The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
Messing worked successively on the following tasks [the terms have been simplified and “Leichenkeller 1 and 2” have been replaced by “gas chamber” and “undressing room” respectively, the terms designating their true function]:
1. Fitting 3 forced draught installations alongside the collective chimney of Krematorium II.
2. Fitting 5 pulsed air blowers, one on the side of each of the 5 furnaces of Krematorium II.
3. Fitting the extractor fan for the gas chamber of Krematorium II.
4. Fitting the extractor fan for the dissecting, washing and laying out rooms of Krematorium II.
5. Fitting an air extractor fan in the furnace room of Krematorium II.
6. Fitting an air extraction duct in the undressing room of Krematorium II.
7. Testing the ventilation and air extraction installations of the gas chamber of Krematorium II [10th and 11th March].
8. Bringing into service the ventilation system of the Krematorium II gas chamber [13th March].
9. Installing the air extractor fan and duct in the undressing room of Krematorium II.
10. Fitting the air extraction system of the Krematorium III furnace room.
11. Fitting the extractor fan for the Krematorium III gas chamber.
12. Repair of the Krematorium II lift.
13. Finish fitting the ventilation system for the undressing room of Krematorium III.
14. Fitting the extractor fan for the dissecting, washing and laying out rooms of Krematorium III.
15. Changing the extractor fan of the Krematorium II gas chamber.
16. Fitting Krematorium III lift.

Henryk Tauber, a former member of the Sonderkommado of Krematorium II, testified that:

On 4th March 1943, he and his companions lit the hearths of the five furnaces in the morning and kept them going until 4 pm. Then 45 gassed victims, well fleshed, brought from Bunker 2 were incinerated, three per muffle in the 15 muffles of Krematorium II. The operation took 40 minutes and was carried out in the presence of members of the political section of the camp, high-ranking SS officers and civilians and Topf engineers.

The furnaces were kept going for ten days, without any further cremations.

In the evening of Sunday 14th March, 1500 Cracow Jews were gassed Leichenkeller I after having undressed in a provisional undressing hut erected in the yard of Krematorium II.

The dates given by Tauber and those of Messing’s timesheets coincide perfectly. The originals [Documents 29 to 33], were filled in in green pencil by Messing. His working days were very long, eleven hours on average. Sundays he worked only eight hours, but counted double. On 10th March at the beginning of the “tests” on Leichenkeller 1, he worked sixteen hours, and on the 13th, when the installation came into service, fifteen hours. These are the longest days worked during the five months he spent at Auschwitz. It is now easy to understand why — the SS were in a terrible hurry.

It is likely that Messing filled in his timesheets not every day, but at the end of the week. He does not use the term “Auskleidekeller” until after 8th Match (or 14th if he filled in his timesheets on the Sunday), as soon the function of Leichenkeller 2 became obvious to him. The provisional undressing hut in the yard was used only until Messing finished his work in Leichenkeller 2, when it became redundant and was dismantled.

I have no idea what Messing must have thought as he was installing the motors, blowers, valves and ducts of the ventilation systems [Document 34] After 15th March he could not have any doubts about the final destination of his work. As the first civilian witness of large scale gassing he must have spoken about it to his family and friends on his return to Erfurt. The telegram of 26th February 1943 proves that Topf & Sons were very much involved in the technical implementation of the gassing system. Compromising themselves with the SS in what they did “by order” and, what is even worse, solely for commercial gain, resulted in 1945 in the suicide of the managing Director Ludwig Topf Junior whose “nerves had gone to pieces” [Weimar State Archives, Bestand Topf & Sons No. 2/555, Aktennotiz of 11th October 1945] and the arrest by the Russians, in the afternoon of 4th March 1946, of Kurt Prüfer, head of the D.I V, or cremation installations, division of this firm [same source, Aktennotiz registered on 24th April 1946].

In conclusion, a civilian not employed by KL Auschwitz, in his timesheets, FIVE times called Leichenkeller 2 [i.e. one of the underground morgues] of Krematorium II and TWICE that of Krematorium III the “undressing cellar”. The chronology of his work confirms that the 10 GAS DETECTORS requested for Krematorium II were used to test the ventilation of its gas chamber.

Document 28

Document 28:
[page 48 of Bw 30/34].
The telegram requesting immediate dispatch of 10 gas detectors.
The inscriptions written in green ink are by Ing. Sachbearbeiter Jährling, a civilian heating engineer attached to the technical section of the Bauleitung and in charge of the documentation concerning Krematorium construction. As from January 1943, he was responsible for putting in order the correspondence concerning these buildings under the overall responsibility, it would appear, of Ustuf Kirschneck. It is Jährling who calculated the (theoretical coke) consumption of the Krematorien, making a mistake which earned him a reprimand from Kirschneck.

This telegram, standing out from the other BW 30/34 documents, was an enigma. Why would the Bauleitung ask for an 10 GAS DETECTORS from Topf, A FURNACE MANUFACTURER? Topf was neither Degesch nor Tesch und Stabenow, manufacturers and distributors of Zyklon-B. Two solutions were possible: detection of the products of combustion, such as CO or CO2 in the furnace room, or residual presence of HCN in the Krematorium II (BW 30) gas chamber. The timesheets make it possible to understand the exact significance of this telegram. On 24th and 25th February 1943, Messing was refitting an air extractor fan for Leichenkeller I. The gas chamber appears to be operational. SS Second Lieutenant Kirschneck on the evening of the 26th sends a telegram for the immediate dispatch of “Gasprüfer” to an enterprise specialised in the manufacture of furnaces and boilers. Topf will necessarily have to sub-contract this order. Between 1st and 7th March Messing completes all the installations of Leichenkeller 1. On 10th and 11th the “Gasprüfer” must have arrived, because they proceed to “tests”. What tests? Surely determining the quantity of Zyklon-B to be used then, after ventilation, measuring the residual presence of toxic gas. By the 13th, everything is in order and the gas chamber is ready for work. On the evening of the 14th, it is inaugurated by 1500 Cracow Jews.

This implacable and irrefutable sequence of events, putting in its proper context the little copy of the telegram sent on 26th February 1943 at 18.20 hours, demonstrates the guilt of Messrs Topf the preparation of the gas chambers and proves that the “10 Gasprüfer” are damning evidence in the demonstration of the existence of homicidal gas chambers in the Krematorien.