Technique and Operation
                            of the Gas Chambers ©
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As I have already said, there were five furnaces in Krematorium II, each with three muffles for cremating the corpses and heated by two coke-fired hearths. The fire flues of these hearths came out above the ash [collection] boxes of the two side muffles. Thus the flames went first round the two side muffles then heated the center one, from where the combustion gases were led out below the furnace, between the two firing hearths. Thanks to this arrangement, the incineration process for the corpses in the side muffles differed from that of the center muffle. The corpses of “musulmans”, or of wasted people with no fat burned rapidly in the side muffles and slowly in the centre one. Conversely, the corpses of people gassed directly on arrival, not being wasted, burned better in the center muffle [see Document 25]. During the incineration of such corpses, we used the coke only to light the fire of the furnace initially, for fatty corpses burned of their own accord thanks to the combustion of the body fat. On occasion, when coke was in short supply, we would put some straw and wool in the ash bins [see Document 26] under the muffles, and once the fat of the corpse began to burn the other corpses would catch light themselves. There were no iron components inside the muffle. The bars were of chamotte [refractory material], for iron would have melted in the furnace, which reached 1000 to 1200°C. These chamotte bars were arranged crosswise. The dimensions of the door and the opening of the muffles were smaller than the inside of the muffle itself, which was 2 meters long, 80 cm wide and about 1 meter high. Generally speaking, we burned 4 or 5 corpses at a time in one muffe, but sometimes we charged a greater number of corpses. It was possible to charge up to 8 “musulmans”. Such big charges were incinerated without the knowledge of the head of the crematorium during air raid warnings in order to attract the attention of airmen by having a bigger fire emerging from the chimney. We imagined that in that way it might be possible to change our fate. The iron components, in particular fire bars, still to be found in the camp [in the “Bauhof”], were from the fireboxes. Krematorium II had fire bars of heavy angle iron. Krematorien IV and V were fitted with fire bars in the form of a lance, or rather were like swords with handles [see Document 27]. 
 [Henryk Tauber does not mention the pulsed air blowers fitted on the furnaces and designed to accelerate the initial heating of the furnaces and the incineration of the corpses. Dr Miklos Nyiszli mentions them operating in the summer of 1944 in Krematorien II. David Olère depicted them perfectly on a longitudinal section of Krematorium III that he drew in 1945 or 46.]
On 4th March [1943], we were ordered to fire the hearths. We worked there until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. It was then that a commission formed of members of the Political Section and senior SS officers from Berlin arrived at the crematorium [Kr II]. There were also some civilians and engineers of the firm “Topf”. I remember that among them was Hauptsturmführer [captain] Schwan, Lagerkommandant [camp commandant] Aumeyer and Oberscharführer [senior staff-sergeant] Kwakerak. After the arrival of this commission, we were ordered to take the corpses out of of the store room [15] and throw them in the muffles. In this room we found about 45 bodies of men only, very well fed and fat. I did not know when they were put there or where they came from. Later on. I learned that they had been selected from the persons gassed in Bunker II [2] situated in the forest [300 metres west of the Zentral Sauna]. An SS officer of the Political Section had gone there and ordered prisoners to pick out big and well-fleshed bodies that he made them load on vehicles and remove from the Bunker [2]. At that time, the Sonderkommando prisoners did not know where these corpses came from. It turned out they were to he used to test and demonstrate to this big commission the operation and capacity of Krematorium II which was going to be started up. Via the lift [9] and the door [14a] leading to the “boiler room”, we took out the bodies and placed them two or three at a time on trolleys of the type I described for Krematorium I and charged them into the different muffles. As soon as all the muffles of the five furnaces had been charged [with three corpses per muffle: 3 x 5 = 45], the members of the commission began to observe the operation, watch in hand. They opened the muffle doors. looked at their watches, expressed surprise at the slowness of the cremation process. In view of the fact that the furnaces were not yet hot enough, even though we had been firing them since the morning, and because they were brand new, the incineration of this charge took about 40 minutes. [Later on,] in continuous operation, we could burn two charges per hour. According to the regulations. we were supposed to charge the muffles every half hour. Ober Capo August explained to us that, according to the calculations and plans for this crematorium, 5 to 7 minutes was allowed to burn one corpse in a muffle. In principle, he did not let us put more than three corpses in one muffle. Because with that quantity we were obliged to work without interruption, for as soon as the last muffle was charged, the contents of the first had been consumed [Tauber describes his work as being to look after ONE furnace, charging the three muffles, the first, second and third, or last, in tum]. In order to be able to take a pause during the work, we would charge 4 or 5 corpses in each muffle. The incineration of such a charge took longer, and after charging the last muffle, we had a few minutes’ break until the first one was again available. We took advantage of this free time to wash the floor of the “boiler room” [!], as a result of which the air became a little cooler.  

