This is the question with which this forum is confronted. Since the question is being addressed by two sides with radically different approaches to the assessment of historical evidence, one might phrase the contest in a somewhat different manner: how can we best determine what happened at Auschwitz/Birkenau between 1941 and 1944?
It is the position of the Veritas team that any rational approach to the available evidence will yield the conclusion that homicidal gas chambers were employed at Auschwitz-Birkenau using Zyklon B against hundreds of thousands of people (at a minimum), and therefore that there can be no reasonable doubt as to this conclusion.
The Negationist Team, our opponent in this debate, represents a line of thought known as “Revisionism” to its proponents and as “Holocaust denial” to its opponents. The term “Holocaust” is generally understood as the attempt by Nazi Germany, led by Hitler, to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe, which succeeded to the point of murdering between 5 - 6 million Jews in a variety of ways, including mass gassings in camps built for that purpose. It follows then that a Holocaust denier is someone who, for one reason or another or for a combination of reasons, rejects that the above correctly describes what was done to European Jews by the Nazis during World War 2. The views expressed by Holocaust deniers, who call themselves “Revisionists” and will hereafter be designated by this term, include the following:
(i) that Jews were not killed in gas chambers or at least not on any significant scale;
(ii) that the Nazis had no policy and made no systematic attempt to exterminate European Jewry and that such deaths as did occur were the consequence of individual excesses unauthorised at any senior level;
(iii) that the number of Jews murdered did not run into millions and that the true death toll was far lower;
(iv) that the Holocaust is largely or entirely a myth invented during the war by Allied propagandists and sustained after the war by Jews in order to obtain political and financial support for the newly-created state of Israel.
Our team, the Veritas Team, consists of amateur researchers of history who have for some time studied the historical record of and evidence for the Holocaust, and who consider it necessary and useful, for the sake of historical truth and other values guiding democratic societies, to challenge the politically motivated falsification of history that Revisionists seek to propagate. We consider “Revisionism” to be a condemnable attempt to whitewash and rehabilitate one of the most criminal regimes in history, and an insult to the memory of the millions of defenseless, innocent people who fell victim to that regime’s racist policies of extermination. All of us have for some time debated Revisionists on Usenet and on various Internet discussion forums, and all of us can claim to have successfully exposed many Revisionist falsehoods for what they are, stimulating awareness of and skepticism with regard to Revisionist propaganda. All of us do this on a voluntary basis in the spare time afforded by our professions and private lives, for no other reason than our personal conviction that Revisionism is a harmful intellectual perversion which should not be allowed to spread unchallenged.
In their opening statement, the Negationist team appears to take an approach to historical methodology that we have found typical of Revisionism, whereby they demand that evidence of a particular, isolated category be provided that, in itself, should conclusively prove the case. Further, rather than constructing a case of their own based on the available evidence, their whole argument consists solely of conditions which they demand our evidence must meet, resting on the implication that our presumed failure to produce evidence that lives up to their self-serving standards will be cause to conclude their position vindicated by default.
The object of the debate is an historical event the occurrence of which one side of the debate – the Affirmative, represented by the Veritas Team – considers to have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt by conclusive evidence, whereas the other side of the debate – the Negative, represented by the Negationist Team – holds that no such proof has been provided and that there are strong reasons to doubt that the event in question did in fact occur. These being the opposing positions, the opening statement of each party should consist of that party's presenting its case, ie. the Affirmative should present the evidence on which its position rests and explain how that evidence leads to its conclusion that the occurrence of the event in question cannot reasonably be doubted, whereas the Negative should present the reasons for its professed doubts regarding this same event. But far from presenting its case, the Negationist Team’s opening statement tries unilaterally to establish what rules will govern the debate, namely what evidence may be presented and how that evidence will be assessed.
It is not for the Negationist team to “await” evidence, assuming the role of an expectant jury in the very debate to which it is one of the opposing parties, and thus it is certainly not for them to establish a priori what it will "hear" as evidence and what not, or what of the evidence it is graciously prepared to "hear" it will be likely to dismiss ("adopt a highly skeptical outlook on", in the Negationist Team's parlance). The standards for assessing evidence should be not those that either of the teams would like to see applied, but those mandated by logic and common sense and accepted by scholarly historiography and by criminal justice following proper defendant-friendly procedural rules such as are applied in the democratic countries of Europe and North America. Therefore the Negationist team’s opening statement can only be understood as a proposal to the opposing team on rules of evidence to be applied, which is subject to the opposing team's acceptance.
