The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
On 24th June 1943 (sometimes given as 25th June [see Document 65, line beginning “53”]) the deed of transfer [Document 64] by which the Bauleitung handed over Krematorium III to the camp administration was signed. Despite the difficulties with Vedag, who had refused to guarantee the damp proofing of certain basement areas for two years, the Bauleitung nevertheless gave such an undertaking. The firms who worked on Krematorium III and their areas of responsibility were stated: foundations and walls by Huta; assisted by prisoner labor, roof by Industriebau AG; furnaces and machinery by Topf & Sons; the chimney by Koehler. Other subcontractors. whose contribution was minimal, were not named.

One of the inventories accompanying the deed of transfer, that for the basement [Document 66] contains a “CRIMINAL TRACE”, INDIRECTLY PROVING THE EXISTENCE OF A HOMICIDAL GAS CHAMBER IN LEICHENKELLER 1 OF KREMATORIUM III [The argument concerning this proof is to be found in Part II, Chapter 8]. The inventory for the ground floor [Document 67] includes, unlike that for Krematorium II, the dissecting table, the 5 3 muffle furnaces, the 5 furnace blower motors, the waste incinerator and 5 complete sets of furnace irons [5 kompl. Schürgeräte]. The explanatory report on the construction contract gives the date for the start of work as July 1942, which is too early and should probably be LATE AUGUST OR EARLY SEPTEMBER. The price of the building amounted to 554,500 Reichsmark.

On 28th June, following the handover of Krematorium III, the last one to be completed, Jährling calculated the overall throughout for the five Krematorien as 4,756 people in 24 hours, and sent this information to SS General Kammler in Berlin [Document 68]. This “official” figure, coolly doubled when explaining operations to high ranking visitors (cf. SS Major Franke Gricksch’s report above, giving a figure of 10,000 in 24 hours), had no basis in practice, and probably has to be divided by two or three to arrive at the true figure. The different visitors, SS, political leaders or others, were obviously unable to check the figures given by the camp SS, but accepted them as true and went away praising the Auschwitz SS for having found such a splendid solution to the “Jewish question”.
[The throughput of Krematorium I, estimated at 340 per day, is a valid figure based on relatively long practice, but the figures for Krematorien II, III, IV and V are purely theoretical, especially those for IV and V which were calculated by extrapolation from the planned figures for Krematorien II and III. The fact is that Krematorium II (and hence also III) was planned as early as 30th October 1941 to incinerate 60 corpses per hour. Obviously the SS had to stick to this figure that they had announced:
60 per hour × 24 hours 1,440 corpses per day
Any lower throughput would be bad for their promotion prospects or could even be regarded as sabotage. As Kr II had 15 muffles and Kr IV and V each had 8 muffles, the throughput for each of these last was calculated as:
(1440 × 8)/15 = 768 corpses per day.
a purely hypothetical figure based on no practice of any sort.

The real throughput of a type II/III Krematorium was from 1,000 to 1,100 corpses per 24 hours and the maximum for a type IV/V was about 500 a day. The total capacity for the four Krematorien was therefore about 3,000 a day, but in practice the real capacity at Birkenau was even less than it appears at that time (and Krematorium I at the main camp was closed down shortly afterwards): Kr IV was soon permanently shut down: V worked only intermittently, II was working again after repairs to its chimney, and III had just begun operations. These last two could incinerate 2,000 to 2,200 corpses a day, and this was the true incineration capacity at Birkenau from the beginning of July 1943 until April/May 1944. This much lower than advertised throughput is confirmed by the low coke consumption figures for the four Krematorien recorded until the end of November 1943, which was only enough to keep one Krematorium of type II/III in full operation.]
Not directly connected with the construction of Krematorien II and III, but still of some relevance is a Topf letter of 7th July 1943, replying to one of 2nd written by Jährling, justifying the price asked for the two 8 muffle furnaces for Krematorien IV and V. The Bauleitung was probably balking at having to pay for these unusable furnaces covered by a TWO MONTH guarantee that had already expired (Topf letter of 10th April 1943 [see Part II, Chapter 7 “Krematorien IV and V"]). This letter mentioned the taking from the “Mogilew contract” of two twin 4 muffle furnaces, designed by Prüfer for Krematorien IV and V, which were in fact designed around these furnaces.
[In the author’s opinion, the defects in Krematorien IV and V cannot be directly attributed to Prüfer. His technical solutions for the 4-muffle furnace, in which certain metal parts (rationed) were replaced by firebrick constructions (unrationed), were rather clever. The 8-muffle furnaces (obtained by twinning two 4 muffle furnaces) roared so well during their adjustment by Topf foreman Willi Kock that the ground around the Krematorien trembled (according to Filip Müller). Prüfer was let down by the poor quality of the refractory materials available in this fourth year of a war that was bleeding Germany white. Hoess admitted this indirectly:
“Owing to the wartime shortage of materials, the builders were compelled to economize during the construction of crematoria III and IV [IV and V] and they were therefore built above ground and were of less solid construction. It soon became apparent, however, that that the flimsy construction of these two [twinned] four-retort ovens did not meet to the requirements.”
These furnaces, whose design was technically sound (for example, the engineer Martin Klettner of Topf applied in 1951 to the Patent Office of the Federal Republic of Germany for a patent for a single muffle cremation furnace using the guillotine door designed by Prüfer) and which were carefully constructed, were unable to justify the hopes placed in them simply because they were built with second-rate materials.]
On 17th July, Kirschneck informed Topf that the repair of the Krematorium II chimney lining was completed (and had been since 11th). By comparing the very first Topf drawing of the chimney with later ones, the Bauleitung SS been able to see that initially the Erfurt firm had not taken account of the different thermal expansions produced or the very high temperatures reached. The Bauleitung therefore raised the question of liability for these defects. They also notified Topf that the underfloor flues from the furnaces to the chimney were deteriorating and, under the terms of the guarantee should be rapidly repaired or replaced. [PMO file BW 30/34, page 17].

