The accounts describing deaths in transit to Belzec and Treblinka mention suffocation from lack of air and general exhaustion, especially among those who were marched long distances to the railheads or were held waiting for prolonged periods before the transports left.
I haven't been able to find examples of suffocation in small spaces unless the space was hermetically sealed ........... or fire, or another gas was introduced in a controlled atmosphere. Who died from suffocation and how was this possible?
I'd say it would be very easy to suffocate if one ended up on the bottom of a pile of human beings crushed into a confined space with limited ventilation, from which there was no exit for many hours on end. The waggons were not well ventilated although there were some air holes (see below). It is not difficult to imagine that those next to the air holes could block the flow of air to the centre of the carriage, and coupled
with the effects of exhaustion, heat, lack of water and resulting dehydration, not to mention the stench of bodily fluids, that especially the elderly and small children would die. There are additionally reports that the waggons were cleansed with quicklime or other cleaning agents, which then contributed noxious fumes to the situation. The best known such report is from Jan Karski, but there are numerous others from those who were on the transports.
In such a situation, it is a combination
of factors that made the trains potentially lethal to some
of the deportees. Overcrowding in a train alone might not kill you, but together with heat and insufficient air plus resulting dehydration, and the exhaustion of having to stand up and smell other people's piss and shit, or breathe in quicklime fumes, and the risk of being trampled if you lose your footing, well, that sure as hell can kill you. Anyone who has been on a London tube train in the summer knows how stifling they can get if they stop for even just a short while, and they are rarely as crowded as the trains in Tokyo or the trains we are discussing here. Nor do people usually get stuck in such situations for nearly 24 hours.
Another cause of death was being shot trying to jump off the train and escape.
For all these things there are some German contemporary documents, some contemporary Polish underground reports, and quite a few witness statements. Enough that one would conclude that people died in transit, not enough to be very precise on exactly how many, but it is very much limited to August-September 1942, which was the peak of the deportations and in the summer. A very well known document is the police report on the deportation from Kolomea west to Belzec. The death toll in this case was 2000 people, a lot from shooting, but evidently some from suffocation/exhaustion/dehydration.
7. Pol. 24
Tgb. Nr 64/42 (g). Lemberg 14 September 1942
Commander of the Order Police in the Galicia District
Subject: Jewish Resettlement
After carrying out Jewish resettlement actions on 3 and 5 September 1942 in Skole, Stryj and Chodorow, for which Captain of the Schutzpolizei Kropelin was in charge of the Order Police involved and which has already been reported in detail, the 7th Company of the 24th Police Regiment arrived as ordered in Kolomea on the evening of 6 September.
I immediately contacted Kriminalkommissar and SS- Obersturmfuhrer Leitmeritz, head of the branch office of the Security Police in Kolomea, and First Lieutenant Hertel of the Schutzpolizei in Kolomea
Contrary to the experience in Stryj, the action planned for 7 September 1942 in Kolomea was well prepared and made easy for all units involved. The Jews had been informed by the above mentioned agencies and the Labour office to gather at the collection point of the Labour office for registration on 7 September at 5.30 a.m.
Some 5,300 Jews were actually assembled there at the appointed time. With all the manpower of my company, I sealed the Jewish quarter and searched thoroughly, whereby some 600 additional Jews were hunted down.
The loading of the transport train was completed about 7.00 p.m. After the Security Police released some 1,000 from the total rounded up, 4,769 Jews were resettled. Each car of the transport was loaded with 100 Jews. The great heat prevailing that day made the entire action very difficult and greatly impeded the transport.
After the regular nailing up and sealing of all cars, the transport train got underway to Belzec about 9.00 p.m. with a guard of one officer and nine men.
With the coming of deep darkness in the night, many Jews escaped by squeezing through air holes after removing the barbed wire. While the guard was able to shoot many of them immediately, most of the escaping Jews were eliminated that night or the next day by the railroad guard or other police units.
This transport was delivered in Belzec without noteworthy incident, although given the length of the train and the deep darkness, the guard had proved to be too weak, as the commander of the transport guard from 6th Company of Police Regiment 24, who returned directly to Stanislau, was able to report to me in person on 11 September.
On 7 September, some 300 Jews – old and weak, ill, frail, and no longer transportable were executed. According to the order of 4 September 1942 of which I was first informed on 6 September, concerning use of ammunition, 90% of those executed were shot with carbines and rifles. Only in exceptional cases were pistols used.
On 8 and 10 September 1942, actions in Kuty, Kosow, Horodenka, Zaplatow and Snityn (?) were carried out. Some 1,500 Jews had to be driven on foot marches 50 km from Kuty or 35 km from Kosow to Kolomea, where they were kept overnight in the courtyard of the Security Police prison with other Jews brought together from the region.
