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Last Update 26 August 2006


Camp Map
Chelmno 1941 *
The deathcamp at Chelmno was established to kill the Jews of the Warthegau (the annexed Polish province of Poznan and parts of the vojwodships Bydgoszcz, Lodz, Pomorze and Warsaw). In 1939 4,922,000 people lived in these districts, among them 385,000 Jews.
Gauleiter Arthur Greiser declared the Warthegau as the "drilling ground" of National Socialism, where Nazi population policy would be undertaken. Poles, Jews and Roma were classified as subhuman creatures. Discrimination against the Poles was followed by the persecution and eventual extermination of Roma and Jews. Those who survived the initial excesses, were deported to forced labour camps and ghettos, the largest of the latter being situated in Lodz. Gauleiter Arthur Greiser ultimately received Heinrich Himmler's agreement to kill all Jews who were incapable of forced labour.

Chelmno SS Headquarters
This first Nazi extermination camp was located in the small Polish village of Chelmno nad Nerem (German: Kulmhof). Chelmno is located 60 km northwest of Lodz and 14 km southeast of Kolo. Kolo is located on the railway line Lodz - Poznan. Already before WW2 Kolo and Chelmno were connected by a narrow gauge railway, which ran from Kolo to Dabie.
The Nazis chose an empty manor house in Chelmno (called the "Castle") for extermination purposes. Several other buildings of the former estate were located within a 2.5-3 m high wooden fence and densely planted trees. The granary is still visible today. For security reasons the main gate to this site was constructed as a sluice: When the guards opened one gate, the other one was closed.

Herbert Lange
The camp was constructed in November 1941, after the expulsion of nearly all inhabitants from the area. The extermination of Romany and Jews was carried out by the so-called Sonderkommando Kulmhof, also known as Sonderkommando Lange. This special unit was named after its first commander SS-Hauptsturmführer Herbert Lange. It was later called Sonderkommando Bothmann, after SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Bothmann, Lange's successor.
Herbert Lange already had gained some experience in killing mentally ill persons in Poland between late 1939 and June 1940 utilizing gas vans. In Chelmno the Jews were destined to perish in such gas vans.
In the early stages of activity, the SS-Sonderkommando Lange was made up of about 15 members of the Security Police, who occupied all of the important positions in the camp; and 50 - 60 police men of the 1. Kompanie des Polizeibataillons Litzmannstadt (Lodz) as well as some police men of the 2. Company, divided into "Transport", "Castle" and "Forest Camp" details.
The regular police may have eventually numbered as many as 100. These SS- and policemen also guarded the entire vicinity. According to witnesses Artur Greiser and Heinrich Himmler visited Chelmno in its early stage.

All members of the Sonderkommando received special pay. There is conflicting evidence concerning the amounts involved. Bruno Israel testified that he received an additional 13 RM per day, paid directly by Bothmann. The former head of police at the camp, Alois Häfele, stated that ordinary policemen received an extra salary of 12 RM per day, the NCOs 15 RM. The wife of Josef Peham, a police NCO, reported that the supplement varied from 10 - 13 RM per day. Whatever the precise figure, the Sonderkommando's" total salary, including the bonus, more than doubled their basic pay.
In early March 1943, at the end of Chelmno's first phase, Greiser arrived together with some members of the NSDAP. At the "Riga Inn" in Kolo (German: Warthbrücken) a party was organized, and each member of the Sonderkommando got 500 RM from Greiser (for one time only), combined with the promise that each of them can spend two holiday weeks at his private estate in Berlin. The party bill was sent to the NSDAP Gauleitung Wartheland.

Directly subordinate to the Kommando were group of former prisoners (mainly from Fort VII in Poznan) who had been selected during the euthanasia actions. They worked mainly, but not exclusively, in the forest camp. These men received many privileges, particularly after they had completed their day's work, and in effect were not treated as prisoners (see a letter!). Those comprising this special unit were Franciszek Piekarski, Henryk Mania, Kajetan Skrzypczynski, Lech Jaskolski, Stanislaw Polubinski, Henryk Maliczak, Stanislaw Szymanski and Marian Libelt. They worked in Chelmno in the first stage of the camp's existence, up to the time of the arrival of Bothmann.

