Born in 1923, Henryk Mania grew up in the small town of Szczecin, in the Northwest of Poland. Mania was arrested by the Gestapo in 1939 and imprisoned in the camp of Fort VII in Poznan, Poland. It is in this camp that he has been selected by the Nazi soldiers, along with other Polish prisoners, to take care of the burial and incineration of the bodies of the prisoners killed by the camp’s guards. Most often, these prisoners were mentally ill Poles whom the Nazi regime wanted to get rid of. This was part of this regime’s euthanasia policy. In 1941, Mania has been designated to be part of the sonderkommando, under the command of Herbert Lange, which was about to begin its activities at the Chelmno camp, in Konin district, in Poland.
The sonderkommandos were special units consisting of Jewish or Polish prisoners. These prisoners were under the orders of Nazi soldiers and forced to work for them. Their task was first to retrieve any valuable object on the prisoners’ dead bodies, such as clothing, jewelry and gold teeth. They then had to bury or burn the corpses. Herbert Lange’s sonderkommando (often called sonderkommando Lange) is known for the extermination of Jews, Polish and mentally ill prisoners from the Chelmno camp, in Poland. This camp was the first to have implemented the extermination of prisoners by gassing. They were locked in trucks specially modified for that purpose and asphyxiated by the exhaust gas.
Eight Polish prisoners worked as part of the sonderkommando Lange at Chelmno under the command of Herbert Lange from October 1941 to February 1942, and then his successor Hans Bothmann until March 1943. At this date, the activities of the Chelmno death camp were suspended. This work gave these prisoners advantages in terms of housing and food.
Mania and the rest of sonderkommando Lange were transferred to the camp of Fort VII then to the Poznan Gestapo transit camp of Zabikowo. Mania was released from a Mathausen sub camp in May 1945. He is the only one of the eight members of the sonderkommando Lange to have been indicted for his role in the extermination of prisoners at Chelmno. Lech Jaskolski, Marian Libelt, Henryk Maliczak, Franciszek Piekarski, Stanislaw Polubinski, Kajetan Skrzypczynski and Stanislaw Szymanski, the seven other members of the sonderkommando Lange are all dead before having been indicted.
Several investigations have been launched against Mania over the years that followed the end of the war. Mania and Maliczak have been interviewed on several occasions in the 1960s on their activities at the Chelmno camp. Mania has even been involved in the tracking and research of mass graves on the Chelmno site in 1995.
On 18 December 1998, the Polish Parliament created the Institute of national remembrance to investigate the crimes committed by Poles during the Second World War and to prosecute the suspects.
The Institute of national remembrance has charged Mania on 14 March 2001, for «cooperation with the Nazis in Chelmno camp where, in cooperation with others, he took part in the genocide of Jewish Poles».