One of the most horrifying testimonies from the horrors of the Holocaust was left by a conscience-stricken SS officer, Kurt Gerstein, who visited Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka in August 1942 and witnessed the mass gassing of Jewish men, women and children. Gerstein was shocked by what he had seen and eventually risked his life to inform the Allies.
He described how the Jews were forced to undress, the piles of shoes were allegedly 25 meters high, the women's hair was cut off, the naked Jews were driven between two barbed wire fences to the gas chambers. Kurt Gerstein desperately tried to alert the world about the atrocities. After the war he wrote down his evidence on May 26, 1945:
train stopped, and 200 Ukrainians, who were forced to
perform this service, tore open the doors and chased
the people from the carriages with whips. Then
instructions were given through a large loudspeaker:
The people are to take off all their clothes out of
doors and a few of them in the barracks, including
artificial limbs and glasses. Shoes must be tied in
pairs with a little piece of string handed out by a
small four-year-old Jewish boy. All valuables and
money are to be handed in at the window marked "Valuables,"
without any document or receipt being given. The women
and girls must then go to the barber, who cuts off
their hair with one or two snips. The hair disappears
into large potato sacks, "to make something
special for the submarines, to seal them and so on,"
the duty SS Unterscharfuehrer explained to me.
the march starts: Barbed wire to the right and left
and two dozen Ukrainians with rifles at the rear. They
came on, led by an exceptionally pretty girl. I myself
was standing with Police Captain Wirth in front of the
death chambers. Men, women, children, infants, people
with amputated legs, all naked, completely naked,
moved past us. In one corner there is a whimsical SS
man who tells these poor people in an unctuous voice,
"Nothing at all will happen to you. You must just
breathe deeply, that strengthens the lungs; this
inhalation is necessary because of the infectious
diseases, it is good disinfection!"
somebody asks what their fate will be, he explains
that the men will of course have to work, building
streets and houses. But the women will not have to
work. If they want to, they can help in the house or
the kitchen. A little glimmer of hope flickers once
more in some of these poor people, enough to make them
march unresisting into the death chambers.
most of them understand what is happening; the smell
reveals their fate! Then they climb up a little
staircase and see the truth. Nursing mothers with an
infant at the breast, naked; many children of all
ages, naked. They hesitate, but they enter the death
chambers, most of them silent, forced on by those
behind them, who are driven by the whip lashes of the
Jewish woman of about 40, with flaming eyes, calls
down revenge for the blood of her children on the head
of the murderers. Police Captain Wirth in person
strikes her in the face 5 times with his whip, and she
disappears into the gas chamber ..."
During the war Kurt Gerstein continued to tell people what he had seen, anyone he felt would spread the word about the atrocities. He also urged members of the Dutch underground to broadcast his information by radio to Great Britain. But Kurt Gerstein was ignored - nothing happened. All were disinclined to believe his gruesome narrative of mass murder, it was rejected as atrocity propaganda.
All his efforts to inform the church, the Allies and the opinion abroad proved futile as did his premise that, if the facts became known, the extermination of the Jews would be stopped. A despairing Gerstein even risked his life destroying shipments of Zyklon B gas to be used for the extermination of thousands of Jewish people.As months continued to pass and still the Allies had done nothing to stop the extermination, Gerstein became increasingly frantic. He behaved in a desperate manner, risking his life every time he spoke of the death camps to persons he scarcely knew ..
On April 22, 1945, near the end of the war, Kurt Gerstein surrendered to the French, who arrested him as an alleged war criminal. They took him to the Cherche-Midi Military Prison on July 5, 1945. Twenty days later, Gerstein was found dead in his cell. Whether he committed suicide out of despair and guilt in not being able to stop the Holocaust or whether he was murdered by other SS officers in the prison remains a