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June 26, 2011

When was the new crematorium at Dachau finished?

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 11:25 am

The decision to build a new crematorium at Dachau was made in April 1942. An order was issued from Berlin on July 23, 1942 to begin construction of Baracke X, the new crematorium, at a cost of 150,000 Reichsmark.

When was construction of the building, as seen today, completed?  Did Baracke X look the same as it does now when American soldiers liberated the camp on April 29, 1945?  There have been persistent rumors that the new crematorium was built or modified after the Americans arrived.

Baracke X, the new crematorium at Dachau

A reader of this blog recently sent me an e-mail with two links to the web site of David Irving here and here.  These pages on Irving’s web site were put up in 1999.  Each page has a letter written by someone who claimed that the Baracke X building was not completely finished in April 1945 and that the construction was completed later by German POWs being held in the former camp.

According to the book Legacies of Dachau, by Harold Marcuse, “In the fall of 1945 the legend that the Americans had forced German POWs to build the crematorium after the war was not yet in circulation.”

Was the “legend” not in circulation yet because the crematorium was not COMPLETED until some time later, like maybe in 1947?

Marcuse quoted extensively from the diary of German general Gert Naumann in his book, but on page 85, he wrote “I did not attempt to find Naumann” to interview him about the crematorium.

This quote is from Legacies of Dachau:

But I did interview several other internees (of War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 at Dachau).  In the Dachau memorial site archive I found a copy of the diary of General Karl Schnell, who had donated the seven volumes of his magnum opus in 1993.  I called him at his home in Karlsruhe in July 1993, and he was quite willing to talk.  When I asked him whether he had been taken to the crematorium (when he was first brought to War Crimes Enclosure No.1), he answered: “I couldn’t have done that.  The crematorium wasn’t built yet.  The Americans had German POWs build it after I left the camp [in 1946].”  Even when I told him what Naumann, a good friend of his, had written, he refused to concede the point. Not wishing to listen to more, I ended the conversation.”

What had Naumann written that convinced Marcuse that the crematorium was there in 1945?  This quote is from page 81 of Legacies of Dachau:

He (Naumann) arrived in Dachau with a transport of other internees on the roll-call square, and a sign “to the crematorium” on the gatehouse.  The men were taken in groups of ten into a small wooden barrack, and returned reeling, some with bloody noses.

I have deduced from this quote that Naumann did not write that he was taken to see the crematorium, although he did report seeing a direction sign to “the crematorium.”  There were two crematoria at Dachau.  Why didn’t the sign say “to the crematoria” or “to the crematoriums”?

Old crematorium at Dachau

The first time that I visited Dachau, in 1997, I sat outside on a bench before going into Baracke X which is the building where the gas chamber is located.

Bench outside the Baracke X building at Dachau

I love brick buildings, and as I was sitting outside Baracke X, I couldn’t help but notice the front wall which seemed to me to have some sloppy construction that I would call “un-German.”

Outside wall of Baracke X, the crematorium

Those things on the wall looked like mailboxes to me, but why were there two of them?  I didn’t ask any questions because I didn’t want to show my ignorance.  It was only after I returned from my trip that I learned, from doing some research, that the things on the wall were bins for pouring the gas pellets into the gas chamber.

Closeup of bin for pouring in gas pellets

The gas pellets were poured through the bins and came out of two little windows inside on the east wall of the gas chamber.  I took the photo below when I returned to Dachau in 2007.

Window on east wall of Dachau gas chamber

It appears to me that this window was cut into the gas chamber wall AFTER the room was built.  A sign in the undressing room for the gas chamber tells visitors that gas pellets “could have been” put into the gas chamber through the two windows.

A couple of years ago, I compiled a list of descriptions written by American soldiers who were taken to see the gas chamber in 1945.  None of the soldiers mentioned the bins on the wall, nor the little windows in the gas chamber.  It could be that the bins were there, but they were closed and no light was coming through the little windows, so none of the soldiers noticed them.

It is possible that the person who made the film that was shown at Nuremberg did not notice the little windows.  The film showed the “engineer’s room” behind the west wall, where the SS men allegedly controlled the pipes through which the “lethal smoke” was put into the gas chamber.  The west wall was not shown in the film.

This controversy could be laid to rest if the Dachau Museum would just display a photograph of Baracke X, taken after the building was completed in 1943.  It is possible that the Germans never took a photo of the front of the building, but this is highly unlikely since I have seen old photos of the back of the building and the north end of the building.

A photo of the east wall of Baracke X, taken a day or two after the camp was liberated, is shown below.

A three-sided wooden shed hides the east wall of Baracke X Photo Credit: Donald E. Jackson

“engineer’s room” behind the east wall of Dachau gas chamber, 1945 Photo Credit: USHMM, courtesy of William and Dorothy McLaughlin Copyright: USHMM

On the right, in the photo above, are two control wheels for letting gas into the Dachau gas chamber.  To the left of one of the control wheels is a small peep hole with the cover lifted up.  This photo was taken by an American soldier who saw the gas chamber in 1945, after the camp had been liberated.

A film entitled Atrocities at Dachau, Story RG-60.0843, Tape 828 was made on May 3, 1945, the day that a group of US Congressmen visited the gas chamber. It shows the two black objects to the left of the control wheels in the center of the black and white photo above but the movie camera did not pan down to include the peep hole which can be seen in the photo.

In their report, the Congressmen wrote: “….The supply of gas into the chamber was controlled by means of two valves on one of the outer walls, and beneath the valves was a small glass-covered peephole through which the operator could watch the victims die….”

The valves were not on one of  the “outer walls” but rather in a hallway behind the west wall which was called “the engineer’s room.”  The quote is from Document No. 47 of the 79th Congress, 1st Session, Senate Report (May 15, 1945) of the Committee Requested by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to the Congress of the U.S. relative to Atrocities and other Conditions in Concentration Camps in Germany. This document was entered into the Nuremberg trial proceedings as IMT Document L-159.