Auschwitz-Birkenau: A Layman's Guide
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In January 1993, a newspaper article presented a series of lies and distortions regarding events at the Auschwitz concentration camp as historical fact. The article illustrated an increasing effort on the part of world-wide neo-Nazi political organizations to deny that the collective events commonly known as the Holocaust did occur. Conot addressed the need for a continuing effort to combat such material in his introduction (Conot, Robert. Justice At Nuremberg. NY: Carroll & Graf, 1984.):
Speaking to the Nuremberg tribunal in his opening address, Justice Jackson remarked: What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust.
These influences, in fact, have regenerated like a poisonous weed. Anti-Semitism and the euphemistic catchwords that led to the Final Solution of the Jewish Question have reappeared hand in hand. A world-wide cult has arisen claiming that the Holocaust never happened. A hundred books, booklets, and pamphlets have been printed alleging that the slaughter was imaginary or exaggerated, and is but a Jewish invention.
All of this might be dismissed as the frustrated thrashing about of a radical, irrational fringe were it not for the haunting parallels to the pre-Hitler era, and the continuing employment of Nazi propaganda methodology. A leader of the French neo-Nazis, for example, asserts that those Jews who died had merely been victims of the wartime food shortage. The Nazis had, in fact, originally planned to starve the Jews to death, allocating 186 calories per capita daily for their sustenance, but had abandoned the scheme for more direct methods after the ensuing epidemics had decimated not only the Jews but threatened to spread to the relatively well-fed German population.
Similar in nature is the assertion that Zyklon B gas was employed only as a disinfectant at Auschwitz. This had been the case until the fall of 1941, when an enterprising SS officer had concluded that if Zyklon B killed lice it could kill people just as well. Thereafter, the gas had been used, first to murder thousands of Soviet prisoners of war, and then hundreds of thousands of Jews - nearly all of them women, children, and old people unfit for extermination through work. Hitlers dictum that the magnitude of a lie always contains a certain factor of credibility, since the great masses of the people ... more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a little one has once more come into vogue.
The most effective means to combat such distortions is to make the facts accessible, and, with them, expose the statements for what they are. At Nuremberg, General Telford Taylor, the prosecutor of more war criminals than any other man, said: We cannot here make history over again. But we can see that it is written true. (Conot, xii-xiii)
This article is presented in that spirit, and in lasting memory of those who were ruthlessly destroyed during the Holocaust. It is the result of the combined effort of many, and contains data from myriad sources. I would like to acknowledge the contributions from Danny Keren ([email protected]) in particular, and the subscribers to the Holocaust Research Information List in general. Without their contributions, this document could not have been written.
Located approximately 60km (37mi) west of Kraków, in Eastern Upper Silesia, which was annexed to Nazi Germany following the defeat of Poland, in September, 1939
Site of Nazi death camp
The first camp was built shortly after Poland's defeat, in a suburb of Oswiecim (Zasole), and held about 10,000 prisoners
The second site, known as Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, was built 3km from the original camp, in March of 1941
"There was a sign 'to disinfection.' He said 'you see,they are bringing children now.' They opened the door, threw the children in and closed the door. There was a terrible cry.
A member of the SS climbed on the roof. The people went on crying for about ten minutes. Then the prisoners opened the doors. Everything was in disorder and contorted. Heat was given off. the bodies were loaded on a rough wagon and taken to a ditch. The next batch were already undressing in the huts. After that I didn't look at my wife for four weeks."
From the testimony of SS private Boeck (Langbein, quoted in Pressac, Jean-Claude. Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers. NY: 1989, 181).
Krema I - The Experimental Gas Chamber
David Cole has produced a videotape which filmed the director of the Auschwitz State Museum [Dr. Piper] "admitting" that the gas-chamber known Krema I was constructed after the war ended, on the direct order of Stalin.
Foner (Foner, Samuel P. "Major Historical Fact Uncovered" SPOTLIGHT Vol. XIX, Number 2, January 11, 1993) tells us:
The videotape on which Piper makes his revelations was taken in mid-1992 by a young Jewish investigator, David Cole. It has just been released, on January 1, 1993, although Cole announced his project at the 11th International Revisionist Conference at Irvine, California last October.
The small gas chamber of Krema I was used for gassing for a short time, and then converted into an air-raid shelter; after the war, it was reconstructed to look as it did when it was used for gassing, as Dr. Piper notes in his letter of response to the Cole video. The text of Piper's letter is a bit stilted, as Polish is his native language, but his intent, and the facts, are quite clear:
Cole maintains that I first time admitted the allegedly unknown fact the Nazis adapted the crematorium in question in which the gas chamber were located for air-raid shelter, the fact allegedly unknown even for Museum guides. It is un truth. See enclosed copies of pages from the books which constitute the fundamental reading for Auschwitz guides. In a book by T-an Sehn "Concentrat Camp Ogwiqcim-Brzezinka (Auschwitz-Birkenau) Warsaw 1957," you may read on the page 152 [that] in May 1944 the old Crematorium I in the base camp was adapted for use as an air raid shelter.
The Fact is also confirmed in the book by Jean Claude Pressac "Auschwitz: Technique and operation of the gas chambers," published by The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, New York 1989 515 Madison Avenue. On the page 157 you may read: "With part of the building converted to an air raid shelter, this is the state in which the SS abandoned Krematorium I in January 1945." Repeating what Pressac had written I told what was the nature of the adaptation works carried out by the Nazis and what one had to do to remove those changes in order to regain the previous appearance.
They are all Piper's revelations. In spite of the fact that such secondary restoration works had to be done, there is an undisputable reality that the gas chamber in question is housed in the same building which has been existed from prewar times till now.
Breitman offers the following as background information to the development of Zyklon B as a killing device, and (more specifically) to the early use to which Block 11 was put:
Auschwitz had been receiving trainloads of Soviet commissars and other POW's who were subject to liquidation. Höss's men had shot previous shipments of Russian prisoners, but on September 3 Höss's enterprising subordinate Hauptsturmführer Fritsch thought of an expedient new method based on the camp's own experience.
