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The Holocaust History Project.

Re: N. Gas Tight Doors (283-305)

First of all it seems that Rudolf wants to have it both ways. He accepts that felt was used as a gasket material on wooden doors that served the Zyklon B delousing chambers of Canada 1 when he writes, on p. 295, that "felt was used as gasket material, as shown by some photos as well as by documents." And he rightly points to a document dated February 24, 1943 (reproduced in Pressac) calculating the material necessary to produce 12 gastight doors measuring 30 by 40 cm for crematoria 4 and 5. At the bottom of the calculation is a hand-written note on materials to be used that adds "Filz" (felt). In fact, some of that felt can still be seen on the three doors that survived. 87 Thus Rudolf acknowledges that felt was used as a gas-tight seal. But then, a couple of pages later, he states categorically in his "Assessment of the Auschwitz Doors" that "felt is not gas-tight." This may be so, or not, but if felt was not gas-tight, the people in Auschwitz were unaware of this, because they used, as Rudolf demonstrated before, felt as a gas-tight seal. I presume this is the meaning of the adverb "truly" when he writes the following on p. 293:

The fact is that to this date nobody has offered any documentary or material evidence for the alleged existence of execution gas chambers. The question is therefore whether there really was even one single truly gas-tight door in Auschwitz that could have fulfilled the necessary criteria for a gas-tight mass execution door.

I note in passing that the rhetoric used here, the emphasis on the "one single . . ." echoes that of Faurisson, when he asked for "one single proof . . ." or the more recent call for "one single hole . . ." So the conclusion seems to be: yes, there were many gas-tight doors in Auschwitz, but not a single "truly" gas-tight door, because the gas-tight doors in Auschwitz all used felt as a sealer, and this is not "truly" gas-tight. But it seems that in Auschwitz the gas-tight doors sealed with felt did do a good enough job anyway. Of course, the doors discussed are for delousing rooms. But since the concentration of hydrogen cyanide used in Zyklon B delousing chambers was in all probability higher, and certainly not lower, than the concentration used in homicidal gas chambers, it follows that if the felt seals were good enough for the delousing rooms, they were good enough for the homicidal gas chambers.

An important thing to remember is that the homicidal gassings in Auschwitz began in a very improvised way, like most things in Auschwitz happened in a very improvised way. For example, if we look at delousing sheds BW5a and BW5b, which were designed in 1941, constructed in 1942 and remained in operation until the end of the war, it is remarkable to realize how simple these structures are, and how far the construction of the delousing gas chambers is from the technological refinement from the Degesch Kreislauf-Entlausungsgaskammer (circulation-delousing gas chamber) or other designs produced before and during the war. However, BW5a and BW5b were sophisticated buildings compared to Bunkers 1 and 2. These homicidal gas chambers, in which up to a quarter of a million people were killed in 1942 and early 1943, were cheap conversions of existing farm houses. They were not built using industrial standards for safety, and they did not use gas-tight doors produced according to industrial standards. When in August 1942 the Central Construction Office set out to design crematoria 4 and 5 as killing installations, the architects initially designed a building without including gas chambers, as the assumption was that these crematoria would be built adjacent to bunkers 1 and 2, the so-called "bathhouses for special actions." The gas chambers of bunkers 1 and 2, primitive as they were, functioned well enough, and there was no need to improve on them. Only later that year - in any case after September 22, 1942 88 - the decision seems to have been taken to move crematoria 4 and 5 away from the bunkers and into the camp area proper. This led to a need to build gas chambers adjacent to the crematoria. The experience with the bunkers was such that the architects of the Central Construction Office decided to largely replicate these buildings as annexes of the new crematoria. There was obviously no desire to go for a more fancy solution.

This brings me then to some evidence that, in the opinion of Rudolf, can "hardly be surpassed" (p. 301): the various offers of Berninghaus to sell to the Auschwitz SS gas-tight doors (pp. 299-301). The case he tries to make is that the architects in the Central Construction Office knew what "real" gas-tight doors were like because Berninghaus had offered such doors in July 9, 1942 for a massive inmate registration, delousing and bath building under construction in the main camp. He writes (p. 299):

Where the buildings in Auschwitz are concerned, this tender for gas-tight doors is highly significant in terms of its timing, since it had already been obtained before any of the crematoria at Birkenau were built. If, as is alleged, "execution gas chambers" had been planned for these crematoria, then such doors would also have been ordered early on, but this was not done. On the other hand, such doors manufactured by the same firm were verifiably installed in the concentration camp at Buchenwald, but no serious historian suggests today that there were any execution "gas chambers" at Buchenwald.

