Sunday, August 11, 2019

Nazi Document on Mass Extermination of Jews in Auschwitz-Birkenau: The Franke-Gricksch Report

Author: Hans Metzner
The so-called Franke-Gricksch report on the "resettlement action" in Auschwitz is the most detailed and explicit contemporary Nazi document on the mass murder of Jews in an extermination camp. The document describes the process of mass killing in Auschwitz-Birkenau, including how "the unfit [Jews] go to the basement of a biggish house" and  "are put to sleep" by "certain substances" introduced "by lowering containers into pillars from above" before "the corpses are incinerated". Previously, only a crude post-war copy of the report has been made public. We have located and now publish for the first time a war-time carbon copy made by the staff of the SS Personnel Main Office.

The Document

(BArch R 187/539, p. 24-25)

Umsiedlungs-Aktion der Juden

Eine besondere Aufgabe hat das Lager Auschwitz in der Regelung der Judenfrage. Modernste Massnahmen ermöglichen hier in kürzester Zeit und ohne grosses Aufsehen die Durchführung des Führerbefehls.

Die sogenannte "Umsiedlungsaktion" der Juden läuft folgendermassen ab:

Die Juden kommen in Sonderzügen (Güterwagen) gegen Abend an und werden auf besonderen Gleise in eigens dafür abgegrenzte Bezirke des Lagers gefahren. Dort werden sie ausgeladen und durch Aerztekommissionen in Anwesenheit des Lagerkommandanten und mehrerer SS-Führer erst einmal auf Arbeitsfähigkeit untersucht. Hier kommt jeder, der noch irgendwie in den Arbeitsprozess eingebaut werden kann, kommt [sic!] in ein besonderers Lager. Vorübergehend Erkrankte kommen sofort in das Sanitätslager und werden durch besondere Kost wieder gesund gemacht. Grundsatz ist: Jede Arbeitskraft ist zu erhalten. Die "Umsiedlungsaktion" älterer Art wird völlig abgelehnt, da man es sich nicht leisten kann, wichtige Arbeitsenergien laufend zu vernichten.

Die Untauglichen kommen in ein größeres Haus in die Kellerräume, die von aussen zu betreten sind. Man geht 5 - 6 Stufen herunter und kommt in einen längeren, gut ausgebauten und durchlüfteten Kellerraum, der rechts und links mit Bänken ausgestattet ist. Er ist hell erleuchtet und über den Bänken befinden sich Nummern. Den Gefangenen wird gesagt, dass sie für ihre neuen Aufgaben desinfiziert und gereinigt werden, sie müssten sich also alle völlig entkleiden, um gebadet zu werden.


Um jegliche Panik und jede Unruhe zu vermeiden, werden sie angewiesen, ihre Kleider schön zu ordnen und unter die für sie bestimmten Nummern zu legen, damit sie nach dem Bad auch ihre Sachen wiederfinden. Es geht alles in völliger Ruhe vor sich. Dann durchschreitet man einen kleinen Flur und gelangt in einen grossen Kellerraum, der einem Brausebad ähnelt. In diesem Raum befinden sich drei grosse Säulen. In diese kann man - von oben ausserhalb des Kellerraumes - gewisse Mittel herablassen. Nachdem 300 - 400 Menschen in diesem Raum versammelt sind, werden die Türen geschlossen und von oben herab die Behälter mit den Stoffen in die Räume gelässen [sic]. Sowie diese Behälter den Boden der Säule berüheren, entwickeln sie bestimmte Stoffe, die in einer Minute die Menschen einschläfern. Einige Minuten später öffnet sich an der anderen Seite eine Tür, die zu einem Fahrstuhl führt. Die Haare der Leichen werden geschnitt[en] und von besonderen Fachleuten (Juden) die Zähne ausgebrochen (Goldzähne). Man hat die Erfahrung gemacht, das[s] die Juden in hohlen Zähnen Schmuckstücke, Gold, Platin usw. versteckt halten. Danach werden die Leichen in Fahrstühle verladen und kommen in den 1. Stock. Dort befinden sich 10 grosse Krematoriumsöfen, in welchen die Leichen verbrannt werden. (Da frische Leichen besonders gut brennen, braucht man für den Gesamtvorgang nur 1/2 bis 1 Ztr. Koks.) Die Arbeit selbst wird von Judenhäftlingen verrichtet, die dieses Lager nie wieder verlassen.

