The photograph above, taken in February 1945, shows the ruins of Crematorium II. Today, the crematorium building is commonly known by the German name: Krema II
At the end of the main camp road, which runs east and west through the Auschwitz II camp, also known as Birkenau, one can see the ruins of Crematorium II on the left and to the right, the ruins of Crematorium III.
A model of Crematorium III is on display in one of the museum buildings at the Auschwitz main camp.
Below is an old picture of Crematorium III, taken just after the building was put into operation in the Summer of 1943.
All four of the Crematoria buildings in Auschwitz-Birkenau were designed by Walter Dejaco, the same architect who designed the administration building at the entrance to the Auschwitz I camp, and also the Central Sauna building near Crematorium IV where the prisoners took showers.
In May 1944, the railroad tracks at Auschwitz were extended from the train station into the Birkeanu camp so that the trains carrying the Hungarian Jews could be brought inside the camp. The old photo of Crematorium III shows the tracks a few feet from the 10-foot barbed wire fence around the building.
According to a book from the Auschwitz Museum, Crematorium III was blown up by the Nazis on Jan. 20, 1945, the same day that Crematorium II was destroyed. This was shortly after the Nazis had abandoned the camp; some people, including me, believe that it was the Soviets who destroyed these buildings.
A book from the U.S. Holocaust Museum entitled The World Must Know by Michael Berenbaum says that “Soviet troops entered Birkenau on January 18, 1945.” January 18th was the day that 60,000 prisoners were death-marched, by the Germans, out of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Krema II and Krema III were both T-shaped brick buildings which were mirror images. Allegedly, each of the Krema buildings had an underground gas chamber where Jews were murdered with Zyklon-B, a poison gas that was also used for delousing the clothing at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Both of these Krema buildings are now nothing but ruins; they were allegedly blown up by the fleeing Nazis on Jan. 20, 1945, two days after they had abandoned the camp. Or was it the Soviet liberators who blew up these buildings?
On the ground floor, of both Krema II and Krema III, were 5 large ovens where the bodies were cremated after being brought up on an elevator. Each of the ovens had 3 openings, called muffles or retorts, which means that there were actually 15 ovens which could each handle up to 3 bodies at a time.
The underground gas chambers in Krema II and Krema III were not directly underneath the oven room, which was the part of the building that was above ground. The alleged gas chamber rooms were covered only by a reinforced concrete roof and a layer of dirt. Allegedly, Zyklon-B, which was in the form of pellets, had been poured into the gas chambers through these holes in the roof.
In May 1944, the railroad tracks were extended from the Auschwitz train station into the Birkenau camp just before the Hungarian Jews began to arrive. The railroad tracks went all the way to the western end of the Birkenau camp, so that the Hungarian Jews could be brought directly to the gas chambers in Krema II and Krema III, which were located near the end of the main camp road.
The photo above allegedly shows Hungarian men, women and children resting in the birch tree grove at the western end of the Birkenau camp, while they wait to enter one of the gas chambers at Birkenau. I believe that they are waiting for their turn in the shower room of the Saunas building, which they are facing.
The photo above is from the Auschwitz Album, a book of photographs that was found by Lili Jacob in a concentration camp in Germany at the end of the war. The album consists of around 200 photos taken by an SS man at Birkenau when a transport of 3,500 Hungarian Jews arrived in May 1944 from Carpatho-Ruthenia, a region annexed to Hungary from the former country of Czechoslovakia in 1939. Jacob was on this transport; she survived because she had been selected to work.
The famous photo above was taken on the road that runs north and south through the center of the Birkenau camp. The woman and her children are walking to the north side of the camp where two more gas chambers, called Krema V and Krema IV, were located.
The tracks in the photo above are narrow gauge tracks used to carry building materials to the new section of the camp, called “Mexico,” where barracks were being built for 50,000 more inmates at Birkenau.
One of the survivors of Auschwitz was Samuel Pisar, who was first sent, at the age of 13, to the Majdanek death camp, in August 1943, when the Bialystok ghetto in Poland was liquidated. A few months later, he was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau where he was put to work.
