Following a major corruption and embezzlement affair at the Judenreferat in Berlin (Department of Jewish Affairs) involving the theft of confiscated Jewish property, personnel changes in the Gestapo headquarters in the capital were implemented during late 1942. The pace of the deportations was too slow in the eyes of the Nazi authorities, and they decided to take a different approach, adopting the system that was successfully used in Vienna. To that end, a team from the Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Vienna, which included SS-Hauptsturmführer Alois Brunner, SS-Hauptscharführer Weisl, SS-Hauptscharführer Krell and Alfred Slawik arrived in Berlin in the middle of November 1942. During their earlier work in Vienna, these men conducted massive deportations of Jews in a violent manner.
Brunner set up his headquarters at the Grosse Hamburger Strasse assembly camp. Following his arrival, he made several changes to facilitate larger and more frequent transports. He had all furniture removed from the rooms save for mattresses, and had straw used as bedding when mattresses were not available. Gestapo officials took residence in one section of the building. The doors to the toilets were removed, iron bars were fixed to all windows, and the basement rooms were converted to holding cells. The building was fenced with barbed wire and illuminated at night with floodlights. Policemen were stationed in the building, with orders to shoot anyone attempting escape. A Jewish patrol force was established to maintain order. From now on, the camp not only had the appearance of a prison, but the deportation procedure also became much more brutal.
Brunner required the Jewish community to appoint an additional camp administrator, Max Reschke. Like Simon Werner (the first director the Jewish community was forced to appoint), Reschke was in charge of the Jewish orderlies, sanitation, food rationing and preparation of the transports based on the lists he was given. The community officials who worked there were given the task of compiling lists and assisting deportees in filling out the Declaration of Assets form which was the means through which the Reich confiscated Jewish property. Following Brunner’s arrival, Grosse Hamburger Strasse served mainly as an assembly camp for transports to Auschwitz.
This transport to Auschwitz was the first comprised of German Jews from the “Altreich” (the territories of “Old Germany” prior to 1938). It was the 23rd to leave Berlin for the ghettos and killing sites in Eastern Europe and was thus designated “Osttransport 23”. It departed fro the city’s Putlitzstrasse Station in the Moabit district on November 29, 1942 and arrived in Auschwitz within one or two days. Two further transports followed during the year.
There were 998 Jews on this transport including 36 children from the Auerbach orphanage at 162 Schönhauser Allee in the district of Prenzlauer Berg, 20 of whom were below the age of five.
Prior to the deportation, the Jews were kept in assembly camps spread throughout Berlin for some days. At these assembly sites the Jews were forced to sign a declaration authorizing the transfer of their property to the State.
On the day of their deportation the deportees were loaded into a train consisting of closed cattle cars. A guard unit, usually composed of two SS men, was usually posted in the control compartment. The train usually went to Auschwitz via Breslau (Wroclaw) and Kattowitz (Katowice), but the constant strain put on the German railway system might have caused individual transports to take other routes.
Upon arrival outside the Auschwitz camp complex, the deportees were subject to a selection process carried out by the SS. The majority of the deportees were immediately sent to the gas chambers at Birkenau (Auschwitz II) and murdered. The other deportees were sent to forced labour under harsh conditions which they rarely survived.
According to historian Rita Meyhoefer only one of the 998 deportees is known to have survived.