The buildings, many of them former Polish army barracks, were full of insects, and the camp administration had previously brought in the Hamburg pesticide firm of Tesch and Stabenow to get rid of them. Two experts had fumigated particular buildings with a patented insecticide, Zyklon B, a crystalline form of hydrogen cyanide that turned gaseous when exposed to the air. (Höss, "Commandant of Auschwitz," 175. Interrogation of Höss, 14 May 1946, NA RG 238, M-1019/R 28/63)
On September 3 Fritsch decided to experiment. First he crammed five or six hundred Russians and another 250 sick prisoners from the camp hospital into an underground detention cell. Then the windows were covered with earth. SS men wearing gas masks opened the Zyklon-B canisters to remove what looked like blue chalk pellets about the size of peas, creating a cloud of poison gas. After they left, the doors were sealed. (Höss, Commandant at Auschwitz, 173. See also Yehuda Bauer, "Auschwitz," in Jäckel and Rohwere, eds., Der Mord an den Juden, 167-68)
Höss wrote later that death was instantaneous. Perhaps that was what he was told. But he was not present to witness the event; he was away on a business trip. Other sources indicate that even the next day not everyone was dead, and the SS men had to release more insecticide. Eventually all the prisoners died. When Höss returned to Auschwitz, he heard about the successful experiment. On Eichmann's next visit to Auschwitz, Höss told him about the possibilities of Zyklon-B, and, according to Höss, the two decided to use the pesticide and the peasant farmstead for extermination.
(Höss, Commandant, 175. From the History of KL Auschwitz, New York, 1982, I, 190)(Breitman, 203)
SS-Unterscharführer Pery Broad described a gassing in Krema I while giving testimony (Museum, 176):Müller's eyewitness account of gassings in Krema I, in April, 1942, is recounted in Hilberg's "The Destruction of the European Jews":
".... The 'disinfectors' were at work. One of them was SS-Unterscharfuehrer Teuer, decorated with the Cross of War Merit. With a chisel and a hammer they opened a few innocuously looking tins which bore the inscription 'Cyclon, to be used against vermin. Attention, poison! to be opened by trained personnel only!'.
The tins were filled to the brim with blue granules the size of peas. Immediately after opening the tins, their contents were thrown into the holes which were then quickly covered. Meanwhile Grabner gave a sign to the driver of a lorry, which had stopped close to the crematorium.
The driver started the motor and its deafening noise was louder than the death cries of the hundreds of people inside, being gassed to death."In The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Jozef Buszko (Jagiellonian University, Krakow) writes:
The Auschwitz procedure evolved in stages. In April 1942, Slovak Jews were gassed in Crematorium I, apparently with their clothes on. Later, deportees from nearby Sosnowiec were told to undress in the yard. The victims, faced by the peremptory order to remove their clothes, men in front of women and women in front of men, became apprehensive. The SS men, shouting at them, then drove the naked men, women and children into the gas chamber.
"The first, relatively small gas chamber was built in Auschwitz I. Here the experimental gassing using Zyklon B gas first took place, on September 3, 1941. The victims were 600 Soviet prisoners of war and 250 other prisoners. After that experiment, the firm J. A. Topf and Sons received a contract to build much larger, permanent gas chambers connected with very large crematoria in Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the mass exterminations were mainly carried out. Altogether four such installations -- II, III, IV, and V -- were built in Birkenau." (Encyclopedia, Vol. I, 113)
Krema II, III, IV and V
Foner continues:As to the "Leuchter report," we refer you to the Leuchter Report FAQ. Foner omits mention of the larger gas chambers of Kremas II-V, in which over a million people were murdered. Hilberg (Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews. NY: Holmes & Meier, 1985.) provides the following:
"What Piper said, in effect - and on camera - was that the explosive Leuchter Report was correct: No homicidal gassings took place in the buildings designated 'homicidal gas chambers' at Auschwitz."
At Birkenau, illusion was the rule. It was not always simple or possible, inasmuch as at least some of the deportees had observed the sign "Auschwitz" as the train passed through the railway yards, (Wiesel, Elie. Night. NY: Bantam Books, 1982.) or had seen flames belching from the chimneys, or had smelled the strange, sickening odor of the crematoria. (Lengyel, Olga. Five Chimneys : A Woman's True Story of Auschwitz. IL: Academy Chicago Pub., 1995.) Most of them, however, like a group from Salonika, were funneled through the undressing rooms, were told to hang their clothes on hooks and remember the number, and promised food after the shower and work after the food.
The unsuspecting Greek Jews, clutching soap and towels, rushed into the gas chambers. (Müller, Filip. et al. Eyewitness Auschwitz : Three Years in the Gas Chambers. [No publisher listed], 1979, pp. 80-81.) Nothing was allowed to disturb this precarious synchronization. When a Jewish inmate revealed to newly arrived people what was in store for them, he was cremated alive. (Müller, 80) Only in the case of victims who were brought in from nearby ghettos in upper Silesia (Sosnowiec and Bedzin) and who had had intimations of Auschwitz was speed alone essential. These people were told to undress quickly in their "own best interest." ( Müller, 69-71)
And finally, consider these remarks, from the SS Doctor Kremer, made during a hearing held on 18 July, 1947. (Klee, Ernst, Willi. Dressen, Volker Riess. The Good Old Days: The Holocaust As Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders. NY: The Free Press, 1992, p. 258.):
I remember I once took part in the gassing of one of these groups of women [from the women's camp in Auschwitz]. I cannot say how big the group was. when I got close to the bunker I saw them sitting on the ground. They were still clothed. As they were wearing worn-out camp clothing they were not left in the undressing hut but made to undress in the open air. I concluded from the behavior of these women that they had no doubt what fate awaited them, as they begged and sobbed to the SS men to spare them their lives. However, they were herded into the gas chambers and gassed.
As an anatomist I have seen a lot of terrible things: I had had a lot of experience with dead bodies, and yet what I saw that day was like nothing I had ever seen before. Still completely shocked by what I had seen I wrote on my diary on 5 September 1942:
"The most dreadful of horrors. Hauptscharfuherer Thilo was right when he said to me today that this is the 'anus mundi', the anal orifice of the world".
