The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
The trolley for transporting the corpses was little used in Krematorium II. It was replaced by a metal stretcher (in German “Leichenbrett”, corpse board) that was pushed to the back of the muffle with the aid of iron rollers located below the bottom edge of the muffle door. This new device was invented, it appears, by Obercapo August. It was later used in all the crematoriums. On the furnaces of Krematorien II and III, there was a single pair of rollers for three muffles which could he moved along an iron bar fixed in front of the muffle doors. In Krematorien IV and V, each muffle had two rollers of its own permanently installed before the door [see Document 36, with a “Leichenbrett"I. Each crernatorium [furnace] had two rollers for charging the corpses. This “stretcher” was placed before the muffle. Two prisoners loaded it with corpses. The procedure was to put the first corpse with the feet towards the muffle, back down and face up. Then, a second corpse was placed on top, again face up, but head towards the muffle. This method was used so that the legs of the upper corpse blocked that below and did not get in the way when the corpses were introduced into the furnace. Two prisoners loaded the stretchers. One end of the stretcher was put in front of the muffle, below the bar, alongside which stood two prisoners. While the corpses were being loaded on the stretcher, one of these opened the door of the muffle and the other positioned the rollers. Then, they lifted the stretcher and put it on the rollers, while a fifth prisoner, positioned at the handles at the other end of the stretcher, lifted it at the same time as them and pushed it into the muffle. As soon as the corpses were inside, a sixth prisoner held them there with a fire iron [Document 37] while the fifth withdrew the stretcher. The sixth man also had to cool the stretcher as it came out of the furnace by pouring over it water in which soap had been dissolved so that the next load of corpses would slide easily on the metal of the stretcher without sticking to it. [see David Olère’s sketch of the Krematorium III furnace room, Document 38, showing a team of three prisoners (the third, fourth and fifth in Tauber’s description) charging corpses into the furnace by means of a “Leichenbrett"]. The same procedure was used for the following charge destined to he incinerated in the same muffle. We had to work fast, for the corpses put in first soon started to burn, and their arms and legs rose up. If we were slow it was difficult to charge the second pair of corpses. During the introduction of these other two corpses, I was able to observe the cremation process. It appeared that the trunk of the body rose and the arms stretched towards the sky before contracting. The same thing happened with the legs. The bodies became covered in blisters. Gassed bodies that had remained in the store room for two days were swollen, and in the fire their diaphragm burst and their intestines poured out. I was also able to observe how cremation proceeded while I was moving the corpses in the furnace with a fire iron, to accelerate the combustion. After each charging, the SS head of the Kommando (SS- Kommandoführer) checked to make sure that the furnaces were properly filled. We had to open each muffle for him and at that moment we could see what was happening inside. We burned the bodies of children with those of adults. First we put in two adults, then as many children as the muffle could contain. It was sometimes as many as 5 or 6. We used this procedure so that the bodies of children would not be placed directly on the grid bars, which were relatively far apart. In this way we prevented the children from falling through into the ash bin. Women’s bodies burned much better and more quickly than those of men. For this reason, when a charge was burning badly. we would introduce a woman’s body to accelerate the combustion.

At the beginning of the cremation process. the furnaces were heated only by their fireboxes and the charges burned slowly. Later on, as cremations succeeded one another, the furnaces burned thanks to the embers produced by the combustion of the corpses. So. during the incineration of fat bodies, the fires were generally extinguished. When this type of body was charged into a hot furnace, fat immediately began to flow into the ash bin, where it caught fire and started the combustion of the body. When “musulmans” were being cremated, it was necessary to constantly refuel the fireboxes. The shift boss (Vorarbeiter) wrote in a notebook the number of corpses incinerated per charge and the head of the Kommando (Kommandoführer), an SS man, checked these entries. After an entire transport had been cremated, he took away the notebook. Each time the Sonderkommando was relieved, various SS guards and heads of Kommando were present. Among these last I remember Georges, Knaus, Kurschuss, Schultz. Köln and Kellers. Scheimetz, whom I have already mentioned, was Kommandoführer for a while in Krematorium IV.
[In the Birkenau Krematorien there was an SS hierarchy most probably composed of a few SS guarding the building and grounds, two or three SS Konnmandoführer, each in charge of the work of one Sonderkommando shift for a given period, and a Krematorium head, whose authority, depending on the evolution of the “tasks” to be accomplished, covered one, two or four Krematorien. The Sonderkommando members had their own hierarchy, modelled on that of the SS. The Sonderkommando seems to have been split into shifts of 30 to 50 men, each with one or more shift bosses / Vorarbeiter assisting a Capo. At their head was a chief Capo / Obercapo appointed to one or two Krematorien.]
All the Kommandoführer ill-treated the Sonderkommando prisoners working in the Krematorien. Sometimes their cruelly was such that on one occasion Voss, one of the heads of crematorium who was later transferred to another post, [openly] criticized Kommandoführer Georges who was hounding us for the simple reason that no convoys were arriving and there was a lack of work, saying to him: “Wenn du hast nicht was zu umlegen, dann bist du wild. Ich habe das schon genug” [meaning roughly “Whenever you have nothing to wipe out, you go mad. I've had enough of it") Apart from this Voss, the heads of this crematorium during its activity were: Unterscharführer [sergeant] Steinberg, Hauptscharführer [master sergeants] Hirsch and [Otto) Moll, Scharführer [staff sergeant] Puch [actually Buch] and Oberscharführer [senior staff sergeant. Erich] Mussfeld who came from Lublin [Maidanek] after the liquidation of his crematorium.

Hauptscharführer Moll was the most degenerate of the lot. Before my arrival at the camp, he was in charge of the work at the Bunkers, where [not far away] they incinerated the gassed victims in pits. Then he was transferred for a while to another section. In view of the preparation necessary for the “reception” of convoys from Hungary in 1944, he was put in charge of all the Krenntorien. It is he who organized the large-scale extermination of the people arriving in

Document 35 Document 35
Document 35
[Photograph by Pierre BESSON]
Regulation Wehrmacht gasmask type GM ( or Gm) 38, size 2 [ref TM-E 30-451, “L'armeé allemande"of 1st September 1943 and “Handbook on German military forces” of 15th March 1945, technical manuals published by the United States War Department] manufactured in December 1940 and fitted with a “J” filter cartridge “For use with Zyklon”, tested in December 1943. The main absorbant chemicals used for fixing hydrocyanic acid are charcoal impregnated with hexamethylenetetramine (or urutropine) caustic pumice and sodium lime.