In a news article which you can read here, I noticed that the reporter included Chelmno as one of the Operation Reinhardt camps. This quote is from the news article:
Belzec was one of four secret death factories, the others being Treblinka, Chelmno and Sobibor, that the SS established to kill the Jews of Poland and some Russian prisoners of war early in the war.
By the time the camps were destroyed – to be replaced by Auschwitz – more than 2.5 million people had been killed in them in a programme the Nazis dubbed ‘Operation Reinhard’.
The Nazis tried to cover up their genocide of the Jews by claiming that the three Operation Reinhard camps (Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec) were transit camps for the purpose of evacuating the Jews to the East. These three camps were set up following the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, but Chelmno was not one of the Operation Reinhard camps.
Chelmno was set up in November 1941 and the gassing of the Jews actually started at Chelmno on December 8, 1941, according to Martin Gilbert, a noted Holocaust historian. (The Nazis called Chelmno a transit camp and claimed that the prisoners were being sent to work in the East, after being disinfected.)
In his book entitled Holocaust, Gilbert wrote the following:
On 7 December 1941, as the first seven hundred Jews were being deported to the death camp at Chelmno, Japanese aircraft attacked the United States Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Unknown at that time either to the Allies or the Jews of Europe, Roosevelt’s day that would “live in infamy” was also the first day of the “final solution.”
So the Jews were sent to Chelmno and gassed BEFORE the Wannsee Conference where the genocide of the Jews was planned?
According to Martin Gilbert, the first 700 Jews that were killed at Chelmno were from the Polish village of Kolo; they arrived at Chelmno on the evening of December 7, 1941 and on the following day, all of them were killed with carbon monoxide in gas vans. The victims were taken on 8 or 9 separate journeys in the gas vans to a clearing in the Rzuchowski woods near Chelmno, where the bodies were first buried, and later dug up and burned.
The Operation Reinhard camps had gas chambers which used carbon monoxide to kill the Jews, but the Chelmno camp was unique in that gas vans were used. Adolf Eichmann admitted at his trial in Jerusalem that gas vans had been used at Chelmno.
Memorial stone at Chelmno honors 350,000 Jews who were murdered there Photo credit: Alan Collins
The text on the Memorial stone in the photo above says that ABOUT 350,000 Jews – Men, women and children – were murdered at Chelmno. The exact number is unknown because the Nazis destroyed all the records, but the number is too low according to Martin Gilbert, who wrote in his book, entitled “Holocaust,” that 360,000 Jews were killed at Chelmno in just the first phase of the killing, between December 7, 1941 and March 1943.
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum says that “at least 152,000″ Jews were killed at Chelmno. The Museum at the villa in Wannsee, near Berlin, says that “152,000 Jews and 5,000 Gypsies” were killed at Chelmno.
After World War II ended in Europe with the surrender of the German Army on May 7, 1945, the provisional Polish government, which was controlled by the Soviet Union, set up the Central Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland. The purpose was to gather evidence for the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal and for the Polish trials of Germans who had committed war crimes in Poland.
The main report by the Central Commission, which you can read here, was entitled GERMAN CRIMES IN POLAND; it was originally published in two volumes in 1946 and 1947. The report included an overview of the main Nazi concentration camps and death camps. Two of the death camps, Auschwitz and Chelmno, had been in the Greater German Reich while they were in operation, but after the war they were located in Poland.
The Chelmno death camp was located in the small Polish village of Chelmno nad Neren (Chelmno on the river Ner), 60 kilometers northwest of Lodz, a major city in what is now western Poland. The camp was in the Warthegau, a district in the part of Poland that had been annexed into the Greater German Reich after the joint conquest of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939.
Chelmno was called Kulmhof by the Germans and Lodz was known by the German name Litzmannstadt. The Warthegau had been a part of the German state of Prussia between 1795 and 1871. After the German states united in 1871, the Warthegau was in Germany until after World War I when it was given back to the Poles in the Treaty of Versailles.
The Jews, who were destined to be killed, were brought on trains, via a main railroad line that ran from Lodz to Poznan, to the village of Kolo. The village was 14 kilometers from Chelmno; it was the closest stop on this railroad line.
At Kolo, the victims were transferred to another train which took them on a narrow gauge railroad line 6 kilometers to the village of Powiercie. From Powiercie, the victims had to walk 1.5 kilometers through a forest to the village of Zawadka where they spent their last night locked inside a mill. They were then transported by trucks the next day to an old manor house, called the Castle, at Chelmno.
The foundation of the Castle which was destroyed after the first phase of the killing Photo credit: Alan Collins
The Chelmno camp had no prisoner barracks nor factories. According to the Polish Central Commission, its sole purpose was to murder Jews and Roma who were not capable of working at forced labor for the Nazis. In 1939, there were around 385,000 Jews living in the Warthegau; those who could work were sent to the Lodz ghetto where they labored in textile factories which made uniforms for the German army.
