Technique and Operation of German Anti-Gas Shelters in WWII

A Refutation of J. C. Pressac's "Criminal Traces"
Published: 1997-04-30

The personal residence of Auschwitz camp commander Rudolf Höß. Note small gas-proof shutter (Blende) to the right of the door.


It is well known that, although poison gas was used extensively in World War One, it was not used in World War Two. As a result, we tend to forget that most people in the 1930's expected gas warfare to be a feature of any future conflict. The German civil defense literature reflected the anxiety of the time, describing in great detail how German bomb shelters were to be made secure from both bombs and poison gas.

In other words, German bomb shelters were also anti-gas shelters.[1]

USHMM door: gas chamber or gas shelter?
Air-raid shelter door on display at USHMM as a "gas chamber door"

While the German WWII literature on bomb shelters or anti-gas shelters has been neglected, it is of enormous value to historians as a primary source. It is particularly relevant for historians of the Holocaust, because this literature contains all the terminology one normally associates with the extermination gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In 1989, a book appeared in English by the Frenchman, Jean Claude Pressac, entitled, Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers [hereinafter, ATO] Pressac sought to prove, strictly on the basis of documentary materials, that extermination gas chambers were built in each of the four crematoria at Birkenau. The core of his demonstration was a list of 39 "criminal traces" for these gas chambers.[2]

But there is something curious here: every one of these criminal traces describes a feature of an ordinary German bomb shelter. In other words, every trace taken as evidence of gas chambers can also be interpreted as evidence of German bomb shelters or, more precisely, their anti-gas warfare equipment.

It is important to note that the similarity of extermination gas chambers and bomb shelters is not exactly new, and to some extent is even suggested in the Holocaust literature.[3] Among independent researchers, Friedrich Berg was the first to recognize the importance of WWII German civil defense literature, but his research interests lay elsewhere. Among a handful of European researchers, Robert Faurisson made some suggestive comments in an article a few years ago.[4] In August, 1996, an American, Dr. Arthur R. Butz, made an important step forward when he argued on his Northwestern University Internet homepage that Morgue #1 of Crematorium II at Birkenau was in fact a "gas shelter."[5]

But while there has been some talk of German bomb shelters, their anti-gas features have been largely overlooked. The present article will redress this imbalance, by drawing attention to the fact that anti-gas warfare features were basic to German bomb shelter design. By pointing out these features, we will also be highlighting this important literature. Finally, a comparison of anti-gas shelter design and equipment with the criminal traces of Jean Claude Pressac provides a fitting test of this literature's value.

The present article comprises two parts, preceded by a brief background on the subject of poison gas warfare. In Part One, we shall describe a variety of German bomb shelter or anti-gas shelter literature, which the interested scholar is strongly advised to consult. We shall include several extracts, with complete extracts in the original German in reduced type. We feel this level of detail is needed, not only because of the importance of the literature, and its relative inaccessibility, but because of the contentiousness of some possible implications. After our review, we shall draw some conclusions about the characteristics of German bomb shelters.

In Part Two, we shall deal with each of Pressac's criminal traces, with reference to the extracts from Part One, and some reference to the documents in Pressac's book. We shall find that every trace can be interpreted in two ways: either as the sinister hallmark of a homicidal gas chamber or as a benign anti-gas warfare feature of a common German bomb shelter. The implications of this fact are not negligible.

A Brief Background on Poison Gas Warfare Prior to World War Two

Although it is possible to trace the use of poisonous smokes to earlier times, it is generally agreed that the era of poison gas warfare as we know it began on April 22, 1915.[6] On that date, the Germans released a cloud of chlorine gas on French positions at Ypres, achieving a breakthrough that they failed to exploit. From that point on, both sides used poison gas, causing hundreds of thousands of gas casualties, of which, however, only a small percentage died.

The gases used were generally classed into four groups, based on their properties.

  1. Lachrymators, or tear gases (White Cross, according to the German system of classification). These were tear gases whose main purpose was simply to encumber the enemy by forcing him to don his gas mask and exhaust its protective capacity.
  2. Sternutators, or sneezing, coughing, and vomiting gases (Blue Cross), which were initially designed to incapacitate the enemy, but which later were used to force the enemy to remove his mask to vomit or sneeze and make himself vulnerable to lethal gas.
  3. Vesicants, or blister gases (Yellow Cross), heavy, persistent aerosols which nullified the ground for either side, and which would raise huge blisters on the skin of the enemy, which could lead to permanent scarring. The actions of vesicants on the mucus membranes of the throat and other internal membranes could be fatal, and on the eyes could cause blindness. This class included the various mustard gases, as well as Lewisite. Probably the most famous victim of this class of gases was Adolf Hitler, whose temporary blinding in 1918 left him with a lifelong hatred of poison gas, which is the reason Germany never used it in World War Two. [Se 281-282, W 56f]
  4. Lung Irritants, or suffocating gases (Green Cross), a sort of catch-all classification which included Chlorine as well as Phosgene, the last a particularly dreaded gas because it could slowly fill the lungs of the victim with fluid that could result in sudden death as much as 48 hours after the attack. Phosgene was additionally classified as a lethal gas, because of its potential effect, but there was only one gas known that could be immediately lethal, and that was hydrocyanic acid [HCN], or hydrogen cyanide gas.

Cyanide gas would seem an unlikely candidate for poison gas warfare because of its diffusive properties. The Germans never bothered to use it. Nevertheless, the British and French developed cyanide compounds and used them against the Germans, usually in shells comprising 50% HCN and the rest various chlorides. [EB 115] The effectiveness of HCN in a tactical sense depended on gas mixtures. For example, exposure to lachrymators or sternutators would either lull the enemy, exhaust his gas mask's capacity, force him to remove it, or cause him to use a different filter. Precisely at that point, a drenching of cyanides would deliver an invisible, odorless, and fatal blow. [EB 113]

The use of HCN and other lethal gases created an optimism about their use that must strike us as odd. When Fritz Haber, the German Jew who developed poison gas warfare, received his Nobel Prize in 1918 for development of the nitrogen fixation process, he remarked:

"In no future war will the military be able to ignore poison gas. It is a higher form of killing," [W 46]

while Major General Sir Louis Jackson would be able to write in 1923:

Gas warfare, per se, is not necessarily or exceptionally cruel. For instance, if it were conducted on both sides with cyanides, successfully adapted to war purposes, the resultant deaths would be the most merciful that history has ever known. [EB 115]

Partly as a result of these positive sentiments, HCN was finally adapted as a means of execution in the United States in 1924.[7]

Poison gas was used after World War One, but not on the continent. The English used it against the Bolsheviks, the Whites used it also, the British used it in Afghanistan, and the French used it in Morocco. Of course, the most famous use of gas subsequent to 1918 was by the Italians in Ethiopia in 1935, where 15,000 fell victim to mustard gas. [W 54f] Perhaps the most important aspect of the Italian usage, however, it that the gas was delivered by air: thus the conceptual connection between gas attacks and bombing raids was forged. In line with these uses by the other European countries, the Soviet Union began developing large stores of poison gas in the 1920's, including cyanide gas, which was produced at the Karaganda works [Se 145].

