Many people have wondered how long it took for the gas to take effect in a Nazi gas chamber. After reading the story of a Holocaust survivor, who gave a talk to students in Canada recently, I now know the answer. In a previous blog post, I wrote about how gassing methods were first tested and perfected at Dachau. I also blogged about the story of Eva Olssen here.
According to Holocaust survivor Eva Olssen, it took 20 minutes for her relatives to die in the gas chamber. This quote is from a news article which you can read in full here.
It was May 15, 1944.
Olsson and her 19 extended family members, who lived in a two-room apartment in Hungary, were forced from their home.
Four days later they arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau — also known as The Killing Factory. She was holding her young niece’s hand and a prisoner whispered to Olsson to give the child to an older woman. Olsson didn’t let go. The prisoner said it again and after a third time, Olsson let go of the girl’s hand. That ensured she would survive.
Her mother, sisters and nieces went the other way to a gas chamber. You would hear screaming for 20 minutes and then there was silence, she said.
In the photo above, notice the prisoner, wearing a striped uniform, standing beside the train on the far right. These prisoners, who helped the Nazis, were called Kapos (captains). They advised the prisoners on how to survive the selection that took place as soon as the train stopped.
Eva Olssen was saved because a Kapo told her not to hold the hand of a child. Children under the age of 15 were gassed within hours after arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Photos were taken at Auschwitz-Birkenau on May 26, 1944; Eva Olssen arrived on May 19, 1944 so she is not shown in any of the pictures.
You can read about Auschwitz-Birkenau on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/AuschwitzScrapbook/History/Articles/Birkenau01B.html
You can read about the deportation of the Hungarian Jews, including Eva Olssen, at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/AuschwitzScrapbook/History/Articles/HungarianJews.html
Could Eva Olssen have heard the screams coming from the gas chamber? It is possible, although not very likely.
The photo below shows the ruins of Krema II, one of the four gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In 1944, railroad tracks were extended inside of the camp, to within a few yards of Krema II and Krema III. The International Monument, which is shown in the background of the photo, was built a few feet from Krema II and Krema III.
In the photo directly above, you can see the kitchen in the women’s camp in the background. The women’s barracks are behind the kitchen, but not shown, in this photo. The gas chambers in Krema II and Krema III, were five feet below ground. It would have been hard to hear screams, but not impossible.
In 1944, the train tracks had been extended inside the Birkenau camp, right up to the location of Krema II and Krema III. The photo below shows how close the tracks are to the Holocaust monument which is between the ruins of Krema II and Krema III.
In the photo above, the ruins of Krema II are on the left, but not shown. The ruins of Krema III are on the right.
The prisoners in the photo above are walking past Krema III, which is in the background. They are looking toward Krema II, as they walk to the showers. Strangely, there are some children in the photo, who were not selected to be gassed. There are also some prisoners who look as if they are able to work.
All this is very confusing. You would think that the Nazis would have put the gas chambers off in the woods somewhere, not out in the open, near a road where other prisoners marching past could hear the screams. How horrible — to hear the screams of your mother dying in a gas chamber!