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November 14, 2015

The plan to gas the prisoners at Theresienstadt near the end of World War II

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 8:27 am
My photo of a woman shopper in the town formerly known as Theresienstadt

My photo of a woman shopper in the town formerly known as Theresienstadt

My photo of the Gate into Theresienstadt

My photo of the Gate into Theresienstadt

Today, I am answering a comment made on my blog at 2 o’clock in the morning [California time] by Wolf Murmelstein, who was a prisoner at Theresienstadt when he was a child.

In my humble opinion, I believe that Wolf was too young to understand what was going on at Theresienstadt, where his father, Benjamin Murmelstein, was the last Jewish Elder.

The Bauhof building at Theresienstadt

The Bauhof building at Theresienstadt was near the alleged gas chamber

According to the Theresienstadt Ghetto Museum, in 1945, a homicidal gas chamber was built in a corridor of the town’s fortifications wall near the Litomerice gate, which is right by the Bauhof building, shown in the photograph above. (Click here to see a map of the ghetto. The Bauhof building is number 14 on the map.) According to Holocaust historian Martin Gilbert, this gas chamber was never “activated.”

Here is the comment, made by Wolf Murmelstein, with some corrections in English grammar, made by me:

Begin quote:

Commenting on the [Holocaust denial] case of the old German woman [Ursula Haverbeck] convicted for neo-nazi propaganda, I  have simply remembered how the aged Jews of Vienna had been driven to deportation in September 1942 and visitors present that Saturday afternoon had been selected to be deported too.

At Theresienstadt, the aged persons dwelled in the Kavalier barrack and also in many other buildings. Many passed away because of the bad conditions and also because of their advanced age.

However, in January 1945, Eichmann and his staff could see that the death rate had not been high enough, and in order to hasten the destruction of the Jewish inmates, they ordered to adapt, inside the wall around the camp, a room inside the wall,  in a strange way without written design – only oral instructions — a room inside the wall.

My photo below shows the double wall around the camp.

Double walls around Theresienstadt

My phjoto of the double walls around Theresienstadt

Wall around Theresienstadt

The outside of the double wall around Theresienstadt

Just as at the arrival, in December 1944, of a group from Slovakia, the first alarming news arrived, that the purpose of that room inside the [double] wall seemed to be for a dangerous purpose.

At a certain moment, the Elder Benjamin Murmelstein – after having left instructions for the inmates, in the case of his arrest – faced the German Commandant of the camp, Karl Rahm, who spoke vaguely about a bomb safe warehouse, but then left for Prague.

Commandant Rahm returned after three days with the order to stop the work which only SS General Karl Hermann Frank had the authority to give. The Commandant [Karl Rahm] had tried to reach a personal deal with the Allies and wanted to use Theresienstadt in his negotiations.

From a statement, made by SS Captain Heinrich Joeke in the People’s Court, the gas chamber at Theresienstadt had been built to exterminate the political prisoners in the camp.

It is noteworthy that Commander Karl Rahm, at his trial, did not mention his trip to Prague where he obtained the order of SS General Frank to stop work on the gas chamber, although the key witness Benjamin Murmelstein mentioned this.

I believe that he feared revenge on his family at Vienna when speaking about the responsibility of [Adolf] Eichmann and staff members who managed to escape at war’s end. So he spoke always about the phantom bomb safe warehouse.

It is noteworthy that not even Rahm spoke about delousing and similar nonsense. Indeed the Nazis considered the lice as a useful instrument for provoking mortal diseases, [such as typhus] among the inmates.

That old German Neo-nazi woman [Ursula Haverbeck]  will certainly live better during her last years than the aged Jews who were deported to Theresienstadt.

Today, events in Paris [attacks by ISIS] show that laws, against Holocaust denial and other racist hatred spraying, ought to be harder. . .

August 15, 2015

Holocaust survivors who were sent from Auschwitz to Theresienstadt to be gassed

Filed under: Buchenwald, Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 12:55 pm
Holoaust survivors who were saved when they were sent to the UK

Holoaust survivors who were saved when they were sent to the UK (Click to enlarge)

This quote is from a news story, which you can read in full here. The photo above is included in the news article.

In 1945, a group of Jewish children who came to be known as the “Windermere Boys” were granted refuge at hostels in the Lake District [in the UK].

The youngsters who arrived at the scenic Calgarth Estate near Windermere were orphaned boys and girls aged four to 18 who had somehow managed to survive the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust.

