The Birkenau Gas Chambers in October of 1941

Technico-Historical Fantasies of a “Technician”
Published: 2012-07-31
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“Show me or draw me a Nazi gas chamber!” This has been Dr. Robert Faurisson’s famous challenge to orthodox historians for several decades now. Jean-Claude Pressac and Prof. Robert J. van Pelt were among those who tried to meet Faurisson’s demand – and who failed miserably. That doesn’t stop other from trying, though. Here is the next candidate who risked to be exposed as an incompetent dabbler at best: Michael T. Allen, writing in the mainstream journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies. In the following paper, Italian revisionist Carlo Mattogno expertly deconstructs Allen’s delusions, which are based on the usual misrepresentations, misunderstandings and distortions.

In 2002 an article by Michael Thad Allen entitled “The Devil in the Details: The Gas Chambers of Birkenau, October 1941” appeared in the magazine Holocaust and Genocide Studies.[1]

Michael T. Allen

Michael T. Allen was associate professor of German history at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author of numerous articles and two books on the history of the Holocaust, including "The Business of Genocide" (2002)

I shall leave aside his preliminary statements on the allegedly insidious methods of the “deniers,” on the so-called “devastating critique” by Pressac and van Pelt (a critique so “devastating” that they have been very careful to avoid criticizing my own arguments on Auschwitz) and on the habitually wrong interpretation of terms and expressions such as Sonderbehandlung, Sondermassnahmen and Badeanstalten für Sonderaktionen, on the subject of which I refer the reader to my specific study.[2] I shall also leave aside the “criminal evidence,” which, according to Allen, “can be explained in no other way than by reference to mass murder using Zyklon-B” – an interpretation that I have refuted in a number of articles that appeared in this journal,[3] I shall finally leave aside the presumed merits or demerits of Pressac and van Pelt (pp. 191f.) and shall pass on directly to the central topic of the article, which Allen describes in the following way:

“An examination of one otherwise insignificant component, the forced-air ventilation system, demonstrates that the ZBL[4]-Auschwitz planned Morgue 1 of Crematoria II and III (buildings constructed as mirror images of each other) from the beginning of October 1941 as a gigantic Zyklon-B facility. SS engineers based their design upon similar fumigation rooms brought to their attention by subcontractors. The SS quickly adapted this technology (originally meant to exterminate nothing more than vermin in clothing) in a drive to eliminate ‘racial vermin.’” (p. 193)

The “proof” of the fact that the Leichenkeller 1 of the new crematorium (the future crematorium II) was designed from the start as a homicidal gas chamber using Zyklon B is said to be the uniqueness of its ventilation system, which was planned for this room but not for Leichenkeller 2:

“In particular, Morgue 1 [= Leichenkeller 1] had ventilation systems that differed not only from Morgue 2 [= Leichenkeller 2], but from any other existing SS crematoria.” (p. 199)

The thesis is not new; on the contrary, it represents a significant withdrawal with respect to Pressac’s theses, which van Pelt plagiarized unashamedly. It was, in fact, adopted by George Wellers as far back as 1981. In a book dedicated to the gas chambers, he reproduces (for the first time, as far as I know) cross-sections of Leichenkeller 1 and 2 of the planned crematorium II,[5] calling attention to the fact that Leichenkeller 1 was equipped with Entlüftung (de-aeration) and Belüftung (aeration) ducts whereas Lei­chenkeller 2 was not.[6]

What does, however, constitute a novelty is the historical context in which Allen places his thesis and, first and foremost, the central argument with which he attempts to justify it.

