The Gas Chambers at Auschwitz
by M-J. W
A student essay from Dr. Elliot Neaman's History 210 class (historical methods - fall 1995)
"Lies written in ink can never disguise facts written in blood."
Lu Xun© Elliot Neaman / PHDNReproduction interdite par quelque moyen que ce soit / no reproduction allowed
The Jewish Holocaust of World War II has been described by many revisionist historians to be merely a ghost of the past: An event that took place, but hasn't been recognized as really happening. This denial of the Holocaust by revisionists can be attributed to many factors including nationalism, anti-semitism, politics, and just plain ignorance. The Jewish people have been deeply wounded by historians' denial of the Holocaust. Unlike other events in history that are revisited by historians and looked at through revisionists' eyes such as the French revolution, none can compare to the outright denial of the Holocaust that revisionists have practiced.
During the time of the Holocaust, approximately four to six million Jews were exterminated at various concentration camps administered by the Nazis. Auschwitz was the largest of these camps. Located in Poland, 50km southwest of Krakow and 286km from Warsaw, Auschwitz and the other camps were deemed as "the final solution to the Jewish question in Europe". These concentration camps, within the Auschwitz district, which existed from the time of the Nazi takeover until the collapse of the Third Reich, were conceived as "iron fists" to circumvent the law as dictated by the regime's changing needs. (1) These camps served as instruments of terror that paralyzed the Jews. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II many of the benefactors of the camps acknowledged that they had served their purpose and would no longer be needed. This request was to be denied by Adolf Hitler who decided to continue the camps under Himmler and the SS and consolidate their power. (2) During the time after Hitler's decision to continue the use of the camps, Auschwitz saw many different types of people such as "work shirkers", "a-social elements", and criminals, but mainly Jews. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, Jewish prisoners were subjected to "selection". Men and women that were able were sent to the forced-labor camp which was often one of Hitler's "megalomaniac" construction projects, while the elderly and children were killed. The laborers were also periodically selected for medical experiments which included testing different methods of extermination. The primary method developed during this time was that of the gas chamber.
The years to follow from 1940 to 1945 exhibited the destructive killing force of Auschwitz. No longer solely a place of forced labor, Auschwitz became the ultimate killing machine. Approximately 1 million to 2.5 million prisoners died at Auschwitz of various causes including disease and extermination. It is the method of extermination by the gas chamber that we will be looking at more closely in this refutation of Holocaust deniers. I will use the Holocaust deniers' evidence concerning the gas chambers to show how the deniers have manipulated the facts and inserted many of their biased beliefs and attitudes to deny that the gas chambers at Auschwitz ever existed. After giving the deniers' arguments I will refute them by giving evidence of the fact that the gas chambers did exist and that they existed for one reason: to exterminate the Jews. Next, a truer picture will be created which will reconstruct the actual historical events that took place concerning the gas chambers at Auschwitz. This will include: when the decision was made to build the gas chambers, by whom that decision was made, when they were constructed, and who designed them, the actual extermination process, and the number and identity of the victims. This part of the refutation will allow the reader an un-biased look at the actual historical events that took place. Finally, a conclusion which will try to explain the Holocaust denial, the evidence against it and its short-comings. The Holocaust has proven to be a challenge for the denier. It is a challenge that involves looking past the politics and anti-semitism and coming to terms with the cold hard facts. These facts will be examined in this paper and will hopefully bring about a better understanding of the Holocaust.
The Holocaust Deniers' Arguments
The gas chambers at Auschwitz have proven to be a challenge for Holocaust historians. Holocaust historians have not come to clear conclusions about the gas chambers and their actual purpose. Holocaust revisionists don't even acknowledge their existence. If they do acknowledge them they don't recognize them as places where Jews were exterminated. The gas chambers at Auschwitz became very important in the whole view of the Holocaust because they were the actual "tools" that were used by the Nazis to exterminate the Jews. No group of Holocaust deniers have been more prominent in their denial of the gas chambers than Ernst Zundel, David Irving, Robert Faurisson, and Fred Leuchter. It is these four men who have stepped to the forefront of Holocaust denial and attacked all evidence of the gas chambers ever existing at Auschwitz. I will present all four deniers accounts separately and then due to the fact that they came together as a group I will give a short summary of their group effort to deny the existence of gas chambers.
