Mr. Justice Gray included in his Judgment a reference to the eyewitness evidence of Yehuda Bacon.
7.51 Another was Yehuda Bacon, an Israeli artist, who at Auschwitz had been employed to take papers to the crematoria for burning. Consequently he had entered the crematoria and had seen the gas chamber. In the summer of 1945 he drew illustrations of Auschwitz which he produced in the course of his evidence. The drawings depicted the inside of gas chambers, including the dummy shower heads and the mesh columns used to insert the Zyklon-B into the gas chamber. He also described how the gas chambers were ventilated after the gassings. Bacon's evidence included a description of how the corpses were put on to a lift which raised them up to the incinerators. Van Pelt relied on the evidence of Bacon that, when it was cold the head of the Sonderkommando would let them warm up in the gas chambers and undressing rooms when they were not in use. He argues that this evidence refute Leuchter's contention that the temperature in the gas chambers was so low that there would have been condensed liquid hydrogen cyanide on the walls had it been used.
Ignoring the point of central importance in Bacon's description of the gas chamber - the wire mesh columns used to introduce Zyklon B into the gas chamber and the ventilation system used to extract the hydrogen cyanide after the gassing - Rudolf focussed on the (compared to the gas columns and ventilation system) relatively unimportant fake showers created to hoodwink the victims to introduce an argument that seeks to establish that the showers in morgue 1 of crematoria 2 and 3 were not dummies, but real. His aim, of course, is to show that the presence of real showers would indicate that the morgues had not been transformed into gas chambers.
Rudolf bases his argument on an unexecuted project, developed and abandoned in May 1943, to use the heat generated in the waste incinerator of crematorium 3, which was under construction at that time, to heat water that could be used for showers to be located in the "undressing room" of Crematorium 3. In order to understand this project, it is important to establish the historical context. Both in my book Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present (1996), and in the expert report I submitted for the original trial, I stressed that Auschwitz had a tangled, complex and confused history shaped by often contingent circumstances and evolving ambitions. I distinguished ten different and seemingly contrary functions during the almost 57 months of the camp's existence. Each of these functions has their own political, institutional and financial context. They often were at cross-purposes, at times parallel without interfering with one another, and at times these functions converged.
A function that became important in the Spring of 1943, just at the time that the four crematoria came into operation, was the use of the camp as a forced labour pool for various German factories built in the surrounding region. After the massive military losses in the summer of 1943, the German army had begun to draft every last German male and the armament industry pressed every available "free" person into its factories. Slaves were needed for other industrial work as well as in the coal mines, and the SS negotiated with numerous businesses to create and maintain in the Auschwitz area a system of 27 satellite camps located on industrial sites. In return for the forced labour of the inmates, the SS received an income which generated a profit of around two million RM per month.
Marginally interested in preserving their inmate investment, Birkenau was to become a service station for the outlying posts which were too small to maintain hospitals. One camp section under construction, BA III, was to host two quarantine camps, and two hospital camps. Thus in the Spring of 1943 the issue of hygiene had become important because the inmates who were considered fit for work had acquired a monetary value. This led to the construction of a new delousing/shower building that was to be known as the Central Sauna. The problem was that in the Spring of 1943 the need to improve the hygienic situation in Birkenau was urgent, while the Sauna was only to be completed in eight months time. The proposal to adapt one space in crematorium 3, the undressing room, for that purpose offered a quick temporary solution to the problem.
The proposal made sense, as it appeared in May 1943 that Auschwitz was about to be equipped with an overcapacity in killing installations. In our book, Dwork and I commented on this as follows:
The four new crematoria came into operation after the Holocaust itself had peaked. The Judeocide had begun in 1941, and the Germans killed some 1.1 million Jews that year. In 1942 they murdered another 2.7 million Jews, of whom approximately 200,000 died in Auschwitz. The year the crematoria of Auschwitz came into operation the number of victims dropped to 500,000, half of whom were killed in Auschwitz. All the Jews whom the Germans had been able to catch easily had been trapped. By the end of 1943 the Germans closed down the death camps built specifically to exterminate Jews: Kulmhof (150,000 Jews), Sobibor (200,000 Jews), Belzec (550,000 Jews), and Treblinka (750,000 Jews).
A more detailed analysis of deportations to Auschwitz shows that, indeed, the crematoria, planned and ordered shortly after the policy to kill all Jews had expanded to include all of Europe's Jews, only had become available when the number of transports arriving in Auschwitz began to dwindle. According to table D in Franciszek Piper's classic study Die Zahl der Opfer von Auschwitz (1993), the transports had gone down from a high of over 57,000 in January 1943 to 28,000 in April to a little over 16,000 in May. By the end of the year the average number of monthly arrivals was around 10,000, and in early 1944 it dropped even below that.
