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Chelmno nad Nerem (Kulmhof) - Poland

he village of Chelmno is situated 14 km from the town of Kolo, through which runs the main railway line from Lodz to Poznan. In the village there was a small country house surrounded by an old park, which was owned by the State and stood empty. In the vicinity was a pine-wood, sections of which, densely planted with young trees, were almost impenetrable. This site the German occupation authorities selected for their extermination camp. The park was enclosed by a high wooden fence which concealed everything that went on behind it. The local inhabitants were expelled from the village, only a few workers being left to do the necessary jobs. Inside the enclosure were two buildings, the small country house and an old granary, besides which the Germans constructed two wooden hutments. The whole enclosure where hundred of thousands of people were done to death measured only 2 hectares (5 acres).

helmno was a typical death camp designed for killing all who where brought there. Those who were brought here for destruction, were convinced till the very last moment that they were to be employed on fortification work in the East. They were told that, before going further, they would have a bath, and that their clothes would be disinfected. Immediately after their arrival at the camp they were taken to the large hall of the house, where they were told to undress, and then they were driven along a corridor to the front door, where a large lorry, fitted up as a gas-chamber, was standing. This, they were told, was to take them to the bath-house. When the lorry was full, the door was locked, the engine started, and carbon monoxide was introduced into the interior through a specially constructed exhaust pipe. After 4-5 minutes, when the cries and struggles of the suffocating victims were heard no more, the lorry was driven to the wood, 4 km (2 1/2 miles) away, which was enclosed with a high fence and surrounded with outposts. Here the corpses were unloaded and buried, and afterwards burnt in one of the clearings.

he camp was established in November 1941. The extermination process began on December 8, with the ghetto population of the cities and towns from the neighbouring Kolo, Dabie, Sompolno, Klodawa and many other places, and later from Lodz itself. The first Jews arrived at Chelmno from Lodz in the middle of January 1942. From that time onwards an average of 1000 a day was maintained, with short intermissions, till April 1943. Besides those who were brought by rail, others were delivered at the camp from time to time in cars, but such were comparatively rare. Besides those from Poland there were also transports of Jews from Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, Luxemburg and Holland; as a rule the Lodz ghetto served as a distribution centre. The total number of Jews from abroad amounted to about 16,000. Besides the 300,000 Jews from the Warthegau, about 5,000 Gipsies and about a thousand Poles and Russian prisoners of war were murdered at Chelmno. But the execution of the latter took place mostly at night. They were taken straight to the wood, and shot.

n 1943, four lorries filled with children aged from 12-14 without Jewish emblems were brought. The witnesses took the impression that they were "Aryans". It was just at this time that the Nazis were expelling the Polish population from the neighbourhood of Zamosc, and as a rule separating children from their parents. When the camp was "liquidated" in 1944 the gas-chamber lorries were sent back to Germany. At the inquiry it was established that they had originally been brought from Berlin. There were three of them, one large enough to hold about 150 persons, and two with a capacity of 80-100 each. Their official name was Sonderwagen.

he number of people killed at Chelmno could not be calculated from reliable data or railway records as the camp authorities destroyed all the evidence. The investigators were therefore obliged to confine themselves to the evidence given by witnesses concerning the number of transports sent to Chelmno. The final total therefore is 340,000 men, women and children, from infants to old folk, killed at the extermination camp at Chelmno.

n the autumn of 1944 the camp in the wood was completely destroyed, the crematoria being blown up, the huts taken to pieces, and almost every trace of crime being carefully removed. A Special Commission from Berlin directed, on the spot, the destruction of all the evidence of what had been done. But up to the last moment, January 17 1945, the Sonderkommando and a group of 47 Jewish workers stayed there. In the night of January 17/18 1945, the Sonderkommando shot these last remaining Jews. When they tried to defend themselves and two gendarmes were killed, the Sonderkommando set fire to the building in which they were. Only two Jews, Zurawski and Srebrnik, survived.

Source: Glowna Komisja Badania Zbrodni Przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu