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Jews in the Service of Organisation Todt in the Occupied Soviet Territories, October 1941– March 1942

Dr. Bella Guterman
  1. Organisation Schmelt had been established by Himmler as an autonomous agency directly subordinate to him; its full name was “Bureau of the Chargé for Labor Forces of Members of Foreign Peoples in Upper Silesia” (Dienststelle des Sonderbeauftragten des RFSS und Chef der Deutschen Polizei für fremdvölkischen Arbeitseinsatz in Oberschlesien). In most official documents, the Germans preferred to abbreviate this as Organisation Schmelt, after the senior commander who had been named its chief administrator, SS-Brigadeführer Albrecht Schmelt. The Jews in eastern Upper Silesia were not acquainted with this high-ranking officer. They encountered the second echelon only—chiefly Heinrich Lindner, Henschild, and Knoll—for which reason they called the agency that exploited their labor in the ghettos and imprisoned them in labor camps “Der Sonder.” In the opinion of Wolf Gruner, at least some of these camps had been established even before Organisation Schmelt came into being and may have been transferred to its supervision. Not all of the existing camps were subordinated to this organization. Gruner suggests that several camps established in the autumn of 1940, belonged to the Reichsautobahn administration and that, in late 1941, about 8,000 Jews were employed by the Reichsautobahn as slave laborers; see Wolf Gruner, “Juden bauen die ‘Strassen des Führers,’ Zwangsarbeit und Zwangsarbeitslager für nichtdeutsche Juden im Altreich 1940 bis 1943/44,” Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft (1996), Heft 9, p. 807.
  2. Organisation Todt, headed by Dr. Fritz Todt, carried out large-scale construction projects. He subsequently became inspector-general for road construction and minister for Armaments and Munitions; following his death in a plane crash, he was succeeded in all his functions by Albert Speer. Todt began his rise to prominence shortly after Hitler became chancellor. Hitler complained that the German road system was unsound, and, at his behest, the Reichsautobahn Project Establishment Law was passed in June 1933. The law was meant to encourage the development of a road system that would create jobs; Todt was named the inspector-general of roads in Germany. The project developed rapidly; thousands of kilometers of new roads were built. This work was suspended in May 1938, as the emphasis shifted to building the Atlantic Wall. The OT steadily expanded until it employed more than a million workers, slave laborers, war prisoners, and camp inmates.
  3. The Reichsautobahn was responsible for road and rail infrastructure.
  4. Zagłębie is in a mining and industrial area in southwestern Poland. After the Germans occupied the area, they annexed it to the Reich. This increased the Reich’s Jewish population by 65,000, and the intention was to deport them to the Generalgouvernment at once. However, after several small-scale deportations under the Nisko plan, the banishments were halted. This was due to the intervention of powerful officials with interests of their own, such as Governor-General Hans Frank and army commanders who needed the Jews’ labor, and due to the impression of Reichsführer- SS Heinrich Himmler that he could amass wealth and influence by exploiting this labor force.
  5. For further details, see Bella Gutermann, A Narrow Bridge to Life: Jews in the Gross-Rosen Network of Labor Camps (1940–1945) (Hebrew), Ph.D. dissertation, Tel Aviv University, 1996; Alfred Konieczny, “Die Zwangsarbeit der Juden in Schlesien im Rahmen der ‘Organisation Schmelt,’” Beiträge zur Nationalsoziastischen Gesundheit und Sozialpolitik: Sozialpolitik und Judenvernichtung, Gibt es eine Ökonomie der Endlösung (1983), vol. 5; Alfred Konieczny, "Organizacja Schmelt" i jej obozy pracy dla Żydów na Sląsku w latach 1940-1944 (Wałbrzych: Państwowe Muzeum Gross-Rosen, 1992).There is no documentary evidence basis for the transport to the East other than survivors’ testimonies, which agree on the main points.
  6. Allen Clark, Operation Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-1945 (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1965), pp. 24-25.
  7. Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich, p. 189.
