberdienstleiter [a rank in the Party hierarchy, P.L.] Brack of the Chancellery of the Führer has declared his willingness to participate in the construction of the required dwellings as well as the production of the gassing-apparatus. The appropriate apparatus are not available in the required quantity at present, and must first be produced. As Brack is of the opinion that the production of the apparatus would provide greater difficulties in the Reich than on-site, he considers it purposeful to send his people to Riga. His chemist Dr. Kallmeyer, in particular, will make all the necessary arrangements. [...] According to Sturmbannführer Eichmann, camps for Jews will be established in Riga and Minsk, into which Jews from the area of the Altreich will also possibly be brought. At the moment Jews are being evacuated from the Altreich who will be brought to , insofar as they are fit for work. According to this state of affairs, there are no reservations if those Jews who are incapable of work, are eliminated by the Brackian means. [...] Those fit for work, on the other hand, will be transported to labour in the East.
Gas-chambers (here described as "dwellings" (Unterkünfte) were not in fact erected in Riga. Rather, so-called gas-vans were to be employed.
5.- These gas-vans were developed by the Criminal Police in autumn 1941 - parallel to the transfer of the technology of "euthanasia" to Eastern Europe. This started with Himmler's visit to Riga in mid-August. After having an execution of Jews performed for his observation, he demanded of Nebe, the Head of the EG B, that other methods of killing should be sought which were more "humane" than execution - methods, that is, which would put less strain on the firing squads of the SS and policemen.227
6.Following this, Nebe, who was simultaneously Head of the Reich Criminal Police Office, ordered the Head of the Department for chemistry and biology of the   Criminal-Technical Institute, Widmann, to Minsk.228 After a trial with explosives, in which a group of patients of an asylum for the mentally ill was murdered in the most gruesome manner,229 Widmann had a further group of patients poisoned with motor-exhaust in Mogilev in mid-September.230
7.Based on this experience, the decision was made to create mobile gas-chambers for the EG's. Already in 1940 the SK Lange had used such vehicles to murder asylum inmates in Poland. Now, however, instead of using carbon-monoxide gas bottles as previously, the exhaust of the vehicles was pumped directly into the passenger-carriage.231 At the beginning of November 1941, the first "testing" of such a vehicle took place in Sachsenhausen, where the Criminal-Technical Institute ran a workshop. About 30 prisoners were killed by exhaust fumes.232
8.In the occupied Soviet territories, the gas-vans were first used to kill people in November or early December. By the end of 1941, probably a total of six gas-vans of the first series were deployed by the four EG's.233
9.- Around the same time, from October/November 1941 onward, the gas-vans were also deployed by the SK Lange in the Warthegau to murder of Jews. On 8 December, the killing began in Chelmno, where a permanent location of gas-vans was established - that is, a further variant of an extermination camp.234
 
10.- While the mass murders were being prepared or already executed in Belzec, the Warthegau, and in the occupied Eastern territories with the help of exhaust fumes, the Commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp took another course. In September or December 1941, 600 Soviet prisoners of war, as well as a selected 250 sick prisoners, were murdered in the basement of Block 11 of Auschwitz by means of a high concentration of the extremely poisonous disinfectant Cyclon B. At a later point, in December 1941, a further 900 Soviet POWs were murdered by means of gas.235
11.In his writings from the Krakow prison after the war, the former Commandant of Auschwitz Höß described how he had discussed the question of the most suitable poison-gas to be employed, on the occasion of a visit by Eichmann.236 The date of this visit is still not certain - some of his comments indicate the autumn of 1941, others point to a later date somewhere in early 1942. Höß further states that during the time that he was not in Auschwitz himself, his deputy used Cyclon B to kill Soviet POWs on his own initiative.237
12.In November 1941, Topf & Söhne (of Erfurt), a company specialised in the construction of crematoria, received the assignment to build an enormous 32-chamber furnace in Mogilev, White Russia. This installation was needed - so the company was told - to hygienically dispose of corpses, due to the great danger of epidemics in the East. As the site was not completed, the ovens which were no longer needed went to Auschwitz.238 It is possible that this crematorium-installation was in fact planned as part of an extermination camp in Mogilev, whose function was taken over by Auschwitz and the Polish extermination camps in the following months.239
13.From the above one can see, that at the end of 1941 preparations were underway for the construction of extermination camps in Riga, in the area of Lodz (Chelmno), in Belzec as well as in Auschwitz, and presumably also in Mogilev, that is, in the area of Minsk. Thus extermination camps were being planned in the proximity of all the ghettos which had been chosen as the destinations for the first to the third waves of deportations from the German Reich. The parallels in timing between the beginning   of the deportations and the preparation and installation of the murder-machinery reflect the plan of the Nazi regime to extend the strategy of "Jew-free" (judenfrei) areas - already implemented in the Soviet Union - to the Polish territories. In certain regions which were of central importance in the displacement of people within the framework of the racist "New Ordering", the elimination of the Jewish population "unfit for work" was the minimum requirement. In the preceding months, attempts on all sides to develop or improve on technologies of mass-killing by means of gas are clear indications of comprehensive preparations to extend the scale of mass murder for the near future. (In the case of Auschwitz these preparations were concerned with the Soviet POWs, and not Jewish prisoners in the first instance.) It should be emphasised, however, that at this time the plans for the systematic mass murder of the Jewish population only extended to certain regions. As previously, the intention was to deport the remaining Jews to the occupied Soviet territories after the war.

