The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
either problem]. After their revision, an operation that may be considered routine, Krematorien Il and III fulfilled their role perfectly from May to July 1944. As for Krematorien IV and V, we have no precise information about their reactivation. According to Sonderkommando and SS accounts and depositions concerning the “forest Krematorien”, which are confused and divergent on this point, the following situations emerge. Krematorium IV either functioned again for a very short time, a few days to a few weeks, before being closed down for good, or was not trimmed at all and served as accommodation for about 700 Sonderkommando men, who occupied ALL the available space in the building, (including the gas chambers, but not the furnace room and its annexes, which were probably reserved for the Capos). The furnaces of Krematorium V, not so badly damaged as those of Kr IV, either worked at such a slow rate that open air incineration ditches had to be rapidly dug behind the gas chambers in order to compensate for their poor throughput, or, knowing in advance that the Krematorium V furnaces would be unable to operate at the pace required for the future, the SS decided to replace them with five small incineration ditches and to reactivate Bunker 2, under the designation Bunker V. which also had an incineration ditch. There is still another possibility, in view of the repairs of early June, i.e. that Krematorien IV and V were not repaired by the end of April 1944 and the SS had the five incineration ditches dug and Bunker 2/V reactivated right away. It is possible that, overwhelmed by the mass arrivals of Hungarian convoys in May, they tried at the beginning of June to rapidly reactivate Krematorien IV and V in order to increase incineration capacity at Birkenau. These cursory repairs, made in extremis, seem to have succeeded in the case of Kr V, which worked more or less correctly until January 1945, but turned out to be inadequate in the case of Kr IV, whose furnaces and chimney needed to be completely rebuilt.

Between May and the beginning of July 1944, some 200,000 to 250.000 Hungarian Jews were annihilated in the gas chambers and incineration furnaces of Krematorien II and III, the gas chamber and five incineration ditches of Krematorium V, and the gas chamber (the original internal walls dividing the building into four small gas chambers had been removed, leaving a single chamber of external dimension 7 in by 15m) of Bunker 2/V and its incineration ditch of 30 m² area. According to the accounts of former prisoners, this was the darkest and most depressing period in Birkenau, at the time when the Liberation of Europe was beginning. The most palpable sign of this demential period, engraved on the memory of survivors, was four black columns of smoke, belched forth 24 hours a day by the Krematorien. This picture, of course, cannot be taken entirely at face value, because two of the Krematorien were out of service and aerial photographs taken during this period show no trace of smoke. An argument has grown up over the discrepancy between the memory of survivors and the indisputable evidence of the aerial photos. Even though this can now be explained by the gaps between the arrival of convoys, historians have been extraordinarily unlucky in that the American reconnaissance aircraft flew over Auschwitz Birkenau precisely on days when nothing was happening or when the cremation of the last batch had finished. On the other hand, it is easier to explain the four columns of smoke, despite the feet that two of the four Krematorien were not working. The chimneys of Krematorien II and III were visible from almost all over the Birkenau camp and everybody could see when they were smoking. In the case of Kr V, practically surrounded by the birch wood and hence invisible to most of the prisoners, the incineration ditches behind it burned regularly, giving the impression that the furnaces were working. As for Kr IV, partly hidden by a screen of trees, an observer within the limits of B.II (and most of the survivors are in this category) could see the smoke coming from the incineration ditch of Bunker 2/V, located 400 m to the west of Krematorium IV and on the same line of sight, and had the impression it was coming from the Krematorium.

On 6th June 1944, the Bauleitung produced drawing 4054, on which the “Jewish ramp” where the convoys arrived was transformed into a real station, an installation that could be called the “extermination station” [Document 76]. This version produced by the Bauleitung Drawing Office is more realistic than the plan mentioned by Hoess of a huge station covering the four Krematorien, for it includes only Krematorien II and III, the only ones that were actually working. [It should be pointed out that the only piece of “camouflage” found on any of the known Bauleitung drawings appears here, where “Gemüesehalle / Vegetable shed” probably stands for “Effektenhalle / Effects shed"].