German preparations for gas warfare would naturally involve preparation for HCN among other gases. An early Third Reich source, "Gasschutz: Ein Leitfader für den Gasschutzlehrer und den Gasschutzmann" (Berlin:1936, hereinafter G) by Fire Warden Hans Rumpf includes HCN (Blausäure, or Cyanwasserstoff) among the poison gases. Of the nine gas mask filters he describes, one, the "B" filter, is for suffocating gases (Chlorine, Phosgene) with a limited tolerance for HCN (.5 gram), while the "G" filter is a dedicated HCN filter with a capacity for 3.6 grams [G, 46]. We can see here how a mix of HCN with "Green Cross" would greatly enhance the effectiveness of the cyanide.

Given his title, it should not surprise us that Fire Warden (Branddirektor) Rumpf would draw on his practical experience with fires in discussing the potential dangers of poison gases. Thus, for example, in a table of poison gases, the common pesticide Zyklon B is listed separately from HCN (Blausäure) because of its normal irritant properties.[G, 49, 52]. Elsewhere, he discusses the development of poisonous gases in fires, for example, how the gases generated by flames will migrate to a zone with a lower temperature than their boiling point and then condense into a mist or smoke [G 54]. He also observes:

We know, for example, that leather, celluloid, and proteinous substances give off nitric gas as well as cyanide, while rubber will produce sulphur gas and sulphuric acid. All of these gases are poison gases.

So wissen wir, daß z. B. bei Leder, Zelluloid und eiweißhaltigen Substanzen nitrose Gase und sogar Zyan und Blausäure, bei Gummi Schwefelverbindungen und gasförmige schweflige Säure entstehen. Alle diese Gase wirken als Atemgifte. [G, 55]

To sum up, poison gases had been used for 24 years before the outbreak of hostilities in 1939. Among the gases used against the Germans was HCN, and a potential adversary of Germany, the Soviet Union, had developed stocks of HCN. The Germans had been attacked with HCN, were prepared for its use, and had reason to fear its use. That they would have masks and gas detectors designed to detect this lethal, odorless, and invisible gas should surprise not at all.

Part I: An Analytical Review of German Anti-Gas Shelter Literature from World War II

Our first document is Luftschutz durch Bauen [Civil Air Defense Through Construction], published in 1939. No author listed; hereinafter [LDB].

This book is an overall review describing how bomb shelters should be constructed, operated, and furnished. One section has two pages of line drawings showing all the things one would expect to find in a German bomb shelter; for example, a container for contaminated clothing (Behälter für vergiftete Kleider), gas tight doors (gasdichte Tür), a washstand (Waschtisch), a medicine cabinet (Schutzraum-Apotheke), emergency lamps (Notbeleuchtung), benches (Bank), and a ventilation system (Schutzraumbelüfter). The spread also contains an exploded diagram of an emergency exit: first one has the exit tunnel, and then a frame (Zarge) and then a gas tight shutter (Gasglocke), and finally a protective screen (Trümmerschutz) which looks like a mesh screen with a wide edge around it. [LDB, 174-177]

Another section describes the layout of a regular bomb shelter: one enters a small foyer (Vorraum) where the bucket for contaminated clothes is kept, and where one can clean one's shoes in a tray full of sand. From there one moves into a gas lock (Gasschleuse), where one can sit down, and preferably have a cold water tap for washing up [LDB, 180]. Farther on in the bomb shelter (Schutzraum) proper, there will be benches, tables, and folding chairs. The author remarks that nowadays bomb shelters are also built to be washrooms and dressing rooms, whereas in earlier times the rooms were separated:

Häufig werden heute Schutzräume gleichzeitig als Wasch- und Garderobenräume der Belegschaft ausgebildet. Während früher vornehmlich in Kellerschutzräumen, Kleiderschränke und Waschbrunnen aufgestellt wurden .... [LDB, 180]

... but the author clearly has small spaces in mind.

Elsewhere, the book describes the ventilation system (Schutzraumbelüfter) in greater detail. The air is drawn from a pipe at about ceiling level through a dust filter (Staubfilter), then the pipe turns downward, where the flow can be interdicted by a stopcock (Absperrvorrichtung), then the air flow passes through two more filters, including a gas filter (Gasfilter). Finally, the air is passed through the actual extraction mechanism, that can be powered by hand or by electricity, and then the fresh air passes out near the bottom [LDB, 178-179].

In another place, the book describes some of the devices used for protection from rubble and debris:

Among new constructions we mention above all the grill or protective grille. The overhead exit of a light shaft is closed with a strong, rubble resistant steel grating. One half of the grille is closed from below, so that if the grille is covered by rubble from a building it possible to open a space for an emergency exit from the bomb shelter. The opening of the grille is secured with a chain. On the inside of the cellar opening there is a gas tight shutter.

Als neuer Bauteil waren vor allem die Fallroste oder Schutt-Fallroste zu nennen. Der waagerechte Abschluß eines Lichtschachtes wird mit einem kräftigen, trümmersicheren Stalhgitter verschlossen. Die eine Hälfte dies Rostes ist herunterklappbar ausgebildet, so daß bei Verschüttung durch Bautrümmer eine Räumung des Schutzraumes durch den Notausstieg möglich ist. Die Klappe des Fallrostes wird durch Gestänge mit Kettenzug betätigt. An der innenseite des Kellerfensters sitzt die gasdichte Blende. [LDB, 182, 183].

German advertisement for gasproof Türen (doors) and Blenden (shutters or windows).

Farther on, there is a discussion of the kinds of shelters one would expect at a factory or large work place: such a bomb shelter complex (Schutzraumbau) would comprise several parts, including an command center (Befehlsstellen), an emergency room (Rettungsstellung), and a decontamination center (Entgiftungsanstalten) [LDB, 205]. The entire structure would be equipped with gas detectors (Gaspürer) [LDB 208], and the people entering would go through a gas tight steel door. This waiting room should be rather large, to accommodate people comfortably during an air raid.

