Page 184 AUSCHWITZ:
                        Technique and Operation
                            of the Gas Chambers ©
 
 
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even starting on Camps I and II (the future B.II) where the ten "Leichenhallen" were to be. The fact remains that the drawing of these ten corpse halls is inexplicable without additional documentary evidence, unless they are in some way connected with the creation of Bunker I, located in the immediate proximity, though this link is tenuous, as we shall see. 

During January 1942, Bunker 1, situated in the vicinity of the northwest corner of the future B.III, was in fact created, It was an old Birkenau farmhouse roughly convened into two homicidal gas chambers. Bunker 1 was not planned as an extermination installation (which it later became), but as a crude experimental station for studying the possibilities for the rapid extermination of numbers of people through making them inhale a toxic gas. The product selected, hydrocyanic acid fixed on a porous substrate, was marketed under the trade name "Zyklon B" as a disinfection agent. It could therefore be ordered in the normal way from civilian firms manufacturing or distributing it, without attracting the type of attention that would have been inevitable, for example, with orders for suffocating gas of the “Green Cross” Cross type. The method adopted stemmed directly from the destruction of insect and animal vermin using the gaseous phase of the Zyklon B in an enclosed space (for example when delousing clothing) or in buildings infested by vermin such as bugs, mosquitoes, lice, fleas, rats and mice. Because the lethal dose for humans was not known, the SS had made a botched trial gassing in the basement of Bunker 11 of the Stammlager on 3rd, 4th and 5th September 1941, the victims being 850 Soviet POWs and other prisoners. It was subsequently seen to be more convenient to gas people as required in the very place where all corpses inevitably had to go eventually: the morgue of Krematorium I. But trials to perfect the technique could not be carried out in this crematorium attached to the camp, hence the idea of establishing Bunker I in an isolated location on the edge of the Birkenau wood. It was very little used, if at all, for the extermination of prisoners found unfit for work after selection, up to 4th May 1942 [according to Danuta Czech’s “Calendar of events”], and its use for the extermination of Jews without prior selection did not begin before 12th May 1942 [according to the “Calendar”, but contrary to what is stated there, it seems in have been practiced from January 1942].

The Bauleitung Drawing Office, headed by SS Second Lieutenant Walter Dejaco, continued work on a new crematorium for the Stammlager and between 15th January and 3rd February 1942, the following drawings were completed: 935 (west elevation), 936 (north elevation), 937 (east elevation), 938 (south elevation). 933 (ground floor plan), 934 (furnace and chimney sections), 932 (basement) and 980 (roof frame) [see these drawings in annex]. Dejaco had met his deadline, as less than three months had passed since Bischoff's order of 22nd October 1941.

According to a tracing of the KGL and its surroundings on a scale of 1:10,000 [Document 5], the rail link between the camp and Auschwitz station appeared as at 4th February 1942 to be planned with no extermination of the Jews in mind, for there was no crematorium planned in the vicinity. The future B.I was half completed. The cleared sector to the north corresponded to the dimensions of the drawing of 14th October 1941, but a new extension zone to the north was outlined, considerably larger than that appearing on drawing 885. To the east, the extension of the Stammlager continued apace, with an expanding industrial zone.

On 12th February 1942. two 3 muffle burden, were ordered from Topf & Söhne for the KGL [Document 6]. It is likely that each furnace was to be installed in a Verbrennungshalle (which appeared on drawing 885). which f or the planned 110,000 to 120,000 prisoners meant one muffle for 20,000 people. The Topf three muffle furnace had been designed at the end of 1941 by Chief Engineer Kurt Prüfer [Document 7]. What Prüfer had proposed to install its Birkenau was the firm’s very latest product and the fruit of his own efforts. The throughput of this prototype furnace, which had not yet been tested, was expected to be 225 cremations per day, which made the theoretical total daily capacity of the two Verbrennungshalle 450.

However, on 27th February 1942, as the result of a visit by the Head of Amtsgruppe C of the SS WVHA In Berlin, Dr Ing Kammler, it was decided that the new crematorium with five 3 muffle furnaces planned for the Stammlager would in fact be installed at Birkenau KGL (which would then give 1 muffle for 7,500 prisoners) and the order of 12th February for two 3 muffle furnaces was cancelled, a decision that was bound to upset Messrs Topf, and above all Prüfer, who received a commission on the sale of his furnaces.

