The Development of the Gas Van in the Murdering of the Jews

The gas van is a special product of the Third Reich, it is a van with a gas-tight cabin/container-box/superstructure mounted on its chassis/understructure used to kill people by the motor-exhausts led into that cabin. The designation was coined only later: “Gaswagen [gas van] – that was the common word only afterwards/later”.1

In the contemporaneous documents the designation doesn’t arise. There the words Sonder-Wagen,2 Sonderfahrzeug,3 Spezialwagen4 and S-Wagen5 are used. In a letter dating from April 11th 1942 with hindsight to camouflage the word Entlausungswagen [delousing-van] is used.6

There are in all fourteen documents related to that complex, allowing to assess which types of vans were transformed/rebuilt into gas vans and providing technical data on the container/cabin/superstructure. The documents give informations about the producers/vendors of the vans, about technical improvements due to practical experience, about the operation and the operating locations of different vans, moreover the responsible official services and individuals in charge of the employment of gas vans are named. Hence a rather detailed picture emerges which is, however, not exhaustive/complete as documents are available only for the timespan/period starting in 1942 when gas vans were already in use for the killings of human beings.7

Based only on the written records not much can be said about the period when the gas vans were under development. So the route of decisions leading to the construction and the operation/usage of these vans remains unclear/obscure. This state of things may be amended by the results of the multitude of trials held since 1945.

In the Federal Republic mainly since 1958 the installation of the Central Agency [Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen =ZSL] for the prosecution of national-socialist crimes in Ludwigsburg and the investigations started by that agency have enlarged our knowledge about the crimes of the NS-regime.8 However, the historian cannot adopt results of trials without probing them, as jurisdiction and historiographic science are directed by different purposes.9

With the historian, witness-testimonies are of formost importance as they assist in closing gaps left by documents. But due to their pecularities witness-testimonies may be used as equals to documents and appraised by the historic research with valid results only if certain principles are obeyed.10

The basic principle requires that the link between testimony and critically validated documents shouldn’t be abandoned whenever possible, that is, the most probable fact must be linked to the certified fact.11

There will remain questions which can’t be answered satisfactorily by this method. There are witness testimonies reporting that during the cleansing/purging of mentally insane in the hospitals in Poland 1939/40 a hermetic sealed trailer with the label “Kaisers-Kaffee-Geschaeft” [about: Kaiser’s coffee shop], with a tractive unit/tractor/towing vehicle in front was used.

In the trailer, insane persons were killed allegedly by the introduction of pure carbon-monoxide (CO) from (steel) cylinders.12 The origin/source of these vehicles cannot be traced back as documents are lacking. However, there are hints that there is a link between “Kaisers-Kaffee”-vans and the gas vans. Therefore we first investigate the few testimonies related to “Kaisers-Kaffee”-vans and then the development of the gas vans.

In a letter dated 1st september 1939, Hitler entitles/orders his personal/assisting medecin Dr.Karl Brandt and the Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler of the Fuehrer’s chancellery to carry out the Euthanasie -program.13 The Kriminaltechnisches Institut [KTI] in the Reichssicherheitshauptamt [RSHA] was ordered to test/explore appropriate killing procedures/agencies, and reported that the best method to kill would be the use of CO.14

Following first experimental gassings in the prison of Brandenburg/havel in January 1940 – in a hermetic sealed room mentally insane had been killed with pure CO -, the method was used in all other “Euthanasie” set-ups/centers. The necessary CO was acquired by the Fuehrer’s chancellery under cover-up/camouflage indirectly via the KTI, this being based on an agreement between the head of the Euthanasie -agency, Brack, and Widmann, head of the Referat V D2 (Chemistry and Biology).16

On order by Nebe, head of Amt V [department] (counter- criminality) in the RSHA, SS-Sturmfuehrer Becker got the (steel) cylinders at the IG Farben [factory] in Ludwigshafen and delivered them to the different installations.17 SS-Sturmbannfuehrer Heess, head of the KTI, was knowledgeable/knew about the close relation/collaboration beteen the Fuehrer’s chancellery and the KTI.18

The “Kaisers-Kaffe”-van operated through the same principle as the gas-chambers of the “Euthanasie”- installations. CO was guided into a trailer through hoses from a cylinder which was fixed to the tractor. This was, hence, a gas-chamber on wheels.19 Witnesses report that since september 1939 the Sonderkommando Lange [Special commnad/task force] killed mentally insane people in such vans in pommeranian, eastern-prussian and polish hospitals.20

The name of that command is derived from the name of its head, SS-Sturmfuehrer and Kriminalrat Herbert Lange. The letter from the Higher SS- and Police leader Koppen to the SS-Gruppenfuehrer Sporrenberg elucidates the operationing/work of that command in Soldau:

“The special command being under my command for particular tasks was sent to Soldau during the time from 21.5 to 8.6.1940 in accord with the RSHA and has evacuated 1588 insane persons from the transition-camp during that time.”21

A vehicle of that kind was brought with Lange either from the RSHA [the testimonies by Gustav Sorge22 and evidence on the important role of the Gruppe II D technical matters in the RSHA in the later development of the gas van23 back this assumption], or he organized its production in collaboration with the RSHA.24

Alfred Trenker, deputy head of the Stapo bureau (state police) in Posen testified that Lange had told him in summer 1940, he, Lange, had to travel to Berlin and the RSHA several times because of “conferences/meetings about the suitable type of gassing-vans.”25

These testimonies let suppose that the operationing of the “Kaisers-Kaffee”-vans was optimized for the purpose of the Sonderkommando Lange, which had probably the taks to practically test these vehicles. Apparently, they didn’t operate adequately (Lange mentioned something to that extent against Trenker26) and the Sonderkommando Lange was disbanded/ got leave soon after their task in Soldau. Starting from that time, there aren’t found any reports about the operations/usage of that kind of vehicles.