On 21st July 1943, Huta sent back to the Bauleitung the original drawings for Krematorium II (which were also used for Kr III) that they had received on 2nd August 1942. The drawings concerned were 932, 933, 934, 935, 936, 937, 980, 1173 1174, 1300, 1301, 1311, 1341 and 1541 (drawings 935. 937, 1300 and 1541 having reached them later). Huta also enclosed their own drawings with those of the Bauleitung, i.e. sheets 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of project 7015/IV. This coming and going of drawings is in itself proof that the original drawings of Krematorium II were in no way secret. By contrast, drawing 2003 and the different versions of 2197, where the criminal arrangements were clearly visible, were not communicated to Huta, or at least not officially [see these documents, in annex].

On 4th August, Topf informed the Bauleitung that the permanent corpse lifts for Krematorien II and III (which were using provisional goods hoists) were still not ready. Topf ’s subcontractor could not complete them because official authorization had again been refused. Topf requested the Bauleitung SS to inform their superiors in Berlin so that they could intervene to resolve the situation. Topf explained that the subcontractor had already built a substantial part of the lifts, but feared that if authorization was refused the order would be immediately suspended [PMO file BW 30/34, page 19].

On 6th August, Topf replied to the Bauleitung letter 17th July, expressing doubt that the underfloor flues should be failing in their turn, after the problems with the chimney lining. [It would appear that, despite the evidence of damage to the flues, there was some justification for Topf’s surprise. The author would like to point out that, during a conversation with David Olère, the later had declared that the problems with the underfloor flues were caused by members of the Sonderkommando trying to immobilize Krematorium II through sabotage But this “induced” damage did not suffice to stop operations, while the spontaneous damage to the chimney had closed the Krematorium down for a month and a half. It is difficult to assess the impact of these “manipulations”, which consisted of discreetly introducing cold water into the underfloor channels, knowing that the excessively high rates of incineration were bound to cause damage].

On 9th September, Bischoff told Kirschneck to send the Topf letter of 4th August concerning the permanent lifts for Krematorien II and III to the SS WVHA in Berlin, asking them to rapidly solve this problem [PMO file BW 30/34, page 18].

On Friday 10th September, Prüfer arrived in Auschwitz to confer with the Bauleitung on the settlement of the expenses incurred in the relining of Krematorium II chimney. From the beginning of the talks, the Bauleitung position was clear: Topf and their representative Prüfer were directly responsible for the defects in the chimney. The fact is that after the first, round chimney of Krematorium I, planned and built by the Bauleitung, was taken out of service Topf had supplied the drawings for a second, of square section. These drawings had served as model for SS Second Lieutenant Dejaco Drawing Office producing the drawings of the “Project for a Krematorium” (such as 932, 933, 934 and 980), a building that was in the end to be constructed in two mirror image versions at Birkenau. The SS, while admitting their own lack of competence in that area, insofar as they slavishly copied the Topf drawings for the chimneys of Krematorien II and III, nevertheless considered that the Erfurt firm had given them incorrect data, which was the probable cause of the damage to the chimney After this first meeting, some members of the Bauleitung went with Prüfer to inspect the Birkenau Krematorien. The Topf chief engineer was forced to admit that the complaints about the underfloor flues in the letter of 17th July were justified: “whole sections of the roof [of the flues] were caving in and … the connections between the hot flues and the chimney were in very bad condition”. The SS also pointed out to Prüfer that the draught control dampers in the chimney, which had melted due to faulty construction (implied to be Topf’s fault) had been repaired entirely satisfactorily by the Bauleitung themselves. As Prüfer’s situation was becoming difficult, he threw the blame for the defects in the chimney onto Messrs Koehler, the firm who had built it, claiming that that they had used lime mortar instead of refractory mortar. The SS therefore decided to convoke the engineer Robert Koehler, the head of this firm, for the next day.

On Saturday 12th September. Koehler swept away Prüfer’s accusations, saying the work had been carried out correctly and using the prescribed materials. The discussion then became somewhat heated. The SS mentioned the other arguments previously put forward by Prüfer to explain the collapse of the chimney lining. But Prüfer was a good talker and his “scientific” demonstrations carried the day. The SS nevertheless pointed out that at each visit Prüfer put forward a new reason for the problems with the chimney. As for Robert Koehler, who lived in Myslowitz, about twenty kilometers from Auschwitz and was thus well informed about what went on there, in his opinion the real cause of the poor state of the chimney before its repair by his firm was simply the excessive rate of cremation. However, the SS were reluctant to have Prüfer lose face completely — he had compromised himself too much with them — and so they accepted his “technical” reasons, while knowing that Koehler was right. Finally, in order that nobody should feel too upset and in order to maintain good relations, the cost of repairing the chimney, estimated at 5,000 RM, was split three ways: 1/3 for Topf, 1/3 for Koehler (who really was not at fault!) and 1/3 for the Bauleitung. And this was the end of the affair.