Bisheriger Erfolg dieser "Umsiedlungsaktion": 500 000 Juden.

Jetzige Kapazität der "Umsiedlungsaktion"-Oefen: 10 000 Juden in 24 Stunden.
Jewish resettlement action.

The Auschwitz camp has a special task in the settlement of the Jewish question. The most modern methods make it possible to implement the Führer Order very quickly and discreetly. The so called “resettlement action” for the Jews proceeds as follows:

The Jews arrive in special trains (goods wagons) towards evening and are taken by a special line to a special area of the camp. There they are unloaded and examined by a medical board in the presence of the Camp Commandant and several SS leaders in the first place to see if they are fit for work. Here anybody who can be integrated into the work process in anyway is sent to a special camp. Those with some temporary ailment are sent immediately to the quarantine camp and are brought back to health through a special diet. The basic principle is: keep as many prisoners as possible for labor. The “resettlement action” of the old sort is completely rejected, for it is not permissible to systematically destroy substantial labour capacities.

The unfit go to a biggish house, into the basement rooms, which are accessible from the outside. They descend 5 or 6 steps and come to a long, well built and ventilated basement, fitted with benches on the right and left. It is brightly lit, and above the benches are numbers. The prisoners are told that they are to be disinfected and washed ready for their new tasks. They therefore have to undress completely to be bathed. In order to avoid any panic or disorder, they are told to arrange their clothes neatly and leave them under a number so that they can find their things again after the bath. Everything proceeds in complete calm. They then go through a small corridor and arrive in a big basement room that resembles a shower room. In this room, there are three big pillars. Into these it is possible from above, outside the basement, to lower certain products. After 300 to 400 people have gathered in this room, the doors are closed and from above the containers with the products are lowered into the pillars. When the containers reach the floor of the pillars, they produce certain substances that put the people to sleep in one minute. A few minutes later, the door on the other side is opened, leading to a lift. The hair of the corpses is cut off and the teeth are broken out (gold teeth) by qualified people (Jews). It has been observed that Jews have hidden jewels, gold, platinum, etc. in hollow teeth. After this the corpses are loaded into the lift said go to the first floor. There, there are 10 big crematorium furnaces in which the corpses are burned. (As fresh corpses burn particularly well, the whole process requires only ½ to 1 Zentner of coke). The work itself is carried out by Jewish prisoners who will never leave this camp.

The result to date of this “resettlement action”: 500,000 Jews. The present capacity of the “resettlement action” furnaces: 10,000 in 24 hours.
(with some changes, the English translation is based on Pressac, Technique and Operation of the Auschwitz Gas Chambers, p. 239)


The US historian Charles W. Sydnor wrote in the postscript of Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death's Head Division, 1933-1945:
"The Franke-Gricksch Memorandum, entitled "Umsiedlungsaktion der Juden" and originally discovered by this author in 1976, is a verbatim typed copy, in German, made from one of the carbon copies of the original at the time the carbon was first found, in the autumn of 1945, by a documents analyst of the U.S. Army, assisting in the process of assembling and evaluating materials for possible use as evidence in the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. The carbon copy has never been relocated, and quite possibly is still buried in the mass of unindexed Nuremberg trial materials. The original of the Frank-Gricksch Memorandum, written for and submitted to the chief of the SS Personnel Office, Maximilien von Herff, has never been found.
The typed copy made from the carbon, found by this writer in a collection of private papers, was given along with the entire collection to the Tauber Institute at Brandeis University and is now deposited there."
The document analyst who located the report after the war was Eric M. Lipman of the U.S. Third Army, who typed a crude copy of the document (Figure 1). His copy included some English words ("had" instead of "hat", "and" instead of "an") and typos ("vörübergehend" instead of "vorübergehend").  Jean-Claude Pressac noted in his analysis of the Franke-Gricksch report that Lipman "seems to remember finding the carbon copy of the original report among a set of documents in a place he cannot recall exactly, somewhere in Bavaria".

