Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Photograph of the Crematorium Site Undressing Scene in Auschwitz-Birkenau

A snapshot of a wooded area from Auschwitz (ASM neg. 282, close up from Swiebocka, Auschwitz: A history in photographs): Four naked women are walking to the left. Several other, unidentifiable persons and benches with clothes can be seen in the blurry background as well as two dressed male persons. The scene resembles the undressing of women. Without further context, it might show the bathing of people.

To say one thing straight away, the photograph was taken in Auschwitz-Birkenau. More precisely, the scene is taken place at the front yard of crematorium 5. Its eastern chimney is visible in the bottom right corner as observed by Auschwitz researcher Jean-Claude Pressac (Pressac, Technique, p. 424)

Revisionist Carlo Mattogno claimed that the women are taking an "outdoor bath" in the "fire-fighting pond located to the east of crematorium IV...due to the overcrowding of the regular showers in the Zentralsauna during the deportation of the Jews from the Lodz ghetto" (Auschwitz: Open Air Incineration [AOAI], p. 41).

M.'s inconsistency

Auschwitz-Birkenau was equipped with several hygienic facilities in summer 1944. In the second half of May 1944, 9,000 - 27,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz every day, and according to the Revisionist hypothesis, they were kept alive and thus subjected to hygienic treatment.

The average flux into the camp (actual or anticipated) must have been balanced to the capacity of the hygienic facilities to avoid a hygienic collapse (provided no mass murder occurred; in actual fact, 2/3 unfit people were murdered and were not taken to the real showers). A photograph taken by the SS end of May 1944 is showing the pool east of crematorium 4 with a low water table and lacking any bathing equipment strongly indicating it was not employed for hygienic purposes.

In contrast, the number of Jews from Lodz deported to Auschwitz was only  2,500 - 7,500 per day (assuming 2,500 per transport as suggested by Mattogno in Das Ghetto von Lodz in der Holocaust-Propaganda). Thus, there is no basis for assuming that the Lodz deportations were actually "overcrowding" the hygienic facilities. Mattogno failed to explain how his hypothesis of overcrowding of hygienic facilities during deportations from Lodz is consistent with the much higher flux of people during the deportations from Hungary.

M. misses the significance of the scene

Most gravely Mattogno’s claim does not explain why the women were explicitly sent to the crematorium 5 site, even if - for the sake of argument - the pool was meant for bathing. As a matter of fact, there was plenty of space in the East of the pool for (non-sinister) undressing.

The photograph was sent out of the camp on 4 September 1944 (according to the accompanying letter, see Teresa Świebocka, Auschwitz. A history of photographs, p. 172, online available here) and is therefore presumably dated end of August 1944. At the time, the crematorium 5 site was heavily active, secured and camouflaged:

A special detail (Sonderkommando) was assigned to the site with a strength of 109 - 110 male workers every day and night according to German records (see also here). Unlike most of the details in the camp, which had precisely zero guards assigned, each shift was specially guarded by 3 SS men. A thick “camouflage fence” made of “reed matting” was erected around the site (memo Jothann of 17 June 1944, Auschwitz 1940-1945, Volume 3 p. 183). The second fence of concrete posts and barbed wire enclosed the site. The barbed wire was electrically loaded since 26 June 1944, and three guard towers supervised the area.

So why where the women sent to this security-sensitive site beyond the camouflage fence? The bathing hypothesis does not address the issue.

It was pointed out elsewhere that photographic and documentary evidence indicates frequent excessive body disposal in Auschwitz-Birkenau lacking any non-sinister explanation and thus likely originated from on-site mass murder. The undressing of women at an anomaly well secured and camouflaged body disposal site can be fully understood within this context.

M.'s dismissal of eyewitness accounts lacks justification

Two known eyewitnesses have testified about the scene, the former prisoners David Szmulewski and Stanislaw Jankowski (account of 28 August 1985, quoted in AOAI and statement of ?, Swiebocka, Auschwitz. A history in photographs, p. 42, online available here). For Mattogno, these are "self-styled" members of the Sonderkommando (Jankowski) and the secret resistance movement in the camp (Szmulewski).

