Gassing of Jews by the Nazis was not only carried out in the extermination camps but also by means of gas vans, the so called special vehicles. The victims were locked up in the body of the truck and subsequently gassed by the exhaust fumes which were blown into the compartment through tubes.
On the next page you’ll find the translation of a letter, sent by Willy Just to Walter Rauff. In this letter he describes the operation of and technical adjusments to these special vehicles in detail. The letter contains a few euphemisms. When Willy Just writes, for instance, that "97.000 have been processed", he means that 97.000 Jews have been gassed in these trucks. Referring to the capacity of the trucks, he means how many victims can be gassed simultaneously.
The content of this document is chilling. Rarely has the murdering of people been described in such a technical and detached way in an official document.
Willy Just, author of this letter, was employed in Amt II D 3a, Kraftfahrwesen der Sipo (Vehicle Department of the Security Police). The addressee, SS-Obersturmbannführer Walter Rauff, was chief of Amt II D, Technische Angelegenheiten (Technical Affairs) of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (R.S.H.A., Head Office of State Security).
|II D 3 a (9) Nr. 214/42 g.Rs.||Berlin, Juni 5 1942|
Subject: Technical adjustments to the special vehicles already in use and in production.
From December 1941 onwards, three vans were tested with 97.000 processed without any technical malfunction on the trucks. The well known explosion at Kulmhof can be considered an incident. Its cause may be attributed to incorrect operation. In order to avoid this kind of incidents, special instructions have been sent to the agencies involved. Safety has considerably increased because of these instructions.
Experience up till now has shown that the following conversions may be practical:
1.) In order to ease the speedy distribution of CO (carbonmonoxide), as well as to avoid excess pressure, two slits of 3.9 by 0.39 inch will be cut in the top of the rear bulkhead. Excess pressure can be controlled and bled off by an easily adjustable hinged metal valve on the outside.
2.) The capacity of the trucks is usually from 9 to 10 victims per square foot. On the large Saurer special vehicle a capacity of this size is impossible. Although no overload occurs, the all terrain handling diminshes considerably. A decrease of loading space seems necessary. This can be achieved by shortening the cargo compartment by some 3.28 feet. The problem mentioned above can not be solved by decreasing the cargo, as has been done previously. By decreasing the cargo, an increase of operating time will be necessary as the free space must also be satured with CO. On the other hand, in case of a smaller and fully loaded cargo space, a much shorter operating time will suffice because there is no free space.
During a meeting with the manufacturer, it was pointed out by him that shrinking of the cargo space will lead to an undesirable distribution of weight. It was emphasized that overloading of the front axle would occur. In fact, a coincidental compensation of weight distribution occurs however, as the cargo has the tendency to move to the rear door during operation, shifting the weight to the rear. This way, overloading of the front axle does not occur.
3.) The tube connecting the exhaust to the cargo compartment tends to get damaged by the fluids flowing into it. To avoid this, the tube should be repositioned in such a way that the gas is blown in downwards. In this way the fluids can not enter the tube.
4.) In order to enable the vehicle to be cleaned by hand, a drainage duct with a stop valve should be mounted. Beneath this lid of 8 to 10 inches, an S-trap should be mounted enabling thin fluids to drain away during operation. In order to prevent stoppage, a sieve is mounted on the top of the S-trap. The thicker waste can be flushed down the large drain as the vehicle is being cleaned. The floor of the compartment must have a slight downward gradient towards the drain in order to enable fluids to flow to the center immediately. Penetration of fluids into the exhaust pipes is herewith prevented.
5). The observation slots which have been installed up to today might be removed as they are hardly ever used. By omitting the difficult construction of the airtight slot with its lock, considerable time can be saved in manufacturing the new vans.
6.) The lighting must be protected better against demolition than it is now. The bars protecting the bulbs should be positioned high enough so that it will not be possible to break the bulbs. It seems that these lights are hardly ever switched on. Learning from practice, the operators have suggested the lights could be omitted altogether. Experience shows however that when the rear door is closed and darkness sets in, the cargo is liable to push hard against the door out of fear. The reason is that the cargo tends to move towards the light. This makes shutting the door difficult. It has also been noted that the noise, caused by the shutting of the door, is connected to the fear which is caused by the darkness. It is therefore expedient to leave the lights on for a few minutes before and during loading. The lighting is also useful during nightly operations and while cleaning the inside of the van.
7.) In order to accelerate the unloading of the vehicles, a removable grid should be placed on the floor. The grid will glide on rollers in a U shaped track. It will be removed and repositioned by a small winch mounted under the vehicle. The factory that is to produce this has reported that construction is not possible at the monent due to a shortage of manpower and material. Another firm shall have to be found.
The technical modifications that have to be made to the vehicles, will have to be planned when important maintenance is necessary. The conversion of the ten Saurer trucks which have already been ordered will be made as soon as possible. The manufacturer pointed out during a meeting that the structural changes, except the less important, can not be carried out for the moment. An effort has to be made to find another firm able to make the necessary conversions, based on practical experience, to at least one of these vehicles. I suggest the firm of Hohenmauth be charged with this task.
Due to the present situation we will have to expect completion of this vehicle at a later date. It will then not only be made available as a test vehicle but also as a back up vehicle. As soon as the vehicle has been tested, the others will be taken out of active service, one after the other, to be modified in the same way.
II. Gruppenleiter II D SS-Obersturmbannführer Rauff
For evaluation and decision making