He states that in the summer of 1941 discussions began at Auschwitz regarding gas chambers for disinfestation by means of Zyklon B. In particular, on 3 July, the SS-Neubauleitung (New Construction Office) registered the arrival of the article by G. Peters and E. Wünstiger “Entlausung mit Zyklon-Blausäure in Kreislauf-Bega­sungskammern” (Delousing with Zyklon hydrocyanic acid in circulatory gassing chambers), which had been sent three days earlier by the Heerdt-Lingler company at the request of the Friedrich Boos firm.[7] From the documentation on this type of equipment, which was planned for the Aufnahmegebäude (reception building; BW 160),[8] Allen deduces the following scenario:

“The dense context suggests that the SS and these specialists discussed fumigation machinery and the gassing of human beings simultaneously, likely at multiple sites, in the fall of 1941.” (p. 194)

Obviously, Allen does not present even the least documentary evidence for these assumed discussions, but he has now set up his false principle, from which he will be subsequently able to draw his false conclusions. First, however, he nails it down a few more times. After having affirmed without proof that

“it is reasonable to assume that both executives of these chemical firms [Degesch and Tesch] consulted with the SS about systematic murder.” (p. 194),

he declares once more without any proof:

“although these chambers were not (yet) designed for killing, all involved – the SS, Degesch, and Tesch & Stabenow – conceived of them as a system for managing prisoners as ‘human material’ in the style of a modern factory.” (ibid.)

Allen then notes that the Degesch Kreislauf (recirculating) disinfestation chambers were never set up at Auschwitz, but adds:

“nevertheless, they stimulated technological innovation and provided a conceptual blueprint for the gas chambers of Birkenau. First, ZBL engineers consciously conceived the gassing process as one in which prisoners’ bodies were managed as so much raw material in a modern factory. [...] Second, if more trivial, the Degesch chambers provided a precedent for how to engineer the ventilation system for Zyklon-B killing chambers.” (p. 195)

At this point the initial conjecture changes into an established fact!

Allen still attempts to prop it up with a fanciful appeal to presumed homicidal gassings in disinfestation chambers by means of the Degesch-Kreislauf system (p. 196), bringing in as “proof” nothing less than two testimonies, one dated October 23, 1959, the other “undated,” of two illustrious nobodies: Irmgard Berger and Kaufmann-Grasowska! (Note 29 on p. 212.) This is really an irrefutable argument!

After having brought in this insubstantial “support,” Allen then comes up with his main argument which he introduces in a section entitled “Other Precedents for the Gas Chambers.” Here is the most important passage:

“The Degesch chambers are relatively well known, at least among specialists in Holocaust history. Less known is that the SS had other prototypes available. The Degesch’s ten-cubic-meter boxes were not only gas chambers presented at this time to the ZBL-Auschwitz or to SS Main Office for Budgets and Buildings [= Hauptamt Haushalt und Bauten]. For example, Kori GmbH, a firm that played the same role as subcontractor at Majdanek that Topf & Söhne played at Auschwitz, presented the ZBL-Lublin with diagrams of a building it had constructed in Alt-Drewitz. This was less a machine like the Degesch chambers than it was a semi-mechanized building. A central mechanical core contained blowers and a system of ducts for introducing Zyklon-B. Rooms on either side could be filled with clothing and disinfected. Here again, as the diagram shows, air was pumped into the chambers from the top. Blowers evacuated air through vents in the floor. In this case, rather than conventional metal ductwork, Kori installed the ducts in underground canals beneath the building.” (p. 196)

On p. 197, Allen shows a “Schnitt A-B” (section A-B) of the installation, which he comments upon in this fashion (see document 1):

“Diagram of Kori Zyklon-B gas chamber, ‘Anordnung einer Luftheizungs-Anlage für die Entlausungs­anstalt in Alt-Drewitz’ [arrangement of an air-heating unit for the delousing installation at Alt-Drewitz], dated July 5, 1940”

From this sketch, Allen draws two conclusions:

“Although no document directly links such designs to Auschwitz (unsurprising since conceptual work is rarely put to paper), the fumigation building in Alt-Drewitz can still be seen as a model for Morgue 1, which also had underground, dug-out tunnels for ventilation.” (p. 195)

A few pages on, he adds:

“Underground ducts were part of existing Zyklon-B fumigation chambers, as can be seen in the ZBL-Lublin diagrams of the installation at Alt-Drewitz.” (p. 201)

Thus, Allen has uncovered the missing link in the evolutionary chain stretching from the disinfestation chambers to the homicidal gas chamber of Leichenkeller 1 – a truly paradigmatic discovery!

