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January 12, 2016

Operation Reinhardt or Operation Reinhard?

One of the regular readers of my blog [hermie] wrote the following in a comment:

Why would the Nazis have named that operation [Operation Reinhardt] after German Secretary of State for Finances Fritz Reinhardt if no seizure of money and other valuables had been intended in the first place? Would have been nonsensical.

Was this operation really called Operation Reinhardt or was it called Operation Reinhard?

On January 20, 1942 at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, a conference was held to plan “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question” for Europe’s 11 million Jews. SS General Reinhard Heydrich, who was the head of RSHA (Reich Security Main Office) as well as the Deputy of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic) led the conference. The protocols from the conference, as written by Adolf Eichmann, contained the expression “transportation to the East,” a euphemism that was used to mean the genocidal killing of all the Jews in Europe.

On May 27, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich was fatally wounded by two Czech resistance fighters who had parachuted into German-occupied Bohemia from Great Britain where they had been trained. Even before Heydrich died 8 days later, Odilo Globocnik began preparations for Aktion Reinhard, which was the plan to send Jews to their deaths at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor, according to Martin Gilbert’s book “The Holocaust.”

A fourth extermination camp had already opened at Chelmno in what is now western Poland, and the first Jews had been gassed in mobile vans on December 8, 1941, according to the Central Commission for Investigation of German Crimes in Poland.

There were no “selections” made at the three Operation Reinhard camps, nor at the Chelmno camp. All the Jews who were sent to these camps, with the exception of a few who escaped, were immediately killed in gas chambers, but there were no records kept of their deaths.

Treblinka and the other two Operation Reinhard camps, Sobibor and Belzec, were all located near the Bug river which formed the eastern border of German-occupied Poland. The Bug river is very shallow at Treblinka; it is what people from Missouri would call a “crick” or creek, compared to the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers. It is shallow enough to wade across in the Summer time, or to walk across when it is frozen in the Winter.

A bridge over the Bug river for trains and cars

My 1998 photo of a bridge over the Bug river for trains and cars

The territory on the other side of the Bug river was White Russia (Belarus) and the section of Poland that was given to the Soviet Union after the joint conquest of Poland by the Germans and the Soviet Union in September 1939.

This part of Poland had formerly been occupied by the Russians between 1772 and 1917; between 1835 and 1917, this area was included in the Pale of Settlement, a huge reservation where the Eastern European Jews had been forced to live.

The tiny village of Treblinka is located on the railroad line running from Ostrów Mazowiecki to Siedlce. A short distance from Treblinka, at Malkinia Junction, this line intersects the major railway line which runs from Warsaw, east to Bialystok. Trains can reverse directions at the Junction and return to Warsaw, or turn south towards Lublin, which was the headquarters for Operation Reinhard. A few Jews from Warsaw were sent to the Majdanek death camp in Lublin on trains that turned south at the Malkinia Junction.

When railroad lines were built in the 19th century, the width of the tracks was standardized in America and western Europe, but the tracks in Russia and eastern Poland were a different gauge.

Bialystok is the end of the line in Poland; this is as far east as trains can go without changing the wheels on the rail cars. Treblinka is located only a short distance west of Bialystok.

In June 1941, the German Army invaded the Soviet Union and “liberated” the area formerly known as the Pale of Settlement. By the time that the Aktion Reinhard camps were set up in 1942, German troops had advanced a thousand kilometers into Russia. Allegedly, the plan was to transport the Jews as far as the Bug river and kill them in gas chambers, then claim that they had been “transported to the East.”

In 1942, the Germans built a new railroad spur line from the Malkinia Junction into the Treblinka extermination camp. When a train, 60 cars long, arrived at the junction, the cars were uncoupled and 20 cars at a time were backed into the camp. Today, a stone sculpture shows the location of the train tracks that brought the Jews into the Treblinka death camp.

