|PART THREE |
|Critical study of the
testimonies of |
doctors BENDEL and
concerning the Birkenau
Krematorien and the homicide gassings
|The testimonies of |
NYISZLI and Charles Sigismund or Paul BENDEL
demonstration of the impossibility of relying on raw testimony
|Account by Doctor Paul BENDEL taken from
“TEMOIGNAGES SUR AUSCHWITZ”, Editions de l’Amicale des
déportés d’Auschwitz, 10 rue Leroux, Paris 16, 1946. Extracts from
pages 159 to 164. |
||THE KREMATORIEN |
||Each concentration camp had a
crematorium for “local” needs. While some of them such as
Mauthaus and Dachau, had gas chambers (1), none of them had
Krematorien to match those of Auschwitz-Birkenau in terms either of
size or number of victims. German technical and organizational
abilities were here given full play, and in fact they surpassed
For long months(2), I had the doubtful
privilege of being attached as doctor to the four Krematorien
(3) of Auschwitz-Birkenau that were ceaslessly working to
exterminate all those whom the Master Race considered unworthy to
These Krematorien were tended by nine hundred
deportees who formed what was called the Sonderkommando. This
kommando formed a world apart, separated from the other prisoners
(living first in closed barracks and later in the Krematorien
themselves) and directly under the control of the Political
If one of its members fell ill, it was absolutely
forbidden to take him to the camp hospital and he had to be treated
on site. We were three doctors assigned to this task.
Sonderkommando has often been called “the death squad” and nothing
could be more true. Those selected for it could under no
circumstances avoid it.
Their death sentence had just been
pronounced and, except in the case of a miracle, would be carried
out sooner or later.
Of the nine hundred members of the
Sonderkommando, two hundred were gassed on 7th September 1944 and
five hundred shot before my eyes on 7th October 1944 during a revolt
that was unique in the annals of the camps, and one hundred left on
27th November 1944 for an unknown destination: no trace of them has
ever been found. Just a few isolated individuals managed to survive
this massacre after countless adventures.
to which I belonged was the third one, the previous two having been
exterminated at intervals of a few months. Such eyewitnesses could
not and should not be left alive. Parallel to the prisoner
Sonderkommando, there was also an SS Sonderkommando, three men per
Krematorium (not counting the guards). They enjoyed special
privileges in terms of money, alcohol etc. There were four
Krematorien, a fifth, known as the Bunker, being nothing but a
farmhouse transformed into a gas chamber “to serve the cause”.
Separated from one another by a few hundred meters, they were
camouflaged(4) in what was known as Birkenau. If you look for
this name on the map you will not find it. And yet it was the tomb
of hundreds of thousands of victims, from all over Europe.
double track railway brought the deportees right to the gates of the
twin Krematorien 1 and 2 [II and III]. With their spacious rooms,
fitted with telephone and radio. the ultra-modern dissecting room
and their museum (5) of anatomical exhibits, they
constituted, as an SS-man unashamedly told me, “the best ever done
in this line”.
The foundations of these imposing red-brick
buildings were laid in March 1942(6). Thousands of
prisoners(7) worked on them and died during their
Completed in January 1943(8), their
inauguration was honored by the presence of Himmler(9) in
person, an indication of the importance attached to this “work” by
the Nazi leadership.
The convoy of the condemned entered via
a wide stone stairway into a big underground room that served as an
undressing room. The order was given that everyone had to bathe and
then go for disinfestation. Each person attached his things together
and, supreme illusion, placed them on a numbered hanger. From there,
completely naked, he went through a narrow corridor into the gas
chambers proper (there were two). Built of reinforced concrete, they
had such low ceilings that they gave the impression on entering that
they were falling on you.
In the middle of these chambers,
descending from the ceiling, were two mesh tubes with external
valves through which the gas was introduced. Through a small
peep-hole in the double door of solidoak, the SScould observe the
horrible agony of all these unfortunates(10). The bodies were
subsequently removed by the Sonderkommando men and placed in a lift
that took them up to the ground floor, where there were sixteen
furnaces (11). Their total capacity was in the order of two
thousand bodies in 24 hours (12).
The twin Krematorien 3
and 4 (IV and V), more commonly known as the “forest Krema” (they
were located in a pleasant clearing) were of more modest dimensions,
and their eight furnaces could handle one thousand bodies a
day.(13) At the time I entered the Sonderkommando, the
throughput of these furnaces had been deemed insufficient
(14) and they were replaced by three cremation pits, each 12 meters
long, 6 wide and 1.5 deep. The capacity of these pits was enormous:
one thousand (15) persons an hour. This was further increased
by installing a conduit to channel human fat to a recovery
It was in Krematorium 4 (V) that I had my first
sight of what the Sonderkommando men were forced to
One day in June 1944(17), at 6 o'clock in the
morning, I joined the day shift (150 men) of Krematorium 4. It was a
fine day. The men watched for my reactions. A childlike shyness
prevented them from encouraging me. I tried to hide my apprehension
as much as I could. At last I was going to see what the new men on
the Krematorium had been telling me about for days. The guards were
waiting. And then we were off.
About a hundred meters from
the Krematorium we could see white smoke rising into the
air(18). The men were silent. I dared not ask any questions.
Finally we arrived and the men were detailed off to their
tasks. There as a spectator, I wanted to satisfy my curiosity. I
wanted to know the origin of that smoke. And so, behind the
Krematorium, I saw the pits where the remains of the previous
evening's convoy were in the final stages of being consumed A few
meters away, men were at work around heaps of ashes, reducing into a
very fine powder what remained of the three thousand
people(19) who had passed this way on the previous
At 11 o’clock, one of the members of the Political
Section arrived by motorcycle to announce that another convoy was on
the way. The head of the Krematorium appeared and gave orders. The
pits were to be cleared out and logs were to be put in place and
soaked with fuel.
It was midday when the long column of
women, children and old men came into the yard of the Krematorium.
They were from the Lodz ghetto. We could sense that they were
overwhelmed, exhausted and frightened.
The supreme head of
the Krematorien, Herr Hauptscharführer Mohl, a big brute with a face
like Bébé Cadum, climbed on a bench to tell them that they were
going to take a bath and then hot coffee would be waiting for them.
They applauded: the poor people already felt reassured A few
children cried that