I used this image because I could not imagine anything more disgusting and horrific.
Two German firms, Tesch/Stabenow and Degesch, produced Cyclone B gas after they acquired the patent from Farben. Tesch supplied two tons a month, and Degesch three quarters of a ton. The firms that produced the gas already had extensive experience in fumigation.
"In short, this industry used very powerful gases to exterminate rodents and insects in enclosed spaces; that it should now have become involved in an operation to kill off Jews by the hundreds of thousands is not mere accident." (Hilberg, Commandant, 567)
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. Hoess testified that the Tesch directors could not help but know of the use for their product because they sold him enough to annihilate two million people. Two Tesch partners were sentenced to death in 1946 and hanged. The director of Degesch recieved five years in prison." (Feig, Konnilyn. Hitler's Death Camps : The Sanity of Madness. NY: Holmes & Meier, Publishers, 1981.) (See also Breitman, Richard. The Architect of Genocide : Himmler and the Final Solution. MA: Brandeis University Press, 1992, pp. 203-204, for a discussion of the early involvement of Heerdt-Lingler)
From the statement of Hans Stark, registrar of new arrivals, Auschwitz (Klee, Ernst, Willi. Dressen, Volker Riess. The Good Old Days: The Holocaust As Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders. NY: The Free Press, 1992, p. 255):
At another, later gassing -- also in autumn 1941 -- Grabner* ordered me to pour Zyklon B into the opening because only one medical orderly had shown up. During a gassing Zyklon B had to be poured through both openings of the gas-chamber room at the same time. This gassing was also a transport of 200-250 Jews, once again men, women and children. As the Zyklon B -- as already mentioned -- was in granular form, it trickled down over the people as it was being poured in.
They then started to cry out terribly for they now knew what was happening to them. I did not look through the opening because it had to be closed as soon as the Zyklon B had been poured in. After a few minutes there was silence. After some time had passed, it may have been ten to fifteen minutes, the gas chamber was opened. The dead lay higgledy-piggedly all over the place. It was a dreadful sight.
*Maximillian Grabner, Head of Political Department, Auschwitz
Zyklon-B is a powerful insecticide which serves as a carrier for the gas Hydrocyanic acid, or HCN. It usually comes in the shape of small pellets or disks. (See Breitman, 203, for more detail about the early use of the gas at Auschwitz) HCN is the cause of death following the application of Zyklon-B. While interacting with iron and concrete, it creates Hydrocyanic compounds, which Leuchter admitted were found in the ruins of the gas chamber in Krematoria II. His finding was confirmed by findings of the Polish government.
HCN is extremely poisonous to humans. It is used in execution gas chambers in the US; the first was built in Arizona in 1920.
Holocaust denial often includes the claim that Germany in the 1940's could not handle the "technical difficulties" inherent in using HCN for execution.
As noted above, these "difficulties" were easily solved in 1920. Moreover, the Germans had a lot of experience with HCN, as it was extensively used for delousing.
There were two types of gas chambers in Auschwitz: those used for delousing clothes ("delousing gas chambers") and those used for killing people on a massive scale ("extermination gas chambers"). The delousing gas chambers were a standard feature, and were left intact by the SS (the extermination gas chambers were dynamited in an effort to conceal criminal traces).
Holocaust denial asserts that because more Hydrocyanic compounds were found in the delousing chambers in Auschwitz than in the ruins of the extermination gas chambers, mass murder using the gas could not have taken took place within, because the reverse would be true.
HCN is much more effective on warm-blooded animals, including humans, than it is on insects. The exposure period (to HCN) is much greater in delousing operations than in homicidal gassings. This means that a much lower concentration is necessary to kill people than to get rid of lice, etc. In delousing, concentrations of up to 16,000 ppm (parts per million) are sometimes used, and exposure time can be up to 72 hours; while 300 ppm will kill people in fifteen minutes or so.
Therefore, the HCN in the extermination chambers hardly had time to form compounds on the walls. While some claim that the gas would need a lot of time to kill, because it would have to spread all over the chamber, it simply is not true; the gas chambers were not that large (those in Krematoria II and III were about 210 square meters), and the Zyklon-B was dropped from four openings (still visible in the ruins of the gas chambers). Since the concentration used was higher than the lethal one, death was very swift.
Furthermore, the delousing chambers are intact while the extermination chambers were blown up (a .GIF picture of the one of Krema II is available). Therefore, their walls have been exposed to the elements for the last 50 years. The ruins of the gas chamber of Krema II are covered with about 3 feet of water during certain periods of the year; HCN compounds easily dissolve in these surroundings. Nonetheless, so much gassing took place that some of the compound remained.
Summarizing, the walls of the extermination gas chambers were in contact with HCN for a much shorter time then those of the delousing chambers, and for the last 45 years were exposed to surroundings which dissolve the compounds, while the delousing rooms were not. Therefore it is obvious that less traces of compounds would remain in them.
This fact - that all, or most, of the compounds would vanish during 45 years of exposure - is clearly stated in the report written by the experts of the krakow Institute of Forensic Research. (Also see The Leuchter FAQ).
Holocaust deniers once claimed that the gas chamber in Krema I was left intact, and therefore its walls were not exposed to the elements.
But - as they admit themselves - the gas chamber of Krema I was used only for a short time, and than it was changed to an air-raid shelter. After the liberation of the camp, it was reconstructed to its original shape. This, and the fact that "only" about 10,000 people were murdered inside it (compared to 350,000 and 400,000 in Kremas II and III) explain why relatively small amounts of cyanide compounds remain. As for Kremas IV and V, they were completely destroyed by the SS before the Soviets liberated the camp.
Finally, cyanide compounds were found on the ventilation grills of the extermination chambers, proving beyond doubt that gassing did take place inside them.
The claim that it would have been impossible to use the gas chambers for killing, because they were too close to the furnaces, and the gas would explode, is often found in Holocaust denial literature, and is one of the assertions of the Leuchter report.
The concentration of HCN necessary to cause death is nearly 200 times lower than that which causes explosion. Although the SS used a concentration higher than the lethal one, it was far below that causing explosion.
