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Enquires on the Killing of the Gombin Jews

Date: Fri, 25 Aug 1995 15:40:00 CDT
Subject: Gas vans, Chelmno
To: Multiple recipients of list HOLOCAUS

From: Leon Zamosc

I am trying to find a photograph or any other graphic illustration
of the gas vans used at Chelmno and other places. Has anyone seen
anything in books or elsewhere? I am also interested in pictures of
the Chelmno camp. Will welcome any reference.
Leon Zamosc
University of California, San Diego


Date: Wed, 11 Oct 1995 11:28:00 CDT
Subject: Re: Gas vans in Chelmno
To: Multiple recipients of list HOLOCAUS

From: Jerzy Halbersztadt < HALBERUW@PLEARN >

Dr. Leon Zamosc was
interested few weeks ago in finding a graphic illustration of the
gas vans used at Chelmno.

I made some survey (with an assistance of Marek Jannasz)
and here are the results:

The case of Chelmno death camp was investigated by the
Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in
Poland (it was the commission's name at the beginning of it's
existence) starting from May 1945. The commission received the
information that in the town KOLO (ca. 12 km from Chelmno) in
the former factory of Ostrowski there was a van which, according
to the witnesses, was used in the death center at Chelmno. The
van was found, photographed and researched.

The photos taken then are available in the Main
Commission's Archives in Warsaw (signatures 47398, 47396,
47397, 47399; the best one is 47398). The captions of these
photographs are till today: "a car for killing people by the exhaust
fumes at Chelmno". One of these photos was reproduced in the
Fleming's book "Hitler and the Final Solution" with the
information that it is a photograph of a "gaswagon" used in

Despite of their captions, the photographs do not show the
gas van used in the Chelmno death camp. It is clear from the
testimonies of Polish witnesses kept in the same archives of the
Main Commission (collection "Ob", file 271 and others).
Witnesses to whom the van photographed in Kolo was shown did
not confirm that it was one of those used in Chelmno for killing
people. Some of them only said that it was similar to those
described in their testimonies, but not the same. The most
common answer was: "I didn't see this one".

The inspection of the van in Ostrowski factory, done on 13
November 1945 by the judge J.Bronowski, did not confirm the
existence of any elements of system of gassing of the van's closed
platform. The witnesses called this van "a pantechnicon van" (a
van to transport furniture). It was produced by "Magirus-Werke"
with a diesel type engine of "Deutz". The plate on the engine
stated: "Humboldt-Deutz A.G. "Magirus-Werke" Ulm (Donau)
Baujahr 1939 Lieferdat739 Abn-Stempel. Fahrgestell Nr. 9282/38
Nutzlast kg 2700 Fahgestell-Baumuster 023. Eingewicht 4980 kg.
Motor Baumuster FoM 513 zul. Gesamt gew. 7900 Leistung P.S.
105 cm3 7412. Zulaessige Achsendruecke vorn kg 2400 hinten
5500." The thickness of the car's wooden body was 7 cm, of the
door - 8 cm. The walls, door, ceiling and floor were covered from
the inside with the 2mm sheet iron. The car was painted in grey-
lead color. Under this paint the inscription was seen on the door
of the cab: "Otto Koehn Spedition Ruf 516 Zeulen.....da i.TH".

I cite all these details to make possible the further comments
to the story of this van. It is my feeling that there are some
unclear points in this story. Nobody explained for what purpose
this van was used? Its door was tightened with an impregnated
canvas. What for? Some witnesses had seen this car in the area of
the forest of Chelmno starting from the spring of 1942. It is
possible that it belonged to the SS-Sonderkommando Kulmhof,
too. I came across a version that this van was used for a
disinfection of victims' clothes but there are no grounds for it.

In 1945 the prosecutors came to the conclusion that this van
was not a gas van of Chelmno. The van was left incomplete and
not serviceable in Ostrowski's factory at least till 1950. The last
known documents (a correspondence between the Association of
Combatants "ZBoWiD" in Kolo and the Main Commission) of
April 1950 inform that there was an idea to move this van to the
museum in Auschwitz or Majdanek (till 1990 there was no
museum in the Chelmno forest; first monument was erected there
in 1964). Those plans were not accomplished and the van was
scrapped, probably.