Monument at the spot where the train station once stood at Treblinka

Monument at the spot where the train station once stood at Treblinka

The first Jews to be deported to the Treblinka death camp were from the Warsaw ghetto; the first transport of 6,000 Jews arrived at Treblinka at about 9:30 on 23 July 1942. Between late July and September 1942, the Germans transported more than 300,000 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Jews were also deported to Treblinka from Lublin and Bialystok, two major cities in eastern Poland, which were then in the General Government, as German-occupied Poland was called. Others were transported to Treblinka from the Theresienstadt ghetto in what is now the Czech Republic. Approximately 2,000 Gypsies were also sent to Treblinka and allegedly murdered in the gas chambers.

Trains continued to arrive regularly at Treblinka until May 1943, and a few more transports arrived after that date.

On October 19, 1943, Odilo Globocnik wrote to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler: “I have completed Aktion Reinhard and have dissolved all the camps.”

In an article published on August 8, 1943, the New York Times referred to a headline in a London newspaper which read: “2,000,000 Murders by Nazis Charged. Polish Paper in London says Jews Are Exterminated in Treblinka Death House.” The subtitle read : “According to report, steam is used to kill men, women and children at a place in the woods.”

The London newspaper story was based upon an article published on August 7th in the magazine Polish Labor Fights, which contained information from a Polish report on November 15, 1942.

More news about the killing of the Jews at the Treblinka camp came from Vasily Grossman, a Jewish war correspondent who was traveling with the Soviet Red Army.

In November 1944, Grossman published an article entitled “The Hell of Treblinka,” which was later quoted at the trial of the major German war criminals at Nuremberg. Grossman had interviewed 40 survivors of the Treblinka uprising and he had talked to some of the local farmers. The camp had been completely razed to the ground; there was nothing left for Grossman to see, “only graves and death.” The Jews had all been killed, according to Grossman.

Proof that Treblinka was an extermination camp is contained in a 16-page secret document, that was submitted by Nazi statistician Dr. Richard Korherr to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler on March 27, 1943. Reichsführer-SS Himmler was a five-star general and the leader of the SS; he was responsible for all the Nazi concentration camps, which were administered by the SS.

This report on “The Final Solution of the European Jewish Problem,” compiled at Himmler’s request, stated that of the 1,449,692 Jews deported from the Eastern provinces, 1,274,366 had been subjected to Sonderbehandlung at camps in the General Government.

On April 1, 1943, when Himmler had the report prepared for submission to Hitler, the words “Sonderbehandlung at Camps in the General Government” were changed to “Transport of Jews from the Eastern Provinces to the Russian East, Processed through the Camps in the General Government.”

The term Sonderbehandlung, sometimes abbreviated SB, was allegedly used by the Nazis to mean death in the gas chamber; the English translation is “special treatment.”

The terms “evacuation” and “transportation to the East” were allegedly Nazi code words for sending the Jews to death camps where they were murdered in the gas chambers. The words “resettled” and “liquidated,” when used to refer to the Jews, were also euphemisms which were allegedly used to mean “killed in the gas chambers”.

The term “die Endlösung der Judenfrage” was written by Hermann Goering in a letter to Reinhard Heydrich on July 31, 1941. Translated into English as “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” this is as a euphemism which was allegedly used by the Nazis to mean the genocide of the Jews in Europe.

However, at the Nuremberg IMT, Goering testified that the term meant the “Total solution to the Jewish question” which was a euphemism for the evacuation of the Jews to the East.

The Nazis referred to Treblinka as a Durchgangslager (transit camp).

Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler was responsible for completing, by March 1943, the resettlement of 629,000 ethnic Germans from the Baltic countries into the Polish territory that was incorporated into the Greater German Reich in October 1939. He was also responsible for deporting 365,000 Poles, from the part of Poland that was incorporated into the Greater German Reich, to occupied Poland, and for deporting 295,000 citizens from Luxembourg and the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, which were also incorporated into the Greater German Reich. All this had been accomplished by Himmler by March 1943 when Dr. Korherr, who was Himmler’s chief statistician, made his report on what had happened to the Jews who were living in Eastern Poland.

