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November 14, 2010

the gas chamber at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 8:03 am

I have visited the Memorial site of the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp twice, once in 1999 and again in 2002.  The first time, I completely missed the ruins of the gas chamber since I did not have a tour guide and there was no sign pointing to it.  On my second visit, a map had been added at the ruins of the crematorium which showed the location of the gas chamber.   On both visits, I saw a sign in the Museum which called Sachsenhausen a “death camp.”  According to the Museum, there were 100,000 deaths at this camp.

Map of the gas chamber route at the crematorium ruins in Sachsenhausen camp

The red line on the photo above shows where the prisoners entered through a former garage, then went into the undressing room which had a door into the gas chamber.  After the prisoners had been gassed, the bodies were removed through a second door in the gas chamber and carried to the cremation ovens.

Gas Chamber with oven ruins in the background

The photo below shows the entrance door to the gas chamber on the right and, in the foreground, the exit door which leads to steps down into the former garage.  The bodies were carried down the steps, through the former garage, to the cremation ovens.

Exit from the gas chamber with steps down to the former garage

The Sachsenhausen gas chamber was disguised as a shower with one floor drain

The Sachsenhausen gas chamber was quite small, only about 7 ft. by 9 ft.  The undressing room was about four times the size of the gas chamber.  In the background of the photo above, you can see the execution spot where prisoners were shot.

The gas chamber at Sachsenhausen was allegedly completed in 1943; the Commandant of Sachsenhausen confessed at his trial that he had built the gas chamber on his own authority.

Commandant Anton Kaindl in the dock at his trial

In 1942, following the Wannsee Conference, the Jews were sent to “death camps” in the East, such as Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor.  Two other death camps in the East were Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek.  So why did the Germans wait until 1943 to build a gas chamber at Sachsenhausen, a camp that was mainly for political prisoners?  In 1943, all the Jews were being sent to the East.  According to the Soviet prosecutors, at the trial of the Sachsenhausen staff, the gas chamber at Sachsenhausen was for the purpose of killing Soviet POWs.

There were two other methods of killing Soviet POWs at Sachsenhausen: shooting them at the execution site and shooting them through a slit in a measuring stick on a wall.  But for some reason, the Commandant of Sachsenhausen took it upon himself to build a gas chamber and an undressing room inside a former garage at the site of the crematorium.

Paul Sakowski demonstrates the Sachsenhausen gas chamber to a Soviet soldier

The photo above is a still shot from a film that was made by the Soviet Union and shown at the trial of the Sachsenhausen SS staff members.  The film is similar to the one taken by the Americans on May 3, 1945 after the liberation of Dachau; it shows how the gas was put into the chamber through pipes behind the wall of the chamber.

SS staff members at Dachau were prosecuted by an American Military Tribunal, but they were not charged with operating a gas chamber at Dachau because the names and nationality of the Dachau gas chamber victims were unknown.

The photo below was included in a book for visitors to the Sachsenhausen Museum.  It shows that the Sachsenhausen gas chamber was disguised as a shower room, just like the gas chamber at Dachau. After World War II ended, Sachsenhausen was in the Soviet zone of occupation, and the gas chamber was destroyed in the 1950s by the Germans.

Note the pipes near the ceiling with shower faucets hanging from the pipes.  The alleged Dachau gas chamber has shower faucets stuck into the ceiling and not connected to any pipes.  The film that the Americans showed at the Nuremberg IMT claimed that Zyklon-B poison gas entered the Dachau gas chamber through pipes that were hidden by a false ceiling. Today, visitors to  Dachau are told that the poison gas “could have been put into the gas chamber” through two windows on the east wall of the chamber.

The Sachsenhausen gas chamber had a glass window, which could have been used to throw the Zyklon-B pellets inside, but the Soviets claimed, in their film, that the Zyklon-B  gas entered the Sachsenhausen gas chamber through the water pipes.  (Instead of changing the gas chamber story, the East Germans just tore down the Sachsenhausen gas chamber.)

The photo above shows the execution spot at Sachsenhausen, which was only a few feet from the gas chamber.  It would have been much easier, and quicker, just to shoot the Soviet POWs, rather than kill them in a gas chamber, not to mention that it would have been less dangerous.

Ruins of cremation oven in the background

The photo above shows a sculpture in honor of the Jews who were killed at Sachsenhausen.  In the background you can see the ruins of one of the ovens in the crematorium.  I’m not sure, but this sculpture may have been moved since I took this photo in 2002.

Here is a quote from a blogger who recently visited Sachsenhausen and took a guided tour; he was told the following about the gas chamber:

At Station Z the prisoners were either gassed or shot in the back of the neck. The gassing was in a room that could fit apparently 25, comparatively small compared to a gas chamber of a extermination camp. They are disrobed and ushered into what looked like a shower room and the prisoners were told they were having a quick shower. At that point the door was shut behind them, and the SS guard had a liquid chemical in a glass bottle called Cyclon B (not sure about the spelling) it was then inserted into a duct that was connected to the gas chamber. The guard then presses the button that releases a metal pin that shatters the glass bottle releasing the chemical from the bottle, in order for Cyclon B to react and make a poisonous gas it had to react to warm air. Some of the big extermination camps believed if they had enough people in a gas chamber the body heat would create enough warm air for the chemical to react. In Sachsenhausen the pumped in warm air to start the reaction. Death would tale about 30-40 minutes, the prisoner would die from suffocation. The room was opened to let the excess gas escape and prisoners would come and clear the bodies and take them to the crematorium which was now based inside Station Z.

This quote is from another blog post from a visitor to Sachsenhausen:

The full weight of my visit is something that I feel more strongly now than when I was there. I keep trying to imagine what mind, what heart could possibly have killed those people in such horrifying and painful ways. It is a rare person with these qualities. Which is why the Nazis changed their methods; too many German SS soldiers were becoming alcoholics and committing suicide because they couldn’t cope with the sheer volume of murders they were expected to carry out. So it was at Sachsenhausen that the Nazis tested and perfected a system of murder that would dehumanize the process and would be used at all other camps; soldiers wouldn’t have to watch prisoners die, making it easier to kill groups of people. The gas chamber fulfilled this requirement. And so did a room at Sachsenhausen; it had double-thick walls and a Nazi soldier stood behind a false wall with a gun to a small hole. Prisoners were led in for a “physical” and when standing against a measuring stick they were shot in the neck.

The measuring stick was only used at those camps which were in the Soviet Zone of occupation after World War II.  There was no measuring stick used to kill prisoners at Dachau.