Franz Schalling - Chelmno, gas van

Language of Description
Alt. Identifiers
  • 1996.166
  • RG-60.5034
1 Jan 1978 - 31 Dec 1981, 1 Jan 1985 - 31 Dec 1985
Level of Description
  • German
EHRI Partner


Biographical History

Claude Lanzmann was born in Paris to a Jewish family that immigrated to France from Eastern Europe. He attended the Lycée Blaise-Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand. His family went into hiding during World War II. He joined the French resistance at the age of 18 and fought in the Auvergne. Lanzmann opposed the French war in Algeria and signed a 1960 antiwar petition. From 1952 to 1959 he lived with Simone de Beauvoir. In 1963 he married French actress Judith Magre. Later, he married Angelika Schrobsdorff, a German-Jewish writer, and then Dominique Petithory in 1995. He is the father of Angélique Lanzmann, born in 1950, and Félix Lanzmann (1993-2017). Lanzmann's most renowned work, Shoah, is widely regarded as the seminal film on the subject of the Holocaust. He began interviewing survivors, historians, witnesses, and perpetrators in 1973 and finished editing the film in 1985. In 2009, Lanzmann published his memoirs under the title "Le lièvre de Patagonie" (The Patagonian Hare). He was chief editor of the journal "Les Temps Modernes," which was founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, until his death on July 5, 2018.

From 1974 to 1984, Corinna Coulmas was the assistant director to Claude Lanzmann for his film "Shoah." She was born in Hamburg in 1948. She studied theology, philosophy, and sociology at the Sorbonne and Hebrew language and Jewish culture at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and INALCO in Paris. She now lives in France and publishes about the Five Senses.

