NAZI Death Camps: Chelmo (Poland, 1941-45)

Figure 1.--Chemo was the first German death camp. It was essentially an experiment. The mass killing of Jews had begun with Barbarossa (June 1941) with Eisatzgruppen shootgings. Himmler wanted a faster methos that would not stress the killers so much. The answer was gassing and this method was tested out at Chemo. The SS planners soon fond that they made a big mistake. There was no rail head at the camp. The Victims had to be marched thriugh the town or brought it carts. This significantly slowed the proces. It was a mistake they never made again.

Chelmo was one of the five death camps, camps created for the expressed purpose of killing Jews. Like most of the death camps, the NAZIs located it in Poland. Chelmno was named after te nearby town located about 50 miles from Lodz. The Germans who were in the process of Germanizing the area called it Kulmhof. The first gassing of Jews in large numbers occurred at Chelmo. Some of the work to "perfect" the killing process was done at Chelmo. The killing was overseen by Herbert Lange who commanded a Sonderkommando. The SS transferred Lange to Chelmno. He had worked in the T4 euthanasia program where he was involved with murdering Posen psychiatric patients using gas vans. Thus Lange was an experienced killer before arriving at Chelmo. The killing was initially done using vans. Many Reich Jews were killed here. Chelmo was the first of the death camps to begin operation (December 7, 1941). It was primarily used to kill Jews from the nearby large Lodz Ghetto. The first commandant at Chelmo was Herbert Lange. The camp consisted of two principal sections. The first was for the administration section, the barracks and the storage of valuables and goods taken from the victims. The second was for the burial and cremation of the victims. The killing was done by three gas vans. The Jews were locked into the hermatically sealed van cargo compartments. The carbon monoxide fumes were used to kill the vicytims in the vans that served as mobile gas chambers. Operations at Chelmo continued until most of the Lodz Jews had been killed (March 1943). It was briegly reopened to finish the killing of the Lodz Jews (June 23, 1944). The NAZIs finally ceased operations as the Red Army began moving into western Poland (January 17, 1945). There is no precise accounting of the number of Jews miurdered at Chelmo. Estimates range widely, about 150-300,000 Jews and other NAZI victims. This was fraction of the other Ajtion Heydrich death camps even though it operated for a longer time. The reason was that killing Jews in vans was much slower and more laboer in =tensive than in large-capacity gas chambers.


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Created: 10:01 PM 3/24/2008
Last updated: 10:36 AM 1/7/2015