Figure 1: Typed post-war copy of the Franke-Gricksch report, from Pressac, Technique and Operation of the Auschwitz Gas-Chambers, p. 238.

The British historian Gerald Fleming dedicated a section in his book Hitler and the Final Solution to discussing the historical context of the document. He cited Lipman's typewritten copy, but also stated that "one of three carbon copies from Alfred Franke-Gricksch's report ... is in author's possession." Fleming never published the carbon copy of the report. The Holocaust denier Brian Renk claimed in 1991 that he contacted Fleming about the carbon copy, but was only sent a photocopy of the typewritten copy as a reply. Whether true or not, it is not feasible to verify the formal authenticity of a document only known from a person's words.

In 2005, the British Holocaust denier David Irving joined the debate on the Franke-Gricksch report. According to his description, he did see the report at the former Berlin Document Center (BDC) in the 1980s (by the way, it is one of Irving's secrets as to why a document saying that "the most modern methods make it possible to implement the Führer Order very quickly and discreetly" does not personally implicate Hitler!). His reference (from memory) "238-I and II" looked like a reference to a file in the so-called Schumacher collection (thanks to our Nick Terry for this hint). Bruno Schumacher was an employee of the BDC, who collected all sorts of documents of various provenance on the National Socialist period.

With this in mind, we tried our luck in the Schumacher collection at the Bundesarchiv Berlin, which had incorporated the BDC files. A promising candidate turned up in the archive's search engine in the file R 187/539, with a document described as "resettlement action, camp Auschwitz, memo, without date". Its former BDC reference 240-I might be what Irving misremembered as 238-I. Indeed, the document turned out to be the report on the mass extermination of Jews reproduced above.

Historical Context

In late 1948, Alfred Franke-Gricksch of the former SS Personnel Main Office dictated to his wife a note on a meeting with the Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler at his Headquarters in Lötzen in East-Prussia in Spring 1943 (Fleming, Hitler and the Final Solution, p.153). According to this "diary", Himmler summoned Franke-Gricksch and his superior Maximilian von Herff because of increasing suicides and requests for front duty among SS leaders of "certain camps" in the East.

Figure 2: Alfred Franke-Gricksch, born 30.11.1906, promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer on 20.4.1943 and to SS-Obersturmbannführer on 1.9.1944 (BDC SSO file)

Von Herff believed "that some of the leaders in these camps cannot cope with the emotional burden and that they should, therefore, be taken to the front". Himmler denied the request to rotate the staff with the words that "you don't know the matter". He explained that "as you now have to go to these camps, you should also be informed of their task", namely carrying out Hitler's decision "to exterminate the biological centre of Judaism once and for all".

Figure 3: Maximilian von Herff, born 17.4.1893, promoted to SS-Gruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS on 31.1.1943 and to SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS on 20.4.1944 (BDC SSO file)

Himmler further emphasised that the execution of this "task does not tolerate any waste of time and must be carried out by all means, smoothly and without much attention" as "secrecy is the deciding factor in this case" and this "task, which is extremely difficult, must be performed by each and every one of them in an untainted manner". These words of Himmler - though only passed on by Franke-Gricksch - sound like his authentic speech as they reflect real concerns of the SS leadership (see also What's There to Hide? Camouflage and Secrecy of Nazi Extermination Sites).

The visit of the head of the SS Personnel Main Office and his adjutant to the East is well documented.

On 22 April 1943 von Herff informed the Higher SS and Police Leader of the General Government, Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger, of his plan to "carry out an official trip to the General Government in the first week of May [1943]" in order "to meet the [SS] leaders of the individual agencies". His adjutant Alfred Franke-Gricksch accompanied him. They intended to inspect Auschwitz concentration camp on 4 May 1943  (see Figure 5 below; Tuviah Friedman previously published the letter).

According to a lengthy trip report also written by Franke-Gricksch, the journey started with a flight from Berlin to Cracow on Tuesday 4th May 1943 and the inspection of Auschwitz in the afternoon (see Appendix A; we are grateful to Stephen Tyas for providing the images). The further sequence of the stations - Cracow, Lemberg, Lublin, Radom, Warsaw - is corroborated by a "travel itinerary" of Krüger's staff of 7 May 1943 (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Travel itinerary of the economy department of the Higher SS and Police Leader of the Generalgouvernement dated 7 May 1943 (BArch NS 19/1794, p.38).