In the Spring of 1943 there was not only a significant downturn in the number of Jewish deportees arriving in Auschwitz, but also the mortality of registered prisoners in Auschwitz decreased dramatically. We have no figures for May. But in a letter to Himmler written on September 30, 1943, Oswald Pohl reported that in July 1943 the mortality in the men's camp in Auschwitz had reached a little under 3% (or 1,442 men) and in the women's camp a little over 5% (or 938 women). 16 The average mortality rate in Auschwitz was 3.7%. With that the mortality rate in Auschwitz was some 60% higher than the average mortality in the concentration camp system, which was 2.23 that month. While we can only speculate as to the proportion of the mortality in Auschwitz to that of the concentration camp system as a whole in May, we may for the sake of argument assume that it would have had more or less the same ratio. In May the mortality in the concentration camp system as a whole was 2.8%, thus it is possible that the Auschwitz figure would have been around 4.2%. In May 1943 the total inmate population of Auschwitz was 50,000. Hence it is likely that the monthly mortality was between 2,000 and 2,500. If we add to this figure some 12,000 Jews who would have been killed on arrival (75% of the 16,000 deportees), the total need for incineration capacity that month would have been around 15,000.
In May 1943 three crematoria were operational in Birkenau: 2, 4 and 5. According to a German document they had a total incineration capacity of (1,440 + 768 + 768 = ) 2,976 corpses per day, or close to 90,000 corpses per month - that is six times the capacity actually needed to take care of the corpses of those who had died a "natural" death and those who had been murdered. Thus in May 1943 it appeared that crematorium 3, under construction at that moment, was to have little use, as the completed crematoria 2, 4 and 5 had more than enough capacity for whatever Jews could be expected.
An added factor is that in May 1943 it also had become clear that the Hungarians were not going to hand the Germans their more than 800,000 Jews. In April, during their meeting in Klessheim Castle, Horthy had refused Hitler's request to deport Hungary's Jews. A popular contemporary summary of that interview held that Horthy told Hitler, "They may be lousy Jews, but they are our lousy Jews." 17 As Goebbels' diary entry of May 8, 1943 reveals, the Germans realised they were not going to succeed. "Horthy himself . . . will continue to resist every effort to tackle the Jewish problem aggressively." 18 With little prospect to receive Hungarian transports, the massive overcapacity of crematoria had become almost an embarrassment, and hence it made absolute sense to find some alternative purpose for crematorium 3, which was to be completed a month later.
There is no evidence that the proposal to use the heat generated by the waste incinerator to warm water for 100 showers in the undressing room of crematorium 3 was ever realized. And, with the exception of a drawing that Topf sent on June 5 in response of a request made on May 14, there is no trace of the proposal which was initiated on May 12 after May 16. As Rudolf observes (p. 23), Bischoff writes in June 1943 the project had been dropped. In response to a question "are the exhaust gasses utilized?" on a questionnaire concerning the crematoria, Bischoff responded: "planned but not carried out."
Indeed, in June the Central Construction Office would have had second thoughts about giving crematorium 3 another purpose: on May 18 crematorium 4 was taken out of commission for repairs, and four days later, on May 22, crematorium 2 was shut down also. Obviously crematorium 3 was to be needed as a killing installation.
When crematorium 3 was completed and transferred to the camp on June 24, 1943, an inventory that was added as an appendix to the official transfer document notes, however, that morgue 1 of that building contained 14 showers. The question, now, is whether and if so how these 14 showers relate to the abandoned project to install 100 showers in morgue 2 - the undressing room. Can they be explained by reference to the plan of middle May? And if so, does their presence mean that morgue 1 of crematorium 3 was not used as a gas chamber?
Let us first look at the inventory of crematorium 3 in greater detail. The first thing that must be noted is that it is not a complete inventory: we know through comparison with other transfer documents (such as the transfer document of crematorium 2 of March 31, 1943) that the main document contained the major inventory, and the appendix only subsidiary items. The problem is that the page that mentions the major items did not survive. But the page that does survive gives nevertheless some important clues as to the use of morgue 1. It records that this room was equipped with a gasdichte tür, a gas-tight door. From a letter dated March 31, 1943, and signed by the Chief Architect of Auschwitz, Karl Bischoff, we know that this gas-tight door was similar to the gas-tight door of crematorium 2, that is a door "with a spy-hole made of double 8mm glass with a rubber seal and metal fitting." Bischoff stressed in his letter of March 31 that his order for that door was "very urgent." 19 Why would a shower room urgently need a gas-tight door, with a spy-hole of double 8 mm glass with a rubber seal and a metal fitting?
