The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
On the morning of 29th January, two days before the planned date for bringing Krematorium II into service (31st), Bischoff, Kirschneck and Prüfer, probably accompanied by other Bauleitung SS and representatives of all the civilian firms working on the Krematorien, went to Birkenau and thoroughly inspected worksites 30, 30a, 30b and 30c. In the afternoon, Kirschneck drew up a detailed report of the inspection [Documents 24 and 24a]. As soon as he had finished. Prüfer read it and coolly rewrote it, simplifying the text to “erase” some of the obvious delays. Prüfer entitled the shortened text “Prübericht / Inspection report” and gavel it to Bischoff [Documents 23 and 23a]. Then Bischoff, in response to a request made the previous day by the SS WVHA in Berlin for a progress report, sent the Prüfer report off to his chief, Kammler, informing him that Krematorium II was completed [Document 22] and claiming it was operational, which was far from the case. He wrote that he expected the building to be ready for official handover on 20th February, whereas the actual date was 31st March. This “victory communiqué” brought Bischoff immediate promotion: he was made a Major the next day, 30th January. Bischoff had very cleverly maneuvered his superior, and the delays that inevitably appeared were attributed to Prüfer and hence to Messrs Topf, which was only fair. However, in his letter Bischoff made an enormous gaff, explaining to Kammler that though it had unfortunately not been possible to remove the formwork from the ceiling of Leichenkeller 2, because of the Silesian cold, this was of little importance, because the “Vergasungskeller” could be used in its stead [as a normal morgue]. There was the fateful word, “gassing cellar”, written by Bischoff himself and designating Leichenkeller 1, as can be seen after cross-checking with Kirschneck’s report and Prüfer’s simplified “inspection report”. This is the first of the “slips” that SS and civilians could not help making, involuntarily or otherwise, as the criminal conversion of the Krematorien progressed, since in the course of their work they had to give precise designations to the homicidal installations. The afternoon of 29th January 1943 was extremely busy, because in addition, Bischoff and Prüfer considered the possibility of constructing a SIXTH INCINERATION INSTALLATION, KREMATORIUM VI based on the principal of open air incineration ditches and the experience gained with them in the Birkenau woods between 20th September and 30th November 1942. Prüfer was to produce the drawings and Pollok was to follow progress for the Bauleitung (Volume 11 of the Hoess trial, Annex 1, page 58]. Prüfer being a fast worker, both in business and in designing furnaces, it is most likely that on his return home from Auschwitz, and according to his habit, he produced the plans for this project at home (2 Herman Göringstraße, Bischleben) and during his free time (hence probably on Sunday 31st January). The drawings of this envisaged new cremation installation have not come down to us. It was designated as an “offene Verbrennungskammer / open cremation chamber” or “großer Ring Einäscherungsanlage / Big ring incineration furnace”. Pollok reported that its dimensions were “48.75 by 3.76 meters”. Bearing in mind that that this “furnace pit” was most probably circular, these dimensions could apply to the overall installation or to the diameter and depth of the pit. In the latter case, the surface area of the “furnace” would be 1,865 m² and the cubic capacity approximately 7,000 m², which is absolutely gigantic and technically quite utopian. In order to remain exploitable within the limits of human strength, the diameter would have to be no more than about fifteen meters.
[In the author’s opinion, the foundations and the circular wall would have been poured in reinforced concrete, the whole being protected by a thick layer of firebrick, On the bottom there would have been short pillars of refractory material, about one meter high, supporting a framework of refractory beams on which the corpses would rest. Firing by coke or coal would be effected through three (or more, depending on the diameter of the pit) openings spaced equidistantly around the circumference, in the form of trenches sloping from ground level to the floor of the “furnace pit”. It is very possible that Prüfer would have considered improving the efficiency of this internal site by installing pulsed air blowers, which would have enabled him to sell more of his own firm’s products. Operation would have been cyclical: the hearth would be lit, corpses would be thrown on to the grid of refractory material, then, when the space between this and the floor of the pit had become choked with ash and clinker, it would have been necessary to let it cool and clean it out completely before beginning a new cycle. The advantages would have been great incineration throughput for very little fuel consumption. The disadvantages: a fire visible day and night for kilometers around, terrible heat, the danger in case of sudden gusts of wind, an unbearable smell and, above all, the work of cleaning out and recharging the furnace pit, would be exhausting if not mortally dangerous. The fact is that optimal operation would require that the pit should not cool too much between cycles, to enable the following cycle to start easily, which would mean that the prisoners cleaning out the pit and preparing it for the next firing would be forced to work in a very hot furnace. Even though this project never came to anything, its principle was not forgotten, and was put into practice in a primitive way in the open-air incineration ditches dug near Krematorium V and Bunker 2/V. In the author’s opinion, the future Krematorium VI would most probably have been installed in the birch wood, 300 meters north of Krematorium V. The reader may be interested to know that for a long time one of the Birkenau guides used to tell visitors that Krematorium VI was planned to be electric. The victims would have stepped on a conveyor belt and been taken into the Krematorium where they would have been electrocuted and incinerated in a continuous production line operation. The location was to be in B.III, which was an error of only 200 to 300 meters, since Krematorium VI would probably have been to the west of B.III, in the woods. This poor guide was in fact only repeating what had been written by a Soviet journalist, Boris Polevoi, in “Pravda” on 2nd February 1945. Legends die hard.]