The two SS officers from the SS Personnel Main Office reached Warsaw on 14 May and received "a detailed report on the battles in the ghetto" (trip report in Appendix A). Von Herff is pictured on a photograph taken during the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto.

According to Franke-Gricksch's post-war narrative, v. Herff had told Himmler to be "very happy if we make positive or negative notes for the personnel files of certain leaders to help them, after completion of the task by appropriate transfers".  Indeed, there exist assessment notes from the trip in the personnel SS officer files of the Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höß, the SS and Police Leader of Lublin Odilo Globocnik and the SS and Police Leader of Galizien Fritz Katzmann.

The so-called Final Solution of the Jewish Question was a significant task for Auschwitz concentration camp. For example, on 22 May 1943, a memo on a meeting between Hans Kammler and the Auschwitz SS reads that "in addition, there has recently been the Solution of the Jewish Question, for which the prerequisite for the accommodation of initially 60,000 inmates had to be made, which within a short time will grow to 100,000" (Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden durch das nationalsozialistische Deutschland 1933-1945, Band 16, Doc. 70).

The otherwise lengthy report of Alfred Franke-Gricksch on his trip to Auschwitz (Appendix A) is quite short, not to say silent on the role of the large Birkenau camp for the Final Solution of the Jewish Question. The omission can be well understood if this delicate issue had been split off into an own report entitled "Resettlement Action of the Jews".

Carbon copy

Franke-Gricksch's above-reproduced account on mass extermination in Birkenau is a carbon copy, which is evident from the blurred contours of the letters. There were no additions made to the document after its creation (apart from the handwritten archival numbering). Thus, the top sheet fully included its content - but not necessarily vice versa (i.e. it is possible that the first sheet was signed, dated or commented after separated from its carbon copies).

The nature of a carbon copy is explained in appendix B to this posting. Just keep in mind that a carbon copy was written at the same time and by the same person and with the same strokes as the top sheet.


In the absence of a stamp, handwritten notes, pre-printed letterhead, etc., it seems challenging to verify a document's formal authenticity. There are, however, still a few more things that can provide valuable insights into the origin of a source, like the paper, the ink or the lettering of the typewriter.

In this case, the typewriter could be the key to verify the authorship of the document, since several letters lack strokes usually expected of the characters of this font. But the truncated letters are meaningless without a sample of known origin with the same combination of properties.

Since the report on the "resettlement actions of the Jews" was reportedly written by Franke-Gricksch about a trip together with his superior von Herff, we looked through their BDC files and those from their agency, the SS Personnel Main Office. The SS officer file of von Herff includes a typed copy of the letter to Krüger of 22 April 1943 (Figure 5). The document exists in two duplicates and displays the same characteristic letters as the report on Auschwitz.

Figure 5: Copies of a letter v. Herff to Krüger of 22.4.1943 from v. Herff's BDC SSO file (BArch R 9361-III/530593).
Figure 6 compares the letters of the Franke-Gricksch report (no. 1) with two copies of the writing to Krüger (no. 2 and 3) and two other documents from von Herff's and AFG's BDC SS officers files (no. 4 and 5) written with different typewriters for comparison.

As can be readily seen, the letters "i", "m", "n" and "u" appear defective in the Franke-Gricksch report and the letter to Krüger. While truncated letters can be occasionally found in other documents as well, it is the exact combination and characteristics of the defective letters, which point to the same typewriter. Another common feature is that the typewriter lacked capital Umlaute (Ä, Ö, Ü), Eszett  (ß) and the sig rune (or the author decided not to use it).

Figure 6: Comparison of the letters of the various documents. The boxes indicate the defective letters of the typewriter used for the Franke-Gricksch report and the copy of the letter to Krüger.