Let us now try to reconstruct the sequence of events that connects the letter of March 31 to the inventory of June 24. It seems that in March 1943 the Auschwitz SS tried to complete crematorium 3 with a sense of urgency as, at that time, there was still a belief that in the near future the more than 800,000 Hungarian Jews would be deported to Auschwitz - as many of them were, in the end, in the Spring and Summer of 1944. At that time, the Auschwitz SS intended crematorium 3 to be equipped, like its just completed twin crematorium 2, with an undressing room and a gas chamber equipped with a gas-tight door with a spy-hole. Then, in April 1943, Hitler was unable to convince Horthy to surrender the Hungarian Jews, and transports to Auschwitz began to decrease, while crematoria 4 and 5 were brought into operation, creating a massive killing and incineration capacity. At the same time Birkenau was assigned a new function to service the new satellite camps, and serious measures were contemplated to improve hygienic conditions so that the camp could fulfill its contractual obligations to the various civilian companies that were to use the labour of the inmates. Realizing that there was no need for crematorium 3 to serve as a killing station - crematoria 2, 4 and 5 had more than sufficient capacity at that time - it appears that the Auschwitz SS contemplated to use the basement of the not-yet completed crematorium 3 as a shower facility for the inmates. The Central Construction Office decided to install in the now obsolete undressing room 100 showers, to be supplied with hot water generated by the waste incinerator, and probably an unknown number of showers in the other basement room, which had been intended as a gas chamber, and which was therefore supplied with a gas-tight door. These showers were probably cold-water showers, not to use the water heated by the waste incinerator. The reason that the spaces originally designed as basement morgues and later planned to be an undressing room and a gas chamber invited such a transformation was the presence of six drains in the floor of the undressing room and four drains in the floor of the gas chamber.
Then, as May progressed, crematoria 2 and 4 broke down, and it became clear that crematorium 3 would be needed as a killing installation after all. The project to install the 100 hot-water showers in the undressing room was therefore abandoned, but it is possible that the gas chamber had already been equipped with 14 of the unknown number of cold-water showers, and as these could be useful in serving the needs of the Sonderkommandos living in the building, they were left in place, and therefore duly recorded when, in late June 1943, the crematorium was transferred to the camp. To complete the arrangement in the gas chamber, the 14 real showers were complemented with an unknown number of fake showers, not listed in the inventory, but mentioned in various testimonies given by eyewitnesses.
This narrative attempt to correlate a few important pieces of evidence - such as the letter of March 31, the meeting between Hitler and Horthy in Klessheim, the documents concerning the installation of hot-water showers in mid May, the break-down of crematoria 2 and 4 later that same month, Bischoff's answers to the questions asked in the questionnaire in June, and the partial inventory attached to the transfer document of June 24 - may be a reasonable depiction of what actually occurred and, given the fragmentary state of the evidence, probably important facts are left out. But whatever it may or may not be, it shows that the presence of 14 showers in the inventory attached to the transfer document of does not mean that the room in which they were installed was not a gas chamber. It only suggests that the road to the completion of crematorium 3 as a killing installation was a twisted path.
In his attempt to use Bischoff's proposal to install 100 hot-water showers in the "undressing room" of crematorium 3 as evidence that this crematorium was not a killing installation, Rudolf did face the problem how to explain why this building would have been equipped with an "undressing room" to start with. Rudolf tries to answer that question by postulating that the decision to put those showers in this "undressing room" shows that the word "undressing room" is used "in the ordinary mortuary sense, and not in any special sense." This statement, which is a mere assertion without any explanation, does not make any sense whatsoever. I do not understand "the ordinary mortuary sense" of making a very large space into an "undressing room," and then filling it with showers. Does Rudolf suggest that it was customary in Germany to shower dead bodies en masse? Or does he have something else in mind? What is clear, however, is that Rudolf has not provided any evidence that showers and undressing rooms were common features in German morgues.
Which leaves, then, the question of the gas-tight door. If, indeed, the presence of an undressing room and showers show that the basement of crematorium 3 was used in "the ordinary mortuary sense," what would be the "ordinary mortuary sense" of the gas-tight door mentioned in that same inventory that listed the 14 showers? After giving so much attention to one item of the inventory - the 14 showers - he completely ignores that other item - the gas-tight door.
Last modified:May 23, 2002