Mass Killing Unit of Warthegau
Sonderkommando Lange in German Documents:
Sonderkommando Kulmhof in German Documents:
Part I: Origin and Foundation
Part II: The Extermination of 100,000 Jews
Part IV: Pabianice Sorting Camp
Part V: Funding
Part VI: The Polish Working Detail
Part IX: Farewell (1943)
The Polish working detail of Sonderkommando Kulmhof was situated in the grey zone between prisoners and collaborators. Once imprisoned in Fort VII in Posen, the Poles were forced to empty the gas van and bury the corpses during the Euthanasia killings of Sonderkommando Lange in 1940/1941. At the beginning in December 1941, the same job awaited for them in Kulmhof extermination camp, until a permanent Jewish working detail was established for the forest camp at latest in early January 1942 (see section Mass Graves here). During the erection of the camp, the Polish prisoners constructed the wooden ramp and fence used for loading the gas vans.  They were regarded as sufficiently trustworthy and reliable by the Sonderkommando leadership for more critical and responsible work, like collecting the Jewelry and money of the Jews in the Kulmhof palace  (also ref 3 here), searching the orifices of the corpses for valuables (ref 5 here), accompanying the SS and police men outside the camp,  supervising the undressing of the Jewish victims and forcing them into the gas vans,  supervising the Jewish working details,  driving the vehicles including the gas vans,  possibly establishing the connection between the exhaust and the gassing box (the claim should be taken carefully as it was made by perpetrators to exculpate themselves),  maintenance services on the Sonderkommando motor pool. 
In return for their loyal service, the members of the Polish working detail were awarded with a large degree of freedom and preferential treatment. They were accommodated on the upper floor of the Kulmhof palace, but could move around freely in the camp and in the village  , as illustrated by a series of photographs showing them strolling and posing in Kulmhof village as well as drinking beer with members of the Police Sonderkommando at the Kulmhof palace (for example Figure 1 and 2).  They could meet Polish women and were in some cases allowed to pick Jewish girls from the transports for the night.  After the war, one of its members Henryk Mania claimed that "I did not run away, because I was afraid that my family will be killed as they threatened in the beginning" - a motive corroborated by the local residents Jozef Grabowski and Jan Krysinski, but contradicted by another Polish worker, Henryk Maliczak. 
|Figure 1: Members of the Polish working detail on the bridge across the river Ner with the Kulmhof village in the background (1942/early 1943). From left to right: Henryk Mania, Stanislaw Polubinski, Lech Jaskolski, Kajetan Skrzypczynsk, Henryk Maliczak; photograph from Montague, Chelmno and the Holocaust, image 28, online available here (see also examination of Henryk Mania of 14 April 1964, Pawlicka-Nowak, Swiadectwa Zaglady, p. 123 ff.).|
Members of the Polish working detail and Police Sonderkommando
drinking beer in front of the Kulmhof palace (1942/early 1943). Photograph from Montague,
Chelmno and the Holocaust, image 27, online available here, see also close-up here. |
The Polish working detail was initially eight men strong and consisted of the following persons, according to the local resident Andrzej Miszczak and Henryk Mania:
1) Piekarski Franciszek, a forester from the Poznan region,
2) Szymanski Stanislaw,
3) Polubinski Stanislaw, (the wojt’s son),
4) Maliczak Henryk, a gardener from the Poznan region,
5) Jaskolski Lech from Leszno,
6) Mania, Henryk,
7) Skrzypczynski Kajetan.
There was an eighth Pole named "Marian", who by mistake got into the van and was gassed too. That was during the first days of January 1942. He was buried separately in the palace park.