In an article in the Washington Post, published on January 23, 2005, Samuel Pisar wrote the following about his experience at Birkenau:
My labor commando was assigned to remove garbage from a ramp near the Crematoria. From there I observed the peak of human extermination and heard the blood-curdling cries of innocents as they were herded into the gas chambers. Once the doors were locked, they had only three minutes to live, yet they found enough strength to dig their fingernails into the walls and scratch in the words “Never Forget.”
One of the Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoners, who loaded the corpses of the murdered Jews into the Crematoria ovens after they were killed in the gas chambers with Zyklon-B, was Schlomo Venezia who described his work in an interview with Adam L. Freeman, a reporter with the Bloomberg News, on December 17, 2007.
According to Freeman’s article, posted on the web site http://www.bloomberg.com, Schlomo worked for eight months at Birkenau in 1944, “…12 hours a day, seven days a week, cadaver after cadaver until it became a mechanical task, like feeding a heating furnace with cords of wood.”
Schlomo Venezia wrote a memoir entitled Sonderkommando Auschwitz, which was originally published in French; a new Italian version was published in 2007.
The following quote about Schlomo’s story is from Adam L. Freeman’s article in the Bloomberg News on December 17, 2007:
He recalls, for example, the day he met his father’s emaciated cousin in an undressing room at the gas chambers. Venezia offered him the only solace possible, he writes — some sardines and a lie that the Zyklon B would kill him quickly.
“It was just terrible to have to lie, but there was no way around it,” Venezia explains. “I tried in some way to make the horrible situation easier.”
The Sonderkommandos, as the prisoners working at the gas chambers were known, were privy to how the Nazis went about their butchery. Determined to keep their methods secret, the Nazis killed members of these units at regular intervals, making Venezia’s memoir very rare.
Venezia was 20 years old at the time. His own mother was murdered at the camp while he worked at the ovens; she was one of the 1.1 million Jews killed there, according to the latest figures.
Cutting the hair off cadavers, pulling their gold teeth and dragging them to the furnaces became mechanical, Venezia said, It was the only way to stay sane. The routine broke down only once, Venezia recalled; it was when the prisoners were confronted with the lifeless body of a woman possessing “the absolute beauty of an ancient statue.”
She looked like “a woman in a painting,” Venezia said, pausing for a moment in reflection. “Like Mona Lisa.,” he said. Yet there was nothing to do but cremate her.
Another day, Venezia’s unit found a live baby, trying to suck its dead mother’s breast, among a heap of corpses in the gas chamber. The prisoners watched without protest as a Nazi guard unloaded his pistol into the infant, according to Venezia.
“There were so many terrible things that happened,” Venezia said. “Every day it was something else.”
Venezia claimed that he witnessed the sometimes absurd machinations of the Nazi bureaucracy. When one prisoner attempted suicide, Venezia recalled, a doctor treated his self-inflicted wounds, making him fit to be gassed. The gas chamber story must be kept pure at all cost.
As the Soviet Army came near Auschwitz, confusion swept through the camp, allowing Sonderkommandos like Venezia and his brother to mix with other prisoners and march with them out of the camp.
German soldiers marched 5,000 survivors for days through the freezing Polish winter until they were out of reach of Soviet troops. Then they herded the prisoners onto trains bound for Austria, where they were eventually freed by U.S. forces.
Venezia had never talked about Auschwitz-Birkenau — even with his wife and children — until he visited the former camp in 1992. At the time, Italy was experiencing a resurgence of anti-Semitism, and that is why he decided to tell his story.
Since then, Venezia has returned to Auschwitz 46 times, often accompanying tourist groups. He gives talks at schools across Italy, and he spoke to Rome soccer team Lazio after striker Paolo Di Canio was suspended for making Fascist salutes.
Sonderkommando members were habitually executed. Fewer than 150 of more than 2,000 who served in the group at Auschwitz-Birkenau survived.
