The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac



Plans, construction and general study

Complete history of Birkenau Krematorien II and III,
covering their design, construction, utilization and destruction


Design — Construction — Utilization — Destruction
The sections “Design” and “Construction” will be dealt with chronologically, as in the “Kalendarium der Ereignisse im Konzentrationslager” [Calendar of events in the concentration camp] by Danuta Czech, certain items of which are incorporated in the present text. The documents on which the argument is based either accompany the text or appear in the annex of documents. Thus, everything set out here, frequently as the result of extensive study presented separately in annex, reflects our present state of knowledge concerning these buildings.

The “Utilization” section takes the form of a guided tour in the ruins of Krematorien II and III and refers the reader to the excellent testimony of Henryk Tauber [Part III, Chapter 3] for further details.

Krematorium II functioned as a homicidal gas chamber and incineration installation from 15th March 1943, before its officially coming into service on 31st March, to 27th November 1944, annihilating a total of approximately 400,000 people, most of them Jewish women, children and old men.

Krematorium III was used in similar fashion from 25th June 1943 to 27th November 1944, killing about 350,000 victims.

Thus approximately three quarters of the Jewish victims of KL Auschwitz Birkenau were gassed and reduced to ashes in these two buildings.
The main orders issued by Himmler as a result of his visit to Auschwitz KL [Concentration Camp] on 1st March 1941 were that the Stammlager [main camp] should be extended to receive 30,000 prisoners and that a camp should be built at Birkenau to hold an expected 100,000 Soviet prisoners of war.

The Camp Commandant, Rudolf Hoess, despite all his good will as an old Party Member, was technically incapable of undertaking and completing such a task, but nevertheless the extension of the Stammlager was begun in summer 1941, using bricks from the demolition of the Zasole district, situated immediately to she north of the KL.

In order to build the Birkenau POW Camp (Kriegsgefangenenlager or KGL). Amtsgruppe C (Bauwesen/Construction) of the SS Wirstschaftsverwaltungshauptamt or SS WVHA [SS Economic and Administrative Main Office] in Berlin detached SS Captain Karl Bischoff as Sonderbauleiter [Special Head of Construction], later to become “Leiter der Zentral Bauleitung / Head of the Central Construction Management” of the Auschwitz region.

The first plan of the KGL was produced on 7th October 1941, drawn by Fritz Ertl, then an SS Corporal, and approved by Bischoff on the following day [Document 1]. The camp comprised three parts: a Quarantine Camp (the future B.I) containing a “Leichenhalle/ Corpse hall” and two internment camps (Camps I and II, whose total area was a little greater than that of the future B.II). There was no plan for a rail link with the nearby Auschwitz station, A week later, on 14th October 1941, a second plan was produced [Document 2] on the same basis as the earlier one, this time including barracks for the SS guards to the east and a double track railway running from the station and ending between Camp I and the Quarantine Camp. still equipped with a “Leichenhalle” to serve as a morgue to store corpses before their transfer to the Stammlager for incineration in the crematorium there.

With an overall total of 130,000 persons expected for the Stammlager and KGL together, it was foreseeable that the two or three 2 muffle furnaces of the single existing crematorium (i.e. 1 muffle for 22,000 or 32,000 prisoners) would prove insufficient. At the end of October 1941, Bischoff had a conversation with Kurt Prüfer, Chief Engineer of the “Krematoriumbau” department of the firm Topf & Söhne of Erfurt, concerning the construction of a new crematorium in the Stammlager (behind the existing one), the new building to have a furnace room with five 3 muffle furnaces, two “Leichenkeller” [basement morgues] and a dissecting room, all these rooms being ventilated (having air extraction systems). The components for the furnaces were to be delivered within three months [Document 3]. This would bring the number of muffles for the two camps up to 21, or roughly 1 muffle for 6,000 prisoners. This plan for a new normal crematorium implied the temporary storage of the KGL dead in morgues in Birkenau before cremation in the Stammlager.

The Drawing Office of the Bauleitung produced three plans for this project in November and December 1941, entitled “Neubau-Kremat [orium]” and numbered 870 (elevation), 871 (ground floor plan) and 875 (furnace installation).

Bauleitung drawing 885 of 5th January 1942 [Document 4] showed a further extension to the KGL, now planned for a probable population of l10,000 to 120,000 prisoners. Camps I and II were extended, to reach their final dimensions, those a of the second and third construction stages (B.II and B.III). The Quarantine Camp still contained its “Leichenhalle” in the northwest corner. In addition, Camp I now contained in the west a “Verbrennungshalle / Cremation hall” with FIVE “Leichenhallen”. Camp II was given similar installations. Though the incineration capacity of these “Verbrennungshalle” is not known, it must have been very limited in view of the disturbing number of storage morgues planned (ten), probably half underground structures as were later the Leichenkeller of Krematorien II and III.

The Quarantine Camp Leichenhalle (appearing on the drawings of 7th and 14th October 1941), was drawn in detail by the Bauleitung at the end of 1941 under drawing number 785, entitled “Leichenhalle KGL”. A second drawing, no 812, “Leichenhalle für das KGL” is probably connected with this, unless it shows one of the ten corpse halls (appearing on drawing 885) from which another drawing, 1040, “Leichenhalle” für KGL” was probably derived. The drawing of the two “Verbrennungshallen” was also produced in January 1942 under the number 879, “Vorschlag zur Errichtung eines prov. Krematorium KGL” [Proposal for the construction of a provisional POW Camp crematorium]. Unfortunately, however, although we know the numbers and titles of these drawings, it is impossible to make use of them in compiling the history of the ramp, for none of them has yet been found. The multiplication of “Leichenhalle” in this prisoner of war camp remains incomprehensible, for it contradicts the existence of the camp itself: either an infrastructure was to be created to house Soviet prisoners, or they were to he killed rapidly, in which case there was no need for a huge internment camp. The majority of the some 12,000 Soviet prisoners who were actually sent to Auschwitz died during the construction of the Birkenau Quarantine Camp (the future B.I), before