Scrapbookpages Blog

August 25, 2013

Did the Nazis actually steam Jews to death in a Sauna?

Filed under: Health, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 9:16 am
The Central Sauna at Auschwitz-Birkenau

The Central Sauna at Auschwitz-Birkenau

The large brick building at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, which was called “die zentrale Sauna,” is shown in the photo above.   I previously blogged about the Sauna at

For 60 years, the Central Sauna building was not open to tourists. During that time, visitors to Auschwitz could only speculate about what the Auschwitz Sauna looked like.  I imagined that the Auschwitz prisoners had the luxury of taking steam baths.  After all, the prisoners were playing soccer and attending concerts.  Would it have been so unusual for the Nazis to provide steam baths for the soccer players after a game?

The online Free Dictionary gives this definition for the word “sauna”:

A Finnish steam bath in which the steam is produced by pouring water over heated rocks.
A bathhouse or room for taking such a steam bath.

I imagined that the Auschwitz-Birkenau Sauna building had individual steam baths for the prisoners.  In the old days, a health resort typically had a canvas box, in which a person would sit inside, with their head sticking out of a hole in the top.  In the 1940s, in America, a “sauna” looked something like the modern sauna box in the photo below.  I have actually taken a steam bath inside a canvas box, with my head sticking out.  I have also had a “mud bath” but I don’t think the Nazis provided mud baths for the prisoners.

An individual sauna box for a steam bath

An individual sauna box for a steam bath

Yesterday, I read an article, in the online Guardian newspaper, about the Ovitz family of dwarves, who were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944.

Members of the Ovitz family of dwarves who were sent to Auschwitz

Members of the Ovitz family of dwarves who were sent to Auschwitz

According to this article, the dwarves had a close call when they mistakenly thought that they had been sent to the gas chamber:

What actually happened was that the Ovitzs and their neighbours were taken to the camp sauna for disinfection, where the water poured over heated stones produced much steam and fumes, as well as temperatures intense enough to cause someone to faint. The sauna had a particularly traumatic effect on both small children and fragile dwarves that might easily have created the impression of being gassed.

So it turns out that the Ovitz family of dwarves, and their neighbors who were falsely claiming to be related to them, were actually sent into a steam room, which they mistakenly thought was a gas chamber.

In October 2005, I had a chance to see the inside of the Sauna building at Auschwitz-Birkenau. There were no steam rooms inside the Sauna building.  The building was called a Sauna because it had iron boxes in which the prisoners’ clothes were steamed to kill the lice that spreads typhus.  These boxes looked something like the individual saunas used at health resorts at a time when rich people would routinely go to a spa town to “take the waters.”

The photo below shows a box for steaming clothes, inside the Central Sauna at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

A steam chamber for disinfecting the clothing of prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau

A steam chamber for disinfecting the clothing of prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau

This quote from the Guardian explains the gassing operation at Auschwitz-Birkenau:

Though we had five first-hand eyewitness accounts [of the gas chamber, given by 5 dwarves], we wanted to verify the story. The only way to do so was to study the procedures and manuals of operating a gas chamber. These were designed to kill between 500 and 2,000 people at once, depending on the size of the hall. Cyclone B was effective only at a room temperature of 27C, which was achieved by cramping a mass of people together. Gas chambers were simply not operated for merely 22 people; small groups were shot.

Furthermore, according to the camp’s rigid safety orders, SS personnel had to wear gas masks when operating Cyclone B. Although the victims died within 15 minutes, the SS men routinely waited half an hour before turning on the powerful fans that dispersed the gas from the chamber. Only then were the doors opened. The operators themselves did not enter; instead, Jewish inmates from the Sonderkommando were sent in to drag out the bodies for cremation. Once the extermination process had begun, it could not be halted, because by then it would have been impossible to open the doors.

What actually happened was that the Ovitzs and their neighbours were taken to the camp sauna for disinfection ……

Every Holocaust survivor has to have a story about how they were saved from the gas chamber.  Even the 22 members of the Ovitz family, which included their fake relatives, had to make up a story about why they were not gassed.

Dr. Josef Mengele was over-joyed to have this family available for his research into hereditary conditions; he would never have allowed them to be gassed, but still the dwarves had to make up a lie.

This quote from the Guardian article, and the links provided by the Guardian, explains the Nazi policy:

When the Nazis came to power, the Ovitzs were doubly doomed: under the Aktion T-4 euthanasia programme, the Germans set out to kill people who were physically or mentally disabled, whose lives were considered “unworthy of living”, “a burden on society”; and, as Jews, the Ovitzs were the target of the Final Solution.