From the waiting room, doors lead on the one side to the treatment rooms and on the other side to sleeping quarters. Among the treatment rooms for the wounded and for those exposed to poison gas there is a doctor's office and an operating room. In large layouts the doctor's office and the operating room are separate. Farther on there will be sleeping quarters, shelters for lightly wounded, and decontamination centers.

Vom Warteraum führen Türen einerseits in den Behandlungsräumen und andererseits in den Liegeraum. Zwischen den Behandlungsräumen für Verwundete und für Gasvergiftete liegt ein Artztzimmer und ein Raum zur Operationsvorbereitung. Bei größeren Anlagen werden Behandlungsraum und Operationsraum getrennt. Ferner treten weiter Liegeräume, Schutzräume fur Leichtverwundete, und Entgiftungsanstalten zu der Anlage hinzu [LDB 210]

So far, we can see that the German bomb shelter is a relatively sophisticated operation, including a systematic design and a division of functions. In addition, the references to gas tight doors, buckets for contaminated clothing, wash rooms, changing rooms, and decontamination centers reflects a very real concern with the possibility of poison gas attacks.

Our second document is entitled Schutzraumabschlüsse [Bomb Shelter Seals], Berlin, 1939, by Doctor-Engineer R. Scholle; hereinafter, [S].

This booklet describes in great detail the ways in which a bomb shelter (Schutzraum) should be made gas tight; indeed, Scholle emphasizes that a shelter needs to be secure from poison gas (gassicher), debris (trümmersicher), and bomb splinters (splittersicher) [S 2]. Scholle specifies that the protection from debris and bomb splinters should be on the outside, while the protection from gas should be on the inside, of any window or emergency exit [S 3]. This would mean, in practical terms, that any screening or grille-work would be on the outside, and any gas tight cover would be on the inside of an opening.

On the subject of windows and other openings, he specifies what their dimensions should be, if they are to be used for emergency exits:

Windows or other wall openings may be of any size. But if these openings are to be used as emergency exits, then they must under all circumstances allow a passage of 50 by 50 centimeters.

Abmessungen für Fenster und sonstige Wandöffnungen sind freigestellt. Sollen diese Öffnungen jedoch als Notausstiege verwendet werden, so müssen sie unter allen Umständen eine lichte Durchgangsöffnung von 50x 50 cm frei lassen. [S, 5]

He also describes the need for bomb shelter doors to be gas tight and to have a gas tight peephole:

Every anti-gas bomb shelter door must be equipped with a peephole. The peephole should be made round, without the use of putty or other easily hardened materials to be made gas tight, and it should have a view of 40 millimeters. The disc of multi-layered glass of at least six millimeters in thickness should be protected from damage with a perforated steel plate.

Jede gassichere Schutzraumtür muß mit einem Guckloch versehen sein. Das Guckloch muß rund ausgebildet sein, ohne Verwendung von Kitten oder anderen leicht erhärtenden Stoffen leicht gasdicht einzusetzen sein und einen freien Durchblick von 40 mm Durchm. gestatten. Die mindestens 6 mm dick Scheibe aus Mehrschichtenglas muß durch eine gelochte Stahlscheibe nach aussen gegen Beschädigung geschützt sein. [S, 21]

The purpose of the peephole in a bomb shelter door was so the Fire Warden could check on the inhabitants of a shelter, to ensure their needs and safety. Thus the thin glass disc would be recessed in the door, and it would be the inside, flush to the door's surface, that would require protection against damage. [cf. photos, S 32, 37] Although a perforated steel plate would be the preferred protection, it should be clear that a number of other means could be used.[8]

Further on, Scholle describes the need for a threshhold to place at the base of the gas tight door. The caption to one photograph reads:

Upturned threshold, standing in the doorway. The threshold is bolted to the floor, when gas tightness is required.

Hochgeklappte Schwelle, die in der Türöffnung stehenbleibt. Die Schwelle wird auf dem Boden festgeschraubt, wenn Gassicherheit erforderlich ist. [S, 22]

The photograph depicts a flat iron bar leaning in a doorway.

Section (k) contains a discussion, with several photographs, of how to construct gas tight double doors.

A complete gas tight seal with a double-winged bomb shelter seal was considered impossible for a long time, and even today not all manufacturers have succeeded. It depends on making the tight edges of the two leaves of the seal gas tight.

Einwandfreie Gassicherheit von zweiflügligen Schutzraumabschlüssen wurde fur lange Zeit für unmöglich gehalten und gelingt auch heute noch nicht allen Herstellen. Es kommt darauf an, die Dichtlinien von zwei Abschlussblättern gasdicht zu vereinigen. [S, 24f]

The booklet also discusses making gas tight doors with wood, lined with felt [S 27, 28], and the use of concrete in creating seals [S 31], overhead openings requiring a two part grate or grille [Rost, S 34], and several other features.

Of particular interest in the discussion of pressure release valves (Überdruckventile). One of these is a peephole that is sealed by means of a weight. The peephole can be pushed forward, creating an aperture for the passage of air or even messages (S, 37, 32). A more typical Überdruckventil consists of a pipe that is fitted into the bomb shelter wall. The open end of the pipe faces the outside, the inside end is closed, but at the bottom of the inside end there is an opening that is sealed with a rubberized screw-on cap (S 38).

Our third document is the periodical Gasschutz und Luftschutz [Gas Defense And Civil Air Defense], for the year 1939, then in its 9th year of publication; hereinafter, GL and publication year.

The article "Der Zivile Luftschutz auf den Frühjahrausstellungen 1939" by Heinz-Guenther Mahl describes the latest advances in civil defense technology at a civil air defense exhibition in Leipzig. Attention is given to all the usual features of bomb shelters, including mechanisms for achieving darkening (Verdunklung). Darkening was considered very important: it was the first thing to achieve in an above ground bomb shelter in the event of an air raid (GL39, 5), and the regulations stipulated that lights had to be dimmed so that no light was visible at 500 meters (GL39, 264). Indeed, a further article by Mueller, "über das Sehen im Hellen und Dunkeln" (GL39, 323ff) describes the use of colored lights (farbiges licht) for darkening (GL39, 325).

The Leipzig article also contains a discussion of modifications for bomb shelters, including doors and window shutters, which can be made of several materials, as well as a discussion of ways of making chimneys and smoke stacks gas tight:

Bomb shelter doors and window shutters come in many different varieties, they are made out of steel, steel saving constructions, wood, and other building materials. […] Among gas protective chimney seals there is a novelty that does not use a steel frame […] consisting of a rubber flap that is pressed against the frame of the concrete chimney flue by means of a bolt. This construction not only saves steel but also solves the problem of the frame rusting. Another construction for a chimney seal uses a rubber plate which normally hangs loose, but which can be placed into position by means of a hook on the inside of the external flue in order to achieve gas tightness in the chimney shutter.

