The Nazi extermination camps need to be clearly distinguished from the concentration camps opened a few months after the Nazi accession to power with the establishment of Dachau (near Munich). The extermination camps had not followed in the line of progression of the concentration camps, but had a quite separate evolution of their own, which up to now has puzzled many students of the subject. However, with what we know about psychiatric plans we can fit the apparently unprecedented in its place in the logical sequence of the psychiatric-eugenic program. The extermination camps, the apex of development on the sterilization, castration, and euthanasia chain of evolution could be considered to be the full flowering of the plans laid by the psychiatrists and on the basis of experience gained in the euthanasia program were the perfection of murder on assembly line basis.
The names of the camps were Belsec, Treblinka, Sobibor and Chelmno and they were established between 1941 and 1943. A number of features distinguish these extermination camps from the better known concentration camps including the following:
Without going into too many horrifying details, it would be as well to give a brief picture of how the extermination camps operated.
The camps resembled very closely a mass-production line in a modern industrial plant. Nothing was wasted. When a transport full of Jewish victims rolled into the nearby station the "passengers" were herded into the camp and had to surrender their valuables and currency supposedly for safe-keeping. They were then taken to changing rooms where they stripped, their clothes being later sent to a charity relief in Germany, and were horse-whipped into the death chambers and gassed. When they were all dead the doors were opened and bodies pulled out and hosed down by the Jewish commandos, mouths were inspected, gold teeth removed and later remitted to the Reichsbank and the various cavities of the body were explored for other hidden valuables.
Prior to the gassing, of course, the hair had been shaved from the heads of the women. This had been found to be very useful for knitting felt slippers for U-boat crews. Having searched the corpses for valuables they were then loaded into railway wagons and taken to the crematorium. After burning, the bones were ground in a bone-crushing mill and sacked up, ashes also being put in sacks and both of these sent back to Germany to be used as fertilizer. There was even a formula for their use 1 layer of ashes 1 layer of bone and 1 layer of earth.
Although there are a number of other cases on record, I shall give just two examples which show where the orders for the camps came from. On August 7-8, 1946, at Nuremberg, Sturmbannführer Georg Konrad Morgen, an SS judge gave evidence on behalf of the SS as an indicted organization. Morgen had been transferred in July 1943 from the SS Military Courts to the Criminal Police at Himmler's request. His job was the investigation of embezzlement in concentration camps. In following up cases of corruption in the camps, he stumbled upon some top secret evidence. Morgen's argument at the Nuremberg trials was that the extermination camps were not run by the SS at all. Apparently in the summer of 1943 he heard from the commander of the Security Police and SD in the Lublin region of Poland that there had been a wedding in a Jewish labor camp which had been attended by 1100 guests including many German SS men. Morgen amazed at this weird tale looked further and in doing so came across another camp, "rather peculiar and impenetrable" which was run by Christian Wirth, who confirmed the story of the Jewish wedding and explained that it was part of a plan by which Wirth hoped to persuade Jews to serve in the camps where they would assist in the exterminations.
Although the four camps had been mentioned earlier in the Nuremberg trials, this was the first clue concerning their ultimate headquarters. Morgen insisted that the administration of the camps was actually not in SS hands having seen Wirth's daily orders. These did not come from Himmler's Office but from the Führer's Chancellery (T4) and had been signed "Blankenberg". Morgen's evidence was the only clue to the true command lines of the Jewish extermination program.
This was confirmed years later in the recent trial of the notorious Franz Stangl. He was an Austrian policeman who automatically became a member of the Austrian Gestapo following the Anschluss. In November 1940 he was transferred to the General Foundation for institutional Care, one of the T4 front groups. He was told to report to a Dr. Werner at the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt in Berlin.
Werner told him that he'd been selected for a very difficult and demanding job of police superintendent at a special institute administered by the Foundation. Werner explained to him that both Russia and America had for some time had a law which allowed them to carry out mercy killings (this of course was not true) on people who were insane or badly deformed. He explained that a law was going to be passed in Germany in the near future but it was going to be done only after a great deal of psychological preparation. However, in the meantime the task had begun under absolute secrecy.
He then went on to explain that the patients selected for the action were carefully examined and a series of tests were carried out by at least two physicians and only those absolutely incurable were put to a totally painless death. Stangl was told that all he had to do was to be responsible for law and order in the institute and not actually involved in the operation himself, this being carried out entirely by doctors. He was to be responsible for maintaining maximum security.
After his talk with Werner, Stangl reported to the KdF. He recalled that he thought it was Brack who greeted him at T4, explained to him his specific police duties and left him the choice of where he should be posted. He decided to be posted to Austria where he would be near his family. He was given a telephone number and the name of a village where he was to go and make a `phone call and would be given instructions.' He carried out the instructions for making contact and was driven to Hartheim.