The exchange of letters/correspondence about the still due payments in connection with the Sonderkommando Lange, which lasted till february 1941, shows that as well Himmler knew about the whole affair. In a letter by Koppe to Karl Wolff, head of the personal staff of the Reichsfuehrer SS, dated 22. February 1941, it is mentioned, “that you by order of the Reichsfuehrer SS would decide about the payments of the transportation costs.”27

From the date of the first usage, we may infer that “Kaisers-Kaffee”-vans were prepared beginning in the end of 1939 till midyear 1940 with assistance of the Fuehrer’s chancellery and the RSHA.

On 15 and 16th August 1941 Himmler was in Baranovici and Minsk28 And inspected an action of [liquidation/execution] by shooting in the area of Einsatzgruppe B.29

The attending Higher SS and Police-Leader in Central Russia, von dem Bach-Zelewski reported later, Himmler was moved/shaken apparently by this action.30

After that, Himmler visited a sanatorium for the mentally insane and afterwards ordered the Leader of Einsatzgruppe B, Nebe, to investigate means fit to shorten the suffering of these people as far as possible,31 as he had concluded from the experience with execution by shooting “that shooting wasn’t yet the most humane way.”32

He [i.e. Nebe] should send “a report” about those investigations. Himmler addressed Nebe, as the KTI, subordinated to the ‘Amt V’, had excelled in the investigation/development of killing procedures during the “Euthanasia” program, so that their experiences could be employed now. Nebe was simultaneously head of that ‘Amt V’ [department] in the RSHA. Relying on this position, in beginning September he ordered Widmann to come to Minsk with explosives and two metal-hoses/tubes.33

Widmann had had discussed this order with his immediate boss/superior Heess. This elucidates that apart of the stress for the execution squads/commands, a further reason was given for the following experiments:

“It was discussed with Heess also about the usage of [poisonous] gas in the killing of mentally insane persons, especially about the impossibility to transport the CO-cylinders in Russia.”34

The CO-cylinders would have been necessary, if one was intending to use “Kaisers-Kaffe”-vans or gas-chambers as they were used in the “Euthanasia” program.

When the blasting/explosion of a bunker in Minsk, into which mentally insane persons had been brought, didn’t show the intended result/success, an experiment with the metal hoses, which Widmann had carried with him, was undertaken in the sanatorium for mentally insanes/asylum of Mogilew, which Himmler had visited also35. About this, Widmann testified on 11th January 1960:

“Nebe has ordered to close the windows with brick-work and to leave two openings for the gas-pipes on that afternoon … When we arrived, first one of the hoses, which had been with me in the car, was fixed/connected. The connection was made to a passenger vehicle. In the openings of the wall, there were pieces of pipes/tubes were situated, where/onto which one could easily affix the hoses … After five minutes, Nebe came out and said, there wasn’t any effect yet.

Also after eight minutes, he couldn’t observe any effect and asked, what had to be done now. Nebe and I convinced ourselves, that the car was too weak. Hence, Nebe ordered/caused/made the second hose to be fixed to the van [to transport troops] of the Ordnungspolizei . Then it took only a few minutes, Till the people lost consciousness. One left [the motors of] both cars running for about another ten minutes36.

The incident just described is also reported in the deposition by the Russian doctor N.N.Akimova of 18th November 1946, who gives as date of the experiment the 186h September37. Hence/therefor, Widmann and his aides must have been in Minsk and Mogilev from 13th to 21st September38. The relation between these experiments and Himmler’s visit and order is revealed/given/elucidated in another deposition by Widmann: “Nebe wanted to discuss the matter with me, as he said, that he had to report it to Himmler”39.

Nebe must have learned by these two experiments, that only the idea to kill with exhaust gases, which most probably was his own, was feasible40.

But the Einsatzgruppen, for the usage of which the new more “humane” killing method was searched/investigated, couldn’t use/handle a gas-chamber with fixed location, in which people were killed by exhaust-gases. They had to be mobile, to fulfill their task41. Based on these considerations and the past experience, a plan/project emerged the KTI to build gas vans. Nebe and Heess proposed this to their commander Heydrich, head of the security police and the SD42.

Widmann testified about this:

“I was informed by Heess shortly about the result of his report in the Prinz-Albrecht -street [Heydrich’s head-quarter]. He told me, that vans would be built/constructed, into which exhaust- gases would be led/introduced, instead of the recent application of CO-cylinders”43.

It becomes apparent, that “Kaisers Kaffe”-vans, which were known in the KTI, had been the model for the gas vans – mobile, gas-tightly sealed, close boxes. However, because of the technical difficulties, the pure CO couldn’t simply be replaced by exhaust-gases. A new construction was necessary which unified traction unit, trailer and the source of the poisonous gas.

Heydrich’s immediate superior/boss was Himmler since the decree of 27th September 1939. Therewith the circle is closed.

Heydrich had supposedly heard about the experiments in advance, and was therefore in the “secret”, otherwise it couldn’t be understood, why Nebe and Heess contacted/approached him. Heydrich was also in a position to lend the necessary technical support to the KTI. He approached SS-Obersturmfuehrer Rauff, head of group/department II D3 (technical matters), with its subgroup/sub-department being led by SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Pradel. He [Pradel] testified in his trial that Rauff had told him: “This is an order by Heydrich which has to be carried out”44.

In this sense, we may also understand Rauff’s deposition on 28th June 1972 in Santiago de Chile:”I think, it is impossible that Pradel undertook the development of the gas- vans on his own. He must have had an order either by me or someone with a higher position”45.

Wentritt, head of the repairing-shop/park in Referat II D3a testified concerning this:

“Still in 1941, I was summoned to the head of the group/department, Major Pradel. He declared/told me, that the execution squads in action suffered often from nervous break-down (respectively were close to it), so that a more humane killing method should be used. We needed therefore – as Pradel stated closed/sealed vans/motor vehicles”46.