Schutzraumtüren und Fensterblenden wurden in zahlreichen und unterschiedlichen Ausführungen — aus Stahl, in stahlsparender Bauweise, aus Holz, und aus Baustoffplatten — angeboten. […] Unter den gassicheren Schornsteinabschlüsse fiel als Neuheit eine Konstruktion auf, die keine Stahlzarge mehr aufweist […] der in einer Nute des Verschlußdeckels liegende Gummi Hohlschnurriemen wird vielmehr gegen die als Rahmen ausgebildete Betonzarge gepreßt. Diese Konstruction spart somit Stahl unde vermeidet überdies ein Undichtwerden durch Rostbildung an der Zarge. Eine andere Konstruction einer Schornsteinreinigungstür benutz zum Abdichten eine Gummiplatte, die im Frieden ausgehängt ist and lediglich bei Aufruf des Luftschutzes mittels einiger Aufhängehaken an der Innenseite der äußeren Verschlußklappe befestigt zu werden braucht, um die Gasdichtheit der Schornsteinklappe herzustellen [GL39, 111]

Also in 1939, Dr. Engineer Karl Quasebart contributed an article on "Werkrettungsstellen" [Work Place Emergency Rooms], which contains a floorplan for a typical anti-gas shelter:

A: Exhaust; E: Drainage; L: Air intake; GT: Gas tight door; N: Emergency exit; S: Stop valve; U: Pressure release valve

A: Abluftventil; E: Entwässerung; L: Luftansaugleitung; GT: Gasdichte Tür; N: Notausstieg; S: Absperrschieber; U: Überdruckventil [GL39, 236]

The same article contains recommendations (GL39, 237) on the establishment of an emergency room (Werkrettungsstelle), particularly for gas attacks, as part of the bomb shelter complex:

Those who have been exposed to Yellow Cross or are suspected of same [however] are divided by sex in the undressing rooms, and go from there to the shower rooms, and to the dressing rooms, where extra clothes are available, and from here back to the waiting room, for further transport or direction to the doctor's office.

Die Gelbkreuzverletzten oder -verdächtigen dagegen gelangen, getrennt nach Frauen und Männern in die Auskleideräume, Duschräume, Ankleideräume, in denen saubere Notkleidung zur Verfugen steht, und von hier wieder in den Warteraum entweder zum Abtransport oder zur Weiterleitung in den Artztraum.

"Yellow Cross", according to the Wehrmacht system for classifying gases, denotes vesicants, or blister gases [US 528, see below]. Thus undressing rooms and showers were part of the decontamination process, and were envisioned as an integral part of the bomb shelter complex, as indeed we have already seen [LDB 210].

Dr. Quasebart's article also contains photographs of these decontamination facilities. A Duschraum [Shower room] could contain showers, but the photograph labeled Duschraum shows not showers but three water taps with hoses attached and coiled around exposed upright pipes [GL39, 237]. Another photo, captioned "Bade- und Duschraum für Kampstoffverletzte" [Bath and shower for gassing victims] shows a bathtub with a more typical shower arrangement attached [GL39, 239]. Clearly, the concepts of Duschraum and decontamination center were rather elastic in their application.

Another article, "Aus der Praxis für die Praxis im Werkluftschutz" [Practical Lessons for Work Place Bomb Shelters] by Major a. D. Stein contains a discussion of fulfilling bomb shelter requirements. On the subject of protecting apertures, in place of the more expensive steel, he recommends "Baustahlgewebe" which he describes as "wire mesh of varying gauges that has been welded together at certain points" and which is a good substitute, especially for constructing covers:

ein Geflecht von Draht verschiedenen Abmessung mit verschweißten Schnittpunkten bietet einen sehr guter Ersatz, inbesondere auch für Decken konstruktion. [GL39, 263].

Our fourth document is the periodical Gasschutz und Luftschutz , for the year 1940. In March of that year its name was changed to Baulicher Luftschutz [Civil Air Defense Construction]; hereinafter, BL and publication year.

A particularly noteworthy article entitled Behelfsmäßige Luftschutzräume, falsch und richtig [Do it Yourself Bomb Shelters, Right and Wrong], by Doctor Engineer Ernst Baum, appeared in that year [GL 22ff]

The article contains several photographs [passim] of gassichere Fensterblende [gas tight window shutters], most of which are constructed of wood. It also describes an incorrect method for fixing a shutter up against the grating of the window grille:

Making a window gas tight, according to the regulations, is one of the easiest measures. But even so one observes many mistakes relating to gas tight shutters. It is wrong, for example, to wrap a board in cloth and press it up against the grating of the window grille with a Christmas tree pole. [GL40, 26]

Fenster gassicher abzuschließen, sollte an Hand der erlassenen Vorschriften zu den einfachsten Maßnahmen gehören. Und trotzdem konnten bezüglich gassicherer Blenden zahlreiche Fehler beobachtet werden. Falsch ist es, z. B., ein Holzbrett mit einem einfachen Tuch zu bespannen und mit Hilfe eines Weihnachtsbaumstammes von unten gegen die Gitterstäbe des Fensterschachtrostes zu pressen. [GL40, 26]

The article includes a specific reference to Holzblende [shutters made of wood] (GL40, 26).

Another article of interest, entitled Bemerkungen zur Verorderung und den Bestimmungen über die behelfsmäßige Herrichtung von Luftschuträumen, by K. Otto, Referent im Reichsluftfahrtministerium, offers a series of recommendations for do-it-yourself bomb shelters, including the following suggestion, that bomb shelters should be used for other purposes when not actually used for air raids:

According to Regulation #12, bomb shelters should only be used to the extent that the necessary three cubic meters of breathing room per person is maintained, and secure passage to the space is ensured. In this case, only things should be left in the bomb shelter that do not compromise or endanger its use as a bomb shelter. If conditions do not make it otherwise possible, then it is permissable to leave furniture, boxes, and other things like potatoes, coal, and other supplies in the bomb shelter.

