A gas van or gas wagon (German: Gaswagen) was a vehicle reequipped as a mobile gas chamber. During World War II Nazi Germany used gas vans on a large scale as a extermination method to murder inmates of asylums, Romani people, Jews, and prisoners in occupied Poland, Belarus, and Yugoslavia.
In August 1941, SS chief Heinrich Himmler attended a demonstration of a mass-shooting of Jews in Minsk arranged by Arthur Nebe, after which he vomited. Regaining his composure, Himmler decided that alternative methods of killing should be found. He turned to Nebe to explore more "convenient" ways of killing that were less stressful for the killers. Nebe decided to try experimenting by murdering Soviet mental patients, first with explosives near Minsk, and then with automobile exhaust at Mogilev. Nebe's experiments led to the utilization of the gas van. This vehicle had already been used in 1940 for the gassing of East Prussian and Pomeranian mental patients in the Soldau concentration camp. Another source states that the vans were first tested on Soviet prisoners in Sachsenhausen.
Gas vans were used, particularly at Chełmno extermination camp, until gas chambers were developed as a more efficient method for killing large numbers of people. There were two types of gas vans in operation, used by the Einsatzgruppen in the East. The Opel-Blitz, weighing 3.5 tons, and the larger Saurerwagen, weighing 7 tons. In Belgrade, the gas van was known as "Dušegupka" and in the occupied parts of the USSR similarly as "душегубка" (dushegubka, literally (feminine) soul killer/exterminator). The SS used the euphemisms Sonderwagen, Spezialwagen or S-wagen ("special vehicle") for the vans. The gas vans were specifically designed to direct deadly exhaust fumes via metal pipes into the airtight cargo compartments, where the intended victims had been forcibly stuffed to capacity. In most cases the victims were suffocated and poisoned from carbon monoxide and other toxins in the exhaust as the vans were transporting them to fresh pits or ravines for mass burial.
The use of gas vans had two disadvantages:
- It was slow — some victims took twenty minutes to die.
- It was not quiet — the drivers could hear the victims' screams, which they found distracting and disturbing.
By June 1942 the main producer of gas vans, Gaubschat Fahrzeugwerke GmbH, had delivered 20 gas vans in two models (for 30–50 and 70–100 individuals) to Einsatzgruppen, out of 30 ordered from that company. Not one gas van was extant at the end of the war. The existence of gas vans first came to light in 1943 during the trial of Nazi collaborators involved in the gassing of 6,700 civilians in Krasnodar. The total number of gas van gassings is unknown.
According to Komsomolskaya Pravda article, one case of gas van usage was documented in the 1930s in the Soviet Union. According to this publication,, a team of secret police officers were suffocating batches of prisoners with engine fumes in a camouflaged bread van while driving out to the mass graves at Butovo, where the prisoners were subsequently buried. The use of gas vans was supervised by Isay Berg, the head of the administrative and economic department of the NKVD of Moscow Oblast. Berg himself was arrested and convicted by the NKVD in 1937.
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- "SS use of mobile gassing vans". A damaged Magirus-Deutz van found in 1945 in Kolno, Poland. World War II Today. 2011. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
Source: Office of the United States Chief Counsel for Prosecution of Axis Criminality: Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression – Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Office, 1946, Vol III, p. 418;
- Bartrop, Paul R. (2017). "Gas Vans". In Paul R. Bartrop; Michael Dickerman (eds.). The Holocaust: An Encyclopedia and Document Collection. 1. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 234–235. ISBN 978-1-4408-4084-5.
- "Gas Wagons: The Holocaust's mobile gas chambers", an article of Nizkor Project
- Longerich, Peter (2012). Heinrich Himmler: A Life, p. 547, ISBN 978-0-19-959232-6.
- Lewy, Guenter (2000). The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, pp. 204–208, ISBN 0-19-512556-8.
- The path to genocide: essays on launching the final solution By Christopher R. Browning
- The destruction of the European Jews, Part 804, Volume 1 By Raul Hilberg
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- Ernst. Klee, Willi Dressen, Volker Riess (1991). "The gas-vans (3. 'A new and better method of killing had to be found')". The Good Old Days: The Holocaust As Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders. Konecky Konecky. p. 69. ISBN 1568521332. Retrieved 2013-05-08.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Patrick Montague (2012). "The Gas Vans (Appendix I)". Chełmno and the Holocaust: The History of Hitler's First Death Camp. Univ of North Carolina Press. p. Appendix I: The Gas Van. ISBN 0807835277. Retrieved 2018-09-15.
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- Komsomolskaya pravda, October 28, 1990; this source has been cited by several other authors: (i) Catherine Merridale. Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia. Penguin Books, 2002 ISBN 0-14-200063-9 p. 200; (ii) Timothy J. Colton. Moscow: Governing the Socialist Metropolis. Belknap Press, 1998. ISBN 0-674-58749-9 p. 286, (iii) Солженицын А.И. Two Hundred Years Together (Двести лет вместе), volume=2, Москва, Русский путь, 2002, ISBN 5-85887-151-8, p. 297, (iv) Yevgenia Albats, KGB: The State Within a State. 1995, page 101., (v) Е. Жирнов. «По пути следования к месту исполнения приговоров отравлялись газом». Коммерсантъ Власть, № 44, 2007. , (vi) Н. Петров. «Человек в кожаном фартуке». Новая газета, спецвыпуск «Правда ГУЛАГа» от 02.08.2010 № 10 (31). Archived 2010-08-06 at the Wayback Machine.
- The man in the leather apron (Russian), by Nikita Petrov, Novaya Gazeta
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