Survey Map
Most of the Jews were brought by train (1,000 persons usually, in 20 - 22 wagons) to Kolo station. Until mid-March 1942 each incoming transport was locked in the Kolo synagogue until lorries were available to ferry the people to Chelmno. Because the German administrative authorities complained about this method of imprisoning the Jews in the town centre, the procedure was changed from mid-March. From that time onwards, the Jews had to change trains at Kolo station, and board narrow gauge railway wagons, which carried them 6 km to Powiercie village. There the train stopped, and the victims were ordered to march 1.5 km through a forest to Zawadka village where they were locked in the mill for their last night. The next morning they were brought by lorries to Chelmno. Some other transports were taken by lorries directly to Chelmno where they spent the night before being gassed. According to witnesses Christian Wirth visited the location in spring 1942.
In the second phase of Chelmno (1944) the victims were transported by the narrow gauge railway directly from Kolo to Chelmno because the railway track has been repaired (the wooden bridge over the tributary of the Warta River between Powiercie and Chelmno had been destroyed by Polish troops during their retreat in 1939).

The "Castle"
In Chelmno itself, the people arrived at the Schlosslager (Castle Camp). In the first phase the incoming Jews were addressed by camp commander Bothmann, his substitute SS-Untersturmführer Albert Plate, Polizei-Meister Willy Lenz, Polizei-Meister Alois Haeberle or Franciszek Piekarski, also member of the "Sonderkommando". He was disguised as the squire of the estate: feather hat, nice dress, jack-boots, smoking his pipe...
They told the Jews that some of them will go to work to Austria or further eastward, others will work at his estate. They would be fairly treated and receive good food. For sanitary reasons they had to take a shower first, and their clothes had to be disinfected. After this reassuring speech the Jews were led to the undressing room in the first floor. There the Jews had to undress and hand over their valuables. During Chelmno's second phase an SS man welcomed the Jews in possibly the same way.
Those valuables not embezzled by SS men were sent to Pabianice near Lodz, together with the victims' clothing. There the Lodz ghetto administration had set up some warehouses for the collecting and sorting of the loot. The spoils (e.g. furs) were first examined and then transferred to Germany or sold to Germans who lived in the Warthegau. On 9 September 1944 for example, 775 wristwatches and 550 pocket watches were sent from Chelmno to the Lodz ghetto administration. Much clothing was stained with dirt and blood. Some still had the Jewish stars attached. Many people in Germany must surely therefore have been aware of the fate of the Jews.

Foundations of the Manor House
in 2004
After undressing, the people were brought downstairs again, to a corridor whose walls carried signs such as, "to the bath" and "to the doctor". There the SS told the Jews that they had to enter a lorry which would take them to the baths. Pieces of soap were given to the people. Three Poles, who were probably sentenced to death, hit the Jews with whips if they did not get into the gas van fast enough. The victims finally entered the gas van by passing up an enclosed wooden ramp which was placed in exact alignment with the door through which the Jews had to leave the building. The SS quickly closed the airtight doors of the van and the driver (Walter Burmeister among others / "The Good Old Days" - E. Klee, W. Dreeßen, V. Riess, The Free Press, NY, 1988., p. 219-220) switched on the motor, but allowed the vehicle to remain stationary. While the gas van was waiting for a new batch of victims, the driver connected the van's exhaust to the loading space (gas chamber) with a tube, so that the exhaust fumes could be discharged into the loading space. After 5-10 minutes of horrible screaming, all of the people in the loading compartment had been suffocated. In Chelmno one large gas van (probably Magirus, for 150 victims) and two smaller ones (Opel Blitz and Diamond Reo, for 80 - 100 victims) were used. According to the witness Bruno Israel a fourth van was used for disinfection of clothing. The Sonderkommando may have used special petrol, mixed with poison. The van's engines were driven by petrol and not diesel.

