Thursday, July 02, 2015

Gas Vans in the USSR: Extracts from Perpetrator Testimonies

1) On October 8, 1943, captured member of EG-D, Robert Barth, gave a testimony to the British. It is Nuremberg document NO-3663 and is translated in Mendelsohn, pp.196-200. Barth described how he heard from drivers that EK 12 shot 8000 Jews in Nikolayev and 5000 in Cherson. In the latter shooting, women and children were shot into a ditch, 6 km from Cherson, and "Several members of the killer gangs had to be relieved, as their nerves had broken down completely (p.198)." Barth then reported that 12,000 Jews had been shot in Simferopol, 8000 in Feodosia, and 2000 in Kersch.

On the subject of gas vans, Barth stated (p.198):
In addition to the extermination of the Jews, the Krimtchaks and the gypsies were also liquidated, they, however, were not shot but were killed in a gas vans by exhaust fumes. How many people were killed in that way I do not know. It was told that the vans were shut airtight so that the victims met their deaths within 5 to 6 minutes.
2) Biberstein testimony, 2.7.47, NO-4314, here:
Ich selbst beaufsichtigte eine Exekution in Rostow, die mit Hilfe eines Gaswagens vorgenommen wurde. Die zum Tode bestimmten Personen wurden, nachdem ihnen Geld- und Wertsachen und zum Teil auch Kleidung abgenommen worden waren, in den Gaswagen eingeladen. Der Gaswagen fasste ungefaehr 50 - 60 Leute. Das Fahrzeug fuhr dann zu einem Ort ausserhalb der Stadt, wo Mitglieder des Kommandos bereits ein Massengrab geschaufelt hatten. Ich selbst habe das Ausladen der Leichen gesehen, ihre Gesichter waren nicht verzerrt. Der Tod dieser Leute war ohne Krampferscheinungen eingetreten. Waehrend der Entladung war kein Arzt, der den eingetretenen Tod feststellen haette koennen, anwesend. Der Gaswagen wurde von dem Fahrer SACKENREUTER aus NUERNBERG gefahren. Derselbe war ueber den Gebrauch des Gaswagens genauestens unterrichtet und hatte Spezialkurse hierfuer mitgemacht.
English translation taken from Mendelsohn, p 167:
I personally superintended the execution in Rostow which was performed by means of a gas truck. The persons destined for death - after their money and valuables (sometimes their clothes too) had been taken from them - were loaded into the gas truck which held between 50-60 people. The truck was then driven to a place outside the town where members of my Kommando had already dug a mass grave. I have seen myself the unloading of the dead bodies, their faces were in no way distorted, death came to these people without any outward signs of spasms. There was no physician present at the unloading to certify that the people were really dead. The gas truck was driven by the driver  SACKENREUTER of NUERNBERG who had been most carefully instructed about the handling of the gas truck having been through special training courses.
3) From Roberto here: "Angrick (Einsatzgruppe D, p. 532) quotes the 1962 testimony of Georg Weiβ, who at the time had been the driver of SS-Hauptsturmführer Rolf Maurer. This testimony is translated hereafter.
»Shortly before we left Sevastopol the detachment was issued a gas van. [ …] At that time I also knew already that in the school-like building Jews were being held prisoner. When we arrived there, the van already stood loaded in front of the house. I immediately noticed that the van was running more strongly in idle mode. Why this had to be so I didn’t yet know at the time. I knew that I had a gas van in front of me, by I thought that those inside would be gassed with chemicals. While I remained inside my vehicle, Maurer stepped out and talked to the accompanying detachment. I saw that both Maurer and the others held their ears against the vehicle’s wall. They probably wanted to hear what was going on inside. I for my part was still wondering why they didn’t drive off. Only after about 10 minutes they started. Maurer and I drove ahead as guides. The trip was again to the anti-tank ditches. Once they arrived there the van was driven backwards close to the pit, so that the door was directly above the pit. I myself had out of curiosity positioned myself right behind the door. What I saw now cannot be described. I can only say that those inside had died a most wretched and mean death. I only saw a ball of people clawed into each other.«"
4) The following extract is taken from Lawrence D. Stokes, 'From law student to Einsatzgruppe commander: the career of a Gestapo officer', Canadian Journal of History, April 2002, Vol. 37 Issue 1, 2002. It is primarily based on sources from West German case ZSL, 22 Js 202/61, Ermittlungsverfahren gegen Heinz Seetzen und Anderen wegen Mordes (ES), VIII. It is on-line here.
After quitting Rostov-on-the-Don with the retreating Wehrmacht at the end of November, Sonderkommando 10a spent the winter months of 1941–42 in Taganrog on the Sea of Azov. There it received a gas van to facilitate the killing operations while easing the psychological strain on the murderers. According to one driver with the unit, Seetzen “maliciously” laughed at the screaming and banging of those locked in the vehicle as it drove off with the exhaust fumes engulfing them.[78] When SK 10a was able to return to Rostov in summer 1942 he set up a Jewish council (Judenrat) to assist in registering the 1,500–2,000 members of the community who had not escaped with the Red Army. They were then transported to a ravine outside the city where Seetzen and a firing squad gunned them down.[79] Altogether, over the space of little more than a year he and his unit brutally executed at least 15,000 innocent human beings, most of them Jews but also Soviet prisoners-of-war, civilian hostages, real or alleged partisans, “Gypsies,” and others.[80] For this accomplishment Seetzen received the War Service Cross (first class) with Swords and several additional decorations.[81]
Barth's testimony above also includes Seetzen, whom he describes as "particularly brutal" and as having thrown Jews alive into a well 30 meters deep because the Kommando had run out of ammunition (Mendelsohn, pp.199-200).

5) Extract from testimony of Paul Blobel, 6.6.47, NO-3824, pp.4-5:
7. The Sonderkommando 4A has killed women and children too. In September or October 1941 the Einsatzgruppe C under Dr. Dr. Rasch placed a gas van at my disposal, and one execution was carried out by means of that gas van. This was a 3 ton truck, which could be sealed hermetically and it held about 30 to 40 people. After about 7 or 8 minutes all persons in this truck who were exposed to the poisonous gases, were dead. I personally saw the corpses, when they were unloaded from the gas van.

8. During the last days of September 1941 the Sonderkommando 4A in co-operation with the group staff of the Einsatgruppe C and two units of the police regiments stationed in Kiev, carried out the mass execution of Jews in Kiev (Mendelsohn, p.133).
6) Extract from Ohlendorf testimony, 5.11.45, 2620-PS:
In the spring of 1942, we received gas vehicles from the Chief of the Security Police and the SD in Berlin. These vehicles were made available by Amt II of the RSHA. The man who was responsible for the cars of my Einsatzgruppe was Becker. We had received orders to use the cars for the killing of women and children. Whenever a unit had collected a sufficient number of victims, a car was sent for their liquidation. We also had these gas vehicles stationed in the neighborhood of the transient camps into which the victims were brought. The victims were told that they would be resettled and had to climb into the vehicle for that purpose. When the doors were closed and the gas streamed in through the starting of the vehicle, the victims died within 10 to 15 minutes. The cars were then driven to the burial place where the corpses were taken out and buried.

I have seen the report of Stahlecker (document L-180), concerning Einsatzgruppe A, in which Stahlecker asserts that his group killed 135,000 Jews and Communists in the first four months of the program. I knew Stahlecker personally, and I am of the opinion that the document is authentic.

I was shown the letter which Becker wrote to Rauff, the head of the Technical Department of Amt II, in regard to the use of these gas vehicles. I knew both these men personally, and am of the opinion that this letter is an authentic document (Mendelsohn, p.29).

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