The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
On 8th August 1943, Huta, not being equipped to damp proof the basements of Krematorien II and III, called in a special specialist firm, VEDAG of Breslau [the correspondence subsequently exchanged between Huta, Vedag and the Auschwitz Bauleitung turned into a dialogue the deaf which would be funny but for the nature of the subject].

At this date, work on BW (worksite) 30 (Krematorium II) had been under way for a week, according to Bischoff (letter of 13/10/42], though in fact, no SS or civilian document mentions the exact date on which work commenced. All the existing “Tagesberichte / Timesheets” for the firms who must have been the first to work on this site — Huta, Topf & Sons and Karl Falck — start considerably later (24-25 August for Huta, according to estimation based on two isolated timesheets and a letter of 3/9/42 from the Bauleitung to Huta; 7th September for Topf, according to recapitulatory reports by their fitters Martin Holick and Willi Koch; 9th October for Falck). Yet BW 30 was visited on 20th August by senior SS and civilian officials. Thus preparation must have begun by mid August, while work got under full swing towards the end of the month.

Vedag replied, favorable on 12th August to Huta’s request to them to carry out the damp proofing work for the basements.

On 14th August 1942, on the basis of technical documentation supplied by the Topf Chief Engineer, Prüfer, the Bauleitung produced drawing 1678 showing the implantation of Prüfer’s latest brainchild, the 8 muffle furnace, also known as the double 4 muffle furnace (this drawing becoming in fact the first one for the future Krematorium IV). At 2 o'clock in the afternoon of 10th August 1942, Prüfer went to a meeting with members of the Auschwitz Bauleitung in order to discuss the uncertain future of the two simplified 3 muffle furnace installations originally ordered for the POW camp and the installation of the five 3 muffle furnaces in the new Krematorium (the future Kr II) [Document 16]. After discussion with SS Second Lieutenant Ertl, it was decided that two Topf “fitters” (or foremen), Martin Holick and Willi Koch, should be rapidly detached to worksite 30, Then Prüfer suggested that the two simplified 3 muffle furnaces to be located near the “Badeanstalten für Sonderaktionen / Bathing installations for special actions” (Bunkers 1 and 2), should be taken from the Mogilew consignment, But this Mogilew contract was exclusively made up of 8 muffle furnaces, with no 3-muffle furnaces.
[It would appear that Prüfer was acting quite dishonestly (or, depending on the point of view, as a clever salesman), trying to exploit to the full the disastrous health situation in the camp. Motivated essentially by the prosperity of his firm and his own personal gain, he probably wanted to ensure the implantation of his furnaces (being also the creator of the 3-muffle furnace, standard and simplified model) in three stages. First, rapidly install a 2-muffle furnace intended for Mauthausen but sent in error [?] to Auschwitz; second, rapidly deliver two 3-muffle furnaces, taken from Topf stocks and not from the “Mogilew contract”, installing one near Bunker 1 and the other near Bunker 2; third, being able to see with his own eyes the catastrophic state of the camp and having direct knowledge of what was going on there, he could foresee what was to happen (large scale physical destruction of the Jews) and thus professionally assess the cremation requirements of the SS, suggesting the installation of oneor two 8-muffle furnaces in addition to the others, having already supplied the Bauleitung with technical details of this new furnace at the beginning of August. Prüfer, having finally succeeded in doing a remarkable sales job in supplying cremation furnaces to KL Auschwitz Birkenau (total sales: three 2-muffle furnaces, ten 3-muffle and two 8-muffle. But from all this he received a maximum commission of only 2,000 RM, something like $ 4,000 today) had slightly overestimated the real cremation requirements of the camp and his plan failed. First, the 2-muffle furnace was in fact sent on to Mauthausen; then the two 3-muffle furnaces remained on his hands (for only twelve 3 muffle furnaces were found in 1945 in Buchenwald and Birkenau, whereas fourteen had been manufactured [letter from Prüfer to Ludwig and Ernst Topf dated 15/11/42]); lastly, he was not able to install one or two furnaces in addition to the four of the original Mogilew contract, because two furnaces from this contract were sent to Birkenau to equip Krematorien IV and V. At the beginning of July 1943, there remained in the Topf stores in Erfurt: two unsold 3-muffle furnaces and three 4-muffle half furnaces of the Mogilew contract, paid for but not delivered (only one half furnace had been actually been sent to Mogilew, on 30/12/41)]
As for the five other 3-muffle furnaces to equip the second Krematorium (the future Kr III), no decision could be taken, because the construction of this building depended on the decision of the Reich Security Head Office [RSHA] in Berlin [and not the SS WVHA, which confirms that at this date the construction of Krematorium III was not envisaged for health reasons but was planned strictly in the context of “Sonderaktionen/ Special actions” which were the exclusive purview of the RSHA]. Taking advantage of the appalling state of the camp, Prüfer tried to palm off on the SS a 2-muffle furnace intended for KL Mauthausen and arrived by providential error at Auschwitz. Late in the afternoon, Prüfer, Ertl, SS Sergeant Kirschneck and the chimney expert Robert Koehler went to Krematorium I in the main camp to instant the chimney and assess damage caused by repeated overheating.

