Reveal Details of Execution in Portable Gas Chambers of Thousands of Polish Jews
Menu JTA Search

Reveal Details of Execution in Portable Gas Chambers of Thousands of Polish Jews

Download PDF for this date

Details of the execution in portable gas chambers of thousands of Polish Jews in the woods between the cities of Kolo and Chelmno, in the western part of Poland, were revealed here today by the American Representation of the General Workers Union of Poland.

The information was secured from three of the Jewish grave diggers who were assigned by the Nazis to bury the dead in mass-graves as they were carted from the gas chambers. The three Jews succeeded in escaping from the dungeon in Chelmno castle in which they were confined each night after they finished their grisly labors.

“From January 15, of this year, groups of Jews who had been given driven out of the Lodz ghetto began to arrive in Chelmno,” they related. “The first group was composed of 750 families, comprising about 3,000 persons. Other contingents followed. When the Jews first arrived in the city they were taken to the Chelmno church where they were divested of all their belongings. Then they were transferred to the Chelmno castle, a one-story remnant of a palace ruined during World War I.

“There the Jews were taken to an underground corridor where one of the group – who later turned out to be an S.S. officer – told them that they would all be returned to the Lods ghetto where they would get jobs, but first they must bathe at the castle and have their clothes disinfected. Once the Jews had removed all their outer clothing they were taken to a door which they were told led to the ‘bath,’ but which actually was a platform from which they were loaded onto large grey trucks with hermetically-sealed rear doors.

“Once the group of Jews had been jammed inside, the truck proceeded to the woods about seven kilometers distant, in the direction of Kolo. There it halted at the execution place in a clearing which was surrounded by German police armed with machine guns. In one corner of the clearing was a large pit around which stood S.S. men, police, some civilians and groups of Jewish grave diggers. As soon as the truck arrived at a spot about 100 yards from the pit, the chauffeur, who also served as the executioner, turned on the gas apparatus which he controlled from the front of the auto.


“As the gas seeped up from vents in the bottom of the body of the truck, anguished cries and poundings could be heard from the interior of the vehicle. After about fifteen minutes, usually, the noise stopped and the driver would go to the cab of the truck and through a window located behind the driver’s seat peer in to see if all the Jews were dead. When he had assured himself of that fact, the truck was driven to the foot of the mass-grave and four of the Jewish grave diggers would be forced to drag the bodies out of the gas chamber and throw them down to their comrades waiting in the pit below.

“But before the Jews were buried – the head of one at the feet of another in order to provide more burial space – German civilians examined each corpse, pulling off rings and lockets and extracting metal fillings from teeth. When the bottom of the grave was filled, another layer of victims would be placed on top of those already there.”

The three diggers who escaped also revealed that toward the end of last year the Jews living in Konon county and in the towns of Kolo, Dambie-on-Narev, Klodova, Izbitz and Bugaj, were taken to unknown destinations, and are believed to have been executed in the same manner as the Jews from Lodz.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund