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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Thomas Kues - The Maly Trostenets "Extermination Camp"—A Preliminary Historiographical Survey

The Maly Trostenets "Extermination Camp"—A Preliminary Historiographical Survey, Part 1

Thomas Kues

1. Introduction
While it is well known to all with an interest in Holocaust historiography that the Germans operated six alleged “extermination camps” in Poland – Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Chełmno (Kulmhof), Treblinka, Bełżec and Sobibór – and while some may be familiar with the claim that the camp Stutthof near Danzig (Gdansk) functioned as an “auxiliary extermination camp”1 [1], it is practically unknown to all but those with special interest in the Holocaust in Belarus that another alleged “extermination camp” was operated by the Commander of the Security Police and Security Service Minsk (Kommandeurs der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD (KdS) Minsk)2 [1] between 1941 and June 1944 at the former Soviet kolkhoz (collective farm) “Karl Marx” in the village of Maly Trostenets, some 12 km southeast of Minsk.
The principal victims of Maly Trostenets are supposed to have been Jews from the Minsk Ghetto, as well as Jews deported directly to Belarus from Austria, Germany and the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia. The latter were initially sent from the Minsk freight railway station in open trucks to the former kolkhoz, which had been renamed “Gut Trostinez” (Trostinez Estate) by the Germans and housed some 400 to 1200 prisoners. The mass killings were allegedly carried out by shooting, or in “gas vans”, at the two nearby forest sites of Blagovshchina and Shashkovka. The latter was used from October 1943 onwards. In 1944 a further group of victims were shot or burned alive inside barns at the camp itself. Many of the alleged victims of 1942 are supposed to have been Jews from Austria, Germany and the Protectorate deported to Minsk. At their arrival in the Belorusian capital these Jews were loaded onto open lorries and brought to Trostenets, where they were (allegedly) either murdered in gas vans or shot. In August 1942 a new railway track and an improvised railway station made it possible to send the Jewish train convoys directly to Trostenets. According to mainstream historiography no transports of Jews from the west took place during 1943 (or 1944).
The historiographical designation of the Maly Trostenets camp requires some elucidation. While many holocaust historians simply call Trostenets an “extermination site” or “execution site”, numerous books also refer to it as an “extermination camp” or “death camp”. This appears to be a growing trend. Already in a newspaper article from July 1944 Trostenets was referred to as “ a death camp for Czech, German and Austrian Jews”. In 1999 German holocaust historian Christian Gerlach again labeled it a “death camp”.3 [1] The only monograph on Trostenets to appear to date in any Western European language, written by the journalist Paul Kohl and published in 2003, bears the title Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez (The Trostenez Extermination Camp). The online encyclopedia Wikipedia speaks of the “Maly Trostenets extermination camp”.4 [1] The exterminationist website ARC writes that “Insufficient research has been conducted in the West into Maly Trostinec, yet those killed there may have been comparable in number to the victims of Majdanek or Sobibor, and may possibly have been greater.”5 [1] In 2005 a Russian article appeared bearing the title “Trostenets - The Byelorussian 'Auschwitz'”.6 [1]
From an exterminationist viewpoint the label of “death camp” does indeed seem logical, as the camp is supposed to have been rather similar to Chełmno in its alleged structure and functioning, with the exception that most of the (alleged) victims were shot rather than murdered in “gas vans”. In both camps the victims immediately upon arrival were “deceived” into believing that they would be transferred somewhere else, and were then promptly murdered and buried in a nearby forest. In Chełmno the few hundred inmates of the camp proper were selected from the arriving Jewish transports and worked with sorting the confiscated belongings of the [allegedly] murdered Jews, as well as with the burial and cremation of the victims. In Trostenets some two-thirds of the camp population were selected from the arriving Jewish convoys; the rest were Soviet POWs. The work in the camp consisted of sorting the belongings of the [allegedly] murdered Jews, as well as agricultural work and a number of other labor tasks; the burial and subsequent cremation of the alleged victims was performed not by Jews, but by Soviet POWs. As may be seen there are more similarities than differences between the respective historiographical pictures.
That some holocaust historians hesitate to call Maly Trostenets a “death camp” may be in part due to a downward revision of its victim figure in later years, part due to the fact that, as the abovementioned ARC website article puts it, “there was no overall command structure, as existed in the Aktion Reinhard camps, and thus a less organised pattern of crime”. Yet regardless of the historiographical perspective, Trostenets, with its provisional railway station, assembly square and barracks, stands out as something more complex than alleged mass killing sites such as Babi Yar, which supposedly consisted of little more than mass graves and corpse pyres. Moreover, although the alleged infrastructure of mass murder was provisional, it was reportedly in use for more than two years, a longer period than any of the Reinhardt camps (or Chełmno) was in operation.
As will be seen below, the estimates for the total number of Trostenets victims vary greatly, from 40,000 to 546,000. Between the end of October and mid-December 1943 all buried victims were allegedly exhumed and cremated on open-air pyres by the enigmatic “Sonderkommando 1005”. Chiefly responsible for the camp was the head of KdS Minsk, SS-Obersturmbannführer Eduard Strauch (1906-1955; also leader of the Einsatzkommando 2 of Einsatzgruppe A).7 [1] The overall command structure of the camp remains unclear. One witness, however, names an “SS-Obersturmführer Maywald” as camp commandant.8 [1] According to Paul Kohl the camp commandants were, in chronological order: Gerhard Maywald, Heinrich Eiche, Wilhelm Madeker, Wilhelm Kallmeyer and Josef Faber.9 [1] Confusingly, a certain Rieder is named as camp commandant by other sources.10 [1] The logistical handling of the arriving transports from the west was taken care of by SS-Obersturmführer Georg Heuser, who was also a member of Einsatzgruppe A.11 [1]
In the following article I will present a brief chronological survey of the literature discussing the Trostenets camp12 [1], together with some comments on anomalies, incongruities and contradictions to be found within the orthodox version of events. It is not to be viewed as a detailed critique of the various claims regarding this camp, but rather as a an overview and a stepping-stone for further research.
Throughout the literature the name of the camp is rendered in various ways due to the different methods of transliterating the cyrillic script (Trostinetz, Trostinec, Klein Trostinetz13 [1], Trostyanets, Trastyanets, Trascianiec, Malyi-Trostiniets). I have here chosen to use the form “Maly Trostenets” as this is in accord with the modern standard of transliteration used in the English-speaking world (as well as the spelling championed by the English edition of Wikipedia).
Maly Trostenets map
Illustration 1: Section of Übersichtskarte von Mitteleuropa 1:300 000 U 54 Minsk showing Trostenets and the surrounding area with markings by the author (1: Site of the Maly Trostenets estate and labor camp; 2: Blagovshchina site; 3: Shashkovka site).14 [1]
2. A Chronological Survey of the Literature on the Maly Trostenets camp
2.1. Official Soviet Statements and Court Material (1942-44)
In a “Report on crimes committed by the German-Fascist invaders in the city of Minsk”, originally published in Soviet War News, no. 967 of 22 September 1944, we find the following two paragraphs mainly devoted to the Trostenets camp:
GERMAN SECRET POLICE CAMP IN MALY TROSTINETS
Near the village of Maly Trostinets, about six miles from Minsk, the German-Fascist invaders set up a concentration camp15 [1] conducted by the German Secret Police, in which they kept civilians doomed to death. At the Blagovshchina site, about a mile from the camp, they used to shoot camp inmates and bury their bodies in trenches. In the autumn of 1943, with a view to covering up the traces of their crimes, the Germans started to unearth the pit graves and to exhume and burn the bodies. A resident of the village of Trostinets, Golovach, saw how 'the German hangmen killed men, women, old men and children in Blagovshchina Forest; they put the bodies of murdered people into previously prepared trenches... They packed them down with bulldozers, then placed another layer of bodies on top and packed them down again. In the autumn of 1943 the Germans opened the trenches in Blagovshchina and started burning the exhumed bodies. They mobilized all the carts from neighboring villages to bring up firewood for the purpose.'
In the autumn of 1943 the invaders built a special incinerator on the Shashkovka site, about a quarter of a mile from Maly Trostinets Concentration Camp. Kovalenko and Kareta, who worked at the concentration camp, stated that the bodies of the people shot or murdered in 'murder vans' were burned in this incinerator. Three to five trucks packed with people arrived there every day.
'I saw every day' (stated Bashko, a resident of the village of Maly Trostinets) 'how the German bandits, headed by the commandant of the ghetto camp, the hangman Ridder, killed civilians in Shashkovka Forest and then burned their bodies in the incinerator. I grazed cattle not far from this incinerator and often heard the cries and wails of people pleading for mercy. I heard tommy-gun bursts, after which the wailings of the unfortunate people ceased.'
The Investigation Commission examined an incinerator. The examination disclosed inside rails on which were placed metal sheets with holes in them, as well as a huge quantity of small charred human bones. A special drive for trucks had been laid to the incinerator. A barrel and scoop with remnants of tar were found at the mouth of the furnace. Various personal belongings of the executed people were scattered on the spot, such as footwear, clothing, women's blouses, headgear, children's socks, buttons, combs and penknives. Judging by the tremendous quantity of spent cartridge cases and fragments of exploded hand grenades, the Germans had shot their victims at the mouth of the furnace and inside the furnace itself. Tar was poured on the bodies and firewood placed between them. Incendiary bombs were placed inside the furnace in order to raise the temperature.
In view of the Red Army's rapid advance to the west, at the end of June 1944, the Hitlerite hangmen devised a new method for the mass extermination of Soviet civilians. On June 29-30 they started taking inmates of the concentration camps and the bodies of those who had been shot to the village of Maly Trostinets. The corpses were stacked up in sheds, where the Germans also shot Soviet people, and the sheds were then set on fire. Savinskaya, who escaped death, stated to the Investigation Commission:
'I resided on German occupied territory, in Minsk. On February 29, 1944, the German-Fascist invaders arrested me and my husband Yakov Savinsky for connections with partisans, and put us in the Minsk jail. In mid-May, after long and terrible tortures in which we did not confess our connections with the partisans, I and my husband were transferred to the S.S. concentration camp in Shirokaya Street, where we were kept until June 30, 1944. On that day, with fifty other women, I was put into a truck and taken to an unknown destination. The truck drove about six miles from Minsk to the village of Maly Trostinets and stopped at a shed.
'Then we realized we had been brought there to be shot... On the command of the German hangmen the imprisoned women came out in fours from the lorry. My turn soon came. With Anna Golubovich, Yulia Semashko and another woman whose name I do not know I climbed on top of the stacked bodies. Shots rang out. I was slightly wounded in the head and fell. I lay among the dead until late at night, Then I got out of the shed and saw two wounded men: the three of us decided to escape. The German guard noticed and opened fire. Both men were killed. I succeeded in hiding in the swamp. I stayed there for fifteen days without knowing that Minsk had already been captured by the Red Army.'
On examining the remains of the shed at Maly Trostinets, burned down by the Germans, the Investigation Commission discovered a tremendous quantity of ashes and bones, also some partly preserved bodies. Alongside on a pile of logs there were 127 incompletely charred bodies of men, women and children. Some personal articles lay near the site of the fire.
The medico-legal experts have discovered bullet wounds on the bodies in the region of the head and neck. On piles of logs and in the shed the Germans shot and burned 6,500 people.
HITLERITES TRIED TO COVER TRACES OF THEIR CRIMES
Three miles from the city [of Minsk], by the Minsk-Molodechno railway near the village of Glinishche, the Investigation Commission discovered 197 graves of Soviet people who had been shot by the Germans. [...]. Here were buried Soviet prisoners of war who had been kept in 'Stalag No. 352' and were murdered by the camp guard headed by the German commandant, Captain Lipp. [...]. About 80,000 Soviet war prisoners were buried in the cemetery near the village of Glinishche.
Thirty-four grave pits camouflaged by fir-tree branches have been discovered in Blagovshchina Forest; some of the graves are no less than 50 yards long. Charred bodies covered with a layer of ashes 18 inches to one yard thick were found at a depth of three yards in five graves when they were partly opened. Near the pits the Commission found a great quantity of small human bones, hair, dentures and many personal articles. Investigation has revealed that the fascists murdered about 150,000 people here.
Eight grave pits 21 yards long, four yards wide and five yards deep have been discovered at about 450 yards from the former Petrashkevichi hamlet. [...] Investigation has established that the Germans burned some 25,000 bodies of civilian Minsk residents whom they had shot.
Ten grave pits were discovered about six miles along the Minsk-Moscow motor road at the Uruchye site. Eight of these graves are 21 by 5 yards, one is 35 by 6 yards and one is 20 by 6 yards. All of them are three to five yards deep. The Commission has discovered three rows of bodies lying lengthwise, in seven layers each. All the corpses were lying face down, and many were in Red Army tank troops uniform. [...]. Several bodies of women in civilian clothes were also found in the graves. [...]. The total number of those shot and buried on the territory of the Uruchye site, according to the testimonies of prisoners of war and the data of experts, exceeds 30,000.
Northeast of the concentration camp [?], on the territory of the Drozdy Settlement, there was discovered a ditch 400 yards long, two and a half yards wide and two and a half yards deep. In the course of excavations conducted in several places in the ditch to a depth of 18 inches there were found remnants of bodies (skulls, bones) and decayed clothes. Investigation revealed that about 10,000 Soviet citizens shot by the Germans had been buried in this ditch.
Mass graves of Soviet people tortured to death by the Germans have also been discovered at the Minsk Jewish cemetery, in Tuchinka, in Kalvariskoye Cemetery in the Park of Culture and Rest and in other places.
The Medico-Legal Commission of Experts consisting of Academician Burdenko, of the Extraordinary State Commission, Doctor of Medicine Professor Smolyaninov and Doctor of Medicine Professor of Forensic Medicine Chervakov, has established that the German scoundrels exterminated peaceful residents and Soviet prisoners of war by hunger and work beyond human strength, poisoned them with carbon monoxide and shot them. Investigation has revealed that in Minsk and its outskirts the Hitlerites exterminated about 300,000 Soviet citizens, excluding those burned in the incinerator.”16 [1]
According to a Soviet report from 25 July 1944 on “Violent crimes committed in the concentration camp near the village of Trostenets”, which I do not have at my disposal but which is referenced by historian Christian Gerlach, no fewer than 546,000 people were murdered in Maly Trostenets.17 [1] This figure apparently came to be seen as incredible and was thus discarded, even though it would surface once or twice in the later literature.
What is particularly striking about the September 1944 report is that virtually no information is provided regarding the alleged victims. Who were they, and where did they come from? We merely learn that they were part of the “300,000 Soviet citizens” exterminated by the Germans “in Minsk and its outskirts”, a statement which seems to exclude transports of Jewish victims from the west. Nonetheless, in an official statement issued on 19 December 1942 by the Information Bureau of the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, we read that “Brutal massacres of Jews brought from Central and Western Europe are also reported from Minsk, Byelostok, Brest, Baranovici and other towns of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.”18 [1] Of course, according to postwar historiography there were never any transports of Jews to Belarus from the German-occupied countries in Western Europe (i.e. France, Belgium and Holland).
From the German journalist Paul Kohl we learn that the alleged mass murders at Trostenets were included in a trial which took place in Minsk in January 1946, and that protocols from this trial were published in Minsk in 1947.19 [1] Unfortunately I have not been able to procure this volume, the title of which Kohl neglects to mention.
It is clear that an unknown number of former Trostenets inmates were questioned in summer 1944 in connection with the investigations of the Extraordinary State Commission. Two extracts from the protocols of these interrogations were scheduled for publication in Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman's Black Book under the heading “From Materials Compiled by the Special State Commission on the Verification and Investigation of Atrocities Committed by the German-Fascist Invaders”, but were excised from the published volume. Much later the extracts were included in a “complete” edition of the Black Book, from which I have quoted the most relevant portions. The first extract is headed “Protocols for Inquest Witness Mira Markovna Zaretskaya, 9 August 1944”:
“Burdenko: What did you see in the [Maly Trostenets] concentration camp? How were the prisoners of war and civilians confined there?
Zaretskaya: Prisoners of war and other prisoners lived in one barracks. It was very crowded. It was not a barracks really, but more like a shed. Prisoners and soldier stayed together. The Jews lived over the workshops.
Burdenko: Were the women housed separately?
Zaretskaya: There were no women among the prisoners of war or the other prisoners. The Jewish women lived separately; only families stayed together.
Burdenko: What do you know about the mass shootings and when did they begin?
Zaretskaya: The shootings began in the camps in October 1943.20 [1] Every day I saw covered trucks taking people from Minsk to be shot and burned in pits. From 23 June [1944] on a very large number of trucks came, more than you can count.
Burdenko: Did you see people burned in the crematoria?
Zaretskaya: I myself did not see people burned, but I saw the smoke and the flames, and I heard the shooting.
Burdenko: Did they tell you in the camp how many prisoners had been burned?
Zaretskaya: Very many were burned. I would estimate half a million. From the villages in the area they brought in the families of people who had joined the partisans.”21 [1]
One immediately notes here that Zaretskaya's statements concerning the alleged extermination are either based on hearsay or inconclusive auditory and visual impressions. While it is mentioned by her that Jews were detained in the camp, there is no mention of Jews being murdered en masse; the only massacre victims identified are the families of partisans (of unstated ethnicity).
The second extract is from the “Protocols for Inquest Witness Lev Shaevich Lansky, 9 August 1944”:
“Lansky: (...) I was in a concentration camp from 17 January 1942, in the Trostyanets camp.
Burdenko: Could you move freely about the camp?
Lansky: I got around.
Burdenko: When did the Germans start burning the bodies?
Lansky: I couldn't tell you the exact date. It was about eight months ago. I was there temporarily, from 5 January 1943.
Burdenko: Did they actually burn bodies right before your eyes?
Lansky: I saw it myself. I was working there as an electrician, and whenever I climbed up a pole to work the wires, I could see everything.
Burdenko: Did you see the Germans burning people alive?
Lansky: Yes, they burned people alive.
Burdenko: Where did they burn people alive?
Lansky: In the camp. They would set a storehouse on fire and force people into it. Meanwhile they were gassing people in the mobile vans all the time.
Burdenko: When was the last time they burned people?
Lansky: The 28th of June [1944].
Burdenko: Did you see them burn the last of the women and children alive?
Lansky: Yes. I saw it.
Burdenko: Did you hear the screams, wails, and crying of the children who were led into the flames?
Lansky: Yes. I heard and saw it all myself.
Burdenko: Did you know there was an oven there?
Lansky: There was a pit nine meters by nine meters. We dug it ourselves. That was about eight months ago.
Burdenko: I was not involved in its construction myself, but I could tell from a distance that they used iron rails. They would start it with a small incendiary bomb and then pile on large pieces of wood.
[...].
Lansky: (...). We all got soap and clothing from German Jews who had been slaughtered. There were ninety-nine transports of a thousand people each that came from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia.
Burdenko: Where are they?
Lansky: All shot.
Burdenko: How many were burned in Trostyanets, besides the Jews from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia?
Lansky: Around 200,000 people. I don't know exactly how many were shot before I got there; 299,000 people were shot while we were there.”22 [1]
Lansky's statement on the cremations stand in contradiction to the official version, which has it that cremations at Blagovshchina began in October 1943, while the “oven” at the Shashkovka site, which is located some half a kilometer south of the kolkhoz, not far from Shashkovka Lake, was constructed around the same time, “in the autumn of 1943”. Lansky's dating would put the beginning of cremations sometime in January or February 1944. One should recall here that the work of cremating the bodies buried at the Blagovshchina site reportedly had been finished already in mid-December 1943.
The witness connects the “oven” with killings that allegedly took place in 1944, when the Blagovshchina site according to all sources was no longer in use. Yet the oven described by him – “a pit nine by nine meters” using “iron rails” with an “incendiary bomb” and “large pieces of wood” piled on top – fits the open air pyres allegedly used by the “Sonderkommando 1005” at Blagovshchina to a tee23 [1], but not the oven construction with perforated metal sheets reportedly discovered by the Extraordinary State Commission at the Shashkovka site! Note well that it is the ESC investigator Burdenko, not Lansky himself, who brings the subject of the oven into the interrogation.
The number of murdered Jews from Central Europe alleged by Lansky is, needless to say, much higher than asserted by mainstream historians, who generally gives estimates of between 15,000 and 20,000.
It is noteworthy that despite Lansky's testimony, the September 1944 report did not mention any non-Soviet Trostenets victims. Nonetheless it is clear that the claim of the murder of this group of Jews existed early on (at the latest in mid-July 1944, see below, §2.2.), even if it was not officially sanctioned right away.
