Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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camp commandant had chosen an isolated Auschwitz site for the killing — a former peasant farmstead, which was made into the gas chamber Bunker I. They had not yet thought of burning the corpses, and the site’s meadows allowed long pits for burials.30

On one of Höss’s trips away from Auschwitz in August 1941, his deputy, SS Captain Karl Fritzch, “on his own initiative” conducted successful experiments with Zyklon-B (the German trade name for hydrogen cyanide or prussic acid) on Russian prisoners of war on Block 11, the punishment block. Zyklon-B “was constantly used in Auschwitz for the destruction of vermin, and there was consequently always a supply of these tins of gas on hand.”31 Höss joined in on repetitions of the experiment on his return, observing the killing while wearing a gas mask, and noting that death came very quickly; although he later claimed, “During this first experience of gassing people, I did not fully realize what was happening, perhaps because I was too impressed by the whole procedure.”*

During Eichmann’s next visit to Auschwitz, he and Höss decided on the gas “for the mass extermination operation.” After two provisional sites, operations shifted in the spring of 1942 to bunkers I and II in the area initially chosen by Eichmann and Höss. The victims included Jews from Upper Silesia (territory lost to Poland at Versailles) as well as Russian POWs. Now Höss began to take pride in the new method. Visiting the extermination camps at Chelmno† and Treblinka, he observed that their use of carbon monoxide was inferior: the exhaust gas produced by truck engines was not always sufficient so that a number of victims were only rendered unconscious and had to be finished off by shooting. Even after the war, while in Polish incarceration Höss remained proud of the efficiency of “his” gas. Experience had shown that the preparation of prussic acid called Cyclon B [Zyklon B]caused death with far greater speed and certainty
* There is some evidence that Höss and his deputy cannot claim exclusive discovery of Zyklon B as an agent for killing large numbers of human beings According to testimony at his trial (by a British Military Tribunal in Hamburg beginning 1 March 1956), Dr. Bruno Tesch owner of the firm TESTA (acronym for Tesch und Stabenow) which distributed the gas to Auschwitz, himself conducted experiments bearing on its feasibility not only as a pesticide but as a means of killing efficiently large numbers of human beings. There is another report of an Auschwitz SS man named Breitweiser, who apparently assisted in the early Auschwitz experiments and was said to comment, upon noting how efficient Zyklon-B was for delousing: “Now we have the means for the extermination of prisoners.” Yehuda Bauer and Erich Kulka believe that this intense focus on the use of Zyklon-B for killing is partial evidence for an even greater centrality of Auschwitz in the Nazi projections of the Final Solution than has previously been recognized. The victimization of some sick inmates in those early Auschwitz experiments with Zyklon-B also suggests the Auschwitz focus from the beginning on its murderous reversal of healing and killing. It is likely that, with the existing experience of Zyklon-B for delousing and the known need for an efficient agent to kill human beings, the idea of using that agent occurred more or less simultaneously both to the “theorists” at firms making and distributing the gas on the one hand, and to the Auschwitz practitioners on the other.32

†Höss had gone to Chelmno partly to investigate methods of cremation used there. In the summer of 1942, Himmler ordered that mass graves be opened and corpses burned, and the ashes disposed of “in such a way that it would be impossible at some future time to calculate the number of corpses burned.”33  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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