Head of the German Department in the Foreign Office (Unterstaatssekretar) Martin Luther received an anonymous letter of complaint in which it stated that there were many corpses rolling around in the Wartheland (the Posen district of Poland). Luther immediately passed on the complaint to head of the Gestapo Heinrich Müller His reply to Luther is marked by the code number 1005.
The district kommissars throughout the occupied territories received instructions from the responsible ministry dated April 30, 1942 (No.3186 II2C), in which they are asked to immediately submit details of the places where there are mass graves of Jews and prisoners of war. These mass graves had been kept strictly secret and their records kept by the central office of the Ministry of Security in Berlin.
Paul Blobel, an architect who had participated in World War I in the Engineering Corps, was appointed in June 1942, as the person responsible for the burning of corpses of those who had been exterminated in the gas chambers or who had died of hunger and disease in the Chelmno, Belzec, Treblinka, Auschwitz and Sobibor concentration camps.
Blobel was a close friend of Eichmann, head of the IVB4 Department, which dealt with the Final Solution of the Jewish problem. That department was directly responsible to Heinrich Müller, head of the Gestapo, who issued the instructions to execute “Operation 1005." Eichmann and Müller were subordinate to the head of the SS in the Ministry of the Interior, Heinrich Himmler, the man who organized the Final Solution. Thus Paul Blobel was directly subordinate to the three mass murderers: Eichmann, Müller and Himmler. Theirs was the task of murdering masses while his was to erase the traces of their foul deeds.
Blobel prepared various methods and appliances for getting rid of or burning the corpses, grinding the charred bones and collecting the ashes. “On November 20, 1942, Himmler issued an order to the Gestapo chief, SS Standartenführer , Police Chief Heinrich Müller , to burn all the bodies of the Jews who were murdered or to get rid of the corpses in some other way.”)
SS Standartenführer Paul Blobel came to Berlin for the sole purpose of discovering where the mass graves were, to open them and burn the corpses, get rid of the ash and flatten the ground where the graves were. The Germans had already reached the conclusion that they had lost the war and that they would have to give an account for their murderous deeds. Hence they were taking all the precautions needed to erase the traces which could serve as evidence of their actions.
Blobel organized special units known by the code-name 1005, which comprised mainly Jews. “The major operation of unit 1005 is to destroy the traces of mass murder, so that it would not be possible afterwards to determine the overall number of murdered people.”( Nuremberg Court, document 0-4498).
Paul Blobel approached his task systematically. In accordance with SS Reichs Minister Himmler’s instructions of June 3, 1943, Blobel organized in the Janovska camp in the Piaski district (near Lvov) a special school in which the pupils were taught how to eradicate mass graves, burn the corpses, grind the bones and plant trees on the sites of former graves. "Courses lasting ten days instructed them in how to burn dead bodies. Twelve pupils participated in every course. Only officers of the various camps participated. The lecturer was chief of the burning campaign, SS Standartenführer Shallok. Ten groups of pupils had gone through the course at the Janovska camp in five-and-a-half months.” One of the pupils was SS General Erlinger, who afterwards was an instructor in how to dispose of the corpses in Mogilev. SS Obersturmführer Hans Koch – who was the head of the criminal department of the Gestapo and formerly chief of the Security Police in Orel, Orsha, Borisov and Slonim – stated at his trial in Minsk in 1945, that all the Gestapo heads who were in Byelorussia received training in the process of burning corpses from SS General Erlinger in Mogilev. In the autumn of 1943, the erasure of traces of mass murders in Byelorussia began and on October 4, the destruction of the corpses in Mogilev was carried out.
The corpse-burners, who suffered from nausea and disgust when they saw the rotting corpses, were forced by the Germans to lie face downward on the dead bodies and smell the foul odor for five to ten minutes. This is how the Germans wanted to inure the corpse-burners to the terrible odor of the putrid bodies of those they had murdered.
“All the members of the SS who were involved in the annihilation of the Jews were obliged to sign a statement that they would keep secret the knowledge of what they had seen and had taken part in.” All the guards who were in charge of burning the corpses were SS officers or the police. They were permanently on edge, trembling lest one of the corpse-burners would escape. Hence, the number of guards almost equalled that of the corpse-burners: in the Janovska (Piaski) camp, there were 120 guards to 126 corpse-burners. In the Ninth Fort, there were thirty-five guards to forty-two prisoners, who were directly involved in opening the graves of those who had been murdered, and burning their bodies. The SS officers hinted that God knows what awaited them at the end of “the work” of erasing these murder sites.
One day in December 1943, a new SS officer who had just arrived came to the smithy in the Ninth Fort where I worked. He was wearing a large number of medals and citations. He was interested in what was being done on the spot. I explained that I was an auto mechanic and congratulated him on coming to the Ninth Fort. He stared at me naively, thanked me, and added that he did not intend remaining there for any length of time. He hailed from the neighborhood of Pskov and was prepared to fight the partisans rather than stay in this place. “But it is quiet here,” I said, “and there you can get killed.”