Pradel ordered Wentritt to test/investigate whether it was possible to lead motor-exhausts in the closed/sealed superstructure of a van. When Wentritt answered this in the affirmative, Pradel communicated the positive/affirmative answer to Rauff and got back with the order to contact Heess. Heess detailed, how such a van had to be constructed and how it should operate.

On Rauff’s order, Pradel and Wentritt visited the Gaubschat -factory/company in Berlin-Neukoelln, which was specialized in the production of sealed/closed box- superstructures47 where they pretended, that they needed the vans to transport the dead victims/corpses of a spotted fever epidemic.

They made an agreement that the RSHA should deliver the chassis to the factory “which had to put a box- superstructure on top of them”48.

The order was given directly by Rauff, probably in a letter/in-written form49. But Pradel’s attempt to purchase chassis was a failure, so that an intervention by Rauff was necessary. He testified on 19th October 1945: “In so far as I can recall I only supplied 5 or 6 chassis”50.

When the chassis had been delivered to the Gaubschatt company, Wentritt informed himself several times about the on-going construction work and fetched the first van himself. He provided this van with the following alterations in the workshop of Referat II D 3a, as the matter was classified as “geheime Reichssache” [highest level of secrecy]:

“At the exhaust-pipe an exhaust-hose was fixed which was led from the exterior to the bottom of the van. In this van we drilled a hole with diameter of about 58-60 mm, the diameter of the exhaust-pipe. Into the interior of the van, above the hole, we welded a metal pipe (exhaust pipe), which was connected or could be connected to the exhaust-hose. Upon starting the motor, the exhaust went into the exhaust-pipe and from there into the exhaust-pipe in the interior of the van, where the [exhaust-]gas was spread”51.

On Pradel’s order, Wentritt brought this van, so prepared, to the KTI, where gaseous samples were taken in the box- superstructure. The chemist Leiding, collaborator in the KTI, testified:

“I once entered that van with a gas-mask. I had the order/task to take air-samples. Those air- samples were hence analyzed in the laboratory.”

Why these analyses were necessary may be understood from Widmann’s deposition on 12th January 1960:

“The objective of that analysis was, by the way, to find out how long it took to reach a CO- concentration of 1% in the van. At this CO- contents, deep unconsciousness and then death occur in a short time (3rd stage of CO poisoning). One intended to prevent the first and second stage of CO-poisoning. The first stage is numbness and nausea, the second stage is marked by states of agitation/irritation”53.

Short time late, an experimental gassing took place in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen ( the KTI had there a workshop/atelier). At the gassing, Heess, the two chemists Leiding and Hoffmann, and beyond some SS-officers attended. Widmann wasn’t present54.

Following Krausnick/Wilhelm, he was in Kiew on about X[?]th November55. The experimental gassing in Sachsenhausen must have taken place on that date. Regarding the events in Sachsenhausen, Leiding testified:

“I understood only later the intended purpose of the van, in which I had taken an air sample. One day, I was summoned to travel to Sachsenhausen … and there was a van, which was equal or like that, which I had seen in the yard of the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt. The number of men, which entered into the van, may have been around/about 30… The corpses had, as we chemists found out/observed the typical pink outlook of men, who had died of a CO-poisoning”56.

Heess reported the success of the experimental gassing not only to Pradel57, but he wrote a report together with Widmann, which was supposedly delivered to Heydrich58. Hence the prototype of the gas vans was developed/ready and tested. The remaining vans, ordered at the Gaubschat factory, were as well altered into gas vans now 59.

The course of events described here is corroborated by the analogous proceedings/activities in 1942. Since April there were plans/schemes in Reerat II D 3a, how to improve the gas vans, how to expand/augment the killing capacity and how to facilitate their operationing/handling60. The proceeding was analogous to the development of the prototype. The matter was debated first internally, then Rauff gave an order for a van with the planned alterations to the Gaubschat factory. This one should be tested practically and only after that a decision should be taken on the vans to be altered further61.

When starting with the date of the experimental gassing at Sachsenhausen and considering the time necessary to rebuild the vans to be about 8-14 days62 and the time to bring the vans to the locations of operations63, we may conclude, that the first gas vans could be used only in the end of November of beginning December 1941.

The first usage of a gas van may be traced down in the operation area of Einsatzgruppe C64 with the Sonderkommando 4a in Poltawa. Eye-witnesses report that a gas van was used there in November 1941 in the killings of the Jews65. The van is described as follows:

“The gas van was used in the same place [i.e. there were also shootings]. Each time about 30 people were carried in them. As far I know, the passengers were killed by exhaust-gases led into it”66.

The usage of gas vans by the already known Sonderkommando Lange is testified for the 8th December in Chelmno67.

Hence, not only in the experimental phase, but as well in the operationing, experienced staff was employed. In Chelmno, two smaller vans were operationing first. Gustav Laabs, the driver of one of the vans, testified:

“Later I found out, that the vans were American 3- tons-trucks. … The interior of their box- container was, as I later saw 4m in length to 2m in width. … In the gas van, I drove, … about 50 people were gassed”68.

Still before Christmas 1941 two smaller gas vans were brought from Berlin to Riga69. These were the smaller “Daimond”-vans, which were named/mentioned in a letter by SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Truehe to Rauff on 15th July 194270.

In the operation area of Einsatzgruppe D71 the presence of a gas van, which could carry about 50 persons, is testified/assured by testimony for the end of 1941.

This date may be certified by the deposition of SS- Untersturmfuehrer Becker. He was transferred to the RSHA in December 1941 after a conference/consultation between Himmler and Brack73.

Hence, Himmler observed/had in mind/supervised the operations of the gas vans further. In the RSHA, Ruff ordered him (Becker) to travel to the East to investigate/observe the operationing of the gas vans. Becker testified about this:

“He (Rauff) said, that gas vans were already in place or sent to the different Einsatzgruppen”74.