Unfortunately, such a conclusion is invalidated outright by the fact that, while the archives of the Zentralbauleitung (Central Construction Office) do contain documents relating to disinfestation equipment of various kinds, none of them is of the type dealt with by Allen; the latter, by contrast is in the archives of the former Majdanek camp. Therefore, no document links the design to Auschwitz, whether it be “directly” or “indirectly,” i.e. between the design and the SS-Neubauleitung (later SS-Bauleitung and finally Zentralbauleitung) at Auschwitz there is absolutely no link: but then how can one seriously argue that the engineers of the Auschwitz office were inspired by the drawing of the installation for Alt-Drewitz in their design of Leichenkeller 1? Here it would be necessary to bring in telepathy between Lublin and Auschwitz rather than the argument that “conceptual work is rarely put to paper”!

Document 1: Air-heating unit at Alt-Drewitz as a proposal for a delousing installation at the Majdanek camp. according to M.T. Allen.

Actually, the two installations have only one insignificant architectural detail in common – an underground duct – and it is only to drive home his point regarding this detail that Allen attributes an importance out of all proportion to the fact that Leichenkeller 1 was designed with a double underground ventilation duct.

However, Allen’s conclusion is radically demolished by the very design on which it is based.

Incredibly, Michael Thad Allen, in spite of being “assistant professor of modern German history and the history of technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta,” failed to understand that the document in question – the Kori drawing J.-Nr. 9081, entitled “Anordnung einer Luftheizungs-Anlage Kori für die Entlausungsanstalt in Alt-Drewitz” dated “Bln. [Berlin], den 5. Juli 1940[9] – does not refer to a Zyklon-B disinfestation unit but to Heißluft (hot air) produced by coal combustion!

If – instead of letting loose the usual stupidities against the “deniers” – our “technologist” had looked at the book Concentration Camp Majdanek,[10] which I have written together with Jürgen Graf, he would have saved himself from this egregious blunder. On p. 130f. I published the letter from Kori that referred to the unit in question and in which it is said:

“This is also where the entranceways to the 4 coke bunkers are planned, which, however, are joined into one common bunker along the length of the Delousing Room so as to be able to accommodate a larger supply of coke – as the ground plan on Diagram J.-Nr. 9081 indicates.”

There, I explained the design and operation of the unit as follows:

“As per this project, the eight delousing chambers were each 2 m wide, 2.10 m high and 3.5 m long and were heated with a coke-fueled calorifer or air heater located between each pair of chambers behind the outside walls. On the inside an opening in the top, connected to the air heater, allowed warm air to exit; on the opposite side, on the floor of each pair of chambers, was a ventilation opening also connected to the air heater via an underground air channel. In structural terms the facility was very similar to the model designed by Kori on July 5, 1940, for the delousing facility of Alt-Drewitz. Delousing proceeded not with Zyklon B, but with hot air.”

Moreover, on p. 286 of the book mentioned, there are reproductions of the three main sections of Drawing 9081.

Aside from this book, even a cursory analysis of the drawing would reveal that we are dealing with a delousing facility by means of hot air. In Section a-b, on the left, one can clearly read “Kohleneinwurf” (coal feed chute, see document 2), but perhaps Michael Thad Allen believes that Zyklon B disinfestation chambers required combustion of coal?

Allen’s thesis thus collapses completely.

And if he had gone to the trouble of reading Pressac’s first book on Auschwitz with a little bit of attention, he could have saved himself the trouble of coming up with his absurd conjectures regarding the ventilation installed in “Leichenkeller 1.” In his analysis of Drawing 932, dated January 23, 1942, of the planned Crematorium II, Pressac writes:[11]

“Leichenkeller 2 was to be temporary storage for newly arrived and recorded corpses awaiting cremation (delay 3 or 4 days).