Luftschutzräume brauchen nach Nr. 12 der Bestimmungen gegebenfalls nur soweit ausgeräumt zu werden, bis der notwendige Luftraum von 3 m³ je Person und sichere Begehbarkeit gewährleistet sind. In diesem Fall dürfen nur solche Dinge im Luftschutzraum belassen werden, die seine Nutzung als Luftschutzraum nicht beeinträchtigen oder gefährden. Wenn eine anderweitige Unterbringung nicht möglich sein sollte, so ist es jedoch zulässig, Möbel, Kisten, und andere Gegenstände sowie Kartoffeln, Kohlen, und andere Vorräte im Luftschutzraum zu belassen. [GL40, 8)

It should be noted that these specifications pertain to improvised shelters, i.e., shelters which would not be expected to have a sophisticated ventilation system. As we shall see, the maximum limits of occupancy for ventilated shelters were different.

Our fifth document is Baulicher Luftschutz , for 1942 ; hereinafter, BL and publication year.

It contains a lengthy article entitled Hygienische und physiologische Grundlagen für den Bau von Luftschutz-Bunkern , by Dr. W. Liese, Reichsgesundheitsamt. [BL42, 104-110]. It makes several remarks on recommended temperatures for bomb shelters, air circulation, and other relevant topics.

Of particular interest is a discussion of Pettenkofer's Rule on the accumulation of carbon dioxide in a closed space, which holds that the air is not breathable once CO2 levels exceed a constant of 1.5:

We know today that the basic parallel between CO2 content and the development of obnoxious odors is only general, and can be influenced by a number of other factors. Nevertheless, Pettenkofer's Rule can still be used for practical purposes. Let us take as an example the sleeping quarters of a bomb shelter, where 2 cubic meters of air space are available to each person. We can see that the CO2 levels will exceed hygienic levels at 2 or 3 percent after 3 hours, and that fresh air must be made available. By reference to this maximum load we derive a relation, with whose help we can roughly calculate when a closed space will need fresh air. That is, the volume of the space is divided by the number of occupants and the quotient is multiplied by 1.5. For example: Room volume: 60 cubic meters, Persons 60, therefore 1.5 × 60 ÷ 60 = 1 × 1.5 = 1.5, i. e. the limit is reached in this case after 11/2 hours. If one wanted the air space in a bomb shelter to achieve very high levels of adherence to Pettenkofer's Rule, such that the CO2 levels did not exceed 1 per thousand, then it would be necessary to supply each occupant with 30 cubic meters of fresh air, or in other words an availability of about 15 air exchanges.

In Nr. 6 (1) of the Regulations on the Ventilation, Heating, and Cooling of Bomb Shelters it is prescribed that each person should receive 18 cubic meters of fresh air per hour.

Wir wissen heute, daß die zu Grunde liegende Parallele zwischen Kohlensäuregehalt und Anreicherung an Riech- und Ekelstoffen nur bedingt richtig ist und durch andere Einflüsse stark verschoben sein kann. Immerhin kann die Pettenkofersche Angabe als Richtlinie nach wie vor mit praktischem Nutzen gebraucht werden. Wir, wollen uns vor Augen führen, daß im Schlafraum der LS-Bunker je Kopf knapp 2 m³ Luftraum zur Verfügung stehen. Wird lediglich dieser Luftraum betrachtet, so heißt das, daß nach rund 3 Stunden die Kohlensäure die hygienish zulässige Grenze von höchstens 2 bis 3 v.H. zu erreichen beginnt und Frischluft zur Verfügung stehen muß. Unter Benutzung dieser Belastungsgrenze gibt es eine Beziehung, mit deren Hilfe ungefähr überschlagen werden kann, wann im geschossenen Raum Lufterneuerung notwendig wird. Danach ist der Rauminhalt durch die Zahl der Personen zu teilen und dieser Wert mit 1.5 zu multiplizieren. Beispiel: Rauminhalt 60 m³, Personenzahl 60, also 1.5 × 60 ÷ 60 = 1 × 1.5 = 1.5, d. h. 11/2 Stunden wäre in diesem Falle die Grenze erreicht. Wollte man für den Luftraum des LS-Bunkers von rund 2 m³ den hygienisch sehr hohen Anspruch der Petterkoferschen Regel gelten lassen, d. h. sollte der Kohlensäuregehalt der Raumluft nicht mehr als 1 v.T. betragen, so müßten je Stunden rund 30 m³ Frischluft je Person zugeführt werden oder mit anderen Worten ein annähernd 15 facher Luftwechsel gewahrleistet sein.

In Nr. 6 (1) der Bestimmungen über die Belüftung, Heizung und Kühlung der LS-Bunker wird je Person eine Frischluftmenge von 18 m³ Stunde vorgeschrieben. [BL42, 105]

The above makes it very clear that the preferred air space in any given bomb shelter equipped with a ventilation system would be 2 cubic meters per person, with 30 cubic meters of fresh air per person per hour, for an hourly venting capacity (Y/2 = 1/2Y x 30 = 15Y) of fifteen air exchanges per hour, and that the regulations stipulate a minimum of 18 cubic meters of fresh air per person, which would mean, at a maximum volume of 1 person per cubic meter, eighteen air exchanges per hour. We would therefore expect bomb shelters with ventilation systems to demonstrate comparable capacities.

Another interesting aspect of the article involves temperatures: referencing Regulation #7 for LS-Bunkers, it recommends air temperatures of 17 C, and surface temperatures of 16 C. [BL42, 107] Hence, an attempt to heat or warm bomb shelters by the use of stoves or heated air would be simply an attempt to accord with these regulations.

A further article, Einfluß der Heizung und Belüftung auf die Planung von LS Bunkern , by Doctor Engineer Hermann Schrader, Regierungsbaurt im RLM, [BL42, 110-116] covers the air circulation systems in much greater detail with several drawings.

The periodical contains several advertisements for this year, including:

  • Drahtegeflechte / Drahtwarenfabrik / Otto Christ / Mannheim Käfertal , [BL42, v of advertisements]
  • Gasschutztüren und Blenden / geprüft RL 3 - 37/234 / Unbedingte Betriebssicherheit! / Die einfache Bauart ermöglicht leichte, schnelle Bedienung / Albus Stahltürenwerk / Dortmund [BL 42, v1 of advertisements]
  • Armaturen für Schutzraumbelüftungsanlagen / gem. 8 Luftschutzgesetz zugelassen / Überdruckventile, Lüftungsventile, Rosettenschieber, Absperrschieber für Ansaugleitungen, Ansaughauben, Vorwärmgerüte und Ausblaseschieber für Frischluftverteilungsleitungen [BL 42, V of advertisements]

Our final source is an issue of the US War Department, "Handbook on German Military Forces," originally published in March of 1945. It was reissued in 1990 by Lousiana State University Press with a forward by Stephen E. Ambrose, hereinafter, US.

