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Introduction The literature on the extermination of the Jews during the Second World War is vast. It is common knowledge that millions of people perished in the Holocaust, yet research concerning the extermination centers, where many of the victims actually died, is limited at best. The purpose of the present work is to fill this major gap in knowledge with respect to one of these camps. While the literature is extensive regarding the AuschwitzBirkenau concentration camp complex, it is extremely limited with respect to the four sole-purpose extermination centers of Treblinka, Sobibór, Belżec and Chelmno.1 Of these, Chelmno—the first extermination center established by the National Socialist regime—and its unique history, which served as the bureaucratic catalyst and operational prototype for the other camps and what ultimately has become known as the Final Solution, remains a relative enigma. The purpose of this work is to shed light on this little known but crucial chapter of the Holocaust and to clarify lingering misconceptions that surround the history of the camp. Chelmno broke a psychological barrier by actually establishing an extermination camp and provided a structural template on which the other camps could build. The literature on the Chelmno camp is meager. During the postwar period, the primary sources of information on Chelmno were two books, both published in Polish. The first of these works, Obóz Straceń w Chelmnie nad Nerem [The Death Camp in Chelmno-on-Ner] by Judge Wladyslaw Bednarz,2 outlined the results of the Polish government’s postwar investigation of the camp which was conducted by the author of the work. The second book, Obóz zaglady w Chelmnie nad Nerem [The Extermination Camp in Chelmno-on-Ner] by Professor Edward Serwański,3 appeared in the mid-1960s after the trial in Bonn, West Germany, of 12 former members of the camp staff, but offered little new in substantive terms to the subject. Furthermore, a synopsis of the Bednarz investigation, translated into English and published in 1947, was included in the first volume of the Bulletin of the Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland. While the print run and distribution of this volume were limited, the journal article became a key source for the English-language reader. It was not until the mid-1980s that the District Museum in Konin, Poland, began conducting archeological work and publishing information devoted to the Chelmno death camp. During the past two decades three additional books were published, one in Polish by Janusz Gulczyński, 2 CHELMNO AND THE HOLOCAUST Obóz Śmierci w Chelmnie nad Nerem4 [The Death Camp in Chelmno-onNer ], and two in German; the first by Manfred Struck, Chelmno/Kulmhof, Ein Vergessener Ort des Holocaust?5 [Chelmno/Kulmhof, A Forgotten Place of the Holocaust?] and the second by Shmuel Krakowski, Das Todeslager Chelmno/Kulmhof, Der Beginn der Endlösung6 [The Chelmno/Kulmhof Death Camp, The Beginning of the Final Solution]. However, these three works present merely a broad overview of the subject, far from a comprehensive history of the camp. The main contribution of these books is raising awareness of the camp for readers of the language in which the works were written. There are several reasons for the dearth of published research on the Chelmno death camp. First, the camp was systematically liquidated over a period of some four months prior to the arrival of the Red Army in January 1945, leaving little physical evidence behind to investigate. Second , of the more than 150,000 people murdered at Chelmno7 only six of the camp’s prisoners survived the war and, of these six men, only three were located for questioning immediately after the war. Other contributing factors include the absence of the camp’s records and other relevant Nazi documents. While postwar trials of individual members of the camp staff (Bruno Israel, Walter Piller, Herman Gielow) were held in Poland soon after the war, the material contained within the court records has been largely ignored by researchers. In addition, although camp personnel took numerous photographs of Chelmno’s operations, these photographs tragically remain lost to history and therefore the substantive content (documentation) of the photographs as well as the impact of the visual image are also lost. Given the scarcity of known resources, the Chelmno camp has consistently presented the researcher with a formidable challenge. The two main types of information needed to assemble a history of the Chelmno death camp are eyewitness testimonies and...


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