The Veritas team does not accept the Negationist team’s conditions, which are unprecedented in either historiography or jurisprudence. Contrary to its pious claims, it is our position that the Negationist Team is not following any accepted standards on the assessment of evidence, but establishing standards of its own aimed at nothing other than protecting and strengthening its position by making its opponent’s case logically impossible to prove. There is no historical event - or legal case, for that matter - that can be proven by means of a single category of evidence alone, nor does the concept of “best material evidence” have any real meaning in a serious search for truth.
The Negationist team has elevated what they call “scientific-technical” evidence above all other forms. Surely they must realize that even the best pieces of “scientific-technical” evidence can serve to prove only a limited number of points, which are inevitably open to a variety of interpretations if taken out of context (indeed, the Negationist team has already stipulated to one of the few matters over which scientific evidence would be of primary probative value in this case – namely, the suitability of Zyklon B as an instrument of mass murder). Take, for example, DNA evidence in rape trials – a sort of “scientific-technical” evidence that has proven immensely valuable towards establishing facts, yet taken in isolation it can prove only that sexual intercourse has occurred between two people in cases where such a point of fact is in contention. It tells us nothing, in itself, about the circumstances under which it occurred. If prosecutors were required to rely solely on such evidence, in absence of any other, conviction would be impossible. Thus to say, as the Negationist team does, that eyewitness evidence must always be “subservient” to the scientific-technical is misleading. Each type of evidence is superior towards proving different aspects of the overall case. “Scientific-technical evidence”, by its nature, can only confirm or contradict a theory. It cannot tell a story for itself, and if we were of a suspicious nature we might suggest that the reason the Negationist team has conducted their side of the argument merely with an attempt to limit the discussion to such evidence followed by the turning of the burden over to us is that they know it is impossible to construct a conclusive case under any circumstances with such evidence alone.
Even the “best” individual pieces of evidence in the case of the Holocaust – as with any historical event – will leave unanswered questions if taken in isolation. It is for this reason that Revisionists try their best to isolate evidence, rationalizing it away piece-by-piece by highlighting its flaws, concentrating only what each piece doesn’t tell us rather than what it does, and suggesting that the possibility of alternative interpretations renders that evidence worthless rather than exploring whether other pieces or forms of evidence can serve to address those flaws and omissions, answer those questions, or disqualify those alternatives. Revisionists destroy the historical discipline by narrowing it like that. Any historical event must be taken as a puzzle, a tapestry, whereby different sources are weaved together - the strengths of one source addressing the weaknesses of another - to produce an overall picture. Therefore, the Veritas team has no intention of wowing this debate with our “best evidence". What we will present is the convergence of evidence, and if the Negationist team wishes to convincingly challenge our argument, it will have to address not only the individual items in isolation but the manner in which these items connect, corroborate and support each other.
We fully trust the Negationist team’s ability to come up with individual post hoc rationalizations for each single piece of evidence we produce. Witnesses may have lied or misremembered, perpetrators may have been coerced, documents may have been forged, physical evidence may have alternate interpretations, something else might conceivably have happened to the Jewish population of Hungary and other countries from which deportations to Auschwitz were extensive. But only if they are able to come up with a supported alternative explanation for the sum total of the evidence, as well as the scope of the evidence, will they have an argument comparable in weight to ours.
How do we go about determining what happened at Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1941 and 1944? The first step is to establish a working theory that can be tested against the material evidence. Assuming we are starting from scratch, how then does one go about establishing a theory? The best way to start is to ask those who were there at the time to give us their first-hand impressions of what they saw and experienced.
We begin with the eyewitnesses, not because they are the “best” evidence – for, as we said, when one is dealing honestly with evidence there is no "best" or "worst", just as there is no best or worst piece of a jigsaw puzzle. No, we start with the witnesses out of respect for the desire of the Negationist team to keep this debate to the standards of Western jurisprudence. In a court trial, the witness is the primary unit of evidence. An accusation cannot even be brought to trial without a witness, nor can a piece of physical or documentary evidence be entered as an exhibit unless accompanied by viva voce testimony. We grant that witnesses may be affected by human error and bias, which is why their statements must ultimately be tested against whatever physical evidence is available. We also recognize that witnesses are rarely in a position testify definitively to intricate technical details or to confidently assess the numbers and scope involved in such a large event as the one we are debating. The immense value afforded to eyewitnesses in both historiography and jurisprudence lies, rather, in the unique capacity of this manner of evidence to provide a context, to both corroborate fragmentary evidence and to tie it together from the perspective of an individual experiencing a series of events over a given period of time and therefore filling in the empty spaces between one isolated fact and another, enabling us to recognize a pattern and a process that otherwise would be impossible to discern.