As a reference, one can look at "The Merck Index" and the "CRC handbook of Chemistry and Physics", or consult any manual dealing with toxicity and flammability of chemicals. For HCN, a concentration of 300 ppm (parts per million) kills humans within a few minutes, while the minimal concentration that can result in an explosion is 56,000 ppm.
Another common claim is that it takes 20 hours to air a room which has been disinfected with Zyklon-B, and therefore the eyewitness accounts giving a time of 20-30 minutes from when the gassing started to when the bodies where carried out is impossible, because the people carrying out the bodies would perish.
If one disinfects a building in ordinary commercial use, it should not be reentered within 20 hours. That figure, however, has no meaning in relation to the extermination chambers, because they were forcibly ventilated. Fifteen minutes were enough to replace the air. When ventilation was not used, the Sonderkommando (prisoners used as forced labor) who took the bodies out had gas masks on.
The Germans had plenty of experience with gas, especially HCN, which was widely used for delousing. They knew how to work with it without getting hurt. It is absurd to use the 20 hour figure in this context, which does not assume forced ventilation and takes a huge safety factor into account. The SS didn't care much for the safety of the Sonderkommando who had to enter the gas chambers to take the corpses out.
Furthermore, what makes ventilation difficult and lengthy is the presence of rugs, furniture, curtains, etc. Needless to say, these were not present in the gas chambers - there was just bare concrete, making ventilation fast and efficient.
If the "20 hours ventilation period" above was true, this would mean that the corpses of people executed using cyanide gas in U.S. gas chambers would remain tied to the chair 20 hours after they were killed...
Another common claim is that the "alleged" extermination chambers are actually morgues, and that Zyklon-B was used in them as a disinfectant.
This claim stems from the fact that Hydrocyanic compounds were found on the ventilation grills of the gas chambers in Krematoria II and III (the chemical analysis was carried out by Dr. Jan Robel of the krakow Forensic Institute in December 1945, and was part of the evidence in the trial of Auschwitz commander Höss). This proves that gassing did take place in that chamber. Zyklon-B cannot kill anaerobic bacteria - it kills only aerobic organisms. That means it would be useless for disinfecting corpses.
In closing, consider the testimony of SS private Hoeblinger: (Langbein)
I was detailed to the transport service and I drove the Sanka [abbreviation for Sanitatskraftwagen/medical truck] which was to carry the prisoners....
Then we drove to the gas chambers. The medical orderlies climbed a ladder, they had gas masks up there, and emptied the cans. I was able to observe the prisoners while they were undressing. It always proceeded quitely and without them suspecting anything. It happened very quickly.
Note Pvt. Hoeblinger's mention of gas masks - some Holocaust deniers insist that the SS-men dropping the gas would be killed by it, which leads one to speculate about their reading ability. Finally, the undeniable evidence that the SS ordered Degesch to remove the indicator odor, mandated under German law, which was added to the Zyklon B in order to provide a warning to human beings that the lethal stuff was nearby. I believe this demonstrated clear criminal intent - the SS would hardly have removed the indicator odor if they had intended, as the denial set insists, to use the gas only on insects and corpses... (Borkin, Joseph. The Crime and Punishment of I. G. Farben NY: The Free Press, 1979, pg. 123).
Konnilyn Feig provides an overview of the operation of the crematoria, and describes the process by which the stoking gangs sorted bodies into combustibility categories as the result of earlier experiments by the SS staff to reduce fuel consumption. In this effort, they had the assistance of the firm of Topf and Sons, who had built the crematoria.
In essence, well-nourished corpses were burned with emaciated ones in order to determine the most efficient combination. Three to four bodies were burned at a time, and different kinds of coke were used, then the results were recorded:
Afterwards, all corpses were divided into the above-mentioned catagories, 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 of a well-nourished man and an emaciated woman, or vice versa, 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. (Müller, Filip. et al. Eyewitness Auschwitz : Three Years in the Gas Chambers. [No publisher listed], 1979, pp. 60-61; Klarsfield, 99-100)
The need for large-scale efficiency, to cope with the astounding number of corpses produced by the gas chambers, eventually led to the design and construction of new crematoria, and daily capacity rose from as low as six hundred forty eight per day (Müllers 1942 figure) to a high of over ten thousand (Gricksch), but, as Feig tells us, the SS eventually had to employ large pyres and pits to dispose of the mounting pile of corpses:
As early as June 13, 1943, all was not well with the new installation. ... Eventually the ovens seemed to fall apart. Crematorium Four failed completely after a short time and Crematoria Five had to be shut down repeatedly. (TWC, V:624) (Between 1945 and 1962 Polish officials found five manuscripts written by Sonderkommando members before their deaths. The published manuscripts and documents relate to the specific process of extermination at Birkenau, and provide detailed descriptions of the crematoria and gas chambers.)
The scientifically planned crematoria should have been able to handle the total project, but they could not. The whole complex had forty-six retorts, each with the capacity for three to five persons. The burning in a retort lasted about half an hour. It took an hour a day to clean them out. Thus it was theoretically possible to cremate about 12,000 corpses in twenty four hours or 4,380,000 a year.
But the well-constructed crematoria fell far behind at a number of camps, and especially at Auschwitz in 1944. In August the total cremation reached a peak one day of 24,000, but still a bottleneck occurred. Camp authorities needed an economic and fast method of corpse disposal, so they again dug six huge pits beside Crematorium Five and reopened old pits in the wood.
Thus, late in 1944, pit burning became the chief method of corpse disposal. The pits had indentations at one end from which human fat drained off. To keep the pits burning, the stokers poured oil, alcohol, and large quantities of boiling human fat over the bodies.
Compiling the Estimates on Numbers Exterminated
When the extermination camps failed to achieve their objective, the total extermination of European Jewry, by the end of 1942, Heinrich Himmler commissioned a statistical report in order to determine what 'progress' had been made.