This must have taken place shortly before 14th December, as Becker couldn’t begin his travel, intended for that day, because of an accident; so his travel was postponed until in beginning 194275. The projected date of Becker’s inspection travel may have been meaningful only if the gas- vans had been sent to the Einsatzgruppen shortly before it.

So it is assured/certain that gas vans were used beginning with the end of November or beginning December 194176.

The Higher SS- and Police-Leader Jeckeln testified in 1945:

“In December 1941, when I reported orally the completion of Himmler’s order to execute by shooting the Jews of the Ghetto in Riga to him, Himmler told me that shooting was too complicated an action. In the shootings, one needed troops who were able to shoot, and that it had a bad influence on the men. So, said Himmler further, it would be best to destroy/liquidate/kill the people with gas vans, which upon his order had been built in Germany”77.

The six gas vans, described so far, (one with Einsatzgruppe C, two in Chelmno, two in Riga, one with Einsatzgruppe D- ), which were operating until end of 1941, Had two features in common, the exterior appearance and the number of people they could carry78.

The vans were smaller, 3-tons-trucks, with a superstructure of about 4m in length, in which 30-50 persons could be carried79.

The same description fits on the vans, in which air-samples were taken in the yard of the KTI, and which were later tested in Sachsenhausen. Leiding and Hoffmann testify unanimously, that the vans were 3-tons transporters in which thirty men were killed80.

According to Rauff and Wentritt, firstly five or six chassis had been purchased and delivered to the Gaubschat factory 81. Hence, in 1941, first six vans with 3-tons weight have been prepared/built and were operating starting in November or December. These are the vans of the “first series”82 with at least two different types of chassis, “Daimond”83 and “Opel-Blitz”84.

That one used vans with different types is related to the difficulties with the purchase of the chassis in the beginning85. The sources and testimonies report as well that larger vans, type “Saurer” were rebuilt/altered into gas vans86. These were trucks with 8 tons with a box- superstructure with 5.8m length and 1.7m height, which could carry up to one hundred people87. In a note in the files of Referat II D3a on 23th June 1942 is remarked: “According to transaction/proceeding II D3a – 1737/41, an order on 30 special superstructures for chassis delivered was given to Gaubschat company. 20 vehicles are already finished and have been delivered”88.

Conforming with the high number of vans ordered, the order must have been given late in 194189. That the whole order was related only to Saurer-vans is certified by a note on 27th April 1942, which relates to the transaction-number 173790. The sketches/blueprints enjoined show that “proposals for a fast discharge equipment@ were only provided for the Saurer vans.

As construction plans for such an equipment were provided only for this type of van – they should be added/built into the vans already in operation subsequently – we may conclude, that the whole order for thirty chassis consisted of Saurer-vans. This consideration is corroborated by a letter from Becker to Rauff on 16th May 1942:

“While the vans of the first series can be used in not too bad weather, the vans of the second series (Saurer) are completely immobile in rainy weather”92.

It becomes apparent, that Becker distinguishes between two series of vans; moreover, the description “Saurer” for the vans of the second series is only meaningful, if all vans in this series were of them same type. Hence, the Referat II D 3a issued an order and delivered the Saurer-chassis to equip them with the superstructures/boxes/containers in the end 1941 and in April 1942 already 20 of them had been delivered93.

The sources and witnesses say that gas vans of the Saurer- type were operating only in January 194294, i.e. later than the smaller vans.

Considering the necessary time for the construction works95, the order 1737 cannot be issued before December 1941. Becker’s distinction relates therefore not only to the size of the vans, but as well to the date of their construction and of their operationing. This means that for starting six smaller vans had been built and were used, but already since December 1941, one only built larger vans of the Saurer- type, firstly, as one intended to provide each Sonderkommando of the different Einsatzgruppen with at least one van, and secondly to expand and extend the gassing- capacity.

That the latter aim was foremost is shown by the note of 27th April 1942, which discusses several possibilities (“tip- up equipment for the box-superstructure”, “facility to tip- up the bottom-grate”, “facility to move in and out the bottom-grate”) to achieve a quicker discharge of the ‘cargo’ (=gassed people)97. Even when it turned out that the large vans couldn’t be used in the open ground in all weather it wasn’t thought of using smaller vans as in the beginning, only the box-superstructure should be slightly shortened98.

Referat II D 3a was not only responsible for technical matters but as well for the operationing/handling of the vans/transportation park of the security police and consequently for the gas vans.

This is elucidated not only by the official tasks of the Referat, but as well by the work of SS-Untersturmfuehrer Becker99. On Rauff’s order he travelled to the Einsatzgruppen to supervise the operationing/handling of the gas vans and to mend occurring faults/difficulties100.

According to his own statements, he was thus travelling from mid January to September 1942101. During this time, he was in perpetual connection with Rauff, and reported continuously about his supervising/observations and his actions/work102. His reports provided basis of “technical alterations/improvements” which should be applied in the construction of vehicles which were still to be built103.

Becker’s intervening wouldn’t have been necessary if the group Rauff had been responsible only for the production/construction/preparation of the vans. Becker’s task shows that the group II D3 was as well responsible for the operationing/maintenance/handling of the vans. This is as well certified by the sources.

On 15th June 1942, the Commanding Leader of the Security Police and of the SD in Ostland [administrative district in occupied SU, comprising parts of Lithuania, Poland, Byelorussia – around Vilna, Baranowicze, Minks, Sluzk] addressed a request to Rauff for an additional van of Saurer-type104.

In the same place, he ordered “another 20 exhaust-hoses to be send along, as the existing were already untight”. From Becker’s report we may infer that the failure of a van had to be reported by wireless telegraph to the Amt II D and that the vans had to be sent to Berlin in the case of more involved repairs105. The note in the file on 5th June 1942 reports that a gas van was exploded in Chelmno. This incident caused Rauff to order new experiments on gas-samples by the KTI.