On 19 May 1944, they were brought to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp because they were Jews. But, by a twist of fate, their disability played for them. It was rare that one person from an entire family survived the camp, let alone two, but all 12 members of the Ovitz family – the youngest a baby boy just 18 months old, the oldest his 58-year-old dwarf aunt – emerged alive.

I have to give the Guardian credit for exposing the lies told by Holocaust survivors.  This quote is from the Guardian:

In her autobiography, Auschwitz: True Tales From A Grotesque Land, Sarah Nomberg-Przytyk describes in appalling detail the horrible death of two members of the Ovitz group, one of them an 18-month-old baby boy who died as a result of one of Mengele’s experiments: “Around him, like pillars of stone, stood a large woman, along with the child’s mother, slim and frail; the three midgets sat in miniature chairs.” In the evening, the dead toddler was placed outside the block with the other corpses to be taken to the crematorium. Nomberg-Przytyk also recounts the death of Avram Ovitz, the leader of the group: “The old midget wanted his wife” and tried to slip through the barbed wire; a guard spotted him and, when Avram got close enough, shot him. “He never made it to his wife.”

But the little boy and his uncle Avram were not killed, and lived to see liberation day. What, then, caused Nomberg-Przytyk to make such grave mistakes? Most likely she was compressing a number of events, and attributed to the dwarves two common occurrences in the daily life of the camp: the death of a child in his mother’s arms and the shooting of an inmate who approached the electrified fence.

And there were others, such as Renee Firestone, who described the death of the Ovitz dwarves: “The Germans found a community of midgets, transported them to Auschwitz, shot them en masse and then were forced to let them sit in a pile for three days until the crematoria could take them.”

One plausible explanation for the discrepancy between fact and remembrance is that the survivors, who regarded their own deliverance as miraculous, found the chances slim that someone as helpless as a dwarf could escape death. The fact that the Ovitzs were transferred several times from one side of the camp to the other caused their fellow inmates to lose touch with them, and in Auschwitz, when you stopped seeing someone, it could mean only one thing.

The seven dwarves, as well as their entourage, all survived the war, and emigrated to Israel in May 1949.

The first story about the Treblinka camp, told by the Soviets who came across the remains of the camp, was that the prisoners were steamed to death in steam chambers.  You read about it at


  1. The stories just increase in frequency and absurdity. Here the Sunday Times headlines a seven year old who used to rescue Jews and guide them on an eight hour journey across the Alps with no sign posts… for a Holywood film soon ?? Could be similar to the Sound of Music.

    Comment by peter — August 26, 2013 @ 10:39 am

    • It is entirely possible that this story is true. I can remember, many years ago, when my son, who was only 8 years old, guided me over a mountain pass in the Sierra mountains in California, when we became lost because the path was covered with snow. He was a boy scout and knew how to read maps, which I didn’t. Seven years old is not too young for a smart kid who wanted to risk his life to save Jews. He who saves one [Jewish] life saves the entire world:

      Comment by furtherglory — August 26, 2013 @ 11:39 am

      • Well no doubt the BBC are onto this case as we speak; searching for any ” survivors ” led by this 7 year old. No doubt they will find a few especially where there is money and potential fame involved. The story is as credible as Denis Avey the guy who ” broke into Auschwitz “

        Comment by peter — August 26, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

  2. “These were designed to kill between 500 and 2,000 people at once”

    They talked about studying the manuals, but if I’m not mistaken there is no mention about the number of people it can kill let alone even the mention of killing people in gas chambers. Aren’t these manuals in reference to disinfection chambers?

    Comment by Kageki — August 25, 2013 @ 11:17 pm

  3. Off topic, but I think you’ll appreciate it:

    “An inmate of Buchenwald Camp during 1946 stated that persons who had been in the same camp under the Nazis complained that conditions were now worse. Some fat and meat had been issued by the Nazis, but under the Russians there was only bread and soup. It was estimated that the death rate was double that of the Nazi period. No correspondence was allowed.”