The following picture is corroborated by the testimonies of all known eyewitnesses who were in a position to see the various elements: The first documented gassing experiments took place at Auschwitz in the second half of 1941 - probably the first days of September – in the cellar of a building called “Block 11” of the Auschwitz main camp. Later a room of the main camp’s crematorium was adapted as a gas chamber. In 1942 two abandoned peasant houses in a forest in the area of Birkenau were converted into gas chambers. These houses were known as the “bunkers” of Birkenau. In the spring of 1943 four crematoria were built in the area of Birkenau, each of which had a disrobing cellar for the victims, a gas chamber and a room with cremation ovens. The killing and cremation of the victims was then carried out in these buildings, one of the “bunkers” still being used, however, when the number of people to be killed was too high for the gas chambers in the crematoria to cope with. Dead bodies in excess of what the crematoria could handle were incinerated in the open. Most of the people killed in the gas chambers were killed shortly upon arrival, usually after a selection in which those deemed able to work were sorted, taken into the camp and registered. There were also regular selections among the registered inmates, after which those considered no longer able to work were killed, either by phenol injections or by gassing. The removal of the dead bodies from the gas chambers and their cremation or incineration in the open were carried out by special detachments (Sonderkommandos) of able-bodied Jewish inmates under the supervision of SS guards. On 7 October 1944, one of the crematoria of Birkenau was disabled during a revolt of these special detachments. The remaining crematoria were blown up by the SS in January 1945, before the Birkenau complex was evacuated in the face of the approaching Soviet troops.
Of the Jewish survivors of Auschwitz most witnessed only the first phase of the extermination process, namely the selection upon leaving the train. A smaller number of inmates, however, witnessed the operation of the gas chambers or were well-informed about them due to their function or position inside the camp. These include:
i) four inmates who escaped from Birkenau and whose reports were published in November 1944 in the United States: Rudolf Vrba and Fred Wetzler, who escaped from Birkenau on 7 April 1944, Czeslaw Mordowicz and Arnost Rosin, who escaped on 27 May 1944;
ii) three members of the Sonderkommando who died in Birkenau but left written accounts, which they buried nearby their workplace, where they were found during excavations after the war: Chaim Herman, Salmen Gradowski and Salmen Lewenthal;
iii) three members of the Sonderkommando who independently of each other made depositions before Polish authorities in 1945: Stanislaw Jankowski (whose true name was Alter Feinsilber), Szlama Dragon and Henryk Tauber;
iv) two French physicians, André Lettich and Sigismund Paul Bendel, both of whom were at different times attached to the Sonderkommando as inmate doctors;
v) Further survivors of the Sonderkommando who made depositions on various occasions after the war (including the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial: Milton Buki, Filip and Dov Paisikovic, Filip Müller, Avram Dragon, Szyja Rosenblum and Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, among others;
vi) the Polish mechanic Michael Kula, who worked as a locksmith at Auschwitz I and later Auschwitz II, where he got into contact with members of the Sonderkommando because his workshop made tools and performed diverse repairs for the crematoria.
Revisionists might well rationalize that the victims of the Nazis could have motive to lie. Confronted with so many witness testimonies that corroborate on all key points, the notion that they all chose to tell the same lie in precisely the same way appears less and less plausible in absence of any evidence of coordination or conspiracy. But nonetheless, the next logical step in assessing our working theory would be is to confront the accused with the accusation. Anticipating the Revisionist objection, we of the Veritas team recognize that the confessions of captured Nazis can be problematic, though problematic does not mean worthless if the evidence is approached with the problems well in mind. The oft-repeated revisionist accusation that the Nazis were tortured specifically to produce false confessions of mass murder can be dismissed as self-referential in absence of any direct evidence linking physical mistreatment with such confessions, however we recognize nonetheless that Nazis in Allied captivity were motivated to some degree to tell their captors what they wanted to hear, while fudging the truth in order to minimize their personal responsibility. However, the fact cannot be ignored that no Nazi placed on trial for crimes against humanity ever attempted to defend himself by claiming that the atrocities for which he was accused had not been committed. Nor does the Veritas team know any instance out of the hundreds of perpetrator accounts in which a captured Nazi who provided testimony regarding the Holocaust later recanted and claimed that the confession was coerced, as those who are coerced into providing false confessions usually do. Meanwhile, the problematic element of Nazi confessions can often be countered by documentary records produced by these same perpetrators while the event was taking place - before the end of the war and their captivity - which serve to provide effective corroboration and perhaps even a more accurate picture.
