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December 22, 2011

The Dachau gas chamber re-examined

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 10:23 am

The Inconvenient History blog has a new article entitled Reexamining the “gas chamber” of Dachau. The article, which was written by Thomas Dalton, can be read in full here.  In the article, Dalton points out several things about the Dachau “gas chamber” that I never noticed, but he also missed a couple of things that I saw on several visits to Dachau.

One thing that I noticed in the Dachau “gas chamber” is shown in the photo below, taken by Thomas Dalton, and included in his article.

Photo of the east wall of Dachau "gas chamber" Photo Credit: Thomas Dalton

On the far right in the photo above, you can see the faint outline of what looks like a column that is about one foot wide and extends about six inches from the wall.  I have no idea what is inside this brick column, but it could have something to do with the “compressor” which was mentioned in the Chavez Report.  I had been inside the Dachau gas chamber several times before I noticed the column; unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of it.

Wooden screen on the East wall of the Dachau "gas chamber" Photo taken in May, 1945 Photo Credit: Donald Jackson

On April 30, 1945, the day after the Dachau concentration camp was liberated, the 40th Combat Engineer Regiment, which was supporting the 45th Thunderbird Division, arrived to take over. The photo above shows Eldon Patterson of E Company, 40th Combat Engineers standing in front of Baracke X. The door into the “wooden shed” was blocked by a pile of corpses and it may even have been nailed shut which would have discouraged anyone from looking behind it.

Before the first proceedings of the American Military Tribunal at Dachau began in November 1945, a War Crimes Investigation Team had summarized its findings in the Report of the Atrocities Committed at Dachau Concentration Camp, signed by JAGD Col. David Chavez Jr. on 7 May 1945.

The Chavez Report stated on page 56 that the wooden structure, shown against the east wall of the crematorium in the photo above, was a “Wooden shed believed to contain a pump or compressor.”  The wording of the Report implies that no one went into the “wooden shed” to see if the pump or compressor “believed” to be hidden there was actually there.  

This wooden shed, which was against the exterior eastern wall of the gas chamber, has long since been removed. Today tourists are told that gas pellets were poured into the Dachau gas chamber through two bins on the outside wall. These bins were hidden by the wooden shed when the American liberators arrived. An undated addendum, which mentioned the bins, was added to the Chavez Report at a later date.

In the official story of the Holocaust, it is said that the purpose of the wooden screen was to hide the activity of the SS men as they poured the Zyklon-B pellets into the gas chamber.  Could the “compressor” have been an air compressor that was used to blow hot air inside the gas chamber to heat the pellets?  The Zyklon-B pellets had to be heated, or it would have taken hours for the body heat of the victims to activate the gas. There is a heater on the other side of the room which one tour guide at Dachau tells visitors was used to heat the pellets.

The Chavez Report was entered into the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal as Documents 159L and 2430-PS. On November 29, 1945, a film was shown at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal which included footage of the gas chamber, but the east wall of the homicidal gas chamber where the openings for the bins are located was not shown. Instead, the film showed the shower heads and the “top vents” through which the gas was put into the chamber and then vented outside.

This 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.”

Peephole in the gas chamber is shown on the left

On the left, in the photo above, is the “small observation peephole” with a water pipe in another box below it. The peephole in the gas chamber is not at eye level for a man six feet tall. Note the bricks on the left side of the peephole which do not match the rest of the bricks; the frame around the peephole does not match the frame around the water pipe.

Frame around the peephole does not match frame around the water pipe in Dachau gas chamber

The previous photo above also shows two light fixture boxes on the north wall, just below the ceiling in the gas chamber. These are the “top vents” described in the Army Report. On the ceiling are empty holes from which the “dummy shower heads” were stolen by souvenir hunters. On the far right in the photo is the door into the morgue which is conveniently next to the gas chamber. In the center of the previous photo above is one of the six “grates in the floor.” These “grates” look like floor drains that have been closed up.

One of the "top vents" in the Dachau gas chamber

Thomas Dalton wrote on his blog that the ceiling of the Dachau gas chamber has been lowered.  The photo above shows one of the empty light fixture boxes which still has the wiring inside it.  Note the construction around the vent.  Anyone who has spent in time in Germany or has been around German people would know that this sloppy construction looks un-German.

Light fixture inside Dachau gas chamber

The photo above shows a light fixture box which appears to have been moved to a lower spot on the wall when the ceiling was lowered.  I have often wondered whether the original shower pipes are still on the ceiling of the Dachau gas chamber, but now hidden by a new ceiling that was constructed by the American liberators.