Thus, there is no reliable graphic illustration of the gas vans
used in Chelmno. However, the testimonies of witnesses contain
many important data on these vehicles. In 1945 and later Polish
authorities examined some Poles who stayed in the area of
Chelmno after the removal of the vast majority of the Polish
population to the GG in 1939-1940. The witnesses were able to
identify gas vans very well. They declared that there were three or
four gas vans, one of them was a bit bigger. All of them were
black. The cars' bodies were boxes made of boards. The length of
a biggest vehicle was 5.5-6 m. It was ca. 2.5 m high and 2.5 m
wide. Each vehicle was guarded all the time (even during the
repair in the local factories) by two watchmen, who did not give
anybody the access to the van and, especially, to the chassis and
the closed box (platform).

However, at least three witnesses were able to see the
vehicles from the short distance. Mr. Jozef Piaskowski (b. 1908)
was employed in the Reichsstrassenbauamt in Kolo (former
*Ostrowski factory). In the winter 1941/42 he was ordered to
repair the damaged cooler in the biggest of Chelmno vans.
Piaskowski was an experienced driver. He declared later that he
has never seen the motor of this type. "The motor was a bit odd".
"It was enormous". The most interesting in his report is the
description of the exhaust system. He has noticed that the exhaust
pipe was divided into three parts. First and third were done of
metal as in normal cars. But, the central part was done of the
elastic, "hydraulic" pipe which could joint both standard tubes or
could be screwed to the holen the van's floor. After the repair
of the cooler, when the motor was tested, so much exhaust fumes
were produced that the air in the garage (size 30 m x 12 m) started
immediately to be blue. The German bosses ordered to open all
windows and doors. The workers who spent a very short time in
the polluted air have got headache. The witness heard later their
comments that the motor of this car uses 75 liters of petrol per 100
km, so twice more than normal motors do. Piaskowski stated that
he had seen two military type gas-masks in the driver's cab.
Piaskowski's colleague, Mr. Bronislaw Mankowski (b. 1882)
confirmed his story and added that he had seen the van when the
middle part of the exhaust tube was joint to the hole in the car's
floor. Mankowski declared that he looked inside the box when
the watchmen left their posts for a while. He had seen a hole
covered with a perforated sheet iron in the middle of the wooden

Another witness Mr. Bronislaw Falborski (b. 1910) was
employed in the "Kraft" company in Kolo where the vehicles of
the SS-Sonderkommando Kulmhof were repaired starting from
1942. In summer 1942 he received the order to repair one of the
gas vans. His description of the exhaust pipe is in general the
same as done by witnesses cited above. The only (but important)
difference is the description of the connection of elastic pipe with
the hole in the car's floor. According to Falborski (who made
even a picture) they were joint by two fasteners tightened by four
screws. It seems that this connection was permanent, quite
difficult to change and only optionally substituted by the standard
connection of both metal parts of the exhaust pipe as in normal
cars. Falborski's report seems reliable as his task was to make
this connection air-tight by the change of the packing between
two fasteners.

The cases of the repair of gas vans in the local workshops of
Kolo seem to be rare and exceptional. Probably it happened only
in necessity when it was impossible to use military- or SS-motor

The Chelmno death center stopped to operate many months
before the liberation of this site. The gas vans were very easy to
move from the area of Chelmno-Kolo and to change into standard
vans with very little signs of their previous function. It is very
difficult to think that SS murders (who tried to destroy all
evidences of genocide, like crematoria, camps, corpses, etc.) could
simply forget a gas van near to Chelmno or elsewhere.

Jerzy Halbersztadt
University of Warsaw
and US Holocaust Museum, Washington, DC.
e-mail: halberuw@plearn.edu.pl


From: Leon Zamosc
Subject: Chelmno
To: halberuw@plearn.edu.pl
Date: Wed, 11 Oct 95 13:27:48 PDT

Dear Jerzy,

I have learned much from the detailed report on the Chelmno vans
that you posted today. Two other scholars had already warned me
that there were problems with the picture in Fleming's book, and
your report shows that the matter is still far from clear.

