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

In the “boiler room” [B, Ofenraum / furnace room, also known as Heizraum / hajcownia], we put the corpses on a trolley with a high platform that ran on rails installed between he furnaces. This trolley went from the door [D] of the bunker [E, Leichenhalle / morgue], where the corpses were, on a turntable [F. Drehscheibe / szajba] that crossed the “boiler room”, on broad rails [C]. From these there ran narrower rails [G] on which the trolley itself fitted, leading to each muffle. The trolley ran on four metal wheels. Its strong frame was in the form of a box, and to make it heavier we weighted it with stones and scrap metal. The upper part was extended by a metal slide over two meters long. We put five corpses on this: first we put two with the legs towards the furnace and the belly upwards, then two more the other way round but still with the belly upwards, and finally we put the fifth one with the legs towards the furnace and the back upwards. The arms of this last one hung down and seemed to embrace the other bodies below.

[This number is possible only with skeletal corpses, as Henryk Tauber formally states below. With “normal” adult bodies, it would be difficult to charge more than two or three ar a time. But, when a witness such as Alter Fajnzylberg, alias Stanislas Jankowski, states in a deposition of April 1945 concerning his stay in Krematorium I: “In one of these openings (muffles) there was room for TWELVE corpses, but we put no more than five because that way they burned more rapidly(!) “, one is justified in denouncing a figure that is pure propaganda. Whoever has visited Auschwitz as an ordinary tourist and, after a silent prayer, has seen or examined the four gaping mouths of the two reconstmcted furnaces of Krematorium I will understand me without any further explanation. We find here the famous multiplying factor of four used by Dr Miklos Nyiszli (a normal cremation capacity of three corpses multiplied by four comes to twelve)]

The weight of such a load sometimes exceeded that of the ballast, and to order to prevent the trolley from tipping up and spilling the corpses we had to support the slide by slipping a plank underneath it. Once the slide was loaded, we pushed it into the muffle. Once the corpses were introduced into the furnace, we held them there by means of a metal box that slid on top of the charging slide, while other prisoners pulled the trolley back, leaving the corpses behind. There was a handle at the end of the slide for gripping and pulling back the sliding box. Then we closed the door [of the muffle]. In Krematorium I, there were three, two-muffle furnaces, as I have already mentioned. Each muffle could incinerate five human bodies. Thirty corpses could be incinerated at the same time in this crematorium. At the time when I was working them, the incineration of such a charge [5 corpses in one muffle] took up to an hour and a half, because they were the bodies of very thin people, real skeletons, which burned very slowly. I know from the experience gained by observing cremation in Krematorien II and III that the bodies of fat people burn very much faster. The process of incineration is accelerated by the combustion of human fat which thus produces additional heat.

All these furnaces were located in a hall that I have called the “boiler room”. Near the entrance to this hall, there was one furnace [H] with its hearth [I, firebox] facing the entrance door [M ] and the muffles towards the interior of the hall. The two others faced in the opposite direction, muffles towards the entrance door and hearths towards the back of the hall. They were at the other end of the room. These furnaces were coke-fired. They were built, as could be seen by the inscriptions on the doors of the furnaces, by the firm “Topf & Söhne” of Erfurt. The trolley for transporting the corpses was also supplied by this firm.

[These precise details may appear superfluous to a current visitor to Krematorium I, for he will see exactly what Henryk Tauber described, but at the end of May 1945, the date of this deposition, the interior of Krematorium I was still arranged as an air raid shelter. The initial state of the premises had to be established with the help of prisoners' memories. This made it possible to reconstitute the interior, two of the furnaces being rebuilt using the metal parts still remaining and a chimney being erected].