The first denier, Ernst Zundel, denied that the Holocaust ever happened and became the leader of this group of deniers'. He was far better at organizing and leading the deniers' than gathering the actual scientific denial of the gas chambers. He is included in this group because without him the others would have never gotten the attention that they did. Zundel, born in Germany in 1939, came to Canada in 1958 to learn to be a photo retoucher. He was greatly influenced by the country's leading antisemite and neo-Nazi, Adrien Arcand. Zundel stated that Arcand had "made a German out of me." (3) Zundel grew to be one of the country's most active distributors of neo-Nazi propaganda. In 1984 he was charged by the Canadian government "with stimulating antisemitism through the publication and distribution of material he knew to be false." (4) What resulted were two trials and media coverage which brought about a new look at the denial of the Holocaust. These trials brought many of the staunchest deniers' to the aid of Zundel. Among these were former professor of literature at the University of Lyons, Robert Faurisson. Faurisson's argument for denial was based on the notion that it was technically and physically impossible for the gas chambers to have functioned as extermination "tools". He argues in his article from "The Journal of Historical Review", The Problem of the Gas Chambers, that "compared to American execution chambers the German facilities were too small and primitive to have been killing chambers." (5)
Another denier who became a member of the group was English historian and German extremist, David Irving. Like Zundel, Irving lacked the scientific training that Faurisson and Leuchter claimed to have. He based his denial on the fact that he was a great admirer of Nazi Germany and Hitler. He believed that Britain had made a tactical error in going to war against Germany and that the Allies and the Nazis were equally at fault for the war and its atrocities,..., arguing that the gas chambers were a "propaganda exercise". (6)
The final group member and perhaps the most important to this study is Fred Leuchter. Leuchter is the author of The Leuchter Report: An Engineering Report on the Alleged Execution Gas Chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Majdanek, Poland, which was published by Zundel's Samisdat Publications and David Irving's publication house, Focal Point Publications in London. The Leuchter Report uses scientific and architectural data to prove that there never were gas chambers at Auschwitz. According to Leuchter "the design and fabrication of these facilities made it impossible for them to have served as execution chambers." (7) Leuchter also argues that given the size and usage rate of Auschwitz it would have taken far longer to exterminate all six million Jews than time allowed during the period it was in use from 1940 to 1945. Another key point to Leuchter's argument was his scientific conclusions based upon the gas Zyklon-B. Leuchter took samples of residue left by the gas from the delousing chambers and argued that "this lower-level residue and stain were conclusive proof that the structures presented to visitors as homicidal facilities could not have been used for that purpose." (8)
I decided to include Zundel and Irving in the denier's arguments because they are linked with Faurisson and Leuchter. Because without Zundel and Irving, Faurisson and Leuchter would have never reached the level of denial and notoriety that Zundel and Irving gave to them. They may not have had the scientific data to dispute the gas chambers but did provide support and background for Faurisson and Leuchter.
The summary of events for the group of deniers' is as follows: and the formation of their group is as follows: Zundel is brought to trial in 1984. Zundel's lawyer, Douglas Christie, asked the assistance of Robert Faurisson to advise Zundel and his other lawyers. At the second trial in 1988 Christie brought in David Irving along with Faurisson to assist in the preparations of Zundel's second defense and to testify on his behalf. Irving and Faurisson then decided it would be a good idea to invite an American prison warden who had performed gas executions to testify on Zundel's behalf. They contacted Bill Armontrout, warden of the Missouri State Penitentiary, who agreed to testify and also recommend that they contact Fred Leuchter. Irving and Faurisson flew to Boston to meet Leuchter and then after two days of discussion flew to Toronto to aid in the defense of Zundel.
