The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
Drawings of Topf furnaces
Three drawings of Topf furnaces are known at present. They are presented in order to familiarize the reader with their working and the location of the different components. It was ten three muffle Topf furnaces (those of Krematorien II and III, which were derived from the two muffle models on the first two drawings) that accounted for most of the “cremation work” associated with the extermination of the Jews at Birkenau. A knowledge of their internal organization makes it possible to understand their construction, the way they worked and the repairs they underwent.

These drawings were produced by the drawing office of Topf’s D Division, and bear a five digit number prefixed by “D”. Chief engineer Kurt Prüfer was the head of the subdivision D IV, “Krematoriumbau/ crematorium construction”. There would have been at least three other D subdivisions (I, II and III) designing things other than crematoriums, connected with heating techniques or not, so that the D drawing office, serving all the subdivisions, did not draw furnaces only. This assertion is supported by the rate of production of drawings, as far as this can be calculated, which averaged a little under FOUR a day (1,400 per year) from the end of 1939 to the end of 1941, then fell to ONE drawing a day for the period from the beginning of 1942 to mid 1943. Though Prüfer was extremely active, his work did not require as many drawings as that.
The first drawing submitted to KL Buchenwald, comes from the archives of the Nuremberg Military Tribunal (reference NO-4444). There is copy in the CDJC in Paris, under the reference CXXXVIII-129. The other two drawings, concerning KL Auschwitz and Mauthausen, are preserved in the Federal Archives at Koblenz under the reference NS 4 Mauthausen/54.

Drawing D56,570 [or 576] of 21/12/39 is of a double muffle, oil fired furnace, also available in a coke fired version [Photo 1]. Planned for KL Buchenwald, it is not known whether this furnace was actually installed, The Buchenwald camp, not far from Erfurt, was “Prüfer territory”, for it was here that he sold his first two three-muffle furnaces, which entered service on 23rd August and 3rd October 1942 respectively and were found intact in 1945. While they had lateral pulsed-air blowers, like the Birkenau furnaces, it would appear that they were not coke-fired like them, but oil-fired. The method of charging the corpses at first used a trolley on rails, exactly as in Auschwitz Krematorium I, but this was later replaced by a metal “corpse stretchers”. This latter method was developed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, in the light of experience, and it was no doubt Prüfer who passed it on to Buchenwald. These furnaces were used much less intensively than those at Birkenau, cremating only 6 or 7 corpses per muffle per day on average.

Historically, it is no longer possible to present this Nuremberg drawing as being “criminal”. Produced entirely without any supporting documentary context, as were many German documents at that time, this drawing was supposed to prove “ipso facto” the criminality of KL Buchenwald, whereas in fact it was only a pictorial representation of a perfectly ordinary piece of “public health” equipment. Whether used as incriminating evidence or not, the fact that this drawing was retained, certainly with a covering letter whose content is not known, shows the stupid way in which the documents of the defeated were “evaluated” by a tribunal of the victors. It is just as ridiculous as if in the Landru trial the prosecution had presented a catalogue of harmless kitchen ranges and declared that this brochure was obvious proof of the crimes of the accused, and had omitted to mention the purchase of the railway tickets: one return [for Landru] and one single [for his lady victim].

Technically, this was for forty years the only Topf drawing that made it possible to really understand the structure of the three double-muffle furnaces in Auschwitz Krematorium I, even though they had been reconstructed from memory in 1945. There are certain errors and anomalies on the drawing. The height of 2.10 m indicated on the cross-section is incorrect and should be 1.90 m. The vents through which the pulsed air was blown into the furnace (looking like two pins, one entering each hearth from the top corner) are not shown on the longitudinal section. The motors and ducting are not shown for either the pulsed air system or the oil burners are not shown. The longitudinal section of the coke-fired version invalidates the positions of the underfloor smoke flues and the damper. On the other hand, the smoke evacuation path in the furnace, being noted, gives an indication valid for the furnaces in Auschwitz Krematorium I.