The label "self-styled" on eyewitnesses is one of Mattogno's most frequently used rhetorical mean to obfuscate the facts. In most cases, the allegation is utterly false, and there exist good intrinsic (i.e. a detailed testimony with insider knowledge) and/or extrinsic (i.e. identification by others) reasons to assign the witnesses reliably to a specific group.

Stanislaw Jankowski gave an early account on 13 April 1945 (Inmitten des grauenvollen Verbrechens, English: Amidst a Nightmare of Crime, p. 31 f.). His detailed insider knowledge shown in this testimony is attesting he was working in the Sonderkommando. Put differently: it would be hard to explain how he obtained his in-depth knowledge on the Sonderkommando if he was not part of it.

Moreover, his work in the Sonderkommando is directly confirmed by Filip Müller (Auschwitz trial DVD, also Filip Müller, Sonderbehandlung, p. 82, 87, 160), Ota Fabian (Auschwitz trial DVD) and Henryk Tauber (deposition of 24 May 1945). Thus, the claim that Jankowski is a "self-styled" member of the Sonderkommando has no basis.

In this early account of 13 April 1945 (well before the photographs had been used as evidence or were published), Jankowski mentioned that he was assigned to the crematorium 5 site, which is essentially confirmed by Filip Müller (Sonderbehandlung, p. 160). Since the photographs were most likely taken by the crematorium 5 personnel (given the high security measurements at the site) and since Jankowski was part of the crematorium 5 staff, it is entirely possible he was involved in taking the clandestine photographs (I am not aware of a testimony that links him to the resistance movement though).

There is one more noteworthy detail in Jankowski's 1945 account, he claimed that "at the area of Birkenau - close to the crematorium - I have buried...a photo-camera" (Inmitten des grauenvollen Verbrechens, p. 56, my translation). This very early reference to a photographic operation at crematorium 5 provides some useful corroboration to his later account of 28 August 1985 according to which "[w]e took all those pictures with a camera...and we buried the camera near the crematorium" (AOAI, p. 41).

Mattogno has several problems with Jankowski's account of 28 August 1985, but none is actually sufficient to justify to dismiss him as a witness of the site.

[Show detailed technical discussion (click!)]

David Szmulewski's activity in the camp resistance was detailed by former prisoner Rudolf Vrba (Vrba, I escaped Auschwitz, 2002, p. 179). Hence, it is certainly possible that Szmulewski was actually involved in the undertaking to shot and transfer the film of the crematorium 5 site. Apparently, there had been a false description of Szmulewski's role during the operation in Yuri Suhl's "They fought back," but which has been revised at the latest with Pressac's account (Technique, p. 424) based on an interview with Szmulewski.

Astonishingly, the latter account is entirely ignored by Mattogno, even though he is repeatedly citing this section in Pressac's book. The fact that Szmulewski was interviewed by Pressac is also making Mattogno's claim that Szmulewski "always evaded a direct confrontation with the staff of the Auschwitz Museum" looking rather silly - after all Pressac with his critical attitude towards eyewitness testimony was undoubtedly the more unpleasant person to confront with.

There is, in fact, a problem with the chronology of the operation in Szmulewski's account, as his shown below, which is sounding a note of caution to rely on details provided by him.

Both witnesses - Jankowski and Szmulewski (via Pressac), the former more clearly and directly - testified that the scene does show the mass murder of people, which is corroborated by the accompanying letter to the photograph by Stanislaw Klodzinski:

Sending you snaps from Birkenau – gas poisoning action. These photos show one of the stakes at which bodies were burned, when the crematoria could not manage to burn all the bodies. The bodies in the foreground are waiting to be thrown into the fire. Another picture shows one of the places in the forest, where people are undressing before ‘showering’ – as they were told – and then go to the gas-chambers.

M. does not want to know

Mattogno is complaining that "the author of the photographs remains unknown, because nothing is known about this mysterious 'Alex'".

If Jankowski was right, then the photographer was a Greek Jew named Alex from the Sonderkommando. It is further reasonable to assume he was Sonderkommando at the crematorium 5 site and importantly - as Alex in its Greek variants is arguable not the least popular first name in Greece - that he was heavily engaged in the resistance.

This profile matches to Alex Errera as described by Filip Müller (Sonderbehandlung, 1979, p. 125). There is some probability he was the author of the photographs.