    – ‘Concentration Camps and Maltreatment of Civilians in the Soviet Zone of Germany’, report by the British Foreign Office Research Department, February 1948

    Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — August 25, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

    • Off the Topic:
      Do you really believe that the Western Allies were any better?
      Throughout all of 1945 the Allied forces of occupation ensured that no international aid reached ethnic Germans. It was directed that all relief should go to non-German displaced persons,[DP’s, sic] liberated Allied POWs, and concentration camp inmates.
      General Lucius Clay, then Deputy to General Eisenhower, stated:
      “ ….. I feel that the Germans should suffer from hunger and from cold as I believe such suffering is necessary to make them realize the consequences of a war which they caused…..”
      The German Red Cross was dissolved, and the International Red Cross and the few other allowed international relief agencies were kept from helping Germans through strict controls on supplies and on travel. The few agencies permitted to help Germans, such as the indigenous Caritas Verband, were not allowed to use imported supplies. When the Vatican attempted to transmit food supplies from Chile to German infants the U.S. State Department forbade it.
      During 1945 it was estimated that the average German civilian in the U.S. and the United Kingdom occupation zones received 1,200 calories a day. Meanwhile non-German Displaced Persons were receiving 2,300 calories through emergency food imports and Red Cross help. In early October 1945 the UK government privately acknowledged in a cabinet meeting that German civilian adult death rates had risen to four times the pre-war levels and death rates amongst the German children had risen by 10 times the pre-war levels.
      General Lucius Clay stated in October 1945 that:
      “……undoubtedly a large number of refugees have already died of starvation, exposure and disease…….The death rate in many places has increased several fold, and infant mortality is approaching 65 percent in many places. By the spring of 1946, German observers expect that epidemics and malnutrition will claim 2.5 to 3 million victims between the Oder and Elbe…..”
      U.S. occupation forces were under strict orders not to share their food with the German population, and this also applied to their wives when they arrived later in the occupation. The women were under orders not to allow their German maids to get hold of any leftovers; “the food was to be destroyed or made inedible”, although in view of the starving German population facing them many housewives chose to disregard these official orders. Nevertheless, according to a U.S. intelligence survey a German university professor reportedly said: “Your soldiers are good-natured, good ambassadors; but they create unnecessary ill will to pour twenty litres of left-over cocoa in the gutter when it is badly needed in our clinics. It makes it hard for me to defend American democracy amongst my countrymen.”
      I sometimes wonder if readers of this Blog really appreciates what was going on in 1945. Hope you are still proud to be a British Citizen.

      Comment by Herbert Stolpmann — August 25, 2013 @ 9:50 pm

      • Herbert Stolpmann wrote: “General Lucius Clay, then Deputy to General Eisenhower, stated:
        “ ….. I feel that the Germans should suffer from hunger and from cold as I believe such suffering is necessary to make them realize the consequences of a war which they caused…..””

        Don’t worry. The people directly involved in the beginning of WW2 knew who had really caused that war.

        “Now we have forced Hitler to war so he no longer can peacefully annihilate one piece of the Treaty of Versailles after the other.” – Lord Halifax, British Foreign Minister between 1938 and 1940

        “Played golf with Joe Kennedy (U.S. Ambassador to Britain). He says that Chamberlain (British Prime Minister in 1939) stated that America and world Jewry forced England into World War II.” – James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy (later Secretary of Defense), Diary, December 27, 1945 entry.

        “We could have, if we had intended so, prevented this war from breaking out without doing one shot, but we didn’t want to.” – Winston Churchill to Truman (March 1946)

        “Poland’s decision of August 30, 1939 that was the basis for general mobilization marked a turning point in the history of Europe. It forced Hitler to wage war at a time when he hoped to gain further unbloody victories. ” – Kazimierz Sosnkowski, Polish General and Government-in-Exile’s commander-in-chief, August 31, 1943

        “Hitler and the German people didn’t want this war. We didn’t answer Hitler’s various petitions for peace. Now we have to admit that he was right. Instead of a cooperation with Germany, which he had offered us, now stands the gigantic, imperialistic might of the Soviets. I feel ashamed to see how the same intentions which we accused Hitler of now are pursued under a different name.” – Sir Hartley Shawcross, British chief-accuser in Nuerenberg

        “The last thing Hitler wanted was to produce another great war. His people, and particularly his generals, were profoundly fearful of any such risk – the experiences of World War One had scarred their minds.” – Sir. Basil Liddell Hart, The History of the Second World War

        “The state of German armament in 1939 gives the decisive proof that Hitler was not contemplating general war, and probably not intending war at all” (Prof AJP Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War, p. 267)

        Comment by hermie — August 26, 2013 @ 5:03 am

        • I have written a new blog post, which just went up, about the speech made by Sir Hartley Shawcross.