(interrogation of Andrzej Miszczak of 14 June 1945, AIPN GK 165/271, volume 1, p. 51-53, Pawlicka-Nowak, Chelmno witnesses Speak, p. 139 - 144)
1. Skrzypczynski Kajetan.
2. Jaskolski Lech.
3. Maliczak Henryk
4. Polubinski Stanislaw - was liquidated in the camp.
5. Szymanski Stanislaw - was liquidated in the camp.
6. Piekarski Franciszek - died in 1943 at Fort VII in Poznan.
7. Libelt Marian - accidentally gassed in the camp at Chelmno.
8. Henryk Mania.
(interrogation of Henryk Mania of 14 April 1964, Pawlicka-Nowak, Swiadectwa Zaglady, p. 123; however, elsewhere Mania stated that Polubinski died in Fort VII, see Montague, Chelmno and the Holocaust, p. 228)
A letter of the Health Office Wartbrücken to the Regierungspräsidenten Hohensalza of 24 January 1942 reported that two further "members of the Polish working detachment in the Kulmhof Sonderkommando, Kajetan Skrypczynaki born 14.7.1917 and Franz Piekarski born on 3.6.1884, were brought to the Warthbrücken district hospital on suspicion of spotted fever" (Document 18 here).
The report also refers to the accidentally gassing of Marian Libelt when it states that "the 2nd worker, about whom I mentioned in the previous report that the outbreak of spotted fever was expected in his case, meanwhile deceased for other reasons". The incident, which occurred indeed in between the two reports on 14 January 1942, is confirmed by the escaped Jewish prisoners Slazma Winer and Michal Podchlebnik,  the Polish prisoners Henryk Mania (quoted above) and Henryk Maliczak,  the Sonderkommando members Walter Burmeister and Kurt Möbius  and the Kulmhof resident Andrzej Miszczak (quoted above).
Henryk Mania and Stanislaw Szymanski appear as patients of the Sonderkommando in the records of the County Hospital Warthbrücken/Kolo.  Mania was accidentally shot in the leg in late March/early April 1943 and stayed in the hospital from 2 April to 3 May 1943 (Document 164).  As the Sonderkommando had already been dissolved at the time, the hospital charged the Gestapo Posen 155.00 RM for the treatment of "Heinrich Mania S.S. Sonderkommando Kulmhof", who forwarded the demand to its counterpart in Litzmannstadt, which was responsible for clearing the legacy of the ceased unit by means of special account 12300 of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto Administration. The Gestapo Litzmannstadt sent an enquiry to the former deputy commandant of the Sonderkommando and now member of the Waffen-SS division "Prinz Eugen" Albert Plate in Pancevo in Serbia if the bill is legit as "it is not apparent from the records available here that M. belonged to the SS Sonderkommando Kulmhof" (Document 165). Plate confirmed the correctness of the bill and explained that "Mania belonged as Polish prisoner to the SS Sonderkommando X" (Document 166).
Marian Libelt was accidentally gassed in the camp, Stanislaw Szymanski was shot on 19 September 1942 for smuggling out valuables to a local Polish woman,  Franciszek Piekarski and Stanislaw Polubinski died after their return to Fort VII in Posen, and Lech Jaskolsk, Kajetan Skrzypczynski, Henryk Maliczak and Henryk Mania were transferred from Fort VII to Mauthausen via Auschwitz in Summer 1944 and survived the war.  On 14 March 2001, Mania was charged for "cooperation with the Nazis in Chelmno camp where, in cooperation with others, he took part in the genocide of Jewish Poles" and sentenced to 8 years prison.
Archive abbreviations: APL = Archiwum Państwowe w Łodzi; APP: Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu; AIPN = Archiwum Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej; BArch = Bundesarchiv
 interrogation of Walter Burmeister of 24 January 1961, BArch B162/3246, p. 149: 'The Polish working detail erected the wooden ramp with fence at the basement of the palace.'
 examination of Henryk Mania of 14 April 1964, Pawlicka-Nowak, Swiadectwa Zaglady, p. 123-126: 'During the speech Lange talked about the deposit, pointing to a group in which I was, and ordered to give the valuables to us. The group that received items from these people consisted of me, Skrzypczyński, Szymański, Polubiński and others, if needed.'
