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Killing Experiments

CHRISTOPHER BROWNING: At Auschwitz we know they’re testing Zyklon B which is a fumigant that they have been using to fumigate the barracks. They now try it on human beings in September 1941 and they find out it kills human beings even quicker than it kills lice. We know that Nebe, the commander of Einsatzgroupen B, is also the head of the criminal police, and he has the top scientists from his crime lab in Berlin come to what is now Belarus and conduct experiments first with explosives, which do not work, and secondly with carbon monoxide in auto exhausts. They put patients of a Russian asylum in a cellar and they back up a truck and a car and they pipe the exhaust gas in, finding a very cheap ubiquitous source of poison which works very well. They find that they do not need what was used in the euthanasia programme which is pure carbon monoxide in cylinders produced in chemical factories in Germany (which presented logistical problems as obviously you couldn’t send it to Poland or the Soviet Union in large numbers).

Then we have Eichmann’s testimony, that he doesn’t date, but from what he says we can date it to late September, that states that he is sent by Heydrich to Lublin, he meets with Globocnik, the SS Police Leader, he’s then taken by Globocnik’s adjutant along a road and they stop at a cabin where he is met by a man he later identifies as Christian Wirth, who will become the head of the Operation Reinhard. He is then lead along a path into a forest where there are two peasant huts that Wirth explains are being sealed up to be tested as gas chambers using carbon monoxide from captured motors of Russian tanks. And so in September three different kinds of poisoned gas are being tested in three different places.

And then on October 1st Globocnik sends a message to Himmler, and says it’s urgent that we meet as I have information relating to the removal of undesired populations in Poland. We know from the Himmler log that Gobocnik comes and meets with him on October 13th and from the testimony we have from elsewhere, the construction of the Belzec camp in the Lublin district begins on November 1st. The people involved in the testing that went on in Belarus then go to Berlin and meet with Heydrich.

Heydrich then summons people from his motor pool and instructs them to create a type of a gas van; a sealed truck in which the exhaust gas can be diverted into the back. He tests it at Sachsenhausen and then orders thirty of these. We know that in October, following the Zyklon B tests in Auschwitz, that Kammler begins designing a new advanced morgue with a combined crematorium and gas chamber. They converted the old crematorium to a mixture of gas chambers, and they design a modern, up to date gas complex in October in which the underground chamber, unlike any other building in Auschwitz, has fans for taking out the air from inside and has recessed ducts so there’s no hanging down ducts that people in their death agonies would smash to pieces. These were much more expensive to build; they weren’t going to do this by accident.

So a capacity for gassing is developing in a number of different places, and so the question then arises: what is the connection between the deportations from Germany that begin in October 15th and experimentation in killing large numbers of people by poison gas, vastly beyond the scale of what had happened with euthanasia in a programme in Germany?

Here I think the threads all come together on October 23rd, 1941. And let me just give you some idea of the coincidence, or what some people might think was coincidence. But when you pile all of them together it becomes harder and harder to see this as coincidence.

We do know that Eichmann calls back to Berlin his various agents engaged in ethnic cleansing - shipping out Poles from incorporated territories to Berlin - and that they meet on October 23rd. We have no record of what happens at the meeting but we know that they met there. We do, however, also have a letter that ended up in another file in which somebody traveling from Berlin back to Munich says on October 23rd , ‘I met an old comrade who works on the Jewish question in the East and they’re now devising special measures to kill many of the Jewish vermin’. I think one can conclude that that’s what they talked about on October 23rd. On October 23rd a man named Wetzel in the Reich ministry for the Eastern occupied territories wrote to his boss, Rosenberg, drafting a letter, because there are disputes over whether Riga in that territory was going to receive some of the deportees from Germany.

Wetzel is explaining that he’s had a meeting with Eichmann on this same day, a busy day for Eichmann, and that he’s also met with Viktor Brack who was the head of the euthanasia programme. Brack has offered to help construct in Riga gassing apparatuses because they would be in short supply in Berlin. They’re still building the gas vans, and Eichmann has assured him that those Jews who are not capable of work can be removed with ‘Brack’s little helper’ (which is how they put it in the documents) immediately, so that German Jews deported to Riga can be gassed as soon it is put into place.

We know the dates on the new model plans in Auschwitz, which date from October 23rd; the same day, that Himmler is not in Minsk but Mogilev (Minsk is also to receive deportees from the Third Reich) the people in Mogilev complain about the problem of the strain on the men of shooting women and children and Himmler says don’t worry, we are going to create gas chambers. And, in fact, the top company that builds crematoria for the concentration camps had an order to build crematoria for Mogilev (those later are in fact diverted to Auschwitz when it is expanded significantly). All this on the same day, October 23rd.

At that same time two other things happen. One is that six days earlier on October 17th, the Spanish Embassy in Berlin contacts the German Foreign Office saying; 'you’ve arrested Spanish Jews in France as part of the reprisal for the killing of a German officer in the Metro, and we would really like to get our Spanish Jews out'. They asked if the Germans would release the arrested Spanish Jews if they promise to take all the Spanish Jews in France and send them to Spanish Morocco.

This was like the Madagascar Plan and the Foreign Office thinks this is wonderful. They go to Heydrich and the answer comes back, no, this is not acceptable, first of all he says the Spanish wouldn’t guard them properly, and secondly he says these people would be all too far out of the reach of basic measures in the Jewish question to be taken after the war. Heydrich then calls Himmler, we have the phone messages, on October 18th in which he says that there should be no Jewish emigration, and on October 23rd, the same day, the order goes out to every police station in Europe that no Jews are to be allowed to emigrate from Europe any more. Expulsion is out and locking them in is now the new policy. At the same time a German Foreign Office official and Eichmann’s closest assistant go to Belgrade because there Jewish men have been killed by the army in reprisal. But the women and children have not been killed, and the local officials are complaining and Rademacher, who’s travelling with somebody now very close to Eichmann, writes back his report to the Foreign Office and says that they shouldn’t worry about the Jewish men in Belgrade any more as they’re all being shot by the army. As for the women and children, he says that we’ll incarcerate them and use the transportation possibilities that exist to send them to camps in the East.

So all of these things coming together, it’s not just camps to deal with people locally, not just to deal with German Jews sent to Riga, this is dealing with Spanish Jews in France and Jewish women and children in Belgrade. The gates have closed everywhere. To me this is the key point, this is the point at which the old vision of the destruction of the Jewish race in Europe, meaning expulsion with whatever decimation occurs as a side effect, is now a vision of killing every last Jew that they can get their hands on, and they’re going to maximise that - no one is allowed to escape. And this is a change in vision.

Now, it’s not yet a plan. They don’t know for sure how they’re going to do this, but in terms of what they see as the end result it is a significant turning point. You have tipped from a goal that ultimately is to get the Jews out of Europe, and how many die in the process is undecided, to a goal in which you’re keeping your Jews under lock and key and the goal is to kill every single last one of them. And that is the mentality of the 'Final Solution'. So for me that really is the key point.