The key organizer of the mass killing at Auschwitz, and one of the key witnesses, was SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant-Colonel) Rudolf Ferdinand Höss, who commanded the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex from 1940 until his transfer to a higher post in November 1943 and was recalled some months later to supervise the most intensive mass killing operation, that of the Hungarian Jews in the summer of 1944. After the war he was captured on 11 March 1946 in Schleswig-Holstein, where he lived under a false name. He was brought to Minden, where on 14 March 1946 he gave an affidavit. He was later brought before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, where on 5 April 1946 he gave another affidavit. Thereafter he was interrogated as a defense witness at the public session on 15 April 1946. From Nuremberg he was transferred to Poland. At a trial conducted in Warsaw between 11 March and 2 April 1946 he was sentenced to death and executed by hanging on 16 April 1947 on the area of the former Auschwitz I camp. During his imprisonment in Poland, while his case was being investigated, he wrote an autobiography 228 pages long, at his own request. This autobiography, which contains a considerable amount of data about the Auschwitz camp, was released by the Polish government in 1958 and has since been translated into various languages from the German original.
Another key witness from the ranks of the SS was Rottenführer (Corporal) Pery Broad. Transferred to Auschwitz in 1942 and placed in the camp’s “Political Section” in June of that year, he remained there until the camp’s evacuation in January 1945. On 6 May of that year he was arrested in the British zone of occupation. A Brazilian citizen speaking very good English, he became an interpreter with the British authorities. In 1945 he wrote a long memorandum about the Auschwitz camp in German and handed it to the British Intelligence Service on 13 July 1945. On 14 December 1945 he gave an affidavit, also in German, which was a sort of “summary” of his memorandum. None of these was made available to the public at the time, but the affidavit was presented when in the last quarter of 1947 the American Military Tribunal opened criminal investigations against responsible persons of German industrial companies who had supplied huge amounts of the lethal gas “Zyklon B” to the Auschwitz camp. Therefore Broad’s declaration of 14 November 1945 was translated into English only on 29 September 1947, i.e. almost two years after it had been issued. On 20 October 1947 Broad issued another declaration at Nuremberg, which on 20 November of that year was translated into English. In all these depositions and declarations Broad described the mass killing procedure in the Auschwitz gas chambers in greater or lesser detail. Broad was released by the British in 1947, but at the great Auschwitz Trial in Frankfurt between 20 December 1963 and 20 August 1965 he was among the accused. In the course of this trial his own memorandum of 1945 was presented to him. He admitted to being its author, but was obviously surprised and embarrassed, for in the memorandum he had completely omitted his own role while incriminating his former colleagues, who now stood on trial together with him. Broad’s memorandum was completely independent from Höss, as it was written eight months before the latter’s arrest. The memorandum and Broad’s depositions in 1947, in turn, were not known to either the Polish court trying Höss nor to Höss himself.
Yet another SS witness deserving special mention was SS Hauptsturmführer Dr. Johann Paul Kremer, who as a doctor and professor of medicine at Münster University had been detached to the Auschwitz camp from 29 August to 18 November 1942. During this time Kremer took part in fifteen “special actions” or “selections” of people – mostly recent arrivals – to be sent to the gas chambers. Kremer had a private diary in which he every day took down all sorts of events, including the “special actions” to which he had assisted. In August 1945 he was arrested by British authorities and his diary was confiscated. He was handed to the Polish high tribunal at Krakow in order to be judged in the country where he had committed his crimes. Convicted in Poland in 1947, Kremer was pardoned in 1958. In 1960 he appeared before the Münster tribunal as a defendant, and in the Frankfurt trial against 20 defendants from the Auschwitz complex from 1963 to 1965 he testified as a witness.
Besides these three key witnesses, whose accounts came into being during the war (Kremer’s diary) or shortly thereafter, there were the former members of the Auschwitz staff who stood on trial before the Frankfurt court, supported by 22 defense attorneys, Eight former members of the SS admitted to having seen the Birkenau gas chambers in operation with their own eyes: Richard Böck, Gerhard Hess, Karl Hölblinger, Dr. Johann Kremer, Dr. Konrad Morgen, Henry Storch, Franz Hofmann and Dr. Gerhard Wiebeck, seven of then as witnesses, Hofmann as defendant. Of the other former SS-members interrogated at the trial not a single one denied the existence of the gas chambers and their homicidal use or even uttered the slightest doubt in this respect.