  8. Clark, Operation Barbarossa, p. 52.
  9. Alfred Vagts, Hitler’s Second Army (Washington, D.C.: Infantry Journal, 1943), p. 117.
  10. Xavier Dorsch, a close associate of Albert Speer, was the de facto director of the OT.
  11. Franz W. Seidler, Die Organisation Todt, Bauen für Staat und Wehrmacht, 1938–1945 (Koblenz: Bernard and Greafe, 1987), p. 88.
  12. Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, Evaluation and Dissemination Section (Counter Intelligence Sub-Division): Basic Handbook. Washington, D.C., 1945–1947.
  13. Vagts, Hitler’s Second Army, p. 124.
  14. Hans Pottgiesser, Die Deutsche Reichsbahn in Ostfeldzug (Neckergemünd: Scharnhorst Buchkameradschaft, 1960), p. 43.
  15. Ibid., p. 21.
  16. Gruner, “Juden bauen die ‘Strassen des Führers,’” p. 800; Pottgieser, Die Deutsche Reichsbahn, p. 43.
  17. Pottgiesser, Die Deutsche Reichsbahn, p. 21. Some 1.2 billion złoty was spent on the Otto Programm, 60 percent by the Reich and 40 percent by the Ostbahn. The preparations were to be completed by June 15, 1941.
  18. Seidler, Die Organisation Todt, p. 96; Pottgiesser, Die Deutsche Reichsbahn, p. 24.
  19. Clark, Operation Barbarossa, p. 132; Seidler, ibid., p. 97.
  20. Seidler, Die Organisation Todt, p. 97.
  21. Speer, Inside the Third Reich, pp.184-185.
  22. Pottgiesser, Die Deutsche Reichsbahn, p. 35; Seidler, ibid., p. 98.
  23. Seidler, Die Organisation Todt, p. 97; Pottgiesser, Die Deutsche Reichsbahn, pp. 38-39.
  24. Pottgiesser, Die Deutsche Reichsbahn, p. 33.
  25. Seidler, Die Organisation Todt, p. 97.
  26. Seidler, Die Organisation Todt, p. 98.
  27. Pottgiesser, Die Deutsche Reichsbahn, p. 35.
  28. Speer, Inside the Third Reich, p. 190.
  29. Vagts, Hitler’s Second Army, p. 126.
  30. Pottgieser, Die Deutsche Reichsbahn, p.44; even after October 1942, plans to complete the railroad construction work by 1944 were drawn up.
  31. Konieczny, "Organizacja Schmelt” , p. 23.
  32. Isabell Sprenger, Gross-Rosen, Ein Konzentrationlager in Schlesien (Köln, Weimar, Wien: Bohlau Verlag, 1996), p. 245.
  33. Vagts, Hitler’s Second Army, p. 132.
  34. Sprenger, Gross-Rosen, p. 245.
  35. Gruner, “Juden bauen die ‘Strassen des Führers,’” p. 800.
  36. Vagts, Hitler’s Second Army, p.130.
  37. An examination of written testimonies in the Yad Vashem Archives (YVA) and interviews with two survivors indicate that they were born between 1919 and 1924.
  38. Circular from the Reichsbahn administration, YVA, 051/66; Verzeichnis der haftstatten under dem Reichsführer SS, 1939–1945, Konzentrationslager und deren Aussenkommandos sowie andere Haftstatten unter dem Reichsführer SS in Deutschland und deutsche besetzten Gebieten (Arolsen: 1979), p. 398.
  39. Testimony of Avraham Timberg, YVA, 03/8211.
  40. Ibid.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Ibid.; the testimony of Yosef Anzel, YVA, 03/ 1646, provided a similar account, both in his written testimony and in an interview with the author in November 1997. Pinhas Gleitman, YVA, 03/3810, mentioned in his testimony that the men were given inoculations and work permits, but the other survivors make no reference to this.
  43. Testimony of Avraham Hornung, YVA, 03/6441.
  44. Gruner, Juden bauen die ‘Strassen des Führers,’” p. 789.
  45. The identity of the organization’s representative is not clear. Some believed that it was Schmelt himself; others identified him as Knoll, a senior official in the organization, who frequently visited the camp to conduct inspections and select slave laborers for various other camps.