Although Krema II was allegedly blown up by the Nazis two days after they abandoned the camp, the underground gas chamber is still intact and can be entered by crawling through a hole in the roof, which was created when the building was dynamited.
The underground gas chambers at Birkeanau were held up by concrete columns, and originally there were also wire-mesh columns designed to hold the Zyklon-B pellets so that they could be retrieved after the gassing.
These wire-mesh columns were allegedly removed by the Nazis, prior to blowing up the buildings, and can no longer be seen. The holes through which the gas was poured are shown on aerial photos taken of the camp when the gas chambers were in operation. The roof of the Krema III gas chamber was completely destroyed when the building was blown up and the holes cannot be seen today. The roof of the Krema II building was badly damaged and the location of the holes for pouring Zyklon-B pellets into the gas chamber cannot be found.
An aerial photo taken by the Allies in December 1944 shows that the Germans had removed the roofs over Crematoria II and III, as they began dismantling the interior of the facilities in preparation for abandoning the Birkenau camp.
In 1946, Rudolf Höss, the Camp Commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau from 1940 to 1943, was captured in northern Germany by a British army unit called the Jewish Brigade. He signed a confession, written in English, in which he admitted that 9,000 Jews were gassed each day at Birkenau. After a trial in Poland, he was hanged in front of the gas chamber building in the Auschwitz main camp on April 16, 1947.
Here is an excerpt from the confession of Rudolph Höss, as printed in the book entitled Auschwitz, sold at the Museum.
The following is a description of the gassing procedure in Krema II and Krema III:
“Those Jews selected for extermination were brought as quietly as possible, men and women separately, to the [buildings housing the gas chambers and] crematoria. In the undressing room, the Sonderkommando prisoners who worked there would tell them in their native language that they were now going for a shower and delousing. They were instructed to fold their clothes tidily and to make sure they remembered precisely where they had left them so that they would be able to find them quickly afterwards…
After undressing, the Jews were sent into the gas chamber: it had shower installations and water pipes so that it would look just like a shower room, but in fact it was a gas chamber. The women and children were sent in first, then the men, always fewer in number…
The levers locking the door were then quickly shut tight. Fumigators who were on stand-by outside then immediately emptied the Zyklon B down through special shafts that opened into outlets in the ceiling…
Through a peep-hole in the door one could see that the people standing nearest the outlets dropped dead immediately….
Half an hour after the gas had been introduced, the door was opened, the ventilation system was switched on, and removal of the corpses began right away… The Sonderkommando extracted any gold teeth, cut off the women’s hair, and then loaded the corpses on to lifts to take them up to the incinerators, which had been stoked up in advance. Depending on the size of the corpses, up to three could be put into an incinerator at the same time.”
The following quote is from a book which I purchased at USHMM:
Victims arrived in Crematorium II through a stairway leading down to the undressing room. Here, SS guards told them to surrender their valuables and undress for delousing showers. Victims were told to remember where they had left their clothing. Posters bearing slogans such as Cleanliness Brings Freedom and One Louse Can Kill were designed to misrepresent the showers as hygienic. Most victims were deceived. The undressing room in Crematorium II could accommodate about a thousand people. Once the victims had stripped nude, the guards herded them into an underground gas chamber. Women and children – who were normally the majority – always went in first. Fake shower heads in the ceiling were intended to fool victims into believing that they were about to shower. As soon as the chamber had been filled, sealed and locked, SS guards poured in Zyklon B pellets through special vents in the roof. The pellets fell to the floor, releasing their deadly gas. Most victims died quickly. After about twenty minutes, ventilating machines sucked out the poisonous air. When all were dead, their bodies were pillaged and burned. Under SS guard, prisoners hauled the corpses into an adjacent room, where gold teeth and fillings were removed and hair was shaved off the heads of dead women. Finally, a freight elevator lifted the corpses to an incineration room on the ground floor. The bodies were stuffed into ovens, three or four at a time. Crematorium II had fifteen ovens, which could burn between forty-five and seventy-five corpses at once, and about one thousand people in one day.