After the gassing the lorry was driven to the Waldlager (Forest Camp) in the Rzuchowski Forest, about 4 km (2 1/2 miles) away. On the way to the Waldlager one day the back doors opened suddenly and some corpses fell out. Since that day this corner was called "Corner of Death". At the Waldlager the corpses were unloaded by the Jewish Waldkommando (Forest Command) prisoners. 10 minutes were allowed for evaporation of the exhaust fumes, then the loading space had to be emptied. The Waldkommando had to search the bodies for jewellery and gold teeth, which were extracted.Although an unknown number of Jews managed to escape from the Waldkommando, there were only three who survived to the end of the war to provide personal evidence concerning the manner in which the camp functioned:
Mordechai Podchlebnik from the camp's first period, Mordechai Zurawski, and Simon Srebnik from the second one. The first escapee from the Waldkommando to provide evidence of conditions in the camp was Szlamek Bajler (also known as Yakov Grojanowski), who recounted his experiences to Emanuel Ringelblum in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Until spring of 1942, the bodies had been buried in four long mass graves. From that time onwards the corpses were cremated. Two crematoria were built, which were probably complemented by two mobile field ovens. The latter were possibly installed to test their efficiency. It was at Chelmno that Paul Blobel first experimented with various methods of disposing of corpses, before perfecting the system used at other extermination sites in the East, including those of Aktion Reinhard. Despite all efforts remnants of human bones are still visible.
The members of the Waldkommando were killed after a short time and replaced by new arrivals. After the war, inhabitants of nearby villages confirmed that smoke rose constantly from the vicinity.

Adolf Eichmann and Rudolf Höß visited Chelmno in autumn 1942.
In May 1960 Eichmann testified during a (the?) first interrogation (following his capture) by the Israeli police captain Avner W. Less:
"Eichmann: I only know the following, that I have seen the following:
A room, if I remember exactly, perhaps five times as big as this one here, or it could have been four times larger. Jews were in it who were ordered to undress, and then a van drove up which was completely sealed; at the front (of the room) the doors were opened and the van drove up to a kind of ramp so to say. And there the Jews had to then get in. Then the van was closed and drove off.
Less: How many people did the van hold?
Eichmann: I don't know exactly. I was not even able to observe it. I didn’t look into it the whole time. I couldn't do it, couldn't, I had enough of that. The screaming, and, and, I was too excited here and so on. I also told that to Müller during my report. He didn't profit very much from my report. I then followed the van – carefully, with one of the people there who knew the way; and there I saw the most horrible sight I had seen in all my life until then. The van drove up to a lengthy pit, the doors were opened and corpses thrown out, the limbs so flexible, as if they were still alive. Were thrown into the pit; I still see a civilian there pulling out teeth with pliers; and then I beat it. Entered the car, and beat it, and didn't say any word anymore... I was fed up. I just remember that a doctor there, in a white coat, told me to look through a peephole when they were in the van. I refused. I couldn't, I couldn't say another word, I had to leave.
Then I arrived in Berlin and reported to Gruppenführer Müller. I told him exactly the same as now, I couldn't tell him more... `Terrible,’ I say, `that inferno, can't, it is, I can't do this,’ I said.

Rudolf Höß about his visit in Chelmno, on 16 September 1942:
"During my visit in Kulmhof I saw the extermination installations with the gas vans which were prepared for killing by exhaust fumes. The chief of the command there described this method as very unreliable because the gas was produced very irregularly, and often was not enough for killing."

Zychlin Deportation *
Wloclawek Deportation *
Chelmno's first phase lasted from 7 December 1941, until March 1943. The first victims were deported from nearby places: Babiak, Dabie, Deby Szlacheckie, Grodziec, Izbica Kujawska, Klodawa, Kolo, Kowale Panskie, Nowiny Brdowskie and Sompolno. In mid-January the SS started to exterminate the Jews of the ghetto in Lodz: Between 16 and 29 January 1942 10,003 Jews were killed, from 22 February - 2 April 34,073, from 4-15 May 11,680 and from 5-12 September 1942 15,859. Apart from Jews from the Lodz Ghetto, nearly all the other Jews of the Warthegau had been killed by early 1943. Also among the victims were 15,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Luxemburg, 5,000 Romany, several hundred Poles and an unknown number of Soviet POWs, as well as 88 Czech children from Lidice.
On 7 April 1943 the SS blew up the manor house and the two furnaces. On this day a last unexpected transport arrived, with Jews who suffered from typhus. The Germans were afraid of being infected, and ordered them to go to the first storey of the palace building. Dynamite was placed in the basement and the building was blown up, together with the Jews.
Then Bothmann and his Sonderkommando were ordered to Italy / Yugoslavia to combat partisans (SS-Division "Prinz Eugen"). An important find is a beer bottle of the Dreher Brewery in Trieste, which was excavated at the rear of the chelmno palace in archealogical digs. It is a proof that at least one member of Bothmann's staff has been in Trieste, perhaps San Sabba. In addition a few other bottles were found there.

