Technique and Operation
                            of the Gas Chambers ©
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The unrealized future of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp
Drawing 4054 [Document 1], which in the light of present knowledge might be called the “extermination station”, is something of an enigma. It depicts the very first stage of the definitive arrangement of the “special” part of Birkenau. In Commandant of Auschwitz (Pan Books, London 1961), Rudolf Hoess says on page 217:  
“The three railway tracks between building sectors I and II [B.a.I and II] in Birkenau camp were to be reconstructed as a station and roofed in and the lines were to be extended to crematoria III[IV] and IV[V] so that the unloading could also be hidden from the eyes of unauthorised people. Once again shortage of materials prevented this plan from being carried out.”  
In fact, linking Krematorien II and III with Krematorien IV and V by rail would appear to be rather difficult because of the proximity of the second sewage treatment plant [Kläranlage II] and the sewer evacuation channels crossing the area where the trains would have to pass. No drawing for this project is known. However, drawing 4054 confirms the intention of the SS to convert the notorious Birkenau “ramp” into a true “reception station”.  

Krematorien II and III are precisely shown on the drawing, exactly as captured on the photographs in the Auschwitz Album, taken in May-June 1944 and the aerial photograph of 25th August 1944 [Documenl 2], with the additional installations not shown on the initial drawings: in the case of Kr II, a lean-to shed extending eastwards the roof over the waste incineration furnace, in which goods with no market value (personal papers and prayer books taken from new arrivals) were stored awaiting destruction: in the case of Kr III, a smaller construction having the same function built onto the east wall of the waste incinerator wing. The access stairways to the Leichenkeller 2 (undressing rooms) are drawn and clearly visible.

The ambiguity of this drawing lies in the term “Gemüsehalle / vegetable hall”. If each of the six buildings alongside the railway had been labelled “Effektenhalle / hall for effects”, the drawing would have become an extremely incriminating piece of evidence against the SS, and I believe in fact it still is. This camouflage of a drawing of installations whose purpose — a posteriori, I hasten to add — leaves no doubt, would appear to be the only example of such camouflage, for the Bauleitung NEVER DISSIMULATED ANYTHING on its drawings of the Krematorien. The only device used by the Bauleitung was to avoid indicating the true function of some rooms (for example, the case, which is in fact somewhat dubious, of drawing No 2036 of Krematorium IV, of Soviet source). The only camouflage was by omission. Workers employed by outside civilian contractors were in no way misled, which explains their numerous incriminating “slips”.

It might be claimed that the six “Gemüsehallen” were indeed stores for market garden products generously sent by the WVHA [SS Economic Administration Head Office] in order to supplement the rations of the Auschwitz prisoners employed in various factories and mines that had sprung up in the area. Three factors render this affirmation null and void. In June 1944, the Reich was already too weak and drained to be able to divert for the benefit of prisoners sufficient quantities of fresh vegetables as to regularly fill SIX stores of 930m³. These Birkenau halls were no Covent Garden. What do the two Krematorien at the end of the platform symbolize? It would have been better, if the SS had been trying to prove their humanitarian aims, not to show them on the drawing. The silhouettes of the three lorries ON THE OTHER SIDE of the hall and for which a road had to be built, call for no special comment, in view of the contemporary photographs that show them on the camp roads loaded with personal effects and heading for the two “Kanadas”.

Two documents in file BW 30/32, conserved by the PMO, are connected with drawing 4054. The Bauleitung contracted out the design and building of the roof of the “Abfertingungshalle / clearance hall” to the civilian firm Konrad Segnitz of Beuthen. With a covering letter of 8th June 1944 [Document 4], Segnitz sent the Bauleitung the drawing of the roof frame [Document 3] and the list of timber and other materials required. Taking account of the delays in transmission, the construction of this hall/warehouse must have been decided in the first half of May, just before the “resettlement” of the Hungarian Jews. Although chronologically associated with this “Action”, the title given to this building by Messrs Segnitz, “ABFERTIGUNGSHALLE FÜR TRANSPORTE / clearance hall for transports”, is vague. Who or what is supposed to depart from this hall, Hungarians fit for work leaving for the Reich or effects taken from those declared unfit for work and destined to be gassed? Only a member of the Bauleitung confronted with these drawings could tell us, but this is no longer possible. The fact remains that, despite its uncertain function, this building, even in the design stage, is linked with the Hungarian action through its presence on drawing 4054 and the use of the word “Transporte”.

The drawing of this “station” raises the question of what its future was to be. Looking at these projects, Polish historians reply that after the Jews it would have been the turn of other peoples considered to be racially “inferior”. The gassing of humans is a plague that developed and reached its height at Auschwitz, even though it did not originate there. This plague infected other camps before or at the same time, but never reached the same virulence as at Auschwitz-Birkenau. At the time of the withdrawal in January 1945, it affected the refuge camps, where centers were set up and tests were carried out by former Birkenau “technicians”.

Whether the Third Reich had emerged victor or defeated from the Second World War, this vile epidemic was in decline by 1945. The Gaussian curve can apply to many different types of event or phenomenon and depict them satisfactorily. The horror had gone too far by May-June 1944. The highest point on the curve had been reached. Escaped prisoners had testified and, above all, made their stories public. Publicity is incompatible with an essentially secret practice. Himmler was aware of this and on 26th November 1944 he ordered the gassings to cease. Whatever the situation had been at the end of the war, the “Mills of Auschwitz” would never have been able to continue turning. There are limits to everything, and even the darkest periods come to an end. Unlike the Poles, I do not believe that the Krematorien and their gas chambers would have gone on working very long. These complexes were destined to be dismantled.

I shall end by quoting Victor Méric, the author of the celebrated novel about the next war [that of 39-45], La Der des Der [The war to end all wars], written in 1930. Although this convinced pacifist was completely wrong about the use of gas in 39-45, and overestimated the role of bombers in the early years of the war, on page 39 of a pamphlet published in 1932 by Editions Sirius,La guerre qui revient: FRAICHE and GAZEUSE, he gives a quotation from General von Altrich, who had written in a Militär Wochenblatt [Military Weekly]: "THE NEXT WAR WILL BE MUCH MORE A MASS EXTERMINATION OF THE CIVILIAN POPULATION THAN A FIGHT BETWEEN TWO ARMIES", Méric claims on page 178 that: "The next war, the war on civilians, is upon us. A vile butchery. The Massacre of the Innocents."

These extracts have a premonitory note, of which Victor Méric could have justly been proud after the war, while at the same time being throughly disgusted by the human race. Two common gasses, he would never have dared think of, carbon monoxide produced by internal combustion engines, and hydrocyanic acid used to combat lice, had killed at least a million people. He could not foresee that most of the victims woud be Jews.
* * *  
Technique and operation
of the gas chambers

Jean-Claude Pressac
© 1989, The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation
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