Two cases are typical in this respect: Richard Baer, the last commandant of the Auschwitz I main camp, who died during pre-trial investigations for the Auschwitz Trial in Frankfurt, stated the following on 22 December 1960: "I was only camp commandant of Auschwitz I. With the camp segments where gassings took place I had nothing to do. I also had no influence upon the gassings themselves. The gassings took place in Camp II Birkenau. This camp was not under my command."
Similarly Walter Dejaco of the Auschwitz Construction Office, the builder of the Birkenau crematoria, declared on 3 April 1960 before the examining judge in Reutte that he had only got to know about the purpose of the Birkenau gas chambers after they were put into operation.
In total there are the depositions of forty SS-members sentenced in Poland in 1947, those of Höss and those of 19 SS-members sentenced or acquitted in the German Federal Republic between 1963 and 1965, the depositions of Baer and Dejaco and of a further seven SS-members testifying as witnesses who admitted to having seen the Auschwitz gas chambers with their own eyes. A total of 69 witnesses who had belonged to the SS.
III. DOCUMENTARY AND PHYSICAL CORROBORATION
The depositions of the above-mentioned and other victim and perpetrator witnesses were provided independently of each other and coincide in the essential details of their description of the systematic mass murder by gassing at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. In light of this, the Veritas team would submit that a powerful case with no convincing and supported alternative exists. However, regardless of the depth and breadth of eyewitness corroboration, we feel it necessary, as per the Negationist team’s request, to test the eyewitness evidence against the available documentary and physical evidence. Whatever alternative explanations revisionists might hypothesize for each individual item of physical and documentary evidence, the point which cannot be avoided is that such evidence nonetheless exists to corroborate eyewitness statements at every key point, and that no such evidence exists which serves to call the theory constructed through the eyewitness accounts into serious question. This will be illustrated in the following overview of the killing installations and their operation throughout the camp’s history:
EVIDENCE FOR MASS-MURDER AT AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU
A) The First Gassings
A detailed description of the first mass killings by gas at Auschwitz is contained in the above-mentioned autobiography of Rudolf Höss (which in the following will be quoted after Constantine FitzGibbon’s translation published by Phoenix Press, London):
[…]Before the mass extermination of the Jews began, the Russian politruks and political commissars were liquidated in almost all the concentration camps during 1941 and 1942.
In accordance with a secret order issued by Hitler, these Russian politruks and political commissars were combed out of all the prisoner-of-war camps by special detachments from the Gestapo. When identified, they were transferred to the nearest concentration camp for liquidation. It was made known that these measures were taken because the Russians had been killing all German soldiers who were party members or belonged to special sections of the NSDAP, especially members of the SS, and also because the political officials of the Red Army had been ordered, if taken prisoner, to create every kind of disturbance in the prisoner-of-war camps and their places of employment and to carry out sabotage wherever possible.
The political officials of the Red Army thus identified were brought to Auschwitz for liquidation. The first, smaller transports of them were executed by firing squads.
While I was away on duty, my deputy, Fritsch, the commander of the protective custody camp, first tried gas for these killings. It was a preparation of prussic acid, called Cyclon B, which was used in the camp as an insecticide and of which there was always a stock on hand. On my return, Fritzsch reported this to me, and the gas was used again for the next transport.
The gassing was carried out in the detention cells of Block 11. Protected by a gas mask, I watched the killing myself. In the crowded cells death came instantaneously the moment the Cyclon B was thrown in. A short, almost smothered cry, and it was all over. During this first experience of gassing people, I did not fully realize what was happening, perhaps because I was too impressed by the whole procedure. I have a clearer recollection of the gassing of nine hundred Russians which took place shortly afterwards in the old crematorium, since the use of Block 11 for this purpose caused too much trouble. While the transport was detraining, holes were pierced in the earth and concrete ceiling of the mortuary. The Russians were ordered to undress in an anteroom; they then quietly entered the mortuary, for they had been told they were to be deloused. The whole transport exactly filled the mortuary to capacity. The doors were then sealed and the gas shaken down through the holes in the roof. I do not know how long this killing took. For a little while a humming sound could be heard. When the powder was thrown in, there were cries of ‘Gas!’, then a great bellowing, and the trapped prisoners hurled themselves against both the doors. But the doors held. They were opened several hours later, so that the place might be aired. It was then that I saw, for the first time, gassed bodies in the mass.