Among them was Samuel Laskier, a Polish Jew who spent seven months in Auschwitz before taking the “worst journey imaginable” to Theresienstadt concentration camp in the Czech Republic, which was liberated by the Russians on May 8, the day Germany surrendered.

Why was going from Auschwitz to Theresienstadt the “worst journey imaginable”?  Auschwitz was a “death camp” where Jews were gassed; Theresienstadt did not have a reputation for gassing Jews. At least not until the very end of the war.

Gate into the Theresienstadt ghetto

Gate into the Theresienstadt ghetto (click to enlarge)

I blogged about the gas chamber at Theresienstadt in this previous blog post:

https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2010/05/13/gas-chamber-at-theresienstadt/

Toward the end of World War II, there were rumors circulating in all of the major Nazi concentration camps, that Hitler had given the order for all the inmates to be killed before the arrival of the Soviet or American soldiers, who would liberate the camps. This was believed to be the purpose for building a gas chamber at Theresienstadt in 1945 at the tail end of the war.

At Auschwitz, the inmates were given the choice of staying in the camp, or following the Germans on a death march to other camps in the west before the Soviet army arrived. Very few prisoners stayed behind, except those who were too old or too sick to walk; the prisoners believed that they would be killed by the Soviets if they stayed at Auschwitz.

After April 20, 1945, there were 13,454 of these wretched survivors from Auschwitz and other camps who poured into Theresienstadt. Some were housed in the Hamburg barracks, right by the railroad tracks. The others were put into temporary wooden barracks outside the ghetto, which were taken down soon after the war.

Some of the people who arrived from the evacuated camps were former inmates of Theresienstadt who were now returning. Others were Jews who had been in the eastern concentration camps for years. On May 3, 1945, the Theresienstadt  ghetto was turned over to the Red Cross by Commandant Karl Rahm.

Some of the newcomers had been evacuated from Buchenwald on April 5th just before the camp was liberated by American troops on April 11, 1945. Before the Americans arrived, Hitler himself had given the order to evacuate the Jews from Buchenwald in an effort to prevent them from exacting revenge on German citizens after they were freed.

Some of the Buchenwald prisoners, who arrived at Theresienstadt, were in terrible condition after they had been traveling by train for two weeks without food.

After the liberation of Buchenwald, some of the prisoners, who had not been evacuated, commandeered American army jeeps and weapons, then drove to the nearby town of Weimar where, in an orgy of revenge, they looted German homes and shot innocent civilians at random. This was the type of thing that the Nazis were trying to prevent by evacuating the concentration camps before they were liberated.

According to Holocaust survivor Ben Helfgott, who was one of the prisoners brought to Theresienstadt in the last days of the war, the inmates of the Theresienstadt ghetto went on a rampage as soon as they were released. They looted homes, beat to death an SS guard from the ghetto, and attacked the ethnic Germans who were now homeless refugees, fleeing to Germany, after being driven out of the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia.

According to Martin Gilbert in his book Holocaust Journey, Commandant Karl Rahm told the Red Cross that he had received orders from Berlin to kill all the inmates in the ghetto before the Russians arrived, but he had disobeyed the order. Because of this, Rahm was allowed to leave the Theresienstadt camp unmolested on the day before the Russians arrived on May 8, 1945. He was later captured and tried in a Special People’s Court in nearby Litomerice; he was convicted and was executed in 1947.

May 20, 2012

The son of Dr. Benjamin Murmelstein defends his father’s reputation in a new essay

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 2:20 pm

Several days ago, I received a new essay, written by Dr. Wolf Murmelstein, which I have put up on my website here. Dr. Wolf Murmelstein is defending his father against the slander of Vienna Jewish Community Secretary General Raimund Fastenbauer [who] thought it right to speak of Benjamin Murmelstein as a “Collaborateur” called “Murmelschwein.”

Gate into the walled town of Theresienstadt which became a concentration camp during World War II

To make a long story short, Dr. Benjamin Murmelstein was the last Jewish Elder of the Theresienstadt concentration camp.  He was arrested in June 1945 and accused of collaborating with the Nazis, but after a pre-trial investigation, the charge was dropped. In December 1946, after eighteen months of investigation, the prosecutor had not found enough evidence for the case and Murmelstein was released.

