Until the beginning of 1943, 15,000 Jews and people of Jewish ancestry (Geltungsjuden) who were engaged in forced labour deemed vital to the war effort, in either Berlin factories or at institutions of the Jewish community were exempt from deportation.
However, on February 20, 1943, the department of Jewish affairs at the RSHA headed by Adolf Eichmann issued new regulations ordering the deportation of all forced labourers to Theresienstadt. According to the new policy, even Jews employed in factories crucial to the war effort were now eligible for deportation. Jewish spouses in mixed marriages and persons of Jewish ancestry who were not married to a Jewish spouse were still protected from deportation, even though this guideline was not rigidly followed.
The department for Jewish Affairs at the Berlin Gestapo, headed by Walter Stock and his deputy Max Stark, was in charge of organising this transport together with the Department of Jewish Affairs at the RSHA.
On February 27, 1943, SS officers of the elite Leibstandarte unit, armed with whips and bayonets, raided the factories in the Berlin area and brutally arrested thousands of Jewish workers. The labourers were taken by truck from their work places with nothing but the clothes they were wearing and were put into several assembly camps: Grosse Hamburger Strasse; the Clou Concert Hall; Mauerstrasse; the Herman-Göring barracks in Reinickendorf, and the Jewish community building on Rosenstrasse. There, these people had to lie either on the bare floor or on straw mattresses until their departure, without provisions and without water, regardless of whether they were infants or elderly people. Men, women and children were often separated, so that families were also transported separately. The Gestapo also arrested Jewish community workers whose positions were to be filled by the Jewish spouses of mixed marriages who at that time were still exempt from deportation.
While the SS officers were raiding the factories in the operation known as the “Fabrikaktion” (Factory Action), the Berlin police and the Gestapo conducted manhunts in the streets, homes, and shops of Berlin, searching for Jews wearing the mandatory yellow badge. At the end of this large-scale operation, Berlin was cleared of Jews save for those who had gone into hiding, or Jews who were married to non-Jews, and those with a non-Jewish parent.
The detainees did not remain in the assembly camps for long. The Gestapo emptied these camps promptly, assembling one transport after another. The Jews were then transported to the Moabit freight station and loaded into cattle cars. Karl Hefter was on duty in the camp located at the Wachregiment barracks as an employee of the Jewish community. He witnessed the departure of these transports during which the SS indiscriminately pushed and threw the people into the wagons. The commanding Sturmführers handled whips to speed people up. Most of the detainees were deported to Auschwitz. A few were sent to Theresienstadt.
This transport was the 31st to leave Berlin for the ghettos and killing sites in Eastern Europe and was thus designated “Osttransport 31”. It departed from the city’s Putlitzstrasse Station in the Moabit district on March 1, 1943 and arrived in Auschwitz the following day.
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 March 2. It consisted of approximately 1,500 Jewish men, women and children originating from Berlin. Upon arrival outside the Auschwitz camp complex, the deportees were subject to a selection process carried out by the SS. 150 men, given Nos. 104740-104889 were sent to forced labour under harsh conditions which they rarely survived. The remaining 1,350 deportees were sent directly to the gas chambers at Birkenau (Asuchwitz II) and murdered.
According to historian Rita Meyhoefer twelve of the deportees are known to have survived.