Behind the “boiler room” there was a small coke store [J] with a little office beside it [K. Schreibstube / szreibsztuba] and then on the right the store for the urns [L] containing human ashes. The entrance door [M] which now leads to the hall that I call the “boiler room” was put in later [Document 7]. When I was working in Krematorium I, that door did not exist. We used to enter through the corridor (Vorraum) to the “boiler room” through the door [N] to the left of the entrance [P]. There were two [other] doors of this type [on the right of the entrance]. The first door [P], on the right of the corridor, opened on an auxiliary store [Q, room originally designated “Aufbahrungsraum / laying out room]” where the spare fire bars were kept. The men from small transports, brought by truck, used to undress there. When I was working at Krematorium I, they were shot in the bunker [E] of the crematorium (the part of the building where they gassed people was known as the “bunker"). Such transports arrived once or twice a week and comprised 30 to 40 people. They were of different nationalities. During the executions, we, the members of the Sonderkommando, were shut up in the coke store. Then we would find the bodies of the shot people in the bunker. All the corpses had a firearm wound in the neck (Genickschuss). The executions were always carried out by the same SS man from the Political Section [Politische Abteilung] accompanied by another SS from the same Section who made out the death certificates for those shot. Capo Morawa was not with us in the coke store during the shoootings. I don’t know what he did during this time. We carried the still warm and bloody bodies of the shot people from the bunker to the “boiler room”. The second door [R] on the right of the corridor led to a small room [S, initially designated Waschraum/(corpse) washing room] where the human ashes were put. We passed through this room to reach the bunker [E] proper, used during my time there for shooting the victims and which previously had been used for gassing people. In December 1942, 400 prisoners of the Sonderkommando were gassed there. The prisoners who worked before me in Krematorium I, where I had met them, told me that. I worked in Krematorium I from the beginning of February 1943 to 4th March 1943, or just over one month. During all this time, we were put in bunker [cell] 7 of block XI. We were in fact 22 Jews there, because at the beginning of February, two dentists, Czech Jews, were sent to join us, coming front Birkenau. The seven Jews I had met working in Krematorium I were also locked in block XI, but in another cell, Capo Morawa and the Poles Jozek and Wacek who worked with him, lived in block XV, which was open [block II was a prison, unlike block 15, where entry, exit and movement inside were unrestricted]. Besides the two Czech Jews, four Poles came to join our group during that month: Staszek and Wladek, whose family names I have forgotten, and Wladyslaw Biskup from Cracow and Jan Agrestowski from the commune of Pas in the Warsaw region. I remember their names well, because I wrote letters to their families in German for them. These last four Poles were [also] housed in block XV. When we left for work the old Kommando that had preceded us at Krematorium I was called “Kommando Krematorium I”. Our group, that is the 22 Jews from block XI and the four Poles who were detailed to it, was called “Konmmando Krematorium II”. We did not understand why there was this separate designation. Later on, we understood that we had been sent there for one month’s practical training in Krematorium I in order to prepare us for working in Krematorium II.

I would emphasize that the crematoriums and the Kommandos who worked in them came under the Political Section. The personal records of the prisoners working in these Konnnandos were kept in the Political Section. Our sick were not sent to the [camp] hospital, but to an infirmary set up for us in a closed block. The block we occupied was isolated. In Auschwitz [the main camp], this was closed block XI. Authorization to leave the Kommando and transfer into another did not depend on the Arbeitdienst [labour service], but on the Political Section. Our doctor was Pach, a French Jew. He was a good specialist who also looked after the SS, which enabled him, thanks to them, to get out of the Sonderkommando block and install himself in another. When the Political Section heard of this, he was sent hack to our infirmary, even though he had lived for some months in an open block. During my training in Krematorium I, Untersturmführer [SS Second Lieutenant] Grabher and Oberscharführer [senior staff-sergeant] Kwakernak were the overseers for the Political Section. I remember Morawa having to ask Grahner to give him another prisoner because one of our group had died. Grahner replied that he could not give him one “Zugang” [new arrival], but if he [Morawa] killed four more Jews, he would supply five “arrivals”. He also asked Mietek [Murawa] what he beat us with. Mietek showed him a stick. Grahner took hold of an iron fire bar and said he should hit us with that. At the end of the first day’s work in Kremtatorium I, five of my group declared they were sick and stayed in the block. The next day, pulling the bodies out of the bunker of Krematorium I, we found their naked corpses without any traces of bullet wounds. I suppose they must have been given jabs [intra-cardiac injection of a 30% solution of phenol]. A month later, of 22 Jews, there remained only 12. On 4th March 1943, my group, including one Wladyslaw Tomiczek of Cieszyn and the four Poles I have already mentioned (Biskup and the others), was transfered to Birkenau and installed in closed block II of sector BIb. I learned later that Tomiczek had already worked in the crematorium [Kr I] in 1941. He was an old hand, with a prison number of 1400 and something, and before being detailed to our group in March 1943, he worked for a while in the mill and the abattoir [or butchery, the Polish “rzeznia” having both meanings], where, with 49 other people, he was arrested on suspicion of engaging in clandestine activities. All were incarcerated in Auschwitz block XI and condemned to death by the SS tribunal. Untersturmführer Grabher recognized Tomiczek just before the execution and transferred him to our group. In Birkenau. Tomiczek worked as Capo of the Kommando employed in Krematorium II, and later on in Kremtatorium IV. In the month of August 1943, I think it was, Tomiczek was summoned to the Political Section, from where that very day Oberscharführer Kwakernak brought his corpse that we incinerated in Krematorium V. Although Tomiczek’s head was wrapped in a sack, we identified him by his large size. Kwakernak personally supervised the introduction of his body into the furnace then went off. We then opened the door of the furnace, unwound the sack and recognized his face very well. He was a good man, hard working, decent with us, and we had told him about our clandestine activities.

