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 Eichmann issued new regulations ordering the deportation of all forced labourers to Theresienstadt. According to the new policy, even Jews employed at 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 deportations, 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 poor 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 35th to leave Berlin for the ghettos and killing sites in Eastern Europe and was thus designated “Osttransport 35”. It departed the city’s Putlitzstrasse Station in the Moabit district on March 6, 1943 and arrived in Auschwitz the following day.
There were 665 Jews on this transport. On the day of their deportation they 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 7. It consisted of 665 Jewish men, women and children from Berlin. Upon arrival outside the Auschwitz camp complex, the deportees were subject to a selection process carried out by the SS. 153 men, given Nos. 107164-107316, and 6 women, given Nos. 38001-38605, were sent to forced labour under harsh conditions which they rarely survived. The remaining 447 deportees, 30 of them men and 417 women and children, were sent directly to the gas chambers at Birkenau (Auschwitz II) and murdered.
Else Penkuhn, born Muskatblatt on September 17, 1904 in Berlin, was on this transport. In 1968 she testified at the trial against Otto Bovensiepen (the former Head of the Berlin Gestapo): "I also recall that on March 6, 1943, together with other Jews, I was taken from Berlin on a transport to the East, which meant Auschwitz. Whether this was the 35th Osttransport, I am not sure. (...) As I remember, I had been picked up from the apartment of Mrs. Gertrud Kummer in Berlin, on Grenadierstrasse (23?) on Friday, March 5 at around 9 o'clock in the morning by two Gestapo officials, whose names I wasn’t familiar with. These officials just told me, "Get dressed and come with us". Initially I was asked for my name and when I reported by the name "Michaelis", they took me with them. I was taken to the assembly camp on Grosse Hamburger Strasse, not far from the Grenadierstrasse assembly camp. On the way the two Gestapo officials who accompanied me did not abuse me. The officials walked three steps behind me and on the way to the assembly point there was no talking at all. (...) In the assembly camp in Berlin, I was taken to an office, and there I had to provide my personal details. Afterwards I was put in a large room, where many other Jews were already present. I cannot tell how many people were placed in this room together with me. . (...) I was placed in the aforementioned Jewish home for the elderly from March 5 to March 6, 1943 in the morning. On March 6th we were driven in trucks to the Putlitzstrasse railway station (freight station). There we were loaded into freight cars. . (...) In the room at the assembly camp in Berlin, it was only possible to stand due to the overpopulation of the house with people of all ages both sick and healthy. This room was terribly overcrowded. I would also say that there was a lack of washing facilities and the condition of the toilets was very poor. As to the food supply, I can say that I didn’t receive any provisions on Friday, March 5. Only on March 6, before boarding the transport, we received a pre-prepared packet with 3 sandwiches spread with margarine. I don’t recall anymore whether these sandwiches had some sausage or anything else edible in them. In this assembly camp in Berlin there was no medical care whatsoever. (...) When I was arrested on March 5, I was neither abused nor verbally harassed. However, on March 6, when we were being loaded onto the train at the Putlitzstrasse railway station, an SS man struck me on my back with a stick, and this was apparently because I didn’t get into the freight car fast enough. (...) We only knew that we were being taken to the East but we did not know where the transport was headed for. Among us prisoners there was talk about us being taken to some ghetto. We then arrived in Auschwitz. There, we were unloaded and separated into lines of men, women and children. SS women spread a blanket in front of us and we had to put our jewelry, handbags, and all our belongings on it. Afterwards, most of the prisoners, mainly women and children, were loaded onto trucks and driven away. At first, we did not know where these people had been taken. At the selection of the prisoners in Auschwitz I was assigned to a working unit like many others. When we were in the camp in Auschwitz, I learned that those women and children, who, as I mentioned, were driven away on a truck, were murdered in the gas chamber…”
Another survivor of this transport, Otto Fried, born April 20, 1905 in Josefdorf/Katowice, testified in 1968 at the trial against former employees of the Gestapo in Berlin: “On the occasion of the 'Fabrikaktion' I was also arrested and taken to the former Hermann Göring barracks. The following day partners in mixed marriages were selected and transferred to the Jewish Community building on Rosenstrasse. We met a large number of fellow sufferers - other partners in mixed marriages or Jews from privileged mixed marriages. During the next few days, the prisoners from the privileged mixed marriages were released. There remained 25 partners from mixed marriages who were separated and transported to Auschwitz from the Putlitzstrasse railway station. The commander at the Rosenstrasse assembly camp was the Gestapo official Schneider (...). We arrived in Auschwitz in early March 1943. There my left forearm was tattooed… with the prisoner number 107323.”
According to historian Rita Meyhoefer 9 of the deportees are known to have survived this transport.