Other than the Jews rounded up in Horodenka and Sniatyn, who had already been loaded onto ten cars at each location by the Security Police, another 30 cars were loaded in Kolomea. The total number sent to Belzec on the resettlement train of 10 September 1942 amounted to 8,205
In the actions in the area around Kolomea on the 8, 9 and 10 September 1942, some 400 Jews had to be eliminated by shooting for the well- known reasons. In the great round up of Jews to be resettled by 10 September in Kolomea, the Security Police loaded all Jews into the 30 available train cars despite the objections I expressed. Given the great heat prevailing on those days and the strain on the Jews from the long foot marches or from waiting for days without being given any provisions worth noting, the excessively great overloading of most of the cars with 180 to 200 Jews was catastrophic in a way that had tremendously adverse effects on the transport.
How densely the ten cars each in Horodenka and Sniatyn were loaded with Jews by the Security Police is beyond my knowledge. In any case, both transports arrived in Kolomea with completely inadequate guard, so that the barbed wire closing the air holes was almost entirely removed
As quickly as possible I had this train moved out of the train station in Kolomea and coupled with the 30 cars standing on a side track far from the station. The Jewish Police and members of the train station construction crew from Kolomea were employed until the onset of darkness to close up all the insufficiently sealed cars in the usual regulation manner.
A commando of one officer and fifteen men under the leadership of Captain Witzmann was assigned to guard the parked resettlement train of 50 cars until departure and to prevent any escape attempt.
Given the already described strains on the Jews, the negative effect of the heat, and the great overloading of most cars
, the Jews attempted time and again to break out of the parked train cars, as darkness had already set in towards 7.30 p.m.
At 7.50 p.m. the guard commando of the resettlement train, with nine men under Corporal Jacklein, arrived at the side track. Breakout attempts from the parked train could not be prevented in the darkness, nor could escaping Jews be shot in flight. In all train cars Jews had completely undressed because of the heat.
As the train left Kolomea on schedule at 8.50 p.m. the guard took up their stations. The guard commando, as initially stipulated by me, was divided into five men in a passenger car at the front and five men in a passenger car at the end of the train.
On account of the length of the train and its total load of 8,205 Jews, this distribution proved to be unsuitable. Next time Corporal Jacklein will arrange a distribution of guards along the entire train.
Throughout the entire trip the policemen had to remain in the cabooses, in order to be able to counter the escape attempts of the Jews. Shortly into the journey the Jews attempted to break through the sides and even through the ceilings of certain train cars. They were partially successful in perpetrating this scheme, so that already five stations before Stanislau.
Corporal Jacklein had to ask the stationmaster in Stanislau by telephone to lay out nails and boards in order to seal the damaged cars as required by orders and to request the station guard to watch the train. As the train entered Stanislau, the train station workers and the station guards were present to carry out the necessary repairs and in addition take over guarding the train.
The work took one and a half hours. When the train subsequently resumed its journey, it was discovered at the next stop some stations later that once again large holes had been broken by the Jews in some of the train cars and that for the most part the barbed wire fastened on the outside of the ventilation windows had been torn off.
In one train car the Jews had even been working with hammer and saw. Upon interrogation they explained that the Security Police had left these tools with them, because they could make good use of them at their next work place. Corporal Jacklein made the Jews hand over the tools.
During the onward journey, at every station stop, help was needed to nail up the train, because otherwise the rest of the trip would not have been at all possible. At 11.15 a.m. the train reached Lemberg (Lvov).
Because no relief for the escort commando arrived, the escort commando Jacklein had to continue guarding the train until Belzec. After a brief halt at the Lemberg train station, the train continued to the suburban station of Kleparow, where nine trains marked with the letter “L” and destined for the labour camp, were turned over to SS- Obersturmfuhrer Schulze and unloaded.
SS- Obersturmfuhrer Schulze then had some additional 1,000 Jews loaded. About 1.30 p.m. the transport departed for Belzec. With the change of engine in Lemberg, such an old engine was hooked up that further travel was possible only with continuous interruptions.
The slow journey was time and again used by the strongest Jews to press themselves through the holes they had forced open and to seek their safety in flight, because in jumping from the slow-moving train they were scarcely injured. Despite the repeated requests to the engineer to go faster, this was not possible, so that the frequent stops on open stretches became increasingly unpleasant.
Shortly beyond Lemberg the commando had already shot off the ammunition they had with them and also used up a further 200 rounds that they had received from army soldiers, so that for the rest of the journey they had to resort to stones while the train was moving and to fixed bayonets when the train stopped. The ever greater panic spreading among the Jews due to the great heat, overloading of the train cars, and smell of dead bodies – when unloading the train cars some 2000 Jews were found dead in the train – made the transport almost unworkable.
At 6.45 p.m. the transport arrived in Belzec and around 7.30 p.m. was turned over by Corporal Jacklein to the SS- Obersturmfuhrer and head of the camp there. Until the unloading of the transport around 10.00 p.m. Jacklein had to remain in the camp, while the escort commando was used to guard the train cars parked outside the camp.
Because of the special circumstances described, the number of Jews who escaped from this transport cannot be specified. Nonetheless, it can be assumed that at least two-thirds of the escaping Jews were shot or rendered harmless in some other way.
in the actions themselves for the period of 7 -10 September 1942, no special incidents occurred. The co-operation between the Security Police and the Order Police units involved was good and without friction.
Reserve Lieutentant of the Schutzpolizei
And Company Commander