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Auschwitz-Birkenau: The Construction of Crematoria at Auschwitz


Crematoria II

"The evolution of the Auschwitz concentration camp is captured in the hundreds of architectural plans the Germans forgot to destroy and the Poles and the Soviets preserved the the archives in Oswiecim and Moscow.  A unique historical source, these materials are part of the archive of the Zentralbauleitung der Waffen SS und Polizei, Auschwitz O/S (Central Building Authority of the Waffen SS and the Police, Auschwitz in Upper Silesia).  For while the Germans burned the archives of the camp Kommandantur prior to their evacuation from Auschwitz in January 1945, and Allied bombs inadvertently helped them accomplish the same task as SS headquarters in Berlin, the archive of the construction office, some three hundred yards away from the Kommandantur, was overlooked and remained intact.  There is no similarly complete archive from any other concentration camp, and none of the administratively less complex Operation Reinhard death camps under the control of Odilo Globocnik (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka) generated such documents." (Dwork & Van Pelt, between 320-21)

Plates 14 & 15 - preliminary conceptual sketches for a new gas chamber / crematorium building for Auschwitz.


"Plate 14: Ground plan and front elevation of Georg Werkmann's first design for a new crematorium in Auschwitz, autumn 1941.  Osobyi Archive, Moscow, coll. 502/2, file 146.  The incineration hall with the five triple-muffle furnaces occupies the center of the building.  To the left are the fuel storeroom and the rooms for the inmates working the installation; to the right are the two dissection rooms and the two-door elevator (marked by an x), opening onto both the incineration hall and the first dissection room, that descends to the morgues below."(Dwork & Van Pelt, between 320-21)

"Plate 15: Basement plan and back elevation of Werkmann's first design for a new crematorium in Auschwitz, autumn 1941. Osobyi Archive, Moscow, coll. 502/2, file 146.  There is no basement below the incineration hall and the fuel storeroom.  The elevator (marked by an x) descends into a vestibule connected to the outside by two staircases and a chute for corpses.  The two large morgues extend far beyond the footprint of the building.


"... Drawings in the Building Office archive illuminate the step-by-step transformation of the crematoria from an incineration system for the efficient disposal of corpses to a lethal installation for the murder of live human beings - and then for the burning of their corpses.  The plans for the so-called new crematorium, designed for Auschwitz I but erected in Birkenau, clearly illustrate this evolution.  Originally (plates 14 and 15) the architectural style and the solidity of the material fit the vernacular of the main camp.  As conceived in the autumn of 1941, this was to be a crematorium to accommodate the mortality of the concentration camp at Auschwitz and the prisoner-of-war camp at Birkenau."(Dwork & Van Pelt, between 320-21)

 "Building at Auschwitz both in the concentration camp and in the town was subject to normal civilian procedures as well as to the wartime superstructure of special permissions.  Multiple copies of many documents survive with the comments and signatures of the individual bureaucrats or businessmen to whom they were sent.  The Buildings Office generated a wide paper trail: plans, budgets, letters, telegrams, contractors' bids, financial negotiations, work site labor reports, requests for material allocations, and the minutes of meetings held in the Buildings Office among the architects themselves, with camp officials, and with high ranking dignitaries from Berlin.

"These papers tell us a great deal.  They elucidate the thinking in the Auschwitz Kommandantur and, to some extent, at SS headquarters.  Every decision Himmler took with regard to Auschwitz, or Hoess took about the camp over which he reigned, had implications for the physical site.  If prisoners were to be shipped in, barracks were needed; if the deportees' goods were to be claimed for the Reich, storehouses were required.  If masses of people were to be murdered, incinerators to burn the bodies were essential.  The documents of the Building Office archive retrace the course in reverse, from the structure back to the decision, the thinking, the idea.  These materials illuminate the possibilities the Germans considered and the options they chose, their ambition as well as its outcome.  And they reveal the widespread and far-flung complicity of Germans in many walks of life.  As we have said before, Auschwitz was neither a preordained tragedy nor a natural disaster.  The SS leaders themselves did not anticipate in 1940 what they wrought in 1944.  Yet, step by step, blueprint by blueprint, the architects, at the behest of their bosses, came to plan and execute the horror we call Auschwitz, and, as we have seen, they had a lot of help from bureaucrats, technocrats and businessmen. (Dwork & Van Pelt, between 320-21)