Chapter VIII, section VI is devoted to German Chemical Warfare Equipment. Several aspects are discussed, including, for example, decontamination vehicles (Kfz 93) for clothing, utilizing steam [US 522f], decontamination trucks (Kfz 92) for personnel, which could shower 150 men in an hour [US 522f], and a variety of other gas protection devices for personnel, horses, and even dogs and pigeons.

The text specifically mentions anti-gas shelters [US 518], while subsection c. discusses no less than 15 German gas detectors, including gas detector sets for fortifications, and gas detection laboratories [US 526]. The section also specifically references a German awareness of the potentialities of cyanide compounds for war purposes, from which we infer that the gas detectors included those that could detect the presence of cyanides in the atmosphere.

The section also contains a photograph of several Schutzraumbelüfter, called "collective protectors" in the manual [US 527]. The photo shows the extensive overhead ductwork suspended from the ceiling by stirrups (Bügel): since the ceiling appears to be of concrete formwork, we would suspect that the stirrups are attached to some other element in the concrete, possibly flat wooden squares. It is worth noting also that Bügel are frequently used on the outside of above ground bomb shelters to brace fortifying elements — timber, sandbags, concrete, etc. [cf. BL42, 202].

This concludes our brief review of German bomb shelter, or anti-gas shelter, literature from WWII, including an easily accessible document from an American source.

On the basis of the above extracts, the following conclusions may be safely drawn:

At left: The door at the concentration camp Majdanek from which the USHMM made the replica which is now on display in Washington D.C.
At right: The real function of the door and thousands more like it is shown in a widely distributed German ad for bomb-shelter doors and window covers, military and civilian.

  1. From no later than 1939, German bomb shelters were also constructed to be anti-gas shelters.
  2. German bomb shelters, or anti-gas shelters, had a sequential organization allowing for decontamination and several other functions. In large structures, these functions would have separate rooms.
  3. Decontamination procedures featured a sequence of undressing, showering or washing, and medical attention. In large structures, each function would have a separate room.
  4. Bomb shelters, although usually underground, could be above ground.
  5. Particular attention had to be paid to darkening in the event of an air raid.
  6. German bomb shelters or anti-gas shelters featured an elaborate system of ventilation, which drew air from ceiling height and filtered it out near the bottom. The ventilation ductwork would be suspended from the ceiling. In addition, the regulations recommended ventilation capacities allowing for anywhere from 15 to 18 air exchanges. Regulations recommended that the air in bomb shelters be heated to 17 C.
  7. A standard feature of a German shelter was a gas tight door. These could be made of either wood or steel, and have one or two doors. The seal could be achieved with either rubber or felt.
  8. Gas tight doors had peepholes, whose glass had to be protected from damage: this was usually achieved with a perforated steel plate, but obviously other means could be used.
  9. A flat iron bar was frequently bolted along the base of a gas tight door to create a gas tight seal.
  10. Windows were usually covered with grating, mesh, or grille of some kind to protect against splinters and rubble.
  11. Emergency exits were also covered with a grating, mesh, or grille of some kind to protect against splinters and rubble.
  12. Both windows and emergency exits would be covered with gas tight shutters, inside the grating, mesh, or grille. The shutters could be made of steel or wood.
  13. An ad for wire mesh [Drahtnetz], appears in one periodical, from which we infer that it was a common material used for window or emergency exit gratings, mesh, or grilles. There is also a specific reference to using wire mesh screens for splinter and debris protection.
  14. Chimneys and smoke stacks were also designed to be gas tight.
  15. Gas detectors were a common feature of German military equipment. That the German Army was equipped to detect HCN is a safe inference.
  16. The literature for civil defense was large, boasting a large number of synonyms and neologisms as is typical of a new concept which takes time to standardize its vocabulary. For example, poison gas victims are described as "Gelbkreuzverletzte", "Gasvergiftete", and "Kampstoffvergiftete": hence, when reviewing material evidence of bomb shelters we should expect similar variability in the use of words.

Part II: The Criminal Traces of J. C. Pressac

Air-raid shelter doors

Before discussing the criminal traces, a few preliminary observations seem appropriate.

The criminal traces represents an attempt to prove, strictly on a material basis, the existence of extermination gas chambers in the crematoria at Birkenau. It deliberately avoids as much as possible recourse to witness testimony, or postwar affidavits.

But by the time most students of the Holocaust get to the criminal traces their minds are already fairly well made up. Conventionalists tend to be logocentric, that is, they focus on the words of witness testimony and postwar affidavits as proof of the extermination gas chambers. Any and all material evidence is simply supplemental. Revisionists, on the other hand, tend to be object-oriented, that is, they look at the totality of the physical and structural evidence at the Birkenau complex to conclude that no gas exterminations took place. Therefore, when confronted with a possible criminal trace, revisionists tend to offer explanations that are sometimes neither well thought out nor corroborated by other evidence.

It follows that, if this proposed explanation for the criminal traces is correct, conventionalists will ignore the interpretation, even if they may be forced to grant the non-existence of any criminal traces whatsoever. Revisionists, on the other hand, will consider this explanation as simple additional proof that no gas exterminations took place in the morgues of the Birkenau crematoria.

Criminal Trace #1: The "Vergasungskeller" note.

This is the oldest of the criminal traces, a letter from an SS captain to Berlin, which uses the word "Vergasungskeller." Originally generated during the Nuremberg trials, it was taken by Gerald Reitlinger (1954) as proof of a gas chamber. Beginning in 1976, revisionists offered other explanations. Arthur R. Butz argued that it might have referred to a room for carbureting the gases for the crematorium. Robert Faurisson has argued that it referred to a storage room for Zyklon B. Last year, Arthur R. Butz proposed that it referred to an anti-gas shelter.[9]

All these interpretations are plausible insofar as the word Vergasungskeller is a neologism. The real question is whether it is a neologism to refer to a new function, the conventionalist view, or whether it is a neologism to refer to a known function, the revisionist view. Neither proposition can be definitely proved, but as we shall see several of the documents that Pressac cites contain unconventional wordings.

This should be stressed: Vergasungs[keller] occurs in no other known documentation or literature from this era. Moreover, the primary meaning of the verb vergasen is to gasify, that is, the verb primarily refers to the process of turning something into a gas. In 1943, only a secondary meaning referred to attacking with a gas, and that in a military context.