First of all there is a serious misrepresentation of the facts here: no serious student of crematoria 2 and 3 asserts today that these buildings were originally planned with what Rudolf calls "execution gas chambers." Pressac first proposed, and I fully agree with him, that the decision to transform morgue 1 of crematoria 2 and 3 into gas chambers was taken in the fall of 1942, when both buildings were under construction. The transformation of morgue 1 of crematoria 2 and 3 into a gas chamber took place with a minimum of fuss. We have records that show that the gas-tight doors were ordered, not from an outside supplier, but from the DAW (Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke, or German Armament Works), an SS controlled factory adjacent to the camp grounds. There was no tender, not only because it concerned a secret job, but also because there was no budget, nor the rationing allocation to buy steel doors. It is important in this context to know that the inmate registration, delousing and bath building known as BW 160, which was to meant to receive the steel gas-tight doors, was approved, designed and constructed as part of an expansion plan of the main camp (Auschwitz I) to be made possible with the help of IG Farben, which was to provide finances and the allocation of rationed materials. In the end, IG Farben never delivered the goods, and as a result most of the planned expansion of the main camp did not happen, and BW 160, the only major building of that expansion that had been begun, was never completed during the war. In other words, BW 160 was a building where, at its beginning, things seemed feasible that went much beyond what was possible elsewhere in the camp.

In his affidavit Rudolf systematically distorts or ignores the historical context in which things occurred. Of course: the architects of the Central Construction Office knew, when, in the fall of 1942, they decided to transform morgue 1 into a gas chamber, that state-of-the-art gas-tight doors were in principle available. But they had not yet been able to get these for BW 160, and they were certainly not going to get them relatively quickly for the crematoria, as there was no administrative mechanism to get them. And given the fact that the wooden doors had worked well enough at the Bunkers 1 and 2, and at the delousing sheds of Birkenau and Canada 1, there was really no reason to look further. If the Berninghaus steel doors had been available in the Central Construction Office Bauhof (building material yard) at the time that the redesign of the basement of crematoria 2 and 3 were under discussion, I can well imagine that they might have considered the possibility of using one in crematorium 2 and one in crematorium 3. But the doors were not there, and so they had no choice but to use their experience with Bunkers 1 and 2 and the existing delousing facilities in Birkenau, and order similar, wooden, felt-sealed gas-tight doors from the DAW.

As Rudolf's argument continues on pp. 303ff., the statement that there were no "truly gas-tight doors in Auschwitz is expanded into one that claims that "the 'infamous' gas-tight doors of Auschwitz were, in fact, not gas-tight." He offers, however, no other evidence than the fact that steel gas-tight doors with rubber seals, and hung on free axes were probably more gas-tight than the wooden gas-tight doors built in the DAW factory, and the negative evidence that these steel doors were not ordered.

As the correspondence from the firms Berninghaus proves, the Central Building Administration in Auschwitz of Auschwitz would have been able at any time to obtain solid, gas-tight doors, such as were manufactured by the hundred of thousand for Germany's air-raid shelters. The fact that this was not done can only be because they simply were not really needed in Auschwitz. (p. 304)

Rudolf seems to think that, in late 1942, the SS inhabited a world with a German version of the DIY Superstore, with its cash and carry and no-questions-asked policy, in every major town. In fact, an official building stop made it exceedingly difficult to obtain any building material, also for the SS, which did not share the special priority enjoyed by the army, navy and air-force.

Rudolf's claim (p. 298) that the doors of the gas chambers were insufficiently strong to "withstand a pressure of several tons produced by several hundred panicking people pressing against it" does not bear examination. It is true that the gas chamber was crowded, but the question is how the "several hundred panicking people" would have been able to bring pressure to bear on the door. If there was panic, most of the resulting "pressure" would have been born by other people, who would have been crushed, and by the walls, which would have stood. In the end, the only pressure that could be applied to the door would be that of a couple of people closest to it - people who themselves would have been more likely than not crushed by the others. Instead of a pressure of "several tons," there would have been very little pressure. The doors did not need to be particularly strong. It is important to note here that while the original proposal by Dejaco to transform morgue 1 into a homicidal gas chamber, drawn in December 1942, envisioned the construction of an outward-opening double door of 200 cm width, Bischoff's letter of March 31, 1943, mentioned by Rudolf on p. 304 of his affidavit, shows that this double door had been replaced by a smaller single-panel door of 100 cm width - with the remaining 100 cm of the original opening most likely having been filled with bricks, or perhaps by a more permanent, unmovable and strongly anchored panel (this part of both crematoria 2 and 3 is so much ruined that it is impossible to say how the remaining 100 cm was actually filled up). This arrangement was, of course, much stronger, and offered also a better seal.

It is in this context important to address the suggestion made by Rudolf on p. 305.

