The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
IV/ The testimony of Dr Miklos NYISZLI

Extract from Chapter Thirteen of “Auschwitz: A doctor’s eyewitness account” by Dr Miklos Nyiszli, translated from the Hungarian by Tibère Kremer and Richard Seaver, Granada Books, London 1973. pages 69 to 72.
Early one morning, I received a phone call ordering me to report immediately to the “pyre” for the purpose of bringing back to number one crematorium [Krematorium II] all the medicines and eye glasses that had been collected there. After being sorted and classified they would be shipped to various parts of Germany.

The pyre was located about five or six hundred yards from number four crematorium [Kr V], directly behind the little birch forest at Birkenau in a clearing surrounded by pines. It lay outside the KZ’s [concentration camp's] electric barbed wire fence, between the first and second line of guards. Since I was not authorized to venture so far from the actual confines of the camp, I requested some sort of written permission from the office. They issued me a safe conduct good for three persons, for I planned on taking two men with me to help carry the material back to the crematorium.

We set off in the direction of the thick twisting spiral of smoke. All those unfortunate enough to be brought here saw this column of smoke, which was visible from any point in the KZ, from the moment they first descended from the box cars and lined up for selection. lt was visible at every hour of the day and night. By day it covered the sky above Birkenau with a thick cloud, by night it lighted the area with a hellish glow.

Our path took un past the crematoriums. After showing SS guards our safe conduct, we passed through an opening cut in the barbed wire and reached an open road. The surrounding countryside — a patchwork of bright green, grassy clearing seemed peaceful. But soon my watchful eyes discerned, about a hundred yards away, the guards of the second line, either lounging on the grass or sitting beside their machine guns and police dogs.

We crossed a clearing and came to a small pine forest. Once again we found our way blocked by a fence and gate strung with barbed wire A large sign, similar to these on the crematorium gates was posted here:
In spite of this sign, we entered without the guards even asking for our pass. The reason was simple: the SS on duty here were from the crematoriums, and the 60 Sonderkommando men who worked at the pyre were also crematorium personnel front number two [Kr III]. At present the day shift was on. They worked from seven at the morning till seven in the evening, when they were replaced by the night watch, which also consisted of 60 men, taken from number four [Kr V].

Passing through the gate, we reached an open place which resembled a courtyard, in the middle of which stood a thatched roof house whose plaster was peeling off. Its style was that of a typical German country house, and its small windows were covered with planks. As a matter of fact, it no doubt had been a country house for at least 150 years, to judge by its thatched roof, which had tong since turned black, and its often replastered, flaking walls.

The German State had expropriated the entire village of Birkenau near Auschwitz in order to establish the KZ there. All the houses, with the exception of this one, had been demolished and the population evacuated.

What, in fact, must this house have been used for? Had it been meant to be lived in? In that case partitions must have divided the interior into rooms. Or had it originally been one large room, without partitions, meant to be used as a hangar or storeroom? I asked myself these questions, but was un able to supply the answers In any case, it was it was now used as an undressing room for those on their way to the pyre. It was here that they deposited their shabby clothes, their glasses, and their shoes.

It was here that the “surplus” from the “Jewish ramp” was sent, that is, those for whom there was no room in the four crematoriums The worst kind of death awaited them. Here there were no faucets to slake their thirst of several days' voyage, no fallacious signs to allay their misgivings, no gas chamber they could pretend was a disinfecting room. Merely a peasant house, once painted yellow and covered with thatch, whose windows had been replaced by planks.

Behind the house enormous columns of smoke rose skyward, diffusing the odor of broiled flesh and burning hair. In the courtyard, a terrified crowd of about 5,000 souls; on all sides, thick cordons of SS, holding leashed police dogs. The prisoners were led, three or four hundred at a time into the undressing room. There, hustled by a rain of truncheon blows, they spread out their clothes and left by the door on the opposite side of the house, yielding their places to those who were to follow. Once out of the door, to they had no time even to glance around them or to realize the horror of their situation. A Sonderkommando immediately seized their arms and steered them between the double row of SS who lined the twisting path, which, flanked on either side by woods, ran for 50 yards [150 in the French] to the pyre, which till now had been hidden by the trees.