To be on the safe side, we had photographs of the documents examined by a qualified expert on typescripts. According to this expert opinion, both the report on Auschwitz (document "A") and the Krüger letter (document "B") were written with the font AR 1 from the company Ransmayer & Rodrian with a layout in use since 1930. The analysis concludes the following:
"The matching system features and type features justify the conclusion that the documents  "A" and "B" were most likely written with one and the same typewriter. A higher probability statement was not possible because the examined documents were not available as originals."
(expert opinion of 3 April 2019 by Bernhard Haas, Sachverständiger für Maschinenschriften, provided to the author)


The minimalistic formal style of the report is found in other notes from their trip to Auschwitz and the General Gouvernement (duty trip report and the assessment notes on Höß, Globocnik and Katzmann, which all lack letterhead, date and signature).

Figure 7 is another example of a report written by Franke-Gricksch without many formalities.

Figure 7: First and last page of a report from Franke-Gricksch's Handakte at the SS Personnel Main Office, BArch NS 34/15.

The command of language is compatible with that of Franke-Gricksch in other correspondence (see the correspondence in his BDC SSO file BArch R 9361-III/524709). For instance, the Auschwitz report makes grammatically correct use of parentheses, including the relatively rare case of an independent sentence. Franke-Gricksch showed the same use in a letter to Rudolf Brandt of 17 October 1941.


The first paragraph deals with the increasing lack of labour force in the Third Reich and the change of the extermination policy to meet the demands of the armament industry. The author points out the "basic principle" to "keep as many prisoners as possible for labor", even caring for "those with some temporary ailment" with "a special diet". It is now regarded as "not permissible to destroy systematically substantial labour capacities" as in the past. The statement also implies the view that it was perfectly permissible to kill those Jewish, which were found unfit for work in the long term. The systematic mass murder was considered justified within the framework of the Nazi ideology.

The author writes about the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of people, but carefully avoids terms and images that may discredit this policy and practise. The whole operation including the mass killing is termed a "resettlement action" - a common phrase among the Nazi authorities used to camouflage (morally and towards outsiders) the extermination of the Jews (see Appendix C). The Jewish prisoners carrying out the gruesome work "will never leave this camp" - another way to say they are liquidated. The killing capacity of 10,000 people per day is wrapped into the technical phrase "present capacity of the 'resettlement action' furnaces".

The murderous activity inside the crematoria is alleged to have been as pleasant as possible. The victims enter a "well built and ventilated basement, fitted with benches" and "brightly lit". They are told to get "disinfected and washed ready for their new tasks" and "everything proceeds in complete calm". Before they really notice it, they are put "to sleep in one minute". The picture - based on the (mis)conception of the Nazi Mass Euthanasia with a clean and sudden death - was denying the agony of the victims during the mass gassings with Zyklon-B.

The report pays almost no attention to the executioners - with two exceptions. Implicitly, by noticing that "the work itself is carried out by Jewish prisoners", it assures that the SS men stay away from the most dreadful work and especially the corpses. But the author did not dare to address the issue of what the SS staff was doing. Perhaps he still felt uncomfortable with their role but knew there was nothing to do about it anyway.  Himmler already denied the transfer of SS leaders to the front because of the mental strain in certain camps in his earlier briefing for the trip at his Headquarters in Lötzen in East-Prussia.

The other appearance of the SS in the report is that of "the Camp Commandant and several SS leaders" during the selection at the ramp. The observation and terminology make total sense for an officer of the SS Personnel Main Office. The "SS leaders" were precisely the group of people Franke-Gricksch was interested in his job. For the same reason, he and v. Herff requested "to meet the [SS] leaders of the individual agencies" in the letter to Krüger of 22 April 1943.

In short, the report clearly describes the mass extermination of Jewish people in Auschwitz from a perpetrator's point of view.


A detailed analysis of the reliability of the report can be found in Appendix C.

The document portrays the primary trend of the Nazi extermination policy towards the Jews, the increasing focus on forced labour while ruthlessly killing unfit people regarded as so-called useless eaters.

Its implementation in Auschwitz is outlined with numerous details of the extermination process, which are supported by other sources. The author traces the path of the victims: they arrive in freight cars (so-called special trains) in a separate area of the camp, those unfit for work are sorted out and sent to a biggish house. They use steps to enter the undressing basement with benches and hooks and are funnelled into the killing cellar through a corridor. The poison substance is introduced from the top of the roof through columns. The Jewish prisoners working at the site remove hair and gold teeth from the corpses, which are brought to the ground floor by an elevator. The corpses are incinerated in coke-fired crematoria ovens on the ground floor.