 interrogation of Andrzej Miszczak of 14 June 1945, AIPN GK 165/271, volume 1, p. 51-53, English translation in Pawlicka-Nowak, Chelmno witnesses Speak, p. 139 - 144: 'When the SS Sonderkommando Kulmhof was leaving, they took Poles performing auxiliary functions with them.'
 interrogation of Alois Häfele of 23 December 1960, BArch B 162/3246, p. 137: 'The undressing and later forcing [of the Jews] into the gas van was supervised by six Poles and 4 or 5 young police men...It happened that they were beaten by the Poles in the basement.'';interrogation of Wilhelm Schulte of 20 December 1961, BArch B 162/3247, p. 145: 'After the undressing, the Jews were guided by a Pole down the steps into the basement and Häfele or Möbius followed them.'; interrogation of Georg Heukelbach of 30 November 1961, BArch B 162/3247, p. 218: 'They [the Poles] were always present when the Jews undressed in the palace. From time to time, one of them was making up the last person when the Jews went from the basement corridor into the gas vans.'; interrogation of Walter Burmeister of 23 March 1961, BArch B 162/3248, p. 73: 'The doors of the filled gas van were closed by the Polish working detail.'; interrogation of Kurt Möbius of 21 November 1961, BArch B162/3248, p. 155: 'They collected the valuables and led the Jews into the vans.'; interrogation of Walter Bock of 20 June 1961, BArch B 162/3248, p. 99f.: 'When 30-40 people had gone into the van, the doors were closed by one of the accompanying Polish workers.'; interrogation of Theodor Malzmüller of 27 June 1960, BArch B 162/3245, p. 55: 'The chasing was done by 3 Poles, who were supposed to have been condemned to death. They beat the Jews with whips, when they did not enter the gas van fast enough.'; interrogation of Kurt Möbius of 8 November 1961, BArch B 162/3247, p. 200f.: ' After the speech the Jewish people (men, women and children) were sent to the ground floor. This was done by the Polish workers...The Jewish people walking to the gas vans were usually calm and obedient. They were accompanied by the Polish workers. They carried leather whips to beat those restive Jews who became sceptical and hesitated to go on.'; interview of Franz Schalling of 1978(?), Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive, USHMM, Story RG-60.5034, Film ID: 3355-3356: 'well, and then they were driven down into the gas wagons by the 5 Poles, and they… you could hear the screaming…[...] those 5 Poles they used force, driving them downstairs...with force...'
 interrogation of Kurt Möbius of 9 November 1961, BArch B 162/3247, p. 205: 'When there were no more people in these rooms, one of the Polish workers unlocked the door of the cellar and got the working detail upstairs.'
 interrogation of Walter Burmeister of 23 March 1961, BArch B 162/3248, p. 74: 'One of them named Leo liked to drive a car. We were getting along quite well. I permitted him to drive one of our trucks at some occasions. He probably drove also the gas van.'; interrogation of Walter Burmeister of 25 January 1961,BArch B162/3246, p. 157: 'It also happened that Leo drove the vans after their cleaning to the ramp. The Poles enjoyed doing this as they clustered around to drive the truck.'
 interrogation of Walter Burmeister of 24 January 1961, BArch B162/3246, p. 151: 'As I wanted to avoid starting the engine myself, I told the members of the Polish working detail: Start the engine.'; interrogation of Walter Burmeister of 25 January 1961, BArch B162/3246, p. 157: 'A member of the Polish working detail named Leo often started the engine at my order or at the order of somebody else, when the van was loaded.'; interrogation of Walter Burmeister of 23 March 1961, BArch B 162/3248, p. 74: 'Furthermore, Leo has regularly connected and disconnected the exhaust tube. It was his permanent duty and he did not need a special order for doing this.'; interrogation of Gustav Laabs of 29 November 1960, BArch B 162/3246, p. 47: 'I saw that Bürstinger ordered a Polish civilian to bend down under the van and do something there.'; interrogation of Gustav Laabs of 1 December 1960, BArch B 162/3246, p. 51: 'The tube was, however, always connected at the bottom of the van by a Pole or a police men.'