Once the incineration of the first test charge was finished, the commission left. We tidied up the crematorium, washed it, and were taken back to block 2 in Sector BIb. During the next ten days, we went back, under SS guard, to fire the furnaces. No convoys arrived during these ten days. We did not burn any corpses, simply keeping the fires going in order to keep the furnaces hot. About mid-March 1943,
[on 14th, when out of an RSHA transport of 2000 Jews from the Cracow ghetto, 494 were selected for work in the camp and the others were gassed]
one evening after work, Haupscharführer [Master-Sergeant) Hirsch. in charge of the Krematorien at thin tine, came and ordered its to stay in the crematorium because there was some work for us. At nightfall, trucks arrived carrying people of both sexes and all ages. Among them there were old men, women, and many children. The trucks ran back and forth for an hour between the station  
[Auschwitz station, where there was a “Jewish platform” used before the construction of a rail siding running to between Krematorien II and III]
and the camp, bringing more and more people. As soon as the trucks began to arrive, we, the Sonderkommando, were shut up in a room located at the back [23] where, as I said in my description of the crematorium, the doctors who carried out the autopsies were to be housed. From this room, we could hear the people emerging from the trucks weeping and shouting. They were herded towards a hut [B] erected perpendicular to the crematorium building, [and directed] towards the entrance gate [P] of Krematorium II [see Document 28, extract of drawing 2216]. The people entered through the door facing the gate [P] and went down [to the basement of Krematorium II to enter Leichenkeller 1 (the gas chamber) ( 1 )I by the stairway [6] to the right of the waste incinerator wing. At that time, this hut served as an undressing room. It was used for this purpose only for a week or so, then it was dismantled. After this hut was removed, the people were herded towards the basement area of the crematorium via a stairway [10] leading to the underground undressing room [2], already described. After we had waited for two hours [see Document 29, a David Olère’s sketch of a scene that the temporarily imprisoned Sonderkonimando could not see] in the pathologists’ room, we were let out and ordered to go to the gas chamber. We found heaps of naked bodies, doubled up. They were pinkish, and in places red. Some were covered with greenish marks and saliva ran from their mouths. Others were bleeding from the nose. There was excrement on many of them. I remember that a great number had their eyes open and were hanging on to one another. The bodies were most crushed together round the door. By contrast, there were less around the wire mesh columns. The location of the bodies indicated that the people had tried to get away front the columns and get to the door. It was very hot in the gas chamber and so suffocating as to be unbearable. Later on , we became convinced that many people died of suffocation, due to lack of air, just before the gassing. They fell to the floor and were trampled on by the others. They were not sitting, like the majority, but stretched out on the floor, under the others. It was obvious that they had succumbed first and that they had been trampled on. Once the people were in the gas chamber, the door was closed and the air was pumped out. The gas chamber ventilation could work in this way, thanks to a system that could both extract and blow.  