          Comment by furtherglory — August 26, 2013 @ 11:45 am

          • I’ve just seen that. Thanks for correcting my mistake.

            Comment by hermie — August 26, 2013 @ 5:32 pm

      • That’s a very well known quote from Clay you’ve posted there Herbert. My quote is from a report that has never been published or cited anywhere else. I found it in a dusty old file in the UK National Archives, whereas you copy and pasted the Clay quote from some website.

        You’ve missed the point, in your haste to attack me just for being British. The report states that the in 1946, Buchenwald (when run by the Soviets) was estimated to have had a higher death rate than in 1945 (when run by the Germans, in the epicentre of the most catastrophic war the world’s yet seen).

        The report goes on to state as early as 1945, torture has been used by the Soviets to obtain false confessions from Germans.

        Even though I have to say it myself (as it’s significance eludes some people, who prefer just to attach me for my nationality) this report was an excellent find.

        Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — August 26, 2013 @ 9:47 am

        • Sorry, but my intention was NOT to attack you, only that your comments are one-sided and thereby to a greater extent unbalanced, I do follow your comments with interest and sometimes taken aback when I read mainly about Nazi atrocities, although well researched, which the gullible public loves to hear, a subject which created an ‘industry’ and for some individuals well-paid, especially in the United States! As a British subject I had expected something different from you. If I offended you in any way, I sincerely apologize.

          Comment by Herbert Stolpmann — August 26, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

          • Thanks Herbert. I do often post the atrocity stories without comment, because I feel that the absurdity of them is so obvious any comment would be superfluous. But perhaps that’s not always the case.

            Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — August 26, 2013 @ 10:53 pm

  4. “Once the extermination process had begun, it could not be halted, because by then it would have been impossible to open the doors.

    Everything is possible in the Ho£ocaust Kingdom. Including opening the door of an Auschwitz gas chamber mid-gassing just to let people out. Such as Regina Bialek, and Sophia Litwinska—who testified in court about it happening to her. Their evidence was used to convict Germans of war crimes. I do hope the Guardian journalist is not sceptical of this survivor testimony.

    Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — August 25, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

    • And some of those people commenting on that Guardian article should take notice because some are even asking why we should question survivor testimony. It’s certainly relevant if it was in court. Even the sub-title of the article says “But how to verify the testimony of Holocaust survivors? And should you even try?”
      I imagine survivors could technically file a lawsuit still? If then based on what? Testimony alone? Would lawyers then be insensitive if they dare cross-examine survivor testimony?
      It’s obvious the authors try hard to defend them, but even their cursory research showed grave flaws in their testimony and it makes me wonder if it has left a nugget of doubt in their minds that they dare not say in public. There’s been dozens of flawed testimony. Some so egregious even mainstream people find it indefensible and it’s important because these testimonies are a valuable source of information so of course you should try to verify them. It’s par for the course for any crime so why is the holocaust an exception?

      Comment by Kageki — August 25, 2013 @ 11:14 pm

  5. The Project Statement for a miniature art show entitled “Dr. Death and the Dwarfs of Auschwitz” which was created and delivered, but ultimately cancelled the director of The John Erickson Museum of Art in March 2007. JEMA is a miniature art museum.

    “Dr. Death and the Seven Dwarfs of Auschwitz is a response to the explosive proliferation of Holocaust museums around the world. It also presents an abstract challenge to the belief requirement that any skepticism about the Holocaust story in it’s ecumenical entirety is abject moral midgetry. Some of the images presented here are taken from the book In Our Hearts We Were Giants, by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev. This is a true story of a family of Hungarian Jewish dwarfs who survived Auschwitz thanks to the proprietary interest of the notorious camp physician Dr. Joseph Mengele. Pictures of the Ovitz lillliput troupe have been interspersed with standard WWII era file photos to create a miniaturized presentation of clichéd Holocaust horror. Denial or “trivialization” of the received history of this sixty-year-old set of events has been declared a criminal act by nine European governments and the United Nations. The idea of the Holocaust as the single episode of 20th century history whose consequences seem only to increase as it recedes into the past raises questions about scale in relation to the proper commemoration of an incident of such psychic magnitude. These issues are what the sensationalized theme and reduced size of this exhibition are attempting to address.”

    Comment by who dares wings — August 25, 2013 @ 10:05 am

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