Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Aktion Reinhard Staff
(Rest and Recuperation)
From Mass Murder to the Mountains
The SS staff when they finished their daily duties at the Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka death camps they were allowed to leave the camp without undue formalities, but most stayed in the German living barracks drinking alcohol.
Each camp will be covered in more detail, enhanced with survivor testimonies, and testimonies from former SS men and Ukrainian guards who served in the camps, and other eyewitness recollections:
Rest and Recuperation
Inside the Death Camps and Local Area’s
Rudolf Reder one of only two survivors from the Belzec death camp recalled:
“The life of the SS –men in the town of Belzec and in the evil place itself went on without the participation of women. Even their drinking parties were all male. Crates of vodka and wine were brought daily.
Each Sunday evening they summonsed the camp orchestra and held a drunken party. Only the Gestapo got together, they gorged themselves and drank. They threw scraps of leftovers to the musicians.”
The Ukrainian guards often went drinking in the village of Belzec in the evenings, paying for their entertainment with valuables robbed from their Jewish victims. A German railway Inspector who occasionally visited Belzec station, testified:
“It was no wonder that “women of easy virtue” established themselves in the vicinity. Orgies took place there.”
The gold and money handed over by the Ukrainians smelt strongly of corpses, and the banknotes were often covered with fat and flecked with blood.
SS- Oberscharfuhrer Erich Bauer testified at his trial:
“I was blamed for being responsible for the death of the Jewish girls Ruth and Gisela, who lived in the so-called forester’s house. As it is known, these two girls lived in the forester house and they were visited frequently by the SS men.
Orgies were conducted there. They were attended by Bolender, Hubert Gomerski, Karl Ludwig, Franz Stangl, Gustav Wagner and Steubel. I lived in the room above them and due to these celebrations could not fall asleep after coming back from a journey.
One evening Karl Ludwig banged on the girls’ door, evidently he wanted to enter. The girls opened the door in my presence. Ludwig ordered the girls to put on their dressing gowns, and both of us took them in the direction of Camp III.
I went half way only and then returned. Ludwig went with them alone. Next day Ludwig told me that by his order a Ukrainian had shot the two girls.”
Stanislaw Szmajzner a Sobibor survivor recalled:
“In the yard reserved for the Germans, a casino was built for the officers. From now on they would eat and drink there, as well as entertain themselves. They were at that time lodged in provisional quarters, which were somewhat precarious.
Many a time they held real orgies there to celebrate the victories won by the German armies in the war. On these occasions they sang and drank until the early hours of the morning, and made terrible noise.”
Franz Stangl the Commandant at Sobibor remembered his family visiting him in Poland:
Stangl’s wife and two little girls aged 6 and 4 stayed with the surveyor Baurath Moser, in Chelm, twenty miles or so from the camp, initially, but he moved them to a fish-hatchery on an estate a few kilometres from the Sobibor camp, belonging to Count Chelmicki.
Pan Gerung and his wife interviewed by Gitta Sereny, were dubious about the Stangl’s family staying there. “You are probably confusing it with a big white house the Germans built as a kind of country club for their officers, on the other side of the lake.
They used to go there for weekends, for the fishing – and other days too, in the evenings. An enormous amount of drinking went on there, and other things. Poles weren’t allowed in.”
The Commandant Franz Stangl recalled to writer Gitta Sereny in 1971:
Q: What did you do in the evenings?
“After supper people sat around and talked. When I came first they used to drink for hours in the mess. But I put a stop to that. Afterwards they drank in their rooms. The electricity went off at 10 – after that everything was quiet.”
Franz Suchomel who supervised the Goldjuden in Treblinka questioned the last point also to Gitta Sereny:
“I can’t think what he was talking about when he said the lights went out at ten, that’s nonsense. They stayed on all night, after all we had to guard the place – how could we have done that without light?
People went to bed anyway – they were so tired. It’s quite true there was a great deal of drinking in the rooms. The decent ones among the men liked Stangl – because he wasn’t such a swine as most of the others. But he boozed too, but not so much in the camp.- outside.
Most of us never went out; I remember about three of the men had women somewhere, but on the whole going out was not encouraged. It was too dangerous anyway, with all the partisans there were around.
But Stangl had this friend Greuer he was called – he was political officer in Kosov, that’s where he drank. I remember once they brought him back to the camp totally, speechlessly drunk.
There were books, in fact it was Stangl himself who told me once that several books for the staff had arrived from Berlin, sent by Reichsleiter Bouhler. And those could be borrowed anytime.”
It would appear the Ukrainian guards also coped with the mass extermination of the Jews only through drinking alcohol, as testified by Fyodor Ryabeka in Kiev on the 31 August 1961:
“ Marchenko was constantly drunk in the camp. Once I was in the village of Wolka and met Marchenko who struck me with his fist. He was in a very intoxicated state and the next day said that he did not remember what it was all about.”
