In Nuremberg on 6 June 1947, the leader of Einsatzkommando 4a, Paul Blobel, stated under oath: "In September or October 1941, I received a gas van from Einsatzgruppe C (under Dr. Rasch's command), and an execution was carried out using this van." (31)
A member of the commando named Lauer witnessed the earliest documented gassing operation in the Eastern Territories. It took place in November 1941 in Poltava, in the southern Ukraine.
Two gas vans were in service. I saw them myself. They drove into the prison yard, and the Jews - men, women, and children - had to get straight into the vans from their cells. I also know what the interior of the vans looked like. It was covered with sheet metal and fitted with a wooden grid. The exhaust fumes were piped into the interior of the vans. I can still hear the hammering and screaming of the Jews - "Dear Germans, let us out!" The Jews went through our cordon and into the van without hesitating. As soon as the doors were shut, the driver started the engine. He drove to a spot outside Poltava. I was there when the van arrived. As the doors were opened, dense smoke emerged, followed by a tangle of crumbled bodies. It was a frightful sight. (32)
Blobel's driver, Julius Bauer, described the unloading of a gas van: "The use of the gas vans was the most horrible thing I have ever seen. I saw people being led into the vans and the doors closed. Then the van drove off. I had to drive Blobel to the place where the gas van was unloaded. The back doors of the van were opened, and the bodies that had not fallen out when the doors were opened were unloaded by Jews who were still alive. The bodies were covered with vomit and excrement. It was a terrible sight. Blobel looked, then looked away, and we drove off. On such occasions Blobel always drank schnapps, sometimes even in the car." (33)
In the last few days of December 1941 and the early part of January 1942, the gas vans were detailed to exterminate the Jews in Kharkov. Three members of Sonderkommando 4a stated that at least one gas van was used in these executions. The Jews were loaded at the tractor factory and gassed on the way to the site where the shootings of others took place. (34)
One of these eyewitnesses reported:
The Jews had already been assembled in a ghetto outside Kharkov, in barracks-like buildings guarded by security police...I would estimate that about ten thousand Jews had been brought together. The shootings were carried out in the same way as in Kiev.
While the shootings were going on, the gas van was being used. Approximately thirty people at a time were loaded inside. So far as I know, those inside the gas van were killed by means of fumes diverted from the vehicle's exhaust pipe. To the best of my knowledge the driver of the gas van in Kharkov was Oberscharführer Findeisen. There was a second driver. I saw the van only from the outside. It looked like a moving van. (35)
After the major operations in Kharkov there were other smaller ones. The victims were exclusively Jews who had been in hiding. The gas vans were used to empty the prisons. (36)
Willi Friedrich, leader of the 3d Platoon, 2d Company, 3d Police Battalion, was detailed to cordoning duty in the prison area and at the unloading site. He later testified:
From February to May 1942 I was responsible, with my men, for the cordoning measures necessary for the gas-van operations. We were under orders from Blobel and his successor, Dr. Weinmann. As I remember, there were five or six such operations; they took place about every three weeks. I don't know where the van was stationed. But I remember having seen it several times at the prison in Kharkov. It was there that my men and I were ordered to form a cordon outside the prison. The van entered the prison from the rear. I sometimes also saw how Russian civilians - men and women - were loaded into it. The gas van looked like a large moving van. The driver was a man named Findeisen, who also belonged to Sonderkommando 4a. (37 )
After the liberation of Kharkov, the Soviet authorities succeeded in arresting some of the men responsible for these murders. A public trial began in 1943 in Kharkov. On 19 December the press section of the Soviet Ministry for Foreign Affairs released a Reuters dispatch from Moscow on the subject. The dispatch mentioned three Germans by name, among them Hans Rietz, the deputy commander of the Kharkov Gestapo. It explained: "The three Germans are accused of having participated in the brutal extermination of peaceable Soviet citizens during the temporary German occupation of Kharkov, using gas vans and other means." (38)
Einsatzkommando 5 was dissolved as a mobile special operations unit at the end of 1941. Some of the troops were sent to reinforce the Security Police in Rowno, Jitomir, and other places. The remaining twenty-five or so continued to work in the headquarters of the Kiev KdS. Drivers Wilhelm Findeisen and Heinz Oertel took the EG C gas vans to Kiev for temporary deployment. As Findeisen stated,
Another driver was with me, a man from Berlin named Orel or something like that. We then drove this vehicle over to Kiev, too....
The gas van was deployed for the first time in Kiev. My job was to just drive the vehicle. The van was loaded by the local staff. About forty people were loaded inside. There were men, women, and children. I was supposed to tell the people they were going to be put to work. The people were pushed up a short ladder and into the van. The van door was then bolted shut, and the hose was attached. It was already in place - I did that too, it was cold at the time. I drove through the town to the antitank ditches. There the doors of the vehicle were opened. Prisoners had to do this. The bodies were thrown into the antitank ditches. I am sure that it was in Kiev; I myself took part in this operations. (39)
Later on, a smaller gas van was placed at the permanent disposal of the Kiev KdS and the EG C staff. (40)
Another driver, named Eisenburger, admitted that he too had been sent from Berlin to Kiev at the beginning of 1942, with his colleague Sackenreuther and two large gas vans. They arrived at EG C staff headquarters and were detailed to Einsatzkommando 6 in Stalino, where they appeared at the end of February or the beginning of March. By feigning illness, Eisenburger soon managed to get out of taking part in the planned operation. (41) Only the gas van driven by Sackenreuther remained at Stalino.