“Who knows how things here can end,” he replied, and left. I never saw him again.
Police Superintendent Gerhard Adamec, who was with the 1005-B unit in Kiev, tells that when his group arrived at the site where the bodies had been unearthed and burnt, their commander First Lieutenant (Oberleutnant) Chanish had greeted them with the following statement: “You have come to this place to help your comrades. You undoubtedly smell the smoke rising from the ‘kitchen’ behind you. We must all become accustomed to this smell and fulfill your duty. It will be necessary to keep a sharp eye on the prisoners. Everything that is being done here is strictly a state secret. Each of you is personally responsible if a prisoner flees from the place and will be dealt with by special treatment [in other words, killed]. The same thing awaits whoever mentions something or is not careful about what he writes in his letters...”
Operation 1005 scattered the special crews (sonderkommando) to wherever there had been mass murders or prisoners of war. We know of three such crews: 1005, 1005-A, 1005-B. The corpse-burners would finish their “work” at one site and go on to another. The Germans would frequently “change” these crews by shooting them and then burning their bodies on the general conflagration and bring in others to carry on the “work.”
The concentration camp at Salaspil, or the death-camp as it was called, was one of the largest of the twenty-three camps in Latvia. It was situated in a forest, at kilometer seventeen of the Riga-Daugpilis (Dvinsk) road. Here the Germans used various methods of killing off the more than one hundred thousand men, women and children who were inmates.
In December 1943, the special 1005 units of the SD arrived at the Salaspil camp. On that same day, forty-four exhausted Jews were brought here. They were dressed in tattered clothes and passed on to the Sonderkommandos 1005 unit, who began to erase the traces of the German murders in Salaspil and the vicinity. Security in the camp was the responsibility of the Lithuanian SD.
“The concentration camp at Stutthof was situated some thirty-six kilometers east of Danzig. From the outset, it was intended to serve as ‘a camp for civilian prisoners of war’ and on January 8, 1942, became a concentration camp. In 1943, the conditions of the non-Jews improved somewhat. They were employed in various enterprises as well as in arms factories.” “In the autumn of 1944 the crematoria in Stutthof had not been able to burn the increasing number of Jewish inmates. Despite the fact that they worked day and night, they could not accommodate the growing number of dead prisoners.”
Here, too, Paul Blobel came to the camp administration’s aid with his new methods of burning victims. “A group of Danish prisoners were ordered to dig a large pit beyond the barbed-wire fence. Railway lines were placed above the pits crossing lengthwise and breadthwise and thus forming a network and coals were then placed on these grills. When the Danes found out what this was for, they refused to participate. As the Danes were an ‘Aryan’ race, they were relieved of this duty and returned to their former work crews.”
Now the Germans organized sonderkommandos consisting of Poles and Russians and ordered them to do the work. For an increased working pace they would be rewarded with vodka and tobacco. The burning of the corpses began. “A layer of combustible material was laid across the grill of railway lines and a layer of corpses on that. When the number of corpses reached eight hundred, the heap was doused in kerosene and set alight. A heap of this size was set on fire every other day”.
Within “Operation 1005," the Ninth Fort appears under the code name 1005-B. At the end of August 1943, wood began to be brought to the fort, some of which was placed in a large tunnel in the fort and the remainder left in a nearby field. A hundred shovels, pick-axes, and metal bars, a kerosene pump, barrels full of fuel, rolls of fabric, long chains, hooks and other tools, were also brought there.
On September 20, 1943, the Gestapo ordered the evacuation of Lithuanian prisoners and guards from the fort. They were all transferred to the municipal prison – the “Yellow Prison." Only twenty-eight Soviet prisoners of war remained in the fort, all Jews, three of whom had been present during the murder of the Jews from Kovno and Germany. Their names were Kaplun (Kaplan) Shleime, a native of Lutzk; Tzafershtein (Shafenshtein) Ovsei, of Bialystok; and Zacharenko Shepsl, of Kiev. The Lithuanians had evacuated the fort and the Gestapo had now taken over.
Anatoli Garnik, one of the Jewish prisoners, who had been an inmate of the fort since June 14, 1942, tells: “We were convinced that every Jew in the ghetto would be shot to death... We began to work. We sawed wood, painted columns around the fort, stretched rolls of fabric and constructed a fence. One morning, a police officer appeared before us and delivered a speech with the aid of a translator. In his speech he said: Most of you are undoubtedly trying to guess what sort of work would be going on here. The German authorities, he said, have decided to get rid of the old graves, as they are poisoning the water. You will receive good food. I have already seen that your soup contains pieces of meat. But as you have to take precautions, we shall be linked in pairs. The welder immediately turned up with chains and chained us together in pairs. We were given shovels and we went out to work.
“Some days later, after the Germans learned that the prisoners could not work when they were chained to one another, each one was put into short chains. The bulldozer arrived. A watchtower was set up where a guard sat with a submachine gun. A number of guards armed with submachine guns and automatic rifles kept an eye on us and we began to dig and extract bodies from their graves."