Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What the Soviets knew about Auschwitz - and when. Part I: reports of the Ukrainian NKGB, 1944

This posting contains "raw data" for a future analysis of the topic. Below you will find three Soviet reports of late summer/early autumn of 1944, which describe the extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

These important documents apparently have not been used by any Holocaust researchers. Prof. John Zimmerman has kindly helped me to get them from USHMM. USHMM archival references are RG-06.025*45, RG-06.025*46, RG-06.025*47. The originals are in the Central Archive of FSB.

The quality of the photocopies I received was not very good (cf. the image of the first page of the first report), especially the words written in capital letters are hard to see, but I managed to reconstruct some text (with guarantee of accuracy) from the damaged parts (which are, thankfully, few).

Click on the image!

The first report, 23.08.1944:





about extermination camp "BERKENAU" [sic]

Head of the operational-intelligence group of the 4th department of NKGB UkrSSR "SHTURM", active in "LVOVSKIJ" region of the city of Cracow informs that on Poland’s territory, 40 km south-east of Katowice, in the forest behind the town of Oswiecim /Auschwitz/, the concentration camp "BERKENAU" [sic] is located.

The camp occupies 5 [?] square kilometers and has 4 special ovens for burning of corpses.

In the crematoria work the Jews forcibly selected into the team "Sonder" under guidance of a senior chief of SS staff, sergeant major SS [surname unclear].

In 1941 at "BERKENAU" [sic] 12,000 Soviet POWs were imprisoned, who eventually were tortured and exterminated, save for 50-60 persons, who worked for the Germans. Soviet POWs were being killed by sticks, or suffocated, and then burned.

As of June 1944 there were up to 80,000 civilians and POWs of different nationalities in the camp, including Russians, Poles, Czechs, Frenchmen, Belgians, Gypsies, Jews.

Beginning in May of 1944 [unclear text] began mass incineration of the Hungarian Jews, exterminating more than 12,000 daily.

Because cremation ovens could not handle such an amount of victims per day, 4 huge pits were dug out, where people were also burned.

Jewish families together with belongings arrive in the camp by whole transports.

In the camp the arrived people are sorted, old people and children are being kept separately from men and women.

Under the guise of visiting a bath, the arrived people are being undressed, given soap and are directed to the "bath sections", where the doors are hermetically closed, after which ampoules with unknown liquid are being thrown in from above, which break and emit gas, and as a result of this after five-ten minutes [unclear word] suffocation happens.

After this the room is ventilated, the corpses are loaded into trolleys and are brought into the cremation ovens. Before the incineration the corpses are examined, golden teeth, crowns etc. are being pulled out.

At a distance of 200 meters from the cremation ovens an orchestra plays, to mute the shouts.

Germans remove stolen property from the camp daily, on a sanitary airplane.

According to the testimonies of former POWs, in 194[?] in the camp "BERKENAU" [sic] was burned general-lieutenant of the General Staff of the Red Army, doctor of technical sciences [surname unclear].


23 August 1944

Some details are exaggerated or mistaken, but the brief description of the extermination process is confirmed by other evidence.

The second report, 31.08.1944:



[of] PET'KO Ananij Silovich, b. 1918 in Gorbachevo-Mikhajlovka village, Makeevskij region, Stalinskaja oblast, Ukrainian, education - 7 grades, candidate for membership in VKP/b/ and

PEGOV Vladimir Jakovlevich, b. 1919 in Raznezhje village, Voratynskij region, Gor'kovskaja oblast, Russian, education - 8 grades, member of VLKSM - who [i.e. both of them] escaped in November of 1943 from the concentration camp "Auschwitz", located 3 km to the west of the town of Oswiecim /Poland/.


Concentration camp "Auschwitz" is located 3 km to the west of the town of Oswiecim, on the eastern bank of river Vistula. External appearance of the camp reminds one of a military camp, with regularly placed wooden barracks, painted green. Territory densely built-up with barracks is about 2 x 3 km.

