Kulmhof – the first German Death Camp

Just a few days past, we marked the poignant anniversary of the initial transportation to Kulmhof on December 8th. On this date, the machinery of genocide was set into motion, with the arrival of the first transport of individuals who, unbeknownst to them, were destined to become victims of the Nazi’s ruthless pursuit of racial and ideological purity.

Kulmhof, also known as Chełmno, was a Nazi extermination camp during World War II, located in occupied Poland. There were two periods of operation for extermination activities at Kulmhof. The initial phase, as mentioned earlier, was from December 1941 to April 1943. After a brief hiatus, the camp was reopened in 1944 and operated again until the advancing Soviet forces approached the area. Its primary purpose was to systematically exterminate Jews and others deemed undesirable by the Nazi regime.

Chelmno

Situated in the village of Chełmno nad Nerem, the camp utilized gas vans to carry out the mass killings. Victims, often deceived into thinking they were being resettled or transferred to labor camps, were crammed into these mobile gas chambers, where carbon monoxide exhaust fumes were used to asphyxiate them. The use of gas vans at Kulmhof preceded the more infamous gas chambers employed in later extermination camps.

The camp’s operations were shrouded in secrecy, and the Nazis implemented a policy of destroying evidence to conceal the extent of their crimes. After complaints about the smell of burning bodies and growing public awareness of the atrocities, the camp was closed in 1943. However, efforts were made to continue extermination in a more discreet manner.

Estimates of the total number of people who died at Kulmhof (Chełmno) vary, but it is generally believed that about 250 000 people lost their lives at the extermination camp. The lack of meticulous records, deliberate attempts by the Nazis to destroy evidence, and the chaotic circumstances of the camp make it challenging to provide an exact figure. The victims at Kulmhof included Jewish people, Roma and Sinti, and others deemed undesirable by the Nazi regime.

Kulmhof stands as a grim testament to the horrifying efficiency and brutality of the Holocaust, where innocent lives were systematically and ruthlessly extinguished. The site serves as a somber reminder of the importance of preserving historical memory to prevent such atrocities from being forgotten and to ensure that the world remains vigilant against hatred and persecution.