The level of detail displayed by the author reflects extensive insider knowledge and is only comparable to that provided by SS men, Jewish Sonderkommando prisoners and other prisoners who became eyewitnesses in the crematoria. In contrast to that, reliable information about the extermination sites was barely known outside of the inner circle (see also Knowledge of Mass Extermination Among Hungarian Jews Returning from Auschwitz).

It should be mentioned, however, that the report contains several inaccuracies, some of which can be explained as a result of simple memory lapses, inattentiveness, poor view, exaggerations of the tour guide, others need a more sophisticated explanation.

The most severe mistake appears to be the description of the victims being removed from the gas chamber through a door at the opposite side of where they entered the gas chamber. Even if - and it's a big if - the gas chamber of crematorium 2 had already been divided into two and if Franke-Gricksch had noticed that door between two gas chambers, it could not have escaped him that the victims were taken out from the same door they had previously entered the chamber if he witnessed the scene.

Therefore, one can presume that a break occurred during the visit, as pointed out by the Auschwitz researcher Jean-Claude Pressac. If the SS visitor left the basement before the gas chamber was opened, and returned to the basement later on through a different entrance (or did not return at all), one could explain his confusion concerning the clearing of the gas chamber as a misunderstanding.

Another issue is whether Franke-Gricksch did witness an actual gassing or only the empty crematorium. So far, there seems to be no evidence to support Jean-Claude Pressac's belief that the Greek transport had not arrived yet when the SS officers from Berlin inspected the place. If the train had already been in Auschwitz, it is conceivable that Höß would have ordered to take out a few hundreds of victims from it to crematorium 2 for a show gassing for his visitors. However, neither is there evidence that the SS officers observed the operation of the killing site.

What is remarkable is that numerous details in the report are consistent with and correspond to those of the manuscripts written by the Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höß after the war (first published in German in 1958 and earlier in Polish in 1951, see Broszat, Kommandant in Auschwitz, 2000, p.14). A striking example is a description in both accounts that they found valuables hidden in hollow teeth of some victims - a detail not mentioned in many other testimonies on the subject (the only exception known to me is Benedikt Kautsky's memoir Teufel und Verdammte, 1946).

The substantial overlap in content supports that an SS officer guided by the Auschwitz commandant authored the report. It is also no surprise that after the war Höß remembered especially well exactly those details on mass extermination, which he used to tell his visitors to the camp.


The document presented at the beginning of this article can be considered an authentic note of the SS officer Alfred Franke-Gricksch (AFG) on mass extermination of Jews in Auschwitz-Birkenau written as a result of his trip to the East for several reasons:

1. The note fits into the gap left by AFG's lengthy trip report (Appendix A) on the subject of Solution of the Jewish Question in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

2. Its formal style corresponds to that of other notes on the trip, its linguistic style corresponds to that of AFG.

3. It was created with a typewriter that was most likely also used for the copy of a letter authored by AFG only a few days before his trip to the East.

4. The report describes the mass extermination of Jews in Auschwitz from a perpetrator's point of view.

5. The interest shown in the "SS leaders" is characteristic for AFG and matches the purpose of his trip to the East.

6. The level of detail reported is consistent with an eyewitness of the site. The description of the actual killing process could be hearsay, but in that case, it would have been obtained from the accompanying SS staff (i.e., the Auschwitz commandant).

7. The significant correspondence between the content of the report and the testimony of the Auschwitz commandant suggests that the latter was the report's major source of information as a tour guide.

Maximilian von Herff is quoted from his post-war diary that "the extermination of the Jews was the beginning of our misfortune. Here men had to appear and stop it".

The two SS officers appeared at the camps but did not stop it. On the contrary, Franke-Gricksch's impression, as noted in his report, was glossing over the extermination of the Jews.


Appendix A: Franke-Gricksch's Trip Report on the Journey to Poland, 4 to 16 May 1943

Appendix B: Carbon Copies

Appendix C: Reliability of the Franke-Gricksch Report on the Jewish Resettlement in Auschwitz

Appendix D: The Franke-Gricksch Report and Holocaust Deniers

1 comment:

Gilles Karmasyn said...

I want to be the first:


Thank you!