On 26th June 1944. the U.S. Air Force photographed the entire Auschwitz Birkenau Monowitz complex from a height of 30,000 feet [Document 77]. An enlargement [Document 78] reveals no activity in the four Krematorien, which is perfectly natural, because the last transport of Hungarian Jews from Wegier had arrived on 18th June and the next did not arrive at Birkenau until 28th June.

On 25th August 1944, the U.S. Air Force photographed, in clear weather, part of the Birkenau camp (B.I, the ramp and Krematorien II and III, from a probable height of about 3,000 feet [Document 79]. No incineration activity can be detected in the Krematorien, and yet the previous day five transports had arrived in the camp: three from Lodz, one from Wegier (Hungary) and one from Boryslaw (Soviet Union). The total number of deportees in these five convoys is not known, but the number selected for work is: those from Lodz 10, 7, and 222: from Hungary 28 and from the Soviet Union 2. A total of 269 judged fit for work. Assuming that IN THE WORST CASE 10% of the total were pronounced fit, the total for the five convoys would be in the order of 2,700 people. The incineration of 2,400 or 2,500 corpses in Krematorien II and III and the ditches of Krematorium V and Bunker 2/V was a matter of routine, compatible with the real throughput of the installations, and could have been completed by the time the photograph was taken, before midday on 25th August. (It should be noted that the incineration ditches were not photographed, so we do not know whether they were operating or not.)

On 13th September 1944, Krematorien IV and V were photographed by an American aircraft [Document 75], and no trace of smoke can be seen. No convoy had arrived at Birkenau that day, and only the 300 Jewish children of a transport from Kowno had been gassed the previous day.

After the Sonderkommando revolt of 7th October 1944, Krematorium IV, which was set on fire during the uprising, was completely demolished except for the concrete floor, which remained in place.

On 26th November 1944, following the publication in American newspapers of the “War Refugee Board” report on the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, Himmler gave the order, probably verbal (no written trace ever having been found) to completely dismantle Krematorien II and III.
After selection at the Jewish ramp at Auschwitz station [the new siding in the very center of the Birkenau camp was not completed until May 1944. for the arrival of the Hungarian transports], groups of 1,000 to 1,500 classified as “unfit” [for work] were taken on foot, or for the weaker ones, by truck, to Krematorium II or III. For about two weeks, from 15th to the end of March 1943, victims heading for Krematorium II, the only one ready at that date, used a particular route, Because the access stairway to the underground undressing room was not yet finished, a stable type hut was erected on a north-south line in the north yard of the building [Document 80], to serve as a temporary undressing room. After passing through the wire mesh gates in the fence round the Krematorium. the unfit entered this hut at the northern end, emerged naked front the southern end and, then being visible to the prisoners, in B.IIf, disappeared into the northern stairway of the Krematorium [Document 81]. From there, they were channeled into Leichenkeller 1, the gas chamber, the door was shut on them and they were gassed. Once the stairway from the outside directly to the underground undressing room was completed, the hut was dismantled, and from April 1943 the victims entered the north yard of Krematorium II, walked along the northern side of the undressing room along its whole length, went down the western stairway [Document 82], with its metal guard rails, and entered the undressing room. The whole operation now being underground, nothing was visible from the outside, which was not the case before. Once they were undressed [Document 83], the unfit went through the double door at the far end of the undressing room along a short corridor and through the vestibule into the gas chamber, whose entrance was on their right.