On Monday 1st February, a team of bricklayers, civilians and prisoners, working for Messrs Robert Koehler, completed the three-flue collective chimney of Krematorium III [Documents 26 and 26a].

On Tuesday 2nd February, the newly promoted SS Major Bischoff sent the Prüfer report to Hoess, to inform him of progress on the four Krematorien [Document 25]. This letter shows that Hoess did not participate in the visit to the worksites on the morning of Friday 29th.

On 3rd February, Kirschneck sent a telegram to Topf, listing their fitter, Messing's, requirements for the air extraction systems for the whole of Krematorium II. At 4:15 pm, Topf senior engineer Schulz telephoned from Erfurt, saying that the requested material would be despatched without fail on Saturday 6th February.

On 5th February, Prüfer wrote to the Bauleitung regarding Messing’s request, saying that he was having the blowers and ducting taken from a consignment intended for another camp and confirming that they would be on a wagon that should arrive at Auschwitz on 6th February. Asking the Bauleitung to excuse this delay, he announced that two other foremen were shortly to arrive at Auschwitz, Holick (already on his way) and Seyffarth, and that a specialist fitter would later be arriving to help Messing to install the ventilation and air-extraction systems. On the subject of the “large circular incineration furnace”, for the supply of which the Bauleitung had [already!] received an estimate, Prüfer gave them until 9th February to confirm the order, so that he could immediately start on the manufacture of the metal parts. Krematorium VI was never built for the simple reason that KL Auschwitz had no need for it. With five Krematorien and a total of 52 incineration muffles, the cremation capacity was more than adequate with respect to its real needs, to the extent that in July 1943, just after the official handover of Krematorium III (the last to be completed), the three two-muffle furnaces (6 muffles) of Krematorium I were taken out of service. The same day, Huta sent to Herr Stephan, their foreman at Krematorien II and III, a letter concerning the complaints made by the Bauleitung on 27th January. Hula exonerated him with respect to the non-use of frost protection agents during the is pouring of the concrete roof of Leichenkeller 2, a practice the firm was against in all circumstances, but asked him to give his reasons for forgetting to dig the pit for the corpse lift of Krematorium III sufficiently deeply, while its dimensions were perfectly indicated on Bauleitung drawings 1173-1174 and 1301 and that of Krematorium II had already been correctly completed.

On 8th February, Messing, who had still not received the ventilation material required for Krematorium II, stopped work there, and in order not to waste time, fitted the anchors for the 8-muffle furnace of Krematorium IV, probably being engaged on this until and including 10th February.

