CHAPTER 7 THE BIRKENAU “ZENTRAL SAUNA” WITH ITS DISINFECTION AUTOCLAVES AND ITS TOPF DISINFESTATION OVENS
THE BIRKENAU “ZENTRAL SAUNA” or “NEUE SAUNA” designated worksite BW 32
A study of the “Zentral Sauna” is necessary for several reasons:
- The revisionists (e.g. Faurisson) have situated here what they consider to be the only gas chambers in Birkenau;
- In order to distinguish between and separate as far as possible the extermination and disinfestation installations, since the confusion between the two has often been used as a system of defence by SS defendants (such as Dejaco);
- In order to show that a realistic and in-depth study proves that there were no gas chambers in this complex;
- In order to enable the reader to compare the documentation produced by the author (drawings, contemporary and recent photographs, correspondence, and testimonies) with that of the revisionists.
The Zentral Sauna was the most comprehensive disinfection and disinfestation installation in KGL Birkenau. Designed after the “sanitary crisis” of August 1942 (typhus epidemic), the first three drawings for it date from November 1942 [Drawings 1, 2 and 3]. Its equipment was to include three disinfection autoclaves and four Topf disinfestation hot air chambers [Drawing 4]. However the Bauleitung did not rapidly commence construction on worksite 32 for two reasons: first, the epidemic having been brought partially under control the need for a large sanitary and delousing installation was felt less urgently; second, as a consequence of a more “controlled” situation, obtaining funds from the WVHA-SS for a major installation was less of a priority. The November 1942 drawings were received by Berlin in January 1943. Designed for carrying out several sanitary operations at the same time both on the prisoners (haircut, medical examination, disinfection and shower) and on their clothing and effects (disinfestation), the main fault with these initial plans was the inadequate space allowed for reception and waiting areas for the prisoners. The Bauleitung corrected this fault by having four more virtually definitive drawings produced in March 1943 [Drawings 5, 6, 7 and 8]. The Berlin WVHA-SS was probably informed of this since in the letters from WNHA of 28th April 1943 the first three drawings are considered cancelled and the Auschwitz Bauleitung is recommended to size the construction as accurately as possible for its purpose [cf correspondence). The drainage drawing [Drawing 9] for the building was produced in May, after acceptance of the new configuration of BW 32. The necessary credits were made available at the beginning of June and work started immediately, spurred by the perfectly justified fear of a resurgence of typhus as summer approached. After a number of last-minute alterations [Drawing 10], the installation was completed in the autumn of 1943 [Drawing 11; Photos 12, 13 and 14]. It entered service in December 1943 [Photos 15, 17, 25, 30, 31, 35 and 41] and functioned until the liberation of the camp in January 1945. It fell intact into Soviet hands [Photo 15]. It is not known whether photos were taken of the interior of the building at that time. In the 50s or 60s the roof of the central part of the Zentral Sauna fell in. A fairly complete restoration was then undertaken by the Auschwitz Museum. This must be borne in mind when studying the present state of the premises [Photos 18 to 24, 26 to 29, 32 to 34, 36 to 40, 42 and 43]. As the level of the water table has risen over the years due to a lack of maintenance of the drainage system installed by the SS, the basement of the Zentral Sauna is completely flooded with water which it is no longer possible to remove, despite the installation of a pump for this purpose.
THE CORRESPONDENCE CONCERNING THE ZENTRAL SAUNA (BW 32)
In the Archives of the Warsaw Central Commission for the investigation of Hitlerite crimes in Poland there is a microfilm from the Soviet “October Revolution” central state archives dated 1969 and with the reference number M 598c in the Section “Arch.sammlung no.1372, Beschreibung no. 5 / Evidence no.156”, with a series of 14 pages of letters tracing the history of the reasons for the building of a disinfection and disinfestation centre subsequently to be called the “Zentral Sauna,” a building that was a sauna only in name. Not possessing a copy of these letters, I give below a short résumé containing the full list with, in brackets after the dates, the file number in the Section.