Scope and Content

A hidden camera interview with a member of Ordnungspolizei in Chelmno. Franz Schalling describes the process of execution by gas vans at Chelmno. FILM ID 3355 -- Camera Rolls #1-3 -- 01:00:00 to 01:29:05 CR 1 The image is black and white and not very clear, and also somewhat tilted. Schalling sits at a table in front of a window and Lanzmann sits on a couch next to him, with his female interpreter/assistant next to him. Schalling tells of how he came to be in Chelmno. He was part of the Schutzpolizei stationed in Litzmannstadt (Łódź) and had no idea what Chelmno was when he got there. He asked the SS at the camp what Chelmno was and they told him that he would soon find out. Schalling says that Chelmno was a small farming village and that he arrived in the winter of 1941/1942. He was assigned to a small house that served as a guardroom near the castle; he and his fellow policemen patrolled the fenced area around the castle (Schlosskommando). He mentions that the younger policemen were placed in the forest patrols (Waldkommando). He himself was part of these patrols once or twice. Lanzmann asks him to describe what he saw, and Schalling says that he was able to see what went on, because he guarded the gate. He tells of the Jews arriving on trucks, freezing, hungry, and dirty. He doesn't know if they were afraid, but it was clear that they didn't trust anyone after the experience of the ghetto. He heard the SS speak to the Jews, telling them that they would be put to work but that they would need to bathe before coming into the camp. Schalling begins talking about five Polish criminals who came to the camp. Audio cuts out last few seconds. 01:09:55 CR2 Schalling continues talking about the five Polish criminals. These men were told that they would be given German citizenship after the war was over and for this reason they worked for the Germans forcing the Jews into the gas vans. Schalling describes the castle or manor house (Schloss) and how the Jews were processed. They had to undress and surrender their valuables to a Polish worker. They undressed in the top part of the castle, and then went downstairs to the basement where a ramp led to the gas vans. Lanzmann's intrepreter gets up and goes to sit on the other side of Lanzmann. The doorbell rings and another woman, who we learn later in the interview is Schalling's friend, Mrs. Brand, gets off the couch to go answer it. Lanzmann asks Schalling to draw a diagram of the basement, ramp and gas vans. Sound cuts out 01:14:46. Audio resumes but picture cuts out from 01:14:55 to 01:17:30 [transcript pages are also missing]. Schalling describes the gas vans. They only used exhaust from the engines to kill. A Pole would shout "Gas" and the driver would crawl under the van and hook up the exhaust pipe to the van. The drivers were SS. Lanzmann asks whether the trucks made a loud noise. They would drive the vans out into the woods. He's not sure how long it took for the Jews to die. Picture resumes at 01:17:26 with a slate that reads 40 B (CR 3?). The camera is now focused more tightly on Schalling. Lanzmann asks how long it took the people to die and Schalling says it could have been five, ten, or fifteen minutes. Lanzmann says that Schalling has said he still sees pictures of Chelmno before his eyes. Lanzmann, with the help of his interpreter, asks Schalling to describe these images. He begins to describe old people and children, arriving half-dead from the journey. They sometimes rode in open trucks in winter, without anything to eat. Lanzmann questions Schalling's story about being sworn to secrecy about what he saw (which appears in final film), because the Poles Lanzmann interviewed said they knew what was going on. Schalling says that Polish women cleaned their accommodations and they saw everything and they were afraid. Mrs. Brand offers the group coffee. No image or sound from 01:20:40. Slate reading Alephe Holocauste Bob 41. Video appears at 01:21:00 (CR 4?). Sound resumes at 01:21:10. Schalling says that he spoke about the extermination with an SS man who gave him a ride to Łódź. The SS man said that they had been ordered from above to kill the Jews. He describes this man, whose name he does not remember, as very humane, and goes on to discuss other men at the camp. Lanzmann asks him about the Jews in the forced labor details and Schalling says that he sometimes had to guard them as they sorted the valuables of those who had been killed. The Jews from the Sonderkommando slept in the basement and Schalling claims that he sometimes threw food down for them to eat because they received so little to eat. Schalling agrees with Lanzmann when he says that he has heard that the work of the Jews in the forest (Waldkommando) was awful. They were chained together so that they couldn't run away. Schalling mentions one man (Mordechai Podchlebnik) who escaped Chelmno and Lanzmann informs him that Podchlebnik is still alive. Schalling says that he got in trouble with his superior officer, Hoefing (? Alois Haefele?), because he chastised a colleague for beating Jews. Sound drops out at the end of the tape. FILM ID 3356 -- Camera Rolls #5-7 -- 02:00:00 to 02:18:22 CR5 Lanzmann asks Schalling why he has never spoken to his son about Chelmno. Schalling says that his son does not understand why he didn't fight against Nazism and that he would would have despised him if he knew about Chelmno. They also discuss why he never spoke to anyone, including his wife, about Chelmno. She would have called him a murderer, even though he isn't a murderer. He says that if Hoefing (?) had sent him before the police court, as he threatened to do, it would not have been as bad as being in Chelmno. He says that he can speak to Frau Brand about it, and she says that they have known each other for a long time. Lanzmann asks him if he dreams about Chelmno. He says no, but he does dream about his time as a prisoner of the Soviets. Lanzmann returns to the subject of the Jews forced to work in the forest unloading the bodies from the gas vans. Schalling witnessed this a couple times. Once he was given a message to give to Lenz and rode his bicycle to the forest to deliver it. He describes the camp and the mass graves. He also saw when they had to dig up the graves and burn the bodies. The fire burned throughout the night. It was extremely cold so he kept warm by the fire of burning corpses. Schalling says that the stench was terrible, spread over everything and lasted day and night. When the Jews from the forest commando were done with their work for the day they rode back to the manor house (Schloss) in the gas vans. The stench was terrible and it reached to surrounding towns. The fires turned the heavens red above the graves. Lanzmann says that he has read that it was so cold that the Jews of the forest commando sometimes climbed into the gas vans to get some warmth from the corpses. Schalling never spoke with the Jews assigned to the Waldkommando, only to those stationed in the castle. Lanzmann asks him whether he knows that only two Jews suvived Chelmno. Schalling asks Lanzmann whether it is true that the prisoners killed Lenz with a knife. He heard this first at his trial in Bonn after the war. Lanzmann asks him if he understands why the Jews never really fought back. He didn't at the time, but after being taken prisoner by the Russians he did. He understood that there wasn't really anything they could do. He says again that he tried to help the Jews by giving them something to eat. There is no video or audio for transcript pages 25-42. 02:11:17 CR6 Lanzmann asks if the SS and others would get drunk. Schalling doesn't know, but those stationed in the forest certainly did. Lanzmann also asks about the situation with women, particularly the rumored orgy organized by Bothmann. Schalling denies knowledge of this but says that his superior Hoefing (?) was quite friendly with Sister Lillia from the hospital. Lanzmann asks about a few more people, whom Schalling doesn't know. Schalling recounts his time spent in a hospital, when he wasn't allowed to leave for Christmas. Lanzmann thanks Schalling for his time and expresses his hope that it wasn't too distressing for Schalling. Schalling says that it is all coming up again and mentions the film Holocaust. Audio cuts out 02:16:00, picture also cuts out at 02:18:22.


  • Staff-curated clips include: Clip 1, Film ID 3355, 01:00:15 - 01:14:38 Clip 2, Film ID 3356, 02:00:19 - 02:11:14

  • Franz Schalling is in SHOAH (1985). The parts of his interview in the final release are not available at USHMM. Claude Lanzmann spent twelve years locating survivors, perpetrators, and eyewitnesses for his nine and a half hour film Shoah released in 1985. Without archival footage, Shoah weaves together extraordinary testimonies to render the step-by-step machinery of the destruction of European Jewry. Critics have called it "a masterpiece" and a "monument against forgetting." The Claude Lanzmann SHOAH Collection consists of roughly 185 hours of interview outtakes and 35 hours of location filming.

  • There is no video or audio for transcript pages 25-42.




This description is derived directly from structured data provided to EHRI by a partner institution. This collection holding institution considers this description as an accurate reflection of the archival holdings to which it refers at the moment of data transfer.