 Montague, Chelmno and the Holocaust, p. 60; interrogation of Andrzej Miszczak of 14 June 1945, AIPN GK 165/271, volume 1, p. 51-53, Pawlicka-Nowak, Chelmno witnesses Speak, p. 139 - 144: 'At first, the Poles mentioned earlier dug a mass grave in the forest; later they were assigned to other tasks, such as repairing cars, carrying clothes and unloading trucks.'
 interrogation of Walter Burmeister of 24 January 1961, BArch B 162/3246, p. 149: 'The Polish working detail was accommodated in the palace and was free to move around.'; interrogation of Alois Häfele of 23 December 1960, BArch B 162/3246, p. 138: 'The Poles were sleeping in the upper floor of the palace.'; interrogation of Alois Häfele of 20 December 1960, BArch B 162/3246, p. 129: 'They could freely move in the palace and the village.'; interrogation of Walter Bock of 20 June 1961, BArch B 162/3248, p. 102: 'My impression was that they lived in freedom.'; interrogation of Wiktoria Adamczyk of 19 June 1945, AIPN GK 165/271, volume 1, p. 83-84: 'The Poles lived in the palace'
 AIPN GK 165/271, volume 4, p. 65
 examination of Henryk Mania of 14 April 1964, Pawlicka-Nowak, Swiadectwa Zaglady, p. 123 ff.: 'At the beginning of the mass executions the personal freedom of the Poles employed in the Sonderkommando was limited and we were watched. Later, however, the camp leaders did not place obstacles, when we wanted to leave the site. We had girls, who we visited.'; interrogation of Henryk Kruszcyski of 9 June 1945, AIPN GK 165/271, volume 1, p. 17: 'One of them had a mistress in Chelmno.'; interrogation of Walter Burmeister of 23 March 1961, BArch B162/3248, p. 75: 'Under Bothmann it occurred that a woman was taken out from the Jews brought for gassing for the working detail consisting of young men. I believe the Poles asked in Polish if she wants to have sexual intercourse with them. There was a prepared room in the basement available to the Poles, where the women stayed for one night or several days. Afterwards she was killed in the gas van like the others. I think this happened several times until Bothmann repealed it. I cannot say if the Poles later still fetched women from the people sent.'; interrogation of Kurt Möbius of 21 November 1961, BArch B 162/3248, p. 157f.: 'About shortly before I left, there had been one or two times the idea to take out a Jewish girl for the sexual satisfaction of the Poles and lock her into a room in the basement. The Pole Leo and another one stayed with her for hours. Afterwards the girls was gassed. I don't know whose idea this was. But Plate was involved here, too.'
 interrogation of Jozef Grabowski of 9 July 1945, AIPN GK 165/271, volume 3, p. 62-63: 'The Poles employed in the camp intended to escape by car to Warsaw but were afraid of the fate of their families and this kept them from escaping.'; interrogation of Jan Krysinski of 12 July 1945, AIPN GK 165/271, volume 3, p. 95, cf. Montague, Chelmno and the Holocaust, p. 58; testimony of Henryk Maliczak of 1964, Montague, Chelmno and the Holocaust, p. 58: '...as far as I know, none of us had any intention of escaping. Moreover, we were never threatened that our family would have a problem if one of us escaped.'
 contemporary account of Slazma Winer of 1942, Pawlicka-Nowak, Chelmno Witnesses Speak, p. 115: 'A corpse of a German civilian was pulled out from one of them. It was one of the cooks. He had probably noticed that one of the Jews had something valuable, so he went after him into the van to take it away. At that time the van door was locked. His screams and shouts were ignored and so he was gassed together with the others. Right after his corpse was pulled out, a special car with an orderly came from the palace. The body was taken back to the palace. Some were saying that he was killed intentionally and that all the German personnel would be murdered in order to get rid of the eyewitnesses to all these crimes.'; interrogation of Michal Podchlebnik of 9 June 1945, AIPN GK 165/271, volume 1, p. 14 - 16, English translation in Chelmno Witnesses Speak, p. 114 - 119: 'There was one more 'Ukrainian', but he was accidentally trapped in the van and gassed along with other Jews. They tried to rescue him by artificial respiration but the attempt was unsuccessful. I was there and saw it myself.'