It made me feel uncomfortable and I shuddered, although I had imagined that death by gassing would be worse than it was. I had always thought that the victims would experience a terrible choking sensation. But the bodies, without exception, showed no signs of convulsion. The doctors explained to me that the prussic acid had a paralyzing effect on the lungs, but its action was so quick and strong that death came before the convulsions set in, and in this its effects differed from those produced by carbon monoxide or by general oxygen deficiency.
The killing of Russian prisoners-of-war did not cause me much concern at the time. The order had been given, and I had to carry it out. I must even admit that this gassing set my mind at rest, for the mass extermination of the Jews was to start soon and at that time neither Eichmann nor I was certain how these mass killings were to be carried out. It would be by gas, but we did not know which gas or how it was to be used. Now we had the gas, and we had established a procedure. I always shuddered at the prospect of carrying out exterminations by shooting, when I thought of the vast numbers concerned, and of the women and children. The shooting of hostages, and the group executions ordered by the Reichsführer SS or by the Reich Security Head Office had been enough for me. I was therefore relieved to think that we were to be spared all these blood baths, and that the victims too would be spared suffering until their last moment came. It was precisely this which had caused me the greatest concern when I had heard Eichmann’s description of Jews being mown down by the Special Squads armed with machine-guns and machine pistols. Many gruesome scenes are said to have taken place, people running away after being shot, the finishing off of the wounded and particularly of the women and children. Many members of the Einsatzkommandos, unable to endure wading through blood any longer, had committed suicide. Some had even gone mad. Most of the members of these Kommandos had to rely on alcohol when carrying out their horrible work. According to Höfle’s description, the men employed at Globocnik’s extermination centers consumed amazing quantities of alcohol.[…]
The gas chamber in the “morgue” of the crematorium of the Auschwitz main camp was also described by Pery Broad, while Stanislaw Jankowski described a gassing operation that he had been partially able to observe there. The substance called “Cyclon B” by Höss, with which his deputy Fritsch had successfully experimented, was a strong prussic-acid-based pest killer which had first been marketed in 1923 under the brand name “Zyklon B” and used as a standard product for eliminating pests ever since. One of its characteristics was that is was much more toxic for warm-blooded animals than for insects and could kill the former in much lesser quantities and time than the latter. These properties, and the strict safety measures for handling the substance accordingly required, were described, for instance, in a manual called “Directives for the Use of Prussic Acid (Zyklon) for the Destruction of Vermin (Disinfestation)”, issued by the Health Institution of the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia in Prague. The translation of these directives for the Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, where it was introduced as Document NI-9912, includes the following information and instructions:
[…]I. Properties of prussic acid (hydrocyanic acid)
Prussic acid is a gas which is generated by evaporation
Boiling point: 25 degree centigrade [correct transcription of German original accordingly]
Freezing point: - 15 degrees centigrade
Specific gravity: 0.69 [correct transcription of German original accordingly]
Steam density: 0.97 (Air = 1.0)
The liquid evaporates easily.
Liquid: transparent, colourless.
Smell: Peculiar, repulsively sweet
Toxic effects on warm-blooded animals
Since prussic acid has practically no indicative irritant effect, it is highly toxic and very dangerous. Prussic acid is one of the most powerful poisons. 1 mg per kg of body weight is sufficient to kill a human being. Women and children are generally more susceptible than men. Very small amounts of prussic acid do not harm the human body, even if breathed continuously. Birds and fishes are particularly susceptible to prussic acid.
Toxic effects on insects
The effects of prussic acid on insects do not depend on the temperature to the same extent as that of other gasses, that is, it is also effective in low temperatures (even at 5 degrees Cent.). The eggs of many insects, such as bugs and lice, are more susceptible than the full-grown insects.
II. Method of using prussic acid
ZYKLON is the absorption of a mixture of prussic acid and an irritant by a carrier. Wood fibre discs, a reddish brown granular mess (Digresses - Die gravel) or small brown cubes (Erco) are used as carriers.
Apart from serving its purpose as indicator, this irritant also has the advantage of stimulating the respiration of insects. Prussic acid and the irritant are generated through simple evaporation. Zyklon will keep for 3 months. Use damaged cans first. The contents of a can must be used up at once. […]The toxicity of the prussic acid remains unchanged by the addition of the irritant; the danger connected with it is however considerably decreased.
III. Possible poisoning
2. Severe poisoning
The affected person will collapse suddenly and faint. First aid: fresh air, remove gas mask, loosen clothing, apply artificial respiration. Lobolin, intramuscular 0.01 g. Do not give camphor injections.