The Evidence Against the Deniers
In this part of the paper I will establish concrete arguments against the deniers. I will not refute Ernst Zundel and David Irving because they did not make personal scientific claims to the existence of the gas chambers. Though I will refute Robert Faurisson and Fred Leuchter, devoting most of my refutation to Leuchter. Robert Faurisson's main argument was that the gas chambers at Auschwitz were technically and physically incapable of exterminating people. Faurisson acknowledged that six million Jews were missing but did not know where they were. He even "urged surviving Jews to give him names of family members they had lost so he could try to locate them." (9) Faurisson claimed that the gas chambers were too primitive and not capable of killing. His "argument requires the gas chambers design and use be extremely complex for the execution of a single person, so that he might, by comparison, establish that the improvised German ones could never have killed a thousand at a time." (10) The fact is the design of the gas chambers at Auschwitz were fairly simple, but in fact could exterminate more than one person at a time. Francizek Piper, head of the Department of Historical Research at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum comments that near the crematorium II entrance were three gas chambers: one with an area of 98.19 sq. m, the second 95.34 sq. m, and the third 43.25 sq. m. The combined area of the three gas chambers was 236.78 sq. m. (11) This proved to be ample space to exterminate Jews. In fact, it had the capability of exterminating over 2,000 persons on the average at one time if they were crammed inside. (12) Jean-Claude Pressac, pharmacist and an independent scholar who fights to prove that gas chambers were used at Auschwitz found that "the two gas chambers and the corridor, which represented a volume of 480 cu m, almost equal to that of morgue one in both crematoria II and III..." (13) This crematorium which was similar to crematorium II could also exterminate thousands of Jews at a single time. Faurisson has clearly been dishonest about his findings at Auschwitz. His intellectual and historical deficiencies are manifest in his writings. Faurisson has accepted biased information as the truth which has led him to false reasoning and misinterpretation of the data. Faurisson must come to the conclusion that he cannot prove that there were not gas chambers at Auschwitz with his false and misleading information. Along with Faurisson, Fred Leuchter has taken the technical aspect of denying the Holocaust. His "Leuchter Report", which uses scientific evidence upon which Holocaust deniers rest their claims, took the world by storm in 1988. Leuchter wrote the report using the title of "chief engineer" to analyze the gas chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Maidanek, based on his supposed knowledge of American gas chambers. (14) Leuchter claims that there never were gas chambers at Auschwitz. He argues against their existence with scientific and architectural evidence that he claims to be true. The main proponent to Leuchter's claims has been Jean-Claude Pressac. Pressac has become one of the worlds rare research specialists in gas chamber extermination technique. A trained pharmacist, Pressac is a rational scientific thinker who uses his science background to aid him. Pressac, a stubborn man, is only interested in the truth and will not give into peer pressure. It took Pressac "more than three years and fifteen trips, from 1979 to 1987, to master his subject." (15) In comparison, it took Leuchter only eight days of research in Poland to write his scientifically based "Leuchter Report". Leuchter also claims that his "expert knowledge" of the scientific and engineering background needed to come to the conclusions that he did concerning the gas chambers was obtained through a normal college education. When in court as an expert witness for Ernst Zundel, the Crown Counsel questioned him about his training in math, chemistry, physics and toxicology. He acknowledged: only little training in chemistry, two courses in physics at Boston University, admitted that he was not a toxicologist, and that he had no degree in engineering. (16) The judge ruled that Leuchter could not serve as an expert witness on the construction and functioning of the gas chambers. He stated "I'm not going to have him get into the question of what's in a brick, what's in iron, what's in-he has no expertise in this area. He is an engineer because he has made himself an engineer in a very limited area." (17) It is clear that Leuchter was incompetent in his scientific and engineering evidence. To further disprove his evidence I will use the hard evidence presented by Pressac to show that Leuchter had no real evidence to show and didn't really know what he was talking about.
Among the many deficiencies of "The Leuchter Report" were the blueprints, maps, and floor plans that he had obtained from the official archives while at Auschwitz. Leuchter used these documents to determine the size and possible usage rate. He testified that the documents he obtained played a great role in shaping his conclusions about the camp, even more so than the samples he collected. Leuchter claims that the documents were given to him by employees of the museum. But museum director Kazimierz Smolen "unequivocally denied that Leuchter had received any plans or blueprints from the museum." (18) It is known that Leuchter did not receive the drawings from any museum officials so the only two possibilities are that he purchased the tourists versions sold at the official souvenir kiosks or simply made his own false drawings. Another deficiency in "The Leuchter Report" is his methods of collecting samples. At Auschwitz Leuchter collected 32 samples, most of these samples consisted of pieces of brick, with some cement on them. They were then placed in plastic bags and were not sealed airtight. They were then shipped to Massachusetts to be tested for residual cyanide levels. Leuchter reported that the results proved "that they never could have served as homicidal gas chambers by virtue