M. is taken by a tampered version

Mattogno argued that the photograph of the undressing would show “faces and bodies of young women – hence fit for work”. Actually, the faces of the women are barely recognizable on the original photograph, while the bodies resemble rather old persons.

Speaking about it, there exists retouched variants of the photograph. Pressac published this as the original, the faces of the naked women are "totally indistinguishable" (Pressac, Technique, p. 423). On the other side, Mattogno claimed this is the original, the faces of the women can be well recognized (Mattogno, AOAI, p. 40). To add some more confusion, both have given precisely the same archive reference (ASM neg. 282). In fact, Mattogno’s preferred version looks like the retouched variant exactly because of the distinct features being inconsistent to the rest of the blurry photograph.

Mattogno himself acknowledged that the photograph is blurry. In fact, he is mentally going to the extreme when claiming that the photographer was intentionally moving the camera in order "to hide the truth", namely the real bathing of the women (AOIA, p. 41). The mental gymnastics employed here is remarkable, not to speak of the problem that a moving camera could hardly produce the distinct faces as in the version accepted by Mattogno as the original. Somehow things do not add up here.

There is a simple explanation for the blurriness of the photograph. The photographer was actually performing an extremely risky task when moving with a camera on the crematorium 5 site. It is safe to say that he would end up as the women shown on the photograph, likely after some intense treatment by the interrogation specialists of Political Department, when caught by the SS.

A second photograph (ASM neg. 283) was taken apparently at the same area shortly before or afterwards but directed too much towards the treetops to see anything on the ground. While not providing direct information on the undressing scene, it indicates the photographer was acting in a hurry and afraid of getting caught. He also photographed the backyard of crematorium 5, hidden in one of its rooms and feeling more secure, and captured mass incineration in an open cremation pit (ASM neg. 280 and 281, the photographs are also discussed elsewhere).

Chronology of the photographs

The burning pit photographs were taken between 4 - 5 pm as can be safely estimated from the direction and length of the shadows of the people shown (the sun is shining from south-west to west).

On the other hand, the undressing scene seems to take place around noon (as correctly noted by  Mattogno). The photographer was facing west judging from the position and orientation of the crematorium 5 chimney. The fairly well illumination of the persons indicates a high, southern position of the sun.

Thus, if all photographs of the clandestine operation were taken on the very same day (a reasonable assumption in any case), the undressing photograph was taken few hours before the burning pit photographs - in contrary to Szmulewski’s account, who reported the reverse sequence with only 15 min difference between the pictures of each scene (accepted by Pressac, Technique, p. 324 and Georges Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz, p. 116; in contrast, Clement Cheroux also concluded the undressing took place before the cremation scene based on the sequence of the contact prints [ibid.]).

Walking direction

The undressed women are walking towards the security fence of crematorium 5 and not as widely assumed towards the crematorium 5 building and its gas chambers. Indeed, this is the only point where Mattogno's hypothesis of bathing can score.

Pressac explained that the women are taking "a few steps while waiting" (Technique, p. 424). It is also possible that there was a second site for undressing more close to the security fence and that the naked people were first sent to a collecting point in between before marching to the gas chambers. In any case, the walking direction is not a feature that is refuting mass murder.


  1. An excellent article. The evidence is overwhelming and the denialists have no legs to stand on. Not one shred of evidence suggests this place was used for any other purpose than for the mass murder of people and the destruction of their bodies. It must have been a hellish nightmare for the victims brought to Birkenau and then forced to wait for their deaths in the birch "forest" besides these factories of death.

  2. After looking at this photo for a long time I do believe I have a senerio which will be very close to the truth.The security screen ran west to east along the ring road in font of krema v to a point in the little wood where it ran south to north.This can be seen in air photos of the camp.In the close up photo of this scene it is clear to see at least one sonderkommando prisoner at the undressing area(white shirt,dark pants and cap)the same as the burning photos.Also in the extreme left of the close up photo is a person in a dark uniform looking at the undressing area which could only be an ss man.So obviously the doome prisoners entered the south yard,were directed to the undressing station,then moved a short distance to a holding area between the east screen and the undressing area until they were herded into the gas chambers.

  3. and i can tell this is a very interactive blog


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