Team member must at all times carry with him:
1. His own gas mask.
2. At least two special filter inserts against Zyklon prussic acid.
3. The leaflet “First aid for prussic acid poisoning.”
4. Work order.
5. Authorization certificate.
Each disinfestation squad must at all times carry:
1. At least 3 special inserts as extra stock.
2. 1 gas detector.
3. 1 instrument for injecting Lobolin.
4. Lobolin 0.01 g ampoules.
5. Cardiazol, Variazol tablets.
6. 1 lever or pickhammer for opening the cans of Zyklon.
7. Warning signs as per regulation.
8. Material for scaling.
9. Sheets of paper to serve as pads.
All equipment is to be kept clean and in good order at all times. Damage to equipment is to be repaired at once.
Time needed to take effect: 16 hours, unless there are special circumstances such as closed-in type of building, which requires less time. If the weather is warm it is possible to reduce this to a minimum of 6 hours.
The period is to be extended to at least 32 hours if the temperature is below 5 deg. Cent.
The strength and time as above are to be applied in the case of: bugs, lies, fleas etc., with egg, larves and chrysalia.
For clothes-moths: temperature above 10 deg. Cent. 16 g per cbm and 24 hours to take effect.
For flour-moths: same as for bugs.[…]
B) The Birkenau “Bunkers”
The two peasant houses at Birkenau converted into gas chambers started operating in 1942, one at the beginning of that year and the other in the summer. They were known as “Bunker 1” and “Bunker 2”. The former was torn down at the end of 1942, while the new Birkenau crematoria were being built. The latter, later designated “Bunker V”, was used until the autumn of 1944 and kept as a standby when breakdowns occurred at the Birkenau crematoria.
The killings at the Birkenau bunkers were described in some detail in Höss’ autobiography:
Both installations were used very often in 1942, and many persons could watch the gassings that went on there. Among other descriptions besides the one quoted above, there are those of Pery Broad, Szlama Dragon and Johann Paul Kremer, who provided the following description during his trial in Krakow:[…]In the spring of 1942 the first transports of Jews, all earmarked for extermination, arrived from Upper Silesia.
They were taken from the detraining platform to the 'Cottage' – to Bunker I – across the meadows where later Building Site II was located. The transport was conducted by Aumeier and Palitzsch and some of the block leaders. They talked with the Jews about general topics, inquired about their qualifications and trades, with a view to misleading them. On arrival at the 'Cottage', they were told to undress. At first they went calmly into the rooms where they were supposed to be disinfected. But some of them showed signs of alarm, and spoke of death by suffocation and of annihilation. A sort of panic set in at once. Immediately all the Jews still outside were pushed into the chambers, and the doors were screwed shut. With subsequent transports the difficult individuals were picked out early on and most carefully supervised. At the first signs of unrest, those responsible were unobtrusively led behind the building and killed with a small-calibre gun, that was inaudible to the others. The presence and calm behaviour of the Special Detachment served to reassure those who were worried or who suspected what was about to happen. A further calming effect was obtained by members of the Special Detachment accompanying them into the rooms and remaining with them until the last moment, while an SS-man also stood in the doorway until the end.
It was most important that the whole business of arriving and undressing should take place in an atmosphere of the greatest possible calm. People reluctant to take off their clothes had to be helped by those of their companions who had already undressed, or by men of the Special Detachment.
The refractory ones were calmed down and encouraged to undress. The prisoners of the Special Detachment also saw to it that the process of undressing was carried out quickly, so that the victims would have little time to wonder what was happening.
The eager help given by the Special Detachment in encouraging them to undress and in conducting them into the gas-chambers was most remarkable. I have never known, nor heard, of any of its members giving these people who were about to be gassed the slightest hint of what lay ahead of them. On the contrary, they did everything in their power to deceive them and particularly to pacify the suspicious ones. Though they might refuse to believe the SS-men, they had complete faith in these members of their own race, and to reassure them and keep them calm the Special Detachments therefore always consisted of Jews who themselves came from the same districts as did the people on whom a particular action was to be carried out.
They would talk about life in the camp, and most of them asked for news of friends who had arrived in earlier transports. It was interesting to hear the lies that the Special Detachment told them with such conviction, and to see the emphatic gestures with which they underlined them.
Many of the women hid their babies among the piles of clothing. The men of the Special Detachment were particularly on the look-out for this, and would speak words of encouragement to the woman until they had persuaded her to take the child with her. The women believed that the disinfectant might be bad for their smaller children, hence their efforts to conceal them.
The smaller children usually cried because of the strangeness of being undressed in this fashion, but when their mothers or members of the Special Detachment comforted them, they became calm and entered the gas chambers, playing or joking with one another and carrying their toys.