The nest day, 20th August 1942, Ertl, SS Corporal Janisch, Koehler and Prüfer went to Birkenau to visit worksite 30 [Documents 17 and 17a]. Then Prüfer pressed for written confirmation of the order for the two 3-muffle furnaces intended for Bunkers 1 and 2, and for the double muffle furnace delivered in error.

On 24th August, Ertl gave Prüfer the go ahead for the delivery of two 8-muffle furnaces, these naturally to be taken from the “Mogilew contract”. On the other hand, the Bauleitung rejected the suggestion of installing the double muffle furnace, which was subsequently sent to Mauthausen [Documents 18, 18a and 18b]. The period from 21st to 24th August must have been nerveracking for Prüfer. It was be no means certain that that a civilian like him would succeed in taking two 3-muffle furnaces, being manufactured or already in stock at Erfurt, from the “Mogilew contract” which had no furnaces of this type, and transform them into the very latest 8-muffle furnaces, which were in the contract. It was not for nothing that Prüfer had become a member of the Nazi Party and had access to Himmler. Precisely because of his contacts in high places, he was starting to have considerable influence over the Auschwitz Bauleitung in cremation matters. He emerged triumphant from this difficult situation, in that he was officially invited by the SS WVHA in Berlin on 26th August to divert from the Mogilew contract to Birkenau two 8-muffle furnaces to equip the future Krematorien IV and V.

On 2nd September, Vedag learned from Huta the damp-proofing work was to be carried out in the basements of a crematorium (which that firm did not know) and in fact would have to be repeated (Krematorien II and III). Vedag gave a guarantee of two years.

On 3rd September, the Bauleitung informed Huta that the excavations for the future Leichenkeller 1 and 2 of Krematorium II had been completed ten days earlier (25th August) and it was high time that the damp proofing work began [Document 19].

On 6th September, a new garrison doctor, SS Major Wirths, arrived at the camp to take the health situation in hand.

On 7th September, Vedag agreed to Huta’s request to carry out the work required, while pointing out that they could not start without authorization to release the proofing materials necessary. On the same day, Huta informed Vedag that they had received and immediately passed on to the Bauleitung the requests for the release of felt and bitumen, that the construction of Kr II would have to proceed rapidly and that the firm was waiting for other release forms for the proofing materials required for Krematorium III. Furthermore, Huta warned the Bauleitung that damp proofing the basements with two layers of bituminous felt, as shown on the initial quotation, was not sufficient, and three layers would be necessary. At worksite 30. Topf foremen Holick and Koch were starting work on the foundations for the five 3-muffle furnaces.

On 9th September. Bischoff visited worksite 30 and saw that work was held up because of the lack of damp proofing materials. He immediately informed Huta and offered to make the necessary materials available. The same day, Vedag requested Huta to send them the material release forms signed by the Bauleitung.

The deaths caused by the typhus epidemic were becoming a real problem for KL Auschwitz, a situation that was aggravated by the “output” of Bunkers l and 2. Camp Commandant Hoess, accompanied by SS Second Lieutenants Hoessler and Dejaco, therefore went on 16th September to the Linzmannstadt Ghetto and from there went to visit the “Sonderanlage / Special installation” [open air cremation ditches] run by SS Colonel Blobel, to assess the possibility of using the same method at Auschwitz. On 17th September, Huta informed Vedag that its requests for the release of materials had been sent to Himmler’s headquarters and did not go through the regular channel of the “Reichsstelle für Mineralöle / Reich office for mineral oils”. On 18th September, Huta explained to the Bauleitung that the delays occurring at worksite 30 due to the lack of damp proofing were not caused by Huta but by Vedag, a civilian firm subject to regulations regarding the release of bituminous substances and which refused to employ its materials without authorization from the Reich office for mineral oils. Knowing that the Bauleitung SS were extremely irritated by this procedure, Huta advised them to take responsibility for damp-proofing the basements, using their own resources. The same day, authorization for the release of proofing materials for Veda, was drawn up by Himmler’s headquarters.

Document 15
[PMO file BW 2/10, neg no 21135/7]

/ Situation plan of Auschwitz POW Camp, Upper Silesia
Scale 1:2000
Drawn 15/8/42 by prisoner 15592 Checked by Ertl and approved Bischoff on the same day.
Translations of new inscriptions:
Bauabschnitt / Construction stage