Thomas Dalton wrote this on his blog post:

During my visit I came prepared to do a unique bit of analysis: I brought along a hand-held wall metal detector.13 I cannot claim any astounding new discoveries, but I did a fairly careful scan of all four interior walls and the ceiling. The walls had virtually no metal at all, at least to the scanning depth of three inches. The ceiling, by contrast, showed extensive metal content, almost throughout the entire extent. There was no evident pattern, just a more or less continuous positive reading. This would suggest some kind of heavy wire mesh, perhaps associated with the poured concrete.14 It was not possible to detect the presence or absence of individual pipes in the ceiling.

Here is another quote from Thomas Dalton’s blog post:

And one further oddity: The Zyklon chutes show clear signs of being installed after the original building construction. In close-up views of the chutes, we can see that the concrete mortar is clearly different than that used for the remainder of the wall—finer quality, more viscous, and of different composition.

I never noticed that the concrete mortar between the bricks does not match, as Dalton pointed out.  However, I did notice that the placement of the two bins on the outside wall is some very un-German construction.  Notice in my photo below that the bins and the pipe are not placed the way a German person would have done this construction.

Outside wall of Dachau gas chamber looks suspicious

On my first trip to Dachau in 1997, the wall shown in the photo above was the first thing that I noticed, even before I went inside the building.  My first thought was that this was not part of the original construction.  Baracke X is a beautiful building, except for the eyesore shown above.

I previously blogged about the small hole in the wall of the gas chamber here.

I have compiled a list of descriptions of the Dachau gas chamber written by people who saw the room immediately after the liberation of the camp. Curiously, none of these people noticed the openings on the east wall of the room.

Opening on east wall of Dachau gas chamber for pouring in gas pellets


  1. The descriptions of the people who witnessed the gas chamber at the end of the war sound like story of the eight blind men and the elephant.

    The room is 15/20/30 feet square.

    The construction is reinforced concrete (when it is obviously large formed glazed blocks.

    The ceiling is either ‘low’ or ten feet high.

    The gas comes from the floor/from the ceiling shower heads, tossed in like a brick, or us slid down the chutes on the exterior wall.

    The floor is either a drain or the way the gas is introduced.

    The wall openings are sealed, except that the exterior wall chutes are clearly not sealed at all (exterior light is visible from the inside).

    Eugene Rinkey, from Minneapolis, seems to have heard one or two tenth-hand stories and made up the rest.

    Basically it seems like NO ONE with any engineering capacity whatsoever was allowed near the gas chambers.

    Steve Garcia

    Comment by feet2thefire — February 14, 2012 @ 12:19 am

  2. I am going to correct my last comment. I went and looked at my own photos of the room, and that pilaster-looking thing is in a corner. The corner would have already been braced by the perpendicular wall, so no further bracing would have been necessary. The other corners that I have photos of do not show the same feature – that looks normal to me.

    Rambling design thoughts:

    – Whenever I see something like that in a corner, it is ALWAYS because some duct or piping is running up inside.
    – There is literally no structural reason for it – therefore it has to be for another purpose. Form DOES follow function, as the old saying goes.
    – It is widened for a reason, and that reason is not structural. Therefore it has to be for some supply lines or process fluids (possibly including water) or gases. Its existence tells us nothing about which – gases or liquids.
    – It MIGHT be for wiring, but in that location in the building – as I read the plan which I took a photo of – there seems to be no wiring necessary that needs to go UP or DOWN. Wiring would be routed above or below for horizontal runs of wire.
    – It would not be a flue. A flue would be for gases going up or down (almost always up), and there seems to be no reason for that. *

    Best conclusion? It is for piping.

    A simple examination, if allowed, would answer your questions, but I am certain – like you are – that such an examination is not going to be allowed.

    That feature is not a pilaster. Sorry for the wrong take on that.

    * Does anyone know how the establishment ‘gas chamber’ operation was supposed to work, for clearing the room of the Zyklon B gas before anyone went in to clear the bodies? There needed to be vents that carried the gas up high enough that the wind could carry it away. How about windless days? I would think that Zyklon B is denser than air, which means it would have tended to sink to the ground once it exited a stack, no matter HOW high the stack was. (Prevailing winds?) This would pose a serious danger to the people around, and would have from time to time have killed some people. Nothing in the Dachau pubs seems to mention any accidental deaths. How did it work at Auschwitz or the death camps in the East?

    Steve Garcia

    Comment by feet2thefire — February 13, 2012 @ 11:02 pm

  3. What happened? I typed a comment and then hit and it didn’t go, and I lost my post. I am re-posting here:

    Re your discussion about the ‘column’ on the east wall of the ‘gas chamber’ I have designed industrial brick walls in the past, and that looks for all the world like a pilaster.


    pilaster a rectangular support or pier projecting partially from a wall and treated architecturally as a column, with a base, shaft, and capital

    Pilasters are used to add bracing to long brick walls, similar to buttresses, but pilasters are straight up and down, like columns, just a short stretch (about a foot or half a meter) that is usually about twice or three times as thick as the wall. They are built solid, with no flue or hollow.