[Henryk Tauber is mistaken here. and contradicts himself. Is there any point in extracting the air from the gas chamber? The only technical justification would be to promote the diffusion of the hydrocyanic gas by creating a partial vacuum. It suffices to close off the fresh air inlet and switch on the extractor fans. Even it it were possible to create a slight vacuum, this would immediately be broken as soon as the medical orderlies responsible for gassing opened the covers of the wire mesh columns to pour in the Zyclon-B. This method of operation would be absurd, especially with an installation for both extracting AND blowing. A blower ventilation system, bringing fresh air in, cannot be used for extracting air. The truth is that Tauber misunderstood the functioning of the ventilation system (understandably enough because he could not demolish the walls to check the exact arrangement of the ventilation ducts) of the gas chamber, even though he had correctly identified (without realizing their role) the two distinct parts: a NATURAL air intake comprising a simple duct running from the roof ridge to the gas chamber, which was the upper ventilation system, and an an air extraction system driven by an electric motor, with fans drawing out the foul air, the lower ventilation system. When the air extractor fans were switched on, fresh air naturally flowed in to replace the polluted air extracted. The levels of the air inlets (above) and extraction holes (below) prove that the system was designed for an under-ground morgue and not for a gas chamber. where the extraction of the WARM noxious air should be in the UPPER part. On the possible blocking of the lower air extraction holes by corpses, see my solution in Part II Chapter 6.]  
Only the undressing room had a blower-assisted air intake system. 
[The difference in design between the two installations fulfilling the same function is explained by the fact that one, that of Leichenkeller l. was designed and installed by the Bauleitung, while the other, that of Leichenkeller 2. was designed and installed by the civilian firm Topf & Sons of Erfurt, a firm producing metal tubes of different section and therefore interesled in “placing” a maximum of its products, as can be clearly seen in the ventilation systems of the Krematorien II and III undressing rooms.].
Despite the fact that the ventilation remained on for some time after the opening of the gas chamber, we wore gas masks to work there. Our job was to remove the bodies, but we did not do this for the first convoy in mid-March because we had to go back to work in the furnace room. To do the job, seventy prisoners were brought from block II, also members of the Sonderkommando and working at the incineration pits of the Bunkers [ 1 and 2]. This group took the corpses from the gas chamber [see Documents 30 and 30a] into the corridor [3] near the lift. There, a barber cut off the women’s hair, then the bodies were taken on the lift to the “boiler room” level. On this floor they were put in the store room or taken directly to the “boiler room” where they were heaped in front of the furnaces. Then, two dentists, under the surveillance of the SS, pulled out metal fillings and false teeth.
[David Olère placed the “barbers” and “dentists” directly IN the gas chamber, precisely indicated by a wire mesh column [Document 31]. But he worked in Krematorium III. There was perhaps a different operating sequence in each Krematorium.].
They also removed the rings and earrings. The teeth were thrown into a box marked “Zahnarztstation” [dental center]. As for the jewels, they were put into another box with no label other than a number. The dentists, recruited from among the prisoners, looked into all the mouths except those of the children. When the jaws were too tightly clamped. they pulled therm apart with the pincers used to extract the teeth. The SS carefully checked the worked of the dentists, always being present. From time to time they would stop a load of corpses ready for charging into the furnace and already operated on by the dentists, in order to check the mouths. They occasionally found a forgotten gold tooth. Such carelessness was considered to be sabotage, and the culprit was burned alive in the furnace. I witnessed such a thing myself. A dentist, a French Jew, was burned in this way in Krematorium V. He fought and cried, but there were several SS and they threw themselves on him, overpowered him and put him in the furnace alive. This punishment was often inflicted on members of the Sonderkommando, but it was not the only one. There were many others, such as immediate shooting, being thrown into water, physical torture, beating, being rolled naked on gravel, and other punishments. Such things were done in the presence of all the members of the Sonderkommando in order to intimidate them. I remember another case that took place in August 1944 in Krematorium V. When the shifts were changing over, they had found a gold watch and wedding ring on one of the labourers, a man  
Technique and operation
of the gas chambers

Jean-Claude Pressac
© 1989, The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation
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