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 was the 26th to leave Berlin for the ghettos and killing sites in Eastern Europe and was thus designated “Osttransport 26”. It departed from the city’s Putlitzstrasse Station in the Moabit district on January 12, 1943 and arrived at Auschwitz the following day.
Historians Gottwald and Meyrhoefer estimate the number of Jews on this transport at 1,196. Among them were 74 persons belonging to various age groups from the Jewish hospital located at Auguststrasse 17. Additionally, elderly Jews who had not been transported to Theresienstadt were included in this transport. Among them was the 65-year old author Else Ury who gained fame through her popular “Nesthäkchen” book series for girls.
The Jews were kept in assembly camps spread throughout Berlin for some days prior to deportation. 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 ordered 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.
Historian Danuta Czech notes in the Auschwitz Chronicles that a transport organized by the RSHA arrived in Auschwitz on January 13.. . It consisted of 1,000 Jewish men, women and children originating from various cities in Germany. Upon arrival outside the Auschwitz camp complex, the deportees were subject to a selection process carried out by the SS. 127 men were given Nos. 86567-866962 and sent to the camp. The remaining 898 deportees, including the above mentioned Else Ury, were sent directly 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 two of the deportees are known to have survived.