 Montague, Chelmno and the Holocaust, p. 60
 interrogation of Walter Burmeister of 23 March 1961, BArch B162/3248, p. 73: 'I remember that it once occurred that a member of the Polish working detail was gassed. This men suddenly disappeared, when the doors of the van were closed. We looked for him in vain. It turned out that he suffocated with the others in the van. I don't know how he ended up in the van, if he was accidentally pushed in or if he was pulled from inside or whatever. This Pole was buried by his fellows in the yard of the palace.'; interrogation of Kurt Möbius of 21 November 1961, BArch B 162/3248, p. 155: 'Another Pole ended up in the gas van by some accident. He rioted inside, but one could not open anymore. I had the yard full of people, there were people in the rooms too, and there would surely have been a revolution, if the half numbed people came out.'
 AIPN GK 165/271, volume 2, p. 97
 examination of Henryk Mania of 14 April 1964, Pawlicka-Nowak, Swiadectwa Zaglady, p. 123 ff.: 'During the liquidation of the camp I was not present, because then I was lying in a hospital in Kolo.'; Montague, Chelmno and the Holocaust, p. 145
 diary notes of Stanislaw Rubach of 1 Novmber 1942, AIPN, GK 165/271, volume 8, p. 68-77 & 104: 'It has been found that there are currently 7 Poles working, so far Szymanski has left, supposedly he was liquidated in connection with the smuggling of valuables from Jews to a certain T. She drove to Lodz with suitcases with watches, bracelets, rings etc.'; interrogation of Kurt Möbius of 21 November 1961, BArch B162/3248, p. 155: 'Schimanski was accused of having given money and sterling cutlery to a Polish woman in the village he was involved with. All at once he disappeared and there was the rumour that Plate ordered to shot him.'; Montague, Chelmno and the Holocaust, p. 144
 Montague, Chelmno and the Holocaust, p. 227-229
Contemporary German Documents
163.) Telex of the president of the government of Hohensalza to the Reichsstatthalter in Posen of 9 January 1942:
+ hohensalza nr. 51 9/1 1500= [Eingangsstempel]
an den herrn reichstatthalter
- abteilung roem. 2 -
in posen -
betrifft: zwei fleckfiebererkrankungsfaelle im kreise warthbruecken
berichterstatter: medizinalrat dr. habil. mayer.
die polen stanislaus poubinski[sic] und lech jaskulski erkrankten als hilfsarbeiter eines SS-sonderkommandos im einsatz am judendurchgangslager kulmhof kreis warthbruecken ende dezember bzw. anfang januar grippeaehnlich und wurden am 4. und 6. januar in das kreiskrankenhaus warthbruecken mit eindeutigen zeichen einer fleckfiebererkrankung eingeliefert, weil - felix-reaktionen sehen[sic] noch aus. die erforderlichen masznahmen sind nach dem amtsaerztlichen bericht vom 7. januar getroffen.-
+1703 nr. 51 9.1.42 rsth/ posen /-?bel--
+ hohensalza no. 51 9/1 1500= [incoming stamp]
to mr. reichstatthalter
- department II -
in posen -
subject: two cases of typhus in the county warthbruecken
rapporteur: medical consultant dr. habil. mayer.