Leichenkeller 1 was to take corpses several days old, beginning to decompose and thus requiring the room to be well-ventilated, to be incinerated as soon as possible.

There is nothing on this drawing that indicates the future ‘special’ use of this crematorium. Quite the contrary, it looks a perfectly ‘normal,’ though very high-capacity, incineration facility.”

Document 2: Cross section of the planned hot air disinfestation unit at the Majdanek camp – see “Kohleneinwurf” (coal feed) at the left.

Concentrating on the detail of the ventilation equipment of Leichenkeller 1, Allen at the same time discards the whole array of “traces” which, according to Pressac, constitute the proof that this space was subsequently transformed to make it suitable for criminal purposes; their absence makes the drawing of 23 January absolutely “normal.” For example, the technicians of the Zentralbauleitung are said to have taken 13 months to realize that the door of Leichenkeller 1 – this alleged gas chamber – would need to open towards the outside rather than the inside,[12] and 17 months to understand that the concrete roof of Leichenkeller 1 required holes for the introduction of Zyklon B pellets. They first built it without those alleged openings and had to install them later in great haste with hammer and chisel![13]

But, against the thesis of Michael Thad Allen, there is another, more obvious fact in connection with the position of the Leichenkeller.

In a strenuous effort to attribute at any cost an exceptional character to the underground ventilation ducts of this building, he writes:

“Excavation of earthen ducts required considerable work, for the water table at Birkenau can rise to one meter above the floor level of the cellars of Crematoria I and II. That the SS wanted to sink basements at all demands explanation. (Crematoria IV and V were totally above ground). The SS had to line the walls with bituminous paper, which proved extraordinarily hard to get during wartime. All of these factors amounted to a great deal of extra trouble for an ‘ordinary’ morgue.” (p. 201)

But if the Bauleitung had already decided in October of 1941 to make Leichenkeller 1 into a homicidal gas chamber, why go to the trouble of putting it underground?

The first drawings for the new crematorium of November 1941, presented by J.-C. Pressac,[14] show in fact clearly two morgues, completely underground, because the crematorium was to be built at Auschwitz. When, however, the project was moved to Birkenau where the water table was higher, the morgues became semi-interred, i.e. the upper part stood above grade, but this required measures that were much more complex than those described regarding the two lower ventilation ducts. If, then, Leichenkeller 1 was a gas chamber for Zyklon B, why did the Bauleitung and later the Zentralbauleitung not build it above grade? The only reasonable explanation is that the two Leichenkeller were simply designed as morgues, interred or semi-interred to be cooler, as Pressac has correctly noted.

Let us now go into Allen’s convoluted suspicions with respect to the ventliation ducts.

According to the Huta Co. drawing 109/13A, dated September 21, 1943, the two Entlüftung (exhaust) channels ran at the floor level of the room but outside the longitudinal walls.[15]

Allen was struck, astonishingly, by this arrangement and considers it a kind of new “criminal trace,” in keeping with the tenet of the Holocaust historians that anything which, in their documentary or technical historical ignorance, they cannot understand “can be explained in no other way than by reference to mass murder using Zyklon-B.” In this case, the most obvious explanation is that placing a double exhaust duct of 50 cm diameter[16] on the floor, along the side walls would have reduced the usable width of the room by one meter, resulting in the loss of 30 sqm of usable space, and would have made cleaning and washing operations difficult while making the ducts more easily subject to damage.

The topic of ventilation of the two morgues of Crematorium II (and III) brings in another technical question of fundamental importance, which not only demolishes, but makes utterly ridiculous the presumption of the official historiography: the question of rate of air changes. In the section “Ventilation System” of my study Auschwitz. The End of a Legend[17] I have shown not only that the rate of air changes foreseen for the two morgues was practically identical to that used in the case of civilian morgues, but also that the rate of air changes for Morgue 1 – 9.49 volumes per hour – was less than that of Morgue 2 – 11.08 volumes per hour – and that the alleged gas chamber was thus less well ventilated than the alleged undressing rooom. In this way, the brilliant criminal technicians of the Zentralbauleitung, after more than a year devoted to the projects of gas chambers for disinfestation by Zyklon B, would have come to this stupendous result.

