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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

August 31, 2010

Why was there a Sauna at Auschwitz?

Filed under: Health, Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 8:18 am

This building at Auschwitz-Birkenau is called “the Sauna”

One of the remaining brick buildings at Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau, is called “the Sauna.”  I walked past this building on my first trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1998 and I wondered why the building was closed. The Sauna had been closed to tourists during all the years since the camp was liberated by the Soviet Union on January 27, 1945.

My tour guide told me that this beautiful brick building was where the Jews, who had been selected to work, took a shower and were given uniforms.   The building seemed too big for just a shower room, and I wondered why it was called “the Sauna.” I assumed that the name was a Nazi joke, and it was coined because the water in the shower was so hot that it created steam, like in a steam room, which we call a Sauna.

The Nazis had named this building “die zentrale Sauna.” (the central Sauna)  The CENTRAL Sauna?  How many Saunas did they have?  The Nazis were always making cruel, insensitive jokes — like putting up a sign that read “Arbeit Macht Frei” over the gate into a death camp where the only way out was “through the chimney.”

The central Sauna building is now open to tourists

When I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau again in 2005, the Sauna building was open to tourists and I finally learned why the building was called “die zentrale Sauna.” This was the largest building where the clothing of the prisoners was disinfected in steam chambers; there were other smaller disinfection buildings, which also used steam and hot air chambers, as well as Zyklon-B poison gas to disinfect the clothing.

The Sauna building is shaped like the capital letter I and the two sides of it are mirror images. The center part of the Sauna building has two long hallways. Steam chambers are located against the wall that divides the hallways; on each side of the wall are doors into the chambers.  The clothing was put in on one side, and after it was steamed, it was taken out on the other side.

Steam chambers in the Sauna building had doors on both sides of a wall

The steam chambers were manufactured by the Topf company, which also provided the crematory ovens at Birkenau and other Nazi concentration camps. At the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, the Soviet Union charged the Nazi war criminals with killing Jews with steam at the Treblinka death camp.  The clothing at the Theresienstadt ghetto was de-loused with steam.

The central Sauna at Birkenau is located directly across the road from where a group of wooden warehouse buildings used to stand. The prisoners called the warehouse section “Canada” because of all the riches that could be found there. This was where the clothing of the Jews was sorted and packed for shipment to Germany. During World War II, factories in Germany concentrated on making uniforms for the soldiers and civilian clothing was in short supply.

Steam chambers for clothing in the Sauna building

Back in the old days, when people used to go to a health spa, there was no steam room or Sauna.  Instead, people sat inside a steam chamber (sauna) with their head sticking out of the top of the chamber, which resembled those in the photo above, except they were square and made out of heavy cloth.

Close-up of a steam chamber for delousing clothes at Birkenau

The shower room, shown in the photo below, is located in the part of the building that is closest to the road. The prisoners were not given towels after their shower; they had to stand in the shower room, which had floor-to-ceiling windows, until they were dry.  Notice that the shower heads have been removed from the shower room.

Shower room in the Sauna building at Birkenau

Visitors must walk on a glass floor that has been installed in the Sauna building, so as to preserve the original concrete floors. A railing, which can be seen on the right-hand side in the photo above, prevents visitors from walking on the floor of the shower room. The photo on the wall in the background shows a group of women prisoners in the shower room. The shower room is surprisingly small, considering that this is such a huge building.

After their shower, the incoming women prisoners would be given clothing that had been taken from the victims who had arrived on a previous transport. This clothing had been deloused in the steam chambers in the building and most of the dresses had suffered damage from the hot steam. As a result, the women prisoners were typically dressed in tattered clothing.  Only a few of the women prisoners were given a uniform to wear.

The two photos below show original signs on the wall which can still be seen in the Sauna building. The first sign says “Desinfizierte Wäsche.” Before their shower, the prisoners had to first be submerged into a tub of disinfectant to kill any germs or lice on their bodies. The second sign says “Brausen” which means Showers in English. The yellow and black stripes alert visitors that the doorway is very low.

Sign reads Disinfection Wash in English

Sign reads “Showers” in English

The incoming prisoners entered the Sauna building through a door located at the northern end of the building, the same door that tourists now enter. Inside this door is a huge waiting room where the new prisoners were first registered and then told to undress. Then they were herded naked down the long hallway in the center of the building, where you can see the steam chambers on each side.  There are also a few hot air chambers.

