Chełmno extermination camp, also known as the Kulmhof concentration camp, was a Nazi German extermination camp that was situated 50 kilometres (31 mi) from Łódź, near a small village called Chełmno nad Nerem (Kulmhof an der Nehr in German). After annexation by Germany Kulmhof was included into Reichsgau Wartheland in 1939.
The camp operated in two periods, from December 8, 1941 to March 1943, and from June 1944 to January 18, 1945, to kill the Jews of the Łódź Ghetto and the Warthegau. In between these two periods, modifications were made to the camp's killing procedure.
Exterminating by "Gas Vans"
- At least 152,000 people were killed in the camp, mainly Poles, Jews from the Łódź Ghetto and the surrounding area, along with Romani from Greater Poland and some Hungarian Jews, Czechs, and Soviet prisoners of war.
- Most of the victims were killed by the use of gas vans, and the camp served the purpose of early experimentation and development of methods of mass murder, some of which were applied in later phases of The Holocaust.
- Depending on the source, only two or three people are known to have survived Chełmno extermination camp.
The Killings began
The SS and police began killing operations at Chełmno on December 8, 1941. The first people brought to the camp to be murdered were the Jewish population of Kolo.
- The Jews were brought from Kolo to Powiercie by rail. Using whips, the Nazis drove them towards the river near Zawadki, where they were locked overnight in a mill, without food or water.
- The next day, they were loaded into trucks and taken to the nearby forest, gassed with exhaust fumes along the way. Their bodies were dumped in deep pits, and then the gassing trucks returned to the mill for more victims.
In late January, 1942, the secretary of the local council, Stanisław Kaszyński, and his wife were arrested and executed three days later for trying to bring public attention to what was being perpetrated at the camp.
The two following testaments were written by Jewish prisoners in the Chelmno death camp and found there after the war.
“These are the last days of our lives so we give a signal maybe there still will be relatives or acquaintances of these persons. So you shall know all Jews who were sent away from Litzmannstadt (Lodz) were killed in a very cruel manner they were tortured and burnt. Goodbye. If you survive you must take revenge".
"This note is written by people who will live for only a few more hours. The person who will read this note will hardly be able to believe that this is true. Still, this is the tragic truth, since this is the place in which your brothers and sisters stayed, and they, too, died the same death! The name of this locality is Kolo. At a distance of 12 km from this town [Chelmno] there is a 'slaughterhouse' for human beings”.
Kleinman, Yehudit and Dafni, Reuven (Eds.). Final Letters – From the Yad Vashem Archive, London 1991, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, pp. 119-122.