Saturday, March 07, 2015

Rebuttal of Mattogno on Auschwitz, Part 5: Construction Documents, C: Undressing Rooms

Rebuttal of Mattogno on Auschwitz:

The Undressing Rooms at Crematoria 2 & 3

The first victims of the crematoria in Auschwitz-Birkenau were undressing in a horse stable barrack erected in the front yard of crematorium 2, later this was done directly in the basements of crematoria 2 & 3 as pictured in this drawing of the former Sonderkommando prisoner David Olere. This cellar was designated as "corpse cellar 2" in most of the German files. But several contemporary German documents explicitly mention undressing sites at crematoria 2 & 3, thereby corroborating numerous sources on the mass extermination in these facilities.

Letter from the camp garrison doctor Eduard Wirths to the camp commandant of 21 January 1943:
"Furthermore it is requested to provide for an 'undressing room' in the cellar rooms."

(Mattogno, ATCFS, p. 72; the quotation marks have been possibly added by the translator, since there are missing elsewhere)

Note from central construction office employee Josef Janisch to Wirths of 15 February 1943:

"For undressing, a horse-stable barrack has been erected in front of the cellar entrance."

(Mattogno, ATCFS, p. 74)

Letter from the central construction office Auschwitz to Topf of 6 March 1943:

"Furthermore, we request you to sent us a supplement offer quotation for the change of the deaeriation device of the undressing room."

(Pressac, Technique, p. 433)

Time sheets of the civilian Topf worker Messing in the period 8 March to 22 April 1943:

"Work on the air extraction duct for undressing cellar 2.
Air extractor fan for undressing cellar modified and steel duct refitted.
(Worksite 30) Crematorium II. Fitted the air extraction installations for undressing cellar.
 Worksite 30a. Air extraction installations for the undressing cellar fitted.
Fitting air extraction installation in the undressing cellar of Worksite 30a."

(Pressac, Technique, p. 370)

On the horse stable barrack erected in the yard of crematorium 2, Mattogno's makes the following argument:

"On February 15 Janisch informed the garrison surgeon that 'a horsestable type barrack in front of the cellar entrance' had been erected at crematorium II as an undressing room for the corpses. This barrack was therefore built between January 21 and February 15 and, for that reason alone, it could not have had a criminal purpose."

(Mattogno, ATCFS, p. 77)

He claims that because this horse stable barrack was erected by 15 February 1943, but the ventilation of the gas chamber wasn't working prior 13 March 1943, it could not have been meant for the undressing of the victims of a gas chamber, as if various constructions (here: the horse stable barrack and the gas chamber) needed for a project or task (here: mass extermination) would always be finished at the same time. This might be the ideal case, but it's not always (or even seldom) the practice. Actually, it can be well understand within the framework of the implementation of the mass extermination, why the horse stable barrack was erected already by 15 February 1943:

On 29 January 1943, the Topf engineer Kurt Prüfer set up a report on the construction state of the crematoria after inspecting the worksites with members of the SS construction office. The report was forwarded to the head of the construction department of the SS-WVHA, Hans Kammler, as well as to the Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höß. According to Prüfer, the ventilation devices of the corpse cellars of crematorium 2 were expected to be installed on 8 February 1943 and the crematorium was expected to be ready by 15 February 1943. Therefore, the completion of the undressing barrack by 15 February 1943 fits perfectly to the expected date of the completion of gas chamber and cremation devices. Only due to the construction delays (probably because the ventilation equipment was not delivered on time), the gas chamber was not ready for operation prior 13 March 1943.

On the question, if the undressing room in the basements of the crematoria mentioned in the German files was intended for victims of a gas chamber, Mattogno asserts that the letter of Wirths to the camp commandant and Janisch's reply "allow us to settle this question once and for all" (ATCFS, p. 72). He argues that the undressing site was actually meant to undress corpses as a hygienic and sanitary measurement, as it was requested by the camp garrison doctor.

However, Wirths was not only occupied with the hygiene and sanitary conditions but also with the implementation of the extermination of Jews in Auschwitz. The people to be killed in Auschwitz were selected by SS doctors and it were his own SS doctors and SS paramedics who actually operated the gas chambers. Since Wirths was heavily responsible for the extermination machinery, it is entirely plausible that it was him, who submitted to Höß the request to give the victims a place for undressing directly in the basement. 

