The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
II/ Testimony of the SS man Pery BROAD
I cite only for memory the “declaration by Pery Broad”, published by the PMO in “Auschwitz seen by the SSHistorically, this account is not exploitable in its present version despite its “true” and all too “striking”, atmosphere, since it has been rewritten by and for the Poles and diffused exclusively by them. Document NI 11397 of 14/12/45 gives only a fleeting impression of the exact tone that this “declaration” must have had. As for his famous account of 13/6/45 given to the British Intelligence Service and which really served as a basis for the Polish “declaration”, the chief archivist assured me that the PMO did not possess the original, which was thought to be in England. Having never seen even a photocopy of the initial account of 13/6/45, I wonder what German “original”, was used by the translator Helena Dziedzinska, as the Museum has not kept it. Furthermore, I fear that Pery Broad. even in his original account, was but a poor observer of the extermination installations. He describes Bunkers 1 and 2 thus:
“Not far from Birkenau, which was rapidly expanding, there were was two neat and pretty peasant cottages built on a pleasant site. Separated by a copse, they were whitewashed and covered with nice thatched roofs. All around there were fruit trees. “
There is an error in this text: the copse is a veritable forest, 800 meters across. Broad’s testimony is above all a chronical of a few striking events at the camp, incapable of providing precise details about the Bunkers and Krematorien. After assessing its reliability, no consciencious historian will be able to use it unless and until the “declaration” has been stripped of the Polish influence, or in other words until the original is published.
III/ The testimony of Maurice BENROUBI concerning Bunker 1
Born on 27th December 1914 in Salonika, Greece, arrested in Le Mans on 16th July 1942, deported from Angers on 20th July 1942 by French convoy No. 8 (see “Le Mémorial de la deportation des juifs de France” [Memorial of the deportation of Jews from France]) arrived at Auschwitz Biekenau on Thursday, 23rd July 1942, registered under the number 51,059 and evacuated from the Jawischowitz camp on 17th January 1945.

Historical note

Mr. Maurice Benroubi, prisoner 51,059, was incorporated without knowing it in a group that might be called the “grave digger commando”. In order to go to his work, he passed through entrance gate of Birkenau I, took a northwesterly direction, crossed the future Birkenau II, practically at the place where Krematorien IV and V were to be built, entered the forest and finally reached the Bunker 1 graves located in the heart of the Birkenwald [Birch Wood].

The operations of gassing and burying were kept strictly separate, as decided by the SS in charge according to their own criteria. In 1942, cremation of the victims was not yet practised one large scale, due to he the a lack of resources, although the SS had started to seriously study this question (cf. the project of 21/8/42 proposed by Topf and Sons for the rapid construction of cremation furnaces near the “special action bathing installations”, the official designation of Bunkers 1 and 2).

The corpses of those gassed were loaded onto wooden platforms 2 meters by 3, fixed on wagon chassis. About 20 of these corpse transport wagons ran on narrow gauge rails from Bunker 1 to the west into the Birch Wood. After 300 to 400 meters, the rails emerged into a huge clearing where the mass graves were dug. The dimensions were 20 × 3 × 2.5 meters and there were apparently between a few dozen and a hundred of them, in which the victims were laid head to foot, without any disinfecting product such as slaked lime being used. The full graves were covered with a thin layer of earth and left like that. According to Mr. Benroubi, no particular odor was perceptible either at the graves or at the two gas chambers of Bunker 1. The filth in which the prisoners lived — 40 days without a shower in the case of Mr. Benroubi — no doubt explains this lack of sensitivity to the smell. However, Himmler’s inspection visit to Birkenrau in July 1942, triggered a “study” visit by Camp Commandant Hoess, accompanied by Second Lieutenants Hössel and Dejaco to learn about the art of cremating at the Chelmno [Kulmhof] center on the Ner on 16/9/42. The result was that in November 1942, all the Birkenau graves were emptied and the human remains, some of them in an advanced stage of decomposition, were burnt. Between its creation and that date, the Birkenau camp had already cost 107,000 lives, taking all origins and causes of death together, as noted by commandant Hoess in his autobiography.

Transport from the “Jewish ramp” of Auschwitz station to Bunkers 1 and 2 after the “selection”, a practice that commenced in July 1942, was by truck.

There are no ruins of Bunker 1, which was demolished at the end of 1942 or in early 1943. The information that has reached us on this provisional installation is scanty and based only on the testimonies of the few survivors. The rooms of an ordinary farmhouse were turned into gas chambers by roughly sealing the windows, fitting gas tight doors and making small apertures filled with shutters in the wall alongside these doors at about head height. Through these the Zyklon-B was introduced.

According to several witnesses at the Dejaco and Ertl trial in Vienna in 1972, the Bauleitung produced no architectural drawings for this installation. Only Hoess seems to have made one, drawn by himself and in secret. In his autobiography ["Commandant of Auschwitz”, pages 207-8], he recounts that together with Eichmann at beginning of September 1941
“We inspected the area in order to find a likely spot. We decided that a peasant farmstead, situated in the north-west corner of what later became the third building sector at Birkenau would be the most suitable [for extermination by gassing]. It was isolated and screened by woods and hedges, and it was also not far from the railway. The bodies could be placed in long, deep pits dug in the nearby meadows. We had not at that time thought of burning the corpses. We calculated that after gas-proofing the premises then available, it would be possible to kill about 800 people simultaneously with a suitable gas. These figures were borne out later in practice …”
He then goes on to say:
“A few days later I sent to the Reichsführer SS by courier a detailed location plan and description of the installation [Bunker 1]. I have never received an acknowledgement or a decision on my report. Eichmann told me later that the Reichsführer SS was in agreement with my proposals.”
This correspondence has not been found to date.