    This may not be a pilaster, but that looks like one and it would be my first guess.

    I have to admit that when I was there I paid this no attention.

    Steve Garcia

    Comment by feet2thefire — February 13, 2012 @ 10:32 pm

  4. Didn’t George Stevens arrive with his US Army Signal Corps/OSS psych war team of Hollywood crackerjacks and shoot a movie of it within a week of the the camp’s liberation. Maybe he gussied the shower room up for some “money shots,” like those of the shadowy Nazi figure gassing the feeble minded in Poland that Stewart Schulberg spliced into his propaganda epic “Nuremberg: It’s Lesson for Today.”

    Comment by who+dares+wings — December 24, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

  5. The most vivid memory of my day at Dachau was of a Jewish volunteer tour guide in the records office. He was right out of Central Casting, an aging, self-important, scraggily bearded, round shouldered, needle beaked nebbish who told me I wasn’t welcome to take the tour he was waiting around to conduct for a bus load of American Indians who hadn’t arrived yet. He made me look at everyone of the crappy abstract paintings he’d hung all over the office after I made the mistake of telling him I was an artist by trade. I listened to him go on about himself for twenty minutes. The only tour scheduled that day was the Indian tour and when I asked politely if I might join it he replied, “No.” It was snowing. I left the warmth of office and trudged across a football field sized corner of the camp back to train stop. On my way I grabbed a chunk of asphalt from the driveway leading to the gatehouse. Months later, I gift wrapped it and gave it to an old girlfriend who told me she’d been seriously considering converting to Judaism. She quit speaking to me. I saw those bogus shower heads. They look like something from an outdoor Mexican market.

    Comment by who+dares+wings — December 22, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

    • Did he really use the politically incorrect term “American Indians”? The politically correct term is “Native Americans.” What do you mean “records office”? Do you mean the archives? I made an appointment to get into the archives, but when I arrived at Dachau, I was told that the archives were closed for several days. I have never gone on a guided tour of Dachau. I have always gone on my own, so I could take my time and go at my own pace.

      Comment by furtherglory — December 22, 2011 @ 12:50 pm

      • He used the term “Native American,” natch. I call them Indians. My bad, as they say now. The archives were open, but not fully staffed because it was a weekend. I’d wandered around the camp by myself before entering that building. The fellow I described was boasting about his art and his tours. It was obvious his volunteer tour guide status meant a lot to him and that he derived some pleasure from letting me know that I was not privileged to take his tour that day. There’s something about self-important people like him that I don’t like. If there had been a gassing program at Dachau and I was in charge of it he’d be someone I’d select first. He looked like a cat toy.

        Comment by who+dares+wings — December 23, 2011 @ 11:53 am

      • FG
        I don’t want to get into the debate of the alterations that were done to the Crematorium as I saw it last in and around June 1956 in it’s “original” state. At that time the only thing that was new , was Kurt Lange”s monument which very much reflects his facial features. It was his mates and that type of ilk that did illegal “work” there to the consternation of the local council, to show the world what the Nazis had done to them. They are most likely all dead now and would be difficult to trace. Whatever they had commenced with, was continued to what I understand was done by the International Committee and local inmates. As far as the Bavarian State Govt. was concerned they wanted to tear most of it down and were opposed to a memorial site as it is today.
        At that time the KZ Barracks had been used by refugees mainly from the Sudetenland. You have mentioned previously that they had been thrown out, which had housed a few thousand people. This is not quite correct. As refugees under German Law they were entitled to a Govt, Grant provided it was used with a Building Society and sponsored by the council which provided the sites at Dachau-Ost. All received new dwellings, although there was only cold water provided in the Apartments, all appliances were pre-war surplus and very primitive. I too lived there for a few months.

        Comment by Herbert Stolpmann — December 23, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

        • If you follow the link to the descriptions of the gas chamber, you will read at the bottom of the page about Nerin E. Gun, a former prisoner at Dachau, who wrote a book entitled “The Day of the Americans.” In the book, he wrote that he visited the Dachau camp in 1959 but he did not mention the bins on the outside wall of the gas chamber. In his book, he wrote that a “Zyklon bomb was thrown on the floor” of the fake shower room to gas the prisoners. Of course, he could have meant that the “Zyklon bomb” was thrown through the bins. Maybe the grates over the little windows inside the gas chamber were not there in 1959. However, I interpreted his statement to mean that the bins were not there. I believe that the reconstruction of the gas chamber was done as late as 1960. Gun’s book was published in 1966.

          Comment by furtherglory — December 24, 2011 @ 6:01 am

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