Furthermore, Mattogno considers Wirths' request for the undressing site in the crematorium basement as too late to be related to mass murder, as he insists that both decisions of installing a gas chamber and an undressing room in the basement had to be made at the same time:
"Hence, the decision to transform “Leichenkeller 1” into a homicidal gas chamber implied the decision to transform “Leichenkeller 2” into an undressing room, and the two decisions were taken at the same time."

(Mattogno, ATCFS, p. 74), the decision to install a homicidal gas chamber in the basement of the crematorium does not imply the decision to install an undressing room in the basement as well. It's possible, but it's a priori also possible that the SS did not make up their mind yet where the victims undress, or that they thought them to undress in the open in the crematorium yard, or in a stable horse barrack. The latter alternative was already employed at the Bunker extermination sites, and a similar solution may have also been considered for crematorium 2 in the planning and early construction phase. 

In fact, apart from the actual erection of an undressing barrack in the yard of crematorium 2 (+ the lack of information in Janisch's note to Wirths' that the undressing barrack is only a temporary measure), such a scenario is also supported by the construction drawing 2003 of crematorium 2 of 19 December 1942. This drawing shows that the access stair to the basement was moved from the backyard (with a corpse chute) directly to the crematorium front yard (without a corpse chute, because - as Pressac had observed - "the future corpses entered while they were still living and could walk down the stairs", Technique, p. 302, see also the next blog posting of this series). But even with this new configuration, there was no direct access from the outside to the undressing room. This means that the victims would have had to enter and left the undressing room through precisely the same door, which one can guess would have made the undressing and loading of the gas chamber quite a mess for the SS. 

Therefore, the absence of a direct access to the undressing room at this stage (5 January 1943, when the head of the construction office Karl Bischoff approved the drawing) indicates that there was no definite decision made yet to let the victims undress in the corpse cellar 2, or that such a decision was at least not communicated yet to the central construction office. The direct access to the undressing room was first mentioned in the files of the construction office on 26 February 1943, which is the latest date one can assume that corpse cellar 2 was considered to be transformed into an undressing room. It was not used for the first homicidal gassing according to Sonderkommando Henryk Tauber - probably because its ventilation was only finished in the following week.

Mattogno's hypothesis of the undressing site as a hygienic and sanitary measure does not make much sense anyway. According to Mattogno, Wirths considered the "wooden sheds" used in the Birkenau camp sections for the storage of corpses as inadequate from a hygienic and sanitary point of view and "thus intended to have the corpses taken to a safer place" and requested the provision of an 'Auskleideraum' for these corpses 'in the cellar rooms' of crematorium II" (ATCFS, p. 76).

This hypothesis does not even explain why Wirths was talking about an "undressing room" when he simply meant a place for safe storage of corpses. Of course, the bodies are undressed before the cremation, but the primary purpose of such a room as supposedly requested by Wirths was storage (by the way, from a sanitary point of view it would have been more reasonable to undress the corpses right at the spot where they died instead of spreading such things as lice also to the crematorium). Then he was putting forward the somewhat redundant request for a corpse cellar in a crematorium. Another problem is that Janisch in his note to Wirths did not indicate that the wooden barrack for undressing was only a temporary measure, though this is a crucial point in Mattogno's interpretation.

Thus, Mattogno's explanation that the undressing room was meant for corpses does only poorly explain the documents, but what actually kills this hypothesis is that there is abundant evidence that both the horse stable barrack and corpse cellar 2 were used for the undressing of the victims of the homicidal gas chambers.


In contrast to what Mattogno says, the letter from Wirths to the camp commandant does not settle the question if the undressing room was meant for corpses or living people. Wirths' was responsible both for sanitary conditions and for the killing of people. The letter itself does not explain the reason for the undressing room (by the way, in agreement with Pohl's "special tasks, about which we do not have to speak words").

There is no evidence (let it be documentary or testimonial) that the so-called corpse cellar 2 was meant or used specifically for undressing of corpses in the crematorium, while there is numerous testimonial evidence that precisely this corpse cellar 2 - designated as undressing cellar/room in contemporary German files - was used for the undressing of gas chamber's victims. Likewise, the barrack erected in the yard of crematorium 2 for undressing was identified as being used for people killed in the crematorium. Thus, taking into account the full range of available evidence actually settles the question of the purpose of the undressing room (though not "once for all", since recall that historical knowledge is probative in nature).

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