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The Holocaust History Project.

Re: E. Preheating the Morgue (30-31)

In this section Rudolf refers to paragraph 7.68 of Mr. Justice Gray's Judgment. In his quotation of this paragraph, he does not include the first sentences, which I will print here.

7.68 The Defendants rely on a letter dated 29 January 1943 from Bischoff, Chief of Central Construction Management at the camp, to SS Brigadeführer Kammler in which there is reference to a Vergasungskammer [in fact, Vergasungskeller] (gas chamber or cellar). There are also documents from February 1943 referring to the provision of gastight doors and windows. In a letter dated 31 March 1943 Bischoff presses for the delivery of a gastight door with a spyhole of 8mm glass, with a rubber seal and metal fitting. There is a timesheet of a construction worker which makes reference to fitting gastight windows to crematorium 4. Van Pelt pointed to a letter dated 6 March 1943 from Auschwitz to the Topf company which contemplated the use of hot air from the ventilators for the incinerators to pre-heat the Leichenkeller 1. Why, he asked, heat a morgue, which should be kept cool. Answering his own question, he claimed that Zyklon-B evaporates more quickly in high temperatures, so the killing process would be speeded up. (Irving answered that there is nothing sinister about heating the morgue: it was a requirement of good building practice in relation to civilian morgues).

Rudolf repeats here the argument that "according to contemporary expert literature morgues indeed did and do have a heating system to avoid frost in winter time," and that therefore the letter of March 6, 1943 does not have any sinister connotation.

It is true that Neufert's Bauentwurfslehre states that morgues should be kept at a temperature between 2 and 12 degrees Celsius to prevent the freezing of corpses. Yet there are a number of curious elements in the letter of March 6 that suggest that the pre-heating issue did not concern the attempt to keep corpses from freezing. First of all, the letter dates from March 6, 1943, that is it was written shortly before the completion of the building. At no point during the whole planning process, which had lasted more than a year by then, was the issue ever raised to (pre-) heat morgue 1, and if it were, as Rudolf suggests, simply a standard feature one wonders why the Central Construction Office did not consider the matter before.

Furthermore the letter, which is addressed to Topf and Son and which refers to a letter Topf had sent to the Central Construction Office on February 22, makes clear that the initiative to preheat the morgue was not taken by the architects, but by the firm that was hired to provide the incinerators and the ventilators.

In accordance with your suggestion, the service agrees that cellar 1 should be preheated with the air coming from the rooms of the three forced draught installations. The supply and installation of the ductwork and blowers necessary to this end are to be effected as soon as possible. As you point out in your above-mentioned letter, execution should commence this week. . . .

If the (very belated) installation of a system to pre-heat morgue 1 had been simply to follow Neufert's guidelines, one would have expected the architects to have taken the initiative, and not Topf. In February 1943 Topf was very much involved with completing morgue 1 as a gas chamber. A workman of the firm worked throughout the month of February to install the ventilation system in morgue 1. On February 26 the firm was ordered to find 10 gas detectors to measure cyanide levels.

Another element of the letter which is interesting is that it ordered that "the supply and installation of the ductwork and blowers necessary to this end are to be effected as soon as possible." The question is why this was suddenly so urgent? The fact that the first experimental gassing in morgue 1 occurred exactly one week after the letter was written, on Saturday March 13, offers a simple explanation.

And then there is what is perhaps the most curious element: the letter does not talk about heating the cellar, but about pre-heating - vorw&aumlrmen - the cellar The verb "to pre-heat" suggests that an event will follow: to pre-heat an oven for baking, to pre-heat a room for a gathering, and so on. If Rudolf would be right that morgues needed to be kept at a certain temperature, then one would have expected not merely that the issue would have been addressed from the beginning of the design process, but also that one would have used the verb "to heat," as the process of heating the morgue would be continuous.

In the case of a Zyklon B gas chamber it is useful, but not necessary, to pre-heat the room as it facilitates a more rapid degassing of the hydrogen cyanide from the pellets. In 1942 R. Irmscher of the German Society of Pest Control discussed in an article entitled "The Efficiency of Prussic Acid at Low Temperatures" ("Die Einsatzf&aumlhigkeit der Blaus&aumlure bei tiefen Temperaturen") the efficiency of Zyklon B at various temperatures. At a temperature of -18 degrees Celsius, one hour allowed 32.5% of hydrogen cyanide to evaporate from Zyklon; at 0 degrees Celsius, an hour sufficed to release 62% of the hydrogen cyanide, and at 15 degrees Celsius, an hour allowed 77% of the hydrogen cyanide to become gas.