In 2000, a document called the Höfle Telegram was discovered by Holocaust historians in the Public Records Office in Kew, England. This document consists of two intercepted encoded messages, both of which were sent from Lublin on January 11, 1943 by SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle, and marked “state secret.”

One message was sent to Adolf Eichmann in the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) in Berlin and the other to SS-Oberststurmbannführer Franz Heim, deputy commander of the Security Police (SIPO) at the headquarters of German-occupied Poland in Krakow.

The encoded messages gave the number of arrivals at the Operation Reinhard camps during the previous two weeks and the following totals for Jews sent to the Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor and Lublin (Majdanek) camps in 1942:

Treblinka, 71,355 [713,555]; Belzec, 434,500; Sobibor, 101,370; and Majdanek, 24,733.

The number for Treblinka, 71,355, was a typographical error; the correct number is 713,555, based on the total given. The total “arrivals” for the four camps matches the total of 1,274,166 “evacuated” Jews in the Korherr Report.

Besides the freight trains that carried the Jews in box cars to Treblinka, there were also passenger trains with 3,000 people on board each train, as well as trucks and horse-drawn wagons that brought the victims to Treblinka.

January 14, 2012

The unbelievable testimony of the Holocaust survivors: Are the Jews overplaying their hand?

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:21 am

Out of all the dramatic stories told by the Holocaust survivors, who are currently out on the lecture circuit and/or publishing their memoirs, which one takes the prize for the most unbelievable? 

The first story that comes to mind is the one told by Irene Zisblatt, about how she was saved because the gas chamber was too full on the day that she was scheduled to be gassed.  She was rescued by a young Jewish Sonderkommando who tossed her over a 10-foot high fence into an open railroad car, so that she could be transported out of Auschwitz. That one tops the story of Anna Levin-Ware who was pulled out of the Auschwitz gas chamber because she was “Hungarian by marriage.”

My personal favorite Holocaust story is the one told by Esther Terner Raab, who was a survivor of Sobibor, one of the three Operation Reinhard camps. In a TV documentary, which I saw many years ago, Esther told about a party in the Sobibor camp that the SS men had before the famous “escape from Sobibor.”  At the party, Esther was told by the SS men that they were celebrating the fact that one million Jews had been killed at Sobibor.

Unlike the other Nazi death camps, the SS barracks at Sobibor were located inside the camp. According to another Sobibor survivor, Toivi Blatt, the Jewish workers in the camp sometimes socialized with the SS guards.

Esther’s story was corroborated by another Sobibor survivor, Moshe Bahir, who testified in 1965 at the trial of several of the Sobibor perpetrators in Hagen, Germany. Moshe Bahir testified, under oath in a court of law, that he was a witness to a celebration by the Germans in February 1943 after one million Jews had been killed at Sobibor.

So it wasn’t just young attractive girls who were invited to the SS celebration of one million Jewish deaths; there were also young men like Moshe Bahir who were invited.  The SS men were so happy that they had killed one million Jews, they wanted to share their jubilation with two of the Jews who were still alive and waiting for their turn to be killed.

Sobibor memorial site Photo Credit: Alan Collins

The photo above shows the spot in Camp III at Sobibor where a brick building with gas chambers once stood. A large block of stone, erected in 1965, represents the gas chambers in two buildings at Sobibor, which were torn down long ago.

The Nazis claimed that the Aktion Reinhard camps were set up as transit camps for the “evacuation of the Jews to the East,” a euphemism for the genocide of the Jews. Unlike the concentration camps, such as Auschwitz and Majdanek, the three Aktion Reinhard camps did not have ovens to cremate the bodies. The Jews were not registered upon arrival and no death records were kept at the Aktion Reinhard camps.

During World War II, and for years afterward, the Sobibor death camp was virtually unknown. William Shirer did not even mention it in his monumental 1147-page book entitled The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

It was not until the release of a 1987 TV movie, Escape from Sobibor, based on a book with the same name, that the public knew of this remote spot where thousands of Jews lost their lives. The movie tells the story of the revolt during which around 300 prisoners escaped; no more than 50 of them survived to the end of the war.

