In the context of the Third Reich, the term “transit camp” refers to camps that were not designed or equipped to accommodate inmates for an extended period of time. They served merely to send them on to other locations after a brief stop-over. This stop-over may have included issuing of food and some hygienic procedures (showers, disinfestation). Some concentration camps had sections which served as transit subcamps. Inmates were housed there only for a brief time, often without being officially admitted to the camp (registered), after which they were sent off to some other destination.
Closely related to transit camps were “collection camps,” where prisoners from a region were collected and then, usually already after only a short while, sent on to more permanent camps (labor, PoW and concentration camps).
Belzec, Chełmno, Sobibór, Treblinka
The four camps at Belzec, Chełmno, Sobibór and Treblinka are a special case. None of them were designed or equipped to accommodate large numbers of inmates for an extended period of time. However, it is well established that large numbers of inmates were sent to these camps. The best evidence for this is the so-called Höfle telegram, which list the number of inmates who arrived at Chełmno, Sobibór and Treblinka, and also at the Majdanek Camp by the end of 1942 (see the entry for Hans Höfle):
The number of Jews arriving at the Chełmno Camp can be gleaned from the so-called Korherr Report, which lists for early 1943 a total of 145,301 Jews which had been “transited through” the Warthegau (see the entry on Richard Korherr). Warthegau was the wartime German name for an area of annexed western Poland. The only “camp” located in this area was Chełmno. This means that Korherr believed Chełmno to have served as a transit camp. In fact, it was not a camp at all; it was a mere building staffed by an SS unit with several transport vehicles (alleged to have been gas vans).
The orthodox narrative has it that most inmates arriving at transit camps were killed on arrival in execution chambers (or gas vans). The problematic nature of this claim can be gleaned from the entry for each of these camps in this encyclopedia: neither the documental nor the material evidence supports that claim, and the anecdotal evidence is full of contradictions, impossibilities and absurdities.
The few extant documents about these camps indicate that they were transit camps, indeed:
- In a letter exchange between Heinrich Himmler and Oswald Pohl, both refer to Sobibór as a transit camp. (See the entry on Sobibór.)
- Belzec is referred to in one document as the outermost border station from where Jews “cross the border [to the East] and never return to the Government General [occupied Poland].” (See the entry on Belzec.)
The background of this is that Belzec, Sobibór and Treblinka were located near the demarcation line between German- and Soviet-occupied Poland (see Illustration). No train could continue travelling much further east from these camps, because the Soviet railway system starting east of it used broad-gauge railway tracks, while the rest of Europe had the narrower standard gauge. Hence, any traveller going east – or coming from the east going west – had to change trains along this line. If these three camps were transit camps for Jews on their forced journey east, the main purpose would have been to change trains from normal to broad gauge – and vice versa on the way back.
Rumors of allegedly fake shower baths (Sobibór) and presumably murderous steam chambers (Treblinka) could be explained with actual disinfestation measures implemented in those camps. Documents about the construction of large sanitary facilities at Treblinka point in that direction. Even Kurt Gerstein’s bizarre story about his visit at Belzec could find an explanation: after all, Gerstein was one of the SS’s leading experts on hygiene, and he visited the Majdanek, Belzec and Treblinka Camps together with Wilhelm Pfannenstiel, who was a professor at, and director of, the Hygienic Institute at the University of Marburg, and also the hygienic adviser to the Waffen-SS. It is plain to see that this journey, if it occurred at all, was about implementing hygienic measures. Extermination camps had no need for hygienic measures.
Supporting this is a large body of evidence demonstrating that thousands of Jews ended up further east indeed. (See the entry on resettlement for more details). There is also some interesting anecdotal evidence supporting the transit-camp notion. For instance, Polish black-propagandist Jan Karski, who claims to have entered the Belzec Camp during the war, stated in a 1987 interview that, in his opinion, “Belzec was a transit camp.” Former Auschwitz inmate Abraham Cykert reported that he had been transited through the Belzec Camp.
The most prolific orthodox chronicler of the Sobibór Camp, Jules Schelvis, was himself transited through the Sobibór Camp with other inmates, ending up some place else on a labor assignment. Other anecdotal evidence shows likewise that, starting in September 1943, numerous railway transports with Jews were sent from Minsk westward via the Sobibór Camp, which in these instances served indeed as a transit camp. (See the entry on Maly Trostinets for details).
Several Holocaust survivors reported in interviews conducted by various orthodox Holocaust institutions that they had been transited through the Treblinka Camp together with hundreds of other inmates (see the entry on Treblinka, as well as Hunt 2014).
This shows that Treblinka and Sobibór served indeed as a transit camp for many inmates. Therefore, they must have had the infrastructure to fulfill this function.
The Auschwitz Camp was initially thought of as a mere transit camp, before plans were eventually upgraded to a full-fledged concentration camp.
When some 400,000 Hungarian Jews were deported in 1944, the orthodoxy has it that almost all of them were killed on arrival, since there is no record of them getting registered in the camp. However, air photos taken of the Auschwitz Camp at that time prove irrefutably that the orthodox narrative of a mass murder of unprecedented scale is untrue.
Many of these Hungarian Jews were indeed deported via Auschwitz, but not with the final destination Auschwitz. At that time, large parts of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp were turned into a transit camp for these Jews, foremost in the hospital section, Camp Sector III, which was still under construction. In July of 1944, Birkenau had one of its older, completed sectors rededicated to serve as a transit camp for Jewesses deported from Hungary. After a quarantine, they got eventually transferred to other labor and concentration camps throughout Germany.
Documents show that, of the Jews deported from Hungary, almost 130,000 (30%) were transited through Birkenau and ended up in other camps (see the entries on Birkenau and on Hungary). Other documents show that thousands of Jews deported from Hungary and from Lodz to Birkenau ended up at the Stutthof Camp, proving once more that Birkenau was indeed a transit camp for tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Jews, rather than an extermination camp. The lack of documental evidence for the fate of the other Hungarian Jews does not prove that they were murdered. It merely proves that documents of their final destinations were either lost or destroyed, or have not yet been discovered.