Despite the enormous victim figure ascribed by Soviet propaganda to Trostenets it would take until 1963 before a memorial was put up – although not at the former camp site, but near the village of Bolshoi Trostenets!24 [1]
2.2. H.G. Adler (1955/1960)
In 1955 the Czech-Jewish novelist and amateur historian Hans Günther Adler published a study in which he chronicled in great detail the Theresienstadt ghetto where he himself had been detained 1942-1944. Unfortunately I have not been able to procure the original edition of this work, but only a second, slightly revised edition dating from 1960. In this edition Trostenets is described thus:
“Trostinetz, eight miles from Minsk, was a death camp for Czech, German and Austrian Jews. In 1942 39,000 victims were brought here.”25 [1]
An article which appeared in the German-Jewish expatriate weekly Aufbau on 21 July 1944 is given as source. This tells the story of Ignatz Burstein, a Jew who is stated to have been deported by the Germans from Łódz to the Belorusian city of Baranovichi in 1941 – something which contradicts mainstream historiography on the Jewish deportations from that Polish city – and who after surviving two massacres was transferred “in the autumn of 1942” from the Baranovici ghetto together with two-hundred other skilled Jewish workers, first to an unnamed penal camp, then to Maly Trostenets, “located eight miles from Minsk”. The article continues:
“That was a death camp for Czech, German and Austrian Jews. All in all 39,000 Jews were transported to Trostinetz during 1942. Of each group [read: convoy] of 1000 people only 5 to 30, and then only trained workers, were left alive. In total 500 people were saved from death in Trostinetz. They worked with sorting the clothes of the murdered Jews, which were to be dispatched to Germany. Others, among them Burstein, were brought every morning to the automobile repair shops in the city [of Minsk] and had to return to the camp in the evenings.”26 [1]
Elsewhere in his book Adler concludes that “in the period from 14 July to 29 September 1942” there were five “certain”, five “likely” and two “possible” transports of Jews from Theresienstadt to Belarus and “mainly to Trostinetz near Minsk”.27 [1] According to the present view of the Institut Theresienstädter Initiative, there were only 6 such transports during the period in question (5 to Trostenets, 1 to Baranovichi); of the other 6 outgoing Theresienstadt transports from the same period 5 were sent to Treblinka and 1 to Riga.28 [1]
2.3. The 1963 Koblenz Trial against Heuser et al.
In 1963 eleven former members of the KdS Minsk – Georg Heuser, Karl Dalheimer, Johannes Feder, Arthur Harder, Wilhelm Kaul, Friedrich Merbach, Jakob Oswald, Rudolf Schegel, Franz Stark, Ernst von Toll and Artur Wilke – were tried by the Landesgericht Koblenz. A considerable part of the charges related to the alleged mass murders at Maly Trostenets.
Based on the preserved railway documents known at that time the court determined that sixteen transports had reached Trostenets (see table below). The first eight transports arrived in Minsk, where the deportees were loaded on trucks and brought to Trostenets; the latter eight transports arrived directly by train at Trostenets, via the Kolodishchi station, which is the second stop on the Minsk-Smolewiece line.29 [1] The “minimum number of killed” for each convoy was estimated considering likely en route deaths and the selections for work at Trostenets.
While the court took pains to determine the number of deportation trains, their departure and arrival dates, as well as the number of deportees, there is no hint in the verdict that any kind of verification was carried out of the claim that the vast majority of the deportees had indeed been murdered following their arrival at Trostenets. Rather it appears that this was taken judicial notice of based on a sworn statement that the former Kds Minsk head Eduard Strauch had made in January 1948.30 [1] The defendants naturally resorted to the well-known strategy of denying personal involvement in certain alleged cases of mass murder and claiming that they acted on orders under the threat of death. Heuser made so bold as to assert that two of the convoys in the summer because of technical reasons had not been murdered on arrival but sent on to the Minsk Ghetto and only exterminated later, something which was dismissed by the court on the ground that a number of Jewish witnesses from the ghetto did not recall any such arrivals of Jews.31 [1]
Train no. Departure Deportees Arrival date Arrival Min. no. of killed
Da 201 Vienna 1,000 11 May 42 Minsk 900
Da 203 Vienna 1,000 26 May 42 Minsk 900
Da 204 Vienna 998 1 Jun 42 Minsk 900
Da 205 Vienna 999 5-9 Jun 42 Minsk 900
Da 206 Vienna 1,000 15 Jun 42 Minsk 900
Da 40 Königsberg 465 26 Jun 42 Minsk 400
Da 220 Theresienstadt 1,000 18 Jul 42 Minsk 900
Da 219 Cologne 1,000 24 Jul 42 Minsk 900
Da 222 Theresienstadt 993 10 Aug 42 Trostenets 900
Da 223 Vienna 1,000 21 Aug 42 Trostenets 900
Da 224 Theresienstadt 1,000 28 Aug 42 Trostenets 900
Da 225 Vienna 1,000 4 Sep 42 Trostenets 900
Da 226 Theresienstadt 1,000 12 Sep 42 Trostenets 900
Da 227 Vienna 1,000 18 Sep 42 Trostenets 900
Da 228 Theresienstadt 1,000 25 Sep 42 Trostenets 900
Da 230 Vienna 547 9 Oct 42 Trostenets 500
Total:
15,002

13,500
Table 1: Convoys exterminated at Trostenets according to Landesgericht Koblenz.32 [1]
The alleged extermination of the arriving convoys is described in the verdict as follows:
“In order to be able carry out the extermination of so many people smoothly and within a short period of time, Kommandeur Strauch made extensive organizational preparations. As the execution site he selected a copse of half-grown pine trees located some 3-5 km from the Trostinez estate [Gut Trostinez]. With the Trostinez estate is meant a former kolkhoz which was taken over and put in use by the KdS department in April 1942. It was located some 15 km southeast of Minsk and could be reached by the Minsk-Smilovichi-Mogilev road, from which a branch road led some hundred meters south to the estate. Seen from the estate the pine copse was located across the road to Smilovichi. In order to reach it from the estate one had to first return to the road, then follow it for some kilometers in the direction of Smilovichi, and finally use a dirt track diverting to the north, which passed immediately by the copse. It was thus located remote from any human settlement and was from a distance hard for the eye to penetrate.
Through close contacts with the responsible Haupteisenbahndirektion Mitte in Minsk, where the KdS kept a liaison man, it was seen to that the exact arrival time of each transport, by hour and minute, was communicated in due time, either in writing or by telephone. As a first measure a pit of sufficient size was excavated in the copse near the Trostinez estate. The dimensions of these pits varied. They were up to 3 meters deep and wide and up to 50 meters long. For the excavation of the pits Russian prisoners of war were brought in from a prison administered by the KdS. This work took several days.
The executions themselves were carried out following a 'framework plan' drawn up by SS-Obersturmführer Lütkenhus. The deployment of the men at each operation followed the pattern of this plan. To each 'center' [Schwerpunkt] was assigned special commandos under the leadership of a Führer. All in all some 80 to 100 people, including men from the Schutzpolizei and Waffen-SS members, were used for the various tasks.[...].
The course of an execution always followed an unchanging schedule, so that soon everyone involved knew his task in detail and performed it without needing any further instruction. In general the executions lasted from early morning to late afternoon. By having most of the transports arrive between 4:00 and 7:00 in the morning it was ensured that the deportees could be killed without any further delay - some of them already a few hours after their arrival.
One group of KdS members saw to it that the unloading of the arriving people and their luggage was carried out orderly. After that the arrivals had to proceed to a nearby collection point. There another commando had the task of stripping the Jews of all money and valuables. For this purpose there were also body searches.
At the collection point other members of the department searched out such people who appeared fit for work on the Trostinez estate. Their number varied between 20 and 80 at the most.
By the first eight transports, up to and including that of 24 July 1942, the unloading, collection and selection were carried out at Minsk freight station. From a loading site at the edge of the collection point the Jews departed on lorries for the grave site some 18 km away. In order to avoid that more than one vehicle arrived simultaneously at the execution site - something which may have given the people courage to openly resist - the lorries departed with a certain interval between them. This was seen to by a member of the department at the loading site.
From the arrival of the ninth transport on 10 August onwards, the trains were led to the immediate vicinity of the Trostinez estate. For this purpose the Reichsbahn directed the trains via the Minsk freight station to the locality of Kolodishchi, some 15 km to the northeast33 [1], from where a closed track ran in southward direction. The track, which previously had ended in Michanoviche, now ended some hundred meters to the north of the Trostinez estate, on the hither side of the Minsk-Smilovichi road. Once disembarked, the Jews were collected in a meadow some 100 m away, and after the selection of labor for the estate were taken to a nearby loading site, from where they were sent to the graves a few kilometers away. Sometimes they had to cover this distance on foot.
In the beginning the prisoners on the deportation trains were shot. [...]. According to the length of the pit up to 20 shooters were placed out. During the course of an execution they were replaced with people from the cordon unit, which formed a loose cordon around the site. One always used pistols. Prior to the start of the operation each shooter received, as a rule, 25 bullets. This handing-out took place without any formalities, and there was no quittance. If a shooter needed more ammunition he went to the ammunition box placed near the pit and had it handed to him by the armory private or simply took it himself. For the killing, shots to the neck were used. If there was suspicion that a victim had not been fatally hit, additional shots were fired, but mostly one simply fired a submachine gun into the pit, until there were no more motions. No further precautions were taken before the grave was filled in to ascertain whether all people therein really were dead.
From around the beginning of June 1942 one also employed gas vans for the killings. The KdS department had at its disposal three such vans, one larger Saurer van and two somewhat smaller Daimond [sic] vans.[...]. The gas vans were equipped with a box-shaped mounting, which made them look like furniture moving vans. Inside they were covered with sheet metal. The only opening was the double wing door at the back. A small fold-out stair was used to make the loading procedure easier. Once deployed, the vans first drove to the loading site, which as mentioned above initially was located near the Minsk freight station and later near the end of the railway spur at the Trostinez estate. There the victims were summoned to step up into the vans. These were always loaded so full that the humans stood packed together. Thus up to 60 people could be crammed inside. After the doors had been closed the prisoners were completely surrounded by darkness and sealed off hermetically [luftdicht abgeschlossen] from the outside world. The gas vans now drove to the execution site, where they stopped close to the pit. Only then the extermination procedure commenced. The driver or his co-driver attached a hose [Schlauch] and led it so that the exhaust gases from the engine, which was running at light throttle, were led into the interior of the halted van. Panic soon broke out among the prisoners. In their death anguish they trampled each other and screamed or beat their fists against the walls. Due to this the vehicle swayed from one side to the other for the duration of a few minutes. After some 15 minutes the van stood still and quiet, a sign that the death struggle of the locked-in people had ended. First now the doors were opened. The corpses standing immediately by the opening generally fell out by themselves. The others were pulled out by a special commando of Jews or Russian prisoners and thrown into the pits. The interior of the van offered a terrible view. The corpses were soiled all over with blood, vomit and excrements; on the floor lay spectacles, dentures and tufts of hair. It was therefore always necessary to thoroughly clean the van before it was used. This was usually done in a meadow in the immediate vicinity of the Trostinez estate. The delays caused thereby, as well as frequent malfunctions may have been the reason why the vans were not always employed, so that the shootings of Jews continued.
So as to dispel any possible mistrust among the newly arrived Jews, Kommandeur Strauch assigned a member of the KdS department to hold a reassuring speech. An SS-Führer or Unterführer greeted them at the collection point and declared that they were being 'resettled' on the order of the Führer and that they would be sent to work on agricultural farms until the end of the war. It seems that most of them trusted those words. In any case the victims always stepped up into the gas vans or lorries quietly and calmly. A corresponding camouflage language was commonly employed, for example in official writings, where executions were called 'settlement' [Ansiedlung] or 'resettlement' [Umsiedlung] and the execution sites 'settlement areas' [Siedlungsgelände].”34 [1]
As for the partial extermination of the Minsk ghetto inmates at the end of July 1942 the only documentary evidence introduced was the Nuremburg document 3428-PS, a letter from Generalkommissar Wilhelm Kube to Reichskommissar Hinrich Lohse dated 31 July 1942 in which it is stated that 6,500 Jews from the “Russian Ghetto” and 3,500 Jews from the so-called “Hamburg Ghetto” had been liquidated on 28-29 July.35 [1] The court ruled, however, that the figure mentioned by Kube “possibly may not be completely reliable” and instead pronounced a minimum of 9,000 victims. Again deviating from the documentary evidence introduced, the verdict stated that the extermination had lasted from 28 to 30 July, and further ruled that on each of these three days, “a minimum of 2,000 and a maximum of 3,500 people were delivered to their death”.36 [1]
According to the verdict there were “at least” 6,500 Russian and Reich German Jews left in Minsk on 1 September 1943. These were now taken out from the ghetto and interned in an SS labor camp in Minsk (the “Shirokaya Street camp”). The figure of 6,500 remaining Jews was reached by the court in the following manner:
“At the beginning of 1942 the Minsk Ghetto was occupied by some 25,000 people, of which 18,000 were Russian and some 7,000 German Jews as well as Jews from the western territories [Westgebieten, with this is likely meant the small number of Jews from Brno (Brünn) in the Protectorate which departed for Minsk on 16 November 1941]. The number of the Russian Jews derives from an undated report written by SS-Obersturmführer Burkhardt with the title 'Judentum' [Jewry], which likely dates from January 1942 and formed the basis of a major Einsatzbericht of the Einsatzgruppe A, the so-called 'Undated Stahlecker report'.37 [1] As Burkhardt at that time was the referee for Jewish affairs at the [local] KdS department and thus involved with issues relating to the ghetto, his statements are particularly authoritative and probative. The number of Jews deported from the west to Minsk is confirmed by numerous documents, in particular transport lists. [...].
Of these some 25,000 people at least 3,000 were killed in the March Aktion in 1942 and at least 9,000 during the July Aktion, that is in total 12,000 Jews. Accordingly there should still have lived 13,000 people in the Ghetto following the July Aktion. In fact, however, there were left only 8,600. This is confirmed by a writing from Generalkommissar Kube to the Reich Ministry of the Occupied Eastern Territories dated 31 July 1942 [the abovementioned 3428-PS]. We further read in this that of the 8,600 remaining Jews 6,000 were Russian and the remaining [i.e. 2,600] Jews who had been transported to Minsk from the western territories. [...].
We have no documentary evidence for the number of people killed in connection with the liquidation of the ghetto. The last communication which allows for a conclusion in this respect derives from April 1943. In a review presented by the Government head inspector [Regierungsoberinspektor] Moos of the Labor department [Arbeitsamt] of the city of Minsk38 [1] it was reported that 'according to [the number of] issued identification cards' 8,500 Jewish laborers had been registered. Since at the July Aktion in 1942 all Jews unfit for work had been killed, the 8,500 laborers mentioned by Moos corresponded to the total number of Jews living in Minsk.”39 [1]
Based on a number of witness testimonies the court further concluded that between April and October 1943 a maximum of 2,000 Jews had been killed during smaller killing operations.40 [1] Hence some 6,500 Jews remained at the time of the liquidation of the ghetto.
The verdict states:
“After some 14 days a convoy of some 1,000 men was prepared in the labor camp, which was then brought by train to Lublin to work there. There are certain indications that a second transport, consisting of Jewish women, likewise was dispatched to the western territories.”41 [1]
Accordingly some 4,500 Jews remained in Minsk at the beginning of October 1943. Of these all but a maximum of 500 were then brought during the following months to Trostenets in groups of 500 people each and killed there.42 [1]
The problem is that the verdict's description of the ghetto liquidation does not hold up to scrutiny. In a list of 878 Minsk Ghetto inmates dating from 1943 no less than 227 are children between 2 and 15 years of age (85 of them 10 years old or less), that is, more than one-fourth; also listed are about a dozen of elderly persons, including an 86-year-old.43 [1] The claim that all ghetto inmates unfit for work were killed in July 1942 is thus demonstrably false, and the 8,500 Jewish laborers to whom cards had been issued in early spring 1943 accordingly could not have corresponded to the total number of inmates present in the ghetto at that time.
There is also much testimonial evidence indicating that more than just two Jewish transports departed from Minsk in September 1943:
* The witness Schlomo Lajtman affirms that he was deported from Minsk to the Sobibór “death camp” on or near 15 September 1943. The train took four or five days to reach Sobibór.44 [1]
* Another transport from Minsk to Sobibór departed on 18 September 1943 and arrived on 22 September. Among the 2,000 deportees were Arkadij Wajspapir, Semjon Rosenfeld and also Alexander Pechersky, who led the Sobibór prisoner revolt on 14 October 1943.45 [1]
* According to the witness Wajspapir a third transport from Minsk arrived in Sobibór a few days after his own.46 [1] The witness Yehuda Lerner, who was also deported from Minsk, states that Pechersky was already in Sobibór when he arrived there.47 [1] According to Lerner his transport arrived in Sobibór via Lublin and Chelm.48 [1]
* According to a diary kept by Helene Chilf, an inmate of the Trawniki labor camp in the Lublin District, two transports arrived at Trawniki from Minsk via Lublin between 16 and 19 September 1943. On the second transport was a Jewess by the name of Zina Czapnik, who after the war testified that she and 400-500 other Jews, including her husband, had been sent first to Sobibór, where 200-250 people, including herself, were selected for Trawniki.49 [1] Judging by the dates, the two transports mentioned by Chilf could not have been the same as the two abovementioned convoys departing Minsk on 15 and 18 September (provided that it indeed took four or five days for the transports to reach Sobibór, as attested by the witnesses A. Pechersky and Boris Taborinsky).
* The German Jew Heinz Rosenberg, who was deported from Hamburg to Minsk in November 1941, states in his memoirs that he and 999 other Jews were deported from Minsk to Treblinka on 14 September 1943. On arrival in the “death camp” Rosenberg and 249 other skilled workers were separated from the rest and sent by train to a labor camp in Budzyn.50 [1] The station master Franciszek Zabecki confirms in his memoirs that a Jewish transport from Minsk with the code “PJ 1025” and consisting of 50 wagons arrived in Treblinka on 17 September 1943 and was sent on from there “to Chelm (in fact to Sobibor)”.51 [1] None of the Sobibór witnesses deported from Minsk to that camp speaks, however, of a transport from Belarus arriving via Treblinka. It seems logical to assume that Rosenberg and Zabecki are speaking of the same transport, yet the number of wagons mentioned by the latter clearly implies a number of deportees greater than 1,000.
* Marie Mack, who was deported from Vienna to Belarus on 27 May 1942 and was detained for over a year in Trostenets, has stated that at an unstated date in September 1943 she and 999 other Russian and German Jews were deported from Minsk to Lublin. After spending several weeks in the Lublin concentration camp (Majdanek) she was sent on to other labor camps.52 [1]
It thus seems most likely that the number of Jews evacuated from Minsk to Poland in September 1943 far exceeded the 2,000 mentioned in the court verdict and may have amounted to 6-7,000 or even more. Accordingly one would have to doubt either the claim that 4,000 Jews were murdered in Trostenets following the ghetto liquidation, or the Kube letter from 31 July 1942 (3428-PS) which has it that only 8,600 Jews remained in Minsk at that time.
