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Chelmno - The perpetrators



Monument in Chelmno extermination camp

       Sonderkommando - Special commando Kulmhof (Chelmno) was made up of a party of only 20 SS-men. However, these 20 SSers were assisted by over 100 members of the regular German police. The latter mainly served as sentinels and guarded the neighboring roads. The Sonderkommando oversaw the extermination process in the death-camp as well as the work in the nearby forest where the corpses were burnt and buried.

 Commandant of Chelmno

 Commandant of Chelmno

SS Sturmbannführer - SS-Major Herbert Lange, 29 September 1909 – 20 April 1945 SS-Hauptsturmführer - SS-Captain Hans Bothmann, 1911 - 4 april 1946. 

On 7 December 1941 Lange became the first commandant of the Chelmno Death Camp. He organized this camp by orders of Himmler and Greiser. Some sources suggest that Lange selected Chelmno as the most suitable location for a death camp. On 21 February 1942 Lange was dismissed from the commandants position. Together with him two gas van drivers were also dismissed. In 1942 his services were needed at the Reich Main Security Office and he was transferred to Berlin. He served under Arthur Nebe as a Kriminalrat (Criminal Investigator) and in 1944 he aided in catching the conspirators of the attempt on Hitler’s life, leading to his promotion to SS-Sturmbannführer.

 Appointed commandant at Chelmno in the spring of 1942, replacing Hauptsturmfuhrer Lange, and he directed the mass killing operations in the camp until March 1943, when the transports of Jews to Chelmno were discontinued. The next month Bothmann, together with eightyfive members of the camp staff, was transferred to Yugoslavia, where he formed Sonderkommando Bothmann, which reinforced a company of gendarmerie attached to the "Prinz Eugen" Division of the SS. Bothmann engaged in operations against the Yugoslav partisans. In January 1945 Bothmann escaped to western Germany, where he was captured by the British; on April 4, 1946, he hanged himself in prison.

       What follows are the names of some of the perpetrators, all German officers and N.C.O's who participated in the crimes against Jews and Gypsies in the Chelmno area. The first commandant of Chelmno (Kulmhof) was SS Sturmbannführer - SS-Major Herbert Lange. He was followed in March of 1942 by SS-Hauptsturmführer - SS-Captain Hans Bothmann. Successively, Bothmann had two assistants, Otto Platte and Willi Hiller.

Walter Filer  SS-Untersturmführer - SS-2nd Lieutenant, deputy to Bothmann.
Alois Häfele SS-Untersturmführer - SS-2nd Lieutenant,  the 'specialist' in charge of all activities.
Albert Richter  SS-Hauptscharführer - SS-Master Sergeant, division commander.
Wilhelm Lenz  SS-Hauptscharführer - SS-Master Sergeant, Chief woods commando.
Johann Runge  SS-Hauptscharführer - SS-Master Sergeant, Chief in charge of the crematoria.
Erich Kretschmer  SS-Unterscharführer -  SS-Sergeant, deputy to Runge at the crematoria. 
Erwin Burstinger  SS-Hauptscharführer - SS-Master Sergeant, in charge of fuel and all the gas vans. 
Gustav Laabs  SS-Hauptscharführer - SS-Master Sergeant, driver of the gas vans.
Herman Gilow  SS-Hauptscharführer - SS-Master Sergeant, driver of the gas vans.
Walter Burmeister  SS-Unterscharführer -  SS-Sergeant, driver of the gas vans, previously Heidrichs driver before the war.
Wilhelm Gürlich  SS-Rottenführer -         SS-Corporal, deputy to Burmeister, expert in gold.
Sergeant Schmidt  SS-Hauptscharführer - SS-Master, in charge of the dinning room.

       In January 1945, when Soviet troops were approaching, SS´ers started the execution of the remaining Jewish workers, some of whom attacked the Germans, killing two of them. The SS burned the building in which the Jewish workers were locked. There are only two known survivors of this camp,  Mordechai Podchlebnik and Simon Srebnik.

Mordechai Podchlebnik

Simon Srebnik


       During 1962/63, twelve members of the SS who had served as guards in Chelmno stood trial in Bonn, Germany. For their war crimes they were sentenced to prison terms ranging form 1 to 20 years. Considering the enormity of the crimes they were accused of having committed these sentences are extremely light and certainly out of tune with reality.