On 4th March 1943. we were taken under SS guard to Krematorium II. The construction of this crematorium was explained to us by Capo [Julius] August [Brück. See Document 8], who had just arrived from Buchenwald where he had also been working in the crematorium. Krematorium II had a basement where there was an undressing room (Auskleideraum) [2 — see Document 9] and a bunker, or in other words a gas chamber (Leichenkeller / corpse cellar) [1]. To go from one cellar to the other, there was a corridor [3] in which there came from the exterior a [double] stairway [4, 4'] and a slide for throwing the bodies [corpse chute, 5] that were brought to the camp to be incinerated in the crematorium. People went through the door of the undressing room [2a] into the corridor [3], then from there through a door on the right [la] into the gas chamber [1]. A second stairway [6] running from the grounds [north yard] of the crematorium gave access to the corridor [3]. To the left of this stairway, in the comer [of the corridor], there was a little room [7] where hair, spectacles and other effects were stored. On the right there was another small room [8] used as a store for cans of Zyklon-B [here, the description could lead to confusion. It should be borne in mind that Tauber is describing the disposition of rooms 7 and 8 as they appear to somebody in the basement]. In the right corner of the corridor, on the wall facing the door from the undressing room, there was a lift [9] to transport the corpses [to the furnace roots on the ground floor]. People went front the crematorium yard to the undressing room via a stairway [10], surrounded by iron rails. Over the [entrance] door there was a sign with the inscription “Zum Baden und Desinfektion,” (to bath and disinfection), written in several languages. In the undressing room [2], there were wooden benches and numbered clothes hooks along the walls [Document 10]. There were no windows and the lights were on all the time. The undressing room also had water taps [5] and drains for the waste water. From the undressing room people went into the corridor through a door [2a] above which was hung a sign marked “Zum Bade” [to the bath], repeated in several languages. I remember the word “banya” [Russian for “steam bath"] was there too. From the corridor they went through the door on the right [1a] into the gas chamber. It was a wooden door, made of two layers of short pieces of wood arranged like parquet. Between these layers there was a single sheet of material sealing the edges of the door [3] and the rabbets of the frame were also fitted with sealing strips of felt. At about head height for an average man this door had a round glass peephole [see Document 11]. On the other side of the door, i.e. on the gas chamber side, this opening was protected by a hemispherical grid [see Documents 12 and 13]. This grid was fitted because the people in the gas chamber, feeling they were going to die, used to break the glass of the peep-hole. But the grid still did not provide sufficient protection and similar incidents recurred. The opening was blocked with a piece of metal or wood. The people going to be gassed and those in the gas chamber damaged the electrical installations, tearing the cables out and damaging the ventilation equipment. The door was closed hermetically from the corridor side by means of [two] iron bars (see Document 11] which were screwed tight [by means of two angled bolts which screwed through the catches onto the bars, which were themselves fitted with handles]. The roof of the gas chamber was supported by concrete pillars running down the