Topf naturally wanted to be compensated for the technical and commercial work already done for the order for the two 3 muffle furnaces, the cost of which they estimated at 1,769.36 Reichsmark. This, sum was requested from the Auschwitz Bauleitung in a letter of 11th March 1942 [Document 8]. After having conferred on 25th March 1942 with SS Major Wirtz (Head of Office C III [Technical Tasks], one of the six sub divisions of Amtsgruppe C), Bischoff diverted the two 3 muffle furnaces to “another” use. (This destination is not known, but there would appear to be only two possibilities: either installation in the Stammlager to replace the new crematorium now transferred to Birkenau, or another installation at Birkenau, associated with the homicidal activity to come from Bunker 1 in May and then Bunker 2 at the end of June.) Bischoff subsequently requested Wirtz, in a letter of 30th March 1942 [Document 9] to inform Topf of this, in order to "clarify the situation". This was done on 8th April 1942. suppressing the expenses claimed by Topf, but the firm found the procedure somewhat high-handed and the dispute did not end there. In June 1943 Topf again approached the Bauleitung to claim their money, and Bischoff, thinking the affair had been settled since 8th April 1942, immediately referred it to the Head of Office C III of the SS WVHA in Berlin, since the original decision to cancel the two 3 muffle furnaces had come from him. The outcome of this dispute is not known (letters of 3rd June and 10th July 1943 [file BW 30/34, pages 34 and 20]).

The decision of 27th February 1942 to transfer the new crematorium meant that the drawings of the "930 series" had to be modified slightly to reflect the reorientation of the building to suit the new site in Birkenau. The four elevation drawings, 935, 936, 937 and 938 were combined into a single one, bearing the number 936. The marshy nature of the lands at Birkenau also meant that the planned cellars (Leichenkeller) had to be raised to a semi-basement configuration. This led to drawings 1173 (reuse of the earlier drawing 935, reoriented to the south and completed by a sectional drawing of Leichenkeller 1), 1174 (unpublished) and the addition to drawing 934 of sectional drawings of Leichenkeller 1 and 2 [see these drawings in annex]. As a result, the dates of 15th January attributed to drawings 936, 1173-1174, 23rd January for 932 (second version) and 27th for 934, are all incorrect because of lack of time or some other reason. These drawings must have been modified for the most part in April 1942, and perhaps some were completed early in May. In fact the drawing of the foundations, 1301, which necessarily had to lake account of the nature of the soil, was produced on 8th May. The correction sheet to foundation drawing 932 was produced on 14th May, last date in the first modification of the 930 series, for drawing 1311 “rectifies” one that was already almost entirely redrawn.

Between April and June 1943 there is a historical “gap” in the Bauleitung correspondence concerned with the Birkenau crematorium which makes it impossible to give precise answers to the following questions:
 
- When was the decision taken to modify the crematorium for criminal ends by installing a gas chamber in Leichenkeller I and an undressing room in Leichenkeller 2 (the only initial indication known being drawing 1300 of the drainage system of the building, dated 18th June 1942)? 
   
- Why was the call for tenders for the construction of the future Krematorium II issued to civilian firms in July 1942, a very late date in view of progress with the "resettlement of the Jews" which meant that convoys were already arriving is Auschwitz? 
 
On 5th June 1942, a civilian civil engineering firm, Huta of Kattowitz, working on the construction of B.I in Birkenau. produced a 1:2000 drawing of the POW camp [Document 10] showing the location of the (narrow gauge) railways used to transport building materials. This drawing contains an apparent contradiction: to the west of B.I there was a branch running towards the area occupied by the future Krematorium II, whereas to make this drawing Huta had used Bauleitung drawing 885 (with to the west of Camp Ia Verbrennungshalle and five Leichenhallen) which did not have a crematorium. This apparent premonition is explicable in view of the fact that Krematorium II appeared on a Bauleitung drawing of the POW camp dated 6th June and Huta, in direct contact with the SS, could not fail to be informed of this.