The attempt to preheat the gas chamber by using the heat generated by the three forced draught installations came to naught because those very installations failed shortly after they were brought into operation. On March 25 the project was abandoned. 23 Yet it seems probable that the Central Construction Office did not give up on its attempts to find a means to pre-heat the morgue. A document of April 13, 1943 from Topf mentions an order for two disinfestation heaters for crematorium 2, to which was to be added an order for a warm air induction device. John Zimmerman interpreted this order as a second attempt by the Auschwitz architects to find an alternative means to pre-heat morgue 1. 24 His suggestion makes sense. The disinfestation heaters were never delivered to crematorium 2, but the warm air induction device was installed in June 1943. 25 While this bill does not make clear to what source of heat this device was connected, and into what space this device was to bring the hot air, it is likely that the source of heat was related to the incineration installation, and that the space was the room indicated in the plans as morgue 1, a room used as gas chamber.

Rudolf moves on in the next sections of his affidavit to other subjects, leaving things in the air without pushing his observations beyond some obscure points of criticism, and making no attempt to come to some genuine historical understanding of the history of the crematoria. To bring the argument back to the facts and the totality of the evidence of those facts, it is useful to summarize, once again, the main points concerning the gas chambers of crematoria 2 and 3 which I described in my Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present, which I argued in my expert report, and which I presented in court.

First of all the gas chambers of crematoria 2 and 3 were created through a process of adaptive re-use of the smaller of the two underground morgues of each of these buildings. Originally, the Auschwitz SS only planned one crematorium, to be built in the main camp. First conceived in late 1941, a set of drawings was developed in January 1942. In the end of February 1942 the decision was taken to build this crematorium not in the main camp, but in Birkenau. The design for this crematorium was by and large identical to that of crematorium 2, to be completed in March 1943. In its original design, its basement contained three morgues, or Leichenkeller - one of which, morgue 3, was redesignated quite early as a workroom to remove and store gold teeth. Unlike Leichenkeller 2, morgue 1 was designed from the very beginning to have a ventilation system built into the walls. It seems that morgue 1 was meant to store corpses in a greater state of decomposition.

In the summer of 1942 the Auschwitz SS took the decision to build not merely one crematorium in Birkenau, but four: the original crematorium design developed from October 1941 onwards was to be built as crematorium 2, and the same design, but in its mirror image form, was to be used for crematorium 3. Crematoria 4 and 5 were to be built according a new and more simple design. As I argued in my expert report (pp. 367), with these four crematoria the anticipated incineration capacity of Birkenau (1,440 corpses per day for crematoria 2 and 3 each, and 768 corpses per day for crematoria 4 and 4 each, or 4,416 corpses per day for Birkenau as a whole) far exceeded the "normal" mortality of a concentration camp. These numbers suggest that all these crematoria were to be part of a program of genocide involving victims to be brought from outside the camp to Birkenau to be killed and incinerated there.

There is documentary evidence that the basements of crematoria 2 and 3 lost their original purpose of storing corpses in two morgues between August 1942 and March 1943, when crematorium 2 was completed, or June of that year, when crematorium 3 came into operation. First of all, a memorandum from November 27, 1942 signed by architect Fritz Ertl refers to the cellars of crematoria 2 and 3 as Sonderkeller, or Special Cellars. It is a designation that I have never seen in reference to morgues. Then there is a blueprint drawn in December 1942 which shows the intention not to build the corpse slide that allowed for easy transport of corpses from the ground level to the basement morgues. This plan introduced a new staircase - one that was ultimately built. This staircase was awkward as a means to bring corpses into the basement, but convenient for people to descend. That same plan also shows that morgue 1, which in earlier plans was meant to have doors that were to open inwards, was now to receive doors that were to open outwards. The doors to morgue 2 remained unchanged: they were to remain opening inwards.