Around the camp, at the distance of 3-4 m from each other the reinforced-concrete 4 m high poles are installed. Between these poles from outside and inside there is a dense net of barbed wire. Under wire fence there is a foundation, made of reinforced concrete, 1.5 m deep. Along the line of the wire fence, at each 75-100 m there are watchtowers 20-25 m high. On each watchtower there is a guard armed with rifle and machine-gun.

On every second pole of the wire fence there are electrical lamps, which illuminate the camp at night-time.

The wire fence is always under the high-voltage electrical current - from 3 to 5 thousand volts.

The whole camp is divided into two parts - men's and women's. Men's camp is divided into:

[a, b, v, ... - letters of Russian alphabet]

a/ quarantine section;
b/ for Russians, Poles, Germans and others;
v/ for Italians and Frenchmen;
g/ for Czechs;
d/ for Gypsies;
e/ infirmary.

Quarantine section has 18 barracks, infirmary - 16 barracks. The remaining 4 sections have 40 barracks each.

Women's camp consists of two sections, 36 barracks in each. Children of all ages are in the women's camp.

Half of women's barracks are made of stone, with capacity of [?],000 persons.

Wooden barracks, men's and women's, are of one type and can accomodate 700-800 persons.

Between the mens' and womens' camps /the distance between them is 50 m/ passes a railroad and motor road, leading from the town of Oswiecim to the crematoria, which are located 50 m away from the camp in the western direction. There is also a motor road around the camp.

"Auschwitz" camp existed under Polish state, but then there were no crematoria and Polish political prisoners were contained in it. With the Germans' arrival the camp was expanded and improved.

Beginning with 1940, the POWs and civilians from all the countries occupied by the Germans were arriving in this camp without interruption. On average, in "Auschwitz" camp 150-200 thousand are accomodated.

Camp "Auschwitz" is also called the "death camp", because only those destined for extermination are sent there. From the Russians, in this camp arrive only those who have committed any offences /numerous escapes, murders, etc./


All those who arrived in the "death camp" immediately completely undress, hand over all their personal belongings, and then receive special camp clothes.

Except for Russian POWs, all doomed people have the same form of clothing, consisting of pants and jacket made of crude striped fabric /stripes are white and black or dark blue/. The shoes are wooden. The hat /peaked cap/ is from the same fabric as the suit.

Russian POWs wear Red Army uniform with big red cross on the blouse /on the back/ and painted-on red lines on pants near the stripe.

Administration and guards in the camp have unlimited rights. Anybody may kill as many prisoners without any reason as he wishes. Those murdering the most are encouraged by the administration. Guards consist only of SS and gendarmes. Everybody goes with a whip or a stick, and even without any reason attacks anyone not pleasant enough and beats him up until unconsciousness or death - as he wishes.

In each section of the camp the main superior is the so-called Rapportfuehrer, to whom Blockfuehrers are subordinated, who maintain order in blocks /barracks/.

Each week, on Fridays the selection of the weak for extermination is performed. For this purpose all inmates are lined up, everybody completely undresses, and SS officers give orders as to who they deem necessary to destroy, and those are being led aside. Those selected for extermination are accomodated in special barracks, and are not fed for several days, then they are brought to crematorium and burned.

Escapes from the camp are absolutely impossible, those are performed only when people are working outside the camp. If a guard discovers escape of even a single person, alarm is sounded with the help of a powerful siren. Then all the works are paused, people are lined up in columns and continue to stand in one place until the search for escapees is finished. The search takes one day, if during this time the escapees cannot be found, then the search is stopped. All the guards and many dogs take part in the search.


50 m away from the camp "Auschwitz" 4 crematoria are located. In them suffocation is performed, and then burning of people, not only from this camp, but also from a number of other camps, which are located in the regions near Auschwitz. Here also the inmates are brought for burning from the camp which resides in the town of Oswiecim itself.

The camp in Oswiecim is a fortress in which political prisoners of all nationalities reside. Most horrible acts of violence against the prisoners are performed there by Gestapo, and they [i.e. prisoners's corpses] eventually go to a crematorium.