In 1947, Murmelstein was a witness in the trial of Karl Rahm, the last Commandant of Theresienstadt, who was convicted of Crimes against Humanity and executed.

This quote from Dr. Wolf Murmelstein’s essay is the most interesting part, as far as I am concerned:

H.G. Adler, in his very important history of Theresienstadt acknowledged that, in November and December 1944, there were many amazing improvements of conditions but failed to mention how those were due to the strong action of Benjamin Murmelstein.

It had been established in the People’s Court that Benjamin Murmelstein had the first alarming information about things going on when the first group of Slovakian Jews reached Theresienstadt at end of December 1944. So he could fully evaluate the danger connected to a strange building project as the work had to be done only following oral instructions without any written schemes and drawings.

[…]

Benjamin Murmelstein – after having given instructions in the event that he might be arrested – faced the Commander, reporting that inmates were startled and a mass escape would be difficult to avoid. Commander Rahm replied that he was following instructions to set up bombproof stores for the provisions (a version he held even when on trial in People’s Court in 1947!) and the Jews had to work instead gathering on the main square. But: the following day he left for Prague, returning after three days with the order to stop that work.

Such an order could be given only by SS General K.H. Frank High SS and Police Commander and Reich Minister for the Bohemia-Moravia Protectorate. Indeed Frank considered the Ghetto a good trump card in order to reach a deal with Allied Commanders.

After an order from Himmler, the Auschwitz Gas Chambers had ceased the murder of Jews. Eichmann wanted to go on with the killing and, like some other Lager Commander, he thought to set up his own Gas Chamber. This fact, which proves Eichmann’s own wide power, never had been cleared.

It is very clear, in the quote above, that Dr. Wolf Murmelstein is writing about a Gas Chamber, that was being built in Theresienstadt in the last days of World War II, because Adolf Eichmann wanted to continue the killing of the Jews after the gassing had stopped in Auschwitz-Birkenau in November 1944.  The inmates were “startled” by this new development and Dr. Benjamin Murmelstein took it upon himself to save the inmates from a mass slaughter in case of an attempted mass escape.

I previously blogged about the Theresienstadt gas chamber here.  Now Dr. Wolf Murmelstein seems to be confirming that there was a gas chamber being built at Theresienstadt and that the inmates knew about it.

On October 10, 1941, the Germans initially decided to make Theresienstadt into a ghetto for selected Jews in the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and in the Greater German Reich, which included Austria and part of western Poland. The Jews who were to be sent to Theresienstadt included those over 60 years old, World War I veterans, prominent people such as artists or musicians, very important persons, the blind, the deaf, and the inmates of the Jewish mental hospitals and the Jewish orphanages.

The first Jews, who were brought to Theresienstadt on November 24, 1941, were 342 men who were housed in the Sudeten barracks on the west side of the old garrison, from where one can see the Sudeten mountain range near the border between Germany and the Czech Republic. This first transport, called the Aufbaukommando, was brought there to prepare the 10 barracks buildings for the rest of the Jews who would soon follow. On December 4, 1941 another transport of 1,000 Jews, who were to form the Jewish “self-government” of the ghetto, was sent to Theresienstadt. These two early transports became known as AK1 and AK2.

Brunnen park in the Theresienstadt Ghetto with the Dresden barracks in the background

A short time after the construction crews had prepared the barracks, 7,000 Jews from Prague and Brno, in what is now the Czech Republic, arrived in the ghetto; men and women were put into separate barracks and they were not allowed to mix with the townspeople.

On Feb. 16, 1942, the 3,500 townspeople in Theresienstadt were given notice that they would have to evacuate the town by June 30th. On that date, the whole town was converted into a prison camp for the Jews.

Even before the transports departed to Theresienstadt, the Jewish Council of the Elders (Ältestenrat) was appointed in Prague to do the ghetto administration. The Nazis gave oral orders to the Council each day and the Jewish “self-government” informed the prisoners of the order of the day.

There were three Jewish Elders (Judenältester) who served in turn as the head of the ghetto “self-government.” The first was Jakob Edelstein, who served as the ghetto Elder from December 4, 1941 to November 27, 1943. He was arrested for falsifying camps records and was sent to the Small Fortress across the river from the ghetto. From there he was transferred to Auschwitz where he was first put on trial in a Nazi court and was then executed at the infamous “black wall” on June 20, 1944 after being forced to watch as his wife and son were being shot.