  46. Testimonies of Yitzhak Eichenbaum, YVA, 03/9852; Shlomo Freiman, YVA, 03/4594; and Elyakim Warszawski, YVA, 03/9079. 
  47. Dr. Leitner, who was placed in the group to be its physician, played a key role in determining the men’s fate. Before he headed to the East, he had served as a physician at the Eichtal camp, where he was not overly liked by the prisoners because of his strictness and reticence in offering assistance. By virtue of his devoted care for the men in the transport, the Jews in the camp were grateful to him.
  48. Testimony of Avraham Hornung, YVA, 03/6441.
  49. Testimony of Yosef Anzel, YVA, 03/1646.
  50. Testimonies of Avraham Timberg, YVA, 03/8211, Shimon Balicki, YVA, 03/1246, and Yosef Anzel, YVA, 03/646.
  51. Testimony of Avraham Timberg, YVA, 03/8211.
  52. Two survivors mentioned Trigucha. In accordance with the path that the work followed as it progressed, they may have been referring to a town named Gorushki, near Sebezh; see attached map.
  53. Testimony of Alexander Weinreich, YVA, 03/3810.
  54. Testimony of Yosef Anzel, YVA, 03/1646.
  55. Testimonies of Yosef Anzel, ibid.; Avraham Hornung, YVA, 03/6441; and Avraham Timberg, YVA, 03/8211.
  56. Ibid.
  57. Ibid.
  58. Testimony of Yosef Anzel, YVA, 03/1646 and Shimon Balicki, YVA, 03/1246.
  59. Alexander Weinreich was a relative of Dr. Leitner’s who assisted him as an orderly. Yosef Anzel remarked in the interview with the author that he had watched Dr. Leitner being collected in a sleigh in the mornings and taken to patients in the vicinity.
  60. Testimony of Alexander Weinreich, YVA, 03/3810.
  61. Testimony of Yosef Anzel, YVA, 03/1646; and Alexander Weinreich, YVA, 03/3810.
  62. Testimony of Yosef Anzel, YVA, 03/1646.
  63. Ibid.
  64. Testimony of Alexander Weinreich, YVA, 03/3810.
  65. The survivors mention March or April 1942, as the time they returned to Silesia.
  66. Testimony of Avraham Timberg, YVA, 03/8211.
  67. Testimony of Dr. Shmuel Mittelmann, YVA, 03/2646. Dr. Mittelmann was subsequently sent to Auschwitz and liberated in Dachau.
  68. Ibid; Henschild posted Dr. Mittelmann to the Jewish hospital in Sosnowiec; Dr. Leitner and the team of medics remained in the Annaberg camp. Dr. Leitner survived and emigrated to the United States after the war.
  69. Testimonies of Josef Anzel, YVA, 03/1646; Gustav Izkovitz, YVA, M-49/498; and Aharon Urbach, YVS 03/5251; Hans W. Wollenberg, …Und der Alptraum wurde zum Alltag, Autobiographischer Bericht eines Jüdischen Arztes über NS-ZAL in Schlesien (1942-1945) (Pfaffenweiler: Centaurus Verlag, 1992), p. 66.
  70. Testimonies of Avraham Hornung, YVA, 03/6441;Yosef Anzel, YVA, 03/1646; and Alexander Weinreich, YVA, 03/3810.
  71. Testimony of Avraham Hornung, YVA, 03/6441.
  72. Ibid.
  73. Testimony of Josef Anzel, YVA, 03/1646.
  74. Vagts, Hitler’s Second Army, p. 129.
  75. Seidler, Die Organisation Todt, p. 171.
  76. Pottgiesser, Die Deutsche Reichsbahn, p. 50.
  77. Gruner, Juden bauen die ‘Strassen des Führers,’” p. 803.
  78. Seidler, Die Organisation Todt, p. 100.
  79. Ibid. p. 100.
  80. Ibid. p. 99.