In the same place, the “services affected by this [got] special instructions” and smaller alterations to the vans were undertaken to prevent [the building-up] of high pressures in the box-superstructures106.

SS-Gruppenfuehrer Harald Turner, head of the administration staff with the military commander in Serbia, had requested and got a gas van in April 1942 for the killing of the Jews of Belgrad107.

On 9th June this Saurer-van was sent back to Belin after completed “special task”108. After due repair, it was sent to Riga conforming to the request on 15th June109.

Often the gas vans have been seen on intermediate stops on their way to the East, e.g. in Breslau or Krakau110.

The Leader of Einsatzgruppe D, Ohlendorf, testified that the gas vans didn’t belong to the transportation- park/rolling stock of the Einsatzgruppe, but were commissioned/leased to them from Berlin111.

With the gas vans, the drivers, who had got a training to the handling of the vans112 were sent along. gas vans drivers testified that on order of the operative leader of group II D 3a they had fetched/got the vans in Berlin and brought them to their operation location/area113.

This means, that Amt II D 3a was not only responsible for the construction of the gas vans, but it directed/orchestrated centrally from/in the RSHA the operations of the gas vans114, providing the vans, drivers, and exchange parts/equipment; it controlled/supervised and coordinated the operationing of the vehicles.

For finishing, a conclusion of the results:

In the period of four months, on order by Himmler, a new killing method, the gas van, was developed in the following sequence of actions/events:

  • 15./16.8.1941 Himmler’s order
  • 16./18.9. Experiments in Minsk and Mogilev
  • Early October, order given to Amt II D 3a
  • 3.11. experimental gassing in Sachsenhausen
  • Late November and in December first usage of the vans

In this the RSHA cooperated closely with the following services:

  • the KTI; here emerged the idea to build gas vans; and it was responsible for the “chemistry part” of the experiments
  • Referat II D 3a ; it prepared two series of vans, six smaller ones (Daimond and Opel-Blitz) and the thirty Saurer- vans; it directed and supervised the operationing of the vans, centrally from Berlin

In the development of the gas vans, the experience gathered during the “Euthanasia”, which was stopped officially in 1941 was purposively applied/used in technical matters (“Kaisers Kaffee”-vans) as well as with the staff employed (KTI, Becker, Lange). Unlike the case of “Kaisers Kaffee”- vans, a participation of Fuehrer’s chancellery cannot be stated/found here. This staff worked during that time on the development of another method which was used in the destruction centers since 1942.

“Technical developments” were a precondition for the perpetration of the premeditated/intended crimes. The step- wise perfectioning of the killing-methods were the development of the gas van was only one step in the sequel of national-socialist killing methods, result in the killing of ever more people, mainly Jews.


Mathias Beer, “Die Entwicklung der Gaswagen beim Mord an den Juden,” Vierteljahreshefte fuer Zeitgeschichte, 37 (3), pp. 403-417. Translated by Leon Zamosc.

1. Deposition by Gustav Laabs driver of a gas van in Chelmno, dated 29.11.1960, Staatsanwaltschaft (StA) [Attorney bureau] Bonn, Aktenzeichen (Az) [Filen-number] 8 Js 52/60. [ZSL, Az.203 AR-Z 69/59, Bl.912]. The designation/word is used as well in the literature and by witnesses. Raul Hilberg, in the book The destruction of the European Jews (Chicago 1961), p.219, uses “gas van”, apparently a translation of the German word. SS-Obersturmfuehrer Walter Rauff, Gruppenleiter [department-leader] of Dienststelle [department of services] II D (Technical matters) in the RSHA [ Reichssicherheitshauptamt: Main security bureau in the Reich] speaks in his affidavit dated 19.10.1945 about “death vans”, International Military Tribunal, Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg (IMT) Vol.30, Doc.2384-PS. In the description given in document IMT 501-PS the word Vergasungswagen [gassing-van] is used.

2. Letter by Rauff to the KTI [Kriminaltechnisches Institut] dated 26.3.1942. Copy in ZSL, Folder: Verschiedenes Nr.227.

3. Entry/note in file dated 27.4.1942, Copy in ZSL, USA Dok. Film I, Bl.19-25; Letter by Firma Gaubschat [Company/manufacturer] to the Referat [sub-department] IID 3a of the RSHA dated 14.5.1942, ZSL, USA Dok. Film I, Bl.28.

4. Entry/note in file dated 5.6.1942, Copy ZSL, USA Dok. Film I, Bl.9-14; facsimile in: Nationalsozialistische Massentoetung durch Giftgas. Eine Dokumentation, hrsg. von A.Rueckerl/E.Kogon/H.Langbein u.a., Frankfurt a. M.1983, pp.333-337. [This should be also available in the English Translation now] Letter by SS- Obersturmfuehrer Schaefer to Rauff dated 9.6.1942, IMT-Doc. 501-PS.

5. Letter by SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Truehe to Rauff dated 15.6.1942, IMT-Doc. 501-PS. The “S” is probably an abbreviation to spezial or sonder [special]. These adverbs were originally used with respect to the container-superstructure, which was specially manufactured. Cf. entry/note in file dated 23.6.1942, Copy ZSL, USA Dok. Film II, B1.14-16, where the word Spezialaufbauten [special superstructure] is used. The relation to the camouflage word Sonderbehandlung [special treatment], i.e. killing is apparent, IMT-Doc. 501-PS.

6. Letter by SS-Gruppenfuehrer Harald Turner to SS- Obergruppenfuehrer Karl Wolff, head of the personal staff of the Reichsfuehrer SS (RFSS) [Leader of the SS, H.Himmler], dated 11.4.1942, StA Muenchen II, Az.10a Js 39/60, bill of indictment/accusation [ZSL, Az. Sammelakte 137, Bl.164-167].

