Technique and Operation
                            of the Gas Chambers ©
Previous Page Back  Contents  Contents Page 355 Home Page Home Page  Forward Next Page 

Account of the research undertaken by the author in
order to explain the ventilation systems of
Krematorien II and III. 
In this Chapter I shall not use the method adopted for the others, i.e. production of documents on a subject, then comments and conclusion. The problem, for there is a problem, of the ventilation systems of Krematorien II and III will be presented in the form of an account including what was known and thought in 1979, my doubts, my fairly lengthy researches, my findings and finally the discovery in 1982 in the BW 30/41 file of the “ARBEITSZEITBESCHEINIGUNGEN” (timesheets) of the Topf & Sons fitter, Messing, who stayed at Auschwitz and installed all the ventilation systems of Krematorien II and III at Birkenau between 5th January and 9th June 1943, He was one of the rare “outside” civilians to be able to directly observe the consequences of the first gassing of 1500 Cracow Jews in Krematorium II on l4th March. In his timesheets, there are seven “slips” that reveal the “abnormal” use of the Leichenkeller (morgues, or literally “corpse cellars”), which enable two other isolated references to be explained. The documents relevant to this account will be produced as it proceeds.

For 40 years, the question of the ventilation in Krematorien of type II/III was thought to be obvious and well known. It was concerned with the fresh air supply and air extraction systems for the underground gas chambers. The Bauleitung drawings of the projected Krematorium II show that the rooms designated “Leichenkeller l” or “L Keller 1” were ventilated. Since the testimonies of former members of the Sonderkommando assert that Leichenkeller I of Krematorien II and III had been used as homicidal gas chambers and since two letters from SS sources indicated that one of the cellars designated a “Vergasungskeller” had been fitted with a gas tight door, the fact that this ventilation system appeared an the Bauleitung drawings became clear premeditation. 

The extreme importance attached to this point is particularly evident in the book by Georges Wellers, Les chambres à gaz ont existé, the cover of which [Document 1] is part of drawing 1174 [Document 4] which includes a cross section of Leichenkeller 1 of the future Krematorium II, showing the upper and lower ventilation ducts. This is an indication of the value of this evidence in the eyes of Georges Wellers. His photo 8 [Document 2] reproduces the cover illustration with mention of the “ventilation ducts”. His photo 9 [Document 3] shows cross-sections of Leichenkeller 1 and 2 (taken from drawing 934 [Document 5]) with the observation that L Keller 1 is ventilated, unlike 2. Lastly, Wellers concludes (page 90), that:
“It can be seen that cellar 1 is not so long as cellar 2 and, above all [my underlining]. That it is provided with a ventilation and air extraction system perfectly visible and named on the cross section, while “corpse cellar 2” has no such installation [my underlining]”. 
This argument was put forward by the Auschwitz Museum and was used by the advocates appearing for the LICRA during the “Faurisson trial”. They are blameless, since they are not historians and were simply repeating an interpretation provided by the Museum and confirmed by Georges Wellers.  

The truth is that this demonstration is quite erroneous, and hence any attempt to prove “premeditation” of the criminal use of Leichenkeller 1 as gas chambers on the basis of the ventilation systems is quite unfounded.

I worked for a long time on establishing THE PATHS TAKEN BY ME DIFFERENT VENTILATION DUCTS in Krematorien II and III. It took me about two years to arrive at a logical explanation on the basis of the scattered evidence then available to me, whereas if I had known about the existence of PMO file BW 30/41, simply the quarter of an hour it took to read it would have saved me a great deal of groping in the dark. However, this file fully confirmed the findings of my work.

At the end of 1979, after consulting drawing 932 in the Museum Archives, a drawing representing the basement of a projected Krematorium which was to become Krematorium II, I expressed my doubts as to the technical feasibility of installing a gas chamber in Leichenkeller 1, because its entrance was fitted with a double door and the passage between Leichenkeller 2 (undressing room) and Leichenkeller 1 (gas chamber) was partly obstructed by a concrete corpse chute leading almost as far as the double door of Leichenkeller 1. The archivist pointed out on drawings 933, 934 and 1174, where cross sections of the two Leichenkeller appeared, that there was a MAJOR DIFFERENCE as regards ventilation — presence in L KeIler 1 and absence in 2 — a difference which according to him PROVED irrefutably that Leichenkeller 1 was a gas chamber and that it had been PLANNED as such. His demonstration appeared valid at the time and I believed it.