In 1999 German historian Christian Gerlach revised the number of Jews still present in Minsk at the beginning of the liquidation of the ghetto to some 10,000, while mentioning a witness (H. Smolar) stating that as many as 12,000 Jews lived there (including persons in hiding).53 [1] Based on numerous testimonies Gerlach lists the following six transports departing from Minsk: 1) a convoy of 1000 people, including 300 young men from the German ghetto and 480 Trostenets inmates, departing on 14 or 15 September for Lublin and the Majdanek camp - likely the same as Marie Mack's transport; 2) the convoy of 2,000 Jews departing for Sobibor on 18 September that included A. Pechersky; 3) a transport with an unstated number of male Jews which reached Sobibor 16-19 September; 4) a transport of 450-500 Jewesses bound for Sobibor, of which part was selected for Trawniki (the convoy of Zina Czapnik); 5) the transport witnessed by F. Zabecki that arrived in Treblinka on 17 September; 6) a transport of German and Russian Jews to Auschwitz, likely at the beginning of October 1943. According to Gerlach's estimate the total number of evacuees numbered at least 5,500, possibly as many as 7,000.54 [1] Still Gerlach does not acknowledge two convoys for which there is reliable testimonial evidence: the first of the transports to Trawniki noted in H. Chilf's diary, and the third transport to Sobibór attested to by Lerner and Wajspapir. According to historian Wolfgang Curilla there further departed a transport with Byelorussian and German Jews from Minsk to Auschwitz at the beginning of October 1943.55 [1] [His minimum figure is thus almost certainly too low. In one of Gerlach's footnotes we learn that, according to a testimony left by a German official named Erich Isselhorst in 1945, the number of Jews deported from Minsk and Baranovichi to Lublin between August and October 1943 had amounted to 12-13,000.56 [1]
As a consequence of his upward revision of the number of evacuees, Gerlach maintains that “the number of Jews killed in Minsk or Trostinez in September and October 1943 may not have been as high as previously estimated”. Here he points to contradictions in the statements left by the alleged perpetrators. Adolf Rübe, for example, declared in 1948 that only some 500 Russian Jews had been shot, and these due to logistical problems. When interrogated again in 1959 Rübe had upped the number of shot Jews to 4,000.57 [1] Ironically Gerlach manages to contradict himself, as elsewhere in his book he estimates that some 5,000 Jews were shot in Trostenets in connection with the ghetto liquidation.58 [1]
Characteristically Gerlach has tucked away his most important find in a footnote, wherein we learn that a preserved rationing coupon shows that “In October there were still at least 3,111 recipients of food rationing coupons in the so-called Russian Ghetto”.59 [1] This means that after at least 5,500-7,000 (but more likely some 7,500-9,000) Jews had been evacuated from Minsk and an unclear number of others shot, there were still at a minimum 3,111 Jews left in the main ghetto. How many more Jews could there have been in the “Sonderghetto” of the foreign Jews and in the city's labor camps and prisons? Gerlach's figures imply that there were at the very least some 10-12,000 Jews still present in Minsk at the beginning of September 1943. How does this fit with Kube's statement that only 8,600 Jews remained in Minsk at the end of July 1942?60 [1] The inconvenience that the evidence presented above causes mainstream historiography may be surmised by the fact that when Israeli historian Yitzhak Arad presented his comprehensive historiography on the holocaust in the occupied Soviet Union in 2009, he simply omitted most of it, asserting instead that on the eve of the liquidation there had lived only some 2-3,000 Jews in the Minsk Ghetto, of which some hundred managed to survive.61 [1]
Whereas the Soviet Extraordinary State Commission claimed that 6,500 people had been shot or burned alive at the Trostenets estate during the last days of June 1944 (cf. §2.1.), the Koblenz court estimated only some 500 deaths at Trostenets for this period, most of them Jewish skilled workers still remaining in Minsk and at the estate.62 [1] Gerlach on the other hand has it that part of the skilled Jewish workers still remaining in Minsk in June 1944 were deported to Auschwitz.63 [1]
Since the Koblenz court did not treat the alleged mass killings at Trostenets as a separate-case complex, it did not pronounce a victim figure for the camp. Among the nine cases of mass killings treated within the scope of the trial, four pertained to Trostenets:
Transport operations 11 May - 9 October 1942
13,500
Partial clearing of the Minsk Ghetto, 28-30 July 1942
9,000
Liquidation of the Minsk Ghetto, autumn 1943
4,000
Final executions during the evacuation of Minsk, end of June 1944
500
Total number of victims according to the verdict: 27,000
The trial ended with the main accused Heuser being sentenced to 15 years in prison, while the ten other defendants were handed down prison sentences varying from 3 years and 6 months to 10 years.
2.4. H.G. Adler (1974)
In 1974 H.G. Adler published a study on the Jewish deportations from Germany, Austria and the Protectorate with the title Der verwaltete Mensch (The Administered Person), in which we find the following brief description of Trostenets:
“In a small village, which before the occupation had constituted a kolkhoz, the camp [Trostenets] was located; to this belonged an estate of 250 hectares. Here the prisoners were also housed, first in pig sties, later in barracks which each housed 150 to 160 people. During 1942 a total of 39,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, Bohemia-Moravia, Luxembourg, Holland and also from the Soviet Union were brought to Trostinetz, but in the camp itself there were never more than 640 Jews at one time, most of them Jews from Vienna; among the inmates there were also some hundreds of Russian prisoners of war.”64 [1]
The contention that Jews from Luxembourg and Holland were detained in the Trostenets camp goes completely against orthodox historiography, which has it that no Jews from these countries ever reached farther east than Poland. Adler moreover maintains that the five transports departing from Theresienstadt in October 1942 were sent to Trostenets instead of Treblinka.65 [1] The source for this contention appears to be the testimony of a certain Isak Grünberg, who was deported from Vienna to Trostenets on 5 (or 7) October 1942, who speaks of transports from Auschwitz, and hints at transports from Theresienstadt via Treblinka.66 [1] Grünberg estimated the number of Trostenets victims at more than 45,000.
2.5. Miroslav Kárný (1988)
In 1988 the Czechoslovakian historian Miroslav Kárný published an article discussing the fate of the Jewish convoys that departed from the Theresienstadt (Terezin) ghetto in the summer and autumn of 1942. His description of Trostenets67 [1], including the transports sent there from Theresienstadt, conforms with the verdict of the Koblenz trial against Heuser et al, which is indeed his main source on this subject. In a footnote Kárný dismisses as unfounded Adler's 1974 hypothesis that the five transports sent from Theresienstadt in October 1942 were murdered at Trostenets instead of Treblinka.68 [1]
2.6. Paul Kohl (1990)
In 1990 the German journalist Paul Kohl published a book on the Belarus holocaust titled Ich wundere mich, daß ich noch lebe (I'm Amazed That I'm Still Alive) which was republished in 1995 under the new title Der Krieg der deutschen Wehrmacht und der Polizei 1941-1944 (The War of the German Army and Police 1941-1944). This book is partly a collection of testimonies, partly a travel journal which describes Kohl's own visits to various museums and (alleged) mass killing sites, among them Maly Trostenets:
“We drive back to the Minsk-Mogilev road and turn left after a couple of kilometers, onto a country road. We are going to the Blagovshchina pinewoods. From autumn 1941 to autumn 1943 this was the actual execution site. I want to see what can still be discerned of the 34 graves that were discovered here in 1944. But we don't get far. Today the area is a military off-limits zone. In front of us is a sign with the inscription: 'Do not proceed! Live rounds will be fired!'
So we go back in the direction of the village of Maly Trostenez, along the former camp site, towards the Shashkovka copse. 500 meters from the camp, at the edge of this copse, there has been raised a second memorial stone, likewise surrounded by an iron grating. To the left of it, in the woods, there once stood the Shashkovka oven, in which from autumn 1943 to the end of June 1944 the bodies of those shot here or killed in gas vans were incinerated. The outlines of the gigantic pit of the oven can only be guessed at underneath the brushwood.”69 [1]
This description begs two important questions: Why was the area with the alleged 34 mass graves at Blagovshchina made an off-limits area by Soviet authorities? And what happened to the – apparently more or less intact – “incinerator” that the investigators of the Extraordinary State Commission reportedly discovered at the Shashkovka? When were the remains of it removed, and why?
Then follows Kohl's brief history of the Trostenets camp:
“From May 1942 onward all executions took place in Blagovshchina. 20 shooters were placed along the length of each grave pit. One always used pistols and killed with shots in the neck. If there was reason to believe that any of the victims were still alive one simply fired with machine guns into the graves, until everything was still and quiet.
In the summer of 1942 a railway station was built by a one-way track near the collection point in the part of the camp closest to the [Minsk-Mogilev] road (the railway line had previously ended at Michanowice). The trains with Jews from the Reich, which had previously stopped at the Minsk freight yard, were now immediately redirected from there to Trostenez. Twice a week trains arrived from the Reich, from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, France. They arrived on Tuesdays and Fridays and – in order to avoid commotion – always in the early morning between four and five o'clock. Also from the Dachau Concentration Camp a train arrived in June 1942.
The arrivals were taken to a collection point two hundred meters away and there given a friendly reception. After all one had told them in connection with their arrest and departure something about 'resettlement', and one sought by all costs to avoid panic. The work had to be carried out orderly and frictionless in order to ensure the efficiency of the process. From the deportees were confiscated their identity cards, documents, gold and jewelry, as well as the 50 kilos of luggage that each deportee was allowed to bring with him or her for the purpose of 'resettlement': trunks, bags, blankets, kitchen utensils, coats, playthings for the children. One took all of this away from them under the pretense that they would receive new papers and that, for the sake of comfort, the luggage would be forwarded to them. When it was handed over the Germans even handed out receipts, so that many of them actually believed in the resettlement story until their last moment. Then a selection of the deportees took place into those fit and unfit for work. The first group was then divided among various specific professions: electricians, metalworkers, carpenters, tailors, and so on. For the unfit for work the gas vans were standing ready nearby, camouflaged as trailer homes with windows mounted on and mock-up chimneys attached to the roofs. Those fit for work had to carry on working their various professions until they were no longer fit.”70 [1]
As for the total number of victims, Kohl sticks with the Extraordinary State Commission figure of 206,500.71 [1]
The bizarre notion that the gas vans employed in the killing of the victims were camouflaged as trailer homes is lifted from the highly spurious so-called Becker document, which has been discussed in detail elsewhere.72 [1] That Jews were deported by train to Trostenets not merely from Germany, Austria and the Protectorate but also from Poland and France goes completely against the orthodox version of events, and the assertion that the transports arrived twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, also clashes with mainstream historiography.73 [1] Later in this article I will return to the claim that the arriving deportees were deceived by the Germans into thinking that they would merely be resettled.
German holocaust historian Christian Gerlach has commented thus on Kohl's book:
“Paul Kohl is definitely one of the best experts when it comes to the camp complexes in and around Minsk (...). His statements are, however, (...) often insufficiently documented and verifiable.”74 [1]
This may be to put things too kindly. In fact Kohl rarely provides any proper references, and they are particularly lacking when it comes to Kohl's more extraordinary statements. I have managed, however, to track down Kohl's source on the nationality of the deportees, a testimony from a certain Ernst Schlesinger75 [1], who claims to have been deported from Dachau to Trostenets in June 1942, a transport unknown to mainstream historiography:76 [1]
“Beginning in the spring of 1942 there arrived at Trostenets twice a week, usually on Tuesdays and Fridays, convoys with citizens of foreign countries - Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, France and Germany - that were brought in for destruction. Sometimes the trains would arrive at the station in Minsk, but more often a special railway branch brought the condemned to the very vicinity of Trostenets.. The convoys usually arrived between 4 and 5 in the morning. The deportees were unloaded, had all their things taken away and were then given a receipt, so that they would not worry about their fate. The receipts made the condemned believe that they would be relocated to a new location.”77 [1]
2.7. Hans Safrian (1993)
In his book Die Eichmann-Männer from 1993, holocaust historian Hans Safrian mentions H.G. Adler's 1974 hypothesis of the five October transports from Theresienstadt as plausible, while also referencing Grünberg's statements.78 [1] Safrian estimates that at least 30,000 Western Jews and a vague “tens of thousands” of Belorusian Jews were murdered at Trostenets. He arrives at the first figure by assuming that all transports sent to the Minsk area from Central Europe in 1942 – “21 transports” with “over 25,000 men, women and children from Terezin, Vienna and Cologne” – together with some additional, undocumented transports in the same year (likely meant are the five October transports from Theresienstadt) were murdered at Trostenets.79 [1]
2.8. Christian Gerlach (1999)
In 1999 the German holocaust historian Christian Gerlach had his voluminous doctoral dissertation on policies of forced labor and (alleged) extermination in German-occupied western Belarus published under the title Kalkulierte Morde (Calculated Murders). In this the camp at Maly Trostenets is discussed in a brief subchapter on “death camps” in Belarus:
“The most well known and important of the camps was certainly Maly Trostinez, located some 12 kilometers southeast of Minsk. Its origin has not been fully clarified. According to Paul Kohl the extermination site Blagovshchina was sought out in November by the first head of KdS Minsk, Erich Ehrlinger, and used from that time on. The fact is that the first clearly provable execution at this site did not take place until 11 May 1942. As late as the Ghetto Aktion in Minsk at the end of July 1942 only a part of the victims were killed in Maly Trostinez, while others were murdered in Petrashkevichi at the other side of the city. Despite the so-called Heroes' Cemetery, a memorial stone for Heydrich and settlement plans of [Eduard] Strauch, Trostinez always remained a provisory installation.[...]
Nevertheless there exists a credible witness statement according to which a camp operated by the KdS existed near the village Maly Trostinez already in January 1942. The place, however, was not made into a major extermination site until Strauch took command. In March or April 1942 KdS was given the ownership of a kolkhoz of 200 hectares to be used as a country estate. Here a cattle farm was constructed in May 1942. [...]. The inmates of the camp were Jews and non-Jews, most of the latter were alleged partisans. Initially most of the Jewish inmates were Czech or German - between 20 and 50 Jews were picked out from each of the deportation convoys in 1942 and brought to the camp. Later there were also Belorusian Jews among the inmates. The number of detainees may have varied between 500 and 100; after the [Minsk] ghetto liquidation in October 1943 they numbered 200. Figures according to which there were 5,000 inmates in the camp at this time are not reliable.
The inmates of Trostinez were forced to work inside the camp itself, either with farming or as artisans (...) apparently mainly to meet the needs of members of the KdS; some inmates were sent over during the day from Trostinez to buildings in Minsk. In the camp itself there apparently existed installations run by Organisation Todt and the Reichsarbeitsdienst that possibly employed camp inmates. All in all, however, the economic importance of the camp was marginal.
The official number of victims murdered in Trostinez and its vicinity amounts to 206,500. Such figures – immediately after the war even as many as 546,000 victims were claimed – appear far too high in the light of presently available research. An attempt at reconstruction gives approximately 40,000 victims as well as an additional unknown number of prison and camp inmates from the vicinity of Minsk, who had been arrested during roundups and anti-partisan operations. Exact figures are impossible to provide, as the mass graves were exhumed and the corpses burnt by the German Sonderkommando 1005 starting October 1943. Statements from people involved in this procedure nonetheless indicate that somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 dead had been interred in the mass graves. The reports of the investigative authorities from 1944 gave approximately 150,000 or up to 150,000 victims, but even this figure is well too high. In total – as a rough estimate – 60,000 people could have been exterminated at Trostinez.”80 [1]
In a footnote Gerlach elucidates on his own victim estimate:
“The figure 40,000 is constituted as follows: some 5,000 victims from each of the ghetto Aktions in July 1942 and autumn 1943; some 20,000 Jews deported in 1942 from Central Europe for extermination at Trostenets; 3,000 so-called suspected bandits [Banditenverdächtigen], who were gassed during ten days in February 1943, and 6,500 victims of the massacres on camp and prison inmates at the time of the German retreat at the end of June 1944.”81 [1]
This revised victim figure is of crucial importance for the exterminationist understanding of the function of the camp. If it is correct then 80% of the victims during the first year of operation (1942) were Jews deported from Austria, Germany and the Protectorate. This clearly implies that Maly Trostenets was set up especially to handle such transports. Up until the publication of Kalkulierte Morde Trostenets had primarily been viewed as an extermination center for Belorusian Jews and secondarily as a site for the killing of Jews from Central Europe (Hans Safrian's book from 1993 being a possible exception). Gerlach reversed this view by way of allocating most of the (alleged) mass murders of Minsk Jews to other, even less known killing sites around Minsk.82 [1]
Another noteworthy aspect of Gerlach's victim figure is that he has conflated the alleged gas van murders and mass shootings at the Shashkovka site carried out from October 1943 onward, the victims of which were supposedly cremated in some type of field oven, with the 6,500 victims from June 1944 which the ESC in their September 1944 report claimed had been burnt alive inside barns and on “piles of logs” in the camp itself.
Finally it should be noted that while Gerlach is familiar with Isak Grünberg's testimony83 [1], he refrains from mentioning that this eyewitness spoke about convoys from Auschwitz and hinted at transports from Theresienstadt via Treblinka in October 1942. Significantly Gerlach devotes another subchapter of his book84 [1] to presenting a large number of testimonies about the presence of Dutch, French and Polish Jews in Minsk and other locations in Belarus, without going into any detail as to how these Jews arrived there – clearly because this would lead to the uncomfortable conclusion that they were sent there via the “extermination camps” in Poland. As for the presence of Polish Jews in Trostenets we learn:
“It is a fact that many Polish Jews were detained at Trostinez, apparently under the command of Organisation Todt. 250 of them were later transferred to the SS Construction Office in Smolensk.”85 [1]
As source for this Gerlach refers to four witnesses (the Germans “H.W.” – who worked at the SS Central Construction Office Russia Center (SS-Zentralbauleitung Rußland-Mitte) – and Karl Buchner, the Jews “E.S.” – likely identical with the abovementioned Ernst Schlesinger – Anna Krasnoperko, and an unnamed witness referenced by H. Safrian). Isak Grünberg likewise testified that many Polish Jews had been detained at Trostenets at the time of his arrival.86 [1]
2.9. Marat Botvinnik (2000)
In 2000 the Belarus historian Marat Botvinnik published a slim book on the holocaust in Belarus in which Trostenets is devoted a short chapter. Here we read:
“Near the village of Trostenets, located 11 km from Minsk along the Minsk-Mogilev highway, the Nazis created the so-called labor camp Blagovshchina. Under this false guise was operated a death camp which had access to the railroad (...). In a concentration camp near the village of Trostenets the Nazis systematically slaughtered between 1941 and 1944 hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom were Jews from Minsk and other locations in Belarus. Others were political prisoners kept by the Germans, or Jews from the cities of Austria, Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Most of the victims were women, children and old people. Some of them were brought in vans that were colloquially known as 'black ravens' or 'gas vans'. The victims were suffocated by exhaust gases, and their corpses unloaded at a pre-dug pit in the Blagovshchina Forest. Many trains arrived from cities in Belarus and the countries of Western Europe. [...]. With two-faced courtesy the doomed were asked to surrender their valuables and belongings, for which in turn they were handed receipts. The hangmen created the appearance that they would be taken to work at another location. They were loaded onto large trucks with trailers that stood ready nearby and taken to the execution site, where they were ordered without any courtesy to undress and then shot.”87 [1]
Mainstream historiography knows of no transports of Polish Jews to Trostenets, even though the presence of Polish Jews in the camp is supported by several witnesses (see the preceding paragraph). The claim that Jews from other Belorusian cities than Minsk were sent by train to Trostenets appears to be unique to this author.
The most interesting that Botvinnik has to say about Trostenets concerns the methodology of the Soviet investigators. After mentioning that both 546,000 and 206,500 had been officially stated as victim figure, Botvinnik (who champions a vague “hundreds of thousands” victims) explains:
“The difference between the victim numbers stated in the documents can be explained by the fact that the investigators used different methods when counting the corpses in the grave pits: some estimated that each cubic meter of grave contained 20 corpses, some insisted on a density of 7 corpses, yet others on 5, thus giving rise to differing victim figures. Even former inmates who miraculously survived the camp can not give precise information about the number of people murdered by the Nazis.”88 [1]
In other words the investigators determined their victim figures based on apparently completely arbitrary estimates of the density of corpses in the 34 Blagovshchina mass graves, of which they had merely “partly opened” five (see §2.1.). The full repercussions of this methodology will be exposed in §3.2 of part 2 of this series.
2.10. Paul Kohl (2003)
It was only in 2003 that a book devoted exclusively to Trostenets appeared in a Western language. This slim89 [1] volume, titled Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez. Augenzeugenberichte und Dokumente (The Trostenez Extermination Camp: Eyewitness Reports and Documents) consists of three main sections: a 15-page history of the camp written by Kohl himself, a collection of (relatively brief) witness statements and documents relating90 [1] to various aspects of the camp (“The transport”, “The arrival”, “The camp”, “Blagovshchina”, “The gas vans”, “The disinterment”, “Shaskovka”), and a brief chapter of the post-war fates of the alleged perpetrators.
Unfortunately Kohl's new history on Trostenets is extremely derivative, so that the primary value of this volume lies in the testimonies and documents that it reproduces (many of which have been quoted and referenced elsewhere in this article). It is of interest, however, to note what Kohl does rehash from previous historiographical statements on the camp. Most importantly, Kohl has thrown overboard his own previous statement that Jews from Poland and France were deported to Trostenets (cf. §2.6.). He does not refer to the witness Ernst Schlesinger, nor does he mention Isak Grünberg.
There is, however, one significant new element introduced by Kohl in this book:
“The number of forced laborers grew, the camp was enlarged, new barbed-wire fences and new guard towers had to be erected. In addition, the lorry convoys and the deportation trains daily brought in more people to be shot than the shooters could liquidate in one 'work day'. For that reason the people had to wait two or three days for their death in bunkers and barracks, that were likewise surrounded by barbed-wire fences and guard towers. Thus were established two separate camps: One for the forced laborers working on the estate, the other for those waiting to be shot.”91 [1]
Since Kohl's essay on Trostenets lacks footnotes, and only has a bibliography, it is impossible to determine the source for this statement, but it seems likely to be derived from court material (it is not supported by any testimony or document presented in the second part of the book).
