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January 12, 2011

the letter from Dr. Sigmund Rascher to Himmler which proves that a gas chamber was built at Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 7:52 am

Some of the tour guides at Dachau tell visitors today that the gas chamber, located just outside the concentration camp, was used a few times to gas a small number of prisoners, although not for mass gassing.  Some of the guides tell visitors that the gas chamber was used to test combat gases on prisoners in the camp.  This claim is based on a letter that was written by Dr. Sigmund Rascher to Heinrich Himmler, in which Rascher mentioned that “the same installation as in Linz is to be built at Dachau” and that he wanted to use the new installation to test combat gases.  

The full text of the letter, dated August 9, 1942, is as follows:

As you know, the same installation as in Linz is to be built in Dachau. As the ‘invalid transports’ terminate in the special chambers anyway I wondered if it would be possible to test the effects of our combat gases in these chambers using the persons who are destined for those chambers anyway. The only reports which are available so far are for experiments on animals or of accidents in the manufacture of these gases.

The letter was written in German, of course.  The quote above is the English translation of the letter by the Dachau Memorial site when I was there in 1997.  In the original German, the term “special chamber” was written as “bestimmten Kammern.”  Google Translate gives the translation as “specific chamber.”  In any case, the term does not mean “gas chamber.”

Holocaust historians who believe that the gas chamber at Dachau was a real gas chamber, and not a shower, use Dr. Rascher’s letter as proof that there was a real gas chamber built at Dachau.  On my first visit to Dachau in 1997, a copy of this letter was displayed in the undressing room of the Dachau gas chamber, although there was a sign inside the chamber which said in 5 languages that it was never used or never put into operation.

For the benefit of the German readers of this blog, here is the letter in the original German:

Dr. Sigmund Rascher
Togerstr. 56
August 9, 1942

Esteemed Reichsführer!

Wie Sie wissen, wird im KL Dachau dieselbe Einricht[ung] wie in Linz gebaut. Nachdem die “Invalidentransporte” sowieso in bestimmten Kammern enden, frage ich, ob nicht in diesen Kammern an der sowieso dazu bestimmten Personen dieWirkung unserer verschiedenen Kampfgase erprobt werden kann? Bis jetzt liegen nur Tierversuche bezw. Berichte ueber Unfaelle bei Herrstellung dieser Gase vor. Wegen dieses Absatzes schicke ich den Brief als “Geheimsache.”

S. Rascher

On my visit in 1997, I purchased a small handbook about the history of the Dachau camp, written by Barbara Distel, who was then the director of the Museum.

This quote is from the Dachau booklet:

When World War II started, Dr. Sigmund Rascher joined the Luftwaffe (German air force) where he became involved with high altitude research in which animals were being used as experimental subjects. Dr. Rascher wrote to Himmler and asked if he could be provided with “two or three professional criminals” to be used as subjects and Himmler agreed. The experiments were conducted at the Dachau concentration camp where there were German prisoners who were in the category of “professional criminal.”

The booklet did not mention it, but some of the prisoners used in Dr. Rascher’s experiments were, in fact, “professional criminals” or prisoners who had been condemned to death, according to court testimony.

This quote from the Dachau booklet explains the transports to Hartheim Castle which was located in the small town of Alkoven, near the city of Linz, Austria:

Transports of Invalids

Subsequently to the mass murder of the insane, which was referred to as euthanasia, systematic killing of persons who were sick and incapable of work began within the concentration camps. The legal basis was provided by Hitler’s “Euthanasia Proclamation” which stated that the “. . . incurably ill . . could, upon the careful review of the condition of their illness, be granted the mercy of death.”

In the summer of 1941 the camp physician at Dachau was commanded to register those prisoners who were sick or incapable of work. Some weeks later a medical commission from Berlin arrived to pass judgment. It was explained to the sick and disabled that they were to be sent to another camp where the work was lighter and where later they would be set free. The prisoners greeted this news trustingly, awaiting their transfer impatiently. As “Invalid Transports” departed from Dachau in quick succession during the winter of 1941/42, it soon became clear to those remaining that their friends were going to their death.


They were transported in trucks at night. Their destination was Hartheim castle near Linz, which had served as an asylum for the insane before the war; here they were gassed to death. Weeks later the relatives would receive a death notice issued by the registrar’s office of the Dachau concentration camp. Circulatory diseases and heart failure were usually given as the cause of death.

But the prisoners were powerless to stop the transports: 3,016 inmates of Dachau were sent in 1942 to their death at Hartheim castle.