As soon as the whole group of 1,000 to 1.500 people was in the gas chamber, the gas light door was closed and secured with its two latch bars, which were screwed tight. The lights in the room were then probably extinguished. On the roof, SS medical orderlies wearing gasmasks introduced 1 or 1.5 kg of Zyklon-B into each of the four “chimneys”, with their covers (making 4 to 6 kg in all) which projected 40 or 50 cm above the grass growing on the earth bank covering the roof of the gas chamber. Death followed very quickly, as the amount of Zyklon-B used was FORTY times the lethal dose [Document 84]. In a few minutes, five at the very most, depending on the humidity of the air and the ambient temperature, all the victims were dead. In theory, an SS doctor was supposed to check by looking through the peephole to make sure nobody was still moving. But as a real check was impossible it could but be cursory and was generally dispensed with altogether, the poison used being so very toxic and effective. The air extraction system was then switched on for at least 20 to 30 minutes, for there was a great deal of poisoned air still in the chamber, the amount absorbed by the victims being minimal. The gas tight door was then unbolted and opened, and the work of extracting the corpses began immediately [Document 85] The “dentists” then pulled out the gold teeth and collected any jewelry (most of the “crematorium” gold came from melted down jewelry. NOT GOLD TEETH, which only accounted for a very small percentage). “Barbers” sheared the hair off the women. These two operations were carried out either directly in the gas chamber entrance [Document 86] or where the corpses were taken from the lift at the end of the furnace room. In the early days the corpses were loaded 3 or 4 at a time on the temporary goods hoist, then later 10 to 15 at a time on the permanent electric lift, and sent up to the ground floor. There, the Sonderkommando men attached leather thongs to them and slid them along a shallow trough of water to a point in front of one of the furnaces [Document 85]. They were placed head to foot in threes on a metal “corpse stretcher” and charged into one of the muffles (this was the normal number for normal adults: it could be more in the case of children, but it could never possibly have been twelve adults, even reduced to musulman stale, as claimed by one former Sonderkommando man) [Document 87]. The incineration of such a charge took 45 to 60 minutes [Document 88], though some unrealistic witnesses have claimed it look only 15 to 20 minutes. or even less. The pulsed air blowers on the side of the furnaces were apparently used only when starting up a furnace. Once the furnace was hot, the corpses burned spontaneously. Witnesses have stated (or drawn [Document 89]) that when working at full capacity and high temperature, flames leapt 2 or 3 meters from the top of the chimney. There is no photographic evidence to corroborate this claim, however. The work of incinerating the corpses was watched by the SS from a room known as the “Capo’s room” [Document 90].

The destruction of 1,000 to 1,500 people took a whole day or more. The two bottlenecks in the process that put absolute limits on the extermination capacity of Krematorien II and III were in fact the extraction of corpses from the gas chamber, which took “hours and hours” according to former Sonderkommando member David Olère, and then the cremation process, which took 24 to 36 hours. Somewhere between 15th and 20th June 1944. during the extermination of the Hungarian Jews, the three working Krematorien and Bunker 2/V established the unhappy record of between 4,000 and 5.000 people eliminated in a single day (the “emotional” figure put forward after the Liberation for this day was 25,000).
After the order was received to destroy Krematorien II and III, an “Abbruchkommando / demolition commando” was formed on 1st December 1944 to perform this task. Work advanced rapidly. The roofs were dismantled, the undressing room ventilation systems removed, the chimneys and furnaces dismantled. On 21st December 1944, the floors of the roof spaces were bare and the earth banks over the undressing rooms (Leichenkeller 2) had been removed, this earth being placed on the ground on either side of these premises, [Document 91]. The way in which the earth was removed and cleared assay from the cellars shows that the SS intended to expose the walls as well, so as to be able to remove all trace of the Krematorien. Unfortunately for them, it would appear that these outdoor activities had to stop because the ground was frozen. Work then proceeded inside the buildings, the ten cremation furnaces being removed, so that only the empty foundation pits were found at the Liberation. On 14th January 1945, internal dismantling continued [Document 92]. In the afternoon of 18th January, Auschwitz II (Birkenau] was evacuated. It had not been possible to complete the destruction and removal of the Krematorien, partly because of the frost and snow and partly because of the lack of time, for the Russian troops were dangerously close. On 20th January 1945, the SS blew up the remaining carcasses of Krematorien II and III, apparently in daytime (towards midday for Kr III, according to Mr. Otto Klein’s