Chelmno Concentration Camp
|Historical Name of Location||Chelmno nad Nerem, Konin, Poland|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseSS-Hauptsturmführer Herbert Lange, who had previously oversaw mass murder in the region using small arms fire and gas vans, chose a manor estate in the village of Chelmno in Poland, known during the occupation under its German name of Kulmhof, when he was tasked with the expansion of his gruesome operations. The staff for the future extermination camp was selected personally by Lange's superior Ernst Damzog, Commander of Security Police and SD. The staff consisted of a combination of Security Police, SD, Gestapo, Criminal Police, and Order Police personnel. The facility was consisted of two sites, the first being the manor estate itself (Schlosslager), and the other being a nearby forest clearing off of a road between Chelmno and Kolo (Waldlager), both of which were surrounded by wooden fences erected by the Germans. The facility was established in Oct 1941 and mass gassing began in Dec 1941, using gas vans to kill Jews. The killing process took between 5 and 10 minutes, during which the victims could be heard screaming by those outside the vans. Once all inside were killed (about 50 victims for each Opel Blitz van or about 150 victims for each Magirus-Deutz van), the truck would travel from the manor estate to the forest clearing, where the dead would be buried in mass graves. By Feb 1942, 3,830 Jews, about 4,000 Romani, and a large number of Poles and Soviet prisoners of war had been killed at Chelmno. In Mar or Apr 1942, Lange was replaced by Schultze as the camp commandant. Schultze was then replaced by SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Bothmann in the summer of 1942. To ensure that all victims were killed efficiently, Bothmann ordered the addition of poison to the fuel used by the gas vans, and that all victims must be confirmed dead before the van could drive from the manor estate to the forest site. Chelmno closed in Mar 1943 after the region's undesirable populations, as determined by the Germans, were wiped out. All buildings used by the camp staff were destroyed, and, some time later, Jewish forced laborers were employed to exhume the mass graves and to burn all remains in open air pits; the ashes from such pits were dumped in Warta and Ner Rivers.
ww2dbaseGas operations resumed once again at Chelmno in late Jun 1944, killing an additional 25,000 Jews from the Lodz Ghetto in the course of about one month; Lodz was situated merely 50 kilometers (31 miles) to the south of the camp. Because the buildings had already been demolished in the previous year, the processing of the victims took place in a church in Chelmno village, and the killing took place in vans at the forest site. Two new open air cremation pits were dug to destroy the bodies of the victims. In Sep 1944, a new group of Jewish forced laborers were brought in to once again destroy evidence of the murders; most of these workers would be executed before the arrival of Soviet forces in Jan 1945.
ww2dbaseEstimates of total victims killed at Chelmno ranged from the conservative 152,000 (typically Western estimates) to the staggeringly large 340,000 (typically Soviet estimates).
ww2dbaseOver the course of the following 20 years, a number of trials were held against Germans who had served at Chelmno. The first of which was the trial of deputy commandant Oberscharführer Walter Piller (and two of his colleagues) in Lodz in 1945, and the last concluded in 1965 in Köln (Cologne), Germany.
Last Major Update: Dec 2018
Chelmno Concentration Camp Timeline
|8 Dec 1941||Chelmno Concentration Camp north of Lodz, Poland began mass murders using gas vans; it was the first large camp established for the purpose of mass exterminations. The first victims were Jewish and Romani civilians from surrounding towns.|
|15 Jan 1942||In Poland, German authorities began to deport Jews from the Lodz ghetto to the Chelmno Concentration Camp.|
|9 Apr 1943||The Chelmno Concentration Camp in Reichsgau Wartheland, Germany (occupied Poland) temporarily ceased its extermination operations.|
|11 Apr 1943||Chelmno Concentration Camp in occupied Poland ceased operations.|
|14 Feb 1944||Heinrich Himmler's orders to re-establish the Chelmno Concentration Camp in occupied Poland was received by German officials of Reichsgau Wartheland; the camp resumed extermination in May 1944.|
|23 Jun 1944||Chelmno Concentration Camp in occupied Poland was re-opened for the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto nearby. A Lodz, deportations began on the same day; through 14 Jul 1944, 7,196 would be sent to Chelmno where they would be killed in gas vans.|
|17 Jan 1945||After crossing the Warthe River, Soviet troops expanded their bridgehead to 160 miles wide and 100 miles deep, causing the Germans to evacuate Warsaw, Poland (which would soon be occupied by Soviet forces) and Chelmno Extermination Camp; on the same day, Soviet forces also captured Kielce. Angry at the abandonment of Warsaw, Adolf Hitler sacked General Smilo von Lüttwitz and General Walter Fries. Meanwhile, Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev received orders to move toward the Upper Silesia region.|
|18 Jan 1945||The last of the Jewish forced laborers at Chelmno Concentration Camp in occupied Poland were executed; 15-year-old Simon Srebnik was the only survivor.|
|20 Jan 1945||Soviet troops arrived at the Chelmno Concentration Camp in occupied Poland.|
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|WW2-Era Place Name||Chelmno nad Nerem, Konin, Poland|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945