Scrapbookpages Blog

May 2, 2010

Who were the Nazi gas chamber engineers?

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 10:53 am

The Germans are noted for having the best engineers in the world.  The products that they designed are usually named after the engineer, for example, the Porsche car which is named after Herr Ferdinand Porsche.  But who were the engineers who designed the gas chambers that killed millions of Jews in the Holocaust?  And why weren’t the various designs of these homicidal gas chambers named after them?

I started thinking about this today when I got an e-mail from someone who directed me to an article by Nele Abels on this page of the Nizkor web site. The article describes the design of the Mauthausen gas chamber in great detail.

The gas chamber in the Mauthausen camp

Here is a quote about the Mauthausen gas chamber from the article on the Nizkor web site:

In fall 1941 a gassing chamber was built in the main camp Mauthausen.  This was a room in the basement of the sick bay, without windows, 3.80 m. long and 3.5m. wide, which was disguised as a shower-bath.  It was tiled, equipped with a ventilation device and air-tight doors.  All switches for the electrical illumination, for the ventilation, for the water and for the heating were outside the gassing chamber. The tube was installed parallel to the wall in the gassing chamber and had an estimately (sic) 1 m. long slit on the wall side.

When the camp was freed in May 1945 the American troops got hold of the device which was used to introduce the gas into the gassing chamber.  A photograph of this device can be found in the National Archives in Washington.  The main part of the device is a sturdy metal box which measures roughly  75 x 40 cm. The removable insulated lid of the metal box can be shut airtight with heavy wing bolts.  Inside the box several open cans of Zyklon B can be stored safely as well as a hot brick used for accelerating the evaporation of the prussic acid. To both sides of the box valves are welded.  On one side an electric ventilator can be attached, on the other side a hose leading to the enamel tube described above.

Wow!   This is truly an example of German engineering!  The Mauthausen gas chamber used a hot brick to accelerate the evaporation of the prussic acid in the Zyklon-B pellets which were used to gas the prisoners. Some of the Nazi gas chambers lacked a way to heat the Zyklon-B pellets, meaning that the gassing procedure would have taken a long time and would have resulted in psychological torture of the victims.  The beauty of the Mauthausen design was that the gassing apparatus was in a separate room behind a wall of a fully functioning shower room.  The gas chamber room could be used for both showering and killing.

The gassing apparatus was in a small room next to the Mauthausen gas chamber

The gassing apparatus was in a small room next to the Mauthausen gas chamber

The photo above shows the door on the south wall into the Mauthausen gas chamber on the left and the small gassing apparatus room next to it on the right. There is a wide doorway into the gassing apparatus room which has no door. Note the tile on the walls of the apparatus room which is the same kind of tile that is on the wall of the gas chamber.

Zyklon-B pellets shown in the Mauthausen Museum

Pipes on wall of gas chamber with vent hole on the left

The photo above shows a view of the north wall of the Mauthausen gas chamber. The photo shows what appears to be heating or cooling pipes and what looks like a vent hole in the ceiling in the northwest corner of the room. The gas chamber is underground and above it is the open space between the hospital building and the bunker.

I was shocked to learn that there is a photo of the Mauthausen gassing apparatus in the National Archives in Washington, DC.  It would be worth a trip to Washington just to see that photo.  I wonder where the iron box that held the brick is now.  As far as I know, it was not shown in the courtroom at Nuremberg,  nor at Dachau, when staff members of the Mauthausen camp were prosecuted by an American Military Tribunal in 1946.  You can read about the trial of the Mauthausen SS men on this page of my website:

When I visited the Mauthausen Memorial site in May 2003, I saw a sign in the gas chamber which said that the gassing apparatus had been removed on April 29, 1945, which was a few days before the American liberators arrived.  Did the stupid Nazis actually remove the evidence and then leave a photo of the gassing apparatus behind?

Sign in Mauthausen gas chamber describes gassing device

In April 1989, there was a different sign in the Mauthausen gas chamber with slightly different wording.

