An End to Ignorance — Volume 1 • May 1993

Lest We Forget: Auschwitz — The Death Factory

The following report was taken from an international database on the Holocaust, under the subject "Lest We Forget: Auschwitz — The Death Factory." This account is a graphic account of what actually happened inside the walls.

The extermination plant with the most advanced design anywhere in the world consisted of two large crematoria/gas chambers and two smaller ones. Crematoria Four and Five were built on the surface of the ground. Crematoria Two and Three had subterranean gas chambers and reception areas. They were about 102 meters long by 51 meters across.

The basement consisted of two main rooms — the undressing area, which also served as a mortuary, and a gas chamber. Victims climbed down the steps into the basement. Those who could not walk were pushed down a concrete slide. The gas chamber, about 225 square meters, looked like a large communal bathroom with shower heads.

The Zyklon B gas crystals were inserted through openings into the hollow pillars made of sheet metal. They were perforated at regular intervals and inside them a spiral ran from top to bottom in order to ensure as even a distribution of the granular crystals as possible. Mounted on the ceiling was a large number of dummy showers made of metal.

Each day the trains rolled into the camp...down one of the three tracks to the section platform. As they fell out of the trains, the victims were sent one way or another, with tearful parting scenes.

The largest room in the factory, the changing chambers, accommodated 1,000 people. Notices throughout the room contributed to a "cunning . . . and clumsy deception" — telling victims that they were in disinfection rooms, urging cleanliness, reminding them to remember their clothing hook number.

The extermination plant contained a hair-drying loft run by fifteen Orthodox Jews. Spread over the floor, noticed Müller from the extermination staff, was women's hair of every color.

Washing lines were strung across the room. Pegged on these lines like wet washing were further batches of hair which had first been washed in a solution of ammonium chloride. When the hair was nearly dry, it was spread on the warm floor to finish off. Finally it was combed out by prisoners and put into paper bags.

The SS set up a fold-melting room in the plant. There, two dental technicians soaked the teeth for hours in acid to remove bone and flesh, and used a blowtorch to melt the gold into molds. They produced as much as 5 to 10 kilos a day. As in Treblinka, the stoking gangs sorted out the bodies into their combustibility categories: strong men, women, children and Musselmen. The SS staff had performed earlier experiments to find ways to economize on fuel — with the help of Topf and Sons, civilian experts.

In the course of these experiments, corpses were selected according to different criteria and then cremated. Thus, the corpses of two Musselmen were cremated together with those of two children, or the bodies of two well-nourished men together with that of an emaciated woman, each load consisting of three, or sometimes, four bodies.

Afterwards, all corpses were divided into the above-mentioned categories, the criterion being the amount of coke required to reduce them to ashes. Thus it was decreed that the most economical and fuel-saving procedure would be to burn the bodies together with that of a child, because, as the experiments had established, in this combination, once they had caught fire, the dead would continue to burn without any further coke being required.

As early as June 13, 1943, all was not well with the new installation. The Central SS Construction Management of Auschwitz sent a letter to a German equipment firm urging the completion of carpentry work in the new crematoria. The chief requested the delivery without delay of the doors for the crematoria, "which [are] urgently needed for the execution of the special measures; otherwise, the progress of the construction will be jeopardized." In addition, he demanded the completion of the windows for the reception building. If the carpentry work could not be done, building operations would have to be suspended for the winter. Eventually the ovens seemed to fall apart. Crematorium Four failed completely after a short time, and Crematoria Five had to be shut down repeatedly.

The plans for the crematoria have been preserved by an architect who stole them from the Birkenau plant. The one-story buildings looked like large bakeries with steep roofs and dormer windows. The underground gas chambers rose 51 centimeters above the ground to form a grassy terrace. No one would know at first glance what they were. Crematoria Two and Three were close to the camp and visible. Pine trees and birches hid Crematoria Four and Five. Around the crematoria lay large piles of wood for burning the corpses in the nearby pits. All chambers had doors with thick observation windows. In 1942 and 1943 alone those chamber used 27 tons of Zyklon B. The gas chambers and the crematoria of Auschwitz were called "special installations," "bathing houses," and "corpse cellars."

Each day the trains rolled into the camp through the passageway construction in the far gate and pulled up to the section platform. As they fell out of the trains, the victims were sent one way or another, with tearful parting scenes. The procession moved to the crematoria yard where the SS told the Jews they were going to take disinfection baths. An orchestra of attractive women played gay tunes from operas and light marches. Then the victims went to the dressing room or reception center with numbered clothing pegs driven into the walls. The SS ordered the victims to undress and to remember their numbers. Sometimes they gave them towels. Then the SS drove the victims through the corridor to the heated gas chamber. The heating was provided not for the comfort of the prisoners but to create a better setting for the evaporation of gas. The gas squads packed the 2,000 victims into the room. The doors were closed, the air was pumped out, and the gas poured in.

[ Auschwitz II-Birkenau: Crematorium Ruins ]
Auschwitz II-Birkenau: Crematorium Ruins

Zyklon B, or hydrogen cyanide, is a very poisonous gas that causes death by internal suffocation. In sufficient concentrations, it causes death almost immediately. But the SS did not bother to calculate the proper quantities, so death took anywhere from three to twenty minutes. While the victims were dying, the SS watched through the peepholes. When they opened the doors, they found the victims in half sitting positions in a towerlike pile. Some had foam on their lips, while others bled from the nose. The majority were packed near the doors. The squads in special clothing moved in with hooks to pull the bodies off of each other.

The SS scientists monitored the selection and the gassing, watching the procedure through the airtight door.

Two German firms, Tesch/Stanbenow and Degesch, produced Zyklon B gas after they acquired the patent from Farben. After the war the directors of the firms insisted that they had sold their products for fumigation purposes and did not know they were being used on humans. But the prosecutors found letters from Tesch not only offering to supply the gas crystals but also advising how to use the ventilating and heating equipment.

Two Tesch partners were sentenced to death in 1946 and hanged. The Degesch director received five years in prison.

[ Back to AETI 1993 Table of Contents ]

Copyright © 1993-2005 by iEARN. All rights reserved.

Access the HGP's An End to Intolerance Web page.

Access the Holocaust/Genocide Project's Home Page.

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional