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    Operation Reinhard Evidence: Theft of Possessions

    What is the primary documentary evidence about the source and extent of the theft of the possessions of the murdered Jews in the Operation Reinhard death camps of Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor?

    Holocaust deniers claim:

    The tons of clothing, personal possessions, and valuables shipped from the Operation Reinhard death camps of Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor do not prove that the camps were extermination facilities.

    The facts are:

    There is primary documentary evidence about the source and extent of the theft of the possessions of the murdered Jews in the Operation Reinhard death camps of Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor, including railroad shipping documents, German directives, reports, and eyewitness testimony.

    Carlo Mattogno, an Italian Holocaust denier, states, “There is nothing in the documents themselves to indicate that this material was actually the property of deported Jews.”[1]

    The facts about the theft of the personal goods of the Jews.

    The clothing, personal goods, and valuables stolen from the Jews were sorted into collections of watches, pens, pencils, shaving utensils, pen knives, scissors, purses, feather bedding, blankets, umbrellas, baby carriages, handbags, leather belts, baskets, furs, eye glasses, mirrors, toys, coats, hats, shoes, underwear, and more. Even rags were kept for recycling.

    All usable clothing and personal goods were sent to Majdanek concentration camp in Lublin for disinfection and repair after which they were shipped to Germany for distribution. Gold (including good fillings and teeth) and precious metals, gems, jewelry, and currency were sent by armored car or in a special railway car with an SS guard escort.[2] Jan Piwonski, a railway worker in Sobibor, recalled these shipments:

    I know that the Germans dispatched clothing from the camp, because I saw it being loaded into wagons and transports out of the camp. I also know they sent crates [. . .] [they] were 1 metre [39 inches] long and very heavy. I know the crates were very heavy because I weighed them myself. From the labels on the crates [. . .] I could make out they were sent to Berlin. The Ukrainians carried the crates into a luggage wagon and a German officer, armed with a submachine-gun, got into the same wagon. I learnt from the Ukrainian that the crates contained gold coins . . . [and] there might be expensive jewellery and precious stones inside.[3]

    The primary documentary evidence.

    Three railroad shipping documents show that 152 boxcars filled with clothing and shoes were sent from Treblinka to Lublin, Poland between September 9 and 21, 1942.[4]

    A directive from August Frank, with the SS concentration camp administration department, dated September 26, 1942, codified the process of plunder:

    • German money, foreign exchange, rare metals, jewelry, precious and semi-precious stones, pearls, gold from teeth, and scrap gold were to be deposited into the German Reich Bank.
    • Watches and clocks of all kinds, alarm clocks, fountain pens, mechanical pencils, hand and electrical razors, pocketknives, scissors, and flashlights were to be repaired and “delivered quickly to front line troops.”
    • All underwear and clothing including footwear were to be sorted and valued. Underwear of pure silk was to be handed over to the Reich Ministry of Economics.
    • Featherbeds, quilts, woolen blankets, cloth for suits, shawls, umbrellas, walking sticks, thermos flasks, ear flaps, baby carriages, combs, handbags, leather belts, shopping baskets, tobacco pipes, sun glasses, mirrors, table knives, forks and spoons, knapsacks, and suitcases made from leather or artificial material were to be delivered to the Main Welfare Office for Ethnic Germans.
    • Linen, such as bed sheets, bed linen, pillows, towels, wiping cloths, and tablecloths were to be handed over to the Main Welfare Office for Ethnic Germans.
    • Eyeglasses of every kind were to be handed in to the medical office. (Eyeglasses with golden frames had to be handed in without the lenses with the rare metals).
    • Valuable furs of all kinds were to be delivered to the Reich Ministry of Economics.
    Bundesarchiv Bild 137-056310, Litzmannstadt, Volksduetche Mittelstelle
    Welfare Office for Ethnic Germans entrance, Litzmannstadt Branch, Adolf-Hitler Straße 119 (Łódź, 119 Piotrkowska Street). Hans Wagner, 1940. Bundesarchiv, Bild 137-056310 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

    Frank cautioned at the end of his directive: “Check that all Jewish stars have been removed from all clothing before transfer. Carefully check whether all hidden and sewn-in valuables have been removed from all articles to be transferred.”[5]

