Anna (born 1935) remembered columns of Jews walking from the station to the hall. As mentioned in the archives, she confirmed seeing Germans looking after the weakest Jews, making them believe they were heading toward a better future. She added: “Through the fence of the hall’s park, I saw the gas truck parked outside of the hall’s doors, and naked Jews climbing aboard. It was terrible. You could hear the screams when the trucks drove away.”
From November 15 to November 30, 2012 a Yahad-In Unum team conducted our fifth investigation in Poland, in the regions of Lodz and Poznan. In the course of this trip, the Yahad team interviewed forty witnesses.
Administrative regions of Lodz and Poznan
Investigated towns/villages: Turek, Czachulec, Dobra, Poddebice, Kolo, Chelmno, Dabie, Uniejow, Kleczew
The area under investigation was occupied by the Germans at the end of the summer of 1939, then administratively integrated into the German Reich. It became part of the region of Warthegau, until it was liberated in 1944.
For several of the investigated locations, very few archival or historical documents were available. Research on the field was all the more necessary, and the discoveries proved to be major ones.
The historical and geographical background is very important to understand and interpret the genocide and more broadly the repressive system. The Warthegau was annexed to Germany and fully Germanized. The Volksdeutsch were already present and numerous before the war. They were joined by other German settlers who had come from western Germany or from the rest of Europe, and they took up all the key positions in the administrative, economic and cultural fields. The best housing, the largest domains, the most lucrative businesses, which were in Polish hands before the war, were expropriated. Many Poles were expelled to the General Government of Poland. The ones who had not been expelled had no infrastructure left of their own. They were reduced to dependency and were often oppressed. Many young Poles were also sent for forced labor to Germany. The one who stayed had to struggle to survive, or were at the service of Germans.
– All the witnesses interviewed by the Yahad team, had painful recollections of this dark period of Polish history.
– There were many Jews in the region, and they sometimes were the majority of towns and large villages. These Jews were fairly quickly transferred to ghettos after the region was annexed by the Reich. The Jews were rarely used for mass forced labor. The ghettoes were not always closed and, because of limited monitoring, they were above all rather porous.
– German policemen played a key role in setting up the genocidal and repressive procedures, generally speaking. They are especially remembered by witnesses, and their names were often mentioned. They were sometimes helped by Judkis, a local German malice.
– The area under investigation by Yahad was used by the Germans to develop their killing methods. Gas trucks were used early on, sometimes before the site of Chelmno was set up at the end of 1941.
The Yahad team spent two days working in Chelmno and the neighboring villages. There were two major extermination sites: the hall where the Jews were brought, stripped of all their possessions and clothes, and killed in gas trucks; and the forest, where the bodies were buried and later burned partially. Shootings also took place in the forest.There were two stages in the operations in this place: 1941-1942, then 1944-1945. During the second stage, the no longer existed, since it had been blown up with dynamite. The incoming Jews were then generally gathered in the church of Chelmno, or at the mill house of the village of Zawadka in the vicinity, before they were gassed in trucks.
In Chelmno, people did not speak up easily. Among other difficulties, many children objected to their parents giving their testimonies.
Yahad nevertheless managed to find a number of witnesses who provided interesting details and who had separately noted various features of the horrors perpetrated in their beloved countryside.