I love to read the news articles about the young people who travel from the UK to Auschwitz for a one-day guided tour. This morning I read a newspaper account about a group of Sheffield sixth form students brought to Auschwitz by the Holocaust Educational Trust. The article was written by Rachel Clegg, a reporter who traveled with the students to Auschwitz and apparently accompanied them on their tour.
This quote is from the article, headlined “Stark lessons of Auschwitz,” which you can read in full here:
By January 1942, the Nazis had started killing hundreds of people at a time in the gas chambers. Today the gas chamber block at Auschwitz 1 stands empty, although the holes where the ‘shower heads’ emitted the deadly gas are still visible.
It is not clear to me whether the group was told by a tour guide that the “deadly gas” came through “shower heads,” or whether this detail was added by the reporter. There are reconstructed holes in the ceiling of the Auschwitz main camp gas chamber, but these are not holes for shower heads. The deadly Zyklon-B gas pellets were poured through large holes on the ceiling, according to the official Holocaust story. These holes were reconstructed by the Soviets after they liberated Auschwitz and found that the holes had been closed up when the gas chamber was converted into a bomb shelter by the Germans.
For over 50 years, the staff at Auschwitz told visitors that the Auschwitz main camp gas chamber was original. Now it is admitted that the gas chamber is a reconstruction, but I am not sure if the students are told this.
The problem is that there are so many visitors to Auschwitz today that no one is allowed to walk around in the gas chamber and get a good look at the holes, as I was able to do in 2005. The photo below shows what visitors now see when they go inside the gas chamber.
The view of the Auschwitz main camp gas chamber that tourists see today
The photo above shows what tourists see today when they go inside the Auschwitz gas chamber. In my 2005 photo below, you can see one of the holes in the ceiling on the left side.
Hole in the ceiling of the Auschwitz gas chamber can be seen on the left side
My photo of Auschwitz gas chamber in 2005 shows no holes for shower heads on the ceiling
On the left side of the photo above, you can see part of a vent hole on the ceiling. A close-up of the vent hole is shown in the photo below.
Vent hole in the ceiling of the Auschwitz gas chamber
View of Auschwitz gas chamber, looking toward the entrance that was added when the gas chamber was converted into a bomb shelter
The photo above clearly shows that there were no shower heads in the Auschwitz main camp gas chamber. There are no holes where the shower heads would have been located.
There are four reconstructed holes in the ceiling of the Auschwitz gas chamber, two on each side.
Photo of Auschwitz gas chamber shows a hole in the ceiling on the right side
Reconstructed hole in the ceiling of Auschwitz gas chamber
Hole in ceiling of gas chamber
The two photos above show the holes in the ceiling on the left side. The photo below is a close-up of one of the reconstructed holes in the ceiling on the right side. On the roof of the building, the holes are covered with a wooden lid, which you can see in the photo below.
Hole in ceiling of gas chamber on right side
According to Franciszek Piper, the former director of the Auschwitz Museum, the Zyklon-B gas pellets were poured through the holes on the roof by one SS man who opened the lids of the holes on the roof of the building, one at a time. The pellets were just poured onto the heads of the victims, not into a wire basket from which they could have been retrieved, as the manufacturer recommended. This resulted in a big waste of money because the pellets were designed by the manufacturer to be re-used. The pellets could not be retrieved from the floor of the Auschwitz main camp gas chamber because they would have been mixed with the bodily fluids expelled by the victims as they died.
The photo below shows the openings for the holes on the roof. I took this photo in 1998. Today, tourists are forbidden to climb up on the roof.
Openings for the holes on the roof of the Auschwitz gas chamber
The photograph above shows the roof of the Auschwitz gas chamber and crematorium building in the Auschwitz main camp as it looked in October 1998. On the right, you can see a red brick chimney of the type used for a stove. Behind it is another larger chimney over the area where the crematory ovens were located; there were two of these chimneys, but one is out of camera range in this photo. At the far end of the roof, there is another chimney which is not located over the gas chamber area.
One of the reconstructed holes is shown in the foreground on the left in the photo above; the other three holes are behind it. The reconstructed holes are covered by wooden lids, just like the original holes; the lids can be lifted up today, just as they were by the SS men who poured the gas pellets into the gas chamber.
Jean Claude Pressac wrote in his book Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers that there were originally three holes in a straight line on the roof of the gas chamber. According to the book entitled Auschwitz 1270 to the Present, by Robert Jan van Pelt and Deborah Dwork, the Nazis had “punched three square portholes through the morgue roof and covered them with tightly fitting wooden lids.”
The original holes for the gas pellets were closed up when the room was converted into a bomb shelter by the Nazis in 1944, although this was not mentioned in the construction plans. The holes on the roof today are reconstructions; there are four holes, not three, as in the original construction.