However, when I had completed my study of ALL THE DRAWINGS connected with the Birkenau Krematorien, his categorical statement no longer fitted with my interpretation of some of them, and even less with several items in file BW 30/34 (microfilm 1060). A note of 3rd February 1943 from a certain Messing mentioned an air extractor fan [“Abluftgeblase / used air blower"] for Leichenkeller 2 [Document 6]. A letter of 11th February 1943 signed by Bischoff, head of the Bauleitung, spoke of a 7.5 HP motor for the extractor fan of Leichenkeller 2 [Document 7]. A letter from Topf & Sons of 12th February 1943 [Document 7a] used the same terms as Bischoff on the subject of an extractor fan for Leichenkeller 2.

On drawing 980 of the roof frame of the future Krematorium II [Document 8], the locations of TWO ventilation chimneys are shown. The one on the left, quite separate, is the fresh air intake for Leichenkeller 1. The other, to the right, through which the noxious air of this same Leichenkeller I is to he expelled, has FOUR outlets. While one outlet was for this function, the purpose of the three others remained unexplained. However, the argument of the Museum archivist was still acceptable despite the documents of BW 30/34, for the mention of a motor for an extractor fan for Leichenkeller 2 was no proof that it was actually installed…

Five minutes of a television program seen quite by chance led me to a meeting, accompanied by a former Monowitz prisoner, with Mr. David Olère, a professional artist and ex member of the Sonderkommando who, in his canvases, evokes the universe of Birkenau. I took with me the drawings of the Krematorien so that I could question him about them, but he refused to look at them. He had his reasons for this. By their very precision, they disturbed his personal, residual vision of the infernal environment in which he had lived from 1943 to 1945. His reflex was more than understandable. On the other hand, he was willing to tell his own story. To support what he had to say, he produced his drawings and in particular those of his Memento, produced in 1945-46, shortly after his return from deportation, The Memento was not able to show me very much however, being virtually emptied of its 60 to 70 original sketches. The greater part of them — 90 per cent — had been lent for an exhibition in Israel organized by Mrs. Myriam Novitch, who never returned them to their author and owner.

Despite my difficulty in believing certain episodes related by David Olère, a drawing of the fronts of the five three muffle furnaces of Krematorium II or III intrigued me. On the right hand side of each furnace them was drawn a part representing a pulsed air installation, identical to that fitted on the third furnace of the Old Krematorium in the main camp. I had not yet any confirmation of this little known detail of the equipment of the Krematorien II and II furnaces, but I later found mention of it in the book by Dr. Nyiszli, Auschwitz: a doctor’s eyewitness account[Chapter VII, page 45], this being reinforced by the method of operating a three-muffle furnace with its pulsed air blower being reproduced at the end of the book. In Volume 11 of the Höss trial there is an identical document, but supplied for the new (third) two-muffle furnace of the old Krematorium. David Olère, while lamenting the "loss" of his drawings produced a journal of the LICA (former name of the LICRA) where three of his works were reproduced: a plan of Krematorium III, a group of prisoners returning to the camp, and a view of one of the undressing rooms in Krematorium II or III [in fact Leichenkeller 2 of Krematorium III). Along the top left of the room there was a big black tube from which two smaller tubes with grids over their ends protruded downwards [Document l3]. The discovery of these unknown details, that other sources had led me to suspect, proved to me first of all that I was not dealing with a story teller, even though some of his declarations were at the limit of the credible, and secondly that on the evidence of the photos that I knew, his drawings were authentic at this early date and were very faithful in their detail and, finally, that an air extraction system (a detail pointed out by David Olère) had existed in Leichenkeller 2 of both Krematorien II and III.
Technique and operation
of the gas chambers

Jean-Claude Pressac
© 1989, The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation
Previous Page  Back Page 355 Forward  Next Page