The English version of the sign in 1989 was as follows:

The gas chamber was camouflaged as a bathroom by sham showers and waterpipes. Cyclone B gas was sucked in and exchanged through a shaft (situated in the corner on the right) from the operating room into the gas chamber. The gas-conduit was removed shortly before liberation on April 4th, 1945.

Note that, in 1989, the date given for the removal of the gassing apparatus was April 4, 1945. In May 2003, the sign in the gas chamber gave the date of removal as April 29, 1945.  I don’t know when the photo, that is in the National Archives, was taken.

You can read about the trial of the Mauthausen SS men in 1946, on my website at

The Nizkor web site includes information about the trial of Martin Roth, one the Mauthausen SS men in a later court proceeding.

This quote, about the trial of Martin Roth, is from the Nizkor web site:

In the sixties a trial before the district court Hagen/Westphalia took place against the former SS-Huaupscharfuehrer Martin Roth.  Since Roth was Kommandofuehrer of the crematorium from the beginning of May 1940 till the liberation of the camp, the functioning of the gassing device was discussed extensively in the trial and documented verdict:

When a gassing was to be carried through [….] Roth ordered one of the inmates under his command in the Krematoriumskommando — in most cases the witness Kanduth — to heat up a brick in the oven of the crematorium. Roth carried the hot brick with a shovel into the gassing cell and put it there into the gassing device.  This consisted of an iron box with a removable lid, which could be sealed airtight with wing bolts and insulation.  The hot brick put inside served the purpose to accelerate the evaporation of the poisonous gas by the rising heat.  The gas was introduced later and was bound to bits of paper.

In the meantime the victims [….] were led to the changing room of the gassing facility where they had to remove their clothes.

After that they had to step into the next room where several SS-ranks stood, wearing white doctors’ coats.  […] They put a wooden spatula into the mouth of the victims to see whether there were any golden teeth.  If this was the case, the inmate was marked with a colour cross on the breast or on the back.  Then the victims […] were led into the gassing chamber which was tiles and equipped with showers. […]

Roughly 15 minutes after the gas had been introduced into the gassing chamber, the defendant Roth convinced himself by looking through the peep-hole of the door that no victim in the gassing chamber was stirring any longer, and then switched on the ventilator […] which sucked the gas out of the gassing chamber through a chimney.  […] After that Roth carefully opened both doors of the gassing chamber, into which he first carefully held a specially prepared slip of paper to check whether the room was free of gas.  Then he ordered the inmates under his command to carry the corpses into the cold store of the crematorium.  […]

Door into Mauthausen gas chamber

The photo above shows a short hallway with a door into the Mauthausen gas chamber.  On the right, one can see the water pipes entering the room.  Note the electrical wiring and a light switch on the left.  The door has a peep hole so that the gas chamber operator could check to see when all the prisoners were dead.

South wall of the gas chamber is on the right

A close-up of the wall where four tiles have been removed

A close-up of the wall where four tiles have been removed

The first photo above shows the south wall of the gas chamber on the right side.  This is where the sign, in six languages, about the gas chamber operation is located.  Just below the sign, four of the ceramic tiles have been removed, possibly to test them for Zyklon-B residue.

The gassing device, which has been removed, was located in a “separate room” behind the south wall.  All the tiles have been replaced after the removal of the device and no evidence can be seen today.

Sign in Museum shows confession of Franz Ziereis

Before he died, after being shot “while attempting to escape,” Commandant Franz Ziereis confessed to the gassing of prisoners at Mauthausen.

The photo below shows the chimney for the crematorium ovens; the gas chamber was located underground to the left of the chimney. The green building on the right is the bunker, which was the camp prison. Across the street, in the foreground, is the gate into the Quarantine camp where incoming prisoners were held for a couple of weeks in an attempt to prevent the typhus epidemics which devastated all the concentration camps. There was no chimney to vent the gas from the gas chamber, as described in the court testimony.

Chimney for the cremation ovens at Mauthausen

There is a wealth of eye-witness testimony about the Mauthausen gas chamber, which I have collected and put on this page of my scrapbookpages web site, and on this page where Martin Roth and Kanduth, a Kapo at Mauthausen, are mentioned.