    A report dated February 6, 1943, issued by Oswald Pohl, head of the SS Economic and Administrative Main Office to Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, summarized the value of the clothing and goods that had been systematically stolen and handled. The report is titled “Report on the realization of textile-salvage from the Jewish resettlement up to the present date.” The textiles came from the Operation Reinhard camps and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

    According to Pohl, 97,000 complete sets of men’s clothing; 76,000 complete sets of women’s clothing; 89,000 pairs of women’s silk underwear; 2,700,000 kilograms of rags; 62,000 men’s pants; 132,000 men’s shirts; 31,000 pairs of men‘s shoes; 155,000 women’s coats; 119,000 dresses; 107,570 pieces of women’s underwear; 85,000 kerchiefs, and 111,000 pairs of women’s shoes and other goods were shipped from Lublin to various places in the Reich in 825 freight cars.[6]

    The final report dated January 5, 1944, from Odilo Globocnik, the head of Operation Reinhard, to Heinrich Himmler, summarized in detail the total value of the money and goods stolen from the Jews in the General Government, including the camps of Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. The total value of the goods in German Marks was 178,745,960.59.[7]

    The eyewitness testimony

    Oskar Strawczynski, who worked in the reception area of Treblinka, explains:

    Blankets and tablecloths are spread on the ground and all kinds of goods are collected on them. There is a huge quantity and an astonishing variety: from, the most expensive imported textiles, to the cheapest cottons, from the most elegant suits, to the cheapest worn-out rags. There are avenues of suitcases and in them everything imaginable: haberdashery, cosmetics, drugs—it seems there is no article in the world that cannot be found here. The sorted items are brought to one side of the square where they are piled into huge bales [ . . . ] A special spot is designated for suitcases with valuables. They are filled with precious gold, jewellery, chains and watches, bracelets, diamond rings and plain gold rings—most of all wedding rings. There are treasures in foreign currency—gold and paper dollars, pounds sterling and old Russian gold coins. Polish money is hardly worth mentioning; it is stacked up in mountains. From time to time the “Gold Jews” who sort these treasures appear. They remove the filled suitcases and replace them with empty ones. These too are quickly filled.[8]

    Dov Freiberg, who survived Sobibor, writes:

    We loaded the empty boxcars with all of the sorted items that had been collected in the barracks and warehouses [. . .] Boxcar after boxcar was filled with clothes, shoes and other useable items that Jews had brought with them to Sobibor. Everything was sorted and packed, toilet soap separate from laundry soap, men’s socks separate from women’s stockings, dolls separate from other toys. Even the rags were packed in large packages. Gold, silver and other valuables were packed in suitcases and special boxes, locked and loaded onto a special boxcar. Although we ran while we worked, without resting for a moment, the work took all day, until evening.[9]

    Samuel Rajzman, a survivor of Treblinka, kept records that showed that 248 railway cars of clothing, 100 boxcars of shoes, 22 boxcars of material, 260 boxcars of bedding, 450 cars of various articles and household goods, and hundreds more cars with various rags left the camp. In all Rajzman estimated the number of boxcars at about 1,500.[10]

    Francizek Zabecki, a Pole who worked in the railway station at Treblinka, testified that he counted more than 1,000 cars full of belongings that passed through the station.[11]

    Ernst Gollak, an SS man who worked for three years in the SS clothing workshops in Lublin from January 1942 onward, writes:

    From May or June 1942, in this clothing camp of Lublin, furs and coats of Jews who were in the extermination camps of Belzec, Treblinka, and Sobibor were disinfected and sent to Germany. These articles were brought by freight trains, unloaded by the ‘Ukrainian’ auxiliaries and later by the working Jews, disinfected, and loaded again in the freight cars [. . .] I once saw on the freight cars the names of the train stations: Berlin, Glogau, Breslau, and Hirscherg [12]

    (The emphasis is the author’s.)

    Thus, the eyewitness testimony of Polish bystanders, Jewish survivors and German perpetrators corroborate the primary documentary evidence.

    What the Holocaust deniers say about the source of the clothing, shoes, and personal possessions listed in the documents.