of their design and construction." (19) Leuchter had made false judgments about his results not to mention that he took his samples illegally without the permission of Polish law. He compared the quantity of "cyanide residue in the Birkenau BW 5a delousing building gas chamber yielding 1050 mg/kg [milligrams of cyanide per kilogram of brick] and those varying from 0 to 7.9 mg/kg in samples from the Auschwitz-Birkenau homicidal gas chambers." (20) These results prove to be contradictory. How can these samples that came from areas supposedly used to "gas" thousands of people daily by means of hydrocyanic acid over the course of a year retain only small traces of cyanide while some other places, used for delousing with the same gas over the same time period, yield traces one hundred and fifty to a thousand times greater? These are the negative results that "The Leuchter Report" gives. The results seem to be obtained outside of a scientific chemical context. Pressac remarks "yet it is exactly that chemistry that the deniers rely on to formulate their line of questioning which flies in the face of historical reality." (21) Most of Leuchter's scientific conclusions were based on the residue left by the gas Zyklon-B. This gas was used by the Nazis to murder people, delouse clothing, and to fight against insects and rodents. Leuchter took most of his samples from the delousing chambers. The bricks from the delousing chambers contained a much higher residue of hydrogen cyanide than those taken from the gas chambers. Leuchter argued that "this lower level of residue and stain were conclusive proof that the structures presented to visitors as homicidal facilities could not have been used for that purpose." (22) Little did Leuchter know that lice, which were destroyed in the delousing chambers, have a far higher resistance to hydrogen cyanide than humans. Thus, it takes more gas to kill the lice over a longer period of time which is why a more intense blue stain was found in the delousing chambers. "A gas concentration of 0.3 grams per cubic meter-a lethal dose-is immediately fatal to a man, while killing lice requires a concentration of 5 grams per cubic meter for a period of at least two hours." (23) The amount used at Auschwitz was "40 to 70 times over (12-20 grams per cubic meter), which infallibly killed a thousand persons in less than 5 minutes." (24) Not only was Leuchter scientifically incompetent, but he was also incompetent historically. He had no real knowledge of the death camps and when asked about the lack of cyanide traces in a certain gas chamber he immediately cited it as proof that there never was a gas chamber. What Leuchter failed to realize was that that particular gas chamber had been blown up in January of 1945. It was covered with extensive amounts of rainwater and showed no traces of hydrogen cyanide. The weathering elements had diminished the presence of the gas. And if Leuchter had checked with museum officials he would have known facts like this to conduct a proper search of the grounds at Auschwitz.
Leuchter and his evidence have been shown to be false. It is based on misinformation, which leads to false reasoning and misinterpretation of data. "The Leuchter Report" was "researched illegally, ignoring the most straightforward of historical data, and flounders in gross errors of measurement and calculations." (25) Quite simply, Leuchter allowed his biases to interfere with the scientific and historical procedures that needed to be followed in order to process this research properly.
The True Picture
Auschwitz was not always a death camp. Its beginnings are quite different than what most people think they were. It was originally an ordinary concentration camp established in a region seized from Poland and incorporated into Germany. Its original inmates were not Jews but Poles. The first commandant of the camp was Rudolph Höss who was an experienced concentration camp man who had been stationed for several years at Dachau and Sachsenhausen. "Nothing in these early days indicated that Auschwitz would become something more than a relatively unimposing component of Nazi SS chief Heinrich Himmler's concentration camp empire." (26) Late in the winter of 1941, Auschwitz was chosen by a German corporation as a plant site because of its mines, railway access, and cheap slave labor. The SS looked forward to income from the arrangement made at Auschwitz and also recognition of its growing economic importance. During the rest of 1941 Auschwitz was expanded to hold more prisoners and was given a mandate in the "final solution of the Jewish question." This decision was decided by Hitler himself. Höss recalled that he was called to Berlin by Himmler and was told of Hitler's decision to annihilate the Jews. Auschwitz had been chosen because of its location near railways which would make it ideal for the transportation of Jewish prisoners. The next step taken was to find a method suitable for exterminating the Jews. The first gassing took place in September of 1941 when Höss's deputy, Karl Fritsch locked 850 Soviet prisoners of war into a building (block 11) and used Zyklon-B to exterminate them. Killing the prisoners this way was easy and efficient. The victims suffered very little and Höss assured that "death from gas was bloodless and would spare his men a great psychological burden." (27) The mortuary where these Soviet prisoners of war were exterminated became the first gas chambers at Auschwitz. Auschwitz was a killing machine but it did not just kill its victims by means of extermination. The camp was a virtual mecca for disease. The Nazis were very aware of the possible diseases that could run rampant among the prisoners and made sure that these diseases had ample opportunity to do just that. The cleanliness of the camp and its prisoners was to say the least "secretory catastrophe." The construction plans for the buildings often called for "one wash barrack per 7,800 inmates and one laboratory hut per 7,000 prisoners." (28) Also of detriment to the inmates was the lack of privacy, seating, and water for the removal of excrement. The primary results were disease and death.
