Sunday, November 01, 2009

Samuel K. and Belzec

Interesting news from Germany, as the judicial proceedings against a former Nazi extermination camp guard John Demjanjuk (Ivan Demjanyuk) are about to begin on Nov. 30.

One of the witnesses called for the trial is Samuel K., a Trawniki man himself, as Der Spiegel informs us.

He served at Belzec as a guard. Turns out he was never prosecuted, even though he had been interrogated by the German authorities in 1969, 1975 and 1980. Apparently noting this curious double standard, the Ludwigsburg Central Office of the State Justice Administration for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes has started an official inquiry regarding his past.

There are two more interesting bits in this story that caught my eye. First of all, the man's testimony. He never denied what happened in Belzec:
Uns war allen klar, dass dort die Juden vernichtet und später dann auch verbrannt wurden.

We were all aware that Jews were being exterminated there, and later also burnt.

The second bit is the possible charge against Samuel K.:
dringend verdächtig, Beihilfe zu der grausamen Ermordung von mindestens 434.000 Menschen geleistet zu haben

strongly suspected to have aided the brutal murder of at least 434,000 people

The main German body dealing with the prosecution of Nazi war criminals now seems to accept the Hoefle telegram's number of Jewish victims of Belzec. Not long ago the reasonable estimates ranged from about 500,000 to 600,000, but the telegram found and published [PDF] in 2001 by historians Tyas and Witte put the number at 434,508 victims until the end of 1942 (and Belzec stopped functioning at the end of 1942). Thus the new research enters the "public sphere", slowly but surely.


  1. It is noteworthy that this article on the Spiegel website only is an excerpt from tomorrow's print edition. In the printed article there is this passage about Samuel K.'s earlier testimonies:

    "Dabei hat K. seine Zugehörigkeit zu den SS-Mordgehilfen vor den deutschen Behörden nie verheimlicht. Die jüngste Einlassung ist mindestens seine vierte; weitere Protokolle datieren aus den Jahren 1969, 1975 und 1980, und K. berichtete Beklemmendes. So habe er einen Lastwagen gesehen, auf dem wohl Juden „durch die in den geschlossenen Ladeteil hineingeleiteten Abgase während der Fahrt getötet“ worden seien – mit dieser Mordtechnik begann der Holocaust. „Leichen der im Lager vergasten Juden“ seien in Gruben verscharrt, später verbrannt worden: weil der „Gestank nicht mehr auszuhalten war“."

    Samuel K. said that he saw a truck on which apparently Jews had been "killed by the exhaust fumes lead into the closed structure during the drive". He also testified that "corpses of the gassed Jews" had been buried in grave pits and later had been cremated because "the stench became unbearable".


  2. Thanks, Albrecht. Do you know if he described EK gas vans or T4 gas vans this way?

    Or did he mean that there was also a gas van at Belzec (which is not out of probability, but would be a totally new information - at least for me)?

  3. The Spiegel report doesn't provide any more exact details about this particular topic as in the already quoted passage. While Samuel K.'s testimony about the grave pits and the stench clearly is about Belzec it is not that obvious what the sentence about the gas vans relates to.

    The article says that Samuel K. first had been detained as a POW in a camp at Chelm, later at the Trawniki training camp and then at Belzec. Demjanjuk had been interned in a POW camp in Chelmno, according to some sources. If Samuel K. also had been in Chelmno (not Chelm) than it would be reasonable to assume that his testimony relates to the gas vans there in Chelmno (Kulmhof).

    But then, there was a POW camp at Chelm, but no such camp at Chelmno, according to this Wikipedia list of German POW camps. Most probably those sources which had placed Demjanjuk in a Chelmno POW camp had confused the two distinct Polish cities Chelm and Chelmno, and most probably both Demjanjuk and Samuel K. had been in the same POW camp in Chelm.

    That leaves the question where Samuel K. would have seen the gas van. Possibly Belzec was not his only assignment after being trained at Trawniki. Maybe the coming Demjanjuk trial will shed some light on this.


  4. For all we know, he may have seen the gas vans on a "field trip" during his Trawniki training.

  5. On several sites a certain Samuel Kunz is mentioned as a guard at Belzec.

    In this book an excerpt from a certain Samuel Kunz's testimony is given:

    "Since the stink in the summer was no longer bearable, the method of burning bodies on pyres was adopted."


    Apparently on this picture Samuel Kunz is the one with the musical instrument.

  7. On the other hand, USHMM collection seems to identify the fourth from the left as Kunz:

  8. Good finds! Concerning the pictures, the USHMM caption only contains four names while the photo shows seven people.

    This page says about Samuel Kunz:
    "Served in Belzec. A Volksdeutscher. Photographed at the camp entrance in Belzec, holding a mandolin."

    That would point to the person fifth from left as well.


  9. Ya, that page is copied from, but I've no idea which is more accurate identification (I trust neither USHMM's 4 people, not DC's anonymous sourcless id.).

  10. The 1975 interrogation was almost certainly for the 1976 Streibel trial in Hamburg [Streibel was the commander at Trawniki]. Browning mentions the Hamburg investigations here:

    The investigation produced this statement by Sobibor perpetrator Erich Lachmann, who had also served as a Trawniki instructor:

    "It was obvious that Jewish transports kept arriving at the camp and that no Jews ever came back out. Clearly, they were being murdered there. We could see the transports going past the camp at Trawniki, [they] would be bound for either Belzec or Sobibor. We all knew what was going on…"

    Jules Schelvis, Sobibor, New York, 2007, p.34-35, citing Anklagescrift (indictment), Streibel trial, ZStL-643/71-120/121.

    The Streibel investigation material was utilized in the first Demjanjuk trial. This transcript shows how the Streibel documentation was collected and gives the number of witnesses:

  11. According to this new Spiegel online report, it is likely that Samuel K will be charged. The Ludwigsburg based Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen has finished its pre-investigation and produced a 80 page report. The Zentralstelle will hand the case to the public prosecutor in Dortmund.

  12. German prosecutors now have filed charges against Kunz. The upcoming Spiegel print edition runs an edited version of the photo of the USHMM which has been discussed here before. Der Spiegel identifies Kunz as the man holding the mandolin.

  13. νεα απο την ελλαδα και ολο των κοσμο

  14. The part of the word genocide, that I do not understand, is why is it permissible for the United States to commit genocide while other nations are forever condemned for it?


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