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Those who cannot remember the past are comdemned to repeat it ...  
 Kurt Gerstein

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      Testimony - Waffen SS officer Kurt Gerstein  

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.


Kurt Gerstein

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:

 

"The 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.

 

Then 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!"

 

When 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.

 

But 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 SS men.

 

A 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 mystery.

 

 

 

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