In 1997, the official history of Dachau did not claim that the gas chamber had been used.  This quote is from the booklet by Barbara Distel:

In 1942 a gas chamber was also built in the Dachau concentration camp, but inexplicably, it was never used. It was located within the new crematorium, a larger building whose construction with four ovens became necessary when the first crematorium, which had only one oven, proved inadequate.

For years, the official history of the Holocaust included the claim that the gas chamber at Hartheim Castle had used Zyklon-B.  The gas chamber was not open to visitors, but Fred Leuchter broke into it, on his way back from Poland where he had tested the gas chamber in Crematorium II at Auschwitz.  After Fred claimed that the Hartheim Castle gas chamber was not suitable for the use of Zyklon-B, the official story was changed to say that carbon monoxide had been used.

The prisoners who were sent from Dachau to Hartheim Castle to be killed were terminally ill and most of them probably could not walk.  Were they carried into the gas chamber on stretchers, or were they given a lethal injection?

The gas chamber at Hartheim Castle is quite small, as my photos below illustrate:

Hartheim Castle in Alkoven, Austria

Gas chamber in Hartheim Castle used carbon monoxide

Visitors must walk through the gas chamber on a ramp

Ramp that goes throught the Hartheim gas chamber

Here is another quote from the Dachau handbook, written by Barbara Distel:

The alleged object of the “decompression or high altitude” experiments was to examine the effect of sudden loss of pressure or lack of oxygen experienced by pilots when their planes were destroyed and they had to make parachute jumps at great heights. The air force physician, SS Lieutenant, Dr. Siegmund Rascher, played a key role here. In a letter of May 15, 1942, to Himmler, the question was raised for the first time by Dr. Rascher as to whether professional criminals could be made available for such experimentation, since, in view of the danger of these experiments, no one would willingly make himself available.


Rascher also planned to perform a wider series of experiments on freezing through exposure at the concentration camp in Auschwitz.

As he wrote to Himmler on February 12, 1943:

“For such experimentation Auschwitz is in every way more suitable than Dachau. It is colder there and because of the very size of the grounds, less attention will be attracted … the subjects cry out when they are freezing”.

Nothing more, however came of these experiments.

So it seems that Dr. Rascher wrote more than one letter to Himmler, and more importantly, Himmler did not grant all of Dr. Rascher’s requests.  So how do we know that Himmler gave Dr. Rascher permission to use the chamber at Dachau to test combat gases?

It is highly likely that Himmler told Dr. Rascher to stick to experiments that could help to save downed pilots in the Luftwaffe, and not to mess with dangerous combat gases that he knew nothing about.

Visitors to Dachau today want to get their money’s worth.  They pay for a guided tour of Dachau and they would be very disappointed if they were not told about all of the atrocities allegedly committed by the SS at Dachau.  Most of all, the tourists want to see the gas chamber.  Without a gas chamber, most tourists would just take a trip to Salzburg from Munich instead of taking the Dachau tour.

Here is a typical reaction of a tourist, on a guided tour of Dachau, which you can read in full here:

We walked through the barracks where up to 2,000 men would have slept, through the “jail”, where disgusting “medical trials” were performed on men who disobeyed the guards, and finally we were shown to the perfectly preserved gas chambers. This is a place that I will never forget. The feeling I had walking through this dark place is something that I hope to never experience again, but is something that everyone needs to experience in their lifetime. […] The German people have worked hard to alter their reputations, but when you visit places such as this it is hard to see them and their German ancestors as anything but monsters.


  1. I just read the original letter (photo 43), and I am quite horrified. There are several typos (for instance, “Wie Sie wißen” instead of “Wie Sie wissen”) in this very short letter, and it certainly has not been typed by a secretary, or by a person who has the title of a doctor. However, it has been typed on a German typewriter.

    Comment by Rachel — January 17, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

  2. Oh, I didn’t read it right. So hard to see the letters in that format. The first word is “Hochverehrter” (highly respected or esteemed). Still, very improper word to address to Reichsführer.

    Comment by Gasan — January 16, 2011 @ 9:24 am

  3. Hochverehrter Herr Bundesprasident!

    I agree its a forgery, but only because of the content – I am sure the grammar and spelling is fine.