The pyre was a ditch 50 yards long, six yards wide and three yards deep, a welter of burning bodies. SS soldiers, stationed at five yard intervals, along the pathway side of the ditch, awaited their victims They were holding small caliber arms — six millimeters used in the KZ for administering a bullet in the back of the neck. At the end of the pathway, two Sonderkommando men seized the victims by the arms and dragged them for 15 or 20 yards into position before the SS. Their cries of terror covered the sounds of the shots. A shot, then, immediately afterwards, even before he was dead, the victim was hurled into the flames Fifty yards farther on, a scene similar in all respects was being enacted. Oberscharführer Molle [Moll] was in charge of these butchers. As a doctor and as an eye witness, I swear that he was the Third Reich’s most abject, diabolic, and hardened assassin. Even Doctor Mengele showed from time to time that he was human. During the selections at the unloading ramp, when he noticed a healthy young woman who wanted above all to join her mother in the left hand column, he snarled at her coarsely, but ordered her to rejoin the right hand group. Even the ace shot of the number one crematorium (Kr II], Oberschaarführer Mussfeld, fired a second shot into anyone who the first shot had not killed outright. Oberschaarführer Molle wasted no time over such trifles. Here, the majority of the men were thrown alive into the flames. Woe to any Sonderkommando man by whose action the living chain, which extended from cloakroom to pyre, was broken, with the result that one of the members of the firing squad was forced to wait few seconds before receiving his new victim.

Molle was everywhere at once. He made his way tirelessly from one pyre to the next, to the cloakroom and back again. Most of the deportees allowed themselves to be led without resistance. So paralyzed were they with fright and terror that they no longer realized what was about to happen to them. The majority of the elderly and children reacted in this way. There were, however, a goodly number of adolescents among those brought here, who instinctively tried to resist with a strength born of despair. If Molle happened to witness such a scene, he took his gun from his holster. A shot, a bullet often fired from a distance of 40 to 50 yards (20 or 30 in the French), and the struggling person fell dead in the arms of the Sonderkommando who was dragging him towards the pyre. Molle was an ace shot. His bullets often pierced the arms of the Sonderkommando men from one side to the other when he was dissatisfied with their work, In such cases he inevitably aimed for the arms, without otherwise manifesting his dissatisfaction, but also without giving but any previous warning.

When the two pyres were operating simultaneously, the output varied from five to six thousand dead a day. Slightly better than the crematoriums, but here death was a thousand times more terrible, for here one died twice, first with a bullet in the back of the neck, then by fire.
Comments on Dr Mikloa Nyiseli’s account

Doctor Nyiszli has adopted the “usual” numbering for the Krematorien. It suffices to add one to obtain the “Bauleitung” number According to his account, Bunker V appeared to him like a thatched house. In 1944, the original white color must have deteriorated for him to see it as yellow. It is also unlikely that the Poles appreciated his saying “its style was that of a typical German country house”, Upper Silesia being for them above all Polish.

The figures given seem very implausible. Five thousand persons in the summer of 1944 represents one convoy. Subtracting those directed to Krematorien II, III, and V, there would remain less than a 200 300 people. The throughput of the cremation ditches cannot be verified and hence cannot be taken into account.

Disregarding this matter of figures, the account describes a particularly gruesome episode in the history of the extermination: that without Zyklon-B. Even though it may sound shocking, death by gassing was used as a relatively “humane” method of mass execution. The SS were so aware of this that “special treatment” without gas was in their eyes wrong. The anecdote taken from H. Langbein’s “Der Auschwitz Prozess”, Volume 1, page 88, is by the author himself, speaking as a witness:
“In 1944, children were thrown alive into the big fires that were burning near the Krematorien (and Bunker V). We heard that in the main camp and I told the garrison doctor. Doctor WIRTHS refused to be believe me. He went to Birkenau to check. When I came to write at his dictation the next to day, he simply said: 'It was an order of Camp Commandant Hoess.' 'It was given because there was no longer enough gas.'”
In connection with this lack of gas there is a letter preserved by the CDJC in Paris, ref. CDXLV 8 (copy) of 8th February 1945 (reasonable date in view of the transmission delays), requesting the Italian alpine division “Monte Rosa” to take the disinfection ampoules from American prisoners for use in the fight against lice in Auschwitz, because Zyklon-B could no longer he used for normal disinfection purposes, the little available being earmarked for extermination purposes.