The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Operation Reinhard
The Extermination Camps
Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka

The Personnel

Preparations for Operation Reinhard were initiated more than six months before Himmler's order to commence the Aktion and at the latest two months prior to the Wannsee Conference. The first tasks were to organize the labor force and to construct the extermination centers. Upon completion of his task, Globocnik, in a letter dated October 27, 1943 to the Personnel Headquarters in Berlin, provided a detailed report, which sets out the total number of personnel involved in this operation -- 434 men. (Original in the US Documentation Center, Berlin.)

In the construction and handling of the gassing installations, experienced former workers from the "Euthanasia" programs occupied leading positions in the planning, building, and administration of the Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka extermination camps. In the late autumn of 1941 the Belzec and later the Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps were set up, as was a training ca np for "foreign" personnel -- Ukrainian volunteers -- in Trawniki, as well as the camp in the "old airport" of Lublin where the clothes and movable belongings of the victims were stored.

As head of the main department on Globocnik's staff, SS-Sturmbannführer Ho"fle was responsible for organizing and deploying the work force. He also coordinated the timing of the arrival of the extermination transports at the different camps. During the first months of Operation Reinhard, all extermination camps were under Globocnik's direct control; at the beginning of August 1942 Christian Wirth was appointed Inspector of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. (The documents do not specify that Wirth's area of command extended also to Kulmhof.)

About twenty to thirty SS-men served in each camp. Most of them had formerly been engaged in the "Euthanasia" Operation. The camp commandants held the rank of SS-Ober- or Hauptsturmführer. The others also held noncommissioned officer ranks. No rank-and-file SS-men were employed in any of the camps.

Units composed of Ukrainians with some volksleutsche (ethnic Germans) were assigned to assist the German camp personnel. The formation and training of such units took place in the "Trawniki SS-Training-Camp" which had been set up in the autumn of 1941. Afterwards, they were distributed among the camps in groups of 60 to 120 men with their own leaders, usually ethnic Germans. Some of the units assembled in Trawniki were also brought into action in the ghettoes during the deportation of Jews, for example, at the time of the transportation of the Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp. (StA Wiesbaden AZ: 8Js 1145-60 with plentiful evidence <see indictment, p. 329>; verdict in the criminal proceedings StA Hamburg AZ: 147 Ks 2/75 of 17.5.1976 <ZSL Misc. vol. 519>.) The first Jews brought to the camps were those from the vicinity. They were used for construction work and also performed various services for the German camp personnel. They were generally skilled workers or craftsmen such as carpenters, blacksmiths, tailors, and shoemakers. As soon as the construction phase was completed, most of them were killed in trial gassings.

When the organized mass gassings began, the camp administration needed more and more workers from amongst the death transports. A few, especially skilled workers, were employed in the extermination camps according to the specific directives of the German and Ukrainian camp leaders. Others had to work in the gas chambers, removing and incinerating the corpses, and also sorting the clothes and baggage of the victims. In the initial period, in particular, they were kept alive for only a few days or weeks before being killed and replaced by Jews from newly arrived transports. In each of the camps the Jewish labor force consisted of 600 to 1,000 prisoners. At a later stage Jewish prisoners became part of the permanent staff of the camp. While members of the German or Ukrainian camp personnel were occasionally transferred to other camps, once Jewish prisoners had entered a camp they never left it again.

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