Hot air chamber for de-lousing the clothing at Birkenau

At the end of the hallway was a small room where the women had all their body hair shaved off by male barbers while the SS men assigned to this building watched. This was an effort to control lice which hides in body hair. The barbers also shaved the men’s hair in this room, according to a sign in the building.

After having all their hair cut off, the prisoners proceeded into the next room, called the Untersuchungsraum. This was where they had to undergo a humiliating search of all their body cavities by an SS man. The search was for hidden diamonds or gold which some of the victims tried to smuggle into the camp, thinking that they could buy more favorable treatment. From this room, the prisoners proceeded to the disinfection tubs which were right next to the shower room.

After their shower, the victims then entered another hallway that was on the other side of the hallway where they had entered. At the end of this hallway was another large waiting room. On the north side of the waiting room was a little room where the women were given their prisoner clothing. On the south side of the waiting room was the room where the men received their new clothing. The prisoners then exited the building through two doors which were on the east side of the south wing of the building.

According to Elizabeth Mann, an Auschwitz survivor who spoke to visitors at the Museum of Tolerance in the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, when I visited, the female prisoners at Birkenau were given a shower periodically in the Sauna, but they never knew whether gas or water would come out. According to Ms. Mann, prisoners were sometimes gassed in the shower room of the Sauna.

The Sauna building now has a display of photos that were found in the suitcases of the incoming prisoners and saved by the Nazis.

Display of photos in the Sauna building

In the photo above, the photos on the display board and the windows on the right hand side, are reflected in the glass floor of the building.

All the photos in this post are copyrighted by and are not in the public domain.

August 23, 2010

The floor drains in the Dachau gas chamber…

A few years ago, I was accused of being a Holocaust denier because I wrote, in a private e-mail message, that I think that the floor drains in the Dachau gas chamber are real drains. My private e-mail was published on Paolosilv’s blog without my permission, but when I objected, the blog post, which quoted my e-mail, was removed.

According to the Holocaust experts, the drains in the gas chamber at Dachau cannot be real drains, that are connected to the sewer system, because that would mean that the Dachau gas chamber is actually a shower room.

Poison gas cannot be allowed to get into the sewer system because it would poison everyone in the vicinity; for this reason, the floor drains for the disinfection chambers at Dachau are outside the chambers and the poison pellets are poured into a wire basket so they will not get on the floor.

Visitors to Dachau today are not allowed to go into the basement to see if there are drain pipes connected to the drains in the gas chamber, so my opinion about the drains in the Dachau gas chamber, which are now closed up, is pure speculation.

The floor drains in the Dachau gas chamber have been closed up

The drain outside the four disinfection chambers which were used to delouse the clothing of the Dachau prisoners

Notice that the alleged fake drain in the Dachau gas chamber was manufactured by the same company that made the real drain that is outside the disinfection chambers.

Is there a document somewhere which proves that the Nazis ordered six fake drains from the manufacturer and specified that the drain holes should be closed up? Not that I know of. Maybe someone modified six real drains and closed the  holes so that the poison gas could not go down the drain into the sewer system and poison the whole camp.

The two drains in the morgue room have to be real because it was necessary to clean up the mess made by the dead bodies stacked inside the room; this means that there is a sewer pipe underneath the Baracke X building where the gas chamber is located.

Drain outside the four disinfection chambers at Dachau

Four of the six floor drains in the Dachau gas chamber

If the drains in the Dachau gas chamber are actually fake drains, designed to fool the unsuspecting victims, why use 6 drains?  That is a total waste of money and involves a lot of unnecessary work.  Only one fake drain would be needed to fool the victims into thinking that the gas chamber is a shower room.

Northeast corner of Dachau gas chamber

The photo above shows one of the small windows for pouring Zyklon-B pellets into the Dachau gas chamber.  On the ceiling are the empty holes where showerheads used to be and a square vent.  On the wall, near the ceiling, are light fixture boxes which the American film, shown at the Nuremberg IMT, says were used to vent gas from the chamber.

As seen today, the Dachau gas chamber has two ways to input the gas: through bins on the outside wall or through the shower heads.  There are two ways to vent the gas: through the vent in the ceiling or through the empty light fixture boxes.