The second Jewish leader of Theresienstadt was Dr. Paul Eppstein who was taken to the Small Fortress on September 7, 1944 and immediately shot without the benefit of a trial because he too had disobeyed the orders of the Nazis. The last Jewish leader of the ghetto was Dr. Benjamin Murmelstein, who served from Sept. 7, 1944 until the end of the war.

The ghetto guards were 150 Czech policemen; there was also an unarmed Jewish ghetto guard unit which helped to maintain order in the ghetto.

The Magdeburg barracks which housed the offices of the Jewish “self-government.”

On the wall near the entry door to the Museum in the Magdeburg building, there is a plaque which lauds the Jewish leaders in the ghetto for their resistance against the Nazis, even though it meant death for two of the Elders.

Dr. Wolf Murmelstein is critical of American Universities, that do not teach the history of Theresienstadt the right way, in his opinion.

This quote from his essay is about American Universities:

To have so avoided a mass slaughter of all the Ghetto inmates had been a merit, or a guilt as not politically correct?

Indeed, it seems that in many USA Universities, the prevailing opinion is that a revolution should have been attempted. So Benjamin Murmelstein, as the writer often had to recall, knew that even any suspicion of riots, in view of an uprising, would only have jeopardized the International Red Cross action to achieve the Ghetto survival. Benjamin Murmelstein, the writer agrees, remarked that having prevented school book authors from writing stupid “politically correct” tales and politicians, or so, from delivering, more or less hypocritical, speeches at various commemorations is considered nowadays as a heavy guilt.

Dr. Wolf Murmelstein’s essay is quite long, and difficult to follow, if you don’t know the history of Theresienstadt and the Holocaust, but this quote from the essay is important:

The long waited International Red Cross Committee visit arrived on April 6, 1945. Benjamin Murmelstein had to deliver a speech – previously controlled, maybe approved by Himmler – and guide the visitors along an established Ghetto tour. In the final salutation, Murmelstein put in (at great personal risk) twice the words: “the fate of Theresienstadt is of great concern for me.” This call for help had been suddenly noticed and the Red Cross Delegates suddenly obtained from Minister SS General K.H. Frank assurance that not one inmate would be removed from the Ghetto and the authorization to establish an office in Prague.

But Eichmann and some aides still wanted to slaughter the Ghetto. As Minister SS General K. H. Frank considered the Ghetto as a trump card in the attempt to deal with Allied Commanders – he had asked the Red Cross Delegates to forward a letter – he considered two possible tricks:

Threaten and pressure Benjamin Murmelstein by taking his 8-year-old son as a hostage. The writer had been summoned to the Command and had been questioned by three of the worst aides of Eichmann, but was then permitted to go “home.”

In war time, any revolt, especially when near the combat front, can be put down. For the Nazis such repressions were good opportunities for mass slaughters.

How could the Nazis provoke a revolt in Theresienstadt to be put down with mass slaughter? The tricky way, which was followed by the Eichmann staff, was in 3 steps:

1. LIBERATION OF THE “DANISH” JEWS.
On April 15, 1945 the “Danishes” left Theresienstadt on a convoy of 8 buses. The departure of that privileged group, protected from abroad, left Benjamin Murmelstein feeling a bit uneasy while the inmates were quite excited as the hope of the end of war – with German defeated – increased.

2. KASTNER VISIT ON APRIL 16.
The inmates could watch a Jew (without a Yellow Star!) being taken on a tour around Theresienstadt by the SS, and allowed to meet, at the SS quarters, a person he knew, and to inform – bypassing the Elder – the inmates about the next overhanding of the Ghetto. Inform or excite?

3. THE FARCE – REVOLT OF NIGHT OF 17/18.
At midnight, just after having answered the usual phone call of the SS on duty – “Yes Sir, all in order.” — Benjamin Murmelstein had been “alerted” by an associate: “Germans fled away; a joyous crowd is singing and dancing.” The SS wanting to know whether “all was in order” and a joyous crowd in street? Clearly someone wanted the inmates to be excited, but why?

Dr. Wolf Murmelstein credits his father, Dr. Benjamin Murmelstein, with saving the Theresienstadt ghetto from mass slaughter and ensuring that the ghetto was turned over to the International Red Cross in the last days of the war.

