Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Gardens at the Crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau

In his contemporary manuscript, Marcel Nadjari, a prisoner of the Jewish Sonderkommando in Auschwitz-Birkenau, provided the following description of crematorium 2/3 (he was usually employed at the latter):

"It is a big building with a wide chimney and 15 ovens. Below a garden there are two big endless rooms in the basement. The one serves for undressing and the other is the death chamber, where the people enter naked and after filled with about 3000 people, it is closed and they gas them, where they gave up the ghost after 6 to 7 minutes of martyrdom."

Taking the statement literally, vegetation and flowers should have been planted on the roofs of the undressing and gassing cellar. Since these semi-basements were supposed to be earth-banked and covered with earth, this seems in principle conceivable, although it is not supported by other testimonial evidence as far as I know.

Nadjari might have also had in mind the vegetation in the North-West corner of crematorium 3, which is flanked by the undressing and the gassing cellar.

Last but not least, the description could be a reference to an ornamental garden in the front yard of the crematorium; in this case the idea that "below a garden there are two big endless rooms" is meant in a figurative sense simplifying the situation, as the garden was only passed by the victims before they were going down the basement (this issue came up in an exchange with a Greek denier).

At crematorium 2, there was an ornamental garden measuring about 20 x 30 m and what seems like a smaller circle shaped garden at crematorium 3. Another structure resembling a garden can be found in the front yard of crematorium 5. They are readily visible on aerial photographs of the Birkenau complex in the year of 1944 (see Figure 1 and 2). From the ground, the ornamental garden of crematorium 2 looked like those in the camp section B II (see Figure 3), except that it was about half their size.

(the Holocaust denier John Ball has previously pointed out the garden at crematorium 2; his remark that it is a "healthy garden that was not walked on and crushed" [Ball, Air Photo Evidence, 2015, p. 58] seems to insinuate that many thousands of people did not walk past the garden, as if the intimidated and disciplined victims sent into the gas chambers would have dared to trample on an ornamental garden in the presence of foreign, armed and not so pleasant military)

Figure 1: Crematorium 2 (bottom) and 3 (top) with gardens and path of the victims marked on 23 August 1944 aerial photograph of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Figure 2: Possible garden marked at crematorium 5 on 23 August 1944 aerial photograph of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Figure 3: Ornamental garden in Auschwitz-Birkenau section BIIa (Zentralbauleitung Album).

The gardens were located next to the entrance of the crematoria and can be considered to have exerted a calming effect on the victims, who had to pass by it on their way to the undressing basement (yellow lines in Figure 1). The crematorium building appeared less freightend to the victims: with such a nice garden, how could it be a bad place!

Furthermore, the gardening in the crematoria yards was a leisure activity to the prisoners of the Jewish Sonderkommando to fill the time and distract from the gruesome work in the crematoria.

Jaacov Gabai stated that "there was a well-cared lawn. Sometimes, if there was nothing to do, we weeded or cleaned outside" (Greif, Wie weinten tränenlos, p. 213). Eliezer Eisenschmidt, who had "to cut the lawn in the yard", explained that also those "who were [else] occupied with gardening work" had to drag the corpses from the gas chamber (Greif, Wir weinten tränenlos, p. 253, 266).

1 comment:

  1. Notably Otto Moll was a gardener, and even the head of the gardener detail at Auschwitz.


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