Allen has also completely neglected the official historical context, i.e. the alleged development of the extermination equipment at Auschwitz, which deals another mortal blow to his theses.

He declares that the technicians of the Auschwitz Bauleitung, from October 1941 onwards, had planned a homicidal gas chamber in Morgue 1 of the new crematorium, taking their inspiration from the Zyklon B disinfestation chambers, whereas, five months later, in March of 1942, when they “planned” the use of the alleged “Bunker 1” at Birkenau, they did not even equip it with a ventilation device. This also goes for the alleged “Bunker 2” which was “conceived” during May or June. Then why did the Zyklon B disinfestation chambers not “stimulate(d) technological innovation and provide(d) a conceptual blueprint for the gas chambers” in the case of these “Bunkers?”

According to van Pelt, “more than 200,000 Jews”[18] were murdered in these “Bunkers,” so we are apparently dealing with major extermination installations; this renders Allen’s thesis even more nonsensical.

Michael Thad Allen’s article abounds with other fantastic and aberrant theses which are not even worth being refuted. I will limit myself to one example only. On pp. 201 – 203, he quotes, in an English translation, the last paragraph of a section from the “Bericht des Amtes II-Bauten des Hauptamtes Haushalt und Bauten über die Arbeiten im Jahre 1941” (Report of Department II, Buildings, of the Main Office of Budget and Buildings Concerning Works during 1941) which reads as follows:[19]

“The Reichsführer-SS had ordered the following additional building projects:

Building of PoW camps within the territory of the Reich and the Government General.

The following were built:

Within the Reich, small camps at KLs Dachau, Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Mauthausen, large camps at Auschwitz for 150,000 PoWs.

In the Government General at Lublin for 150,000 PoWs and at Debica for 5000 PoWs.

Typical plans for camp lay-out, as well as for quarantine, troop, housing and work sections, including the various administrative buildings, were elaborated with the aim of providing for aesthetically, technically and hygienically satisfactory structures. The realization of the projects was based on these guidelines.

Conceptual plans for delousing units, both of permanent and of provisional type, were devloped for use by Waffen-SS, police and KL, as well as provisional and permanent crematoria, incineration units and execution installations of various types”

Allen comments:

“This report, which again lumps the Zyklon-B delousing machinery with ‘execution installations,’ was distributed throughout the branches of the SS’s Bauinspektionen, Zentralbauleitungen, and smaller Bauleitungen. The fact that systematic killing was planned at Auschwitz-Birkenau was thus common knowledge among SS engineers.”

Considering that the “Entlausungsanstalten” (delousing facilities) not only included Zyklon B chambers but also Heißluftanlagen and Dampf-Apparate (hot air and steam installations), how can one seriously deduce from the term “Exekutionsanlagen” (which refers to gallows or shooting areas for the execution of prisoners condemned to death by the special SS tribunals; those were found in all the camps mentioned, as were, in the same way, Entlausungsanstalten, Krematorien and Verbrennungsstätten) that at Auschwitz-Birkenau “systematic killing was planned?”

But then, what can one expect from an Assistant Professor of History, Technology, and Society who is not even capable of distinguishing an Entlausungskammer for Zyklon B from one using Heißluft?

What is really paradoxical in this matter is that a link – two links, to be exact – between disinfestation units using Zyklon B and the alleged homicidal gas chambers at Auschwitz actually do exist, but not along the lines imagined by Allen’s flights of fancy. As I have demonstrated in an article mentioned above, the Zentralbauleitung had, in January of 1943, entertained the idea of using Morgue 1 of Crematorium II (the “Vergasungskeller”) temporarily as a provisional disinfestation chamber.[20] Allen himself confirms this thesis when he quotes the following statement by Walter Dejaco (former SS-Untersturmführer and head of the planning department at Zentralbauleitung) dating from 4 March 1962:

“The rooms, which were later employed as gas chambers, were designated by us as corpse storage rooms and delousing rooms, and were so planned by us.” (p. 196; my emphasis)

The second link is one that actually came from the propagandists of the secret resistance movement of Auschwitz who created the story of the “Bunkers” and so blatantly took it from the disinfestation units employing hydrocyanic acid that they called the alleged homicidal gas chambers “Degasungskammer” – a corruption of the term Begasungskammer, the normal designation of disinfestation chambers using the Zyklon B Kreislauf!