The simplest of the gas chambers consisted of a building (mortuary) capable of holding 900 prisoners. The prisoners were required to undress and then quietly enter the chamber for delousing. The doors were sealed and the gas (Zyklon-B) was shaken down through the holes in the ceiling. This method proved to work quite well but a few kinks in the system had to be worked out. The most efficient exterminations took place in Crematoria II and III. The process went as follows. After being selected for extermination, the Jews who could walk were marched to the gas chamber. The weak were transported on trucks. Once at the chamber the inmates were told that they would be disinfected with delousing and bathing. Prisoners were even given false signs to look at that told them "To the baths" and "To Disinfection." From here the inmates were issued a towel and a piece of soap. Usually the women and children went first followed by the men. The SS was present to see that all proceedings went smoothly and often had to use force and dogs to persuade the inmates to enter the gas chamber. On the average 2,000 persons were crammed inside the chamber. When the chamber was full two SS noncommissioned officers were always left behind till the end of the extermination. The orders for extermination were given by the "supervising SS doctor (the job was assigned to, among others, Josef Mengele, Hans König, and Hans Thilo), the SS disinfectors (Scheinmetz, among others) opened the Zyklon-B cans and poured their contents into the vents down the induction shafts inside the chambers." (29) Within minutes, all the prisoners were dead. A half hour after the gas had been released the ventilation system was turned on and the door to the chamber was opened. The Sonderkommando prisoners then proceeded to carry the dead inmates out of the chamber. In some cases "many of the dead were found half-squatting, their skin colored pink with occasional red or green spots. Some foamed at the mouth, others bled from the ears." (30) From here the corpses were taken to the ovens to be cremated. Before being cremated the corpses were removed of all jewelry and any gold that was in their teeth. After cremation the ashes from the dead corpses were either deposited into the Vistula River or nearby ponds. Sometimes they were used to prepare compost or used directly as fertilizer for the nearby camp farms. Approximately "2,500 corpses could be cremated in 24 hours in each of crematoria II and III." (31) The exterminating process varied little in different crematorias and proved to be quite an efficient way of killing Jews. So efficient in fact that more than one million persons were killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
The deniers, led by Fred Leuchter, Robert Faurisson, David Irving, and Ernst Zundel have given the Holocaust historians a difficult and frustrating task in showing that the Holocaust did happen and that the gas chambers used to exterminate the Jews did exist. I have shown many false-truths to these deniers claims in this paper. All of them have been researched and explained by many top Holocaust researchers. Researchers like Raul Hilberg and Franciszek Piper have traced the evolution of Auschwitz from ordinary concentration camp to a finely tuned killing machine. These researchers have given the necessary facts to put the Nazis in an impossible position to deny that they exterminated millions of Jews. One can not leave out the monumental work of Jean-Claude Pressac, who has provided a narrative of the design, construction, financing, development, and functioning of the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz in his book Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers. These researchers have proven the existence of the gas chambers at Auschwitz but certain people will continue to deny that the Holocaust ever happened. Why do these people continue to deny this tragedy? There are many possible reasons: anti-semitism, nationalism, and politics are just a few. I believe that another reason for this denial is embarrassment. The world at the time of World War II was very individualistic. Each country and race only cared about themselves. When the Holocaust occurred no one really cared at that time to acknowledge the fact that this race of people known as Jews was being eliminated from existence. I think people were embarrassed because they were so self absorbed and uncaring that no one bothered to take action against this annihilation. The only way out was to pretend it never happened and to move on. It is only with continued research and the help of father time that the Holocaust will come into the light of historical truth. And it is with the help of these Holocaust truth seekers who have established the existence of the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz that the fate of the Jews lies. For if this tragedy in history is forgotten, the Jews will no longer be the quintessential people of history. If the world denies that the Holocaust did happen, then the Jews will be denied their stature as the recorders of history.
(1) Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, eds., Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana UP, 1994) 8.
(2) Ibid., p.8.
(3) Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (New York: Plume, 1993) 159.
(4) Ibid., p.157.
(5) Ibid., pp.160-161.
(6) Ibid., p.8.
(7) Ibid., p.163.
(8) Ibid., p.8.
(9) Ibid., p.161.
(10) Shapiro, Shelly, ed, Truth Prevails (New York: Beate Karlsfeld, 1990) 32.
(11) Anatomy, p.169.
(12) Ibid., p.170.
(13) Ibid., p.237.
(14) Truth, p.11.
(15) Ibid., p.29.
(16) Denying, p.164.
(17) Ibid., p.165.
(18) Ibid., p.165.
(19) Truth, p.34.
(20) Ibid., p.35.
(21) Ibid., p.35.
(22) Denying, p.167
(23) Truth, p.36.
(24) Ibid., p.36.
(25) Ibid., p.36.
(26) Anatomy, p.81.
(27) Ibid., p.85.
(28) Ibid., p.79.
(29) Ibid., p.170.
(30) Ibid., p.170.
(31) Ibid., p.171.
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