I am doing some research about our relatives who perished
in Poland. In the case of my father's family, I know that they
were rounded up with all the other Jews of the town of Gabin
(Gostynin district) and taken to Chelmno on May 12, 1942. I
assumed that they had been killed in the gas vans (that is why I
made the enquiry about the vans). But recently I have found a
book that tells a different story. The book is DZIEJE GABINA DO
ROKU 1945, by Janusz SZCZEPANSKI (Warszawa : Panstwowe Wydawn.
Naukowe, c1984, Prace Mazowieckiego Osrodka Badan Naukowych /
Mazowiecki Osrodek Badan Naukowych ; nr. 42. ISBN: 8301039175). I
myself do not speak Polish, but a friend gave me a rough
translation of the paragraphs relevant to the end of the Jews
(pages 281-282). Based on testimony of a local German who seems
to have supervised the transport, SZCZEPANSKI describes the
killing of the Jews as a shooting execution, in which the victims
were first forced to dig their own graves, and then were
machine-gunned by the Germans.

I have talked to old people from Gabin living here in the US and
they do not know exactly how the Jews of Gombin died. So this is
something that must be clarified. I myself have doubts on the
veracity of SZCZEPANSKI's story, since there is no mention of
mass-killing by shooting at Chelmno in any of the materials I
have seen until now (GULCZYNSKI's book, KRAKOWSKI's chapter in
NAZI MASS MURDER, the Chelmno chapter in the Polish Commission
report GERMAN CRIMES IN POLAND, another Polish Commision report
from 1946 that I read in a book in Hebrew by ZEEV KIBEL, a
pamphlet in English from the Chelmno Museum, and references to
Chelmno in many other books on the Shoah).

So I am writing to you in order to ask if, in the course of your
research, you have seen any specific reference to the Jews of
Gabin. If nothing conclusive is known about the exact manner of
their death, did you ever come across any evidence or mention of
any cases of mass executions by shooting at Chelmno? I hope you
will find time to answer this query, which is very important for
us. Thanks a lot for your help.

Leon Zamosc
Professor of Sociology
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093


Date: Wed, 01 Nov 95 01:59:29 CET
From: Jerzy Halbersztadt
Subject: Jews of Gabin
To: Leon Zamosc

Dear Leon Zamosc:

I tried to find some references to the Jews of Gabin, but there are
very few facts in the historical literature on this topic.
Apart from the books you mentioned, there are two articles which
could be interesting for you. However neither of them gives the
direct answer to your questions.

The first one is: D.Dabrowska, Zaglada Zydow w Kraju Warty
(Extermination of Jews in "Wartegau"), "Biuletyn Zydowskiego
Instytutu Historycznego", 1955, no.13 and 14, p. 145 - 172.
In Dabrowska's article there is a table. According to the data
in this table before the war there were 2313 Jews in Gabin, in
January 1940 there were 2100 and in 1942 - 2150 (including those
who came to Gabin during the war). April 1942 all Jews form Gabin
were taken to Chelmno. Please note that these numbers are not in
contradiction with the testimony in Janusz Szczepanski's book
(There was no exact number of Jews killed by shooting given in
this book).

The second one is: J.Wrobel, Getta w powiatach gostyninskim i
kutnowskim (Ghettos in Gostynin district and Kutno district).
This is an unpublished paper given during the conference in 45
anniversary of the extermination of Jews in "Kraj Warty", held
in Zdunska Wola, October 23, 1987. One fragment of this article
is directly connected with the question of extermination of Gabin
Jews. Here is the translation of this fragment:
"Ghetto in Gabin was liquidated in April 1942. First, 300 men
were taken and closed in the building of the fire-station. They
were beaten there and two men were shot by a German guard.
Finally all men, women and children were taken to the Chelmno
death camp."

I will send you xerocopies of these two articles by snail mail.

It was really a great pleasure for me to do something for a
founding member of the Holocaust Museum. I hope I could be
helpful also in the future.

With best regards, Jerzy Halbersztadt

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