In January of 1943, Dr. Richard Korherr, a noted statistician who was outside SS circles, working with Adolf Eichmann and camp commanders, began compiling reports and figures to present to Heinrich Himmler. As Breitman relates:
Korherrs job was complicated by the fact that, even in a report designed for Himmler, he was not supposed to spell out the facts in black and white. It was easier to state how many Jews were still alive than what had happened to the others. To be sure, Korherr could state that through various means the Jewish population in the Reich and the Government General had diminished by 3.1 million between 1933 and 1942. In spite of his generous use of the term "evacuation," however, which Himmler seconded, to mislead those who would read the document in later years, Himmler had to correct Korherr's wording in one place.
Where Korherr had written of the "special treatment" of the Jews, Himmler had insisted on either the "transportation of the Jews from the Eastern provinces to the Russian East" or the "sifting of the Jews through the camps." These were among the officially approved terms to camouflage the realities of the Final Solution.
(Korherrs reports in NA RG 238, NO-5193 and 5194, Himmler's correction of wording in Brandt to Korherr, 20 April 1943. NA RG 238, NO-5196. Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, NY: Holmes & Meier, 1985,, 322-23, reviews the whole range of Nazi terms that veiled the realities. Breitman, Richard. The Architect of Genocide : Himmler and the Final Solution. MA: Brandeis University Press, 1992, p. 242.)
Note that Himmler was successful in his attempts to camouflage reality to the degree that present-day Holocaust denial insists that Jews were simply "relocated to the East," and not exterminated. Eichmanns interrogation regarding the total number of victims supports Fleming's figure of about five million killed (figures compiled by Yehuda Bauer, of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, are somewhat higher. Bauer's figures are in the right-most column:
Territory Fleming's Estimates Bauer's Estimates German Reich (boundaries of 1938) 130,000 125,000 Austria 58,000 65,000 Belgium 26,000 Belgium & Luxembourg 24,700 Bulgaria 7,000 Czechoslovakia (boundaries of 1938) 245,000 277,000 France 64,000 83,000 Greece 58,000 65,000 Hungary & Carpatho-Ukraine 300,000 402,000* Italy 8,000 7,500* Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia 200,000 Luxembourg 3,000 Netherlands 101,800 106,000 Norway 677 760 Poland (boundaries of 1939) 2,700,000 Polish-Soviet area 4,565,000 Romania (boundaries prior to 1940) 220,000 40,000 USSR (boundaries prior to 1939) 800,000 Yugoslavia 54,000 60,000* ----------------- ----------------- 4,975,477 5,820,960 * May be underestimated
How Many People Died at Auschwitz?
Foner's Spotlight article makes the following assertions regarding the number of people killed at the camp:
Like most Americans, since his youth Cole had been instructed in the "irrefutable fact" that homicidal gassings had taken place at Auschwitz. The number of those so executed - also declared irrefutablewas 4.1 million.
Then came the Leuchter Report in 1988. This was followed by a "re-evaluation" of the total deaths at Auschwitz (down to 1.1 million). As a budding historianand a JewCole was intrigued.
Previous to 1992, anyone who publicly doubted the 4.1 million "gassing" deaths at Auschwitz was labeled an anti-Semite, neo-nazi skinhead (at the very least). Quietly, because of revisionist findings, the official figure was lowered to 1.1 million. No mention of that missing 3 million.
Foner's assertions are simply not true; although it is correct to note that the Polish Communist government did claim that four million people were exterminated at Auschwitz, historians (Feig, Reitlinger, Hilberg, et al.) have never supported that figure. Consider the estimates provided by Buszko at the end of his article on Auschwitz, which appeared in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust:
- Of the 405,000 registered prisoners, 65,000 survived
- Of the 16,000 Soviet POW's, 96 survived
- Various estimates suggest 1.6 million were murdered
Buszko's article, and the above estimates, appeared in the 1990 edition of the Encyclopedia, which clearly puts the lie to Foner's comment that "anyone who publicly doubted the 4.1 million .. " figure "previous to 1992..." was "...labeled an anti-Semite...". Buszko is not only a Jewish historian, but Polish as well.
Leon Poliakov, the author of the well-documented Harvest of Hate, which was, we note, first published in 1956, provides the following information, which clearly demonstrates that Foner's contention, cited above, is an outright lie:Feig also provides evidence of the false nature of Foner's comment when she notes that:
After some thirty months of intense activity, the Auschwitz balance sheet showed close to two million immediate exterminations (this figure can never be fixed exactly), (8) to which one must add the deaths of some 300,000 registered prisonersJews for the most part, but not entirelyfor whom the gas chamber was only one of any number of ways by which they might have perished. (Poliakov, 202)
(8) In his affidavits, Hoess spoke of two and a half million, 'a figure set officially,' he wrote, under the signature of [Eichmann], in a report to Himmler. This figure has been accepted by several authors, and it appears in the verdict at the trial of the major war criminals. However, there is no reason for accepting without question the statistics attributed to Eichmann, which may err on either side.
Adding the number of victims to those deported from different countries gives a lower figure, although we have little data, for example, on the number of Polish Jews sent to Auschwitz. An approximate figure in the neighborhood of two million seems closer to the truth." (Ibid.)
Höss testified that the Tesch directors could not help but know of the use for their product because they sold him enough to annihilate two million people.'
According to Snyder, Adolf Eichmann reported to Heinrich Himmler, in 1944, that four million had been killed in the camps, and another million had been shot or killed by mobile units. (Snyder, Louis. Encyclopedia of the Third Reich Marlowe & Co., 1997.) Eichmann's report, which referenced all the camps (most of which were in Nazi-occupied Poland), may have been the source of the Polish Communist government's figures. (Snyder is a Professor of History at the City College and the City University of New York.)
During the war crimes trials, Höss was was asked if it was true that he had no exact numbers because he had been forbidden to compile them, and he agreed. He also agreed that Adolf Eichmann had told him that that more than two million people had been exterminated there. (von Lang, Jochen. ed. Eichmann Interrogated: Transcripts from the Archives of the Israeli Police. NY: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1983, p.120)
The Institut Fuer Zeitgeschichte, Munich, provided the following capsulated paragraph about Auschwitz in a March, 1992, letter of inquiry.