After arrival he met the doctors and Captain Christian Wirth, who was his superior in his duties. Wirth apparently didn't bother too much with the scientific justifications that the psychiatrists employed, because as he said, sentimental slobber about such people made him puke. The two chief medical officers were Dr. Lohnauer and Dr. Renno and in addition to these there were 14 nurses; 7 men and 7 women. Hartheim was set up and run as a hospital where examinations were given and Stangl's job was to see that such things as identity papers and certificates for the mental patients were dealt with and done correctly.
After Hartheim, Stangl took a brief tour of duty at another euthanasia institute, Bernberg and after that was told to report back to T4 to get new orders. in the interview he was informed that he had a choice either to return to his former police post (where he hadn't in fact got on very welt with his superiors) or go to Lublin, in Poland. He decided on the latter and was told to report to Higher SS and Police Chief Odilo Globocnik at SS Headquarters, Lublin. Globocnik gave him the task of building a new extermination camp - Sobibor.
Shortly after his arrival at the site that was to be Sobibor, personnel from the "euthanasia action" started to arrive. Amongst them were many old friends from Hartheim and work started on the camp which Stangl was to command from May until August 1942, when he took over Treblinka until August 1943.
Although he was able to evade justice after the war he was finally caught and sentenced in 1970 to life imprisonment for co-responsibility in the murder of 400,000 men, women and children in Treblinka during the year of his command. It is difficult to arrive at even approximate totals of the number of men, women and children who died in these camps but the following figures from the Polish Commission for War Crimes will give some idea of the enormity of the crime:
Interestingly some of the "students" trained in the murder schools were later traced to the extermination camps, 130 to Belzec, 106 to Sobibor and 90 to Treblinka. Many of these had learned their skills in Hartheim.
As the tide of war turned in the East there was much activity to prevent the camps falling into Russian hands and being exploited by them for propaganda purposes. Elaborate precautions were taken to avoid this by razing the sites level and generally altering the landscape by planting trees and shrubs etc. Personnel of the camps were dispersed to high risk war areas. Wirth himself is believed to have been killed by partisans in Yugoslavia in 1944.
Amongst the "bureaucrats of death" there was the inevitable scramble to evade the Allied armies as they closed in on the Reich. Some were successful, others not. Philip Bouhler committed suicide as the Russians approached Berlin and Leonardo Conti also in his cell at Nuremberg. Karl Brandt was caught, sentenced and executed.
The Limburg trial planned in 1961 was concerned with some of the top psychiatrists and bureaucrats, one of whom was the eminent psychiatrist Professor Dr. Werner Heyde super expert in T4. In the preceding years he had adopted an alias, being known as Dr. Sawade and had practiced openly in Germany. He had done a variety of work for a state insurance agency, and law courts. Many people including Judges, Prosecutors, physicians, university professors and high state officials knew his identity. And they preserved the conspiracy of silence. Whilst awaiting trial he attempted to escape. Five days before the trial at a time when he was left unguarded, he committed suicide.
His co-defendants in the trial also managed to escape justice. Dr. Friedrich Tillman for 10 years prior to 1945 Director of Cologne orphanages jumped (or was pushed) from a tenth-story window; another Dr. Bohne escaped on the Nazi escape-route to South America. The fourth Defendant, Dr. Hans Hefelmann, chief of section IIb ("mercy killing") in the Chancellery of the Führer was declared medically unable to stand trial due to illness. it seems that people in high places didn't want these trials to take place.
Another personality who was questioned during the preparation of the same trial was Dr. Werner Villinger, who has been credited with being instrumental in starting the mental hygiene movement in pre-war Germany, and re-starting the same movement as a mental health movement after the war. An eminent psychiatrist who, two years before Hitler came to power, had advocated the sterilization of patients with hereditary diseases, he was convinced that the roots of what we call temperament and character lay deep in the inherited constitution. At the time of his questioning for the Limburg trial it became known publicly that he was implicated in the euthanasia murders in a prominent and very active role. He went into the mountains and committed suicide. A former colleague and assistant of his Dr. Helmut Ehrhardt, in an obituary published in the journal "Der Nervenarzt" [The Nerve Doctor] explained Dr. Villager's sad demise as an accident and with much sorrow, regretted his passing, and mourned the loss for humanity of such a wonderful and humane man.
However, for those who survived the war, did not commit suicide, and were still at large, there was at least one place where they could appear with impunity in an understanding community who welcomed their talents and shared their viewpoint.