"Plate 16: The ground plan of Walther Dejaco's modification of Werkmann's design, January 1942. Original blueprint, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, box BW(B) 30/1, file BW 30/2; redrawn for publication by Mikolaj Kadlubowski. Authors."(Dwork & Van Pelt, between 320-21)

"The crematorium, originally designed for the main camp but ultimately erected in Auschwitz-Birkenau as crematorium II.  Drawing by Kate Mullin. The incineration hall with the five triple-muffle furnaces occupies the center of the building (1). To the right are the fuel storeroom (2) and the rooms for the inmates working the installation (3); to the left are the two dissection rooms (4 and 5) and the two-door elevator (6) opening onto both the incineration hall and the first dissection room. The elevator descends into a vestibule that is connected to the outside by two staircases and a chute for corpses (7). The two large morgues (8 and 9) extend far beyond the footprint of the building.  One of the morgues is equipped with a double ventilation system (10) to draw in fresh air and extract foul odors.  This piping made it possible to transform the morgue into a gas chamber with little effort. N.B.: This is an axonometric drawing; the three-dimensional effect is derived from the exact measurements and angles of the original plan.  See plate 16."(Dwork & Van Pelt, pg.270)

"Section of the morgue of crematorium II. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, box BW (B) 30/2, file 30/19a. The conversion of this morgue into a gas chamber was facilitated by the double ventilation system located where the wall touches the ceiling and in the wall itself." (Dwork & Van Pelt, pg. 325)

"Plate 17: Dejaco's accepted proposal to create a new entrance to the basement. Auschwitz-Birkenau, December 1942. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, box BW (B) 30/2, file BW 30/12. The slide, which would obstruct movement between the morgue to the left (the undressing room) and the morgue to the right (the gas chamber), has been removed.

"The designs in plates 14 and 15 are conceptual sketches. The worked-out blueprint (plate 16) is more complex and informative. It was used to request building materials and permissions, and was given to the Huta contracting firm, which was happy to have the business. The plan was changed yet again in December 1942. With a relatively simple drawing (plate 17), Walther Dejaco transformed the basement design. He drew in an outside staircase descending from the yard next to the railway spur into a basement entrance to the crematorium. There he changed one of the two underground morgues into an undressing room and the other into a gas chamber. He cancelled the planned corpse chute, which in the earlier plans (plates 14, 15, 16) had afforded the main access to the basement morgues. Live human beings descend staircases. Dead bodies are dropped through a chute. The victims would walk to their death." (Dwork & Van Pelt, between 320-21)

"Completing the roof of the underground undressing room of crematorium II, winter 1942-43. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, neg. 20995/498." (Dwork & Van Pelt, pg.328)

"Completing the roof of crematorium II, winter 1942-43. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, neg. 20995/506. In front (right foreground) we see the partially exposed end of the underground gas chamber." (Dwork & Van Pelt, pg.329)


Crematoria IV

"Crematorium IV (plate 18), by contrast with crematorium II, was designed after Himmler's second visit to Auschwitz in July 1942. Birkenau had become a site for mass murder. All pretense of civility and civilian rules had been shed. The heimat style of Auschwitz I was replaced by the functional vernacular of Birkenau. The architects no longer bothered to draw in autopsy rooms. The space was used for gas chambers." (Dwork & Van Pelt, between 320-21)

"Plate 18: Final design for crematorium IV, by Walther Dejaco, January 1943. Original blueprint, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, box BW (B) 30b; redrawn for publication by Mikolaj Kadlubowski. Authors. In the plan, the north is the top of the page but, contrary to convention, the elevation shows the north and not the south facade. Therefore the incineration room, which in the plan is located to the right, is to the left in the elevation, and the gas chambers, which in the plan are located to the left, are to the right in the elevation. The functional arrangement is simple and straightforward.  The entrance on the north side gives access to a corridor (left, on the drawing) that opens to two gas chambers equipped with stoves to preheat the room during winter.  Between the vestibule and the incineration room is a large morgue, which in the winter was also used as an undressing room.  The center of the incineration room is occupied by a double-four-muffle furnace connected to two chimneys. The section through the lower part of the building shows one of the two gas chambers, the chimney of the stove of the other gas chamber, and the corridor. The section through the higher part of the building shows the furnace room." (Dwork & Van Pelt, between 320-21)

Crematorium IV, summer 1943. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, neg. 20995/509. The gas chambers are located in the lower wing (left) of the building. (Dwork & Van Pelt, pg. 332)


Work Cited: Dwork, Deborah and Robert Jan Van Pelt. Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present. W.W. Norton & Co., 1996.

Source: The Nizkor Project