    Comment by littlegreyrabbit — January 12, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

    • Thanks for reading the greeting for us; I couldn’t quite make it out. I’ve been looking through the biography of Himmler by Padfield, trying to find some mention of the letter, but I haven’t found anything. I don’t think the Museum at Dachau displays the letter anymore. I agree that the content is all wrong. The Germans had already made up their minds not to use combat gas in World War II, and I am sure the gases had already been tested. Besides that, wouldn’t Dr. Rascher have known that Hartheim Castle was not in Linz, but rather in the town of Alkoven? If there was any gassing going on at Hartheim, it would have been top secret and Dr. Rascher would not have known about it. The booklet written by Barbara Distel, which I quoted, does not mention the letter.

      Comment by furtherglory — January 12, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

  4. Thank you for posting this link!
    Oh well, German is a difficult language, isn’t it? First of all, I was not able to find the word “Hochsehrgeehrter” in any German dictionary. Maybe this would shed some light:
    Aussprache: haikei
    Kanji Buchstabe: 拝 , 啓
    Stichwort: Grammatik , Begrüßung
    Übersetzung: Briefkopf wie etwa Hoch (Sehr) geehrter Herr, Hoch (Sehr) geehrte Dame (Frau)

    The Japanese-German dictionary shows that there combination of words “hoch (high) and sehr (very) is not quite possible. The word “Hochsehrgeehrter” is an overstatement which should not be “misunderestimated”.
    Where did I hear that one?
    The concentration camps in Germany were called “KZ” (pronounced Kah-Tset), not “KL” as it written in the letter.
    “Die Invalidentransporte” translates actually as a “transport of disabled persons. “In bestimmte Kammern” means in specific (certain) chambers.
    Further Glory, there is one more sentence in the letter, you have probably forgot to translate.
    “Wegen dieses Absatzes schicke ich den Brief als “Geheimsache.”
    “Because of this paragraph I am sending the letter as “secret case.” Just like that, Hochsehrgeehrter Herr “Rascher”? Which paragraph, in particular, he is referring to? Didn’t Himmler, or administration of concentration camps have some procedures regarding how to send secret letters/documents. Or, they just write at the end of the dispatch: “I have decided to make it a “secret case”. As simple as that!
    You are absolutely right about Hartheim Castle. The installation does not look as a gas chamber at all.
    Rascher also was talking about “combat gases”. That means the gases such as “sarin”, “tabun” or “soman”, not “Zyklon B”. The Germans have tons of those “combat gases” and have never used them in WWII.
    Why “Rascher” would want to test them in “specific chambers” when these agents were developed to be used in the open battlefields. It is my understanding that he was doing experiments with hypothermia and high altitude pressure. Who would allow him even to touch any of that chemical stuff? Did he have enough expertise to conduct such experiments? Oh, I forgot, he was also making invisible cyanide capsules for high-ranking government officials. This guy was multi-talented, or what?
    The letter is definitely a forgery

    Comment by Gasan — January 12, 2011 @ 9:22 pm

  5. Further Glory,
    Do you have a copy of this letter in German or at least how it was printed in the booklet? It would be very interesting to see. What was the German word for “esteemed” used by Rascher? “Sehr Geehrter?”
    It is my understanding, that SS officers did not use words “Herr” or “Sehr Geehter” when talking or writing to each other. The same applies to Himmler. The letters addressed to him should have only “Reichsführer”.
    “In contrast to the Imperial military tradition, promotions in the SS were based on the individual’s commitment, effectiveness and political reliability, not class or education.[8] Consequently the SS officer schools offered a military career option for those of modest social background, which was not usually possible in the Wehrmacht.[8] The relationship between officers and soldiers was also less formal than in the regular armed forces.[8] SS-officers were referred to as Führer (“leader”), not Offiziere, which had class connotations.[8] The military rank prefix Herr (“Sir”) was forbidden, and all ranks were addressed simply by their title (for example, a SS private would address a SS Major general as Brigadeführer, never Herr Brigadeführer).[8] Off duty, junior ranks would address their seniors either asKamerad (“Comrade”) or Parteigenosse (“Party collegue”), depending on if both were members of the Nazi party.
    Elie Wiesel made the similar mistake when he wrote his immortal opus, proving that he had never been around any SS officers.
    Also, the using word “sowieso” (anyway) twice in the same sentence is very un-German, (as well as un-English).
    Rascher’s letter appears to be another forgery.

    Comment by Gasan — January 12, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

    • A copy of the letter can be seen in a photo on this web site:

      Scroll down — the letter is photo #43. It is hard to read the letter but the German word for esteemed looks like Hochsehrgeehter.

      The letter looks authentic, but it does not really say anything about a gas chamber at Hartheim castle. The alleged gas chamber at Hartheim does not look like a gas chamber.

      Comment by furtherglory — January 12, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

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