Survivors of Sobibor do not agree on the number or size of the gas chambers in the camp. The victims were killed with carbon monoxide from the exhaust of engines taken from captured Soviet tanks, which were stored in Camp IV. There is also disagreement on whether these were diesel engines or gasoline engines.

The three Aktion Reinhard camps were all in remote locations, but “each site was on a railroad line linking it with hundreds of towns and villages whose Jewish communities were now trapped and starving” in the spring of 1942, according to Martin Gilbert’s book entitled The Holocaust. Sobibor was linked by rail with many large Jewish communities, including Lublin, Wlodawa and Chelm. Jews were also brought from the Theresienstadt ghetto, located in what is now the Czech Republic, and from the Netherlands, to be gassed at Sobibor.

The Sobibor camp was on the eastern edge of German-occupied Poland, five kilometers west of the Bug river. The Bug river was as far as trains from western Europe could go without changing the wheels to fit the train tracks in the Soviet Union, which were a different gauge. On the other side of the Bug river from Sobibor was the Ukraine, which had belonged to the Soviet Union until it was taken by the Germans shortly after their invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.

The unsuspecting victims, who arrived at Sobibor, were told that they would be sent to work camps in the Ukraine after they had taken a shower, but instead, the Jews were immediately killed in gas chambers disguised as shower rooms.

Deportations to the Sobibor killing center began in mid April 1942 with transports from the town of Zamosc in Poland, according to Holocaust historian Martin Gilbert. The Jews from the Lublin ghetto were also sent to Sobibor to be gassed, although there were several gas chambers at Majdanek just outside the city of Lublin. During the first phase of the extermination of the Jews at Sobibor, which lasted until July 1942, around 100,000 Jews were gassed to death.

Their bodies were buried in mass graves, then later dug up and burned on pyres. During the next phase, the bodies were burned immediately, according to Toivi Blatt, one of the few survivors of Sobibor. At the age of 15, Blatt had been selected to work in sorting the clothing in the camp.

Map of the Sobibor death camp

The Sobibor killing center was initially divided into three camps (Lager 1, Lager II and Lager III) but a fourth camp was added later to store munitions captured from the Soviet Army. Lager I was where the Jewish workers in the camp lived. A moat on one side of this camp prevented their escape. Lager II was where the victims undressed; Jewish workers sorted the clothing in this camp. The barracks for the German SS administrators of the camp were located in the Vorlager.

From Lager II, an SS man escorted the victims through a path lined with tree branches to the gas chambers in Lager III. Only the Ukrainian SS guards and the German SS officers were allowed in Lager III.

The Sobibor death camp was 400 meters wide and 600 meters long; the entire area was enclosed by a barbed wire fence that was three meters high. On three sides of the camp was a mine field, intended to keep anyone from approaching the camp. The watch towers were manned by Ukrainian SS guards who had been conscripted from captured soldiers in the Soviet Army to assist the 30 German SS men who were the administrators of the camp. In 1965, a German court put 11 of the German SS guards on trial; 6 of them were sentenced to prison, and one committed suicide during the trial; the others were acquitted.

The victims arrived on trains which stopped at the ramp across from the Sobibor station, or in trucks from nearby Polish villages. Most of the Jews were transported in cattle cars, but the 34,000 Dutch Jews who were sent to Sobibor arrived in passenger trains, according to Toivi Blatt. The luggage of the Dutch Jews was transported in separate cars and the victims were given tags which they were told would be used to reclaim their bags. All of the belongings of the Jews were confiscated upon arrival.

At the entrance to the camp, the victims were instructed to deposit their hand baggage and purses before proceeding along the path, called the “Himmelfahrtstrasse” (Street to heaven), which led to the spot where the hair was cut from the heads of the women, and then on to the gas chambers disguised as showers. According to Toivi Blatt, all documents, photos and personal items were removed from the confiscated baggage and anything that could not be recycled to send to Germany was burned in open fires that lit up the night sky.