Externally crematorium appears as a factory or a small plant, surrounded by fence and having a tall smoke-stack /20-25 m/.

In underground part of the crematorium there are two sections: undressing room and gassing room. In the above-ground part the crematorium itself resides, i.e. the ovens, which are fired with coke. Each crematorium has 5 ovens, 3 muffles in each oven. Into each muffle 3-4 corpses are introduced simultaneously. After kindling, duration of the cremation of a batch of corpses is 5 to 10 minutes, later the burning time is shortened. Crematoria work at full capacity twenty-four hours and anyway fail to burn all corpses.


Groups of doomed persons are brought in automobiles on the territory of crematorium, they're lined up in a column and an examination is performed - whether anyone has gold teeth or other valuables. Those found to have gold teeth or gold in other places, are directed to the "surgical rooms", where the gold teeth or other compounds are pulled out.

After the examination people go to a basement room - an undressing room, similar to an undressing room in a bath. Having undressed, they go into the next room - a bath, where there are taps and showers, but there never was any water. In this room there are 4 /four/ lattice-work columns, going through the roof of the building. After the "bath" is full of people /standing next to each other/, the doors are hermetically closed. Into the openings, which are on the top of the columns, some sort of powder-like substance is poured, which emits poisonous gas, and people begin to suffocate. Process of suffocation lasts for 10-15 minutes.

Then corpses are brought on special trolleys to the upper room and incinerated.

Daily, several transports with people arrive to the crematoria, passing the camp. Crematoria cannot deal with all the corpses of people murdered with gas, therefore near the crematoria special pits were constructed, in which the burning is performed, like on a pyre.

Serving personnel of the crematoria consists entirely of Jews and is changed every month. Previous serving personnel is also incinerated.

Suffocating and burning is performed simultaneously for men, women and children.

There were occasions when infants were alive after gassing, then they were finished off by the SS with sticks or simply by [hitting them against] the wall.

During the crematoria's work, the flames appeared out of chimneys, up to 15 m high. Corpse smell spreads across many kilometers around this horrible place.

After the escape, already far from the camp, we heard from locals that Germans wrote in newspapers that in Oswiecim region four brick factories had been built.

In 1943 in one of the crematoria there was the following incident: one American Jewish girl attacked Rapportfuehrer SCHILLINGER, kicked gun out of his hands, and then from the same gun she shot him, his assistant, and wounded one SS-man.

Everything that concerns the arrangement of the crematoria, process of poisoning and burning of inmates we learned partially from personal observations, partially from the stories of the serving personnel of the crematoria; although they were living in separate barracks, nevertheless their stories about the arrangement of the crematoria and process of killing and burning of people were known to all inmates, residing in "Auschwitz" camp.

As for the fact of existence of crematoria, this is not a secret for inmates, because one can go near them up to the distance of 10-15 m. We personally saw, going at a near distance, when the doors of crematoria were open, that near the ovens in trolleys there were heaps of corpses.

Besides that, 2 crematoria were being finished in autumn of 1943 [obviously, a typo for 1942], when we already had been in this camp. Construction works were performed by Russian POWs, who lived with us in the same barrack. Several times we were personally inside the incomplete crematoria and observed their internal structure.


As far back as the summer of 1941 construction of the new camp began, which was on the same scale as the camp in which we resided, i.e. "Auschwitz".

Territory of the new camp adjoined the northern part of "Auschwitz" camp and was separated from it only by a motor road.

Construction was performed by the inmates of "Auschwitz" camp.

Besides, according to the stories of inmates who arrived from other camps, at a distance of 20-30 km from "Auschwitz" camp there is a number of small concentration camps, from which people are also brought for incineration.


From the generals of the Red Army in Auschwitz camp, as far as we knew, there was no one. Whether any RKKA general was burned in crematorium we also do not know.

