In researching the history of the Jews in the Bialystok ghetto who were transported west to Treblinka to be killed, I came across the story of the Bialystok children who were orphans after their parents were killed during an uprising in the ghetto in 1943. I had previously learned of the Bialystok children when I visited Theresienstadt, now known as Terezin.
Martin Gilbert wrote in his book “Holocaust Journey” that the Bialystok children arrived in Theresienstadt on August 24, 1943 and on October 5, 1943 they were sent out of the camp, along with 53 volunteer doctors, nurses and attendants. According to Gilbert, the Nazis claimed that these children were going to be exchanged in neutral Switzerland for German POWs held by the Allies, but instead “they were taken to Auschwitz and murdered.”
I did a search on google and found the following description of the arrival of the children in Theresienstadt on this website:
Suddenly, a column of bedraggled children appeared, hundreds of them between the ages of four to twelve years, holding each other’s hands. The older ones helped the small ones, their little bodies moving along in the pouring rain. A column of marching ghosts, with wet rags clinging to their emaciated bodies, accompanied by a large number of SS men.
Were these the enemies of the Third Reich to be so fiercely guarded? The children were led to a building where disinfection and delousing of inmates was performed. Suddenly they started to shout and cry: “Gas! Gas! Gas!” They huddled together, refusing to be washed or have their wet rags changed for dry clothing. Nobody understood the children’s reaction. What kind of children are these? Where did they come from? What are they talking about?
The children, looking like scarecrows, refused to undress. They held on to their dirty clothing, the older stepping in front of the young ones, protecting them with their bodies, clutching their hands and comforting those that were crying. Their clothing permeated with lice, their bodies full of sores, these children refused to wash.
In 1943, we, the inmates of Ghetto Terezin, didn’t know anything about gas chambers. Locked away, isolated from the outside world, we lived in fear and ignorance of what awaited us once we left the Ghetto, advertised by the Germans as “Die Stadt die Hitler den Juden geschenkt hat.” (“The town which Hitler gave to the Jews.”)
Prior to the children’s arrival, there was a great deal of rushed work done outside the walls of the Ghetto, in a place called Kreta. A special group of male inmates, constantly accompanied by 55 guards, was putting up wooden barracks for an unknown purpose.
And then, one day, they all disappeared in the same way they had arrived. In the morning of the 5th of October, 1943, the wooden barracks at Kreta were empty. Again, through the Ghetto grapevine, we, the inmates, learned that all the doctors and nurses, on leaving the Ghetto in an exchange deal, had been ordered to remove the yellow stars Jews wore on every garment and had been forced to sign a pledge of silence as to what they had seen and lived through, and were on their way to Switzerland to be exchanged through the Red Cross for German prisoners of war.
Sadly, this was not the true fate of these children.
From this website, I learned the following:
At the end of August 1943 by order of Adolf Eichmann 1,264 children ages 6-12 and at least 20 adult caretakers were taken by train from the Bialystok Ghetto to Theresenstadt Concentration Camp. They remained there in a special barracks called Crete until October 5th, 1943. During this time complex negotiations took place to save these children through some sort of “exchange”and “transfer”, perhaps to Switzerland, then Palestine. When negotiations failed the children and their adult caretakers were taken aboard Abtransport Dn/a 10/5/43 to Auschwitz where they were gassed and burned on Erev (eve of) Yom Kippur, 1943.
There was another transport of Jews from the Theresienstadt ghetto which did make it to Switzerland, arriving on Nov. 7, 1945. This was mentioned in a book written by Eberhard Kolb, which I purchased at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial site and on several web sites. Sadly, the plan to send the Bialystok orphans to Switzerland fell through and they were gassed at Auschwitz along with the 53 doctors and nurses accompanying them.
It seems strange to me that the 53 doctors and nurses were also gassed. Didn’t they need doctors and nurses at Auschwitz-Birkenau? There were numerous doctors who worked for the Nazis at Auschwitz. Were all of them doing a good job and there was no need to replace them with a new batch of doctors?
What about Dr. Mengele, who was doing research on twins? Were there no twins among these 1264 children? Dr. Mengele was doing research on genetics and he was also looking for Jews with hereditary conditions. Were there no children with any hereditary deformities in this group?
The whole transport was gassed and burned on the EVE of Yom Kippur. This means that they were killed at night, so how did the secret get out?