The extermination camp in Birkenau, established in the second half of 1941, was joined to the concentration camp Auschwitz, existing since May 1940. From January 1942 on in five gas chambers and from the end of June 1943 in four additional large gassing-rooms gassings with Zyklon B have been undertaken. Up until November 1944 more than one million Jews and at least 4000 gypsies have been murdered by gas. (IFZ)
While it is admittedly difficult to compile exact figures, since the Nazis did not maintain registration records for those who were to be exterminated immediately upon arrival at Auschwitz, it seems accurate to assert that the number of Jews killed fell somewhere between one and one-point-six million.
Jews were not the only victims of the Auschwitz killing machine - estimates that from 200,000 (Gilbert, Martin. Holocaust Maps and Photographs. NY: Anti-Defamation League, 1992, p. 22, Kenrick, Donald. The Destiny of Europe's Gypsies. NY: Basic Books, 1973, p. 184) to 500,000 (Bubenickova, 190, Yoors, Jan. Crossing, A Journal of Survival and Resistance in World War II. Waveland Press, 1988, p. 34) Gypsies were ultimately destroyed are noted by Laska. Himmler signed the decree sending all of them to Auschwitz in 1942. In addition, an unknown number of homosexuals were sent to Auschwitz and executed.
The Leuchter Report, which Foner alludes to extensively in his Spotlight article, has been thoroughly refuted. For detailed information about the report, see the Leuchter FAQ.
- Fritsch, Hauptsturmführer (Credited with the first use of Zyklon-B)
- Grabner, Maximillian. Head of Political Department
- Höss, Rudolf Franz (1900-1947)
Höss joined the Nazi party in 1922. In 1923, he was implicated in a murder and imprisoned to serve a life sentence. He was released as a result of a general amnesty, in 1928. After training during service at Dachau and Sachsenhausen, he was rewarded for his loyalty with a promotion to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer (see Glossary) and the commandant's job at Auschwitz, where he remained until December of 1943, when he was promoted to chief of the Central Administration for Camps. (Sachar, Abram L. The Redemption of the Unwanted. NY: St. Martin's, 1983.)
According to Snyder, "He performed his job so well that he was commended in a 1944 SS report that called him "a true pioneer in this area because of his new ideas and educational methods."
Höss was captured in May, 1945, and was a key witness at Nuremberg (Kaltenbrunner, I.G. Farben et al). During this period, he wrote his autobiography (Höss, Rudolf. Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the Ss Kommandant at Auschwitz Da Capo Press, 1996.).
According to Sachar, he
...took pride in his exemplary family life, the devotion to his children and his pets. He recalled, wistfully, how he had been obliged to tear himself away from a Christmas gathering to attend to duties at the gas chambers. The daily death quota then was still a mere 1,500, but he was eager to make sure it was met. When one of his lieutenants was condemned to death for his part in the Auschwitz murders, Höss and his family lamented 'Such a compassionate man, too. When his pet canary died, he tenderly put the body in a small box, covered it with a rose, and buried it under a rose bush in the garden.'(Höss, 25) (Sachar)
During his trial, the evidence "...repeated...what he had written..." in his autobiography.
"He described, with the dispassion of a robot, how he had gradually stepped up executions, beginning with a few hundred a day and then, as methods were perfected, rising to 1,200. By mid-1942, facilities had been sufficiently enlarged to dispatch 1,500 people over a twenty-four-hour period for the smaller ovens, and up to 2,500 for the larger ones. By 1943, ... a new daily peak of 12,000 was achieved.
Höss described the final routines of the extermination process. These were assigned to squads of Jewish prisoners, the Sondercommandos. They marched the victims to the gas chambers, helped to undress them, removed the corpses after the gassing, extracted gold from their teeth and rings from their fingers, searched the orifices of their bodies for hidden jewelry, cut off the hair of the women, and then carted the bodies to the crematoria. Usually after several weeks of such service they were executed, first because they were Jews but also so that they would not be witnesses if ever testimony were required." (Sachar)
Höss was tried in Warsaw, in March, 1947, and condemned to death. (Hanged on April 7 at Auschwitz.)
- Kramer, Josef. Commandant at Birkenau
- Mandel, Maria. Head of the women's camp at Auschwitz after serving at Ravensbruck
Testimony from German court records relating to the trials of SS men charged with medical killing at Auschwitz is now available from our archives. The source for this data, Nauman, is listed in Recommended Reading.
Pursued his experiments on live specimens in Auschwitz. Involved in sterilization projects there. (Laska, Vera. ed. Women in the Resistance and in the Holocaust: The Voices of Eyewitnesses. CT: Greenwood Press, 1983, p. 222).
Dr. Wladyslav Dering
Dering was a Polish prisoner
Involved in vivisection projects at both Ravensbruck and Auschwitz. Shot as war criminal in 1948. (Laska, 225)
Kremer, Johannes Paul
Vivisection. Hanged. (Klee, Ernst, Willi. Dressen, Volker Riess. The Good Old Days: The Holocaust As Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders. NY: The Free Press, 1992, p. 258).
Mengele, Josef (1911- ?)
Mengele was appointed chief doctor at Auschwitz by Himmler in 1943. He joined Drs. Klein, Koenig, and Thilon in running the selection process. (Posner, Gerald. Mengele: The Complete Story. NY: Dell Publishing Co., 1987.) Mengele is believed dead, but his fate remains unknown. (See Lagnado, Lucette Matalon and Sheila Cohn Dekel. Children of the Flames : Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz. NY: Penguin, 1992. for citations regarding Mengele's experimentation on twins)
In a report entitled "Resettlement of Jews," SS-Sturmbannführer Gricksch provided the following information for SS-Col. von Herff and Reichsführer-SS Himmler, after inspection between the 14th. and 16th. of May, 1943. ( Fleming, Gerald. Hitler and the Final Solution. CA: University of California Press, 1987, p. 142.)
The Auschwitz camp plays a special role in the resolution of the Jewish question. The most advance methods permit the execution of the Führer-order in the shortest possible time and without arousing much attention. The so-called "resettlement action" runs the following course: The Jews arrive in special trains (freight cars) toward evening and are driven on special tracks to areas of the camp specifically set aside for this purpose.
