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 February20, 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 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 poor straw mattresses until their departure; without provisions and without water, regardless of being 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 36th to leave Berlin for the ghettos and killing sites in Eastern Europe and was thus designated “Osttransport 36”. It departed from the city’s Putlitzstrasse Station in the Moabit district on March 12, 1943 and arrived in Auschwitz the following day.
There were 941 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.
In his post-war memoirs, survivor Hans Peter Messerschmidt recounts that the deportees were kept for 2-3 days in the assembly camp on Grosse Hamburger Strasse. Conditions were harsh as the place was overcrowded. The deportees sat on mattresses with cover the floor. In the early morning of March 12, 1943 the deportees were loaded onto waiting trucks and driven to the freight train station in the Moabit district. Gestapo guards handling whips ensured the swift boarding of the deportees into two cattle cars, with around 50 deportees per car. The train stood in station until the evening. In the late afternoon the next day it arrived at Auschwitz. The SS guards hurried the depoertees out of the train and told them to leave all their luggage behind, explaining that it would be brought to them later. Men and women were then ordered to stand seperately in rows of five. The whole area was surrounded by SS guards. The deportees could see older inmates piling up the luggage and the bags belonging to the new arrivals.
A selection then took place. Hans Peter Messerschmidt recalls that fit and healthy people between the ages of 16 and 50 were sent to the left side; all others, including children, sick people, the elderly as well as those who didn’t want to be seperated from their children were sent to the right. Those on the right side were marched to the gas chambers and killed. Those on the left were loaded onto trucks and driven for about 10 minutes to the Monowitz (Buna) labour camp.
David Salz, who also survived the war, recalls in his post-war memoirs that in Berlin the deportees were ordered into a train consisting of closed cattle cars. These were locked from outside. Inside the cattle cars there was only space to stand, not to sit or lie down. Air was scarce and it was very cold. He said that there were no sanitary facilities, that people were crying and that the transport was a horrifying experience, the first he had with the “barbaric” Germans. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, Salz remembers first the barked orders and shouts, beatings with sticks by the SS-guards, being pushed around, and great chaos. Next to the cattle cars the deportees had to hand over any valuables such as necklaces, rings, and the like. Then the selection took place. He saw that most women, the children and elderly were all taken to the left side. The others were asked what their age and profession was. Some of the healthier ones were then taken to the right side. As he was convinced that his mother was a healthy and fit woman and would thus surely be on the right side, he was determined to get to that side, too. When his turn came he instinctively stood on his toes to look taller, and pretended to be a 17-year old electrician. David Salz was sent to the right side. His group was then clubbed onto waiting trucks that drove them to the Auschwitz III camp.
Historian Danuta Czech notes in the Auschwitz Chronicles that a transport organized by the RSHA arrived in Auschwitz on March 13. It consisted of 344 Jewish men and 620 Jewish women and children from Berlin. Upon the train’s arrival, the SS carried out a selection process. 218 men, given Nos. 107772-107989, and 147 women, given Nos. 38160-38306, were sent to forced labour under harsh conditions which they rarely survived. The remaining 559 deportees, 126 of them men and 473 women and children, were sent directly to the gas chambers at Birkenau (Auschwitz II) and murdered.
According to historian Rita Meyhoefer 13 of the deportees are known to have survived.