You can stop blaming Hitler for ordering the gassing of the Jews at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of all the “extermination” camps; it was actually Heinrich Himmler, the number 2 man in Nazi Germany, who gave the order to convert the “corpse cellars” in two of the crematoria at Birkenau into gas chambers.
This morning I read a news article which shows a photo of a blueprint that is being shown in an exhibit in Dublin, Ireland until December 17th. I have just added a similar photo to the blog post that I did yesterday; I am showing this photo again, so you will understand what I am writing about today.
Here is a quote from the news article about the blueprint of Krema II at Birkenau:
The illustration shows an early blueprint of crematorium II, dated November 1941, showing two elevations and the basement. Designed to be built in Auschwitz, this incineration installation with 15 ovens and a daily capacity of 1,440 corpses was to accommodate the normal mortality of the Auschwitz complex. When in July 1942 Himmler took the decision to transform the Auschwitz complex into an extermination camp, the SS decided to build in Birkenau two of these crematoria (numbered II and III) and to transform the spaces that were intended as morgues or corpse cellars (indicated in the basement plan as L(eichen)-Keller, into an undressing room and a gas chamber. In addition, the SS built also two smaller crematoria equipped with gas chambers (number IV and V).
So what was going on in July 1942 that made Himmler decide to change the blueprint plans for the “corpse cellars” into gas chambers? On July 3, 1942, a typhus epidemic was out of control at the Birkenau camp and Himmler gave an order that everything possible should be done to stop the epidemic. In 1942, there were no crematory ovens at Birkenau. The only ovens were at the main camp, which was about two miles from Birkenau. At the Auschwitz main camp, there were three ovens, which could burn 340 bodies in a 24-hour period.
The bodies of the victims of the 1942 typhus epidemic were buried in mass graves at Birkenau; the bodies were later dug up and burned. Commandant Hoess wrote in his autobiography that “The number of corpses in the mass graves amounted to 107,000.”
Otto Moll, the SS man who was in charge of digging the mass graves at Birkenau in 1942, disputed Hoess’ version of the story; on April 16, 1946, Moll told an interrogator at Nuremberg:
“When I was in charge of these excavations, as I told you about before, together with another comrade, which was confirmed by Hoess today, we put between 30,000 and 40,000 people in these mass graves. It was the most terrible work that could be carried out by any human being.”
Was Himmler out of his mind? Just at the time that thousands of Jews were dying of typhus, faster than the bodies could be burned, Himmler ordered the corpse cellars, that had been planned for two new crematoria, to be changed to undressing rooms and gas chambers! Where was he planning to put all the bodies that were piling up? Why didn’t Himmler just let the typhus epidemic kill all the Jews at Birkenau, instead of trying to stop the epidemic?
By 1943, the first typhus epidemic at Birkenau was over and the construction of the Krema II and Krema III crematoria had been completed. In 1943, another typhus epidemic broke out at Birkeanau. So now the ovens in Krema II and Krema III had to be used to burn the bodies of the Jews who were gassed, as well as the prisoners who were dying of typhus. There were 15 ovens, but with that many people dying, where did they put the bodies that were waiting to be burned?
What else was going on in Himmler’s world in 1942 that caused him to make the stupid mistake of eliminating the corpse cellars? In July 1942, just when the typhus epidemic at Birkenau was out of control, trains were transporting Jews to Treblinka to be gassed. Himmler was also in charge of the gassing of the Jews at Treblinka, so he had a lot on his mind.
Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942, said this in the confession that he made after he was tortured by the British. My comments are in brackets like this [...]
I was ordered to see Himmler in Berlin in June 1941 and he told me, approximately, the following:
The Führer ordered the solution of the Jewish question in Europe. [Actually, Hermann Göring ordered Reinhard Heydrich to hold a conference at Wannsee on January 20, 1942 to plan "the final solution of the Jewish question."] A few so called Vernichtungslager [extermination camps] are existing in the General Government [occupied Poland]:
Belzec near Rawa Ruska Ost Polen [not in operation until March 1942]
Treblinka near Malkinia on the River Bug [not in operation until July 1942]
Wolzek near Lublin [no camp with that name ever existed]
The Buna Works [the Auschwitz III camp at Monowitz which was not opened until 1942]
These camps come under the Einsatzkommando of the Sicherheitspolizei under the leadership of high SIPO officers and guard companies. These camps were not very efficient and could not be enlarged. I visited the camp Treblinka in spring 1942 to inform myself about the conditions. [The Treblinka camp was not in operation until July 1942.] The following method was used in the process of extermination. Small chambers were used equipped with pipes to induce the exhaust gas from car engines.
This method was unreliable as the engines, coming from old captured transport vehicles and tanks, very often failed to work. Because of that, the intakes could not be dealt with according to the plan, which [was] meant to clear the Warsaw Ghetto.
Why did Hoess make so many mistakes in his confession? Did he have brain damage from the all the beatings that he suffered at the hands of the British? Did Himmler have so much on his mind that he couldn’t think straight and he made the huge mistake of eliminating the corpse cellars at Birkenau?
You can read the news article about the exhibit in Dublin here.