According to Kohl the shootings at Blagovshchina were carried out by “up to 20 shooters”, who worked on a rotating schedule (some 80 to 100 police and SS are said to have been present at the execution site). The Jewish convoys are stated to have arrived between 4 and 7 o'clock in the morning. The killing is said to have taken from early morning to late afternoon.92 [1] In addition “gas vans” were supposedly used with a maximum capacity of 60 or 80 victims, depending on type.93 [1] Now, Kohl accepts that the convoys from Austria, Germany and the Protectorate, which arrived with a frequency of one per week, each consisted of at most some 1,000 deportees, of which 20 to 80 were selected for work in the camp and a smaller number had perished on the way.94 [1] This would leave at most some 950 deportees to be shot. Each shooter – and for the sake of argument we will say that there were only 15 of them – thus had to kill at most (950 / 15 =) 63 Jews. Considering the alleged highly organized form of the whole operation – according to the verdict of the Koblenz trial the shootings were carried out according to a detailed “framework plan” developed by a certain SS-Obersturmführer Lütkenhus of the KdS Minsk (cf. §2.3) – the alleged optional use of several “gas vans” (Kohl estimates that 1 van could kill 300 people in 1 day and asserts that in total 3 “gas vans” were employed at Trostenets95 [1]), the start in the early morning, and the revolving schedule of the shooters (which would eliminate the need for breaks) it would seem that the extermination of the convoys from the west could well have been carried out within a few hours, and most certainly within a day.
Kohl mentions only three instances of larger groups being killed at Trostenets: 1) part96 [1] of a group of 7,000-10,000 Jews from the Minsk Ghetto allegedly murdered at Blagovshchina in November 1941, i.e. before the establishment of the camp97 [1]; 2) some 10,000 Belorusian and German Jews from the Minsk Ghetto murdered at Blagovshchina during the three-day period of 28-30 July 194298 [1]; 6,500 people shot or burned alive in the camp itself during its last days of existence (28-30 June 1944).99 [1] As seen above, Gerlach maintains that some 5,000 Jews were killed at Trostenets in connection with the liquidation of the Minsk Ghetto in the autumn of 1943. The first and third instances mentioned by Kohl clearly have no relevance for the construction of a separate “waiting camp” (due to their dating). Assuming that the massacres of Jews from the Minsk Ghetto in July 1942 and autumn 1943 really took place as alleged, there would have been two instances when the Jews brought to Trostenets possibly couldn't be all murdered in one day – but would such isolated instances warrant the construction of barracks, bunkers and guard towers? Also, if we are to believe the Gruppe Arlt report of 3 August 1942, 6000 Jews from the “Russian Ghetto” in Minsk were all killed in a single day – 28 July 1942 – without the occurrence of any such “backlogging” (cf. §3.3.). And if such indeed had occurred, wouldn't it have sufficed with a temporary holding pen consisting of a simple barbed-wire fence? In other words: the construction of a separate camp where deportees had to wait “two or three days for their death” makes precious little sense from an exterminationist viewpoint.
As for the total number of victims, Kohl chose to revive the 206,500 figure of the ESC, but in a rather half-hearted manner:
“According to the investigations of the commission 150,000 people were murdered in the forest of Blagovshchina, 50,000 in the pit of Shashkovka and 6,500 people in the barns at the estate. The total number of people murdered in the Trostenez extermination camp amounted according to the commission's statements from July-August 1944: 206,500.
Despite these statements there exists no certain evidence concerning the number of people actually murdered. The abovementioned total figure may be put into doubt. Perhaps it is speculation. Just like all other figures. However, as long as there is no other evidence available [pointing to a different figure] one must accept the figure reported by the commission.”100 [1]
That Christian Gerlach four years earlier dismissed the ESC figure as “far too high” does not bother Kohl in the least – although it would appear that Kohl is unaware of Gerlach's Kalkulierte Morde; at least he does not list it among his sources. In any case it hardly needs to be pointed out that Kohl's reasoning here is deeply flawed: Confronted with the claim that X number of people have been murdered, the logical response from any sane, rational person would be to ask for hard evidence supporting that this number of people has indeed been killed. One would not uncritically accept an unsubstantiated claim just because no evidence contradicting it was available.
It should perhaps not surprise that Kohl's book is very lacking when it comes to source criticism. There is no discussion whatsoever with regard to the authenticity of the documents presented, nor any evaluation of the reliability of the eyewitnesses. Even though we encounter no patently outrageous tales of Nazi sadism, as we do in much other “death camp” literature, Kohl presents straight-faced a number of witness claims that strike the critically-minded reader as implausible or at least remarkably odd. Here it will suffice to give three examples:
* Adolf Rübe, supposedly the head of a “Sonderkommando 1005-Mitte” squad, claims that in mid-November 1943 a group of some 30 Jews were brought from Minsk to the Blagovshchina site, where disinterment of the buried corpses was going on. 20 of the Jews were shot at the edge of an opened grave. The remaining “eight to ten” Jews had to undress, whereafter they were tied hands and feet and burned alive on top of a cremation pyre. As if this wasn't enough, SS Obersturmführer Heuser also had one Jewess tied to a stake raised in the middle of a pile of logs. Somehow the Jewess managed to untie herself and tried to run away, but she was immediately caught. The “Sonderkommando 1005” member Karl Harder then climbed onto the top of pile and again tied the Jewess to the stake – even though the logs around them were on fire!101 [1]
* Konrad Mütze, a member of the Schutzpolizei who worked as a guard at the Blagovshchina site in autumn 1943: “We also heard that, shortly before our arrival, some people were brought here in a gas van but then refused to leave the van. They were driven out of the van with a flaming torch and then shot.” But if these people were to be killed, why not just close the door to the van and gas them?102 [1]
* Kohl, apparently summarizing the statement of some unnamed witness, informs us that the camp staff arranged soccer matches between inmates and Jews from the “waiting camp”. The losing team would immediately be sent to Blagovshchina and shot. The winning team was rewarded with a one or two-day reprieve, after which it also was sent away and shot.103 [1]
2.11. Petra Rentrop (2009)
In 2009 German holocaust historian Petra Rentrop published a 14-page article in an anthology volume edited by Wolfgang Benz and Barbara Distel.104 [1] This article is primarily a rehash of information from Gerlach, the Arlt reports, two telegrams concerning “S-Wagons” (cf. §3.4 below) and material from the 1963 Koblenz trial. Rentrop accepts Gerlach's higher figure of 60,000 victims as plausible.
2.12. Yitzhak Arad (2009)
In 2009 the Israeli holocaust historian Yitzhak Arad published a comprehensive history on the alleged extermination of the Jews in the German-occupied eastern territories, The Holocaust in the Soviet Union. In this 700-page volume Trostenets is devoted in total some two pages, most of which consist of quotes from testimonies already available in Kohl (2003). Arad states that 17 transports of in total some 16,000 Austrian, German and Czech Jews were murdered at Trostenets105 [1], while adopting Gerlach's lower total figure of 40,000 victims.106 [1] On the other hand Arad gives the number of victims from the liquidation of the Minsk Ghetto on 21 October 1943 as 2-3,000 at the most, as compared to the 5,000 estimated by Gerlach.107 [1] Nothing more needs to be said about Arad's brief treatment of the camp, except that it is riddled with misspellings of names (“Lagovchina” instead of Blagovshchina, “Adolf Riba” instead of Adolf Rübe, and “Hauser” instead of Heuser)108 [1], and that in quoting the ESC report of September 1944 he conflates its statements concerning the Blagovshchina mass graves with those regarding Shashkovka without notifying his readers.109 [1]
This concludes Part 1 of “The Maly Trostenets ‘Extermination Camp’—A Preliminary Historiographical Survey.” The final Part 2 will be presented in the next issue.
Notes:
  1. Cf. Jürgen Graf, Carlo Mattogno, Concentration Camp Stutthof and its Function in National Socialist Jewish Policy, Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2003.
  2. From 1943 onward all KdS departments were redesignated “BdS”, Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des Sicherheitsdienstes.
  3. Christian Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde. Die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in Weißrußland, Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 1999, p. 768.
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maly_Trostenets [2]
  5. Maly Trostinec, http://www.deathcamps.org/occupation/maly%20trostinec.html
  6. Petr Krymsky, “Trostenec - belorusskiy 'Osvencim'”, Rossiĭskie vesti, No. 16, May 11-18 2005. I have not yet been able to procure a copy of this article.
  7. Petra Rentrop, “Maly Trostinez”, in: Wolfgang Benz, Barbara Distel, Der Ort des Terrors, vol. 9, C.H. Beck, Munich 2009, p. 574. Strauch was indicted at the NMT Einsatzgruppen trial and sentenced to death, but this sentence was never carried out due to mental illness. Neither during IMT Nuremberg nor at the Einsatzgruppen trial was Trostenets ever mentioned. Also http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eduard_Strauch
  8. Paul Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez. Augenzeugenberichte und Dokumente, IBB - Internationales Bildungs- und Begegnungswerk, Dortmund 2003, p. 53.
  9. Ibid., p. 11.
  10. Petra Rentrop, “Maly Trostinez”, op.cit., p. 581.
  11. Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, vol. XIX, University Press Amsterdam, Amsterdam 1978, p. 167, 210, 213.
  12. This survey should not be viewed as an exhaustive survey of everything that has ever been written about the Trostenets camp. The scope has been limited to the literature available to me via libraries in Western Europe and the Internet. One possibly important publication which I have not been able to consider was authored by a certain Alla Georgijevna Vankevich (German sp. Alla Georgijewna Wankewitsch) and published in Minsk in 1986, Paul Kohl gives only a German translation of the title: “Fahrt Nach Trostenez”. Dokumentation über das Vernichtungslager (“Journey to Trostenets”: Documents on the Extermination Camp). An online article suggests that the Russian title is Ekskursija v Trostenec (see note 74 below). The Wikipedia entry on the camp lists three further Byelorussian books of possible interest, all published the same year: V.I. Adamushko, et al. (eds.), Lagere smerti “Trostenec”: Dokumenty i materiali, National Archives of the Republic of Belarus, Minsk 2003; K.I. Kozak, et al. (eds.), Henatsyd u druhoĭ susvetnaĭ vaĭne: Prablemy dasledavanniya u pamiyats akhviyar Trastsiyantsa, Vydavetski tsentr BDU, Minsk 2003; S.V. Zhumar & R.A. Chernoglazova (eds.), Trostenets, GK ‘Poligrafoformlenie', Minsk 2003.
  13. This is a German translation of “Maly Trostenets”; “maly” meaning “small”. There was also a Bolshoi Trostenets, “Great Trostenets”, to the north-east of the camp. Today Maly Trostenets lies at the southern outskirts of the city of Minsk.
  14. The locations of the various sites are based on comparison with an online map of the present day memorial area ( http://www.deathcamps.org/occupation/pic/bigmaly6.jpg ) in combination with modern-day satellite photos.
  15. “In Reichskommissariat Ostland there existed officially designated concentration camps [Konzentrationslager, KL] only on the territories of the Baltic republics [such as KL Kaiserwald in Riga and KL Kauen]” (emphasis added); C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op.cit., p. 768, n. 1456.
  16. Reproduced (in translation) in: Soviet Government Statements on Nazi Atrocities, Hutchinson & Co, London 1945, pp. 227-230.
  17. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op.cit., p. 770 n. 1469.
  18. 18 Soviet Government Statements on Nazi Atrocities, op.cit., p. 59.
  19. Paul Kohl, Der Krieg der deutschen Wehrmacht und der Polizei 1941-1944. Sowietische Überlebende berichten, Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1995, p. 100. According to Kohl the original protocols in German are kept in the KGB Moscow archives, Sig. H-18763, and consist of 18 volumes.
  20. In this quote presented by Ehrenburg and Grossman we do not learn when the witness arrived in Trostenets.
  21. Ilya Ehrenburg, Vasily Grossman, David Patterson (eds.), The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick London 2002, pp. 193-194.
  22. Ibid., pp. 194-195.
  23. Statement by the alleged perpetrator Adolf Rübe quoted in Paul Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez, op.cit., p. 78.
  24. P. Rentrop, “Maly Trostinez”, op.cit., p. 583.
  25. H.G. Adler, Theresienstadt 1941-1945. Das Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft, 2nd revised edition, J.L.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen 1960, p. 837. Translation by author.
  26. “Zwölf blieben am Leben” Aufbau, 21 July 1944, p. 6. Translation by author.
  27. H.G. Adler, Theresienstadt 1941-1945, op.cit., p. 52.
  28. To Treblinka: “Bo” on 19/9, “Bp” on 21/9, “Bq” on 23/9, “Br” on 26/9, “Bs” on 29/9. To Riga: “Bb” on 20/8. Liste aller Transporte aus Theresienstadt, http://www.terezinstudies.cz/deu/ITI/database/tr_out_to [3]
  29. The rerouting to Kolodishchi (German spelling Kolodischtschi) is confirmed by Fahrplanordnung no. 62. Cf. Heiner Lichtenstein, Mit der Reichsbahn in den Tod. Massentransporte in den Holocaust 1941 bis 1945, Bund Verlag, Cologne 1985, pp. 70-74.
  30. Cf. Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, vol. XIX, op. cit., p. 192: “In April 1942 Heydrich personally visited Minsk and informed the Commander of the Sicherheitspolizei and the SD Strauch that from now on also the German and other European Jews would be exterminated. On the same occasion he announced the renewal of the Jewish transports from the west to Minsk, which had been cancelled at the end of November 1941. He ordered that these should be killed immediately upon arrival.” In the list of cited documents (ibid., pp. 315-317) there is no trace of any preserved written Heydrich order from this time period; on the other hand we find a “Sworn statement by Strauch from 22 January 1948”, the source: “Bundesarchiv Koblenz, All. Proz. XXVII ZA/4 fol. 1-12 plus associated Transcripts Volume 7, 978ff.” (ibid., p. 317).
  31. Ibid., p. 196; Heuser's statement is reproduced in P. Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez, op.cit., pp. 60-61.
  32. 32 Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, vol. XIX, op.cit., p. 195.
  33. A station named Kolodishchi (Kolodziszcze) is indeed located some 18 km northeast, as shown by the Übersichtskarte von Mitteleuropa, U54 Minsk; it should not be confused with the Koladicze located some 10 km south of Minsk, also near a railway track, which can be seen in Ill. 1.
  34. Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, vol. XIX, op.cit., pp. 193-195. Translation by author.
  35. Document 3428-PS, IMT vol. XXXII, p. 280.
  36. Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, vol. XIX, op.cit., pp. 197-198. Translation by author.
  37. Document 2273-PS, IMT vol. XXX, p. 72f.
  38. In the document list at the end of the verdict we find a “Referat des Regierungsoberinspektors Moos, gehalten auf der Tagung vom 8.-10. April 1943” of which a photocopy had been provided the court by Soviet authorities.
  39. Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, vol. XIX, op. cit., pp. 202-203. Translation by author.
  40. Ibid., p. 203.
  41. Ibid., p. 202.
  42. Ibid.
  43. Jürgen Graf, Carlo Mattogno, Treblinka. Extermination Camp or Transit Camp?, Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2004, pp. 214-215.
  44. Jules Schelvis, Sobibor. A History of a Nazi Death Camp, Berg, Oxford/New York 2007, p. 218, 240.
  45. Ibid., p. 218, 241.
  46. Ibid., p. 219.
  47. Transcript of the Shoah Interview with Yehuda Lerner, p. 17, online: http://resources.ushmm.org/intermedia/film_video/spielberg_archive/
    transcript/RG60_5030/91645B27-8317-421E-A32C-50450DC5BDC4.pdf
  48. Ibid., pp. 14-15.
  49. J. Schelvis, Sobibor. A History of a Nazi Death Camp, op. cit., pp. 219-220.
  50. Heinz Rosenberg, Jahre des Schreckens... und ich blieb übrig, daß ich Dir's ansage, Steidl Verlag, Göttingen 1985, pp. 72-73, 77-78.
  51. Revolt in Treblinka and the Liquidation of the Camp, http://www.deathcamps.org/treblinka/zabeckirevolt.html [4]
  52. Gertrude Schneider, Exile and Destruction. The Fate of Austrian Jews, 1938-1945, Praeger, Westport (Conn.) 1995, p. 101.
  53. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op.cit., pp. 740, n. 1275.
  54. Ibid., pp. 740-742.
  55. Wolfgang Curilla, Die deutsche Ordnungspolizei und der Holocaust im Baltikum und Weissrussland 1941-1944, Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 2006, p. 402
  56. Ibid., p. 742, n. 1285.
  57. Ibid., p. 742, n. 1286.
  58. Ibid., p. 770, n. 1469.
  59. Ibid., p. 740, n. 1275.
  60. Then again one has to consider the two transports missed by Gerlach, and the factor of natural mortality.
  61. Yitzhak Arad, The Holocaust in the Soviet Union, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (Neb.) 2009, pp. 328-329.
  62. Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, vol. XIX, op.cit., p. 204.
  63. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op.cit., p. 743.
  64. H.G. Adler, Der verwaltete Mensch. Studien zur Deportation der Juden aus Deutschland, J.L.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen 1974, p. 198. Translation by author.
  65. Ibid., p. 443.
  66. T. Kues, “Evidence for the Presence of 'Gassed' Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territories, Part 2”, §3.3.10, Inconvenient History, winter 2010, online: www.inconvenienthistory.com/archive/2010/volume_2/number_4/ evidence_for_the_presence_of_gassed_jews_2.php [5]
  67. M. Karny, “Das Schicksal der Theresienstaedter Osttransporte im Sommer und Herbst 1942”, Judaica Bohemiae vol. XXIV, no. 2, Prague 1988, p. 85f.
  68. Ibid., p. 96, note 36.
  69. Paul Kohl, Der Krieg der deutschen Wehrmacht und der Polizei 1941-1944, Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1995, p. 107. Translation by author.
  70. Ibid., p. 109.
  71. Ibid., p. 105.
  72. I refer my readers to the forthcoming English edition of Marais's gas van study.
  73. Cf. T. Kues, “Evidence for the Presence of 'Gassed' Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territories, Part 2”, op.cit.
  74. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op.cit., p. 768 n. 1457. Translation by author.
  75. Gerlach mentions him only as “Ernst S”; Kalkulierte Morde, op. cit., p. 751.
  76. Cf. T. Kues, “Evidence for the Presence of 'Gassed' Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territories, Part 2”, §3.3.10
  77. Quoted in: Emanuil Joffe, Aktualjnye voprosy izuchenija holokosta na territorii sovjetskoj belorussii v gody vtoroj mirovoj vojny, online: http://www.homoliber.org/ru/kg/kg020103.html The reference given here for Schlesinger's statement is A. Vanjkevich, Ekskursija v Trostenec, 2nd ed., Minsk 1987, p. 9. This is clearly the same book by “Alla Georgijevna Vankevich” that is mentioned by P. Kohl, see note 12 above. Translation by author.
  78. Hans Safrian, Die Eichmann-Männer, Europaverlag, Vienna/Zurich 1993, pp. 186-187.
  79. Ibid., p. 189.
  80. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op.cit., pp. 768-770. Translation by author.
  81. Ibid., p. 770, n. 1469.
  82. Ibid., p. 768, 770 n. 1472.
  83. Ibid., p. 769 n. 1464.
  84. Ibid., p. 761f. See also T. Kues, “Evidence for the Presence of 'Gassed' Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territories, Part 2”, op.cit., §3.5.
  85. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op.cit., p. 763. Translation by author.
  86. Henry Friedlander, Sybil Milton (eds.), Archives of the Holocaust, Volume 19: Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, Vienna, Garland Publishing, New York/London 1991, p. 357.
  87. Marat Botvinnik, Pamjatniki genocida evreev Belarusi, Belaruskaja Navuka, Minsk 2000, p. 21f. Translation by author.
  88. Ibid. p. 23.
  89. The text amounts to some 104 pages, including a lot of blank space.
  90. Some of them have little or no relation to Trostenets per se, most obviously the so-called Just document on the “gas vans” (on pp. 71-72).
  91. P. Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez, op.cit., p. 11. Translation by author.
  92. Ibid., p. 13.
  93. Ibid., p. 14.
  94. Ibid., p. 9, 12.
  95. Ibid., p. 15.
  96. As seen above, Gerlach estimates this portion to have amounted to 5,000 people.
  97. P. Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez, op.cit., p. 9. Translation by author.
  98. Ibid., p. 12.
  99. Ibid., p. 19.
  100. Ibid., pp. 20-21.
  101. Ibid., p. 78.
  102. Ibid., p. 79.
  103. Ibid., p. 11.
  104. P. Rentrop, “Maly Trostinez”, op. cit., pp. 573-587.
  105. Y. Arad, The Holocaust in the Soviet Union, op. cit., p. 392.
  106. Ibid., p. 352.
  107. Ibid., pp. 328-329.
  108. Ibid., p. 351, 392.
  109. Ibid., p. 351 (verbatim quote including ellipses): “According to a Soviet committee of inquiry: 'During a visit to the site, we found 34 pit-graves... and a system of grates on which lay partially burned corpses... In order to destroy the bodies of the murder victims, they built a special oven.'”


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http://www.inconvenienthistory.com/archive/2011/volume_3/number_1/the_maly_trostenets_extermination_camp.php
---------------------------

The Maly Trostenets "Extermination Camp"—A Preliminary Historiographical Survey, Part 2

Thomas Kues

This Part 2 concludes the article appearing in the previous issue [1].
