The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
Document 2
Document 2
[Weimar State Archives. Bestand 2/555a]
Application, dated 18th November 1943, for the attribution of an honorary distinction to Kurt Prüfer, to mark his 25 years of service with Messrs Topf. The anniversary was celebrated on 6th December 1943, and on this occasion, the two directors of the firm felt they had a particular obligation to express their thanks and gratitude to him. At this date, the exploitation of the “Auschwitz market” was at an end, but Prüfer’s bosses perfectly aware of the “special” nature of some of the installations, nevertheless expressed their warm thanks on this occasion.

Alongside question 7 of the application form: “Is the person to receive the honour a member of the NSDAP Nazi Party] ?” the typed answer is “Yes.”
[In order to try to explain the “singular” design of this model as compared to what was to become the “conventional” double-muffle furnace as found at Auschwitz and Mauthausen, two theories are possible. First, this model might have been a prototype. designed by Prüfer, experience with which led to the development of the “conventional” Topf double-muffle furnace as it appears on drawings D56,570 [or 576] of 21st December 1939 and D57,253 of 10th June 1940 (see these drawings in annex). However, the delay of only one month between the installation of the Dachau furnace and the drawing for the Buchenwald furnace would seem to rule out the possibility that it could have been used as a test installation. This leaves the second hypothesis, i.e. that the Dachau furnace was reconstructed using original components AFTER the war. The revisionists would have it that U.S. General Unrein stated in 1960 that the Dachau furnaces had been built after the Liberation by former SS members under the direction of Americans. KL Dachau had in fact been equipped with one Topf double-muffle furnace and four Kori single muffle furnaces the two in the center being built as a unit). Comparing the Dachau Kori furnaces with others of the same type found in other camps reveals that they are of the “Reform” model, costing 4,500 RM each, and are in their original state. As for the Topf furnace, it could be than it had been dismantled, then reconstructed after the war using the metal parts found in the camp (as was the case with two double-muffle furnaces in Auschwitz Krematorium I) and since no drawings were available it was rebuilt from memory, with some of the components being arranged differently from how they were originally. This would explain General Unrein’s remarks. Be that as it may, the presence in this furnace of metal parts typical of Topf furnaces proves that, reconstructed or not, a Topf furnace had been present in the camp BEFORE it was liberated by the Americans.]
Thanks to Prüfer, Topf gradually introduced their “cremation” products into four of the concentration camps. DACHAU was equipped in November 1939 with one double-muffle furnace. BUCHENWALD, being near Erfurt, was supplied exclusively by Topf, who installed a double-muffle furnace at a cost of 8,174 RM in December 1939 and inaugurated the two very first three-muffle furnaces, costing between 11,000 and 12,000 RM each, in that camp (they entered service at the end of August and the beginning of October 1942 respectively). At MAUTHAUSEN, a “conventional” double-muffle furnace was delivered in December 1940 for the GUSEN annex camp, al a cost of 9,003 RM, then a second, identical, furnace to the mother camp in 1942-43, but this was not completed until July 1944. Finally. at AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU, Topf installed three conventional,. double-muffle furnaces (the first cost 8,060 RM and was installed in November 1940, the second and third were installed at the beginning and end of 1941, respectively); ten three-muffle furnaces (five being completed in March and the second five in June 1943) and two twinned four-muffle furnaces (also known as eight-muffle furnaces) at a cost of 13,800 RM each, which entered service at the end of March and beginning of April 1943. Topf ’s main competitor in this rather specialized market was the Berlin firm of H Kori, who succeeded in supplying their single muffle furnaces at a unit cost of 4,000 to 4,500 RM to a greater number of camps than Topf. Among others they supplied Dachau with four single-muffle furnaces; Flossenbürg one, of simplified design: Ravensbrück two: Sachsenhausen four; Mauthausen one: Majdanek five, built as a single block: Stutthof two. Thus, during the war, Kori built twenty to thirty cremation muffles in the camps. But with Prüfer’s “deal of a lifetime” Topf beat them hands down, having installed 66 cremation muffles during the same period, 46 of them at Birkenau. This competition between Topf and Kori concerned only a “brick built” furnaces, i.e. built in situ, using refractory materials, brick and manufactured metal pans.