7. The earliest document is dated 26.3.1942, Cf. footnote 2. In the entry dated 5.6.1942 it is noted that since december 1941 97.000 human beings were “processed”, i.e. killed with tree vans, Cf. footnote 4.

8. See as well: A.Rueckerl (ed.): NS-Vernichtungslager im Spiegel deutscher Strafprozesse. Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno. Muenchen 1977; same author: NS-Prozess nach 25 Jahren Strafverfolgung. Moeglichkeiten, Grenzen, Ergebnisse, Karlsruhe 1971. Nationalsozialistische Massentoetung Frankfurt a.M. 1983. Here I’d like to thank the ZSL for the support and the helps, especially Mr Chief-attorney A.Rueckerl, Mr Chief-attorney A. Streim, Mr attorney W.Dressen, Inspector S.Fritschle and last but not least Mrs H.Doms from the documentation.

9. I.Arndt/W.Scheffler: Organisierter Massenmord an den Juden in nationalsozialistischen Vernichtungslagern. Ein Beitrag zur Richtigstellung apologetischer Literatur, in: VfZ 24 (1976), S.115 Anm.20.

10. See for an excellent example, A.Streim, Die Behandlung der Kriegsgefangenen im Fall Barabarossa, Heidelberg 1981, S.74 ff. In the following, the different quality of documents and witness testimonies is remarked here, by notifying each quotation from a depostition.

11. This allows for instance to check the credibility/consistency of witnesses. If there exist consistency between document and testimony, it is reasonable to assume that the witness’s deposition is reliable/trustworthy as well with respect to facts/ cases which aren’t covered by documents.

12. Deposition by H.H.Renfranz, dated 10.10.1962, StA Hannover, Az. 2 Js 614/62 [ZSL, Az. V 203 AR-???1101/1960, Bl.2]. See also Nationalsozialistische Massentoetung, p. ^62 ff; E.Klee, “Euthanasie” im NS-Staat. Die “Vernichtung lebenswerten Lebens”, Frankfurt a.M. 1983, S.106 ff and S.190 ff.

13. IMT, Vol. 26, S.169.

14. Deposition by A.Widmann, Head of Abt. V D 2 (Chemistry and Biology) in the KTI, dated 11.1.1960; StA Duesseldorf, Az. 8 Js7212/59 [ZSL, Az.202 AR-Z 152/59, Bl.51 f.]; deposition by A.Becker, 20.6.1961, StA Stuttgart, Az. 13 Js 328/60 [ZSL, Az.439 AR-Z 18a/60, Bl.1001 ff.] See also Nationalsozialistische Massentoetung, S.46; Klee, “Euthanasie”, S.84 f.

15. same sources as footnote 13.

16. Deposition by A.Widmann, 27.1.1959, StA Duesseldorf, Az.8 Js 7212/59 [ZSL, Az. 439 AR-Z 18a/??, Bl.36 f.]; Klee, “Euthanasie”, S.84 f.

17. Deposition by A.Becker, 28.1.1960, StA Hannover, Az. 2 Js 299/60 [ZSL, Az.415 AR-Z 220/59, Bl.36 ff].

18 Deposition by Walter Schade, datd 12.2.1959, StA Hannover, Az. 2 Js 299/60 [ZSL, Az.415, AR-Z 220/59, Bl.110 ff].

19. Cf. footnote 12.

20. Cf. footnote 12.

21. Copy ZSL, USA Dok.Bd.II, Bl.6; see also Klee, “Euthanasie”, p. 191.

22. He testified on 7.3.1962, that before 1941 another “Gaswagen” was tested in Sachsenhausen and produced there; StA Hannover, Az. 2 Js 299/1960 [ZSL, Az. 415 AR-Z 220/59, Bl.277 ff; see also Rueckerl, NS-Vernichtungslager, p. 268, see footnote 55.

23. Cf. text p.409 ff].

24. Deposition by A.Trenkers, dated 17.5. 1962, StA Hannover, Az. 2 Js 299/60 [ZSL, Az. 415 AR-Z 220/59, Bl.635].

25. Deposition dated 16.5.1961, StA Bonn, Az.8 Js 52/60 [ZSL, Az. 203 AR-Z 69/59, Bl.678 ff].

26. Cf. footnote 24.

27. Copy of the correspondence in: ZSL, USA Dok.Bd.I, Bl.90 and 98; Bd.II, Bl.801-807. See as well Klee, “Euthanasie”, pp.190-193. Characteristically, on the letter there is a note by Wolff, that he phone with Brack, one of the responsibles in the euthanasia program, about the affair.

28. Diensttagebuch [Diary kept on duties during service/official diary] Bach-Zelewski, Bundesarchiv, Sign.R20/45b, Copy ZSL, Findmittelschrank Nr.35. Accordingly, Himmler was in Baranowitschi on 30-7-1941 and in Baranowitschi and Minsk on 15/16th August 1941. On 15th August, Bach attended/was drawn [to the visit], so Himmler’s observation of the shootings is most likely to be dated on that day. Cf. deposition by the Russian [lady-]doctor N.N.Akimova, who reports about a visit spent by Himmler to a sanatorium in August 1941; see A.Ebbinghaus/G.Preissler: Die Ermordung psychisch kranker Menschen in der Sowjetunion. Dokumentation, in: Aussonderung und Tod. Die klinische Hinrichtung der Unbrauchbaren, Berlin 1985, p.188.

29. About Einsatzgruppe B : H.Krausnick/H.-H.Wilhelm, Die Truppe des Weltanschaungskrieges. Die Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD 1938-1942, Stuttgart 1982, p.179ff.

30. Deposition by Back-Zelewski in: Aufbau (New York), 23.8.46, p.2. Cf. similar deposition by Karl Wolff, Himmler’s adjutant, who attended there too, StA Muenchen, Az.10a Js 39/60, Anklageschrift [bill of indictment/accusation] [ZSL, Az.Sammelakte 137, Bl.140ff] with further testimonies about the incidence.