7th April 1943 (14): The Auschwitz Bauleitung sent the project drawings for a disinfestation installation to Berlin (no doubt the new drawings for BW 32, numbers 2151, 2157, 2159 and 2184).
28th April 1943 (13 and 12), the Berlin WVHA replied to the Bauleitung after assessing the drawings:
"Die Warte, Aus-, Ankleideräume sind nicht grösser als nötig vorzusehen / the waiting, undressing and dressing rooms should not be any bigger than necessary.”
The first three drawings for B W 32 had not in fact contained such big waiting rooms for the prisoners. Offering such “comfort” to the “enemies of the Reich” could be considered “sabotage” of the war effort, which meant economies on the home front in favour of the external fronts. In addition, the WVHA noted that the initial drawings received on 13th January 1943 were “cancelled” (ungültig) [the bureaucrat in Berlin who replied to the Auschwitz Bauleitung was somewhat negligent in his work, because his numbers 1801, 1845 and 1850 should really be 1841, 1846 and 1850.]
4th June 1943 (9 and 8), after work had started on BW 32, the Bauleitung wrote to the Berlin WVHA reporting on progress. The installation was now urgently required because of the drastic health situation in the Gypsy Camp (Birkenau B.a.IIe). The “Entwesungsofen / disinfestation ovens” (see drawing D 60283) were supplied by Topf & Sons of Erfurt, the autoclaves by another specialist firm in Munich. The future Zentral Sauna was also carefully described.
5th June 1943 (7) a letter thought to be a handwritten note from SS General Kammler of the WVHA.
9th June 1943 (6 and 5), 30th June 1943 (10), 8th July 1943 (11) and 17th July 1943 (4): letters reporting on the progress made on the “Entwesungs- und Desinfektionsgebaüde im K. G. L. / disinfestation and disinfection building at the POW camp.”
20th July 1943 (2), the Bauleitung stressed the “Hygienische sofort Massnahmen im KL Bereich / immediate health measures in the concentration camp area”. The letter mentioned the fight against rats and spoke of the installation of a “Leichenhalle / corpse hall [morgue]” in view of the increased number of deaths.
4th August 1943 (3 and 1) two letters signed by the Head of the Bauleitung, Bischoff, again spoke of building a Leichenhalle.
This exchange of correspondence highlights three important points:
- The dreadful state of hygiene and health in July 1943 in the gypsy camp, a source of proliferation of pests carrying diseases such typhus;
- The presence of rats in the prisoners' accommodation (on top of the SS, Capos and Vorarbeiter);
- The direct intervention of the Berlin WVHA in the design of a disinfestation and disinfection building, the Zentral Sauna, which was after all a fairly straightforward project. This dirigism on the part of Berlin was to serve as an alibi for one of the Krematorium “architects,” Untersturmführer Walther Dejaco, for example, in his deposition of 3rd April 1962 before the Reutte Regional Tribunal (penal proceedings against Dr. Georg Meyer and others), and during his own trial in Vienna in January-March 1972.]
THE EFFECTS DISINFECTION AND DISINFESTATION OPERATIONS
These operations as carried out at the Zentral Sauna were described in a letter sent to the Auschwitz Museum by a Czech former prisoner:
The procedures used were:
- Hot air: Large and heavy effects, such as coats, outer clothing, etc.;
- Steam: “light” effects, such as underclothes, shirts and any type of clothing considered as light, for example the “Zebra-Kleider,” prison uniforms. Blankets were also included in this group
- Other: Leather objects, such as shoes, belts. etc. were disinfected using Karbol. Lysol or water containing hydrocyanic acid, a mixture obtained by pouring Zyklon-B crystals into the water.
This letter mentions that the operations continued 24 hours a day, with three shifts of prisoners on this task, changing every eight hours.
It will be noted that the methods described by this former prisoner were almost identical with those used in the US Army at that time [see following page],