Vergasung terminates in a -ung, and such words from German are frequently translated into English with -ing and are seen as gerunds, that is, expressing an incomplete or ongoing verbal action: thus we have Wohnung (dwelling, where one dwells), Kleidung (clothing, or how one is clad), and therefore Vergasung, meaning "gassing." On the other hand, -ung is also frequently used in German to express simple verbal nouns, for example, Entscheidung (decision, having decided), Erfindung (invention, having invented), and therefore Vergasung, meaning "gasification." This last class of nouns reminds us that there are many German words in which -ung does not refer to an ongoing or even future process, but to a completed process of the verb: thus, for example, Stimmung (pitch, the perfective of tuning), Tötung (homicide, the perfective of killing), Verletzung (wound, the perfective of wounding). This is important when we turn to words to describe gassing victims.

Gaserkrankung does not mean becoming sick from gas or going to become sick from gas: it refers to having become sick from gas. Similarly, Vergiftungen refers to people who have been poisoned, not those who are being, or will be, poisoned. Such terms are common in the literature. Therefore, we can say that Vergasung refers not to gasification nor to gassing but rather to the condition or state of having been gassed. In this case, Vergasungskeller would mean a cellar meant for those (note the genitive -s) who have been wounded with poison gas.

In short, etymological arguments turn on whether Vergasungskeller refers to a space where people are gassed, a space where people take shelter from gas, or a place where people are treated after having been gassed. The last two arguments are closely linked, but none of these arguments stands alone outside of a larger context.

It is clear that in itself this designation is not a criminal trace, since perfectly benign interpretations are possible. Its criminality is only defined by the weight of any corroborating material evidence. We will return to this term at the end of our review of the other criminal traces.

Criminal Trace #2: 10 Gasprüfer (gas detectors)

As noted above, Gasprüfer and Gasspürer were common in German chemical warfare equipment and in anti-gas shelter equipment. [Source: US 525ff] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

There is more to this trace. In 1993, Pressac published another book, which was at once a condensation and augmentation of the first, Die Krematorien von Auschwitz [Munich:1994, hereinafter, DKA]. In it he quoted a letter from Kurt Prüfer to the Auschwitz Bauleitung, in which he claimed that he had unsuccessfully sought to acquire the 10 gas detectors, which he now specified as Anzeigegeräte für Blausäure-Reste ["Indicators for HCN residue", DKA 93], and there is indeed no record that they were ever located or delivered. At any rate, they were not available for the purpose which Pressac assumed. [DKA 94] If we chose, we could dismiss this criminal trace right now: the Germans had been gassed with HCN in World War One, expected its use, and had prepared for it. The presence of HCN detectors has no criminal significance at all.

But there is still a problem: why would one ask an oven maker to purchase gas detectors? In other words, we know that the manufacturers of Zyklon had HCN gas detectors, and we are certain that the Wehrmacht and the SS had their own. Thus, why would one ask the builders of the cremation ovens for gas detectors, and why ten in number? The simplest answer is that these gas detectors were meant for the 10 three-muffle cremation ovens that comprised Crematoria II and III, and they probably were meant to have some characteristic (heat resistance) to make them usable in or by the ovens. That the gas detectors would be meant for Crematoria II and III makes sense, because, first, Pressac notes that the crematoria were always discussed as pairs (II and III, IV and V) [ATO, 452], and because Crematoria IV and V did not have 10, but rather 4 double muffle ovens apiece.

Then we have to ask what their function would be. Pressac argues that these detectors prove gassings with Zyklon B in the crematoria: but in the event of such gassings, certainly the crematoria operators would not need to be informed that dangerous concentrations of the gas were nearby. In other words, the need for detectors for the ovens suggests the ability to detect the presence of HCN residues created by other processes, but not by the release of pure HCN in the Crematoria.

In early March, 1997, Dr. Arthur R. Butz argued that the incineration chute behind the cremation ovens of Crematoria II and III could have generated high levels of HCN in the crematory ductwork if certain fabrics were burned. There is merit to this argument, since it is known that German uniforms from the beginning of the war were composed of a wool-rayon combination, and that the proportion of rayon increased throughout the war [US 541ff]. It is not unreasonable to assume that most concentration camp fabrics contained similar proportions of wool and rayon, nor is it unreasonable that highly flammable rayon fabrics would be treated with flame retardant which would provide a catalyst for HCN release when burned.

In addition, our review of the literature has shown that several other substances produced HCN, and could have a poisonous effect, including leather, celluloid, and proteinous matter. All of these could have been burned in the incinerator as well. [G 55]

The counter argument is that these gas detectors had special characteristics that were meant for measurement for homicidal gassings. Aside from this being purely speculative, the argument offers no clue as to what these characteristics might be, nor does the counter argument explain why so many would be needed or how they would be used or consulted in a space that after all had only one door. Nor does the counter argument explain why, if the 10 gas detectors sought were important for homicidal gassings, why such gassings were supposed to have proceeded, presumably using nothing more than the typical DEGESCH gas detectors.

Recognizing that the problem is not a question of the criminality of these detectors, but rather a question of why Topf should be acquiring them, I accept the general validity of Dr. Butz' thesis and direct the interested reader there.[10]

Criminal Trace #3: 1 Stck Handgriff für Gastür (handle for a gas tight door)

Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, BL42, v1, BL40, 236] We note that the notation contains an abbreviation: Stck for Stück: there will be other examples of apparent abbreviations. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #4: Auskleideraum (undressing room)

This is only a relative criminal trace, that is, it is criminal only insofar as some other criminal trace(s) can be proved. Undressing rooms were a common feature to bomb shelters, forming part of the decontamination sequence [LDB 180, 205, 210; GL39, 237]. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #5 Auskleidekeller, Auskleidekeller II

This is only a relative criminal trace, that is, it is criminal only insofar as some other criminal trace(s) can be proved. Undressing rooms were a common feature to bomb shelters, forming part of the decontamination sequence [LDB 180, 205, 210; GL39, 237]. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #6 Gastür 100/192 (Gas tight door, 100 x 192)

Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, BL42, v1, BL40, 236] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace. The complete order adds: "Gastür ... mit Guckloch aus doppeltem 8 mm Glas mit Gummidichtung und Beschlag ..." which Pressac interprets as a peephole, rubber sealing strip for the door (which Pressac claims was replaced with felt [ATO 434]), and a frame. But in fact these specifications match a typical bomb shelter door [S 21], with multi-layered glass peephole of at least 6 mm thick, gas tightness, and with a clasp or cover (Beschlag.) This should be considered a clear-cut reference to an anti-gas shelter door.

Criminal Trace #7 Gasdichtetür (Gas tight door)

Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, BL42, v1, BL40, 236] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #8 4 Dratnetzeinschiebvorrichtung


Criminal Trace #9 4 Holzblenden

Since these two elements on the inventory agree in number, and were written in, it is assumed by all parties that their function is connected.

