The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
Two clothing delousing gas chambers operated in the main camp on the first floor of Block 3 in 1941-42. The photographs show what still remains of the internal [Photos 7 to 9] and external [Photos 5, 6, 10 and 11) equipment of this installation, comprising two gas chambers separated by the south-west access staircase of Block 3 [Document 3]. Two big rooms were converted into gas chambers by simply putting an extractor fan in each room. Neither the access doors (two for each room), nor the double windows were made gas-tight. Gas-tightness was achieved by sticking strips of paper over the gaps.

The plan [Document 3] of the first floor of Block three was annexed to the deposition [Document 4] of an eyewitness, Andrzej Rablin, who worked in these gas chambers. [His deposition as presented here was translated from Polish to French by the author, with the help of the archivist. It is not a literal translation, but each detail has been carefully verified.]

The drawing and account provide important information. The, show that an ordinary room can easily be transformed into a gas chamber by simply installing an extractor fan, the “safety regulations” being reduced to their absolute minimum, the wearing of gas mask by the operators. It may appear surprising that the witness did not wear any clothes, this being highly dangerous in an atmosphere containing 2% by volume of hydrocyanic acid, since a subject exposed to such a concentration of the gas can lose consciousness after ten minutes by absorption through the skin, even when wearing a gas mask. However, about 5 1.5kg cans of Zyklon-B would be necessary in ONE of the gas chambers in Block 3, to obtain this concentration (24g/m³). The witness does not specify the number of cans used, but states that “the chisel, the hammer and THE can of Zyklon-B)” were put ready in advance. In normal disinfestation, a hydrocyanic acid concentration by volume of approximately 0.1 to 0.05% is generally used, which in this particular case would mean only a 200 or 500g can of Zyklon-B, without danger for the operator, even naked. The best proof that the witness was not subjected to very high concentrations of hydrocyanic acid — 2% per cent actually being lethal in 30 seconds if no mask is worn — is that he was still alive in 1961 and was able to give this account.
Document 3
Document 3
Document 3: Translation of inscriptions on the plan:
· 1er étage / 1st floor
· ENTRÉE (nord-ouest) / (Northwest) entrance
· VENTILATEUR / Extractor Fan
· GAZ / Gas
· DETENTUS / Prisoners
· MAGAZIN / Store
· COLOIR / Corridor
· “GASKAMMER” / Gas chamber
· CHAMBRE A GAZ / Gas Chamber
· ENTRÉE (sud-ouest) / (Southwest) entrance

Document 4

Deposition made on 2nd February 1961 by Andrzcje Rablin, born 1st January 1914 in Cracow. Prisoner number 1410

”… In these rooms there were wooden frames with hooks on which we hung the clothes. The windows were sealed by strips of paper along the joints, as was the ventilator. We received the Zyklon-B from Capo Mau, a German, who was the only one to have the key of the store. Bezucha, another prisoner, and I did the gassing. We put on our gas masks and went in the room naked or wearing underpants. We did that because of the lice. There were very many lice in the clothes. Sometimes, filling the gas chamber with clothes took as much as two days. The lice fell on the floor and formed a layer about 50cm across under the clothes. When we went in to spread the gas, the lice jumped on us and the layers disappeared very fast. The cans were opened with a kind of chisel with a ring of teeth that we hit with a hammer. It produced a ring of holes in the can. Since we were afraid of being bitten by the lice, we put the chisel, the hammer and the can of Zyklon-B ready in advance, opened it quickly and threw the substance on the floor. Despite the speed of this operation the lice jumped on our legs and to protect ourselves we spread a little Zyklon-B around our feet. Immediately, I could feel the lice drop off, dead. Sometimes at the moment when the gas evaporated, I tried to feel it by handling the crystals. They felt like velvet and were cool and damp. After throwing the crystals we went out, closed the door and stuck strips of paper over the gaps. Twenty-four hours later, we put our gas masks on again, the extractor fans were switched on and we opened the windows. The ventilation continued for two hours. The gas was very dangerous for us. Before we closed the door and sealed it with strips of paper, a little of the gas would escape into the corridor. Apart from us two who were protected by gas masks, the rest did not have any and the entire floor was affected by gas.

“Once I was slightly gassed because the mask I was wearing was not fully gas-tight. I felt nothing at the time but two hours afterwards I had a bad headache, a pain in the meninges and a burning pain in the lungs. At first did not go to the KB [Krankenbau / hospital block] but went out of the block into the birch alley [between Block 3 and the protective wall of the Stammlager] to breath deeply while doing some knee bends. The headache went away fairly quickly, but when I coughed a little blood came up. Doctor Wasilewski diagnosed inflammation and dehydration of the throat. After being hospitalised, I was cured in two months…”