I noticed that the women who either guessed or knew what awaited them nevertheless found the courage to joke with the children to encourage them, despite the mortal terror visible in their own eyes.
One woman approached me as she walked past and, pointing to her four children who were manfully helping the smallest ones over the rough ground, whispered:
‘How can you bring yourself to kill such beautiful, darling children? Have you no heart at all?’
One old man, as he passed by me, hissed:
‘Germany will pay a heavy penance for this mass murder of the Jews.’
His eyes glowed with hatred as he said this. Nevertheless he walked calmly into the gas chamber, without worrying about the others.
One young woman caught my attention particularly as she ran busily hither and thither, helping the smallest children and the old women to undress. During the selection she had had two small children with her, and her agitated behaviour had brought her to my notice at once. She did not look in the least like a Jewess. Now her children were no longer with her. She waited until the end, helping the women who were not undressed and who had several children with them, encouraging them and calming the children. She went with the very last ones into the gas-chamber. Standing in the doorway, she said:
'I knew all the time that we were being brought to Auschwitz to be gassed. When the selection took place I avoided being put with the able-bodied ones, as I wished to look after the children. I wanted to go through it all, fully conscious of what was happening. I hope that it will be quick. Goodbye!'
From time to time women would suddenly give the most terrible shrieks while undressing, or tear their hair, or scream like maniac. They were immediately led away behind the building and shot in the back of the neck with a small-calibre weapon.
It sometimes happened that, as the men of the Special Detachment left the gas chamber, the women would suddenly realize what was happening, and would call down every imaginable curse upon our heads.
I remember, too, a woman who tried to throw her children out of the gas chamber, just as the door was closing. Weeping she called out:
'At least let my precious children live.'
There were many such shattering scenes, which affected all who witnessed them.
During the spring of 1942 hundreds of vigorous men and women walked all unsuspecting to their death in the gas chambers, under the blossom-laden fruit trees of the 'Cottage' orchard. This picture of death in the midst of life remains with me to this day.
The process of selection, which tool place on the unloading platforms, was itself rich in incident.
The breaking up of families, and the separation of the men from the women and children, caused much agitation and spread anxiety throughout the whole transport. This was increased by the further separation from the others of those capable of work. Families wished at all costs to remain together. Those who had been selected ran back to rejoin their relations. Mothers with children tried to join their husbands, or old people attempted to find those of their children who had been selected for work, and who had been led away.
Often the confusion was so great that the selections had to be begun all over again. The limited area of standing-room did not permit better sorting arrangements. All attempts to pacify these agitated mobs were useless. It was often necessary to use force to restore order.[…]
[…]Already at three o’clock in the morning on 2 September I was ordered to take part in a gassing of human beings. This mass murder was carried out in small houses located in the forest outside Birkenau camp. These houses the SS-men called “bunkers” in their jargon.[…] My participation as a physician at these gassings, which were called “special actions”, consisted in standing at ready at a place near the bunker. To this place I was taken with a car, where I sat next to the chauffeur while an SS medical orderly sat in the back with an oxygen device for saving the SS men in charge of the gassing in case one of them should suffer poisoning.[…] I rode behind such a transport up to bunker. There the prisoners were first driven with cars to the barracks where the victims undressed, and then they went already naked into the gas chambers. Most of the time all this happened quietly, as the SS-men calmed down the people by telling them that they were going to be bathed and deloused. After all had been pushed inside a gas chamber the door war locked and an SS-man with a gas mask threw the contents of a Zyklon – can through an opening in the side wall. Through this opening the screams and lamentations of the victims came out of the gas chamber, one heard these people in their death struggle. The screams were only heard for a short time, however. I designate this time as a few minutes, but I cannot indicate it exactly.[…]
The chauffeur who sat next to Kremer in the car was Karl Hölblinger, who at the Frankfurt trial was interrogated as a witness about what he had seen sitting in the car. His deposition in all points confirmed the description provided by Kremer in Poland 17 years before, which he himself repeated before the Frankfurt Court before Hölblinger was interrogated as a witness. Another SS-man, Richard Böck, once drove in a car to the gas chamber like Hölblinger, and his deposition before the same court coincides with that of Hölblinger. The Birkenau bunkers were often mentioned in the course of the Frankfurt Trial, especially by former inmates Franciszek Gulba, Henryk Porebski, Milton Buki, Dov Paisikovic and by former SS-members Oswald Kaduk, Dr. Gerhard Wiebeck and others.
<CONTINUED IN PART II>