Deportations In the months following the Wannsee Conference, the Nazi regime continued to carry out their plans for the "Final Solution." Jews were "deported"—transported by trains or trucks to six camps, all located in occupied Poland: Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek-Lublin.
The Nazis called these six camps "extermination camps." Most of the deportees were immediately murdered in large groups by poisonous gas. The Nazis changed to gassing as their preferred method of mass murder because they saw it as "cleaner" and more "efficient" than shooting. Gassing also spared the killers the emotional stress many mobile killing squad members had felt shooting people face to face. The killing centers were in semi-rural, isolated areas, fairly well hidden from public view. They were located near major railroad lines, allowing trains to transport hundreds of thousands of people to the killing sites.
Many of the victims were deported from nearby ghettos, some as early as December 1941, even before the Wannsee meeting. The SS began in earnest to empty the ghettos, however, in the summer of 1942. In two years' time, more than two million Jews were taken out of the ghettos. By the summer of 1944, few ghettos remained in eastern Europe.
At the same time that ghettos were being emptied, masses of Jews and also Roma (Gypsies) were transported from the many distant countries occupied or controlled by Germany, including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Hungary, Romania, Italy, North Africa, and Greece. The deportations required the help of many people and all branches of the German government. The victims in Poland were already imprisoned in ghettos and totally under German control. The deportation of Jews from other parts of Europe, however, was a far more complex problem. The German Foreign Ministry succeeded in pressuring most governments of occupied and allied nations to assist the Germans in the deportation of Jews living in their countries.
July 15, 1942
Systematic deportations from the Netherlands begin
Jews in the Netherlands have been systematically concentrated in the Westerbork transit camp. The majority of Jews sent to Westerbork remain there only a short time before their deportation to killing centers in the east. Beginning on July 15, 1942, the Germans deport nearly 100,000 Jews from Westerbork: about 60,000 to Auschwitz, over 34,000 to Sobibor, almost 5,000 to the Theresienstadt ghetto, and nearly 4,000 to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The overwhelming majority of those deported are killed upon arrival in the camps.
July 22, 1942
Warsaw Jews deported to Treblinka killing center
Between July 22 and mid-September 1942, over 300,000 people are deported from the Warsaw ghetto: more than 250,000 of them are deported to the Treblinka killing center. Deportees are forced to the Umschlagplatz (deportation point), which is connected to the Warsaw-Malkinia rail line. They are crowded into freight cars and most are deported, via Malkinia, to Treblinka. The overwhelming majority of the deportees are killed upon arrival in Treblinka. In September, at the end of the 1942 mass deportation, only about 55,000 Jews remain in the ghetto.
May 15, 1944
Systematic deportations of Jews from Hungary begin
German forces occupy Hungary on March 19, 1944. In April 1944, all Jews except those in Budapest are ordered into ghettos. Systematic deportations from the ghettos in Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau begin the next month, in May 1944. In less than three months, nearly 440,000 Jews are deported from Hungary in more than 145 trains. The overwhelming majority are killed upon arrival in Auschwitz.
Series: The "Final Solution"
Critical Thinking Questions
- Investigate the role of the railroads in and out of Germany in the deportation of the Jews of Europe to their deaths. Were these state railways or privately run, for example?
- What percentage of rail traffic during World War II was used for deportations?
- What level of organization and administration is required to move, murder, and dispose of millions of people? What other tasks are required before the victims are murdered? Who filled these roles?