The Railroad of No Return
The world has changed. ( David Koker, November 27, 1943)
This is a page of glory in our history, which has never been written and is never to be written. (Speech of Heinrich Himmler, October 14, 1943)
Probably during the late summer of 1941, the decision to exterminate all the Jews in occupied Europe had been taken, and this was followed by the coordination of the enterprise at Wannsee in January 1942. From then on, trains ran day and night to the extermination centres in Poland.
David Koker heard the word extermination for the first time in transit camp Vught, in the beginning of September 1943. He was at that time still reasonably optimistic, an optimism that would soon vanish. On 27 November a letter from Poland took his last doubts away, when he read that most of the Jews were murdered on arrival. The world has changed, was his only comment. ( Koker, 1977:201)
In general, Koker proved well-informed; for instance, he knew that special cases' went to 'different camps', all the rest just go to Auschwitz. He was right. The large majority of Jews from Holland were transported to Auschwitz, the rest went to Sobibor and only a few thousands to Theresienstadt and Bergen-Belsen. 1
All witnesses of those train journeys to Poland speak of the same kind of frightful experiences, of the beastly transport conditions in the cattle cars without food or water. A Dutch witness during the Eichmann trials recalled one such journey:
The sick, the aged and babies in arms were crushed into barred cattle trucks . . . They had been aboard the trains for two days and had only once received food. She (a Jewish refugee) said that some babies had suffocated in the crush and that the SS guards had even then forced in more people and bolted the door.
Who decided which Jews were to go to what camp? Who decided which Jews were allowed to go to those 'different camps', Bergen Belsen and Theresienstadt? This was Referat IV B 4 (the so-called Judenreferat -- Jews Office) of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (State Security Main Office), the Gestapo office on the Kurfürstenstrasse 15/16 in Berlin, where Adolf Eichmann and his staff coordinated the logistics of the murder of the Jews. They held dossiers with all sorts of administrative data about the Jews of Europe and their confiscated assets. Eichmann had representatives in every country whose special assignment was to relieve the Jews of their posses-