The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac

Plans, construction and general study
General history of Birkenau Krematorien IV and V,
covering their design, construction,
limited utilization and destruction.
KLG Birkenau Krematorien IV and V
(Bauwerke 30b and 30e)
Unless and until further evidence is discovered, Krematorien IV and V [Document 1] will continue to be the least known of the instruments of extermination at Birkenau.

Until 1980, it was very easy to summarize the little that was known about their history. Krematorium IV entered service on 22nd March 1943 and operated until 7th October 1944, the date of the Sonderkommando revolt, when it was set on fire. Krematorium V, handed over to the camp administration on 4th April 1943, operated until 17th-18th January 1945, the night during which the evacuation of Auschwitz II [Birkenau] began, and the SS dynamited the building a few nights later. Yet key dates, found in the publications of the Auschwitz Museum, did not stop certain people from still believing in 1980 that these installations had worked continuously from 1940 to 1945.

The history of Krematorien IV and V, mirror image buildings, is considered from four aspects: design, construction, operation and duration of activity (from which the number of cremations can be estimated). In 1980, the dates given above brought the answer to one aspect of this history: the duration of activity. In addition, it was thought that their operation was perfectly well known. But a certain neophyte researcher could not help noticing that the operation of Krematorien IV and V was illogical to the point of absurdity, which led him to doubt the validity of the events described.

Our knowledge of the history of these two installations now having progressed somewhat, it is possible to be quite certain about the design and construction aspects. The knowledge acquired regarding their construction helps to explain their operation, though certain points remain obscure. As for the duration of activity, all the previous certainty has been swept away, but for lack of original documents it is not possible to be precise, apart from certain limits that can be seen. One might have thought that regarding this aspect the recollections of former prisoners and SS would have been decisive and made up for the lack of documentation, but unfortunately a comparison of such testimonies reveals inconsistencies:
1.- Rudolf Hoess. former Camp Commandant, reports that:
“Number III [Kr IV] failed completely after a short time [in 1943] and later ceased to be used altogether. Number IV [Kr V] had to be repeatedly shut down, since after its fires had been burning for from four to six weeks, the ovens or the chimneys burnt out.”
In Hoess' opinion, these installations were little used and were soon abandoned, irreparably damaged. However, it would appear that Hoess was in error, for while Kr IV was closed down because its chimneys and/or furnaces were burnt out, Kr V, of exactly the same structure as IV, suffered damage that could be repaired, but could subsequently be operated only sporadically and in moderation.
2.- Pery Broad, a former member of the Political Section of the camp, while rightly stating that:
“Even before the construction of all four Krematorien had been completed [Kr III was still not completed in May 1943], the chimney of Krematorium I [II], which had recently entered service, split as the result of overloading and had to be repaired.”
goes on to say that:
“In the spring [should be summer] of1944,.. The four Krematorien were operating at full capacity, but very soon, as the result of continuous overloading, the furnaces were damaged and only Krematorium III [IV] was still smoking.”
Thus Broad states that in, most probably, summer 1944, while Krematorien II, III and V were damaged and shut down, only Krematorium IV valiantly stood up to the continuous overloading, which is completely wrong. The episode he is relating took place in the summer of 1943 (a year earlier!), when Kr II had to be shut down with a damaged chimney, IV was completely out of service and V had its furnaces and/or chimneys [half] burnt out. Only Kr III, handed over for use on 25th June 1943, was operating.
3.- Dow Paisikovic, a former prisoner, in his deposition of 17th October 1963 [CDJC CCCLXI-370], states that having arrived in the Birkenau camp in May 1944 and being incorporated in the Sonderkommando, he first worked at Bunker V [2], then in Krematorium I [II] or II [III]. He reports that a, group of 100 Sonderkommando prisoners were detached and taken to Krematorium III [IV]. Despite a twice repeated error regarding the number of the Krematorium that was operating in May-June 1944, for the open air cremation ditches were behind Krematorium V, not next to Krematorium IV, his deposition confirms that as of that date, only one of Krematorien IV and V was working (and hence that the other was not used). In contradiction to his earlier statements, he goes on to say that so far as he knew, no Krematorium had the slightest breakdown and they always worked perfectly.
4.- Filip Müller, another former prisoner, relates in Trois ans dans une chambre à gaz à Auschwitz that, probably at the beginning of May 1944, there was a complete overhaul of the four Krematorien in preparation for the “Hungarian action” noting that six chimneys were checked (one each in Kr II and III and two each in Kr IV and V), four undressing rooms repainted (one in each Krematorium) and eight gas chambers repainted (one each in Kr II and III and three each in Kr IV and V). According to him, the four Krematorien were still working. The repair and maintenance work was carried out by shutting down each of them in turn. Then, as his account continues, he adds that in summer 1944, at the height of the Hungarian extermination, they were using five gas chambers (one each in Kr II and III and three in Kr IV) and the thirty eight furnaces [muffles] (fifteen each in Kr II and III and eight in Kr IV) of Krematorien II, III and IV.