There the Jews are unloaded and examined for their fitness to work by a team of doctors, in the presence of the camp commandant and several SS officers. At this point anyone who can somehow be incorporated into the work program is put in a special camp. The curably ill are sent straight to a medical camp and are restored to health through a special diet. The basic principle behind everything is: conserve all manpower for work. The previous type of "resettlement action" has been thoroughly rejected, since it is too costly to destroy precious work energy on a continual basis.
The report then describes the fate of those unlucky enough to have been considered incurably ill or unfit for slave labour, and provides some details with regard to the killing process.
The results of this "resettlement action" to date: 500,000 Jews. Current capacity of the "resettlement action" ovens: 10,000 in 24 hours.
Buszko, writing in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, explains why some prisoners were tattooed, while others were not:
Prisoners were registered and received numbers tattooed on their left arm upon leaving the quarantine in Birkenau for forced labor in Auschwitz or in one of the subcamps. The same procedure applied to those prisoners who were directed straight to Auschwitz I: 405,000 prisoners were registered in this way.
[Ed. Note: Buszko later notes that only 65,000 of those so registered and tattooed survived. knm]
Not included in any form of registration were the vast majority of the Auschwitz victims, those men and women who, upon arrival in Auschwitz II, were led to the gas chambers and killed there immediately. Also not included in the registration were those prisoners who were sent to work in other concentration camps not belonging to the Auschwitz system. ... Still another group of unregistered prisoners were those who were designated for execution after a short stay in the camp. That group consisted mainly of hostages, Soviet army officers, and partisans. (Encyclopedia, Vol. I, 110-111)
Several of the seventy or more medical-research projects conducted by the Nazis between the fall of 1939 and spring of 1945 were conducted at Auschwitz. These projects involved experiments conducted with human beings against their will, and at least seven thousand were so treated, based upon existing documents and personal testimonies; there were undoubtedly many more for which no documentation or personal testimony remains.
About two hundred German medical doctors were involved in the concentration camp experiments, conducting Selektionen, medical services, and research. They maintained close professional ties with the German medical establishment, and used the universities and research institutes in Germany and Austria in their work.
Dr. Ernst Robert Grawitz, SS Chief Medical Officer, received all requests for authority to perform experimentation, and obtained two opinions before passing them to Himmler with his recommendation.
Grawitz used Dr. Karl Gebhardt, Himmler's personal physician, for one opinion, and Richard Glücks and Arthur Nebe for the other. He then passed his report to Himmler, who took great interest in the experiments and often interfered with them.
There were three broad classes of experiments. The German Air Force conducted experiments at Dachau (and elsewhere) dealing with survival and rescue, including research into the effects of high altitude, freezing temperatures, and the ingestion of seawater.
Medical treatment constituted a second class, and involved research into the treatment of battle injuries, gas attacks, and the formulation of immunization compounds to treat contagious and epidemic diseases.
Finally, there were racial experiments, including research into dwarfs and twins, serological research, and skeletal examination. It is this class of horrors that returns us to Auschwitz (Encyclopedia of the Holocaust,, Vol. 3, pp. 957-958).
During his interrogation of Adolf Eichmann, Israeli police Captain Avner Less brought up the subject of Eichmann's complicity in medical 'research' projects which had been approved by the Reichsführer-SS, Heinrich Himmler , and read four documents to him. What follows is the text of Less's interrogation at that point...
LESS: I have some photostats of documents that were submitted in the first Nuremberg war crimes trial, the trial of the physicians. The sender of this letter is the business manager of Ahnenerbe. I'll read it to you.
"Berlin, November 2, 1942. Secret. To SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Brandt. Dear Comrade Brandt: As you know, the Reichsführer-SS gave orders some time ago to the effect that SS-Hauptsturmführer Prof. Dr. Hirt should be supplied with everything he requires for his research. For certain anthropological investigations -- I have already reported to the Reichsführer-SS on the subject -- 150 skeletons of prisoners or Jews are needed, and these are to be made available by the Auschwitz concentration camp." Etc. etc. It's signed: "With comradely greetings, Heil Hitler, Yours, Sievers."
The second document is a report by this Professor Hirt. "Re: Procurement of the skulls of Jewish-Bolshevistic commissars for scientific research at the University of Strassburg." I quote:
"Extensive skull collections from nearly all races and people are in existence. It is only of Jews that so few skulls are available to science that work on them admits of no secure findings. The war in the East now offers us an opportunity to make good this deficiency. In the Jewish-Bolshevistic commissars, who embody a repulsive and characteristic type of subhuman, we have the possibility of acquiring a reliable scientific document by acquiring their skulls.
The smoothest and most expeditious way of obtaining and securing this provision of skulls would be to instruct the Wehrmacht to hand over all Jewish-Bolshevistic commissars immediately to the military police. The person charged with securing this material (a young physician or medical student belonging to the Werhmacht or better still to the military police) is to prepare a previously specified series of photographs and anthropoligical measurements.
After the subsequently induced death of the Jew, whose head must not be injured, he will separate the head from the trunk and send it, immersed in a preserving fluid, in well-sealed lead containers made especially for this purpose, to the designated address."
And now the next document. A letter of June 21, 1943. From Ahnenerbe. Top secret.
"To Reich Security Headquarters IVB4, Attention: SS-Obersturmführer Eichmann. Re: Skeleton collection.
With reference to your letter of September 25, 1942, and the consultations held since then regarding the above-mentioned matter, we wish to inform you that Dr. Bruno Beger, our staff member charged with the above-mentioned special mission, terminated his work in the Auschwitz concentration camp on June 15, 1943, because of the danger of an epidemic. In all, 115 persons, 79 male Jews, 2 Poles, 4 Central Asians, and 30 Jewesses, were processed.
These inmates have been placed, men and women separately, in the concentration-camp sick quarters, and quarantined. For the further processing of these selected persons, immediate transfer to Natzweiler concentration camp is desirable and should be effected as quickly as possible in view of the danger of infection in Auschwitz. A list of the selected persons is appended. You are requested to send the necessary instructions."