Two of the floor drains are about four feet from the windows on the east wall where the Zyklon-B pellets “could be poured in” according to a sign in the undressing room at Dachau. The prisoners would have had plenty of time to sweep the pellets down the drain with their hands before the poison gas fumes were released, so the drains can’t be real, according to the Holocaust experts.

Have you ever seen the “Soup Nazi” episode on the Seinfeld TV show?  The owner of a small soup restaurant in New York is called the “Soup Nazi” because he insists that customers do everything the right way.  If the customers don’t do everything just right, the “Soup Nazi” says “No soup for you!”

That’s the way the real Nazis were; everything had to be done just right.  No wasting of time, money and materials, by putting in 6 fake drains when one would have been enough.  The Seinfeld show, which is about “nothing” had many jokes about the Holocaust including a spoof about the last scene in Schindler’s List which was way over the top.  Too bad that the Seinfeld show is now over; the argument about the floor drains at Dachau would have made a good episode.

I read a blog post written by a student who has studied the Holocaust since elementary school and finally got to see Dachau.  The student wrote this in the blog post:

The adjoining room was labeled the “shower room.” The prisoners were told they were going to get a shower, but once they were locked in the room, they were all gassed.

This student became very emotional when standing in the gas chamber, according to the blog post, but in all the times that I  have visited Dachau and have stood in the gas chamber, I did not become emotional.  There must be something wrong with me.  While I was standing in the gas chamber the last time that I visited Dachau, I was too busy looking around at the shower heads and noticing that they were not evenly spaced on the ceiling and that the one remaining shower head did not hang down from the ceiling.  (All of the shower heads have now been stolen as souvenirs.)

I know that the gas that was used at Dachau was not liquid, nor invisible vapor, but rather was in the form of Zyklon-B pellets that are about the size of peas; the pellets could not have been put through the shower heads.

The shower heads were put in the gas chamber in order to fool the victims into thinking that the gas chamber was a shower room, so why weren’t they spaced evenly?  The spacing of the shower heads looks suspicious to me.  I think that the uneven spacing is due to the vent being put in AFTER the shower heads were installed.

The following quote is from The Harrowing of Hell, a book written by Captain Marcus J. Smith, a US Army medical doctor with DP Team 115, who arrived at Dachau on April 30, 1945:

“They stood beneath innocent-looking shower heads, evenly spaced on the ceiling; from them the invisible lethal gas (carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide) flowed for ten to twenty minutes. I noticed a thick glass window on the rear of the chamber: I am told that through the window a supervisor witnessed the executions so that he could decontaminate when they were over.”

Contrary to the description above, written by a medical doctor with the US Army, who saw the gas chamber the day after the camp was liberated, the holes for the fake shower heads are currently not “evenly spaced.” There are three rows of ceiling holes in the gas chamber today.  On the north side of the ceiling, there are three holes on the left side, then two ceiling vents with one hole between them on the right side. In the middle row, there are 6 holes and in the row near the south wall, there are 5 holes, making a total of 15 randomly-spaced holes for the fake shower nozzles.

Were the shower heads changed sometime after this army doctor saw the gas chamber on April 30, 1945?  Was the whole ceiling lowered so that the water pipes were hidden?  Was the peephole used to see which water pipes to open because all three water pipes did not need to flow if there were only a few prisoners taking a shower under one row of shower heads?

A group of US Congressmen visited Dachau on May 1, 1945 and in their report, they described the gas chamber as having a 10-foot ceiling with pipes on the ceiling.  The two rooms on either side of the gas chamber both have 10-foot ceilings.  On May 3, 1945, when a film of the gas chamber was made, the ceiling was 7.6 feet high and there were no pipes visible.  Were there some changes made to the gas chamber between April 30, 1945 and May 3, 1945?  The film that was made on May 3, 1945 was shown at the Nuremberg IMT as proof that prisoners were gassed at Dachau.

The one remaining shower head in the Dachau gas chamber in 2003 was made of sheet metal and it looked like the head from a large garden sprinkler can. It was approximately five inches in diameter, and was set flush with the ceiling in a hole that was about 4 or 5 inches deep into the ceiling. By looking into the empty holes on the ceiling today, one can see that these fake shower heads in the gas chamber were not connected to any pipes. The one remaining shower head had been dented, as though someone had punched it with his fist.