3. A Brief Assessment of Anomalies, Contradictions and Incongruities
3.1. The Victim Figure
In the table below I have summarized the various victim estimates presented above in order of magnitude:
Table 2: The Maly Trostenets victim figure according to witnesses and Holocaust historians
Source Number of Victims
ESC Report of 25 July 1944 6,000
Mira Zaretskaya 500,000
Lev Lansky 299,000
ESC Report of 22 September 1944 206,500
Isak Grünberg 45,000
C. Gerlach 40,000 – 60,000
This table very much speaks for itself. It is fitting to quote here again Kohl's comment on the victim figure from the September 1944 ESC report (cf. §2.10.): "[the] total figure may be put into doubt. Perhaps it is speculation". Speculation, indeed.
3.2. The Mass Graves at Blagovshchina and the Incineration of Their Contents
3.2.1. The Allegedly Discovered Mass Graves
Paul Kohl informs us:
"Immediately after the liberation of Minsk by the Red Army on 3 July 1944 an Extraordinary State Commission (ESC) investigated the Trostenez extermination camp. They took down the measurements of the 34 graves in the Blagovshchina Forest, determining the following dimensions: [...]. According to the statements of the commission 150,000 people were murdered in the Blagovshchina Forest, 50,000 in the graves of Shashkovka and 6,500 in the barns at the estate [Gut Trostinetz]. The total number of victims of the Trostenez extermination camp amounted to 206,500 people according to the statements of the commission from July-August 1944."1 [2]
Below I have reproduced the table found in Kohl's book listing the mass-grave dimensions as per the ESC, adding columns for area and volume as well as totals:
Table 3: Graves reportedly found by the ESC at the Blagovshchina site 2 [2]
Grave # Dimensions (m) Area Volume
1 50 x 5 x 5 250.0 1,250.0
2 27 x 4.5 x 5 121.5 607.5
3 42 x 5 x 4.5 210.0 945.0
4 50 x 5 x 5 250.0 1,250.0
5 38 x 5 x 5 190.0 950.0
6 24 x 5 x 5 120.0 600.0
7 58 x 5 x 5 290.0 1,450.0
8 57 x 5 x 5 285.0 1,425.0
9 53 x 5 x 5 265.0 1,325.0
10 45 x 5 x 5 225.0 1,125.0
11 51 x 5 x 5 255.0 1,275.0
12 5 x 5 x 4.5 25.0 112.5
13 50 x 5 x 4.5 250.0 1,125.0
14 45 x 5 x 5 225.0 1,125.0
15 9 x 2 x 5 18.0 90.0
16 35 x 5 x 5 175.0 875.0
17 30 x 6 x 5 180.0 900.0
18 27 x 5 x 5 135.0 675.0
19 69 x 5 x 5 345.0 1,725.0
20 5 x 3 x 5 15.0 75.0
21 27 x 5 x 5 135.0 675.0
22 27 x 5 x 5 135.0 675.0
23 30 x 5 x 5 150.0 750.0
24 15 x 5 x 5 75.0 375.0
25 6 x 4 x 5 24.0 120.0
26 10 x 5 x 5 50.0 250.0
27 6 x 4 x 5 24.0 120.0
28 6 x 4 x 5 24.0 120.0
29 6 x 4 x 5 24.0 120.0
30 6 x 5 x 5 30.0 150.0
31 6 x 5 x 5 30.0 150.0
32 50 x 5 x 5 250.0 1,250.0
33 36 x 5 x 5 180.0 900.0
34 36 x 5 x 5 180.0 900.0
Total:
5,140.5 25,460.0
3.2.2. The Credibility of the Extraordinary State Commission
There are many concrete reasons to view the figures presented by the Extraordinary State Commission a priori with extreme skepticism. Here it will suffice to mention two of them:
  • In an ESC "Medicolegal report on atrocities committed by the Nazi German occupiers in the vicinity of Riga" dated 12 December 1944, it was established that no less than 101,000 people had been killed in the Salaspils camp east of Riga. The number of victims in the Riga region was stated as exceeding 300,000. Only a total of 549 corpses were, however, exhumed by the commission, which further reported that it had discovered a total of 58 burial excavations at the following 10 sites: Bikernieki Forest, the Salaspils camp, the old garrison cemetery in Salaspils, the New Jewish Cemetery, the Old Jewish Cemetery, Bishu-Muiza, the Pantzyr Barracks, Ziepnieku-Kalns, Rumbula Forest and Dreilin Forest.3 [2] As there were allegedly 6 mass graves each at Rumbula and Bikernieki4 [2], the number of graves discovered by the commission at Salaspils could not have exceeded (58-19=) 39. In an another medico-legal report, specifically concerning the Salaspils camp and dated 28 April 1945, it was determined that "7000 corpses from Soviet children" had been buried in mass graves occupying a "total area of 2500 square meters". 632 corpses of children had reportedly been exhumed from a total of 54 graves (thus one had supposedly discovered at least 15 additional grave pits at Salaspils in the four months since the first report). The commission further established that the Germans had run a "blood factory" wherein an unstated number of children, including infants, had had their blood drained to be used in transfusions for wounded German soldiers.5 [2] Contemporary Latvian experts such as H. Strods estimate, however, the number of Salaspils victims at only some 2,000, and the bizarre "blood factory" claim as well as the 7,000 buried child victims are viewed by them as fictitious.6 [2]
  • In spring 1940 the Soviet secret police (NKVD) carried out a massacre of some 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in the Katyn Forest near the Russian city of Smolensk. In April 1943 German Wehrmacht soldiers discovered a grave with the corpses of 4,243 Polish reserve officers. Subsequently a forensic commission headed by experts from Axis as well as neutral nations exhumed and documented the mass graves, reaching the conclusion that the killings had been carried out in early 1940 when the area was still under Soviet control.7 [2] As a countermeasure, the Soviets in 1944 established a "Special Commission for Determination and Investigation of the Shooting of Polish Prisoners of War by German-Fascist Invaders in Katyn Forest" which was to lay the blame for the massacre on the Germans. This was done by falsifying forensic evidence and by conjuring up a large number of false testimonies according to which German troops had committed the deed.8 [2] While Stalin failed in his attempt to have Katyn introduced as a charge against the Germans at IMT Nuremberg, a trial was conducted in Leningrad in December 1945-January 1946 at which seven Wehrmacht servicemen were charged with participating in the Katyn massacre; at least one of them, Generalmajor Heinrich Remlinger, was sentenced to death and executed.9 [2] The mendacious commission which had "proven" the guilt of the Germans at Katyn was headed by Professor Nikolai N. Burdenko, the President of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR10 [2] – who was also head of the "Medico-Legal Commission of Experts" that investigated the alleged mass extermination at Maly Trostenets! The integrity of the ESC surveyors must therefore be regarded as nil from the outset.
The above examples go to show that the ESC in general and Burdenko in particular had a habit of engaging in fraud on a massive scale and were prone to wild exaggerations. It may further be mentioned that Burdenko also was one of the authors of the Soviet Auschwitz report, in which the number of victims of this "death camp" was stated as 4 million.11 [2]
It is very noteworthy in this context that only five of the alleged thirty-four Blagovshchina mass graves "were partly opened" (emphasis added, cf. §2.1.). Christian Gerlach remarks:
"The number or dimensions of the mass graves is not entirely clear; only a few were opened. Usually the number of graves in Blagovshchina is stated as 34 ([the alleged perpetrators] Rübe and Heuser spoke of 15 to 18 [...]), of which only (...) some were up to 50 meters long, and not all were 60 meters long [sic]. Their volume was thus clearly smaller than 25,000 cubic meters (which at a maximum of six corpses per cubic meter would correspond to up to 150,000 murdered people) but can not stated precisely. Even in 1944 the original dimensions of the mass graves were hardly determinable, due to excavation that Sonderkommando 1005 had carried out at the site using bulldozers."12 [2]
It would appear that Gerlach, armchair historian that he is, is unaware of the possibilities of modern geophysical survey methods.
Here we should also recall Botvinnik's revelation that the ESC had reached their victim figure for the Blagovshchina site simply by multiplying the estimated total grave volume by an apparently arbitrary density of corpses per cubic meter (cf. §2.9.). The ESC claimed in their September 1944 report that 150,000 corpses had been buried at the Blagovshchina site, which means a density of (150,000 ÷ 25,460 =) 5.89 corpses per cubic meter. Using instead the number of victims claimed by Gerlach for the active period of the Blagovshchina site (some 33,000) one gets a density of 1.3 corpses per cubic meter. Experts on forensic archeology point out that this method of estimating the number of dead in a mass grave is extremely unreliable, as the distribution of the body sizes may vary greatly from one group to another.13 [2]
In the context of the connection to the Soviet Katyn fraud it is most interesting to note that, according the English Wikipedia entry on Trostenets (cf. §1), an article14 [2] was published by one Igor Kuznyetsov in which it was asserted, supported in part by references to published sources,15 [2] that the Blagovshchina Forest had been the execution site of choice for the local branches of the NKVD prior to the war. It must be pointed out that while there is often talk of the Blagovshchina Forest, this was actually a copse rather than a forest. In fact, the verdict of the 1963 Koblenz trial describes the execution site using the word "copse" (Wäldchen). A look at a roughly contemporary map (Ill. 1) shows that the Blagovshchina copse, which was too insignificant to be named, measured only some 2.5 square kilometers. If both the Germans and the NKVD had used Blagovshchina as a site for mass executions, then it is almost inevitable that the former would sooner or later have uncovered traces of the crimes committed by the latter, yet in the testimonies I have had the opportunity to access so far there is not the slightest hint of such a discovery. Unfortunately I have not yet been able to procure a copy of the abovementioned article. If Kuznyetsov's claim is indeed correct, it would open the possibility that the ESC under Burdenko simply repeated the Katyn fraud at Blagovshchina, attributing Soviet mass graves to the Germans.
German military historian Joachim Hoffmann, while referring to the Gruppe Arlt activity reports (cf. §2.3) as evidence that at least 17,000 Jews were murdered at Trostenets, suggests that the victim figures claimed by the ESC (206,500 for Trostenets and 300,000 for the Minsk region) were used by Soviet propagandists to camouflage mass murders committed by the NKVD. Hoffmann cites an estimate that the number of NKVD victims in the Minsk region amounted to some 270,000; the graves of 102,000 of these victims were reportedly discovered near the village of Kuropaty in 1988.16 [2] Another source gives significantly lower estimates of the number of victims buried in Kuropaty (also spelled Kurapaty) of 30,000 or 7,000.17 [2]
Finally it is worth contrasting the "finds" of the ESC with what Soviet-Jewish propagandist Ilya Ehrenburg wrote about Trostenets in a Pravda article from 7 August 1944:
"Shortly after the German withdrawal I went to Bolshoi Trostinets. Half-incinerated bodies, burned bodies, like firewood, heaps of bodies were still smoking. The children had been meticulously put at the end of each row. That was the last load, the one they did not manage to burn. Around me I saw excavated earth and a field of skulls. Since spring, the Germans had been burning the corpses of the victims previously buried, yet they were unable to finish the job. Bolshoi Trostinets near Minsk was one of the 'death factories'. Soviet POWs, Bielorussians, Jews from Minsk, from Vienna, from Prague were killed there by means of gas vans. One German engineer has improved these vans: Now the load bed is tilted back and discharges the corpses of the asphyxiated. Over 100,000 innocent people perished at Bolshoi Trostinets."18 [2]
This description is interesting for four reasons. To begin with, Ehrenburg locates the "death factory" not in Maly Trostenets but in the nearby Bolshoi Trostenets - although this error is not a glaring one, considering that the Blagovshchina site is about as far removed from Maly Trostenets as it is from Bolshoi Trostenets, and that the two villages are located very close to each other.
Second, the claim that the buried corpses were disinterred and burned beginning in spring 1944 clashes with later official version, according to which Sonderkommando 1005 commenced its activity at Trostenets on 27 October 1943 (see §3.2.4.). Neither does it fit with the witness Lansky's (§2.1.) implication that the operation was begun in January or February 1944 (as this can hardly be called "spring"). One must recall here that burials supposedly took place only at the Blagovshchina site.
Third, the figure of "over 100,000" victims is considerably more conservative than both the 546,000 claimed by the ESC thirteen days previous to Ehrenburg's article, or the later revised ESC figure of 206,500 from 22 September 1944.
Fourth, the improved "gas van" with a tiltable cargo box did not make it into the orthodox historiography on this particular alleged murder weapon (although an isolated mention of it appears in a holocaust anthology originally published in 1983).19 [2] It is not found in any Minsk/Trostenets testimony that I am aware of.
3.2.3. Eyewitness Statements on the Mass Graves
As mentioned by Gerlach in the quote above, two of the alleged German perpetrators (G. Heuser and A. Rübe) testified that the number of graves had been much smaller: 15 to 18 instead of 34. There are also other witness statements contradicting the findings of the ESC:
  • The KdS Minsk member Johann Paul Rumschewitsch, speaking of an alleged mass shooting of Minsk Jews at Blagovshchina in July 1942, testified that the mass graves used on this occasion were approximately 40 meters long, 5 meters wide and 3 meters deep.20 [2]
  • The abovementioned head of KdS Minsk Abteilung I, Georg Heuser, testified about graves "some twenty meters long and at least two meters deep", while acknowledging: "Later we used deeper graves."21 [2]
  • The alleged "gas van" driver Johann Haßler, testifying about the killing of some 200 Jews from the Minsk Ghetto, described "a grave measuring about 25 meters in length, 4 meters in width and 2 meters in depth" (implying a density of 1 corpse per cubic meter).22 [2]
Thus while the ESC supposedly had discovered 34 mass graves, of which 2 were 4.5 meters deep and the rest no less than 5 meters deep, members of the German commando carrying out the alleged mass murders testified to 15 to 18 graves that were some 2 or 3 meters deep.
It is clear that the mass-grave findings of the ESC cannot be accepted as reliable data. The only way to ascertain the number of burial pits at Blagovshchina, their dimensions and the amount of human remains contained in them would be to carry out a full geophysical survey combined with exhumations of the identified grave pits. One may surmise that this will not happen in the near future. In the meantime it would be of great help if any wartime air photos of the area were discovered.23 [2]
3.2.4. The Exhumation and Incineration of Corpses at Blagovshchina
Paul Kohl provides us with the following description of the exhumation and cremation of the victims buried at Blagovshchina, based on testimonies from a West German trial against three former members of the mysterious "Sonderkommando 1005" (Max Krahner, Otto Goldapp and Otto Drews):
"At the end of October 1943 Blobel, his adjutant Harder and his 'Sonderkommando 1005' arrived in Minsk, where they were subordinated to the 'Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD Central Russia and White Russia (BdS)', Erich Ehrlinger. Next they began to 'exhumate' all 34 mass graves at Blagovshchina.
Blobel immediately continued on to the west [of Belarus] to prepare for operations there, and thus the responsibility for SK 1005 in the Minsk area was initially taken over by Blobel's adjutant Arthur Harder. During the 6 week long exhumation operation at Blagovshchina, which lasted until mid-December 1943, SK 1005 was commanded by in order Arthur Harder (Oct. 27 to Nov. 10, 1943), Dr. Friedrich Seekel (Nov. 11 to Dec. 8, 1943) and Max Krahner (Dec. 8 to Dec. 15, 1943). Otto Goldapp, an officer from the Schutzpolizei, served as the deputy of Harder, Seekel and Krahner.
Adolf Rübe, former inspector of the Minsk ghetto, commanded and supervised the labor force. This consisted of 80 to 100 Soviet prisoners of war. They had their feet chained so that they could just perform their work, but not escape.
Whereas Harder, Seekel, Krahner, Goldapp and Rübe lived in houses and the guards in barracks on the estate, the workers were initially transported every morning from Minsk to Blagovshchina and back to Minsk in the evening. Later other prisoners of war had to dig a small, windowless bunker for them, 7 × 18 meter in size, in the ground near the cremation pyres. In this lodging the workers had to spend their nights and 'leisure time'. [...].
The work of these Soviet prisoners of war consisted in opening the 34 graves and pulling out the corpses with hooks. As these were already much decayed they fell apart when pulled. The workers had to step into the graves and amidst the terrible stench put the body parts on improvised stretchers. The body parts were then carried out of the graves and put on tall pyres.
On an area of 5 by 5 meters the ground was covered with concrete. On this concrete square were placed thick, some one meter high concrete blocks, on top of which railway rails were mounted. By doing so the cremation fire would be sufficiently supplied with air from below. On this grate one placed a layer of logs, followed by a layer of corpses, then again logs, and so on, until the pyre had reached a height of 5 meters. This pile containing some 200 corpses was doused with petrol and then set on fire using burning rags stuck to the end of long rods. It often took two days before such a mountain of corpses had burnt down. The black, sweet-smelling smoke which hung over the site was often so thick that there was hardly any visibility. If the wind was strong the nauseating stench could spread for kilometers.[...].
In order to deliver enough firewood all vehicles in the vicinity of Trostenez were commandeered. Each day the local farmers had to fell trees and deliver the logs at the 11 kilometer sign of the Mogilew country road. From this spot a narrow road led to the Blagovshchina Forest. Under supervision the work commandos collected the logs and drove or pulled them to the cremation sites.
Although the victims had to hand over all jewelry before they were shot, and although their rings were pulled from their fingers and their gold teeth broken out without anesthesia [from the still-living victims!], one took the precautionary measure of sifting the ashes from the incinerated corpses through large, fine-meshed sieves. Indeed it sometimes happened that one found rings or gold teeth in the corpse ashes. These had to be delivered to Goldapp or Rübe. Bones that had not been incinerated were pulverized using mills and mortars and then spread together with the ashes as fertilizer on the fields of the estate. Even the flowerbeds before the houses of the guards were fertilized in this way.[...].
By 15 December 1943 all corpses from the 34 pits had been pulled out and burnt."24 [2]
The claim that the ashes were spread as fertilizer on nearby fields is contradicted by the testimony of the alleged perpetrator Adolf Rübe, who stated that the ashes were thrown back into the opened graves.25 [2]
Since we are not provided with any information regarding the number of pyres (the witnesses quoted by Kohl speak of pyres in plural form without mentioning numbers) it is impossible to pronounce any verdict on the feasibility of the alleged procedure. We note, however, that it would require a staggering amount of work to complete the cremations within the 50 work days alleged (27 October to 15 December). Given the ESC's victim figure for the Blagovshchina site one would have to exhume and incinerate (150,000 ÷ 50 =) 3000 corpses per day. Assuming instead Gerlach's lower estimate for the same site26 [2], the daily work load would have to be (33,000 ÷ 50 =) 660 corpses per day.
Kohl states that it "often took two days" for the pyres to burn down. Considering the time it would have taken for the ashes to cool down, and the time it would have taken to remove the ashes and construct a new pyre, it seems reasonable to assume a minimum of 3 days required for the whole cremation procedure. As each pyre is reported to have contained 200 corpses, the daily capacity for one pyre would be (200 ÷ 3 =) 67 corpses. Accordingly one would need either (3000 ÷ 67 =) 48 or (660 ÷ 67 =) 10 pyres in simultaneous use! Then we still haven't considered the climate of Belarus in late winter with rain and snow, or the inevitable warping (due to combined heat and weight) of the railway rails, necessitating reconstruction of the cremation grates.
The amounts of firewood required daily would have staggering, especially considering the claim that the wood was taken from nearby woods and delivered by local farmers for immediate use, which is to say, the wood was fresh (or "green") not seasoned (dried) and thus had a low heating value. To incinerate 1 kilo of human cadaver one needs 3.5 kilo of seasoned wood. If one uses green wood instead, the required amount is almost doubled: the heating value of 1 kilo of dry red pine corresponds to 1.9 kilo of green red pine. In the Koblenz trial verdict Blagovshchina is described as a pine copse, and in the absence of other evidence it seems fair to assume that the surrounding wooded areas were dominated by the same type of tree. Estimating the average weight of the victims to have been 60 kilo, the firewood required to incinerate 1 corpse would have amounted to some 400 kilo. The total daily requirement would have been either approximately (400 × 3000 =) 1,200 tons or (400 × 660 =) 264 metric tons.27 [2]
3.3. The Documentary Evidence
While there exist a large number of (real or purported) documents on shootings of Jews in Belarus, there is only one document (or rather set of documents) that connects Trostenets with mass killings, namely four activity reports (Tätigkeitsberichte) supposedly written by a certain SS-Unterscharführer Arlt, commander of "2. Zuges Waffen-SS" of the "1. Komp./Batl. d. Waffen-SS z.b.V." ("z.b.V." is supposed to be read "zur besonderen Verwendung", for special use). While none of the reports mentions Trostenets by name, there is frequent reference to the "Commander's Estate" which is indicated to be near Minsk. Since there is little doubt that at least the majority of the (direct) Jewish transports to Minsk from Central Europe during 1942 were indeed rerouted to Trostenets (cf. §2.3) it is fair to assume that the "Estate" refers to "Gut Trostinez".
