Sunday, November 26, 2006

New evidence about the division of Leichenkeller 1

First, a quote from Prof. van Pelt's expert report:
The only part of Tauber's testimony that cannot be confirmed in the blueprints or by means of other documents in the archive of the Auschwitz Central Construction Office is the division of the gas chamber of crematorium 2 into two spaces. This has become for Holocaust deniers an occasion to refute the validity of the whole of Tauber's testimony. However, there is independent corroboration of this in Daniel Bennahmias's memoirs of his stay in Auschwitz. He stated that after some time, the gas chamber of crematorium II was divided into two spaces, with a smaller one at the back.
The plan for the newly restructured Crematorium II entailed gassing smaller groups in the farther end of the gas chamber and larger groups in the remaining area. This was more or less what happened, but exceptions did occur. These exceptions had to do with the erratic pattern of the transports' arrival. This, if the smaller chamber was occupied and a larger transport arrived, the larger chamber might have been used for any number of persons. As new transports arrived, however, the smaller chamber was 'tended to' when there was time, but the larger functioned at all times. Despite the foregoing, the system still proved its efficiency because there were fewer people to process and a smaller area to clean. After splitting the chamber in this way, and employing the technique described, it was not unusual for the smaller of the two chambers to remain sealed and intact with its complement of people for as long as four or five days or longer. When the door finally was opened, the Sonderkommando was assaulted by an overwhelming stench and the ghastly sight of putrid flesh.


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Actually, there is more evidence about the splitting of the Leichenkeller 1. It's not only Bennahmias and Tauber, whom van Pelt defends:
At the end of 1943, the gas chamber was divided in two by a brick wall to make it possible to gas smaller transports. In the dividing wall there was a door identical to that between the corridor and the original gas chamber. Small transports were gassed in the chamber furthest from the entrance from the corridor.
But also Dr. Bendel:
From there, completely naked, he went through a narrow corridor into the gas chambers proper (there were two). Built of reinforced concrete, they had such low ceilings that they gave the impression on entering that they were falling on you.

In the middle of these chambers, descending from the ceiling, were two mesh tubes with external valves through which the gas was introduced.
Josef Erber:
In each of these gassing areas were two ducts: in each duct, four iron pipes ran from the floor to the roof. These were encased with steel mesh wire and inside there was a tin canister with a low rim. Attached to this tin was a wire by which it could be pulled up to the roof. When the lids were lifted, one could pull up the tin canister and shake the gas crystals into it. Then the canister was lowered, and the lid closed.
(There were 4 introduction columns per chamber before the division, so Erber can only be referring to the state after the division, when there were 2 columns per chamber.)

Yehuda Bacon:
In crematoria Nos. 1 and 2 there were two rooms of gas chambers; here, inside the Entkleidungskammer, there was yet another structure which they called a Rutschbahn (a chute) for people with artificial legs who could not walk; they transferred them by the chute directly into the rooms for undressing which were very near the gas chambers. In crematoria Nos. 1 and 2 there was a very long hall divided into two. I asked them the reason for this and they explained that sometimes there were not enough people and it was a pity to waste the gas, so the people were put into only one half of the hall.

[...]

Above there were lights covered with wire, and in each gas chamber there were two pipes leading from the ceiling to the floor, and around them there were four iron columns surrounded by strong wire. When the operation was over and the people were forced inside, the SS opened some device above, like with a drainage pipe, and introduced Zyklon B. There were two of these in each gas chamber in crematoria Nos. 1 and 2 - that is to say, there were 4; their dimensions were 40x40 centimetres; below were the ventilators and also holes for cleaning with water. Afterwards, when they dismantled the crematoria, we saw the ventilators separately.
Josef Sackar (We Wept Without Tears, pp. 110, 111):
Where did these pillars stand?

In the middle of the room, in the middle of the gas chamber. In the middle between the two parts of the room. In the middle of the room, along it, two in each room.

[...]

Were there two gas chambers in Crematorium II[III]?

There was one room that could be divided into two. When a small transport came - two hundred, three hundred, or five hundred people - they opened only one room by closing the door in the middle of the room that led to a section that made the room longer.

In other words, could gas chamber be divided into two parts?

Yes, like a door of a passageway between two rooms in a house.

Was it a sliding door?

No, a door that was closed hermetically.
And now comes a new unexpected piece of evidence from the commandant of Auschwitz himself, Rudolf Hoess. Unexpected, because, it seems, he didn't mention such a detail in his other testimonies. This one comes from an "interview" which Hoess gave to the American psychiatrist Leon Goldensohn while in Nuremberg. Goldensohn's notes contain information about his talks with many high-level Nazi perpetrators in Nuremberg, such as Goering and Ohlendorf. They were finally published in 2004, and here's what Hoess said to Goldensohn on April 9, 1946 (p. 304):
In 1942 the great crematoriums were completed and the whole process was then done in the new buildings. New railroad tracks led to the crematorium. The people were selected as before, with the only exception that the ones unable to work went to the crematory instead of being marched to the farmhouses. It was a large, modern building; there were undressing rooms and gas chambers underground, and crematory above ground, but all in the same building. There were four gas chambers underground; two large ones each accomodating two thousand people and two smaller ones each accomodating sixteen hundred people. The gas chambers were built like a shower installation, with shower outlets, water pipes, a few plumbing fixtures, and a modern electrical ventilation system so that after the gassing, the room could be aired by means of the electrical ventilation apparatus. The corpses were brought by elevators to the crematory above. There were five double stoves.
Although Hoess' description leaps from "the crematoriums" to "the crematorium" and back, it is clear that he is talking about the summary quantity of the underground gas chambers, thus confirming the above testimonies about the division of Leichenkeller 1.

While one should be cautious about Hoess' numbers, if we take his proportion of maximum capacity numbers seriously (and they're not fantastic at all), then, given the measurements of LK1 (30x7 m) we can guess that the larger chamber was ~16.7x7 meters and the smaller one was ~13.3x7 meters:



From the above sketch an apparent explanation for uneven division follows: probably, the gas chamber was divided unevenly because in the very center there was a column, which would otherwise pass through the new wall.

Hoess' testimony confirms all the testimonies about the division, but specifically Bennahmias' testimony about the chambers of different sizes.

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