A real shower room at Dachau with the shower heads hanging from water pipes

The photo above shows what a real shower room looked like at Dachau.  Notice the shower heads are evenly spaced and hanging down from the pipes.  This photo was taken in the administration building which has been converted into a Museum at Dachau.  The pipes and shower heads  have been removed.  Were the  real pipes and shower heads removed so that visitors will not think for themselves,  but will just let emotion overcome them when they stand in the gas chamber which is disguised as a shower room?

August 6, 2010

The pile of clothes found at Dachau by the American liberators

This morning I read a blog which included a photo of a pile of clothing found by the American liberators at Dachau. I have this photo on my own web site here; the photo is shown below.

Pile of prisoners clothing found at the Dachau concentration camp, April 1945

I clicked on the photo on the blog and read this caption:

This pile of clothes belonged to prisoners of Dachau concentration camp, recently liberated by troops of the U.S. Seventh Army. Slave laborers were compelled to strip before they were killed. Germany, April 30, 1945. T4c. Sidney Blau. (Army) NARA FILE #: 111-SC-206193 WAR &  CONFLICT BOOK #: 1129

Sign at Dachau Memorial Site shows photo of pile of clothing

The blogger who put the photo of the clothing on his blog post had recently visited Dachau.  Apparently he didn’t notice the sign shown in the photo above.  This photo was taken by me several years ago; maybe the sign has been taken down since my visit.  Maybe the tour guides at Dachau are now telling visitors that the Jews were forced to strip and throw their clothes on a  pile before they were gassed.  But why gas the “slave laborers” at Dachau? Wouldn’t this defeat the purpose of having a slave labor camp?

When the American liberators arrived at Dachau on April 29, 1945, there were piles of prisoners clothing waiting to be deloused in the four disinfection chambers at the south end of the crematorium building. The photo of the clothing, shown above, which is  currently stored in the National Archives in Washington, DC, was printed in newspapers in 1945 with this caption:

Tattered clothes from prisoners who were forced to strip before they were killed, lay in huge piles in the infamous Dachau concentration camp.

There was a typhus epidemic in the Dachau camp and 900 prisoners at Dachau were dying of the disease when the liberators arrived, according to Marcus J. Smith. Smith was an Army doctor, who along with 9 others, formed Displaced Persons Team 115, which was sent to Dachau after the liberation. In his book entitled Dachau: The Harrowing of Hell, Smith wrote that eleven of the barracks buildings at the Dachau camp had been converted into a hospital to house the 4,205 sick prisoners. Another 3,866 prisoners were bed ridden.

Photo of a disinfection chamber door at Dachau, April 30, 1945

The photograph shown above was taken on April 30, 1945, the same day that the photo of the pile of clothing was taken.  It shows a US soldier standing in the open-air hallway in front of one of the doors into the four disinfection chambers. Clothes were hung on hangers, then placed inside the disinfection chambers and deloused with Zyklon-B. The US Army released the photograph shown above with a caption which said that this was the gas chamber for murdering the Dachau inmates.

Disinfected clothing was hung on hangers outside the disinfection chambers

The American liberators mistakenly assumed that the Jewish inmates at Dachau were forced to remove their clothes, then either hang them neatly on hangers outside the chambers or throw them onto a big pile of clothes, before entering the disinfection chambers to be killed with Zyklon-B.

I  also read this information on the blog:

Dachau wasn’t an Extermination Camp like Belsen. It had a gas chamber, but it was apparently only used “for experimental purposes”.

Belsen (Bergen-Belsen) was “an Extermination Camp?”  This is news to me. I visited Bergen-Belsen several years ago and wrote extensively about the camp; you can read all about Belsen here.  I wrote about the gas chamber at Belsen here.

Here is another quote from the same blog:

Although it wasn’t a Death Camp as such, there was a punishment block in which large numbers of people were murdered.

I must get back to Dachau to see the punishment block where large numbers of people were murdered. I missed this on the several trips that I made to Dachau.

April 19, 2010

It’s time to bring back the sign in the Dachau “gas chamber”

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 8:35 am

The first time that I visited the Dachau memorial site in 1997, there was a sign in the corner of the gas chamber. The sign said in five languages that the gas chamber at Dachau “had never been used” or “war nicht in Betrieb.”  Since then, I’ve been back to Dachau several times; the sign has been removed and the Museum has been expanded considerably.  Visitors are now told by some of the tour guides that the Dachau gas chamber was, in fact, used to kill Jews. (more…)