31. Ibid. Cf. N.N.Akimova’s deposition, see footnote 28.

32. Deposition by Back-Zelewski, footnote 30. Cf. deposition by the chemist H.Hoffmann, 7-1-59, StA Duesseldorf, 8 Js 7212/59 [ZSL, Az.439 AR-Z 18a/60,Bl.28].

33. Deposition by A.Widmann as of 11-1-1960, see footnote 14, Bl.45ff; A.Bauer, driver with the KTI, deposition as of 17-3-1960, H.Schmidt, collaborator with the KTI, StA Bremen, Az.6Js 3/60 [ZSL, Az.202 AR-Z152/59, Bl.135; 201].

34. Deposition by A.Widmann as of 11-1-1960, see footnote 14, Bl.46.

35. Cf. footnote 28.

36. Same as footnote 14, Bl.50f. Gerald Reitlinger, Die Endloesung. Hitlers Versuch der Ausrottung der Juden Europas 1939-1945, Berlin 1951, mentions on page 1944, that in 1949 negatives were found in Nebe’s home, which show this incident/procedure. According to E.J.Else, superintendent of transport services of the K-Staffel [squad] in the 1st company, Police-Battaillon 3, the van, recognizable on these pictures, belonged to his transport park. Deposition on 13- 12-1962, StA Frankfurt a.M., Az 4 Js 1928/60 [ZSL, Az.202 AR- Z 152/1959, Bl.1127] Thus, he was member of Einsatzkommando 8, which participated in the experiment.

37. Ebbinghaus/Preissler, Ermordung, p.189. The plausibility of this date is given by the following relations: Bach-Zelewski couldn’t attend at the final conference/meeting because of a Russian air-attack/raid, which happened on 17-9-1941 according to Bach-Zelewski’s diary. Cf. too Widmann’s deposition on 11-1-1960, see footnote 14.

38. This date may be exactly determined because the witnesses name the days of the week on which they stayed in Minsk and Mogilew. When relating these statements with the exact fixture in time, 18-9, one gets the period for the stay.

39. Deposition by A.Widmann on 11-1-1960, see footnote 14; further testimonies in the same vein: Karl Schulz, Nebe’s adjutant, deposition on 9-3-1959, StA Stuttgart, Az.13 Js 328/60 [ZSL, Az.439 AR-Z 18a/1960, Bl.48]; deposition by B.Wehners on 26- 1-1960, StA Bremen, Az.6 Js 3/6 [ZSL, Az.202 AR-Z 152/1959, Bl.57ff].

40. Deposition by A.Widmann on 27-1-1959, see footnote 16, Bl.33f; deposition by H.Engelmann, Nebe’s adjutant, on 9-1-1951, ibid, Bl.617; deposition by B.Wehner on 26-1-1960, see footnote 37.

41. Krausnick/Wilhelm, Truppe, pp.150ff.

42. Deposition by A.Widmann on 27-1-1959 and on 12- 1-1960, see footnote 16. These two depositions differ in that different dates are given for the events described. In the first deposition, he gives as date: shortly after the beginning campaign in Russia, in the second: “shortly before the campaign/onslaught/invasion in Russia”. This second statement is probably wrong/incorrect, as the psychic stress of the execution squads and the great distances in Russia as hindrance for the transport of CO-cylinders are mentioned. These arguments/reasons may play a role only after the begin of the campaign in Russia. Further observations/considerations to follow will corroborate this claim.

43. ibid.

44. Decision by Landgericht [Provincial/regional court] Hannover on Pradel and Wentritt, Az. 2 Js 299/60 [ZSL Az.415 Ar-Z 220/1959,Bl.419f].

45. StA Hamburg, Az. 147 Js 31/67 [ZSL, Az.II 415 AR-Z 1310/63-E32, Bl.545].

46. Deposition on 2-2-1961, StA Hannover, Az. 2 Js 299/60 [ZSL, Az.415 Ar-Z 220/59, Bl.260b]. Compare the following statements with the court-decision on Pradel, Bl.418 ff.

47. Deposition by M.Bauer, technician of the Gaubschat factory, on 21-3-1961, StA Hannover, 2 Js 299/60 [ZSL Az.202 AR-Z 152/59, Bl.275f].

48. Deposition by H.Wentritt on 2-2-1961, see footnote 46, Bl.260d ff.

49. Cf. following statements p.412.

50. IMT-Doc. 2348-PS. The credibility of this testimony is corroborated by that of H.Wentritt, see footnote 46, Bl.260 e, who mentions as well a number of five or six vehicles.

51. Deposition by H.Wentritt on 2-2-1961, see footnote 46, Bl. 260b ff.

52. Deposition on 6-2-1959, StA Stuttgart, Az.13 Js 328/60 [ZSL, Az.439 AR-Z 18a/1960, Bl.39]. This analysis is testified also by Widmann, see footnote 14.

53. Deposition by Widmann on 12-1-1960, ibid.; see also IMT- Doc.501-PS dated 16.5.42.

54. This is testified unanimously by Leiding, Hoffmann and Widmann.

55. See, Krausnick/Wilhelm, pp.544f. The testimonies fix the time for the experiment to early November 1941.

56. Deposition on 6-2-1959, see footnote 52, Bl.40. Hoffmann describes the event similarly; deposition on 27-1-1959, StA Hannover, Az.2 Js 299/60 [ZSL, Az.415 AR-Z 220/59, Bl.95ff].

57. See, court-decision on Pradel, Bl.427.

58. Deposition by E.Freiwald, employee at the KTI, on 3-9- 1959 and W.Schade on 12-2-1959, StA Hannover, Az.2 Js 299/60 [ZSL, Az. 415 AR-Z 220/59, Bl.68f and 181].

