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


with a presentation of various gas-tight doors

The study of “Kanada I” [Documents 1 and 2] and its delousing gas chamber(s) using Zyklon-B is essential for several reasons. From the standpoint of the prisoners, it was the only place in the camp where a “normal” life was maintained despite the imprisonment, ensuring regular food for those who worked there (taken from what the gassed victims had brought with them) and decent clothing (from the same source). It is here that woman and men had contact and “love stories” could develop, evoked in Andrzej Munk’s film “La Passagère” (1964), or the Rudolf Vbra’s book “Je me suis èvadé d'Auschwitz” (1988 for the French version).

With its “decent” male and female prisoners, Kanada I could be photographed without fear by the SS. Ten photos from the “Album d'Auschwitz” [Photos 3 to 10] show the activities of sorting the victims' effects in this complex.

For the historian the essential part of Kanada I is its Zyklon-B delousing gas chamber(s) which operated permanently from 1942 to 1944 [Photos 7, 9 and 10]. A former prisoner. Josef Odi, explains how the operation was carried out.

Deposition made on 25th August 1963 by Josef Odi. born 15th August 1923 at Brzeziny Slaskie. registered number 61615. now living at Oswiecim, ul. Wiezniowzo 20.

Arrested on 20th April 1942 and prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau on 22nd August 1942, Josef Odi worked in the Kanada I commando in the spring of 1944. His description concerns only 1944. He had already furnished other information on this subject recorded in the PMO archives as part of the “testimonies”, volume 33, pages 112-116 and volume 51, pages 119/134.
Entwesungskommando / Kanada

“… I was working in the Entwesungskommando Kanada [Kanada disinfestation kommando: should be called “Enflausungskommando” / delousing kommando” because “delousing” was done in one or two Zyklon-B gas chambers] near the Bauhof / building materials yard]. There I disinfected the effects of people who had been killed. Furs and valuable objects that could not be disinfested by steam were disinfested using Zyklon-B, the same method that was used in the gas chambers to kill men. In our Kommando there were about fifteen prisoners. We used this method in gas chambers specially set up for disinfestation. They had one or two entrance doors and a few extractor fans. This disinfestation was organised as follows: all the furs and valuable objects to be disinfested were hung up. As soon as this was done, we covered the floor. Two prisoners put on gas masks and then went into the middle of the chamber with cans of Zyklon-B. One prisoner stood near the entrance and watched to see that the two prisoners in the middle of the room didn’t poison themselves. Using special chisels, the two men opened the cans of Zyklon-B, poured it on the floor and withdrew rapidly, closing the gas-tight doors behind them. One hour later, they opened the doors and the extractor fans were switched on. The used Zyklon-B was collected by us and put back in the original cans and cases. We took these cases to the Theatergebáude [theatre building] to be sent to back to the gas manufacturer.

“Our group also prepared the Zyklon-B for the gas chambers. We transported four or five wooden cases from the Theatergebäude to Kanada. When the cases were ready, a vehicle from the Health Service arrived and the cases were loaded in it. There were 40 or 50 cans in each case, so about 200 cans in all …”

[A literal translation from the Polish, this testimony is not really “good.” It was too late, 1963, and though the witness remembered what he had experienced, certain details of the environment escape him (underlined with dashes). On the other hand, certain other details (full underlining) are excellent.]

At the liberation of the camp none of the homicidal gas chambers remained in their original state, they had been dismantled, dynamited or transformed. The only intact gas chamber(s) were in Kanada I [Photos 11 to 13]. The Soviet film “Chronicles of the liberation of the camp, 1945” shows a gas-tight door belonging to this or these gas chamber(s) [Photos 14 and 15]. The cans of Zyklon-B discovered in Kanada I had been used therefor delousing purposes [Photos 16 and 17]. Not one of them was full. Also found was a box containing a chemical reagent used to check for the presence of hydrocyanic gas, a box to which the Soviets wrongly attributed a criminal use [Photo 18].

Since the homicidal and delousing gas chambers using Zyklon-B had been installed and equipped according to the same principle, they had identical gas-tight doors fabricated in the same workshops, the Auschwitz DAW woodworking and metalworking shops [Photos 28 to 31]. Confusion was inevitable, since at this time it was not known how to distinguish between the two types of gas chamber. Photos taken after the war [Photos 19 to 27] and before the remains of the Kanada I delousing installation were demolished make it possible to see that the two types of gas chamber were equipped in exactly the same way. The only difference is in the gas-tight doors: there is a hemispherical grid protecting the peephole on the interior of the doors of homicidal gas chambers, a protection not fitted on the doors of delousing chambers.
Document 1:

(Translation of a note of 8th July 1982 sent to the author by the
PMO Archivist, Mr. Tadeus IWASZKO)
Key to the plan or Kanada 1:
[The huts have been numbered (1 to 5) but the witness is not certain to which huts the numbers refer. (The photos of Kanada I contained in the Auschwitz Album confirm this numbering)].
1, 2: Wooden huts [1 and 2) of the Pferdestall / stable type where the deloused linen and clothing was stored. Here the effects were cleaned, mended and patched and subsequently transported to a brick building (7 on the drawing)
1a, 2a: Awnings extending the roof of the huts to protect the clean (deloused) linen.
3: Wooden hut [3] of the stable type containing linen and deloused clothes.
4: Hut [4] of the stable type. This contained suitcases and bags whose contents were to go to the delousing chamber.
4a: Wooden awning running the length of the sorting hut [4]. There was also a temporary shower installation for the prisoners who sorted the baggage. [Another aerial photograph seems to show that the awning was not on the east side of but 4 but on the northern part of the west side].
5: Wooden hut [5] of the stable type used for sorting the contents of the baggage. Any valuable objects found during sorting were put in a special chest, the "Wertkiste.”
6: Temporary baggage store.
7: Brick building with a pitched roof, used as a store, with shelving inside to hold the deloused clothing. This is where parcels were prepared for subsequent dispatch by rail to the Reich (Germany).
8: Brick building occupied by the Kanada I SS Kommandoführer and other SS employed in Kanada I.
9: Brick house, which had been inhabited by a Polish family who were evicted, converted for delousing. Inside tubular frames had been erected for hanging clothes to be deloused using Zyklon-B gas.
9a: Room next to the delousing chamber where medicines and prostheses were kept. Some of the medicines were subsequently sent to the hospital, Block 28 of KL Auschwitz I.
9b: Room used to store gas masks, cans of Zyklon-B and the tools for opening them (cold chisels with a toothed head). The cans of Zyklon-B stocked here came from the "Theatergebäude" main store, carried on a two-wheeled hand cart [Photo 3].
9c: Place in front of the delousing chamber building where the deloused clothes were brought out.
9d: Roof under which objects were kept.
10: Brick latrines for the prisoners working in Kanada I.
1 l: Probable location of the wooden watch towers for the surveillance of Kanada I.
12: Railway by which the wagons to be loaded with recovered, deloused and prepared goods arrived. The trains subsequently went to the Reich.

Drawing of Kanada I by J.C. Pressac. based on that by T. Iwaszko and aerial photographs.