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June 1: Word of the Gassings

May 31, 2015


On this date in 1942, The Liberty Brigade, a Polish socialist underground newspaper, published an article by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, the archivist of the Warsaw Ghetto and a critical chronicler of the Nazi assault upon and torture of the Jews, which disclosed for the first time the program of gassings at the concentration camp at Chelmno that had begun the previous December and would become the model for the Nazi gassing campaigns against Jews. The New York Times published the account the next day (on page 6). Szlama Ber Winer (often referred to as Szlama Bajler, after the name of his nephew Abram Bajler) had escaped from Chelmno to the Warsaw Ghetto in January, after serving for one week with the Sonderkommandos (death-handlers) at the camp, and provided the first eyewitness report about the gassings to Ringelblum and his Oneg Shabbat group. Winer wrote his testimony under nom de guerre Yakov Grojanowski, and it became known as the Grojanowski Report. He subsequently escaped to Zamość, where he wrote to the Warsaw Ghetto about the existence of another death camp, Belzec — where he was gassed only days later.

“It looked like a normal large lorry, in grey paint, with two hermetically closed rear doors. The inner walls were of steel metal. There weren’t any seats. The floor was covered by a wooden grating, as in public baths, with straw mats on top. Between the driver’s cab and the rear part were two peepholes. With a flashlight one could observe through these peepholes if the victims were already dead. Under the wooden grating were two tubes about 15 cms thick which came out of the cab. The tubes had small openings from which gas poured out. The gas generator was in the cab, where the same driver sat all the time. He wore a uniform of the SS death’s head units and was about forty years old.” —Szlama Ber Winer