SS Staff Smuggling Valuables to the Reich
For the German staff of the Aktion Reinhard death camps, leaving the gruesome task of mass murder also provided them with the opportunity to smuggle out the camp valuables taken from the murdered Jews, back to their homes in the Reich.
Kalman Wawerik a survivor from the Sobibor death camp recalled:
“SS men going on furlough took diamonds and gold with them to “enrich” their visits with their loved ones. They got these diamonds and the gold from the Jewish experts who were responsible for sorting and packing it for shipment to Germany.
Many times my group worked on furniture that was to be shipped to Germany.”
Richard Glazar a prisoner in Treblinka described the individual acts of pilfering that the SS were responsible for:
“Bredow, Schiffner, Seidel and a few others have already got more than one suitcase, all full, all whisked down to their barracks. Gentz, always the rascal, somewhat bewildered and blithe, selected his two leather bags right at the platform upon the arrival of one part of the transport.
But at the moment he was about to casually take one into his own hands, Kuttner appeared on the scene. The quick witted Gentz immediately shoved the suitcase at one of the “Blues,” and with blows raining down from his whip, he herded the man around to the other side of the barracks…. then he directed one of the boys to carry the two bags off to an empty box, where he emptied the contents, kept the cognac and the cigarettes and left the rest behind.”
The transportation of the stolen valuables from the Treblinka death camp took place using the services of the drivers Klinzmann or Emmerich, who were responsible for shunting the transports from the village station of Treblinka into the death camp.
One of the drivers was given a parcel of valuables to transport in his engine to Malkinia, at Malkinia railway station the parcel was handed back to its “owner” travelling back to Germany on a passenger train.
SS Staff Returning from Furlough
Richard Glazar recalled how the SS staff looked to improve conditions in the camp bringing things from home:
“When our gentlemen and masters returned from vacation, they brought various musical instruments with them including trumpets and clarinets. We had already taken enough violins off the transports.
Kuttner brought sheet music with German songs and marches. Still Franz outdid him, he had somehow found a drum.”
Samuel Willenberg a Treblinka survivor remembered:
“Franz (Lalka) of the SS went away for a few days at this time. When he returned, he approached Artur Gold and told him that he had brought some of his pre-war gramophone records. To us, this was proof that he had been in the Warsaw ghetto.”
Kalman Teigman another survivor asks the question about the SS staff at Treblinka, double life, killing Jews then behaving like normal human beings:
“The Nazis killed every day thousands of people, and after such massacre they went home: play with their children kissing them, make love to their wives. I am not sure that even a psychologist knows the answer!”
Rest and Recuperation
The T4 / Aktion Reinhard Rest Home in Austria
The SS staff at the Aktion Reinhard death camps received two to three weeks furlough at three –monthly intervals. The Germans who had previously served with T4 in the euthanasia programme were given the option of spending their furloughs with their wives at a rest centre maintained by T-4 at Weissenbach in Austria, or spending time away from the camps with their families.
Some Nazis chose to stay at a T4/ Aktion Reinhard rest home in Austria, which provided the opportunity to escape from the horrors of exterminating Jews in an idyllic Alpine setting, with lakes and mountains.
The small town of Weissenbach, some 50km east of Salzburg, near Lake Attersee, is the location where T4 established a Rest Home, at “Haus Schoberstein.” which was once Jewish owned.
A number of photographs have survived showing staff from the Aktion Reinhard mass murder programme, enjoying a relaxing time among the beautiful Austrian countryside.
During the summer / autumn 1943 as the Allies bombarded Berlin, by day and night, the T4 headquarters, at Tiergartenstrase 4, which was formerly owned by Max Liebermann, a famous Jewish painter, was transferred to “Haus Schoberstein” and on 11 October 1944 the T4 administration was transferred to the Schloss Hartheim, a euthanasia killing centre near Linz, Austria.
The Death Camp Treblinka, by Alexander Donat, published by Holocaust Library New York 1979.
Trap with a Green Fence by Richard Glazar published by NorthWestern University Press USA 1992.
Surviving Treblinka by Samuel Willenberg published by Basil Blackwell Ltd 1989.
Extermination Camp Treblinka by Witold Chrostowski published by Vallentine Mitchell London 2004.
Belzec by Rudolf Reder published by the Oswiecim- Brzezinka Museum 1999.
Into that Darkness by Gitta Sereny, published by Pimlico 1974.
Belzec, Sobibor Treblinka, by Yitzhak Arad, published by Indiana University Press 1987.
Mike Tregenza Collection
Holocaust Historical Society
Schloss Hartheim Museum
Copyright. CW/MT H.E.A.R.T 2008