The Sonderkommandos 1005 were the special units created
to implement the large-scale action to obliterate the traces of the
mass killings committed by Nazis in occupied Eastern Europe.
The decision to commence the action was made in Berlin after the news of the mass murders began to spread in the Allied countries,
and when hastily buried corpses began to pose a health hazard in occupied Poland. The operation was
headed by SS-Standartenfuehrer Paul Blobel, who created
a small staff in Lodz. An architect
and engineer by training, Blobel developed methods for burning the bodies
on pyres, crushing the remaining bones and scattering the ashes.
The first phase, which lasted from June 1942 to June 1943,
saw the burning of bodies in the Action
Reinhard death camps of Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor,
and at Chelmno and Auschwitz. A second phase
commenced in June 1943 when mass graves in Poland and the Eastern Territories began to be liquidated. The first site may
have been the Janowska camp near Lvov. In August of that year Sonderkommando 1005 units burned
the bodies of Jews massacred at Babi
Yar and, subsequently, those killed in Kamenets-Podolski. Later,
units were sent to Yugoslavia, Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus.
As the Soviet army advanced in mid-1944,
the activity of the Sonderkommandos 1005 focused on the General Government.
Each Sonderkommando 1005 unit consisted of several SD (Security Service)
and SIPO (Security police) officers, who supervised the work, and several
dozen Ordnungspolizei (Order Police), who served as guards. The labor
was carried out by prisoners, mainly Jews, who were organized in three
groupings: one to open the graves and exhume the bodies, a second to
erect the pyres, transport the bodies and arrange them on the pyres,
and the third to sift through the human remains for valuables, crush
the bones and scatter the ashes. Certain prisoners were assigned the
task of keeping the fire going and counting the corpses burned, while
others were responsible for leveling the terrain, plowing and replanting
the site after the graves were destroyed. Most of the prisoners were
killed on the completion of their assignment.
These units were distinct from the Sonderkommando whose job was to dispose of corpses from the gas
chambers or crematoria.