Chelmno (extermination camp)

Chełmno (German: Kulmhof) was a death camp Nazi Germany , located near a small village called Chełmno nad Nerem ( Kulmhof an der Nehr , in German), 70km from Lodz , in the so – called General Government of Poland (annexed And incorporated to Germany in 1939 under the name Reichsgau Wartheland ). It was the first extermination camp, opened in 1941 to kill the Jews of the ghetto of Lodz and Warthegau, and the first in the history of theHolocaust in using poison gas.

At least 152,000 people were murdered in this camp, mainly Jews from the Lodz ghetto and its surroundings, along with gypsies from Greater Poland and some Czech Jews, Hungarians, Poles and Soviet prisoners of war.

Field Operation

The death camp was established on December 7, 1941 and began its functions the next day until April 1943, when it was closed and its crematorium destroyed. In the spring of 1944 it was restored and closed again on January 17, 1945. A special SS Sonderkommando called Sonderkommando Kulmhof smothered people with exhaust fumes and then burned them. The camp consisted of two parts: an administrative section, barracks and warehouses for looted goods; And a burial and cremation site. He operated three gas wagons that used carbon monoxide.

The first contingent of deportees were Jews from the countryside surrounding communities and about 5,000 Gypsies who had been imprisoned in the ghetto of Lodz . About 10,000 Jews were deported from Lodz to Chelmno and killed between 16 and 29 January 1942. About 34,000 were “processed” between 22 March and 2 April 1942. Another 11,000 were deported And gassed between 4 and 15 May 1942, 16,000 Jews between 5 and 12 September 1942 and an estimated 15,200 Jewish forced laborers from the Lodz region were also gassed.

Monument with the Polish legend Pamietamy , «We remember».

Adolf Eichmann testified about the camp during his trial. He visited in 1942:

As soon as the ramp had been lifted into the castle, people began to arrive at Kulmhof from Lizmannstadt (źódź) on trucks … They told people that they had to bathe, that their clothes had to be disinfected and that they could deliver Beforehand any object of value to be recorded […]

When they had undressed, they were sent to the basement of the castle and then along a passage to the ramp and thence to the gas van. In the castle there were signs marked “to the baths”. The gas vans were large, 4-5 m long, 2.2 m wide and 2 m high. The interior walls were lined with metal sheets. There was a wooden grate on the floor. The floor of the van had an opening, which could be connected to the exhaust pipe by means of a removable metal tube. When the trucks were full of people, the double doors of the rear were closed and the exhaust pipe connected to the interior of the […]

The commander gave details while the driver would start the engine immediately, so that the people inside the truck would be suffocated by exhaust fumes. Once this was done, the junction between the exhaust pipe and the interior of the truck was disconnected and the van was driven into the field in the woods, where the bodies were unloaded. In the early days, they were buried at first in mass graves, later cremated … Then I brought the van back to the castle and parked it there. Here it would be cleansed of the excreta of people who had died there. Then, it would be used once again for gas poisoning […]

By March 1943 , many of the Warthegau Jews had been killed. Only about 70,000 remained in the remains of the Lodz Ghetto. Himmler ordered that the camp be dismantled on April 7, 1943, Chelmno was then closed and the facilities demolished. However, out of necessity of the plan organized by the German forces, operations continued on June 23, 1944 , with a new Commander, Hans Bothmann , who directed the “Sonderkommando Bothmann” with Hermann Gielow and Walter Piller. In this second period, a contingent of more than 25,000 Lodz Jews were killed in Chelmno. In addition to this, the ‘Sonderkommando 1005’ under the orders of the SS Standartenführer Paul Blobel , worked in the cleaning of traces of the mass murder. On the night of January 17, 1945 , the working group consisting of 48 detainees were to be shot, but they rebelled and provoked a fight, managing to escape only three. It has been reported that at least 10 people managed to survive this field.

Featured staff in Chelmno

This field had two commanders throughout its history:

  • 1.SS Sturmbannführer Herbert Lange ( who died in combat against the Russians, the 20 of April of 1945 , near Berlin )
  • 2.SS Hauptsturmführer Hans Bothmann (Committed Suicide while in detention by the British)


  • SS Scharführer Heinrich Bock
  • SS Unterscharführer Walter Burmeister (13 of prison)
  • SS Unterscharführer Walter Filer
  • SS Hauptscharführer Hermann Gielow (Executed by the Poles)
  • SS Hauptscharführer Wilhelm Gürlich
  • SS Untersturmführer Alois Häfele (13 years in prison)
  • SS Unterscharführer Karl Heinl (7 years in prison)
  • SS Oberscharführer Wilhelm Heukelbach (13 years and a half in prison)
  • SS Scharführer Gustav Hüfing
  • SS Rottenführer Fritz Ismer
  • SS Oberwachmeister Bruno Israel
  • SS Oberwachmeister Moyz Kerzer
  • SS Oberwachmeister Oskar Kraus
  • SS Unterscharführer Erich Kretschmer
  • SS Hauptscharführer Gustav Laabs (13 years in prison)
  • SS Wachmeister Wilhelm Lenz
  • SS Scharführer Kurt Möbius (8 years in prison)
  • SS Scharführer Rudolf Otto
  • SS Oberscharführer Walter Piller (Executed by the Poles)
  • SS Oberwachmeister Albert Plate (Injured in action by the Russians – Committed suicide)
  • SS Sturmscharfhrer Albert Richter
  • SS Unterscharführer Johann Runge
  • SS Scharführer Franz Schalling
  • SS Rottenführer Wilhelm Sefler
  • SS Scharführer Max Sommer
  • SS Oberscharführer Otto Stadie (7 years in prison)

SS Watchers

  • SS Wachmeister Bartel
  • SS Unterscharführer Belaff
  • SS Wachmeister Blanch
  • SS Oberwachmeister Bulmann
  • SS Scharführer Bürstinge
  • SS Oberwachmeister Daniel
  • SS Oberscharführer Görlich
  • SS Oberwachmeister Han
  • SS Wachmeister Richert
  • SS Wachmeister Ross
  • SS Wachmeister Rubmiech
  • SS Unterscharführer Schmidt
  • SS Oberwachmeister Schneider
  • SS Wachmeister Shlipke
  • SS Rottenführer Stark
  • SS Unterscharführer Thiele
  • SS Wachmeister Zimmermann

Process after the war

After the war, a trial was held against some of the guards who had served in Chelmno. This process took place in Essen, Germany, between 1962 and 1965, and resulted in several terms of imprisonment. Both field commanders managed to escape justice: Lange would fall fighting against the Russians and Bothmann will commit suicide while in the power of the British.


  • Information about Chelmno in the Axis History Forum
  • The Camp Men: the SS Officer who ran the Concentration Camp System, by French L. MacLean, ISBN 0-7643-0636-7
  • Official website of the Chelmno Museum