Since the Arlt reports are usually reproduced only in part, and since the documentation Unsere Ehre heisst Treue,28 [2] wherein the reports are published in facsimile29 [2], is not easy to get hold of outside Germany, I will present translations of them in toto in the following section, based on said facsimiles (German spellings of Russian place names, including variants, have been retained).
3.3.1. Translation of the Gruppe Arlt Activity Reports
II. Zug Minsk, 17 May 1942
Activity Report
The activity of the Zug, i.e. 1 Unterführer and 10 men, consisted, after its departure, at first in leading and supervising the excavation of pits 22 km outside of Minsk. This work lasted eight days and ended with an operation [Aktion] on 30.5.42 [sic], in which the Zug participated in its entirety. (Clearing of the prison.)
On 4.5 we continued already with excavating by ourselves new pits in the vicinity of the Commander's Estate. This work also took 4 days.
On 11.5 a transport with Jews (1000 units) from Vienna arrived in Minsk and was immediately taken from the railway station to the abovementioned pit. For this purpose the Zug was deployed directly at the pit.
On 13.5, 8 men supervised the digging of another pit, as in the near future [in nächster Zeit] there will once again arrive here a transport with Jews from the Reich.
On 16 May myself and nine men accompanied a fur transport of the trading company 'Ost' from Minsk to Unzden and back.
At the request of SS-Ostuf. Heuser SS-Rttf. Puck and SS-Strm. Hering were detached to take care of the new house prison [Hausgefängnis].
From a unit of the Waffen-SS the SD were transferred a 16-year-old Russian by the name of Lubinski, whom they left to our care. Lubinski is fully equipped and assists us in our task.
The SS-Sturm. Hampe took over responsibility for the sanitary station of the commando for three weeks, since Sturmmann Lukas is on furlough.
On the order of Ostuf. Störtz SS-Strm. Hanemann was detached to Reval on 18.5.
With this I end my current report.
Arlt
SS-Unterscharführer

II. Zug Waffen-SS Minsk, 16 June 1942
Activity Report
My last report concluded with the detachment of Hanemann to Reval on 18.5.1942.
On 19.5.42 three of our men accompanied a transport of horses and agricultural machines for the Estate of the Commander [of the Security Police, i.e. KdS] from Kobyl, approximately 150 km from here, to Minsk.
On 20.5 Oscha. Ponsel and Rttf. Puck marched off in the direction of Loklja. On 20.5 the still remaining men 1:8 supervised the excavation of a pit in the vicinity of the estate.
On 21.5 weapons were cleaned and equipment repaired.
On 26.5 a transport of 1000 Jews from the Reich arrived in Minsk and was immediately brought to the abovementioned pit. For this purpose the Waffen-SS were again deployed at the pit.
On 27.5 SS-Strm. Otto was admitted to the SS-hospital because of suspected spotted fever. At the present he is still admitted. There is no longer any risk for his life.
On 25 and 29.5 another pit was excavated.
On 30.5 Reichsminister Rosenberg visited the city of Minsk. The department were responsible for the personal security of the Reichsminister.
On 1.6. another transport of Jews arrived here.
On 4.6 a large operation against partisans was prepared in Kobil. For that purpose the Gruppe of Uscha. Lipps arrived here from Wilejka.
On 5.6 the operation commenced in cooperation with security units [Sicherungseinheiten] with a strength of 300 men. The Waffen-SS were divided into machine gun units [M.G.- Gruppen]. The Gruppen under my command had to secure a 2 km section. Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht combed the partisan area supported by tanks, yet never made any enemy contact. The operation lasted until 8.6.
On 9.6 weapons were cleaned and equipment repaired.
On 10.6 Gruppe Lipps returned to Wilejka.
[end of first page]
On 11.6.42 the Aussenstelle Baranowitsche reported an assault on a 28 men strong commando. 10 Germans and 11 Lithuanians fell victim to this assault. Among them were also SS-Ostuf. Grünzfelder.
On the same day a rescue commando consisting of Waffen-SS 1:7 and 45 Unterführern and men from the Sicherheitsdienst headed by the Commander departed for Baranowitsche. In the rescue operation, which commenced on 12.6, there also participated units from the police and gendarmerie with a strength of approx. 200 men. Without incidents we reached the place of the assault, a large village surrounded by woods some 150 km west of Baranowitsche. After investigating and interrogating the inhabitants we pursued for two days, i.e. one afternoon and the following morning, the partisans, who had carried out the assault and thereby captured one lorry and one passenger car, and who reportedly had left two hours prior to our arrival. This [pursuit] was without result, however, as the bandits could not be located. On 13.6 we returned to B.
On 14.6 the funeral of the fallen comrades took place in the heroes' cemetery in Baranowitsche, whereby we and Gruppe Lipps participated as honor guard. [Unreadable] we returned to Minsk.
On 15.6 there once again arrived here a transport of 1000 Jews from Vienna.
On 17.6 the funeral of Ostuf. Burkhardt will take place in the new cemetery at the Commander's Estate.
* * *
My Gruppe here in Minsk is now only 1:7 strong. It is at the moment not possible to send even one man on furlough. May I, when the circumstances once more allow it, give annual furloughs [Jahresurlaub], i.e. 21 days? I further request from You to authorize a furlough also for myself. My last furlough was in August 1941. Uscha. Lipps has declared himself ready to substitute for me during this time.
Arlt [handwritten signature]
Unterscharführer.

Gruppe Arlt Minsk, 3 August 1942
Activity Report
The work of the men remaining here in Minsk continues very much in the same way as before. The Jewish transports arrive regularly in Minsk and are taken care of by us [von uns betreut].
Thus already on 18 and 19.6.42 we were once more occupied with the excavation of pits in the settlement area [Siedlungsgelände]. On 19.6 SS-Scharf. Schröder, who died of spotted fever at the local SS hospital, was buried in the new cemetery at the Commander's Estate. My Gruppe was reinforced by men from the SD and participated as honor guard at the memorial service.
On 26.6 the expected Jewish transport from the Reich arrived.
On 27.6 we and most of the commando departed for Baranowitsche to participate in an operation. The result was as always negative. In the course of this operation we evacuated [räumten wir] the Jewish ghetto in Slonim. Some 4000 Jews were given over to the earth on this day [an diesem Tage der Erde übergeben].
On 30.6 we returned to Minsk. During the next following days we were occupied with repairs to equipment and the cleaning and inspection of weapons.
On 2.7 we again carried out the arrangements for the reception of a Jewish transport, [that is, the] excavation of pits.
On 10.7 we and the Latvian commando were deployed against the partisans in the Koydanow Forest. In connection with this we unearthed an ammunition depot. On this occasion we were suddenly ambushed with a machine gun. A Latvian comrade was killed. During the pursuit of the band we managed to shoot four men.
On 12.7 the Latvian comrade was buried in the new cemetery.
On 17.7 a transport of Jews arrived and was brought to the estate.
On 21, 22 and 23.7 new pits were excavated.
Already on 24.7 another transport with 1000 Jews from the Reich arrived here.
From 25.7 to 27.7 new pits were excavated.
On 28.7 large operation in the Russian. Ghetto of Minsk. 6,000 Jews were brought to the pits.
On 29.7 3000 German Jews were brought to the pits.
During the next following days we were again occupied with the cleaning of weapons and the repair of equipment.
[end of first page]
Furthermore my Gruppe supplies the NCO of the Watch [U.v.D., Unteroffizier vom Dienst] and supervises the house prison.
Inmate strength approximately 50 men.
On the orders of SS-Ostuf. Störtz SS-Rttf. Albert Lorenz was relocated to Riga. He was detached on 4.7.42.
SS-Rttf. Skowranek and SS-Strm. Auer were on furlough from 8.7 to 1.8. Both returned punctually.
SS-Strm. Otto recovered on 28.7 and was released from the hospital, which recommended a recovery furlough. Otto was sent by the Commander on recovery furlough from 3.8 to 25.9. He is planning to get married during this furlough.
SS-Strm. Hering is on home furlough from 3.8 to 27.8.
The conduct of the men on and off duty is good and leaves no room for any complaints.
Arlt [handwritten signature]
SS-Unterscharführer

Gruppe Arlt Minsk, 25 September 1942
Activity Report
With the exception of two Jewish transports the first half of August passed by rather monotonously.
Following 15.8.42 preparations for the large operation against bandits and partisans in the territory of White Russia began. For this purpose various commandos from Riga, Danzig and Posen arrived in Minsk.
My Gruppe, i.e. the men Skowranek, Teichmann, Hampe, Auer and myself, was assigned to the clearing commando of Dr. Heuser. Strm. Hering, who returned from furlough on 18.8.42 remained in Minsk substituting armory sergeant [Waffenwart] Gennert.
The Heuser Commando, 75 men strong, most of them Latvians, equipped with one heavy as well as one light grenade launcher, one [heavy] machine gun, four light machine guns and submachine guns and carbines set out for Schazk, 75 km from Minsk in the direction of Sluzk. Once arrived we had to clean up the quarters. We were accommodated in a former hospital. From there reconnaissance units were dispatched daily to the surrounding villages. These operations often produced good results. Once we even managed to catch a partisan as he, equipped with carbines and hand grenades, was about to disappear into a forest.
On 27.8.42 the whole commando was deployed to a certain place in a marsh where a p.[artisan] camp reportedly was located. The outcome of the operation was negative. After struggling for an hour to get through the forest we reached a slough where it was impossible for us to go any further. After firing the grenade launcher indiscriminately into the slough for 15 minutes we withdrew. A night operation carried out one day later was also without result, as the partisans present in the village had hidden themselves so well that we could not find them. The village teacher, who sought to escape after being interrogated, was shot on the run by Strm. Hampe.
[end of first page]
On 31.8.42, towards 5:00 p.m. a report arrived from a village 10 km from Schazk concerning a 3 men strong p.[artisan] group which came there to pick up provisions. Two passenger cars were immediately made ready and drove off. After reaching the edge of the village half an hour later, we advanced while securing the area to the left and right, when the right patrol, Strm. Auer and I, noticed a man who we first believed to be a farmer. When Strm. Auer called out to the same man, who had come within a distance of some 15 meters, he was shot at from close range by a submachine gun shooter lying in cover [Deckung, here misspelled as Dekung], while I was shot at by a rifle shooter. We threw ourselves down, took cover and immediately opened fire, whereupon the partisans immediately retreated through a wheatfield, pausing occasionally to shoot back at us. In the meantime Ostuf. Heuser, Hampe, Teichmann and Skowranek with the machine gun as well as Gennert and Exner arrived and immediately joined in the combat. During the engagement, which lasted for 17 minutes, one p.[artisan] was shot, while the other two managed to escape into the nearby bush forest, apparently wounded. There were no casualties on our side, neither wounded nor dead. As was determined by the 1st SS-Brigade on the following day, there existed in the same forest at a distance of 1 km a camp consisting of approx. 30 men. During the engagement a woman working on a field nearby was wounded.
After some more patrols crisscrossing the region around Schazk we left the follow-up to the units of the 1st SS-Brigade deployed there, and on 4.9.42 we set off in the direction of Byten, approx. 140 km from Brest-Litovsk. We arrived there the same day via Baranowitsche and installed ourselves in a school. On the same day at 9.00 in the evening a part of the locality situated near a forest was attacked by partisans and eight houses were set on fire. The Lithuanian machine gun post which had been set up to protect the locality returned the fire.
The following days passed by quietly. Weapons were cleaned, interrogations and smaller reconnaissance patrols carried out.
On 8.9.2 we continued on to Nihatschewo, located 130 km from Brest along the road. There we found quarters prepared. On the next day we advanced
[end of second page]
together with units from the 1st SS-Brigade towards the reportedly partisan-controlled small town of Kossow, 12 km north of Nihatschewo. The partisans had retreated and doing so burned down more than 40 houses. The population was interrogated and twelve suspicious persons were handed over to the brigade's I.o. [intelligence officer]. In the evening we returned to our quarters in Nihatschewo. The next days passed by quietly and without any operations.
On 12.9.42 we returned to our old quarters in Byten.
On 13.9.42, around 1:00 p.m., a convoy of five vehicles which was to meet with us in Byten was attacked by partisans 6 km from the locality. Scharf. Tietz, who rode in the first car, was immediately hit by a fatal shot and died. The driver of the car, Hptscharf. Jenner, was wounded in both hands. The mechanic sitting in the same car, a Jew, transferred Jenner into a lorry, which he then drove to our office in Byten. Strm. Hampe administered first aid to the wounded. A 40 man strong rescue commando immediately made its way to the site of the assault. Around the same time there arrived two Gruppe from the mot.[orized] gendarmerie in Mironím, which had been called to the site by the driver in the last car. Some of them remained standing around the last car, looking for bullet holes. Blinded by the sun and believing that we had in front of us partisans plundering the car we opened fire. The gend.[arms] took cover and returned the fire. After five minutes the mistake was discovered and fire was ceased. There were no losses. The dead were brought back to Byten and laid in state. The vehicles were towed away. Once arrived in Byten we discovered that one of the men from our commando, Uscha. Kirchner, was missing. Search operations immediately commenced but rendered no results. A search operation carried out on the following day was likewise without any result. According to statements from a farmer who lived nearby, Kirchner had left on his own to capture partisans. According to statements from captured partisans Kirchner was burned alive.
The next days passed by quietly except for a few courier trips to Baranowitsche.
On 22.9.42 we departed for Minsk via Baranowitsche and arrived around 9:00 in the evening.
[end of third page]
On 23.9.42 the dead comrades from Hauptstuf. Liebram's commando were buried in the heroes' cemetery on the estate. Gauleiter Kube, as well as the Gend.[armerie]Führer of White Russia were present.
On 25.9.42 there again arrived a transport with Jews.
The SS-Sturmmänner Auer, Otto and Hering were promoted to SS-Rottenführern with effect from 15.9.42.
I have been granted furlough from 25.9 to 20.10.42 and have appointed SS-Rttf. Auer to be my substitute. During the same period the Sturmmänner Hampe and Wyngra will also be on furlough. SS-Strm. Teichmann has been on furlough since 5.9.42 and will return on 28.9.42. SS-Rttf. Otto reported back from furlough on 25.9.42.
The Borgward lorry, which is at present in the Army motor pool [H.K.P, Heereskraftpark] has been made ready and will be picked up by Uscha. Bartz.
sg.
Arlt [typewritten]
SS-Unterscharführer
att. [f.d.R., für die Richtigkeit]
Auer [handwritten signature]
SS-Rottenführer
3.3.2. The Provenance of the Documents and Their Characteristics
In the 1965 documentation Unsere Ehre heisst Treue, which is the source for the Arlt reports given by both Gerlach and Kohl, we are informed that the war diaries and activity reports of the 1st Company of the Waffen SS special-forces battalion were among "new material recently discovered" at the Czechoslovakian State Archives in Castle Zásmuky, Kolin.30 [2] The editor(s) provides no explanation as to how these documents were discovered, by whom, or the reason for their presence in the Czechoslovakian archives. Later the reports were evidently copied and incorporated into the archival collections of the Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen in Ludwigsburg (ZStL).31 [2] The "recent" discovery of the reports most likely took place after 1963, because they were clearly not introduced as evidence at the Koblenz trial. There is no mention in Unsere Ehre heisst Treue of the documents ever being authenticated, and I have found no indication that Arlt himself survived the war, or that in such case he was confronted with the documents.
The report from 17 May 1942 is typed on one page. The word Gruben (pits) on its third line appears to have originally been misspelled Gruppen (groups) and then corrected using a relatively thick pen.
The report from 16 June 1942 is typed on two pages. It is either written on a typewriter with worn-out letters or is a carbon copy (although if so it is not indicated). The second page is paginated using Arabic numerals.
The report from 3 August 1942 is typed on two pages, with the second page considerably less clearly readable than the first (possibly the ribbon began to wear out). There are seven corrections made with a not-so-fine pen: on 5 occasions on the lower half of the first page the author has written a "6" indicating June and then corrected it to "7" (for July).
The report from 25 September 1942 is typed on four pages (paginated using Roman numerals). It contains 9 handwritten corrections of spelling errors made using the same or a similar pen as in the 3 August report and the 17 May report.
The most striking feature common to all of the four reports is that they are lacking an addressee. Who was the recipient of the report? The reader has no way of knowing. The only heading provided is the name of Arlt's unit, the place and date, and the word "activity report" (Tätigkeitsbericht). In contrast to this we have reproduced in the same documentation32 [2] an activity report written by SS-Unterscharführer Lipps (who also appears in the Arlt report of 16 June). It is dated 27 May 1942 at the Aussenstelle Wilejka, typewritten, neatly paginated (in Arabic numerals) and states as its addressee a certain SS-Untersturmführer Burgdorf stationed in Minsk (cf. Ill. 3). The Lipps activity report mentions four operations against Jews ("Judenaktion") – in Krzywice on 28 April, in Dolhinov on 29-30 April, in Wolozyn on 10 May and again in Dolhinov on 21 May. As for the last operation we learn that thereby "the Jewish problem in this town was solved with finality", but aside from this possible veiled reference there are no mentions of mass killings in the report, explicit or implicit. There are another two messages from Lipps that are handwritten in Sutterlin script, both signed by Lipps himself and addressed to the aforementioned Burgdorf.33 [2] As the first message, which has the form of an activity report but lacks a title, covers one and a half page, with the short second message following on the bottom of the second page, it seems likely that these are drafts that were to be typewritten before being dispatched (if the two messages were part of the same letter it would make little sense to address and sign both of them as though they were separate letters).
Arlt's form of signature also varies from report to report. On the 17 May report we have a tiny, almost unreadable handwritten signature (presumably "Arlt") under which is typewritten "SS-Unterscharführer" (using the SS-rune). On the 16 June report we have a handwritten signature ("Arlt") of about the same size, clearer now, under which is typewritten "Unterscharführer" followed by a typed period (full stop). No "SS", either typed with the special rune or with ordinary letters, can be seen preceding the word "Unterscharführer", but there is a small dot just to the left of the "U" which might possibly be the right end of a hyphen connecting a missing "SS" with "Unterscharführer". On the 3 August report we have a somewhat larger handwritten signature ("Arlt") under which is typewritten "SS-Unterscharführer" using the SS-rune, followed by a typed period. On the 25 September report, finally, the signature is for the first time preceded by the abbreviation "[g]ez." (gezeichnet, signed; the "g" is not visible, likely due to a problem with the typewriter). The signature itself is typewritten ("Arlt"). Under this is typewritten "SS-Unterscharführer" sans concluding period. We also have here to the lower left a note of attestation signed SS-Rottenführer Auer, who was to substitute for Arlt during the latter's furlough. For a facsimile see Ill. 5.
A comparison of the three handwritten signatures (cf. Ill. 4) further shows that the "A" and the "t" in the 3 August report look radically different from the corresponding letters in the two other handwritten signatures.
Arits Report from 17 May 1942
Illustration 2. Arlt's Report from 17 May 1942 (Source: Unsere Ehre heisst Treue, p. 236).
First page of the  Gruppe Lipps Report
Illustration 3. The First Page of the Gruppe Lipps Report from 27 May 1942 (Source: Ibid., p. 237).
Handwritten signatures from the first three Arit reports
Illustration 4. The Handwritten Signatures from the First Three Arlt Reports.
The last page of the 25 September 1942 Arit Report
Illustration 5. The Last Page of the 25 September 1942 Arlt Report.
3.3.3. Problematic Content
The Arlt activity reports mention, besides one mass killing of 4,000 Jews in Slonim, a total of 14 massacres of Jews near the "Commander's Estate". I have summarized the details regarding these 14 mass killings in the table below:
Table 4: Killings at Trostenets mentioned by the Gruppe Arlt activity reports.
Date Number of Victims Source
30 April ? Prisoners
11 May 1000 Vienna
26 May 1000 Reich
1 June ? ?
15 June 1000 Vienna
26 June ? Reich
17 July ? ?
24 July 1000 Reich
28 July 6000 Minsk Russian Ghetto
29 July 3000 Minsk Russian Ghetto
1-15 August ? ?
1-15 August ? ?
25 September ? ?
(a) The Liquidation of the Slonim Ghetto
In the report from 3 August 1942 we read that Gruppe Arlt departed for Baranovichi on 27 June to participate in an operation, and that during the course of this operation it evacuated the Slonim Ghetto. We further read that "on this day" some 4,000 Slonim Jews were killed. Any reader would take it that the mass killing in question was carried out on 27 June, as no other date is mentioned, but all other available sources state that the liquidation of the Slonim Ghetto began on 29 June. Since we learn in the same report that Gruppe Arlt returned to Minsk on 30 June, it is possible to argue that the unit was indeed active in Slonim on 29 June, the day before its return to base, and that Arlt simply forgot to mention the actual date of the massacre. The official historiography on the Slonim Ghetto liquidation, however, offers a further contradiction.