Notes

223. On this see PAA, Inland II g 174: Luther's request to the German missions in the three countries of 10.11. Agreement of the Romanian, Croatian and Slovak governments via telex of the German heads of missions in Bukarest, Agram and Preßburg of 13.11.41, 20.11.41 and 4.12.41. Luther informed Eichmann of the results of his efforts on 10.1.42. Cf. Browning, Solution, 67f.
224. Friedlander, Origins, pp. 111ff.
225. See III C 2.
226. 'Unter Bezugnahme auf mein Schreiben vom 18. Oktober teile ich Ihnen mit, daß sich Oberdienstleiter Brack von der Kanzlei des Führers bereit erklärt hat, bei der Herstellung der erforderlichen Unterkünfte sowie der Vergasungsapparate mitzuwirken. Zur Zeit sind die in Betracht kommenden Apparate in genügender Anzahl nicht vorhanden, sie müssen erst hergestellt werden. Da nach Auffassung Bracks die Herstellung der Apparate im Reich viel größere Schwierigkeiten bereitet als an Ort und Stelle, hält es Brack für am zweckmäßigsten, wenn er umgehend seine Leute, insbesondere seinen Chemiker Dr. Kallmeyer, nach Riga serdet, der dort alles Weitere veranlassen wird. [...] Nach Mitteilung von Sturmbannführer Eichmann sollen in Riga und Minsk Lager für Juden geschaffen werden, in die evtl. auch Juden aus dem Altreichsgebiet kommen. Es werden zur Zeit aus dem Altreich Juden evakuiert, die nach Litzmannstadt, aber auch nach anderen Lagern kommen sollen, um dann später im Osten, soweit arbeitsfähig, in Arbeitseinsatz zu kommen. Nach Sachlage bestehen keine Bedenken, wenn diejenigen Juden, die nicht arbeitsfähig sind, mit den Brackschen Hilfsmitteln beseitigt werden [...] Die Arbeitsfähigen dagegen werden zum Arbeitseinsatz nach Osten abtransportiert.'
227. This was reconstructed from the accounts of witnesses: Beer, Entwickung, p. 407; Staatsanwaltschaft Munich, indictment against Karl Wolff (ZSt., ASA 137), pp. 140ff.
228. Beer, Entwicklung 407; ZSt., 202 AR-Z 159/59, vol. 1, 33ff, statement of Widmann of 11.1.1960.
229. Beer, Entwicklung, p. 408: Ebbinghaus/Preisler, Ermordung, pp. 83ff.
230. Beer, Entwicklung, p. 408: statement of Widmann, 11.1.60, ZSt., 202 ARZ 152/159, pp. 33ff; Ebbinghaus/Preisler, ibid.; statement of N.N. Akinowa of 18.11.46, lengthy quote in Ebbinghaus/Preissler, pp. 88ff. Further, statement of Georg Frentzel, 27.8.70, as well as of Alexander N. Stepanow (head doctor of the psychiatric healing asylum in in Mogilev at the time), 20.7.44. Both in StA Munich, Central investigation proceedings (Zentraler Untersuchungsvorgang) No. 9.
231. Beer, Entwicklung, pp. 409ff; further, the statement of Widmann in ZSt., 202 Ar-Z 152/59, pp. 33ff., 11.1.60.
232. Beer, Entwicklung, p. 411.
233. Already before Christmas 1941, further vehicles were driven from Berlin to to the EG A in Riga: Beer, Entwicklung, p. 413. On the SK 4a (EG C) see Beer, Entwicklung, p. 412. On the EK 8 (EG B) see the statement of Otto Matonoga, 8.6/9.6.45 before the Soviet investigative authorities (StA Munich, Central Process of Investigation 9). According to the statement of a witness the EG D used a gas-van at the end of 1941: Beer, Entwicklung, p. 413; District Court Munich, 119 c Js 1/69, Verdict !!! statement of Jeckeln of 21.12.45 (printed in Wilhelm, Einsatzgruppe A/Truppe, p. 548).
234. Kogon et. al., Massentötungen, pp. 110ff.
235. Pressac, Krematorien. pp. 41f; Czeck, Kalendarium, pp. 115ff; Brandhuber, Kriegsgefangenen as well as Wojciech Barcz, Die erste Vergasung, in Adler/Langbrein/Lingens-Reiner, Auschwitz, pp. 17f.
236. Höß, Kommandant, 153f.
237. Ibid., p. 155.
238. Pressac, Krematorien, 38ff.
239. Gerlac, Failure.
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