But this is another story, which I have told in my book on the so-called “Bunkers” at Birkenau.[21]


Notes

Translated By Henry Gardner. First published as “Der Gaskammer-Teufel im Detail,” in Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung 8(2) (2004), pp. 130-134.

[1] vol. 16, no. 2, Fall 2002, pp. 189-216. In the quotations that follow, I have indicated the corresponding page directly in the text.
[2] Special Treatment in Auschwitz, Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2004.
[3] Cf. in particular my study “The Morgues of the Crematoria at Birkenau in the Light of Documents,” in: TR, 2(3) (2004), pp. 271-294.
[4] Zentralbauleitung.
[5] The drawings 1173-1174(p) and 933[-934](p), later republished by J.-C. Pressac in Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, New York 1989, p. 273 and 279.
[6] G. Wellers, Les chambres à gaz ont existé. Des documents, des témoignages, des chiffres, Gallimard, Paris 1981, table outside of text between pp. 134f.
[7] RGVA (Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennii Vojennii Archiv , Russian National War Archive, Moscow), 502-1-332, pp. 86-90.
[8] For this installation, 19 disinfestation chambers using hydrocyanic acid and the Degesch Kreislauf system were planned.
[9] APMM (Archiwum Państwowego Muzeum na Majdanku, Archiveof Majdanek National Museum), sygn. VI 9a, vol. 1.
[10] J. Graf, C. Mattogno, 2nd ed., Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2004.
[11] J.-C. Pressac, op. cit., (note 5), p. 284.
[12] Ibid p. 302, drawing 2003 of December 19, 1942, and corresponding comment by Pressac.
[13] Cf. in this regard my study “‘No Holes, No Gas Chamber(s).’ A Historical-Technical Study of the Holes in the Roof of Morgue 1of Krematorium II at Birkenau for Introducing Zyklon B,” TR, 2(4) (2004), 387-410, in particular pp. 396f.
[14] J.-C. Pressac, Die Krematorien von Auschwitz. Die Technik des Massenmordes, Piper, Munich 1994, drawings outside of text, Documents 10f.
[15] Cf. J.-C. Pressac, op. cit., (note 5), pp. 322f.
[16] J.-C. Pressac, op. cit., (note 14) document 15, section b-b, “Abluftkanal für ‘B’-Raum.”
[17] Institute for Historical Review, Newport Beach 1994, pp. 61f.; new edition published as part of the anthology by Germar Rudolf (ed.), Auschwitz: Plain Facts. A Response to Jean-Claude Pressac, Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2005, pp. 153-155.
[18] R.J. van Pelt, The Case for Auschwitz. Evidence from the Irving Trial. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2002, p. 455.
[19] RGVA, 502-1-13, p. 4.
[20] C. Mattogno, op. cit. (note 3), cf. in particular pp. 271-278 and 286-288.
[21] C. Mattogno, The Bunkers of Auschwitz, Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2004.

Additional information about this document

Author(s) Carlo Mattogno
Title The Birkenau Gas Chambers in October of 1941, Technico-Historical Fantasies of a “Technician”
Sources The Revisionist 3(2) (2005), pp. 133-138
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  • Henry Gardner: translation
Dates published: 2012-07-31, first posted on CODOH: July 30, 2012, 7 p.m., last revision: n/a
Comments First published in German as “Der Gaskammer-Teufel im Detail,” in "Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung," 8(2) (2004), pp. 130-134
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