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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…)

February 14, 2010

History of gas chambers at Auschwitz

Prior to the gassing of prisoners at Auschwitz, the Nazis began gassing mentally and physically handicapped persons with carbon monoxide in May 1940 at Hartheim Castle in Austria, and at other locations.

Gas chamber at Hartheim Castle used carbon monoxide which came through a pipe near the floor

The sign in the photo reads:

Gas Chamber – The victims entered the room through a low narrow steel door. Shower installations gave the impression that it was merely a bathroom. As soon as the door closed behind the victims, gas (carbon monoxide) was pumped in through a perforated pipe near the floor. When it appeared there were no more signs of life, the gas was pumped out to enable the removal of bodies. Since 1969, this room could be visited as a memorial.

The first mass killing of human beings by the Nazis, using a poison gas called  Zyklon-B, took place in cell #27 in Block 11 at the  Auschwitz main camp on September 3, 1941, according to the tour guide on a trip which I made in October 1998.

First gassing at Auschwitz was in Cell #27 in Block 11

Adolf Eichmann was visiting the Auschwitz camp on that day, although Commandant Rudolf Höss was away on business, according to the Auschwitz Museum guidebook.

Since 1939, Adolf Eichmann had been the head of Department IV, B4 in the Reich Central Security Office (RSHA); Eichmann’s department was in charge of getting rid of the Jews in Europe.

Karl Fritzsch, the Lagerführer (camp commander of Auschwtz I) took it upon himself to carry out this first gassing, while his superior officer, Commandant Rudolf Höss, was away.

The tour guide told me that  Cell #27 was sealed by packing dirt into the concrete well around the window outside; then the prisoners were shoved inside, Zyklon-B crystals were thrown in through the door, and the door was quickly shut.

The photo below shows the exterior of Block 11 with concrete wells around the windows of the cells in the basement.

Window well was packed with dirt to seal Cell #27

The first tests using Zyklon-B had been done in August 1941 in one of the basement prison cells. These experiments were done long before the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” was planned at the Wannsee conference on January 20, 1942. Zyklon-B was, at that time, being used extensively in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and at most of the other camps, as an insecticide to kill body lice in clothing in an effort to prevent typhus epidemics.

The subjects of this first mass killing on September 3, 1941 were 600 Russian POWs and 250 sick prisoners. According to my tour guide, testing done in the previous months had determined the right amount of Zyklon-B needed to kill a room full of people.

In a book entitled Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, edited by Israel Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, it was stated that the murder of 600 Soviet Prisoners of War and about 250 sick prisoners took place in Block 11 between September 3rd and September 5th. The authors also quoted from a report by the prisoner underground which said that 600 Soviet prisoners and 200 Poles were gassed in Block 11 on the night of September 5th and 6th.

Reconstructed gas chamber in Auschwitz main camp

According to a guide book sold at the Auschwitz Museum, the gas chamber in the main Auschwitz camp was used from September 1941 to March 1942 and after that, the gassing of the Jews continued in “the little red house” at Birkenau. Later, gassing was also done in “the little white house” at Birkenau. However, Danuta Czech wrote that the last gassing in the main camp was done in Krema I  in December 1942.

Ruins of “the little white house” where prisoners were gassed

In March 1943, the first gassing took place in Krema II at the Auschwitz II camp, also known as Birkenau. According to Holocaust historian Robert Jan van Pelt, there was a total of  500,000 Jews gassed in Krema II.

Model of Krema II gas chamber and undressing room

In the photo of a model of the Krema II gas chamber, the undressing room is on the left and the gas chamber is on the right.

Krema III gas chamber building at Birkenau

Krema II and Krema III were the largest gas chambers at Birkenau.  There were two other gas chambers, known as Krema IV and Krema V which had above-ground gas chambers disguised as shower rooms.

Krema IV gas chamber building at Birkenau

The photograph above shows the gas chamber building known as Crematorium IV, or Krema IV, taken in the Summer of 1943 after it became operational. This building was blown up by Jewish inmates in a camp rebellion on October 7, 1944.

The Krema IV gas chamber, disguised as a shower room, was located above ground in the wing of the building which is to the left in the picture. Note that the roof line of the gas chamber is lower than the roof of the main part of the building. Zyklon-B poison gas pellets were thrown into the fake shower room through windows on the outside wall of the gas chamber.

Recent photos of Auschwitz-Birkenau at this web site