the poles stanislaus poubinski [sic] and lech jaskulski fell flu-like ill as auxiliary workers of an SS Sonderkommando working in the Jewish transit camp Kulmhof in the country warthbruecken at the end of december or beginning january and on 4 and 6 january were transferred to the county hospital warthbrücken with clear signs typhus disease, weil-felix-reactions are still pending. the necessary measures were taken in accordance with the medical report of 7 January.
the district president
+1703 no. 51 9.1.42 rsth/ posen /-?bel--
164.) Bill of the County Hospital in Kolo of 8 June 1943:
Kreiskrankenhaus Warthbrücken, den 8. Juni 1943Warthbrücken
für Geheime Staatspolizei-Leitstelle Posen - z.Hd. v. SS Hauptsturmführer Kriminalkommissar Bothmann
zu Posen, Ritterstr. 21a
über Kur- und Pflegegebühren für Behandlung von Heinrich Mania - S.S. Sonderkommando Kulmhof
buch [...] vom bis Zahl Betrag
nummer einschl. der Tage RM Rpf
128/43 Krankenhauskosten: 2.4 3.5 31 155 00
Die Verwaltung des Kreiskrankenhauses
RM. 155.- bez. am 16.7.1943
mit Überw. Nr. 246693
County Hospital Warthbrücken Warthbrücken, 8 June 1943
for the Secret State Police Office Posen - to the attention of SS Hauptsturmführer Kriminalkommissar Bothmann in Posen, Ritterstr. 21a
for cure and care fees for the treatment of Heinrich Mania - S.S. Sonderkommando Kulmhof
Admission [...] from until number of days Amount
book each 5.00 RM Rpf
128/43 hospital costs: 2.4 3.5 31 155 00
The administration of the country hospital
155 RM paid on 16.7.1943 by transaction no. 246693
165.) Letter of Link to Albert Plate of 19 June 1943:
Geheime Staatspolizei Litzmannstadt, den 19. Juni 1943Staatspolizeistelle Litzmannstadt Gardestrasse 1-7
- L I -
An den Kriminalobersektretär
Herrn Albert Plate
SS-Feldpostnummer 47188 G
Betrifft: Krankenhauskosten für Heinrich Mania.
Vom Kreiskrankenhaus Warthbrücken ist eine Rechnung über Kur- und Pflegegebühren für Behandlung von Heinrich Mania eingegangen. Aus den hier vorhandenen Unterlagen ist nicht ersichtlich, daß M. dem SS-Sonderkommando Kulmhof angehört hat. Mania soll sich vom 2.4. bis 3.5.43 in dem Kreiskrankenhaus Warthbrücken befunden haben. Ich bitte um umgehende Mitteilung, ob die Kosten zu übernehmen sind.
Secret State Police Litzmannstadt, 19 Juni 1943
State Police Office Litzmannstadt Gardestrasse 1-7- L I -
To the Kriminalobersektretär Mr. Albert Plate SS field post number 47188 G
Subject: Hospital costs for Heinrich Mania.
From the country hospital Warthbrücken a bill was received for cure and care fees for the treatment of Heinrich Mania. It is not apparent from the records available here that M. belonged to the SS Sonderkommando Kulmhof. Mania should have been in the county hospital Warthbrücken from 2.4. to 3.5.43. I ask for a prompt notification if the costs shall be accepted.
166.) Letter of Albert Plate to Gestapo Litzmannstadt of 28 June 1943:
Pantschowa, den 28.6.43[Eingangsstempel]
der Geheimen Staatspolizei
Mania gehörte als polnischer Häftling dem SS Sonderkommando X an und wurde seiner Zeit wegen eines dienstlichen Unfalls in das Kreiskrankenhaus in Warthbrücken eingeliefert.
Die sachliche Richtigkeit wird hiermit bescheinigt.
Original sent back to the Secret State Police Office Litzmannstadt in Litzmannstadt
Mania belonged as Polish prisoner to the Sonderkommando X and was delivered to the county hospital Warthbrücken because of an accident at work. The factual correctness is hereby certified.