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The Holocaust History Project.

Re: B. Stairs and slides (13-17)

Rudolf's affidavit challenges Mr. Justice Gray's conclusion that a change in the design of the basement of crematoria 2 and 3, undertaken in December 1942, is one of the pieces of evidence that converges on the conclusion that morgue 1 was changed into a gas chamber.

7.61 The next feature identified by van Pelt relates to the entrance to crematorium 2 and the means of which access was gained to the morgue below. In its original design, the entrance was situated to one side of the building. Inside the entrance there was a slide down which corpses would be tipped to reach the level of the morgue. But the drawing shows that this design was changed in late 1942 so as to move the entrance to the crematorium to the street side of the building. At the same time a new stairway to the morgue was designed to replace the pre-existing slide. Van Pelt pointed out that the original design apparently contemplated that only corpses would need to be transported down to the morgue. The new design on the other hand is consistent with a wish to enable people transported to Auschwitz to proceed from the railway station through the new entrance, then to walk downstairs into what is alleged to have been the undressing room and thence into the supposed gas chamber. The stairway has been redesigned in such a way that it would be extremely awkward to carry corpses down to the morgue on stretchers. Van Pelt concludes that the object of the redesign of the stairway was to enable living people to walk downstairs rather than for corpses to be carried down.

13.76 The nature of the redesign in 1942 of crematorium 2 appears to me, for the reasons summarised in paragraph 7.59 to 7.63 above, to constitute powerful evidence that the morgue was to be used to gas live human beings who had been able to walk downstairs.

13.84 Secondly, there is the evidence of van Pelt that the redesign of crematorium 2 in late 1942 was intended to cater for live human beings to walk down to an undressing room before being led into the chamber and to do away with the corpse-slide previously used to convey dead bodies downstairs.

Before I continue with a review of what Rudolf has to say about this, it is important to note that in his Judgment Mr. Justice Gray referred at the beginning of paragraph 7.61 to "the entrance to crematorium 2 and the means of which access was gained to the morgue below" as "the next feature." This implies that the paragraph preceding paragraph 7.61, that is paragraph 7.60, is likely to be also relevant for our discussion (as is also indicated by paragraph 13.76, where Mr. Justice Gray refers to paragraphs 7.59 to 7.63 together). Paragraph 7.60 reads as follows.

7.60 The principal feature identified by van Pelt is the redesign of the double door to the supposed gas chamber in crematorium 2. When in 1942 the drawings were executed for the adaptation of this crematorium, this door in common with others in the same building was designed to open inwards. Careful scrutiny of the drawings reveals, however, that the drawing of the inward- opening door has been scratched out. A fresh drawing dated 19 December 1942 was made by [Dejaco], the chief of the drawing office, who rarely undertook drawings himself. It provides for the door to the supposed gas chamber to open outwards. There is no apparent reason for this. To van Pelt the obvious explanation is that the chamber was to be used as a gas chamber. If the door opened inwards, it would be impossible to open it after the administration of the gas because of the crush of corpses against the inside or the door of those who struggled to get out when they realised what was happening to them.

In other words, the piece of evidence under discussion, Drawing 2003 completed by Walther Dejaco on December 19, 1942, and approved by Bischoff on January 5, 1943 contains two pieces of evidentiary value for our understanding of the changing purpose of the basement of crematorium 2: one "principal feature" and one "next feature." The Rudolf affidavit suppresses the "principal feature" and only concentrates on the "next feature," and in burying the predominant feature of the drawing in silence the Rudolf affidavit gives a misleading representation of this piece of evidence. Fair descriptions of a historical fact must include the predominant feature(s) of that fact. If major features are ignored then a description ceases to be balanced and fair, and becomes misleading.

The Rudolf affidavit does not only misrepresent the point that Mr. Justice Gray made on the evidentiary value of drawing 2003. It also offers a serious misrepresentation of the history of the building. While it is correct that crematorium 2 was originally designed for the main camp, the first version with morgues that were completely underground was changed, and in the designs made in January 1942 for this building (drawings 932-938), which still is intended for the main camp, the top of the morgues are already shown to be some 1 meter above grade, becoming in Pressac's terminology a semi-basement. There is no evidence that justifies the assertion, first made by Pressac in 1989 and now repeated in the Rudolf affidavit, that the decision to change the morgues from a full into a semi-basement was the response to the high water table in Birkenau. The use of semi-basements was already intended for the building in the main camp. The fact that the semi basements are not shown in a general master plan of the camp from February 1942 (Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Central Construction Office BW2/2, file BW2/17) can be explained that this plan shows an earlier design for the crematorium from October 1941, which was equipped with full basements. Drawn in Berlin, the master plan did not show the current (that is January 1942) state of the design of the crematorium.

Which brings us to the question if the location of crematoria 2 and 3 in Birkenau would have made it necessary to relocate the entrance. While the use of semi-basements for the morgue did provide some difficulties for vehicles seeking access from the side of the station, it did not cause more than a detour of a little over 120 meters (morgue 2, which caused the obstruction, jutted 49 meters west from the footprint of the main building, and it was some 9 meters wide). In fact, the American aerial photos taken in 1944 suggest that a wide path connected the road to the side entrance of the crematorium, going around morgue 2. It is in this respect important to note that between late February 1942, when the decision was taken to build the new crematorium in Birkenau, and December 1942 - that is during the entire period of design development and the first four months of construction, no action was either planned or taken to create an additional flight of stairs close to the main access street. This complete lack of concern over a nine month period clearly shows that the distance between the originally planned entrance to the basement and the road was not an issue. The new entrance cannot be justified by reference to the new location alone.

Which brings us to the question if, after their conversion to killing centers, crematoria 2 and 3 were meant to store the bodies of those who had died of "natural" causes, which according to Rudolf "amounted to thousands of bodies." (p. 17). Rudolf does not provide any evidence that this indeed happened, and I do not know of any evidence that corpses of people who had died in the camp were stored in these crematoria. In fact, given the great incineration capacity of these buildings, and crematoria 4 and 5, there was no need for morgues. Even if the camp would have achieved its intended population of 140,000, and even if there would have been a repetition of the 1% daily mortality that occurred during the typhus epidemic of August 1942, the combined incineration capacity of crematoria 2-5 of over 4,000 corpses per day would have more than sufficient to take care of the corpses.

The men in the Central Construction Office obviously realized that with the enormous daily incineration capacity at hand morgues had become unnecessary, and so while they still included in a plan of Birkenau drawn in September four large morgues in BA II and BA III, with a total capacity of some 1,200 corpses, they dropped these in later plans, as the four Birkenau crematoria could handle the contents of all those four morgues in eight hours. So the issue regarding the question what would happen with those who died of "natural causes" is a non-issue, at least for those who died in Birkenau (In the main camp, a number of morgues remained in operation, which was especially necessary after June 1943, when crematorium 1 was taken out of commission, and when corpses had to be stored until their transfer to the Birkenau crematoria.) Of course, the concept that there was enough incineration capacity to forego morgues altogether worked only in theory. One of the problems that occurred in the camp was that not always transport was available to bring the corpses from the sub-camps to the crematoria. The result is described by Irena Strzelecka in her study of the Auschwitz hospitals.

A permanent feature of the camp scene was the numerous piles of bodies of male and female prisoners amassed temporarily at various locations, mostly in washing rooms in hospital and living blocks, as well as in various outdoor sites. Masses of bodies were most visible in Birkenau, especially on the grounds of the hospitals. At any hour, prisoners encountered piles of naked bodies swarming with rats gnawing at the scraps of muscle tissue.  15

Once these bodies were brought to the crematoria, they were incinerated immediately.


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