And now for the last document.
"The Reichsführer-SS Personal Staff, Field Headquarters, November 6, 1942. Secret. To Reich Security Headquarters IVB4. Attention: SS-Obersturmführer Eichmann. The Reichsführer-SS has ordered that Dr. Hirt, head of the Anatomy Department in Strassburg, should be supplied with everything needed for his research. In the name of the Reichsführer-SS, I therefore request you to help establish the projected skeleton collection. per. proc. SS-Obersturmbannführer Brandt" (von Lang, Jochen. ed. Eichmann Interrogated: Transcripts from the Archives of the Israeli Police. NY: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1983, pp. 169-171).
Thus the German government's full complicity in the crimes committed at Auschwitz under the guise of "medical research" is clear, with a chain of evidence reaching all the way to Himmler.
Clauberg & Mandel
Professor Carl Clauberg performed experiments into sterilization at both Auschwitz and Ravensbrück. This was done on Hitler's initiative, as he had been convinced by several doctors that mass sterilization could provide a powerful weapon against Germany's enemies during total war.
Clauberg injected chemical substances into wombs during normal gynocological examinations. Thousands of Jewish and Gypsy (Roma) (Roma) women were subjected to this treatment. Clauberg sought to answer Himmler's query about how long it would take to sterilize one thousand women, and eventually informed him that, using methods he developed, a staff of one doctor and ten assistants could do the job in a single day. The injections totally destroyed the lining membrane of the womb and seriously damaged the ovaries of the victims, which were then removed and sent to Berlin to test the effectiveness of the method (Encyclopedia of the Holocaust,, Vol. 3, p. 964).
... after Ravensbruck ... [Maria Mandel] was the head of the women's camp at Auschwitz; the prisoners referred to her as 'the beast.' For her share in the selections for the gas chambers and medical experiments and for her torture of countless prisoners, she was condemned to death in 1947 as a war criminal (Laska, Vera. ed. Women in the Resistance and in the Holocaust: The Voices of Eyewitnesses. CT: Greenwood Press, 1983).
Mengele promoted medical experimentation on inmates, especially dwarfs and twins. He is said to have supervised an operation by which two Gypsy (Roma) (Roma) children were sewn together to create Siamese twins; the hands of the children became badly infected where the veins had been resected. (Snyder, Louis. Encyclopedia of the Third Reich Marlowe & Co., 1997.)
Cohen tells us:
"The only firsthand evidence on these experiments comes from a handful of survivors and from a Jewish doctor, Miklos Nyiszli, who worked under Mengele as a pathologist. Mengele subjected his victims - twins and dwarfs aged two and above - to clinical examinations, blood tests, X rays, and anthropological measurements. In the case of the twins, he drew sketches of each twin, for comparison. He also injected his victims with various substances, dripping chemicals into their eyes (apparently in an attempt to change their color).
He then killed them himself by injecting chloroform into their hearts, so as to carry out comparative pathological examinations of their internal organs. Mengeles purpose, according to Dr. Nyiszli, was to establish the genetic cause for the birth of twins, in order to facilitate the formulation of a program for doubling the birthrate of the Aryan race. The experiments on twins affected 180 persons, adults and children.
Mengele also carried out a large number of experiments in the field of contagious diseases, (typhoid and tuberculosis) to find out how human beings of different races withstood these diseases. He used Gypsy (Roma) (Roma) twins for this purpose. Mengele's experiments combined scientific (perhaps even important) research with the racist and ideological aims of the Nazi regime. which made use of government offices, scientific institutions, and concentration camps.
From the scanty information available, it appears that his research differed from the other medical experiments in that the victims death was programmed into his experiments and formed a central element in it" (Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Vol. 3, p. 964).
Oberhauser & Schuman
OberhauserDr. Herta Oberhauser killed prisoners with oil and evipan injections, removed their limbs and vital organs, rubbed ground glass and sawdust into wounds. She drew a twenty-year sentence as a war criminal, but was released in 1952 and became a family doctor at Stocksee in Germany. Her license to practice medicine was revoked in 1960 (Laska, Vera. ed. Women in the Resistance and in the Holocaust: The Voices of Eyewitnesses. CT: Greenwood Press, 1983, p. 223).
SchumannHimmler, writing to SS-Oberführer Brack, on August 11, 1942, expressed an interest in sterilization experiments involving the use of x-rays. In April of 1944, he received a report of the work of Dr. Horst Schumann "on the influence of X-rays on human genital glands" at Auschwitz. The report included the following statement:
Previously you have asked Oberführer Brack to perform this work, and you supported it by providing the adequate material in the concentration camp Auschwitz. I point especially to the second part of this work, which shows that by those means castration of males is almost impossible or requires an effort which does not pay. As I have convinced myself, operative castration requires not more than 6 to 7 minutes, and therefore can be performed more reliably and quicker than castration by X-rays.
Schumann set up an X ray station at Auschwitz in 1942, in the woman's camp Bla. Here men and women were forcibly sterilized by being positioned repeatedly for several minutes between two x-ray machines, the rays aiming at their sexual organs. Most subjects died after great suffering, or were gassed immediately because the radiation burns from which they suffered rendered them unfit for work. Men's testicles were removed and sent to Breslau for histopathological examination.
The frequently following ovariotomies were performed also by the Polish prisoner, Dr. Wladyslav Dering. Dering once bet with an SS man that he could perform ten ovariotomies in an afternoon, and won his bet. Some of his victims survived. Dering was declared a war criminal but eluded justice and for a time practiced medicine in British Somaliland (Laska, Vera. ed. Women in the Resistance and in the Holocaust: The Voices of Eyewitnesses. CT: Greenwood Press, 1983, p. 223; Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Vol. 3, p. 965).
Sources: The Nizkor Project; This document, as a collection of information, is Copyright 1993-1998 by Ken McVay, as a work of literature. Non-commercial distribution by any electronic means is granted with the understanding that the article not be altered in any way. Permission to distribute in printed form must be obtained in writing. The removal of this copyright notice is forbidden.
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