However, in various camps (such as Natzweiler-Struthof, Westerbork, Sachsenhausen. Majdanek, Gross-Rosen, Stutthof, Mauthausen, Ravensbrück. Trzebinia. Blechhammer) there were also one or two single-muffle “pocket furnaces” ["Taschenofen"] (called “mobile” because they could be transported as a single unit) with a metal casing (see annex). It is most probable that this low-capacity model, burning heavy fuel oil and costing about 3,000 RM. was manufactured by H Kori of Berlin, for in the majority of camps where they were used they were installed first, awaiting the construction of a Kori furnace in situ, which formed a second phase of cremation equipment. Some of the metal parts of these pocket furnaces, such as the muffle doors and the secondary draught dampers, were identical with the Kori brick-built furnace, which would seem to prove that both came from the same firm. There was also a third “dangerous” firm, Didier, run by Herr Peters (not to be confused with Dr Peters of Degesch), whose headquarters were probably in Berlin. It’s field of activity does not seem to have included to the concentration camps, unless it was this firm who produced the pocket model, possibly as a subcontractor for Kori.

This new concentration camp market opened up an undreamed of outlet as from October 1941: the Auschwitz camp. The two double-muffle furnaces installed in Krematorium I were no longer adequate and a third of the same type was ordered at the end of September. But this additional order, worth 9,000 RM to Topf, was chicken-feed compared with what was to follow. On 22nd October. Prüfer met the new head of the Bauleitung ("Construction Management") at Auschwitz, SS Captain Karl Bischoff. The SS wanted to build another crematorium in the camp, considering that Krematorium I, even with 6 muffles, would soon reach saturation point. Bischoff was well-placed to know this. because he had been posted to Auschwitz to build a POW camp [KGL] (for Russian prisoners) to hold 125,000 men. The site chosen was Birkenau, flat land, but marshy and therefore requiring drainage. The working conditions and then living conditions were terrible and were to remain so. The result was an extremely high mortality rate, which required a modern and efficient crematorium. Bischoff was not yet sure where the new crematorium would be located, but in his conversation with Prüfer it was to be in the main camp. On 30th October, it was included in the estimates for the POW camp, at Birkenau. Wherever the location was to be, Prufer could hardly believe his ears, for Bischoff was thinking big, very big. And Prüfer, encouraging him in this direction, was reflecting and calculating. The result of this conversation was agreement on a project for a crematorium with five three-muffle furnaces, fed by two big underground morgues. In addition there was to be a single-muffle waste incinerator. The cremation capacity envisaged was 60 corpses per hour, or a throughput of 1,440 in 24 hours. The expected cost of the entire building was 650.000 RM and the minimum Topf could expect would be 5 three-muffle furnaces at 12,000 RM each, making 60.000 RM, to say nothing of the waste incinerator worth about 5,800 RM and the sundry other supplies [in fact Topf received a total of 110,000 RM for their installations in Krematorium II as the “new Krematorium” came to be designated]. It is quite likely that at this date Prüfer had not even designed the three-muffle furnace yet. But he set to work the moment he got back to Erfurt.

When the two men met. Prüfer must have appeared to Bischoff to be a real magician in cremation matters. The engineer designed his furnaces to be efficient and cheap. Instead of simply building single-muffle furnaces alongside one another until the capacity desired by the client was reached, with no possibility of reducing the price except by giving a quantity discount, Prüfer’s idea was to group several muffles in the same furnace and thus reduce the cost of production, and hence the price, considerably. His double-muffle furnace had two fireboxes. His three-muffle furnace also had only two fireboxes. And as for the four-muffle furnace (which could be twinned to give an eight-muffle furnace), two fireboxes were still sufficient. This meant less metal parts, economics in construction and lower cost and price. Bischoff must have been captivated and it is clear from subsequent events that the two men got on well. Bischoff could not resist telling his chief in the SS Economic Administration Head Office in Berlin, Dr Ing Kammler, about Prüfer’s remarkable knowledge of “cremation