GASSING


GASSING, extermination of Jews and others during the *Holocaust in installations specially constructed for mass-killing by gas, mostly in specific *camps. The idea of systematic and organized extinction of inoffensive human beings emanated from the conception which abolished the basic belief in the sanctity of human life and substituted the postulated predominance of the Aryan race whose superior value and whose purity had to be secured. As Hitler said in Mein Kampf: "A corrective measure in favor of the better quality must intervene" (Eng. transl. (1939), 248.)

Racial-biological "eugenics" were at first not applied to the Jews but to the elements in the German people itself. The "Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Disease" was proclaimed already on July 14, 1933. The problem was further dealt with at the Nazi Party convention on Sept. 1, 1933, where the director of the "Racial-Policy Office" called compassion for people suffering from hereditary disease "false humanity" and a "sin against the Creator's own laws of life."

The implementation of the "Euthanasia Program" was prepared as from July 1939, together with the war. It was a top secret program carried through and supervised by the staff of Hitler's private chancellery. The action included the concentration of the mental patients chosen for the "merciful death" and their transportation from there to the nearest euthanasia station, short "medical" investigation of each patient, mainly in order to decide on the most plausible fictitious "cause of death" and then gassing of 20–30 people at one time in hermetically shut chambers disguised as shower rooms, cremation in the crematorium-annex after gold teeth had been broken off and some of the brains secured for "medical research."

Between January 1940 and August 1941, 70,273 German people were killed in five euthanasia institutions by this Sonderbehandlung (special treatment). The carbon monoxide gas was provided compressed in steel containers and released through pipes into the gas chamber. People were dead after 6–7 minutes. The first experiment was done by Kriminal-Kommissar Christian Wirth; later a specially trained chemist, Dr. Kallmeyer, became responsible for the whole gassing process. In August 1941 Hitler called the program officially off following the evolving unrest in the population, legal complications, and mounting protests, especially by the Churches. In fact, the institutions continued to function until 1944 but death was administered partly by gas, partly by injections, and partly by gradual starvation. Also put to death were the chronically ill, gypsies, foreign forced laborers, Russian prisoners of war, children from mixed marriages, and others "un-worthy of life."

When in October 1941 the mass-shooting of Jews by the Einsatzgruppen became problematic (see *Holocaust), the three experts of the killing operation came together and decided on the use of gas: Erhard Wetzel, director of the Racial-Policy Office of the Nazi Party and the consultant on Jewish affairs of the Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories Alfred *Rosenberg; Victor Brack, deputy director of the Chancellery of the Fuehrer, the man mainly responsible for the implementation of the euthanasia program; and Adolf *Eichmann (Source: NO-997). Since the euthanasia program had just been officially discontinued it must have seemed reasonable to use the experience for the new project. The two technical experts, Christian *Wirth and Dr. Kallmeyer, were sent to the East to make the necessary installations. Physicians who had conducted the euthanasia program were also transferred. In the meantime gas had been employed in the fight against partisans in Yugoslavia. Here vans were used into which the exhaust fumes of their diesel engines were channeled. This method was now applied to the first killing center at *Chelmno. Then *Globocnik seized the idea and used it for the installation at *Belzec and *Treblinka. *Gerstein met Wirth there as the chief operator. Wirth now used the exhaust fumes the way the carbon monoxide gas had been handled in the euthanasia operation installing the whole process with the shower-room camouflage and securing gold teeth and other valuables. *Hoess brought the system to perfection in *Auschwitz. He went back to the easier use of chemical gas but chose hydrogen cyanide, the so-called Zyklon B crystals, instead of the carbon monoxide, apparently because it could easily be provided in great quantities. He also developed the crematorium scheme which had been in use in the euthanasia installations. Following the semantics of the previous stages the working teams were now called Sonderkommando. Zyklon B was also used in minor scale in Majdanek and in the concentration camp Gross-Rosen which was used for the extermination of concentration camp inmates in Germany. The gas chambers in Dachau and Theresienstadt were never put into action.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

R. Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews (1967), index; G. Reitlinger, Final Solution (19682), 130–64 and index; M. Weinreich, Hitler's Professors (1946), passim; A. Mitscherlich and F. Mielke, Doctors of Infamy (1949); K. Binding and A. Hoche, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung unwerten Lebens, ihr Mass und ihre Form (1920, 19222); Trials of War Criminals …, 1 (1949); Anklageschrift des Generalstaatsanwalt Frankfurt a. M. gegen den frueheren Arzt Horst Schuman von 12. 12. 1969, Yad Vashem, no. 0404/20–83; K. Doerner, in: Viertelsjahrhefte fuer Zeitgeschichte, 15 (1967), no. 2, 121–52.

[Leni Yahil]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.