Testimonies of SS-Men Regarding Gassing Vans
Anton Lauer, Police Reserve Battalion 9.
There were two gas-vans in use. I saw them myself. They were driven into the prison yard and the Jews--men, women and children--had to get into the van directly from the cell. I also saw the inside of the gas-vans. They were lined with metal and there was a wooden grille on the floor. The exhaust gases were fed into the inside of the van. I can still today hear the Jews knocking and shouting 'Dear Germans, let us out'.
SS-man Theodor Malzmueller on the Chelmno extermination
When we arrived we had to report to the camp commandant, SS-Hauptsturmführer Bothmann. The SS-Haupsturmführer addressed us in his living quarters, in the presence of SS-Untersturmführer Albert Plate. He explained that we had been dedicated to the Kulmhof [Chelmno] extermination camp as guards and added that in this camp the plague boils of humanity, the Jews, were exterminated. We were to keep quiet about everything we saw or heard, otherwise we would have to reckon with our families' imprisonment and the death penalty...
The extermination camp was made up of the so-called "castle" and the camp in the woods. The castle was a fairly large stone building at the edge of the village of Kulmhof. It was there that the Jews who had been transported by lorry or railway were first brought...
When a lorry arrived the following members of the SS-Sonderkommando addressed the Jews: (1) camp commandant Bothmann, (2) Untersturmführer Albert Plate from North Germany, (3) Polizei-Meister Willy Lenz from Silesia, (4) Polizei-Meister Alois Haeberle from Wuerttenberg. They explained to the Jews that they would first of all be given a bath and deloused in Kulmhof and then sent to Germany to work. The Jews then went inside the castle. There they had to get undressed. After this they were sent through a passage-way on to a ramp to the castle yard where the so-called "gas-van" was parked. The back door of the van would be open. The Jews were made to get inside the van. This job was done by three Poles, who I believe were sentenced to death. The Poles hit the Jews with whips if they did not get into the gas vans fast enough. When all the Jews were inside the door was bolted. The driver then switched on the engine, crawled under the van and connected a pipe from the exhaust to the inside of the van. The exhaust fumes now poured into the inside of the truck so that the people inside were suffocated....
Testimony of gas-van driver Walter Burmeister.
As soon as the ramp had been erected in the castle, people started arriving in Kulmhof from Lizmannstadt in lorries... The people were told that they had to take a bath, that their clothes had to be disinfected and that they could hand in any valuable items beforehand to be registered....
When they had undressed they were sent to the cellar of the castle and then along a passageway on to the ramp and from there into the gas-van. In the castle there were signs marked "to the baths". The gas vans were large vans, about 4-5 meters long, 2.2 meter wide and 2 meter high. The interior walls were lined with sheet metal. On the floor there was a wooden grille. The floor of the van had an opening which could be connected to the exhaust by means of a removable metal pipe. When the lorries were full of people the double doors at the back were closed and the exhaust connected to the interior of the van....
The Kommando member detailed as driver would start the engine right away so that the people inside the lorry were suffocated by the exhaust gases. Once this had taken place, the union between the exhaust and the inside of the lorry was disconnected and the van was driven to the camp in the woods were the bodies were unloaded. In the early days they were initially burned in mass graves, later incinerated... I then drove the van back to the castle and parked it there. Here it would be cleaned of the excretions of the people that had died in it. Afterwards it would once again be used for gassing.... I can no longer say what I thought at the time or whether I thought of anything at all. I can also no longer say today whether I was too influenced by the propaganda of the time to have refused to have carried out the orders I had been given.
From the interrogation of Adolf Eichmann.
A. I just know the following, that I only saw the following: a room, if I still recall correctly, perhaps five times as big as this one, or it may have been four times as big. There were Jews inside it, they had to get undressed and then a van, completely sealed, drew up to the ramp in front of the entrance. The naked Jews then had to get inside. Then the lorry was closed and it drove off.
Q. How many people did the van hold?
A. I can't say exactly. I couldn't bring myself to look closely, even once. I didn't look inside the entire time. I couldn't, no, I couldn't take any more. The screaming and, and, I was too upset and so on. I also said that to [SS-Obergruppenfuehrer] Mueller when I submitted my report. He did not get much from my report. I then followed the van - I must have been with some of the people from there who knew the way. Then I saw the most horrifying thing I have ever seen in my entire life.
The van drove up to a long trench, the door was opened and bodies thrown out. They still seemed alive, their limbs were so supple. They were thrown in, I can still remember a civilian pulling out teeth with some pliers and then I just got the hell out of there. I got into the car, went off and did not say anything else... I'd had more than I could take. I only know that a doctor there in a white coat said to me that I should look through a peep-hole at them in the lorry. I refused to do that. I could not, I could not say anything, I had to get away.
I went to Berlin, reported to Gruppenführer Mueller. I told him exactly what I've just said, there wasn't any more I could tell him... terrible...I'm telling you... the inferno, can't, that is, I can't take this, I said to him.
Sources: Shamash. The comments inside the square [ . . . ] brackets were written by Daniel Keren for the Shamash archives.