“Hearty thanks, in the name of the Reichsfuhere SS, for your letter of July 28, 1942. With great joy I learned from your announcement that, for the past fourteen days, a train has gone daily to Treblinka with 5000 ‘members of the chosen people.’”
This note was sent on August 13, 1942, by SS Obergruppenfuhere Karl Wolff, Himmler’s chief of staff. It was sent in response to a letter one month earlier from the Transportation Secretary, Dr. Theeodor Ganzenmuller, about the corrections to the glitches in the transport of Jews to the death camps in Poland.
So much happened so quickly in 1942. Between the January 20, 1942 conference at Wannasee where Nazi leaders mapped out the “Final Solution,” and August 13, 1942, the date of the above note, the German killing machine turned to the genocide of “The Chosen People.” Here are just some of the pieces of the Final Solution in 1942:
- Death camp – Sobibor – built and began operation in April.
- Death camp – Belzec – built and began operation in May.
- Death camp – Treblinka – built and began operation in July.
- Majdanek transformed to an “annihilation camp.”
- Mathausen began using gas vans to kill prisoners (spring).
- Himmler orders “resettlement” of entire Jewish population of Poland by December 31, 1942 (order given – July 19).
- 265,040 Warsaw Jews sent to Treblinka between July and September.
- Jews from Lwow ghetto transported to Belzec in August.
- Second facility built at Auschwitz; it became a death factory as well as a concentration/labor camp and execution site.
1942-1945 is the third and final phase of the concentration camp. The first phase was from 1933 to 1941 with the hundreds of early concentration camps in Germany which held political prisoners, criminals and those that “threaten the security of the state.” Then phase II, after the invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941. Phase II saw the incarceration and murder of massive numbers of Soviet POW. Now Phase III, the Germans use their killing experience and infrastructure to murder the Jews of Europe.
In 1942, the concentration camps in Germany proper were Judenrein – free of Jews. Beginning in the fall of 1943, when the war was going badly and manpower was in short supply, Jews and Slavs were sent back to the German concentration camps to satisfy the German’s greedy appetite for human labor.
Meanwhile, the killing escalated in 1943:
- New gas chamber at Birkenau, next to Auschwitz, completed in February. 220,000 Jews from Greece and Italy were gassed.
- Jews of Warsaw continue to be murdered at Treblinka.
- Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April.
- Himmler orders concentration camp built on ruins of Warsaw ghetto in June 1943. Conditions were reported to be horrific.
- Belzec closed, remaining Jews transferred to Sobibor in July.
- Uprising at Treblinka on Aug. 2.
- Last Jews of Minsk were deported to Sobibor in September.
- 310,000 Jews from Radim district gassed at Treblinka (Aug. 4 – Nov. 7 – note – this was after the uprising!).
- Uprising at Sobibor on October 14.
- Last new concentration camp built – Dora, later called Mittelbau; built in Germany in Autumn to hold the Jews and Slavs sent to German for labor.
- Treblinka closed on November 7.
- Operation Harvest Festival – mass shooting of Jewish laborers left at concentration camps in Poland and Belarus – 42,000 killed (end of year).
After the death camps of Poland were closed down, the killing shifted to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Total Jews murdered at Auschwitz is likely one million. Some of the prisoners at Auschwitz did fight back. There was an uprising in Auschwitz-Birkenau on October 7, 1944 (this was news to me!). The uprising was, however, a complete disaster. All those who took part in the uprising were dead within hours. They did, however, manage to kill three SS officers, who the Germans mourned as heroes.
As the allies liberated the concentration camps, the truth could no longer be pushed to the back pages of the newspapers. The Allies liberated 160,000 prisoners in main camps, most in Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, and Mauthausen. Another 90,000 were liberated from over 100 satellite camps. These numbers do not include the survivors from Auschwitz-Birkenau – 100,000, though most of them had been forced to leave the camp on death marches before the Red Army liberated the camp on January 27, 1945.
In my research I have found different figures for how many people were killed in the camps. This leads me to believe that no one really knows. Here are some numbers that I found among the sources listed below for the camps that murdered most of the Jews. It does not include the thousands upon thousands that were killed in other camps.
Treblinka: 780,863 (60 survived)
Belzec: 434,508 (0-100 survived)
Sobibor: 150,000 (2-3 survived)
Majdaneck: 50,000 (I did not see a figure for survivors)
Chelmo: 145,301 (I did not see a figure for survivors)
Auschwitz: 1,000,000 (100,000 survived)
I can add no further thoughts to the facts presented to you in these blog posts detailing the evolution of the concentration camp.
- Wachsmann, Nikolaus. kl: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps. New York. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2015.
- Arad, Yitzhak. Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps. Bloomington and Indianapolis. Indiana University Press. 1987.
- Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. New York, NY. Basic Books. 2010.
- Dawidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945. New York, NY. Bantam Books. 1975.
 Arad, Yithak, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps at 51, citing Wolff at Ganzenmuller’s trial).