    Mattogno speculates that because a bill of lading dated September 13, 1942 for 50 boxcars sent from Treblinka to Lublin, Poland was listed as containing “articles of clothing of the Waffen-SS” this means the clothing was probably damaged German army uniforms from the eastern front that needed cleaning and repair. He claims that the Waffen-SS (an elite division of the Wehrmacht, the regular German army) had “no relationship to the Treblinka camp.”[13]

    In fact, the workshops in Lublin were under the authority of the Waffen-SS until March 1943 after which they were formally transferred to Odilo Globocnik, the head of Operation Reinhard. Thus in September 1942 the clothing and goods stolen from the murdered Jews in all three camps would have been handled by the Waffen-SS.[14] There is not one shred of evidence that these boxcars were filled with German uniforms and an overwhelming amount of persuasive evidence, including German documents, that they were filled with goods stolen from the Jews murdered in Treblinka up to that date.

    Mattogno dismisses Oswald Pohl’s report of February 6, 1943, by claiming vaguely that they came from “various camps.”[15] Oswald Pohl was in charge of the overall program of economic plunder of the Jews of the General Government including from the three death camps of Operation Reinhard, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek in Lublin, and from the Jews who had been driven into the ghettos. In his report Pohl noted specifically that the materials came from the camps of Operation Reinhard as well as Auschwitz-Birkenau. However, it is likely that most of the textiles came from the Operation Reinhard camps because Auschwitz-Birkenau was just starting its intensive phase of industrial mass murder. Further, in an affidavit Pohl gave after the war, he testified that that there was no doubt that the clothing had belonged to Jews who had been “exterminated.”[16]

    Conclusion

    The documents and eyewitness statements converge on several aspects of the plunder of Jewish property, including clothing and gold teeth. In and of themselves, these pieces of evidence do not conclusively prove homicidal gassings at the Operation Reinhard camps. However, neither do they support the deniers’ claim that the material in the boxcars was German army uniforms. Instead, eyewitnesses and documents point overwhelming to the fact that at least 1,000 boxcars filled with the clothing and wealth of some 1,400,000 murdered Jews was shipped out of the three camps of Operation Reinhard. The clothing was refurbished for use by Germans and the valuables were shipped to the Reichsbank in Berlin for deposit.

    Piles of shoes stored in a warehouse in Auschwitz
    Photo Credit: United States Holocuast Memorial Museum, courtesy of Instytut Pamieci Narodowej

    NOTES

    [1] Carlo Mattogno and Jürgen Graf, Treblinka: Extermination Camp or Transit Camp? (Theses & Dissertations Press, 2004), 157 at http://vho.org/dl/ENG/t.pdf.

    [2] Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), 154-164.

    [3] Jules Shelvis, Sobibor: A History of a Nazi Death Camp (Berg, 2007), 191.

    [4] Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987),158.

    [5] Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), 145, 555.

    [6] Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), 160 citing Nuremberg Court document NO-1257. You may see excerpts from this report at: http://www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/camps/auschwitz/ftp.py?camps/auschwitz//documents/no-1257.

    [7] Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), 160, 161 citing Nuremberg Trial document PS-4024. You may see this report at: http://www.mazal.org/NO-series/NO-0062-000.htm.

    [8] Israel Cymlich and Oskar Strawczynski, Escaping Hell in Treblinka (Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Survivors’ Memoirs Project, 2007), 135, 136.

    [9] Dov Freiberg, To Survive Sobibor (Gefen Publishing House, 2007), 222.

    [10] Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), 158 citing Rajzman’s testimony in the Yad Vashem archives, 0-3/547, 157.

    [11] Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), 158.

    [12] Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), 159 citing a document from the Sobibor-Bolender Trial, Band 8, pp. 1556-1557. Note that Gollack uses the words “extermination camps.”

    [13] Carlo Mattogno and Jürgen Graf, Treblinka: Extermination Camp or Transit Camp?, 157.

    [14] Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), 159.

    [15] Carlo Mattogno and Jürgen Graf, Treblinka: Extermination Camp or Transit Camp? , 160.

    [16] Joseph Poprzeczny, Odilo Globocnik: Hitler’s Man in the East (McFarland & Company, 2004), 260-261.