In the camp there were POWs from the numbers of middle- and high-ranking officers. We know lieutenant-colonel ANTIPOV, 35-38 year old, from Siberia, until capture had served in Pushkin tank division, was actively involved in our escape. Major OSIPOV Sergej, 40-45 years old, from Moscow. Professor MIRONOV Andrej Pavlovich, 40-45 years old, wrote many historical treatises. ZLOTIN Mikhail, b. 1916, engineer in flour-grinding industry, junior lieutenant of RKKA, escaped from the camp in October of 1943. We were involved in ZLOTIN's escape.

All above-mentioned persons conducted great explanatory work among camp inmates, organized group and individual escapes.

From the number of traitors among POWs we know: "[nickname unclear]" - served camp commandant and betrayed honest Soviet people.

"[nickname unclear]" - from Western Ukraine, not only denounced Soviet people, but personally strangled many people.

BARANOV Jakov, 26-27 years old, worked at bread dispensation, taunted Russians in many ways, decreased scanty bread ration which they were receiving.

"VAN'KA" - /"SPITZMAUS"/, 2[?] years old, short, Russian, who also denounced honest Soviet people.

"[nickname unclear]" - 27-28 years old, from Western Ukraine, sergeant-major according to rank, active assistant of Gestapo.

All of them were greatly trusted by the Germans.

Senior lieutenant of State Security
/[surname unclear, possibly "Gubin"]/

31 August, 1944

The most important document of the three. Despite several inaccuracies (like a short time of cremation or a maximum height of flames from crematoria chimneys), authors of the report accurately described the essential process of extermination in crematoria II and III (information about which they got from Jewish Sonderkommandos).

The description of extermination machinery was confirmed by the documents retrieved after the war, to which the Soviets, obviously, did not have access in 1944. Note correct description of the division of crematoria II & III morgues into the undressing room (Auskleidekeller in German documentation) and the gassing room (Vergasungskeller and Gaskeller in German documentation). Also note the earliest known mention of the four wire-mesh Zyklon-B introduction columns.

(Note: see this posting for more commentary.)

The third report, 06.09.1944:
Top Secret


[handwritten notice: "To the file on the camp "Auschwitz" [signature unclear]"]




Information of the head of operational-intelligence group of "LVOVSKIJ" about camp "Berkenau" [sic] sent to you on 23.7.1944 [unclear] 4/4/4609 is mostly corroborated by newly received information of the head of another operational-intelligence group "[unclear]", received by him from former POWs, captain JAKOVLEV Grigorij, [unclear name and surname], and other persons who escaped from "Berkenau" [sic] camp at the end of July, 1944.

According to the testimonies of these persons, in the camp "Berkenau" [sic] in 1941-42 more than [?]0,000 Russian POWs and also 150,000 Jews and political prisoners were tortured and burned on pyres.

From 16 May to 20 July of 1944 1,200,000 Hungarian and Rumanian Jews were exterminated in the camp.

From the end of July of this year whole transports with Jews from France, Yugoslavia and Greece, occupied by the Germans, began to arrive in the camp.

Adults are being poisoned in special gas chambers, and old people and children are being thrown into fire alive.

Information about general [surname unclear] is being checked and after receiving of new data about him from our operational-intelligence groups, we will inform you.


6 September, 1944

This report speaks for itself. One can only comment on the exaggerated estimate of the Hungarian Jewish death toll (Jews from the parts of Rumania annexed by Hungary are also counted as Hungarian Jews). Most observers did not have an access to the exact information about the Hungarian transports, so there were different estimates, often exaggerated, and the number in the report is based on the estimate of 18,000 persons per day (actually, there were pauses in the extermination). That such an estimate originates in the camp is confirmed by a well-known witness, Sonderkommando Alter Feinsilber (Stanislaw Jankowski) who also testified about this number on 16.04.1945 (see J. Bezwinska, D. Czech, Amidst a Nightmare of Crime, New York, Fertig, 1992, p. 56).

Next >> Part II: reports of the captured Germans, 1943-1944.

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