59. See footnote 44.

60. File entry dated 27.4.1942 and 5.6.1942, see footnote 3.

61. File entry dated 23.6.1942, see footnote 5.

62. Letter by Rauff to the KTI dated 26-3-1942, see footnote 2.

63. Cf. the following statements/arguments p.413.

64. See footnote 41, pp.186 ff.

65. Deposition by a member of this command, Lauer, StA Darmstadt, Az. Ks 1/67 [ZSL 205 AR-Z 269/60, Bl.2390ff]. P.Blobel, leader of Einsatzkommando 4a, testified on 6-5- 1947 in Nuremberg, that a gas van was used already in September or October 1941. This statement cannot be correct. Howeber, his description of the smaller vehicles is conclusive. Nuremberg Document NO-3824.

66. ibid.

67. L.Bednarz, Extermination Camp at Chelmno, in: German Crimes in Poland 1/1946, p.110. Regarding Sonderkommando Lange Cf. Rueckerl, NS-Vernichtungslager, pp.243ff .

68. See footnote 1.

69. Deposition by the driver K.Gebel on 23-10-1962, StA Hannover, Az. 2 Js 299/60 [ZSL, Az.415 AR-Z 20/59, Bl.634f].

70. IMT-Doc 501-PS.

71. See footnote 41, pp.195 ff.

72. Court-decision on Drexel and Kehrer, StA Muenchen I, Az.119c Ks 6 a-b/70, Bl.33-35 [ZSL, Az.Sammelakte 32].

73. Deposition by Becker on 26-40-1960, StA Giessen, Az.3 Js 11/60 [ZSL, Az.2 AR-Z 311/59, Bl.194].

74. ibid., Bl.195; Becker’s statements are ascertained by Ohlendorf, Einsatzgruppen -case Per. ??02 VI, Interrogation Nr.167.

75. Consequently, all dates given before this date and relating to the usage of gas vans cannot be correct. Cf. footnote 65 too.

78. Deposition by Jeckeln on 21-12-1945, see footnote 41, p.548.

79. See the arguments on p.414.

79. That the number of people carried in the van may be viewed as a sure mark of the vans is ascertained by the notes in the files on 5.6.1942, see footnote 4.

80. See footnotes 54 and 56.

81. See footnote 50.

82. This formulation/words were used by Becker in his report on 16.5.1942, IMT-Doc. 501-PS.

83. Deposition by H.Wentritt on 2. 2. 1960, see footnote 44, Bl.260h; letter on 15.6.1942, IMT-Doc 501-PS.

84. Deposition by H.Hoffmanns on 27.1.1959, StA Duesseldorf, Az. 8 Js 7212/59 [ZSL, Az.439 AR-Z 18a/1960, Bl.28]; deposition by A.Becker on 26-3-1960, see footnote 71, Bl.195. As the first series consisted not only of chassis of one type, Becker couldn’t give a more precise designation in his report on 16.5.1942, as he did with the vans of the second series.

85. See above p.410.

86. Letter to Gaubschat company on 30.4.1942, Copy ZSL, USA Dok. Film I Nr.26f.; Letter from Becker to Rauff on 16.5.1942, IMT-Doc. 501-PS; Letter from Schaefer to Rauff on 9.6.1952, see footnote 4; Truehe to Rauff on 15.6.1942, see footnote 5.

87. Note in the files on 27.4.1942, see footnote 3. This number of people can be calculated from the measures given there.

88. See footnote 5.

89. See footnote 44 (Bl.429).

90. See footnote 3.

91. Note in the files on 5.6.1942, see footnote 4.

92. Cf. footnote 86.

93. This may be concluded from a letter from Gaubschat company to Rauff on 14.5.1942, see footnote 3.

94. Cf. the letters on 9. and 15.6.1942 and Becker’s report on 16.5.1942, IMT-Doc. 501-PS. Regarding the witness- testimonies see NS-Massentoetung, pp.87ff.

95. See footnote 62.

96. Deposition by A.Becker on 28-1-1960, see footnote 17, Bl.44.

97. See footnote 3.

98. Note in the files on 5.6.1942, see footnote 4.

99. See above p.413.

100. Deposition by Becker on 26-3-1960, see footnote 73.

101. ibid. Bl.197f.

102. ibid.; Cf. his report on 16.5.1942 too.

103. Note in the files on 5.6.1942, see footnote 4.

104. See footnote 5; deposition by H.Munk on 3.2.1959, StA Karlsruhe, Az. Js 2138/58 [ZSL, Az.415 AR-Z 220/59, Bl.499ff].

105. 16.5.1942, see footnote 82.

106. Note in the files 5.6.1942, see footnote 4. Deposition by A.Widmann on 11.1.1960, see footnote 14.

107. See footnote 6.

108. IMT-Doc 501-PS.

109. ibid.

110. Deposition by M.Draheim on 29.8.1961, StA Hannover, Az. 2 Js 299/60 [ZSL, Az. 415 AR-Z 220/1959, Bl.294f] deposition by W.Schmidt, ibid, Bl.260zf.

111. IMT, Vol.4, deposition on 3.1.1946, p.357.

112. Deposition by Becker on 28-4-1960, see footnote 96, Bl.43.

113. Cf. depositions by the drivers G.Laabs and K.Gebel, see footnotes 1 and 69.

114. Deposition by A.Truehe on 16-10-1959, ZSL, Az 2 AR-Z 311/59, Bl.43ff.

115. Cf. draft version of a letter from the official/administrative servant at the ministry for the occupied territories to the Reichskommisar for the Ostland on 25.10.1942, Doc. No-365; deposition by SS- and Police-Leader Warthegau W.Koppe on 2-2- 1960, StA Bonn, Az.18 Js 52/60 [ZSL, Az.220/59, Bl.138f].

116. Note in the files on 5.6.1942, see footnote 4. There we read: “Since December 1941 e.g., 97.000 have been processed with 3 vans employed, without any failure of the vehicles.”

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