Another piece of evidence that suggests that the basement is to serve an unusual function is a letter of the SS garrison doctor from January 1943 in which he asks the architects to provide for "an undressing room in the cellar spaces." In a letter dated January 29, 1943, the chief architect of Auschwitz, Karl Bischoff, refers to one of the basement spaces of crematorium 2 as a Leichenkeller, but he labels the second space as a Vergasungskeller, or gassing cellar. In a letter dated February 11, 1943, Bischoff complains about the delay in obtaining motors for the ventilation system of the morgues, and he expressed particular frustration with the fact that the ventilator of Leichenkeller 1 fails, a piece of machinery "that is needed with special urgency." He asks for immediate shipment of that piece of machinery, "because otherwise the installation can not be taken into operation." It is important to note, in this context, that the morgue of crematorium 1, located in the main camp, operated for years without any mechanical or natural ventilation system at all. This indicates that in Auschwitz the lack of ventilation was, in principle, no obstacle for using a space as a morgue.

Then there is the letter of March 6, 1943, discussed above, that suggests to pre-heat morgue 1. On March 31, 1943 Karl Bischoff refers in a letter to the German Armament works to a Gastür or gasdoor to be made for Leichenkeller 1 of crematorium 3, and specifies that it is to be an exact copy of the one made for crematorium 2, that is with a spy-hole of double 8mm glass with rubber seal and metal fitting. That same day Bischoff signs a transfer document for crematorium 2 that lists in the main inventory of the basement a Gasdichtetür or gas-tight door for morgue 1 and in a second inventory attached as an appendix for that same morgue 1 four Drahtnetzeinschiebvorrichtung(en) or wire mesh introduction devices, and four Holzblenden or wooden covers. Finally the inventory of crematorium 3 of June 24 lists for morgue 1 the presence of a Gasdichtetür.

It is very difficult if not impossible to justify all these pieces of evidence with the assumption that, by March 1943 (crematorium 2) or June 1943 (crematorium 3) the basement still served the primary function to store corpses.

Holocaust deniers, including Rudolf, have tried to explain some of these pieces of evidence by assuming that morgue 1 was adapted into a Zyklon B delousing cellar. Such a suggestion could, in principle, explain the reference to an undressing room the letter of the SS garrison doctor from January 1943, or the use of the word Vergasungskeller in Bischoff's letter of January 29, 1943, or the letter of March 6, 1943 that suggests to pre-heat morgue 1, and also letter of March 31, 1943 with its reference to a Gastür - yet one would wonder why this door would need a spy-hole of double 8mm glass.

Yet it does not explain the reference to Sonderkeller in the memorandum from November 27, 1942, nor the fact that in the blueprint drawn in December 1942 the doors of morgue 1 were redesigned to open outwards. It neither explains the particular urgency of the ventilation system of morgue 1 expressed in the letter dated February 11, 1943, nor the four wire mesh introduction devices with their wooden covers mentioned in the inventory of March 31, 1943. On top of that, there is the fact that whenever possible delousing facilities followed a standard arrangement in which the gas chambers were accessible from an unclean side and opened up to a clean side, which were radically separated. Morgue 1 does not show such an arrangement. Furthermore there is no indication that there was a need for Zyklon B delousing facilities in 1943. Finally there is not a single document that even suggests that any of the basement spaces was ever considered for use as a delousing chamber. Holocaust deniers have tried to use a reference to an Entwesungs-Anlage or disinfestation arrangement in a statement of account drawn up by Topf on August 20, 1943 to argue that there is such proof, but they ignore the fact that an Entwesungsanlage does not use Zyklon B, but steam as a disinfecting agent. And there is neither a single piece of eyewitness testimony that attests to the use any of the morgues of crematorium 2 and 3 for delousing purposes.

A second alternative suggested by Holocaust deniers is that the morgues of crematoria 2 and 3 were meant as air-raid shelters. We will deal with this suggestion in greater detail when discussing Rudolf's section O: Air raid Shelters (pp. 305-307). But at this point it is quite clear that most of the evidence for a new purpose for those morgues, presented above, does not fit such a suggestion. And, once again, there is not a single document that directly refers to such a use of those spaces as air raid shelters, and neither is there a single piece of eyewitness evidence.


Last modified:May 23, 2002
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