Telex from Greiser to Himmler
Sieradz Deportation *
During Chelmno's second phase, in June and July 1944, a further 10,000 Jews from the Lodz Ghetto were murdered. Himmler and Greiser had decided on the ghetto's liquidation. For that purpose the Sonderkommando Bothmann was ordered back, the Waldlager was reactivated and two new crematoria were built at the Waldlager.
Now the Jews from Lodz were transported usually by train to Kolo (sometimes by lorries directly to Chelmno). From Kolo by the narrow gauge railroad to Chelmno village. There they spent the night in the church. The next day they had to wait on the place in front of the church from were they were carried by lorries to the Waldlager in groups of mainly 150.
At the Waldlager the people were separated into two large barracks, each about 20 x 10 m. Each barrack had two rooms, one for men, the other for women and children. Arrival at these two structures was a ruse to keep the intended victims from panicking. Both huts had a wooden fence extending on either side in order to make it appear as though the Jews had arrived at a transit or work camp. Each structure was falsely numbered and in addition signs were painted on them: - on the outside: "To the Bath", inside the barracks: "To the Doctor, Barrack Number…" etc. The SS kept this pretence of "resettlement" up until the last minute as the victims undressed, first the women and children followed by the men. When naked they filed through the door marked "Zum Bad" ("To the bath"). Behind this door a passageway 20 - 25 m long by 1.5 m wide, also enclosed by wooden boarding, turned sharply at its end to finish up on a ramp. From there the Jews climbed into the waiting gas vans. This method had been adopted, tried and tested at the death camps of Belzec and Sobibor. It was finally perfected in Treblinka. A simple, smaller version, copied from the Aktion Reinhard camps, was easily implemented at Chelmno.

It has to be added here that the enclosed camouflaged fences, adopted in the Aktion Reinhard camps, were far from "perfect" until the final "tube" (German: Schlauch) in Treblinka was established. The original "tube" (named Die Schleuse - English: "Sluice") in the Belzec extermination camp from July 1942 - December 1942 was straight in appearance; a "mistake", corrected at Sobibor by a "blind corner". Even so, the Sobibor Schleuse was far too long; therefore the Treblinka "Road to Heaven" (so-called in the Aktion Reinhard Camps) was curved, but neither too long nor too short for its murderous task.

The survivors Zurawski and Srebrnik, and the captured gendarme Bruno Israel, described the cremation facilities as follows:
"They were built deep in the ground and did not project above its surface. They were shaped like inverted cones with rectangular bases. At the top at ground level the furnaces measured 6x10 m (2Ox33 ft.) and they were 4 m (13 ft.) deep. At the bottom, by the ash-pit, they measured 1.5x2 m (5x6 ft.). The grates were made of rails. A channel to the ash-pit ensured the admittance of air and permitted the removal of ashes and bones. The sides of the furnace were made of firebrick and faced with cement. In the furnace were alternate layers of chopped wood and corpses: to facilitate combustion, space was left between the corpses. The furnace could hold 100 corpses at a time, but as they burned down, fresh ones were added from above. The ashes and remains of bones were removed from the ash-pit, ground in mortars, and, at first, thrown into especially dug ditches; but later, from 1943 onwards, bones and ashes were secretly carted to Zawadka at night, and there thrown into the river."

Lodz Monument at the
Rzuchowski Forest
Map of the Memorial
at Rzuchowski Forest
In order to speed up the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto the remaining 70,000 Jews there were deported to Auschwitz.