Yitzhak Arad describes the events as follows:
"The annihilation of Jews in the Slonim ghetto, which housed 10,000 to 12,000 Jews, including several thousand from neighboring townships, took place between June 29 and July 15 [1942]. Prior to the murder action, in May, 500 Jewish men had been sent to work in the east Belarusian town of Mogilev, where no Jews existed. On June 29 at dawn, the ghetto was surrounded by local police reinforced by a unit of Lithuanian police. The ghetto inhabitants hurried into their hiding places; on the first day of the action, some 2,000 Jews were caught and taken 7 kilometers east of the city, to Petrolevich, where they were shot. Many Jews were killed when hand grenades were thrown into their hiding places, and many more were shot trying to escape. The massacre and the manhunts continued until July 15. Between 8,000 and 10,000 Jews were murdered in Slonim. When the action was over, fewer than 1,000 Jews remained; most of these were artisans. About 400 of them were murdered on August 20, and a few hundred more escaped to the forest. The last Jews in Slonim were shot in December 1942."34 [2]
Thus if we are to believe Arad, Arlt and his unit could only have participated in the murder of some 2,000 Jews, i.e. half the number recorded in the 3 August report.
According to the abovementioned letter from Kube to Lohse on 31 July 1942 (3428-PS) 8,000 Jews were liquidated in Slonim.
Interestingly, the verdict of the 1963 Koblenz trial found that Heuser's KdS commando had carried out the killing of 200 Jews from the Slonim ghetto "possibly in April, though probably in May or the beginning of June 1942" near a quarry 1-2 km outside of the town; the verdict did not state whether this number was included in the 8,000 figure mentioned in the Kube letter.35 [2] As far as I have been able to determine no other source mentions this alleged massacre.
(b) The Arrival Date of Transport Da 203
According to both the Fahrplananordnung Nr 12 of the Deutsche Reichsbahn Reichsbahndirektion Königsberg from 7 May 1942 and the Fahrplananordnung Nr 40 from Haupteisenbahndirektion Mitte (Minsk) from 13 May 1942, the transport Da 203 from Vienna was scheduled to arrive in Minsk on 22 May 1942 (a Saturday).36 [2] On 22 May 1942 Georg Heuser and SS-Obersturmführer Lütkenhus met with Reichsbahn officials to negotiate new arrival dates for the transports. On the following day, 23 May, Heuser dispatched a telegram to Reichsbahnoberrat Reichardt summarizing the results of their meeting.37 [2] In this we read that "the transport expected here on the Saturday before Whitsuntide [Pfingsten] is to be halted in Koydanoff, so that it arrives in Minsk only on the night of Tuesday after Whitsuntide". The Reichsbahn also promised to insert corresponding delays to all further transports, so that they would arrive in Minsk "on the night of a Monday or another weekday, with the exception of Friday".
In 1942 Whitsuntide fell between 22 and 25 May.38 [2] The first Tuesday following Whitsuntide was 26 May. Accordingly the Koblenz court ruled that Da 203 had arrived in Minsk on that day (cf. §2.3.). This also fits with the Arlt report from 16 June. There appears, however, to exist some doubt regarding the arrival date of Da 203. Gerlach lists it as arriving on 23 May, and then lists separately a transport arriving on 26 May, with the Arlt report as the only source, concluding that "because of the great difference in time there can be no confusion with the preceding or following transports".39 [2] In the Arlt report in question there is no mention of a transport arriving on 23 May, despite the fact that it strongly implies that Arlt and his men were in the Minsk area on that day without any other business to attend to. As sources on the arrival of Da 203 Gerlach lists a "Note of the KdS White Russia concerning alterations" (Vermerk KdS Weissruthenien über Änderungen) dated 23 May 1942, likely the same as the Heuser telegram quoted above, but also "Information on arrived deportation trains" ("Angaben über eingelaufene DeportationsZüge") from the Minsk State Archives.40 [2] Although I have not been able to access the latter document, I find it reasonable to assume that it does indeed confirm a 23 May arrival – else Gerlach must have committed a rather remarkable blunder. Could it be that the train was not delayed as planned until the 26th, but that its arrival was only postponed for one day, until May 23?
(c) The Arrival Date of Transport Da 206
According to the Koblenz trial verdict Transport Da 206 arrived in Minsk on 15 June 1942, which fits with the 16 June Arlt report's statement that a transport arrived in Minsk on the 15th. Gerlach, however, gives the arrival date as 13 June, even though he references the Arlt report. His other source is a preserved transport list.41 [2] The transport departed Vienna on 9 June 1942.
(d) The Arrival Date of Transport Da 220
According to a list of arrived transports from the Minsk State Archives referenced by Gerlach, Transport Da 220, departing from Theresienstadt on 14 July, arrived in Minsk on 18 July.42 [2] The Arlt report of 3 August, however, does not list any arrival on this date, but instead it speaks of "a transport of Jews" arriving on the 17th. Gerlach notes this contradiction and gives as arrival date "17 or 18 July". Kohl also notes the contradiction and inserts a note within brackets: "18.7.?"43 [2]
(e) The Two Transports in the First Half of August
In the Arlt report from 25 September we read that two Jewish transports arrived on unstated dates during the first half of August 1942. There is however only one known transport to Minsk/Trostenets during this period: Transport Da 222, which departed Theresienstadt on 4 August. Where then did the other transport come from? Gerlach makes a faint attempt at explaining it as the transport of 1000 Polish Jews from Warsaw mentioned in correspondence between Kube and Lohse, but since this train arrived in Minsk not in August but on 31 July, Gerlach leaves the possibility open for the arrival of an undocumented transport of unknown origin.44 [2]
(f) Zug versus Gruppe
In the Waffen-SS a Zug (pl. Züge) was the tactical equivalent of a platoon and had 30 to 40 men in its ranks. Gruppe (group, squad) was the term for the smallest sub-unit of the German military and as a norm consisted of 8-10 men. Usually a Gruppe was a component of a Zug.45 [2] Yet at the very beginning of the 17 May report Arlt writes: "The activity of the Zug, i.e. 1 Unterführer and 10 men" ("Die Tätigkeit des Zuges d.h. 1 Unterführer und 10 Mann"). Then at the end of the 16 June report we read: "My Gruppe here in Minsk is now only 1:7 strong" ("Meine Gruppe hier in Minsk ist nur mehr 1:7 stark"), i.e. there were only 1 Unterführer (Arlt himself) and 7 men (Sturmmänner and Rottenführern) left in the Gruppe. This is congruent with the statements that Strm. Lukas was on furlough, Rttf. Puck detached to Loklja, and Strm. Otto in the hospital with spotted fever. This clearly shows that Arlt (or a possible forger) confuses Zug with Gruppe at the beginning of the 17 May report.
There is also the curious renaming in the report headers of Arlt's unit from "II. Zug Waffen-SS" (in the 17 May report only "II. Zug") to " Gruppe Arlt". How come that Arlt was reporting for the 2nd Zug when from the beginning he had only 10 men with him? Note that this renaming isn't explained, even though reports from 16 June and 3 August (between which it occurred) are consecutive. Also note that Arlt continues to use the term Zug for his Gruppe throughout the 17 May report. It seems odd, to say the least, that a unit commander would misuse such basic terms.
(g) The Location of the Mass Graves
In the 17 May report Arlt writes that he and his unit spent 8 days "leading and supervising the excavation of pits 22 km outside of Minsk" ("die Aushebung von Gruben, 22 km vor Minsk zu leiten bezw. zu beaufsichtigen"). The wartime Übersichtskarte von Mitteleuropa makes it clear, however, that Trostenets and Blagovshchina were located approximately 12 and 14 km respectively outside of the city of Minsk (cf. Ill. 1). Kohl has chosen to excise "22 km vor Minsk" from his transcript of the report without notifying his readers.46 [2] The date of the clearing of the prison is chronologically inconsistent with the dating of the report, although this may be explained by a simple mistake (Arlt typing a "5" instead of a "4"). The operation would in that case have taken place on 30 April (I have indicated thus in Table 4 above).
3.3.4. The Evidentiary Value of the Reports
Although the above listed anomalies and problems pertaining to provenance, document characteristics and contents may not be sufficient to brand the Arlt reports as forgeries, they constitute a number of good reasons to be skeptical of its authenticity. Moreover, even if it was 100% genuine, the killings mentioned or implied in them would cover only some half of Gerlach's minimum figure of 40,000 Trostenets victims. Except for the killings of Jews from the Minsk Ghetto on 28-29 July 1942 and the Slonim Ghetto liquidation, which are corroborated (more or less) by 3428-PS, there exists, as far as I have been able to determine, no documentary evidence corroborating the other mass killings mentioned by the reports, unless we count the 15 June 1942 "gas van" telegram (see the following paragraph) which does not mention Trostenets and only speaks of "special treatment" (Sonderbehandlung). Most importantly, there exists no reliable forensic evidence for any of the mass murders.
It is worth noting that while the Arlt reports describe anti-partisan operations in great detail, their descriptions of the handling of Jewish transports are terse in the extreme. Thus while we are provided with information such as that Heuser's commando was equipped with "one light grenade launcher, one [heavy] machine gun, four light machine guns and submachine guns and carbines" during the anti-partisan operation in mid-August,
  • There is no description of the modus operandi of the mass killings, nor is there any mention of which officers were in charge of them
  • There is no mention of the "gas vans" allegedly employed at Trostenets
  • There is no mention of the fact that some of the arrivals were selected for work at the estate
  • There is no mention of the change in the arrival procedure which took place in early August (from indirect transports via the Minsk freight station to direct arrivals via the new railway line).
In his 2003 transcript of the reports Paul Kohl has left out most of the descriptions of anti-partisan operations (including a full two pages from the 25 September report) without even marking these omissions with ellipses.
One might argue that a hypothetical forger would not include long detailed descriptions, such as the passages concerning anti-partisan operations. This possible argument, however, does not take into consideration that the forger may have used authentic activity reports as a basis for his work and simply altered or added text. The forger would of course be wise to exercise caution when making his own additions and refrain from giving too many verifiable details – something which could explain the abovementioned terseness of the description of the mass killings. The odd lack of an addressee could also be explained from the viewpoint of a forger, as a measure to prevent any search for copies or corresponding report summaries.
Hopefully future research will throw more light on the background and the contents of the Arlt reports. Until then the most reasonable assessment is to consider their evidentiary quality questionable.
3.4. The "Gas Vans" Allegedly Deployed at Trostenets
I will not discuss here in detail the so-called "gas vans", as this aspect of the holocaust has been critically examined at length elsewhere.47 [2] I will here confine myself to pointing out a few oddities and contradictions pertaining to the alleged use of "gas vans" at Maly Trostenets.
In one of the handful of documents used by exterminationists to prove the existence of "gas vans", a telegram from the Reichskommissariat Ostland head of the SIPO and SD in Riga to RSHA headquarters in Berlin dated 15 June 1942 we read the following:
"At the commander of the SIPO and SD White Russia a transport of Jews arrives weekly which is to be subjected to special treatment [Sonderbehandlung].–
The 3 S–wagons existing there do not suffice for this purpose. I request for allocation of another S–wagon (5[t] tonner). Furthermore I request at once to send 20 exhaust hoses for the existing 3 S–wagons (2 Diamond, 1 Saurer), as those available are already leaky."48 [2]
From an exterminationist point of view this can only refer to the handling of the Jewish convoys arriving in Minsk in the summer of 1942 that were allegedly exterminated in "gas vans" and then interred at the Blagovshchina site. Of course, even if accepted as genuine – and there are several question marks surrounding this and the associated telegrams collected in the Nuremberg file 501-PS49 [2] – its homidical interpretation hinges on the interpretation that the term "Sonderbehandlung" ("special treatment") equals physical extermination.
Considering, however, that the weekly direct Jewish transports to Minsk and Trostenets almost invariably consisted of 1,000 people, of whom some died en route and 20-80 were selected for work at Minsk or Trostenets, leaving some 950 to be killed, and considering that the majority of the victims buried at Blagovshchina are claimed to have been shot, not gassed, then the demand for a fourth "gas van" appears rather odd, especially if one draws a comparison to the "extermination camp" Chełmno, where in March 1942 alone a total of 24,687 Jews, i.e. 797 per day, are alleged to have been murdered exclusively through the use of merely 2 or 3 "gas vans". In comparison the three vans allegedly employed at Trostenets prior to 15 June 1942 each had to handle some 317 victims per week, at the very most.50 [2]
According to a draft for an outgoing telegram allegedly sent to Riga on 22 June 1942 in response to the above discussed request, a 5-ton Saurer "S-wagon" was scheduled to be dispatched to the SIPO and SD White Russia in the following month, i.e. July 1942.51 [2] In a statement left in the early 1960s the abovementioned "gas van" driver Johann Haßler claims that 4 gas vans were employed by the KdS and the Einsatzkommandos operating in and around Minsk. This would seem to fit with the contents of the two telegrams. Haßler, however, testified that he himself had driven a 3-ton Diamond, and that this had a capacity of 25 victims per loading, yet he goes on to describe all four vans employed as having the same capacity,52 [2] despite the general contention that the larger Saurer vans had about twice the capacity of the Diamond vans. How come Haßler did not recall this (supposedly) basic fact?53 [2] After all, pointing this out would not have been incriminating to himself, as he claimed to have driven the smaller type of vehicle.
4. What Was the Function of the Camp at Maly Trostenets?
As seen above, it is nowadays commonly asserted that the Austrian, German and Czech Jews deported to Belarus in the period May-November 1942 constituted some 35-50% of the total number of Trostenets victims, and that the camp did not serve primarily as an extermination center for the Belarusian Jews. It is also asserted by Gerlach and others that the opening of the camp more or less coincided with the first of the 1942 transports from the abovementioned countries. All this suggests that Trostenets had two functions: 1) as a minor agricultural labor camp; 2) as a center for the handling of Jewish convoys from the west.
4.1. The Alleged Mass Killings as Chronological Anomaly
What then was the fate of these transports? If we are to accept mainstream historiography the vast majority of the deportees were immediately murdered by gas or bullets at the Blagovshchina site. The foremost evidence for this contention are the questionable Arlt activity reports, which, even if authentic, mention only ten, or less than half, of the transports. Aside from this we only have Strauch's sworn statement that Heydrich had ordered the killing of the transports in April 1942.
What certainly puts the mass extermination claim in spurious light is the dates of the transports. The first convoy allegedly exterminated at Trostenets departed from Vienna on 6 May 1942. By this point in time three "extermination camps" – Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chełmno and Bełżec – were already in operation in Poland, and a fourth, Sobibór, was just about to open. In late July 1942 all six of the "extermination camps" were active. But if these camps really were sites of industrialized mass murder, why send 16-30 convoys with Jews from the west all the way to Belarus, when they could be sent half the distance or less to be killed in Poland? The only logical conclusions from this seems to be: a) the RSHA were completely incompetent as far as logistics are concerned; b) the KdS Minsk had the Jews deported to Maly Trostenets killed on the initiative of Heydrich and/or Himmler, who for some reason sought to keep the killings of these transports secret from the one who had ordered them, i.e. Hitler; or c) the deported Jews, or at least part of them, were indeed resettled to other locations in the Minsk region. If we are to believe holocaust historians like Gerlach, all authorities in Minsk were aware of the mass murders carried out at Trostenets54 [2] , so that it seems completely implausible that the operation could have been kept hidden by Himmler and Heydrich. This would leave only alternatives A and C. Exterminationists, of course, have no problem engaging in "double-think" and may simultaneously believe that the alleged perpetrators of the mass killings were bumbling fools and cold-blooded, efficient bureaucrats. What then about alternative C?
4.2. Maly Trostenets as Possible Transit Camp
Is it possible that the "resettlement" of the Jews arriving at Trostenets indeed meant resettlement? According to the witness Hans Munz, who was deported from Theresienstadt in June 1942, the arrivals at Trostenets were told that they would be brought to new workplaces.55 [2] In the testimony of "an unknown deportee from Vienna" we read that the deportees remaining at Trostenets were told that their relatives who had arrived with them "were brought to other estates, of which there were many in the vicinity".56 [2] The anonymous testimony continues:
"In the meantime we had learnt that there were no 'other estates [anderen Güter]' in the vicinity of Minsk, and that all the people, who they [the Germans] told us were sent to 'other estates' were brought to 'Estate 16'. This 'Estate 16' was located some 4-5 kilometers from Klein-Trostenez, on the left side of the road to Mogilev. On that site thousands were shot and murdered in gas vans. Labor commandos from our camp were often dispatched to the woods near this 'Gut 16'. On their way they met grey vans [Kastenwagen] and open trucks driving in that direction. The lorries were loaded full with people. At one time I even saw a corpse lying on the road, dressed only in underpants. Apparently he had jumped off the truck in order to save himself and had then been shot by the guards accompanying the transport."57 [2]
The assertion that there did not exist any other estates in the Minsk region is clearly false. In Generalkommissariat Weissruthenien there existed, according to Gerlach, no fewer than 967 state-owned farms (Sovkhozes) with a total area of 350,000 hectares, corresponding to some 12 percent of the arable land.58 [2] Several hundred new farms were established by the economic administration of the Generalkommissariat Weissruthenien in 1942.59 [2] In addition there existed in White Russia some 1400 collective-owned farms, Kolkhozes (which were later split up by the Germans into 5300 Landbaugenossenschaften.60 [2] The SS and Police in White Russia operated at least 16 Staatsgüter (state-owned farms).61 [2] Among these were Trostenets, Koldichevo (also spelled Koldyczewo, also spelled Koldyczewo, near Baranovici), Drosdy and Vishnevka.62 [2] Considering that GK Weissruthenien covered an area of approximately 70,000 km2, whereof the Minsk-Land area made up some 12 percent, it stands to reason that a fair number of collective farms must have existed within, say, a 50 km radius of Trostenets. Gerlach further informs us that the production of the Sovkhozes during the German occupation was hampered by an extreme lack of manpower.63 [2] The utilization of the arriving Jews as slave labor on farms in the Minsk area would thus hardly be unthinkable.
The most glaringly unrealistic element to appear in the testimonies and literature concerning Trostenets is the repeated mention of the arrival of Jewish convoys that shouldn't exist according to mainstream historiography – convoys of French, Dutch and Polish Jews which if they in fact reached Trostenets almost certainly must have done so via the "extermination camps". We are thus speaking here of Jews counted as "gassed" by the exterminationists.
As already mentioned, the Trostenets eyewitness Isak Grünberg speaks of transports arriving from Auschwitz, and also hints at transports from Theresienstadt via Treblinka. The same witness as well as a member of the SS-Bauleitung in Smolensk confirm that Polish Jews were detained at Trostenets. Another witness, Ernst Schlesinger, speaks of transports arriving with Jews from Poland and France (cf. §2.6.). The Jewish partisan leader Hersh Smolar (Smoliar), who operated in the Minsk area and had at his disposal a wide network of informants, including Jews working at the Minsk railway station, writes with regard to the first half of 1943 that "large parties of Jews from Warsaw, Paris and Prague were brought to the vicinity of Minsk and Trostenitz where they were annihilated."64 [2] H.G. Adler mentions transports from Holland and Luxembourg in his description of Trostenets, without, however, providing a source for this assertion (§2.4.). Belarusian-Jewish writer Emanuil Joffe contends that "tens of thousands of Jews from Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Poland, France, Holland, Hungary, and, possibly other European countries" met their death at Trostenets.65 [2]
In this context it is interesting to note that similar assertions are made regarding three other camps in Reichskommissariat Ostland, namely:
  • The Jewish labor camp at Vievis, northwest of the Lithuanian capital of Vilna, located along the Vilna-Kovno railroad. Established in early 1942, its commandant was a German officer of unknown rank named Deling; the German organization or department responsible for the camp appears to be also unknown. In mid-1943 the camp came under the supervision of the Vilna City Commissar.66 [2] Many of the inmates worked on constructing a highway between Vilna and Kovno. The camp also seems to have functioned as a transit camp from where Jews were transferred to other labor camps in Lithuania. In the first half of 1942 an unknown number of Polish Jews from Łódź were sent to Vievis, no doubt via the "extermination camp" Chełmno. Hundreds of them were transferred to Riga in July 1942.67 [2] In early 1943, according to diary entries penned by the Jewish ghetto librarian Herman Kruk, 19,000 Dutch Jews arrived in Vievis, which they must have reached via the "extermination camps" Auschwitz and Sobibór.68 [2]
  • The Salaspils camp69 [2] east of the Latvian capital of Riga, located along the Riga-Daugavpils railroad. Established in the autumn of 1941 and assigned to KdS Latvia. The first Jewish inmates were German, Austrian and Czech Jews that had been deported to Riga. According to testimony left by the former Higher Leader of the SS and Police of Reichskommissariat Ostland Friedrich Jeckeln on 14 December 1945, between 55,000 and 87,000 Jews "from Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Czechoslovakia, and from other occupied countries" were brought to Salaspils and "exterminated" there. The deportation of Dutch, French, Belgian and Polish Jews to the Riga region and Salaspils is confirmed by numerous eyewitness statements and news reports, although mainstream historiography knows nothing of it – which should not surprise, as such transports would by necessity have reached Latvia via one or several of the "extermination camps" in Poland.70 [2]
  • Concentration Camp Vaivara, located in northern Estonia, 30 km west of the country's third largest city, Narva. The Vaivara camp itself consisted of a main camp and a nearby subcamp, confusingly also known as Vaivara, which functioned as a transit camp and was established in the summer of 1943.71 [2] Every Jew deported to Estonia in 1943 and 1944 was first sent to the Vaivara transit camp before being transported further to one of the numerous labor camps – most of them connected with the shale-oil industry – which had been established in northeastern Estonia.72 [2] According to mainstream historiography some 20,000 Jews were deported to Estonia73 [2], most of them Lithuanian and Latvian, but also some German and Czech Jews and 500 Hungarian Jewesses in June 1944. The Vaivara camp must also have seen the arrival of Polish Jews, as such were detained at the Estonian Klooga camp.74 [2] According to the deported Lithuanian Jew Lebke Distel Dutch Jews were among the inmates of Kuremäe, another of the Estonian labor camps.75 [2]
A common denominator for the abovementioned four camps is that they were located in the vicinity of the Generalbezirk capital or a major city: Salaspils – Riga; Vievis – Vilna; Vaivara – Narva; Maly Trostenets – Minsk. Another is that they had direct railway access (in the case of Trostenets from August 1942 onward).76 [2] Vaivara stands out from the others as it was established only in the late summer of 1943. It appears likely, though, that Vaivara functioned as a replacement for the Jägala camp, which was located near the Estonian capital of Tallinn (Reval) and was closed down in August 1943,77 [2] the month before Vaivara was officially established. Jägala was also located near a railway station (Raasiku). This possible replacement may have been caused by the growing importance of the Estonian shale-oil industry, which was concentrated in the northeastern part of the country, i.e. near Narva.78 [2]
It could have been that these four camps, each located in one of the four Generalbezirk of Reichskommissariat Ostland (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and White Russia), functioned as transit points for at least part of the large numbers of Jews deported east via the "extermination camps" in Poland. Many of the Jews reaching these camps would then have been transferred, in trucks, in carts or on foot, to labor camps, collective farms and ghettos that lacked direct access to the railway network.