When he was tried years later by a German court, the head of Einsatzkommando 6, Robert Mohr, declared: "I saw only the outside of the Sonderkommando's gas van, which I came across in Stalino. It was a large gray vehicle that looked like a moving van; it had no windows." (42)
In the reasons given for his conviction in 1967, we find that:
To kill the Jews, Mohr deployed a gas van in the Stalino commando beginning in March or, at the latest, April 1942, a 5-ton truck with a metal cargo compartment similar to a moving van. The van could hold at least sixty people, packed very tightly. It was loaded from the rear. The exhaust fumes could be diverted into the interior by means of a hose. Sackenreuther, an SS-Hauptscharführer who has since died, had driven the van from Berlin to Stalino on the order of the RSHA. He was placed under Mohr's command. His only job was to operate the gas van. Mohr was present at the first operation carried out with this van. At least fifty Jews - men and women - assembled in the interior courtyard of the Hotel Donbas were made to get inside. After the doors had been closed, Sackenreuther directed the exhaust fumes into the interior of the van. The victims shouted and screamed. It took about fifteen to twenty minutes for them to die. Mohr stood close by and observed the proceedings.
At least two hundred Jews were killed in the course of at least four gas-van operations on the morning of one of the Easter holidays, 5 or 6 April 1942. On the previous day the militia had assembled all the Jews - men, women, and children - in a school. Under the supervision of the militia, they were made to take off their usable outer clothing and then get into the van. Each time Sackenreuther drove them to an abandoned mine shaft outside the town. Either on the way or on arrival at the mine shaft, he directed the exhaust fumes into the interior of the van. The members of the Einsatzkommando had to remove the entangled bodies, covered with excrement and urine, one by one from the van and throw them down the mine shaft...
Subsequently, until June 1942, the gas van was used at least four more times, and each time at least fifty Jews - men, women, and children - were killed. The bodies were thrown into the mine shaft by members of the Einsatzkommando. (43)
The other gas van was stationed in Rostov and assigned to another unit of Einsatzkommando 6, whose leader was named Heidelberger. He later said, "In my opinion the executions were carried out by gassings in gas vans." (44)
Dr. Ljudmila Nazarewskaja, a physician from Rostov, subsequently said about the gassings there: "On the evening of 10 August , after the murder of the Jews, three hundred soldiers from the Red Army were also killed at the same place [the Snakes' Gulch]. The soldiers were driven to the railroad crossing. They were loaded into a special gas van. As soon as they were dead they were unloaded....Some of the Jews were also murdered in the same van." (45)
31. Nuremb. Doc. 3824-NO.
32. StA Darmstadt AZ: Ks 1/67 (ZSL: AZ: 204 AR-Z 269/60, vol. 11, fols. 2390ff.).
33. Ibid., vol. 14, fol. 3562.
34. Ibid., vol. 11, fols. 2390f.
35. Ibid., vol. 2, fol. 469.
36. Ibid., vol. 1, fol. 345, vol. 3, fol. 571, vol. 4, fol. 735, vol. 7, fol. 1372, vol. 31, fol. 19.
37. Ibid., vol. 5, fol. 777.
38. Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes, ref. K-206638 (Archives of the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany).
39. StA Darmstadt AZ: Ks 1/67 (ZSL: AZ:204 AR-Z 269/60, vol. 31, fol. 18, and other eyewitness depositions, vol. 31, fol. 90.
40. StA Darmstadt AZ: Ks 1/67, vol. 9, fols. 196f., vol. 8, fols. 203, 204, and StA Karlsruhe AZ: Ks 1/60 (ZSL: AZ: 2 AR-Z 21/58, vol. 1a, fol. 492).
41. StA Darmstadt AZ: Ks 1/67 (ZSL: AZ: 204 AR-Z 269/60, vol. 30, fol. 220).
42. StA Wuppertal AZ: 12 Ks 1/62 (ZSL: AZ: 204 AR-Z 15/50 vol. 1, fol. 63, and other eyewitness depositions, vol. 1, fols. 135, 183, 273f., vol. 2, fols. 44-48, 127).
43. StA Wuppertal AZ: 12 Ks 1/62, verdict of 30 Dec. 1965 in the case against Mohr, p. 29f. (ZSL Coll.: 270; Rüter Coll., vol. 22, fols. 536ff).
44. See n. 42 (vol. 3, fol. 129).
45. Tschornaja Kniga (The black book), ed. Wassili Grosmann and Ilya Ehrenburg (Jerusalem, 1980), p. 233.