In September 1944 the crematoria in the Waldlager were dismantled. The Sonderkommando and the Waldkommando was still there and buried corpses in mass graves. All installations were destroyed in mid-December 1944 but Bothmann and his men still waited for orders.
New orders never arrived and Bothmann decided to dissolve the Sonderkommando Kulmhof and wanted to execute the rest of the Waldkommando. Then the Jews which were locked in the granary, revolted. Two Nazis were shot, and two prisoners (Srebrnik and Zurawski) escaped. The remaining Jews were executed and the granary was set on fire.
The site was abandoned on 17 January 1945 due to the proximity of the advancing Red Army.

At least 152,000 people perished in Chelmno. All witnesses confirm that as a rule, about 1,000 Jews were brought to Chelmno each day, excluding the victims who arrived in lorries from the surrounding vicinity.

See our lists Young Children Victims of Chelmno and Deportation Transports.

A private memorial stone has been erected at the former Schlosslager in Chelmno, donated by a German relative of a victim. Another memorial stone is at Kolo station, a third one in Powiercie, another one at the former Waldlager.

See the names of 7,168 individuals from Lodz who were transferred to the death camp at Chelmno, between June and August 1944 at "Lodz Transports to the Chelmno Extermination Camp".


Greifswald (DDR), 1951 and Güstrow (DDR), 1952:
El., Karl - 14 years
(Police Schupo Lodz)
Transport of about 30,000 Jewish men, women and children from the Lodz ghetto to KZ Chelmno, and participation in the loading of victims onto lorries in which they were killed by exhaust fumes. (...) May 1941 – February 1942.

Hannover, 1963 – 1964:
Bradfisch, Otto - 13 years
Fuchs, Günter - life sentence
(Polizei Gestapo Lodz)
Participation in the killing of the Jews from Lodz by the head of the Gestapo office Lodz and the head of department IIB. Deportation of many thousands of Jews from the Lodz ghetto to the Chelmno annihilation camp. Mishandling, in part with fatal consequences, and individual shootings of numerous Jews during the deportations. Shooting of Jews still found in the ghetto at the time of its liquidation in August. From 1944. From January 1942 till May 1942, in September 1942 and from June 1944 till August 1944.

Bonn, 1963 – 1965:
B., Heinrich Walter - no punishment imposed (par.47 MStGB - military penal code)
Burmeister, Walter - 13 years
Häfele, Alois - 13 years
Heinl, Karl - 7 years
H., Wilhelm - 13½ months
Laabs, Gustav - 13 years
M., Friedrich - 13½ months
Me., Anton - no punishment imposed (par.47 MStGB - military penal code)
Möbius, Kurt - 8 years
Sch., Wilhelm - 13½ months
S., Alexander - no punishment imposed (par.47 MStGB - military penal code)
(Haftstättenpersonal KL Chelmno)
Killing of altogether at least 150,000 Jewish (German, French, Austrian, Polish, Czech) men, women and children, as well as of about 5,000 Gypsies, who were deported in the course of a number of 'resettlement operations' from the Lodz ghetto and its immediate surroundings, to Chelmno, where they were exterminated in 'gas vans'. From December 1941 till March 1943 and June 1944 till August 1944.

Kiel, 1965:
F., Gustav Wilhelm - 13½ months
(Haftstättenpersonal KL Chelmno)
Killing of, altogether, at least, 145,000 Jewish (German, French, Austrian, Polish, Czech) men, women and children, who were deported, in several 'resettlement operations', from the ghetto of Lodz and its immediate surroundings to KL Chelmno and exterminated in 'gas vans'. From March 1942 till March 1943.

Archiwum GK Komise *
Yad Vashem *
Arie A. Galles *: Part of his art suite "Fourteen Stations/Hey Yud Dalet", exhibited at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey.
See the artist's website:

Gutman, Israel, ed. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1990
Kogon, Eugen; Langbein, Hermann; Rückerl, Adalbert; eds. Nazi Mass Murder, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1993
DDR-Justiz, NS-Verbrechen Vol. IV, XIX, XXI, XXII
Bednarz, Wladyslaw. Oboz stracen w Chelmnie nad Nerem , Warszawa, 1946
Gulczynski, Janusz. Oboz smierci w Chelmnie nad Nerem, Konin, 1991
Dreßen, Willi; Klee, Ernst; Riess, Volker; eds. The Good Old Days, The Free Press, NY, 1988

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