I previously blogged here about a train that was sent from Bergen-Belsen to Theresienstadt in the last days of the war.  Several survivors of the three trains sent from Bergen-Belsen, bound for Theresienstadt, believe that they were being sent to Theresienstadt to be killed, but it is clear from Dr. Wolf Murmelstein’s essay that the trains were being sent to Theresienstadt because the camp was being turned over to the International Red Cross.

You can read more about the Theresienstadt Ghetto on my website here.

May 13, 2010

Gas chamber at Theresienstadt…

A few years ago, I was shocked to hear newsman Sandor Vanocur say, in a very serious tone, on a TV program, that there was a gas chamber at Theresienstadt.  He didn’t give any details, just moved on to the next subject, after dropping that bombshell. Theresienstadt is an old fortified town in what is now the Czech Republic; the Czechs have renamed it Terezin. During World War II, Theresienstadt was turned into a Nazi concentration camp for elderly and prominent Jews, including musicians and artists.

I did some research and learned that it was really true: Theresienstadt did have a gas chamber, but according to Martin Gilbert, a British Holocaust historian, the gas chamber was never “activated.”

There were rumors circulating in all of the major Nazi concentration camps toward the end of the war that Hitler had given the order for all the inmates to be killed before the arrival of the Soviet or American soldiers. This was believed to be the purpose for building a gas chamber at Theresienstadt in 1945 at the tail end of the war.

In the northwest section of the old garrison town of Theresienstadt, there is a building, called the Bauhof by the Nazis, that was used for craft workshops. It is the yellow building shown in the photograph below. To the right you can see part of the old fortifications; the road shown in the photograph goes through an opening in the fortifications here.

Bauhof where workshops were located near Litomerice gate

According to the Ghetto Museum at Theresienstadt, a homicidal gas chamber was built in 1945 in a corridor of the town’s fortifications wall near the Litomerice gate, which is right by the Bauhof building, shown in the photograph above. (Click here to see a map of the ghetto. The Bauhof building is number 14 on the map.)

The Theresienstadt homicidal gas chamber is directly across from the Jäger (Hunter) barracks, an identical building on the opposite side of the town, which was used as a disinfection station where the prisoners and their clothing were deloused. The prisoners were disinfected by being completely submerged in a tub containing a chemical which would kill the lice on their bodies. At the same time, their clothing was disinfected by hot steam, and they would have to put their clothes back on while they were still wet and then return to their barracks. The oldest inmates of the ghetto were housed in the Jäger barracks so they wouldn’t get chilled by walking through the cold in wet clothes. Behind the Jäger barracks is the Südberg or South Hill where a soccer field was built for the inmates.

The ghetto inmates became aware of the Theresienstadt homicidal gas chamber and were planning to blow it up, but the war ended just in time to save the Theresienstadt Jews from being gassed right in the ghetto.

The photograph below shows the fortifications on either side of the Litomerice gate on the northwest side of Theresienstadt. When Theresienstadt was a ghetto for the Jews, this road was closed off and there was no traffic through the garrison town.

The Litomerice gate is an opening between the fortification walls

By my calculation, the Theresienstadt gas chamber was located in the part of the fortifications shown in the background of the photo above, since this is the fortification section that is the closest to the Bauhof workshops.  The gas chamber was not shown on the tour that I took at Theresienstadt in 2000 and there was no sign that marked it.

On May 3, 1945, Theresienstadt was turned over to the Red Cross by Commandant Karl Rahm. According to Martin Gilbert in his book Holocaust Journey, Commandant Karl Rahm told the Red Cross that he had received orders from Berlin to kill all the inmates in the ghetto before the Russians arrived, but he had disobeyed the order. Because of this, Gilbert wrote, Rahm was allowed to leave the camp unmolested on the day before the Russians arrived on May 8, 1945. He was later captured and tried in a Special People’s Court in nearby Litomerice; he was held in the Small Fortress until he was executed in 1947.

According to information in a Theresienstadt guidebook, the clothing was disinfected by steam in an old brewery, which is shown in the photo below.

Old brewery where clothing was disinfected with steam

Apparently, the Germans did not use Zyklon-B to disinfect the clothing at Theresienstadt.  Or did they finally decide to use Zyklon-B in the last days of the war when a typhus epidemic broke out in the camp?  Did they set up disinfection chambers in the old fortifications?  The German word for a disinfection chamber, where clothing is deloused with Zyklon-B, is Gaskammer, which means gas chamber.  Is this the gas chamber that the prisoners heard about?  I don’t know, but it’s possible.