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February 27, 2010

Famous photo of Dachau Gaskammer

Photo of Dachau Gaskammer, April 30, 1945

Gaskammer is the German word for gas chamber. This word was used by the Germans during World War II to mean a room where clothing was deloused with a poison gas called Zyklon-B; the Germans were trying to save lives by killing the lice that spreads typhus.  The doors and the interior of the disinfection chambers have been repainted, but a few of the tour guides at Dachau still tell visitors that these rooms were used to kill people.

The photo above was taken by an American soldier in the Army Signal Corps, named Sidney Blau. The caption which the US Army put on this photo was as follows:

Gas chambers, conveniently located to the crematory, are examined by a soldier of the U.S. Seventh Army. These chambers were used by Nazi guards for killing prisoners of the infamous Dachau concentration camp.

Note that the caption says the gas chambers were used for “killing prisoners” without specifying that they were killing Jews. Note the plural (gas chambers) in the caption on the photo.  There were four identical chambers at the south end of  the Baracke X building, shown below.

South end of Baracke X building at Dachau

Three of the four doors into the rooms where clothing was disinfected

Pretend that you are Sidney Blau and you have been sent to Dachau on April 30, 1945, the day after the camp was liberated, to take photos for the Army Signal Corps. You see four doors with the word “Gaszeit” which means gas time.  Each door has a skull and crossbones with the word Gas.

Outside the Baracke X building, you see clothing hung up on hangers.  On one side of the building, you see huge piles of prison uniforms.

Clothing hung on hangers outside Dachau Gaskammer

Piles of prisoners' clothes near the Baracke X building

What conclusion would you have come to?  Would you have concluded that these rooms were homicidal gas chambers where prisoners were killed?  Would you have thought that it was stupid for the Germans to put a skull and crossbones and the word Gas on the door so that the prisoners would balk at entering the room?  Would you have thought that it was cruel to make the prisoners hang their clothes neatly on a hanger before they were killed?

What about the bars on the ceiling of each Gaskammer?  Would you have thought that they hung the prisoners from the bars to torture them before they were gassed?

Bars on the ceiling of Gaskammer for hanging clothes

If you were Sidney Blau, would you have noticed that there were no floor drains in the four rooms with the word Gaszeit on the door?  When a person dies, all their body fluids are released; the floor would have been covered with filth after each gassing.  Yet, for some reason, the floor drains were outside of each  Gaskammer.

Did they deliberately avoid putting a drain in the Gaskammer so that the poison gas would not get into the sewer system and poison the whole camp?

Was Sidney Blau ordered to take this particular photo or was he just told to take photos?  Did he take a photo of the shower room door after the prisoners told the Americans that the shower room was really a gas chamber?  The door into the shower room, which has never been repainted, would not have been a dramatic shot, like the famous photo at the top of this page.

Door into the shower room in the Baracke X building

The Official Army Report published after the camp was liberated had these words:

“…the new crematorium was completed in May 1944, and the gas chambers, a total of five, were used for the executions and the disposals of the bodies.”

Actually, the new crematorium was completed in May 1943.

The five gas chambers, mentioned in the Official Army Report, included the shower room and the four chambers where the clothing was deloused.  Did anyone stop to think about why there were four identical gas chambers and one that was totally different?

Shower room with one of the six floor drains shown in the center of the photo

The following quote is from the Report of the Atrocities Committed at Dachau Concentration Camp, signed by Col. David Chavez, Jr., JAGD, 7 May 1945 :

“The new building had a gas chamber for executions… the gas chamber was labeled “shower room” over the entrance and was a large room with airtight doors and double glassed lights, sealed and gas proof. The ceiling was studded with dummy shower heads. A small observation peephole, double glassed and hermetically sealed was used to observe the conditions of the victims. There were grates in the floor. Hydrogen cyanide was mixed in the room below, and rose into the gas chamber and out the top vents.”

“… a gas chamber?” What about the four rooms with the word Gas on the door?  “… grates in the floor?”  Were these dummy floor drains, like the “dummy shower heads”?   “… the top vents”?  How come they didn’t mention the vents on the east wall of the shower room?

Vents on east wall of Dachau shower room

Visitors to the Dachau Memorial Site are told that the poison gas was poured onto the floor of the shower room through these vents on the east wall. Zyklon-B gas comes in the form of small pellets about the size of peas.

The delousing chambers had a fancy machine that was used to input gas pellets. Why didn’t they use one of these machines in the shower room?

Device to put gas pellets into delousing rooms at Dachau

If I had been an Army photographer, assigned to take photos at Dachau on April 30, 1945, I would probably have been just as gullible as Sidney Blau. I would have believed the prisoners who came forward and led me to the gas chambers.  After all, the British had been broadcasting information about the Germans gassing the Jews since June 1942.

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