If we accept the working hypothesis that Trostenets functioned as transit point in a resettlement program, then some of the anomalies encountered in mainstream historiography no longer seem that odd. In an affidavit from 5 November 1945 (2620-PS) the former head of the SS-RSHA Security Service and commander of Einsatzgruppe D, SS- Gruppenführer Otto Ohlendorf stated:
"We also had these vehicles [the alleged "gas vans"] stationed in the neighborhood of the transit camps [Durchgangslager] into which the victims were brought. The victims were told that they would be resettled and had to climb into the vehicle for that purpose. After that the doors were closed and the gas streamed in through the starting of the vehicle; the victims died within 10 to 15 minutes. The cars were then driven to the burial place, where the corpses were taken out and buried."79 [2]
This description would fit the orthodox version of the events at Maly Trostenets perfectly if it weren't for the word "transit camps". Significantly, in the official English translation of this affidavit the word "Durchgangslager", transit camps, has been deceptively mistranslated as "transient camps".80 [2] This "Freudian slip" indicates that the Einsatz Gruppe commanders were likely aware of Trostenets and other "extermination sites" as transit camps.
The existence of the separate "holding camp" at Trostenets (cf. §2.10.), which appears more than a little strange seen from the viewpoint of orthodox historiography, also makes sense in the light of the resettlement hypothesis.
Christian Gerlach notes that:
"Apparently a few others [from the Jewish convoys] were also sent from there [Trostenets] to other places, for example to the forced labor camp in Wilejka"81 [2]
We should recall here Gerlach's report (§2.8.) that 250 Polish Jews were transferred from Trostenets to Smolensk. This of course begs the question: how many such "exceptions" were there?
Speaking of "exceptions" we may also note in passing, that while orthodox historians maintain that Transport Da 221 from Theresienstadt, which arrived in Baranovichi82 [2] on 31 July 1942, was exterminated by the local KdS Aussenstelle, Gerlach notes that, according to the witness "B.K.", some 100 Czech Jews were delivered at this time to the nearby Koldichevo camp.83 [2] Gerlach calls this camp, which was established in December 1941 by the KdS some 20 km north of Baranovichi, a "labor and extermination camp", although Georg Heuser during his trial called it a Schutzhaftlager (protective custody camp). Gerlach further states that a total of 22,000 people were murdered in this camp. The origin of this figure, however, is yet another Soviet "investigative" committee.84 [2] In a West German trial verdict from 1966 the camp is linked to the aforementioned Koldichevo estate as well as to Organisation Todt.85 [2]
4.3. Maly Trostenets and Anti-Partisan Activities
It is clear that Trostenets served a role in operations against partisans near Minsk. This is confirmed by the fact that the village of Maly Trostenets, which was located along the road that led up to the estate, was turned into a Wehrdorf (protected village) in May 1943 on order of Generalkommissar Kube. This meant that the former villagers were resettled and replaced with farmers loyal to the Germans. All new male villagers fit for military service were trained and armed to fight locally active partisans.86 [2] Gerlach and Rentrop87 [2] both state that "suspected bandits" were executed at Trostenets; Gerlach mentions a figure of some 3,000 killed (cf. §2.8). A Belarusian Catholic priest and resistance fighter by the name of Wincent Godlewski (Vincent Hadleŭski) was reportedly shot at Trostenets on 24 December 1942 (the date may however suggest a propagandistic distortion of events).88 [2]
5. Conclusion
Close to 70 years after the end of World War II the history of Maly Trostenets and the mass killings allegedly perpetrated there still remains very much shrouded in obscurity. Even though the available evidence does not permit us to exclude the possibility of German-conducted mass executions in and around the camp, there are many reasons to be skeptical of the orthodox portrayal of Trostenets as a "death camp". The bulk of the orthodox historiography on the camp is derived from post-war testimony, whereas the only documentary evidence for the mass killings consists of the questionable Gruppe Arlt activity reports, furnished by Communist Czechoslovakia in the early 1960s, and the only material "evidence" of that adduced in the 1944 survey of an Extraordinary State Commission headed by Nicholai Burdenko, the man behind the fraudulent Soviet Katyn commission.
Many questions remain which may be answered by future archival research. Among those are:
  • Has any documentation from the camp been preserved? I have found no references to such material, which needless to say does not mean that it has not been preserved. Especially inmate lists or notes on the arrival of new detainees would be valuable for determining the backgrounds of the Jewish inmates and the actual numbers of the arrivals selected for work at the Trostenets estate.
  • Do there exist any wartime aerial photographs of Trostenets? Considering the proximity of the camp to Minsk this seems likely. If so, what do they tell us about the mass graves at the Blagovshchina site? Air photos taken in 1941 would also be of much value as a means to verify Kuznyetsov's claim of NKVD mass graves at the site.
  • Why was the Blagovschina copse an off-limits area until at least the late 1980s?
  • From where does Adler (1974) derive his assertions that Jews from Holland and Luxembourg were brought to Trostenets?
  • How many other German-run former kolkhozes and sovkhozes existed in the vicinity of Trostenets? Did they employ Jews as forced labor? If so, have there been preserved any lists of these workers?
Such archival research would preferably also include a survey of all witness testimonies relating to the camp. What more do they have to tell us about the transports to Trostenets and the backgrounds of the arrivals? Also, do we have any indications as to the number of cremation pyres used at Blagovshchina?
Most important, however, there is need for a complete opening of all archives relating to the German occupiers' treatment of Jews in eastern territories, as well as all records on NKVD activity in the area prior to the war, combined with an exhaustive forensic-archaeological investigation of the Blagovshchina and Shashkovka sites conducted by an international and impartial scientific committee. Only then could it be determined how many people actually perished at Trostenets during the German occupation, and if it really warrants the epithet of "extermination camp".
Notes:
  1. P. Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez, op.cit., pp. 19-20. Translation by author.
  2. Ibid., p. 20.
  3. GARF 7021-93-21, pp. 15-18.
  4. Cf. maps reproduced in Margers Vestermanis, Juden in Riga. Auf den Spuren des Lebens und Wirken einer ermordeten Minderheit, Edition Temmen, Bremen 1995, p. 61, 64.
  5. "Forensic report of the Extraordinary State Commission on atrocities committed in the Salaspils camp", GARF 7021-93-52, pp. 20-23; reproduced as document no. 17 in: Latvija pod igom natsizma. Sbornik arhivnay dokumentov (Latvia under the Nazi Yoke: A Collection of Archive Documents), Europa Publishing House, Moscow 2006, pp. 104-109.
  6. K. Kangeris, U. Neiburgs, R. Viksne, "Salaspils nometne: vestures avoti un historiografiskais materials", in: Okupacijas Rezimi Baltijas Valstis 1940-1991, Latvijas Vesturnieku Komisijas Raksti, 25 sejums, Latvijas vestures instituta apgads, Riga 2009, pp. 204-208, 223.
  7. Dt. Informationsstelle (ed.), Amtliches Material zum Massenmord von Katyn, Eher, Berlin 1943.
  8. "Report of the Special Commission on the shooting of Polish officer prisoners in the Katyn Forest", in Soviet Government Statements on Nazi Atrocities, op. cit., pp. 107-136; also online: http://www.codoh.com/trials/trikatyn.html [3]
  9. Manfred Zeidler, Stalinjustiz contra NS-Verbrechen, Hannah-Arendt-Institut, Dresden 1996, pp. 28-29.
  10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolai_Burdenko
  11. Nuremberg Document 54-USSR. Also reproduced in: Soviet Government Statements on Nazi Atrocities, op. cit., pp. 283-300.
  12. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op.cit., p. 770, n. 1471. Translation by author.
  13. Cf. R. Wright, I. Hanson, J. Sterenberg, "The Archaeology of Mass Graves", in: John Hunter, Margaret Cox (eds.), Forensic Archaeology: Advances in Theory and Practice, Routledge, London/New York 2005, pp. 147-148.
  14. Igor Kuznyetsov, "V poiskah pravda, ili Tragedija Trostenca: do i posle" ("In Search of Truth; or, The Tragedy of Trostenets: Before and After"), Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta, No. No. 1416 (April 2, 2004).
  15. The Wikipedia entry mentions A.I. Zalesskiĭ, I.V. Stalin i kovarstvo ego politicheskikh protivnikov, 2 vols., Minsk, 1999–2002.
  16. Joachim Hoffmann, Stalins Vernichtungskrieg 1941-1945, Verlag für Wehrwissenschaften, Munich 1995, pp. 188-189. The source is the article "300 000 Tote im Goldbergwerk", Der Spiegel, No. 40, 1989, pp. 200-202; online: http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-13496603.html
  17. http://www.massviolence.org/Kurapaty-1937-1941-NKVD-Mass-Killings-in-Soviet-Belarus
  18. Ilya Ehrenburg, "Nakanune" ("The Day Before"), Pravda, 7 August 1944.
  19. Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein, Adalbert Rückerl et al., Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas, Yale University Press, New Haven 1993, p. 70.
  20. P. Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez, op. cit., p. 59 Translation by author.
  21. Ibid., p. 60.
  22. Ibid., p. 70.
  23. Modern satellite photos of the Blagovshchina site disclose only an open area covered with gravel or sand and a number of small paths; no contours of mass graves can be discerned. Cf. http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/map/google_map_Minsk.htm
  24. P. Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez, op. cit., pp. 16-18. Translation by author.
  25. Ibid., p. 77.
  26. Of the 40,000 figure proposed by Gerlach only 6,500 refer to the period when the alleged mass executions were carried out at the Shashkovka site, cf. §2.8.
  27. Cf. Jürgen Graf, Thomas Kues, Carlo Mattogno, Sobibór. Holocaust and Propaganda, TBR Books, Washington DC 2010, chapter 5.3.
  28. Unsere Ehre heisst Treue. Kriegstagebuch des Kommandostabes Reichsführer SS, Tätigkeitsberichte der 1. und 2. SS-Inf.-Brigade, der 1. SS-Kav.-Brigade und von Sonderkommandos der SS, Europa Verlag, Vienna/Frankfurt/Zurich 1965.
  29. Ibid., facsimiles on pp. 236, 240-247.
  30. Unsere Ehre heisst Treue, op. cit., pp. v-vi.
  31. Peter Longerich and Dieter Pohl quote from the Arlt reports, giving as reference "Zentrales Staatsarchiv Prag; ZStL Dok. Slg. CSSR Bd. 332, Bl. 41 (Kopie)"; P. Longerich, Dieter Pohl, Die Ermordung der europäischen Juden, Piper, Munich 1989, p. 160.
  32. Unsere Ehre heisst Treue, op. cit., pp. 237-239.
  33. Ibid., pp. 248-249.
  34. Y. Arad, The Holocaust in the Soviet Union, op. cit., p. 254.
  35. Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, vol. XIX, pp. 196-197.
  36. NARB, 378-1-784.
  37. Reproduced in Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, vol. XIX, p. 210.
  38. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kreisauer_Kreis [4]
  39. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op. cit., p. 758 n. 1383.
  40. Gerlach states as reference ZStA Minsk 378-1-784, p. 63.
  41. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op. cit., p. 758, n. 1387.
  42. Ibid., n. 1391. As archival reference for this document Gerlach gives ZStA Minsk 378-1-784, p. 63.
  43. P. Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez, op. cit., p. 63.
  44. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op. cit., p. 759, n. 1395.
  45. Paul Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez, op. cit., p. 65; Brockhaus Wahrig Deutsches Wörterbuch, vol. 6, F.A. Brockhaus, Wiesbaden 1984, p. 862; also German Army Organization, http://deutsches-afrikakorps.blogspot.com/2010/12/german-army-organization.html
  46. P. Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez, op. cit., p. 62.
  47. Pierre Marais, Les camions à gaz en question, Polémiques, Paris 1994. See also the forthcoming volume The Gas Vans: A Critical Investigation by Santiago Alvarez (TBR Books 2011).
  48. Document 501-PS. For a discussion of this document cf. the forthcoming S. Alvarez, The Gas Vans: A Critical Investigation. Translated from German by the author.
  49. See the forthcoming S. Alvarez, The Gas Vans: A Critical Investigation,, chapter 2.2.3.
  50. Carlo Mattogno, Il Campo di Chełmno tra Storia e Propaganda, Effepi, Genoa 2009, p. 17, 58, 89, 144.
  51. Document 501-PS.
  52. P. Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez, op. cit., p. 70.
  53. Cf. Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, vol. XXIII, APA Holland University Press/K.G. Sauer Verlag, Amsterdam/Munich 1998, p. 622.
  54. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op. cit., pp. 694, 760-761.
  55. P. Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez, op. cit., p. 48.
  56. Ibid., p. 53.
  57. Ibid., p. 59. Translated by author.
  58. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op. cit., p. 333.
  59. Ibid., pp. 334-335.
  60. Ibid., p. 358.
  61. Ibid., p. 339.
  62. Ibid., p. 341.
  63. Ibid., pp. 333-334.
  64. Hersh Smoliar, Resistance in Minsk, Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum, Oakland (Cal.) 1966, p. 70.
  65. E. Joffe, Aktualjnye voprosy izuchenija holokosta na territorii sovjetskoj belorussii v gody vtoroj mirovoj vojny, op. cit. Translated by author.
  66. Neringa Latvyte-Gustaitiene, "The Genocide of the Jews in the Trakai Region of Lithuania", online: http://www.jewishgen.org/LITVAK/HTML/OnlineJournals/genocide_of_the_jews.htm
  67. T. Kues, "Evidence for the Presence of 'Gassed' Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territories, Part 2", op. cit., §3.3.19.
  68. Thomas Kues, "Evidence for the Presence of 'Gassed' Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territories, Part 1", §3.3.1. Online: http://www.inconvenienthistory.com/archive/2010/volume_2/number_2/
    evidence_for_the_presence_of_gassed_jews.php [5]
  69. Coincidentally the first Jewish inmates of Trostenets were two German Jews who accompanied a cattle transport from Salaspils in early May 1942; cf. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op. cit., p. 769, n. 1462; P. Rentrop, "Maly Trostinez", op. cit., p. 578.
  70. T. Kues, "Evidence for the Presence of 'Gassed' Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territories, Part 1", op. cit., §3.1.2, 3.2.3, 3.3.2, 3.3.5, 3.3.9; "Evidence for the Presence of 'Gassed' Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territories, Part 2", op. cit., §3.3.14., 3.4.
  71. Wolfgang Benz, Barbara Distel, Der Ort des Terrors: Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager, vol. 8, C.H. Beck, Munich 2008, p. 178. The Vaivara camp itself was, however, not officially established until 15 September 1943; A. Weiss-Wendt, Murder without Hatred., op. cit., p. 257.
  72. Anton Weiss-Wendt, Murder without Hatred. Estonians and the Holocaust, Syracuse University Press, New York 2009, p. 257.
  73. Rose Cohen, Saul Issroff (eds.), The Holocaust in Lithuania 1941-1945: A Book of Remembrance, vol. 1, Gefen Publishing 2002, p. 23.
  74. T. Kues, "Evidence for the Presence of 'Gassed' Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territories, Part 1", op. cit., §3.3.1.
  75. Ibid., §3.3.7.
  76. It is interesting to note that a number of other "extermination sites" in the occupied eastern territories had access to the railway network, for example Rumbula (outside Riga) and Ponary (Paneriai, the site for the alleged extermination of the Vilna Jews); cf. Frida Michelson, I Survived Rumbuli, Holocaust Library, New York 1979, p. 88; Herman Kruk, The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania, Yale University Press, New Haven/London 2002 pp. 500, 511. On 9 September 1942 the Jews in the Caucasian town of Kislodovsk were evacuated by train under the "pretext" that they would be resettled in "the sparsely populated regions of the Ukraine" and then supposedly shot in a nearby antitank trench; Y. Arad, The Holocaust in the Soviet Union, op. cit., pp. 239-294. In its "Daily News Bulletin" from 20 November 1942 the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that the Germans were "continuing to carry out ruthlessly their policy of deporting all Jews" from Latvia. The Jews were taken from the Riga Ghetto to "assembly stations", where they were loaded on cattle trucks and sent away. According to the report, which had been received by the Federation of Jewish Relief Organisations in London, "the inhabitants of the Riga Ghetto are gradually transported to the East according to plan." Cf. also the unchecked (by author) report in Ukrainian newspapers in 1996, according to which Kiev Jews were deported from Babi Yar via a nearby military railroad station to Minsk; Herbert Tiedemann, "Babi Yar: Critical Questions and Comments", in: Germar Rudolf (ed.), Dissecting the Holocaust, 2nd ed., Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2003, p. 503. See also Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed., Thomson Gale 2007, vol. 12, p. 151: "Since the location [Babi Yar] was near the Petrovski goods railway station, and owing to the rumours about evacuation of the Jews to other towns or camps, nobody suspected what was coming."
  77. Lukáš Přibyl, "Die Geschichte des Theresienstädter Transports 'Be' nach Estland", in: Miroslav Kárný et al (eds.), Theresienstädter Studien und Dokumente 2001, Institut Theresienstädter Initiative, Prague 2001, p. 184.
  78. A. Weiss-Wendt, Murder without Hatred, op. cit., pp. 248-249, 257.
  79. Translated from IMT, vol. XXXI, p. 41.
  80. Cf. Nuremberg Military Tribunals, vol. IV, US Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1950, p. 206.
  81. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op. cit., p. 756, n. 1373. The source given is an interrogation from 1959. Translated by author.
  82. Like Minsk, Baranovichi is connected with possible transports from the "extermination camps" in Poland: On 4 August 1942 a postcard arrived in Warsaw from a Jewess who wrote that she had been deported to Baranovichi, where she worked as a farm laborer; Abraham Lewin, A Cup of Tears. A Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto, Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1988, p. 147. Cf. also the claim that Ignatz Burstein had been deported by the Germans from Łódż to Baranovichi (§2.2.). It might possibly be of significance that the Koldichevo camp was opened the same month that the Chełmno "extermination camp" became operative, i.e. in December 1941.
  83. C. Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, op. cit., p. 759, n. 1393.
  84. Ibid., p. 771.
  85. LG München I 113 Ks 1/65 from 21 January 1966, in: Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, vol. XXIII, APA Holland University Press/K.G. Saur Verlag, Amsterdam/Munich 1998, pp. 19-20.
  86. P. Kohl, Das Vernichtungslager Trostenez, op.cit., p. 15; See also Maly Trostenez, http://www.letzter-gruss-online.de/41306/41351.html
  87. P. Rentrop, "Maly Trostinez", op. cit., p. 578.
  88. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wincent_Godlewski [6]

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