Large, rusted metal key recovered from Chelmno killing center
overall: Height: 1.375 inches (3.493 cm) | Width: 0.375 inches (0.953 cm) | Depth: 4.125 inches (10.477 cm)
The key was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1989 by the Muzeum Okręgowe w Koninie.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Muzeum Okręgowe w Koninie
Metal skeleton key, likely recovered from a temporary pit furnace at Chelmno killing center in German-occupied Poland, during an archaeological excavation in 1986 and 1987. Killing operations at Chelmno commenced on December 8, 1941. Prisoners were taken to a camp at a manor house (Schlosslager) in the village to undress and relinquish their valuables. They were then loaded into a gas van where they were killed. The van was then driven 2.5 miles northwest of the village to a camp in the Rzuchowski forest (Waldlager), where the bodies were dumped into mass graves. The large number of corpses created a threat of disease and discovery by Allied forces, so the bodies were exhumed and burned in seven primitive pit furnaces. In the fall of 1942, the furnaces were replaced with two open-air crematoria consisting of concrete foundations topped by a grate of train rails. In March 1943, transports to Chelmno stopped, and the manor house and open-air crematoria in the forest were demolished. Deportations to Chelmno resumed from June to July 1944, to facilitate the liquidation of the Łódź ghetto. In this second phase, the entire killing process was carried out in the forest camp (Waldlager), necessitating the construction of new buildings. The Germans abandoned the camp on January 17, 1945, having killed over 172,000 people. The excavations of 1986-87, and later work have identified additional furnaces, crematoria, and mass graves at the site.
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Corroded, iron skeleton key. The key has a circular wire bow, and a band at the top of the cylindrical shank, which has a pinhole at the end. At the end of the shank is a single, rectangular tooth that protrudes from the shank at an angle, and then bends sharply into a backwards C-shape. The entire key is covered with a heavy orange-brown corrosion that covers the entire original surface.