The change of the door from morgue 1 from opening inwards to opening outwards might as well have a very simple and innocent explanation: Due to capacity restrictions of crematoria, they are normally equipped with morgues for storing corpses of victims of infectious diseases. Spotted fever claimed many lives at the Birkenau camp, and since morgue 1 was the only morgue equipped with both an air-intake and exhaust, it is most likely that the victims of this epidemic were temporarily stored there. Intelligent ventilation design causes a slight under-pressure in such morgues to prevent the nauseous gases developed by stored corpses from entering the rest of the building. Under such circumstances any double door would have to open outwards in order to stay closed.(p. 305)

While this may be true of a door which has no locking mechanism, the gas doors in question had two heavy iron or steel latches which ensured that the door could not open from the inside. In any case, even if this had been the reason why the doors opened outwards, the question is why this design feature was only introduced in December 1942 (there had been a serious typhus epidemic in the camp in August 1942)? Was it an afterthought? Did the architects of the Central Construction Office simply forget throughout the twelve months of design development that preceded Dejaco's modification of the basement arrangement that the under-pressure would cause a problem for the inwards opening doors? If the doors had opened outwards from the beginning of the design development, Rudolf might have a point. But it concerned a modification that occurred very late in the design development, as the building was already under construction. This makes all the difference.

Finally, in this section of his report, as in others, Rudolf neither presents any positive evidence to support his argument nor makes any attempt to reconcile it with the evidence as a whole. If Rudolf is sincere in proposing that the redesign of Leichenkeller 1 to include a ventilation system to simultaneously introduce fresh air and extract foul air and a gas tight door which opened outwards was intended merely to cater for the storage of corpses who had died of typhus, one may ask why he does not address any of the following questions:

a) why should the gas-tight door require a peep hole of double 8 mm glass with a metal grill on the inside?

b) why was morgue 2, the "undressing room," which was about 40% larger than morgue 1, not supplied with a gastight door and a similar ventilation system in preference or in addition to morgue 1?

c) why was the room equipped with 14 showers (a feasible alternative use if the room was to be used as a gas chamber; not so if it was to be used for the storage of the corpses of typhus victims)?

d) why should the redesign involve removal of the adjacent corpse-slide, the transfer of the basement staircase to the other side of the building, and a change in the direction in which the doors of the morgue opened from inwards to outwards, all of which would significantly hamper the introduction of corpses?

e) why should the room be provided with four wire-mesh introduction devices with wooden covers?

And then, of course, there is this one issue that ought to have given Rudolf some concern: when he set out to "research" Auschwitz, he observed that the walls of the delousing chambers of BW5a and BW5b were covered with blue stains. If, indeed, the gas-tight door of morgue 1 had been installed to allow that room to become a Zyklon B delousing room, why did he not find any blue stains on the remaining walls of that space? Or was it a delousing room that was never used?

To tie up one loose end.

Rudolf's attempt to discredit both Pressac and myself wherever possible, twisting the facts if necessary. On p. 302 he offers a typical example:

In his report, Prof. Can [sic] Pelt heavily relies in Pressac's work. However, Pressac's claims regarding gas-tight doors are flawed. E.g. on p. 429 Pressac writes:

"Proposition A: A gas-tight door can be intended only for a gas chamber."

This is a thoughtless and untenable claim. His further conclusions can only be correct if this statement is correct. . . .

Let us look at page 429, and quote the offending "Proposition A" in its proper context. It occurs in an exercise in logic that seeks to explain the way indirect proofs work.

In the final analysis, there remains only the various items of correspondence and official documents of German origin. Through the "slips" that can be found in them, they form a convincing body of presumptive evidence and clearly indicate the presence in four Birkenau Krematories (II, III, IV and V) of gas chambers using a prussic acid disinfestation agent sold under the name of "Zyclon-B." . . . .

In the absence of any "direct", i.e. palpable, indisputable and evident proof (lacking so far as we know at present) such as a photograph of people killed by a toxic gas in an enclosed space that can be perfectly located and identified, or of a label on a Krematorium drawing of a "Gaskammer um Juden zu vergiften ' gas chamber for poisoning Jews" an "indirect" proof may suffice and be valid. By "indirect" proof, I mean a German document that does not state in black and white that a gas chamber is for HOMICIDAL purposes, but one containing evidence that logically it is impossible for it to be anything else.

The first document [Document a] presented here is an inventory of equipment installed in Krematorium III and formed part of the file of documents compiled for the official handover of the new building to the camp administration. . . .

This inventory indicates that the equipment installed for "Leichenkeller I/Corpse cellar [morgue] 1" included:

"1 gasdichte Tür/1 gas-tight door" AND

"14 Brausen/14 showers".

Two items that are strictly INCOMPATIBLE with one another. This incompatibility constitutes the fundamental proof, for it is clear that:

Proposition A: A gas-tight door can be intended only for a gaschamber

Question A: Why does a gas chamber have showers in it?

Reply A: Incomprehensible. Proposition A must be formulated differently for a logical reply.

Proposition B: A room fitted with showers is a place where people wash themselves

Question B: Why does the only entrance to the shower room have a gas-tight door?

Reply B: Incomprehensible. Proposition B must be formulated differently for a logical reply.

Etc. etc.

In other words, Pressac's "Proposition A" is part of an exercise in logic to show how a historian can use a dialectical method to interrogate the evidence. It is not a final, categorical statement about gas-tight doors. This is made clear when he writes "Reply A: Incomprehensible. Proposition A must be formulated differently for a logical reply."


Last modified:May 23, 2002
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