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1,274,166 murdered in 'Operation Reinhard'
11 January 1943: A brief 'year end report' by the SS administration reveals the extent of the Holocaust during the first year of the killing centres
Although the Allies had announced to the public their knowledge of the Nazi extermination programme in late 1942, one confirmatory source of information had to remain secret. The true significance of an intercepted SS message was not fully recognised at the time.
The cracking of the most secret German cypher messages - known as Enigma intelligence - was not to be revealed until long after the war. These two brief radio messages, sent on 11th January 19431, were intercepted in Britain2 and, after being decoded, as above, was translated:
12 OMXdeOMQ 1000 89??
To the Reich Main Security Office, for the attention of SS Obersturmbannfuhrer EICHMANN, Berlin . rest missed
13/15 OLQ de OMQ 1005 83 234 250
To the Senior Commander of the Security Police [and the Secunty Service], for the
attention of SS Obersturmbannfuhrer HEIM, CRACOW
Subject- fortnightly report Einsatz REINHART
Reference radio telegram therefrom
recorded arrivals until December 31, 42,
L [Lublin] 12,761, B [Belzec] 0, S [Sobibor] 515, T [Treblinka] 10 335,
together 23 611
A sum total . . [as per] December 31, 42,
L[Lublin] 24 733, B[Belzec] 434 508, S[Sobibor] 101 370, T[Treblinka] 71 355, [read - 713 555]
together 1 274 166
SS and Police Leader Lublin,
These were the fortnightly and year-end totals for the three principal 'camps' or killing centres that were intended to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Poland - the 'Action Reinhart' camps - Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, as well as some additional killing being conducted in Lublin-Madjanek.
In summary, Sturmbannfuhrer Hofle was reporting that ‘Operation Reinhard’ had murdered 1,274,166 men, women and children up to the end of 1942.
Now the sadists thought up a new form of entertainment. At a temperature of -20 Celsius they would keep rows of naked young women outdoors, not allowing them to enter the gas chambers.
The terrible reality of the human suffering behind these figures can be found in the account of one of the very few survivors from Treblinka.
A small number of Jews were not killed upon arrival at the extermination camps because they were needed for the working parties that disposed of the bodies. Periodically this group was killed and replaced by new members who were temporarily saved from the ranks of the condemned. But the SS found it inconvenient to find and train new people in this ghastly labour - so the few individuals who had the strength to cope with it were retained for longer and longer.
Chil Rajchman3 had arrived in Treblinka in late 1942, aged 18. He was randomly selected to live, along with around a hundred other young fit men. There had been a break in transports arriving in Treblinka over the holiday period, but they now resumed.
Even after murdering over a million people in 1942, there were still hundreds of thousands more victims waiting in the ghettos of Poland for the trip to the Action Reinhard 'camps':
Around 10 January, transports began arriving from the borderlands of eastern Poland, from Bialystok, Grodno and the surrounding areas.
It was a hard winter with freezing temperatures. Now the sadists thought up a new form of entertainment. At a temperature of -20 Celsius they would keep rows of naked young women outdoors, not allowing them to enter the gas chambers.
The men and the older women having already been asphyxiated, the rows of young women, half frozen, stood barefoot in the snow and ice, trembling, weeping, clinging to one another and begging in vain to finally be allowed into the “warmth” where death awaited them.
The Ukrainians and Germans looked on with pleasure and mockery at the pain of the young bodies, joking and laughing, until at last they mercifully allowed them to enter the “baths”. Such scenes were repeated in the following days and continued throughout the winter.
It is worth mentioning that in winter the extraction of teeth became much more difficult. Whether it was because the corpses froze when the doors were opened, or the result of the freezing of the victims on the way to the gas chambers, the opening of their clenched mouths was fiendishly difficult for us. The more we struggled, the more the murderers knocked us over and beat us.
A full discussion of the document can be found in the academic journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
Government Code and CypherSchool German Police Section Decrypts of German Police Communications during Second World War. Public Record Office, Kew, England, HW 16/23.