Himmler’s late and indirect response was purely one of form. His real answer to Hoess, one month after the letter had sent his plan, was the arrival of SS Hauptsturmführer [Captain] Bischoff to head the Auschwitz Bauleitung. Himmler, while he had been correct in his assessment of Hoess' capacity to successfully develop the “special activity” of Auschwitz, had no illusions on certain of his “protégé's” qualities. Eichmann confirms this in his memoirs dictated to the journalist Sassen in Buenos Aires in 1957:
“in general, Hoess was certainly too limited to be able to control all the complexity of Auschwitz, but for that he had a complete general staff.”
“We left the camp. We passed through small clearings, a little wood. About every 300 meters there was a watch tower.

“Suddenly, a deportee left the ranks and started running in the direction of the camp shouting 'Nein, nein / no no, I want to go back to the camp.' We stopped, an SS man shouted to him to come back. He did not obey, the SS shot him. Four deportees went to fetch him. Three hundred meters further on, another deportee did exactly the same as the first. I could not understand a thing … [it should be pointed out that Mr. Benroubi at the time of his deportation did not speak or understand German, Yiddish or Polish. He was familiar with only French, Spanish and Greek He describes himself as 'a deaf and dumb man in the middle of a fire'. Frequently it was not until after the event that he realized what had happened.]

”… Ten minutes later, I saw in the distance big heaps of corpses, as if there was a death factory nearby. As we approached, we could see them better. They were all mixed up together like wooden dummies Some had their cheeks torn. Their gold teeth had been extracted. There were women, children, babies.

“We marched 200 meters and stopped in a clearing. Two SS officers were there and gave orders to the SS men. Further on about one hundred Sonderkommando men were pushing platforms of 3m by 2m mounted on wheels [along a narrow guage railway, linking the two gas chambers of Bunker 1 with the first graves if the Birkenwald] and on these platforms there were corpses lying one on top of the other They put them in front of graves about 20m long, 3m wide and 2.50m deep.

“There were about ten graves ready to receive the martyrs. Parallel to these open graces there were some that had been covered with earth and these extended over about 300 meters. It could not have been long since they since they were covered over. On the earth in places there were trickles of light colored decomposed fat mixed with blood. After receiving orders, the Capos split us into groups. Some of our comrades took picks and shovels and jumped into the graves. As for me, I went with the other comrades to join the Sonderkommando to transport the corpses like them. The men of the Sonderkommando received us with stone throwing and called us all sorts of names. They laughed and amused themselves like criminals, making themselves accomplices of the SS to please them. Basically, it was that, the nazi regime … all of a piece.

“In this Kommando, the Capos, the SS and the Sonderkommando all hit us, and threw us on the heaps of bodies to laugh at our fear The SS fired on us and every day we had to take to assassinated comrades back to the camp to be counted at the evening roll call.

“At midday the Sonderkommando ate separately and we ate far from them, almost a double ration and a few potatoes. There was also a distribution of bread from a convoy, stale and even moldy. Some comrades exchanged non moldy bread for moldy in order to have a bigger quantity. Little pools of water formed in the graves and as we were very thirsty, we quickly jumped down and lapped up the water and climbed out again very fast. We were reduced to the state of animals …

“One morning, we had hardly arrived and were getting ready to pick up the picks and shovels, when an SS who was waiting for us ordered the guards to keep marching and to follow him. We crossed the entire clearing and took the track along which the wagons arrived…

“We arrived in another clearing. There were two big concrete blocks [the buildings known at “Bunker 1"] at least 20m wide and perhaps as many long. Near these blocks there were three mountains of bodies. One of men, one of women and one of children under ten.

“The Sonderkommando men received us as on previous occasions with stone throwing and abuse. We stopped in front of the big heaps of corpses and the Capos made us understand that we had to load the corpses on the wagon platforms and transport them to the empty graves We rushed to the wagons and started working like mad … for what mattered most was to get away from the gas chambers …

“One morning, the doors of the Bunkers, as they called them, were open. I noticed that there were showerheads and along the walls clothes hooks. I remember that a comrade made signs to me to make me understand that we should never look in that direction, which meant also, 'if you don’t want to be shot by a sentry, don’t look'. In fact I saw that all the comrades were working with their backs to the Bunkers to avoid giving even the slightest glance towards the two extermination Bunkers …

“One day. arriving at work, I saw electricians installing lamp posts by the empty graves and fitting big lamps. I immediately realized that there were also going to be night shifts …

“The same day, 4th September 1942, after the roll call, there was a “selection” and contrary to what normally happened every time there was a selection, this time the nazis chose the strongest, the most healthy.

“We waited a good hour before departing. A commrade said to me: 'What are you doing amongst us? Didn’t you hear the order that those who worked in the Sonderkommando were not to step out of the ranks?' I was dumbfounded …

“After two hours march we arrived at the Jawischowitz camp.”