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Alfred Spiess

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5063 | Film ID: 3895, 3896, 3897, 3898, 3899

Alfred Spiess was a prosecutor of the Treblinka trial. He talks about the reorganization of the camp and gas chambers.

FILM ID 3895 -- CR 1-4
Lanzmann asks Spiess how he felt when he was given the task of conducting an investigation for the Treblinka trial. Spiess says the trial presented many challenges; one primary concern was how to care for the witnesses. He created a model of the camp to be used for reference throughout the trial since, unlike other camps, Treblinka had been almost entirely destroyed. They created a sketch of the camp which Franz Stangl claimed was 100% accurate. In all three of the camps constructed under Operation Reinhardt (Be??ec, Sobibór, and Treblinka), a wall separated the gassing and cremations area from the reception. There was disagreement during the trial concerning the total number of people murdered at Treblinka. The three camps of Operation Reinhardt were exclusively extermination camps. Treblinka was constructed to exterminate the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto. Operation Reinhardt lasted from spring 1942 to fall 1943, and Spiess estimates the total number of deaths from all three camps to be between 1.8 and 2 million people. The actions carried out under Operation Reinhardt were disorganized. The first Commandant of Treblinka, Irmfried Eberl, allowed more transports than the camp had the capacity to kill. Trains arriving at Treblinka had to wait for Jews in previous trains to be "processed" before they could pull up to the ramp. As a result, many people died standing, packed in the train cars. Spiess tells Lanzmann a mountain of corpses 200 meters long and 2 meters tall was formed along the ramp. The Jews were told they were being sent to the east to be re-settled. The sick and frail were taken to a "hospital," called the Lazaret, with the Red Cross emblem on the outside, where they were shot in the neck. They were taken to the Lazaret so as not to impede the smooth process of the mass gassings. SS officer Willi Mentz carried out the shootings in the Lazaret.

FILM ID 3896 -- CR 5-7
When the leader of Operation Reinhardt, Odilo Globocnik, visited Treblinka and saw the state of disarray the camp was in, he fired Eberl and put Franz Stangl and Christian Wirth in charge. Larger gas chambers were constructed and the transports of Jews began again. Stangl made the decision to keep the experienced work units for longer periods of time because they worked faster. Most of the camp was burned down during the revolt on August 2, 1943, with the exception of the gas chambers, which were made of concrete. Murder in the gas chambers was carried out with the use of a Russian tank engine. It took about 25 minutes to murder those in a gas chamber, and occasionally victims would survive the gassing only to be shot once the doors were opened. Spiess describes how the Jews were processed upon entering the camp. Before entering the gas chambers, the Jews had to hand their valuables over at a "cashier's counter" headed by Franz Suchomel. The victims were forced to run through a path in the tube, called the "Way to Heaven" by the prisoners, which brought them to the gas chambers. The tube had many turns so the prisoners could not see the dead bodies being removed from the chamber. The entrance to the gas chamber was flanked by flower pots to keep up the pretense that the prisoners were entering a bathhouse. With the possibility of the Allies approaching in spring 1943, the bodies of the murdered victims began to be destroyed. Spiess describes the cremation process and destruction of the camp by the Germans. The last prisoners in the camp after the revolt on August 2, 1943 were liquidated on November 30, 1943. At the beginning of the Treblinka trial in 1964, there were 53 survivors out of the one million who entered Treblinka's gates. Spiess states that if it were not for the revolt there would be no survivors. Spiess believes the final push for a revolt came from the prisoners who had been brought to Treblinka from the Warsaw ghetto immediately following the uprising.

FILM ID 3897 -- CR 8-10
700 prisoners escaped and sought refuge in the surrounding woods, but only 70 escaped the German troops who were called to track down the prisoners. Spiess finds it symbolic of the German master race mentality that the SS could not imagine that the oppressed, beaten Jews could initiate and succeed in a revolt. Spiess says there is a difference between the Germans who shrank from killing, and those for whom murdering became a normality. The former participated in the Nazi regime, while the latter willingly identified with the regime's will to murder. In some cases, a defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment because he identified with the regime's will to murder. Operation Reinhardt was composed of 100 to 120 German SS. The Germans took supervisory roles in the camps while Ukrainians and Jewish prisoners worked under their command. Jewish workers in the camps were replaceable and lived in a constant state of deception and terror, which made resistance nearly impossible. The SS of Operation Reinhardt came from a variety of vocations, most having previously worked on the T4 euthanasia project where they became accustomed to murder. Lanzmann and Spiess discuss the culpability of those who knew less than others about what was occurring under Operation Reinhardt.

FILM ID 3898 -- CR 11-12
At the close of Operation Reinhardt, Globocnik wrote an account summarizing it's economic contribution. From currency, precious metals, gold, clothing, and other valuables stolen from the Jews and other victims, a total of 100 million Reichsmarks were placed into the Reichsbank. The number of people murdered, however, was not recorded. Lanzmann and Spiess discuss how much a person working in Department 33 at the East Railway, local citizens, and others throughout Europe knew of the camps. Fear of being accused of spreading atrocity propaganda prevented many who knew of the extermination camps from sharing their knowledge.

FILM ID 3899 -- CR 12A-13

Event:  1978-1981
Production:  1985
Wuppertal, Germany
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2021-06-03 12:48:00
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