Rare photograph of Hans Bothmann in civilian clothing
|Born||November 11, 1911
|Died||April 4, 1946
|Years of service||until 1945|
SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Bothmann or Hans Johann Bothmann (November 11, 1911 – April 4, 1946) was the last commandant of the Chełmno extermination camp from 1942 on (SS card number 117630); leader of the SS Special Detachment Bothmann conducting the extermination of Jews from the Łódź Ghetto and other places. He committed suicide in British custody in April 1946 while in Heide.
Bothmann was born in Lohe-Rickelshof village in the Dithmarschen district of Holstein (northern Germany) in November 1911. He joined the paramilitary Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend, HJ) in 1932. Soon, he got a full-time job with the Gestapo office Stapoleitstelle Berlin, and in 1937 became a Kriminalkommissar there. He was 28 years old at the time of the German invasion of Poland.
During the summer of 1942, after replacing Hauptsturmführer Herbert Lange at Chełmno, Hans Bothmann made substantial changes to the camp's killing methods. The improvements were prompted by two incidents in March and April of that year. First, the gas van broke down on the highway while full of living victims. Soon after that, the Sauer van exploded while the driver was revving its engine at the loading ramp; the gassing compartment was full of living Jews. The explosion blew off the locked back door, and badly burned the victims inside. Drivers were replaced. Bothmann's modifications to the killing methods included adding poison to gasoline. There is evidence that some red powder and a fluid were delivered from Germany by Maks Sado freight company, in order to kill the victims more quickly. Another major change involved parking the gas vans while prisoners were killed. They were no longer driven en route to the forest cremation area with living victims inside.
The Chełmno death factory, credited with the murder of at least 180,000 Jews before the war's end (see Chełmno Trials for supplementary data), operated under Bothmann originally between the summer of 1942 and March 1943. With almost all Jews of the Wartheland District already processed, the camp was closed in March 1943. Bothmann was sent to Yugoslavia, but a year later he was summoned back to Poznań in order to supervise the renewed killing operations at Chełmno, because the Łódź Ghetto continued to take in prisoners not only from occupied Poland but also from Germany, Bohemia, Moravia and other places. A total of 70,000 Jews were still there. In this final phase of the camp operation, Bothmann supervised the murder of some 25,000 victims before finally, in mid-July 1944, the SS and police began deporting the remaining inhabitants of the Łódź ghetto to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In September 1944, the SS brought in new Commando 1005 to exhume and cremate any remaining evidence of genocide. Bothmann took part in the shooting of the last Jewish workers. He fled the forest camp just before the arrival of the Soviet Army. His final assignment was in Flensburg with SIPO and the Border Police before the war's end. Captured in West Germany by the British, he hanged himself while in custody, unaware that a life of freedom might have awaited him, similar to other mass murderers (Strippel, Reinefarth, Fiedler) because genocide was not in the criminal code of the Third Reich and would not be applied retroactively. Yet, Hans Bothmann was not alone. He was one of at least a dozen high-profile Nazi German functionaries and Holocaust perpetrators who committed suicide, including Theodor Dannecker ('45), Odilo Globocnik ('45), Richard Glücks ('45), Friedrich Krüger ('45), Ilse Koch ('67), Ernst Grawitz ('45), Karl Jäger ('59), Otto Thierack ('46), Walter Frank ('45), Robert Ley ('45), Manfred von Killinger ('44), and Hans Jeschonnek ('43) among other nationals.
- Chełmno Trials of the Chełmno extermination camp personnel, held in Poland and in Germany following World War II.
- Media related to Chelmno extermination camp at Wikimedia Commons
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- Montague, Patrick (2012), Chełmno and the Holocaust: The History of Hitler's First Death Camp (Google Books), Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, ISBN 0807835277, retrieved May 24, 2013,