On January 16, 1942, deportations from the Lodz ghetto began; records from the ghetto show that 54,990 people were deported before the final liquidation of the ghetto in August 1944. The Jewish leader of the Lodz ghetto, Chaim Rumkowski, compiled the lists of people to be deported, although he had no knowledge that they were being sent to their deaths at Chelmno.
The gassing of the Jews at Chelmno was carried out in two separate phases. In the first phase, between December 7, 1941 and April 1943, Jews from the surrounding area and the Lodz ghetto were brought to Chelmno and killed on the day after their arrival. Although the Nazis destroyed all records of the Chelmno camp, it is alleged that around 15,000 Jews and 5,000 Roma, who were deported from Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Czechoslovakia and Luxembourg, were brought to Chelmno to be killed.
The victims of the Nazis at Chelmno also included Polish non-Jewish citizens and Soviet Prisoners of War.
After the first phase of the murder of the Jews at Chelmno ended, the Castle was blown up on April 7, 1943 by the SS. The second phase of the killing at Chelmno began in May or June 1944. During this second phase, the Jews were housed in the Chelmno church on their last night of life. The church is shown in the photo below.
Church where the Jews spent their last night before being gassed at Chelmno Photo Credit: Alan Collins
The Granary where the Jewish workers stayed at Chelmno Photo Credit: Alan Collins
The Jewish workers, called the Juden Kommando, who did the work of burning the corpses at Chelmno, were housed in the granary during the second phase of the killing at Chelmno. The granary is shown in the background of the photo above.
Exact information about Chelmno is not available because all the records were destroyed and there were only four Jewish survivors, according to the Polish Central Commission. In the second phase, the Jews spent their last night in the church, which is shown in the background of the photo of the destroyed castle.
The following quote is from the Polish Central Commission:
The camp was established in November 1941. The extermination process began on December 8, with the ghetto population of the cities and towns of the Warthegau, first from the neighbouring Kolo, Dabie, Sompolno, Klodawa and many other places, and later from Lodz itself. The first Jews arrived at Chelmno from Lodz in the middle of January 1942. From that time onwards an average of 1000 a day was maintained, with short intermissions, till April 1943.
Besides those who were brought by rail, others were delivered at the camp from time to time in cars, but such were comparatively rare. Besides those from Poland there were also transports of Jews from Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland; as a rule the Lodz ghetto served as a distribution centre. The total number of Jews from abroad amounted to about 16,000.
Besides the 300,000 Jews from the Warthegau, about 5,000 Gypsies and about a thousand Poles and Russian prisoners of war were murdered at Chelmno. But the execution of the latter took place mostly at night. They were taken straight to the wood, and shot.
Those who were brought here for destruction were convinced till the very last moment that they were to be employed on fortification work in the East. They were told that, before going further, they would have a bath, and that their clothes would be disinfected. Immediately after their arrival at the camp they were taken to the large hall of the house, where they were told to undress, and then they were driven along a corridor to the front door, where a large lorry, fitted up as a gas-chamber, was standing. This, they were told, was to take them to the bath-house. When the lorry was full, the door was locked, the engine started, and carbon monoxide was introduced into the interior through a specially constructed exhaust pipe. After 4-5 minutes, when the cries and struggles of the suffocating victims were heard no more, the lorry was driven to the wood, 4 km (2 1/2 miles) away, which was enclosed with a high fence and surrounded with outposts. Here the corpses were unloaded and buried, and afterwards burnt in one of the clearings.
So the victims were told that they were going to be taken to the East to work? This means that the victims themselves did not think that they were too old, or too young, or too sick to work; otherwise, they would have known that they were going to be killed. They were completely fooled by this ruse.
But why would the Nazis kill Jews who were capable of working? And why did they start killing them even before the plans were made on January 20, 1942 to kill all the Jews. Why was Chaim Rumkowski allowed to choose Jews from the Lodz ghetto to be sent to Chelmno?
You can read more about Chelmno on this website, where you will see the photo below. This famous photo allegedly shows Jews at Chelmno just before they were gassed. Note that the man in the foreground of the photo was allowed to wear his trousers into the gas van, but the other prisoners were forced to undress.
Jews at Chelmno, just before they were gassed
On the night of January 17 and 18, 1945, the SS men began taking the 47 Jewish workers out of the granary building and shooting them in groups of five, according to two survivors, Shimon Srebnik and Mordechai Zurawski. The Jews defended themselves and two of the SS men were killed. According to the survivors, the SS men then set fire to the granary.