I was reading the very informative blog of Herb Stolpmann today when I came across his blog post about the Chelmno extermination camp here. It started off with this startling statement:
Readers of the New York Times found on July 2nd 1942 page 6 an unusual item. Under the title “Allies are Urged to Execute Nazis,” it was reported by a call of the Polish government in exile in London, initiating threats of retribution (Vergeltungsdrohungen) against German citizens living in western countries abroad. […]
For this reason, it was recommended the liquidation of Germans in the U.S. and other countries as a deterrent.
I had to read this several times before it sank into my brain. The “Polish government in exile in London” was calling for the murder of German citizens living in western countries.
According to Wikipedia, there were “over 110 German-American citizens arrested between 1941 and 1944 in cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Honolulu and Los Angeles.”
This quote is from Wikipedia:
A total of 11,507 Germans and German-Americans were interned during the war, accounting for 36% of the total internments under the Justice Department’s Enemy Alien Control Program, but far less than the 110,000 Japanese-Americans interned. Such internments began with the detention of 1,260 Germans shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Of the 254 persons evicted from coastal areas, the majority were German.
In addition, over 4,500 ethnic Germans were brought to the U.S. from Latin America and similarly detained. The Federal Bureau of Investigation drafted a list of Germans in fifteen Latin American countries whom it suspected of subversive activities and, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, demanded their eviction to the U.S. for detention.
The article in the New York Times states that it was the news of the killing of the Jews in gas vans in Chelmno which prompted the Polish government in exile in London to call for the murder of German civilians in retribution. Fortunately, this never happened, as far as I know.
I was a child, living in Missouri, during World War II. There were whole towns in Missouri, which were predominantly German-American. The most famous one is Hermann, MO which is now a tourist attraction. I knew about the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war, but I didn’t know about the German-Americans who were imprisoned in internment camps.
This quote is from Herb Stolpmann’s blog post:
After listing the main sites of mass murder in eastern Poland, it was said in the (New York Times) article: “In early winter the Germans methodically continue to kill all Jews. They sent special mobile gas chambers to western Poland, into territories incorporated into the Reich. In places like Chelmno near Kolo, ninety people were put at once into those gas chambers. The victims were buried in graves that they themselves had dug in the forest of Lubarski. Between November 1941 and March 1942 about 1,000 people a day from the residential districts of Kolo, Dabie, Izbica and other places as well as the 35 000 Jews from Lodz were killed during the period 2-9 January.
Chelmno is listed as one of the six extermination camps, but it differs from the other five “death camps.” Chelmno didn’t have gas chambers. Instead, the Jews were killed in “gas vans.” The killing of the Jews at Chelmno began on December 8, 1941 — before the start of the Wannsee Conference where the genocide of the Jews (“the Final Solution”) was planned. Some historians say that the start of the killing at Chelmno was on December 6, 1941. This was before Germany declared war on America and America then declared war on Germany.
After World War II ended in Europe with the surrender of the German Army on May 7, 1945, the provisional Polish government 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 which was set to begin on November 20, 1945, and for the planned trials of Germans who had committed war crimes in Poland.
The main report by the Central Commission 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 in Poland. Two of the death camps, Auschwitz and Chelmno, had been in Greater Germany while they were in operation but now they are located in Poland.
This quote is from the report by the Central Commission on the Chelmno camp:
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. […]
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.
All this seems very strange to me. Knowing how the German people are always highly organized and efficient, it doesn’t make any sense that they would start killing the Jews before the plans for “the Final Solution” were made at the Wannsee Conference. And they did it by the very inefficient method of gassing them in vans with carbon monoxide! Say what? They couldn’t be bothered with building a proper gas chamber? And they had no ovens to burn the bodies? What was the big hurry that they couldn’t take the time to set up a proper death camp?
In the winter of 1941-1942, the bodies of the Chelmno victims were buried in mass graves in the frozen ground of a nearby forest. In the Spring of 1942, two open-air crematoria were built and the bodies were dug up and cremated. The cremation ovens were open concrete-lined pits where the corpses were burned on grates. After the first phase of the killing between December 1941 and April 1943, these “furnaces” were destroyed on April 7, 1943. When the second phase began in May or June 1944, two more open-air crematoria were constructed, but they were also destroyed by the Nazis in order to get rid of all the evidence.
The following quote is from a book by the Central Commission for Investigation of German Crimes in Poland entitled “GERMAN CRIMES IN POLAND” (Warsaw, 1946, 1947):
The ashes and remains of bones were removed from the ash-pit, ground in mortars, and, at first, thrown into especially dug ditches; but later, from 1943 onwards, bones and ashes were secretly carted to Zawadki at night, and there thrown into the river.
In the autumn of 1944 the camp in the wood was completely destroyed, the crematoria being blown up, the huts taken to pieces, and almost every trace of crime being carefully removed. A Special Commission from Berlin directed, on the spot, the destruction of all the evidence of what had been done.
The text on the Memorial stone in the photo above says that about 350,000 Jews – Men, women and children – were murdered at Chelmno.
Martin Gilbert wrote in his book, entitled Holocaust, that 360,000 Jews were killed at Chelmno just in 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.
Obviously, the Nazis destroyed all the evidence, so the number of Jewish deaths at Chelmno is unknown.