A 1:2000 drawing of Birkenau POW camp showing the contours of the ground for construction stage II [Document 10a] shows Bauabschnitt (construction stage) I in the final phase of evolution, having reached its final form, the double track railway, B.II in its final form and B.III, identical to B.II, giving a total capacity of 140,000 prisoners. Construction stages II and III now had only TWO Leichenhallen each, without Verbrennungshalle but with, in the western extension of B.I, ONE crematorium with five 3 muffle furnaces (the future Krematorium II) apparently for “normal” use (1 muffle for 9300 prisoners). This drawing, without an identification block, came from the Bauleitung Drawing Office, where it was produced in early June 1942, a date that can be established by companion with a similar drawing of the POW camp showing the three construction stages, the double track railway, and a single crematorium (the future Krematorium II), signed by Bischoff and dated 6th June 1942 [PMO neg no 10263]. 

On 18th June 1942, prisoner 17133 drew a plan of the drainage system for the new POW camp crematorium, Bauleitung drawing 1300. This number puts the drawing at the beginning of May. whereas it was dated mid June and checked on 9th July by Eggeling and Töfferl and approved by Bischoff the following day. This drawing, of a technical nature, required two months of work because it was necessary to carry out studies and measurements on the ground in Birkenau and the intervention of two Bauleitung specialists, constraints which perhaps explain the time taken, unless this was due to the modifications made to Leichenkeller 1. This is the first drawing to contain a criminal element, for the drainage of Leichenkeller 1 (the future gas chamber) is now separated from that of the rest of the crematorium, whereas there had been just a single drainage system on the earlier basement drawing 932.

A second farmhouse, three hundred meters west of the future “Zentral Sauna”, was crudely transformed into four small homicidal gas chambers, parallel to one another, which came into service on 30th June 1942 under the designation “Bunker 2". The arrangement of the gas chambers was directly inspired by that of the Zyklon B delousing chambers installed by civilian firms. 30th June 1942 marks a turning point in the history of Birkenau, for while there may have been some extermination of Jews before this, it was on an ad hoc and totally improvised basis, whereas henceforth it was to be carried out on an industrial basis, This was perhaps not always true in practice, but it was certainly the intention of the SS, who between early July and mid August 1942 launched a program of FOUR crematoriums with 46 incineration muffles, without counting the 6 already existing in Krematorium I, for a present and existing total of 20,000 prisoners, or 1 muffle for 400 people. Of course, this calculation is incorrect to the extent that it divides the existing number of prisoners, without adding those planned to come, by the number of existing and planned cremation muffles, but it does perfectly illustrate the criminal nature of the multiplication of crematoriums. It suffices to imagine a village of 4,000 inhabitants with its church in the center arid beside it a crematorium equipped with three 3 muffle furnaces as they existed in Birkenau, The installation would have human fuel for scarcely a week of operation. We need not dwell on this picture.

It may appear surprising that the“industrial” extermination of Jews at Auschwitz Birkenau was planned and put into practice so late: planned between June and August 1942 and actually implemented between March and June 1943 by the entry into service of the four Krematorien, For from the standpoint of criminal technique, the massacres of the Jews perpetrated in the late summer of 1941 were rudimentary and unorganized trials (those carried out by Einsatzgruppen A, B, C and D in the Soviet Union; the mobile gassing trucks is the Eastern territories; lastly the trucks at Kulmhof [Chelmno on the Ner] in December 1941), likely to be stopped in any moment under the pressure of internal or external events. It was not until the second quarter of 1942 that the “production line” stage was reached, irreversible and practically official in the leading circles of the Reich and the extermination regions: Belzec (17th March 1942), Sobibor (17th May 1942), Treblinka II (June or July 1942, depending on the source). Lublin Majdanek (September 1942, a date that would probably be revised to considerably later if a serious study of its gas chambers were to be made). In this tight chronology. Auschwitz Birkenau would he placed in late June / early July 1942.  
 
AUSCHWITZ:
Technique and operation
of the gas chambers

Jean-Claude Pressac
© 1989, The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation
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