On 10th February, work began on piercing the opening for and building the western access stairway to Leichenkeller 2 (future undressing room) of Krematorium III, under the supervision of Huta foreman Kolbe. This was done in six days, being completed on 15th [PMO file BW 30/38, pages 25 to 27]. It is not known when this operation was carried out for Krematorium II. The only mention of its realization dates from 26th February, or eleven days AFTER that of Krematorium III was completed. This paradox cannot be explained without further documents. The same day, the Bauleitung telegraphed Topf to again confirm the orders for the “mechanical” installations (five 3-muffle furnaces and the ventilation systems) for Krematorium III and two corpse lifts (one for II and the other for III), as well as a provisional mechanical good shoist (for Krematorium II), all this material being for immediate procurement or manufacture and to be delivered as soon as possible in order for Krematorium III to be ready for service on 10th April [Document 27].

On 11th February, the Bauleitung finally received, apparently five days late, the wagonload of material promised by the Topf engineers Schulze and Prüfer. On checking its contents, Messing found that the blower for Leichenkeller I and the air extractor fan motor for Leichenkeller 2, both for Kr II, were still missing. This time, things had gone too far, and it was Jährling, a civilian Bauleitung employee, who asked Topf to explain themselves. He recalled that on 21st January Topf had announced that ALL the ventilation and air extraction equipment (for Krematorium II) would be despatched on 22nd, whereas when this first wagon arrived there were so many parts missing that Messing was unable so continue his work. In response to a telephone enquiry, Prüfer had maintained that the material had in fact been sent. As nothing further arrived, the Bauleitung had, at Messing’s request, sent a telegram to which Schulze had immediately replied by telephone, saying that the parts had not yet been manufactured but would be sent on 6th February. Prüfer had confirmed in writing on 5th February that the material should in fact be delivered the following day, adding that it had been taken from another consignment! On 10th February, the Bauleitung, still having received nothing, had cabled to Topf the confirmation of orders for equipment for Krematorium III. The arrival of the second wagon on 11th February with the material still incomplete had caused another telegram to be sent, and also a letter concerned essentially with the lack of the blower and its motor for Leichenkeller 1 (the future gas chamber), “for which the need is most urgent”. However, Messing recommenced work on installing the ventilation systems of Kr II and continued uninterrupted until 13th March. The Bauleitung SS, having triumphally announced to their superior in Berlin, Kammler, that Krematorium II was completed, were very annoyed that it should still not be operational for lack of the ventilation essential for its operation. The fault lay with Messrs Topf, and in particular with Prüfer, who promised instant miracles to the Bauleitung, whereas in fact things dragged on and material failed to arrive, However, Prüfer’s failure to keep his word was very largely due to the incompatibility between his genuine desire to rapidly manufacture and sell his firm’s products and the ever increasing shortages of all sorts of goods and materials in Germany, which frequently slowed or halted production. Still on 11th February, the Bauleitung had Jährling send Topf the order for the delivery and installation of the waste incinerator for Krematorium III (this matter being not yet settled), for a price of 5,791 Reichs marks according to the Topf quote of 5th February.

On 12th February, Messrs Topf sent a first letter [Document 27] acknowledging receipt of the telegram of 10th concerning Krematorium III and the corpse lifts, then, in a second letter repeating the text of the telegram of 10th, it attached that of 11th concerning the fans and motors for Leichenkeller 1 and 2 of Krematorium II [Part II, Chapter 6]. It announced that Prüfer would arrive al Auschwitz in the afternoon of 15th February, and the despatch of a replacement motor for Leichenkeller 2. The same day, the consignment note for the shipment of the missing parts was drawn up, and the Bauleitung received on 14th February. Through the intermediary of Pollok, Bischoff informed Kammler at the SS WVHA in Berlin of the difficulties encountered with Topf, thus putting the blame for the delay in the coming into service of Krematorium II onto this firm. In addition, still through Pollok, Bischoff informed Camp Commandant Hoess of the project for Krematorium VI, stemming from the experience gained with open air incineration ditches. The Bauleitung envisaged a work force of 350 prisoners for its construction, almost as many as were employed on the construction of the four new Krematorien. This project was, of course, never implemented because the additional cremation capacity was not required.

On 17th February, the Bauleitung Drawing Office produced a general plan of the Birkenau POW camp, drawing 1991, showing the three construction stages in their final form (total capacity of approximately 100,000 prisoners) and equipped, for the first time on any