Blenden are simply shutters, and may be made from either steel or wood. They were commonly used in anti-gas shelters in order to make an opening gas tight, such as a window, or any other opening [Source: GL39, 111; GL40, 22ff; GL40, 26]. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Further on this point, Pressac [ATO, 425ff] provides several photographs of shutters, which are identified as the gassdichten Fenster (or Türen) of Crematoria IV and V. These shutters are generally identical in size, shape, and construction to ordinary wooden Blenden as can readily be seen by consulting the literature cited above, and they are also of the right size for emergency exits. Thus gassdichten Fenster (or Türen ), Blenden and Holzblenden, and wooden shutters are all the same thing. This is important not only because it demonstrates the propensity of the Birkenau construction workers and engineers to describe things by unconventional names, but also because it helps put Drahtnetzeinschiebvorrichtung in context.

Drahtnetzeinschiebvorrichtung is a neologism, and we cannot offer a definitive explanation. Pressac speculates that it represents a wire mesh device whereby Zyklon B was "induced" into the extermination gas chamber, but there is no material corroboration for this. We offer the following observations to support our inference:

  1. At least two advertisements depict wire mesh screens in the anti-gas shelter literature, one depicts a screen behind an open shutter. [Source: BL42, v]
  2. The anti-gas shelter literature contains an advertisement for wire mesh [Drahtnetz]. [Source: BL42, v]
  3. According to the anti-gas shelter literature, all windows and other openings require some kind of mesh, netting, grating or grille [Rost, Gitterstäbe, Geflecht von Draht]. [Source: LB 182, 183; GL40 26; BL40, 263]
  4. The Auschwitz work order Nr. 353 dated April 27, 1943 [ATO, 441] contains an order for "12 stücke Fenstergitter 50 x 70 cm" which is accepted as a reference to wire mesh screens or grilles for the 12 gassdichten Fenster (or Türen), noted above as identical to Blenden and Holzblenden.
  5. Therefore, we can propose that the Drahtnetzeinschiebvorrichtung bear a relationship to the Holzblenden similar to the relationship of the Fenstergitter to the gassdichten Fenster (or Türen ) of Crematoria IV and V.
  6. In addition, the literature specifies that such openings must be available for emergency egress. Hence, we hypothesize that these inserts must be removable. [Source: S 5, LDB 174ff, 182, 183]
  7. There are several references in the anti-gas shelter literature to "Schieber" which serve the function of something that slides in and blocks, filters, or mediates a space (Absperrschieber, Rosettenschieber, Aufblaseschieber). All of these characterize a "Schieber" as something that is slid into something else, none of them describe a device that is slid into something else so that something else can be slid into it. [Source: advertisement, BL42, V] Therefore, we conclude that the characterization of Drahtnetzeinschiebvorrichtung as a "wire mesh induction device" is semantically incorrect.
  8. Finally, the Auschwitz work order Nr. 78 dated March 11, 1943 [ATO, 440] contains an order in Polish "na wykonanie zaslon i kontowek dla krematorium II /BW 30/ z tresci ktorego wynika, ze dla wykonania tego samowienia zuzyto gaze druciana i druciana plecionke." which can be translated as "for the manufacture of screens with scantlings [or screens with edges] for Crematorium II /BW 30/ the gist of which is [z tresci ktorego wynika] that wire gauze and wire mesh are to be used to meet the order."

The above order is in Polish because the original order is not available. According to Pressac, (ATO 438), someone at the Auschwitz Museum borrowed the document for home study and didn't return it. This is the only document missing, hence Pressac had to rely on a Polish language abstract prepared for the Höß trial and notarized by Jan Sehn. However, it seems clear that the order is significant in defining the nature of the Drahtnetzeinschiebvorrichtung. The reference to screens is not a reference to induction devices, and indeed, they sound like the screens for emergency exits discussed earlier [LBD 174-177]. If our rendering of the admittedly vague Polish is incorrect, it would be helpful if the document was returned to the Museum where it belongs.

Our hypothesis, then, is that the Drahtnetzeinschiebvorrichtung were simply removable wire mesh screens that were placed into openings that the Holzblenden were designed to cover. The corroboration for this inference derives from the points from the literature noted above. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Finally, it should be noted that Pressac himself has observed that the roof of Morgue #1 of Crematorium II (for which these 4 pairs were designated) shows only two holes in its largely collapsed but still intact roof (ATO, 436). Therefore, in whatever manner these 4 pairs of Drahtnetzeinschiebvorrichtung and Holzblenden were meant to be used, they could not all have been used exclusively in the roof of Morgue #1 of Crematorium II. This fact weakens Pressac's interpretation concerning their construction and intent.

Criminal Trace #10: Auskleideraum (undressing room)

This is only a relative criminal trace, that is, it is criminal only insofar as some other criminal trace(s) can be proved. Undressing rooms were a common feature to bomb shelters, forming part of the decontamination sequence [LDB 180, 205, 210; GL39, 237]. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #11 Gastür (Gas tight door)

Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, BL42, v1, BL40, 236] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #12 Auskleidekeller (undressing cellar)

This is only a relative criminal trace, that is, it is criminal only insofar as some other criminal trace(s) can be proved. Undressing rooms were a common feature to bomb shelters, forming part of the decontamination sequence [LDB 180, 205, 210; GL39, 237]. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #13 Flacheisen für (1)/5Gastürbeschläge (Flat iron bar for 5 Gas tight doors)

Flat iron bars and other instruments were frequently used to improve the seal on gas tight doors or gas tight shutters. For gas tight doors, such bars would be placed along the side or the base of the door. [Source: S, 22] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #14 Beschläge für 1 Stück Gastür (fittings for 1 gas tight door)

Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, BL42, v1, BL40, 236] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #15 1 Gasdichtetür (1 gas tight door)

Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, BL42, v1, BL40, 236] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #16 14 Brausen (14 [DUMMY] Showerheads)

There is no material reason for Pressac to designate these showerheads fake. This is only a relative criminal trace, that is, it is criminal only insofar as some other criminal trace(s) can be proved. Showers were a common feature to bomb shelters, forming part of the decontamination sequence [LDB 180, 205, 210; GL39, 237]. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

In addition, it should be pointed out that this reference to 14 showerheads pertains to Morgue #1 of Crematorium III, not Crematorium II. (For Crematorium II we have the materially unsubstantiated claim that it had 24 showerheads.) According to the Crematorium II inventory, Morgue #1 was equipped with either 3 or 5 water taps, which would be consistent with the equipment of a decontamination shower room [GL39, 237].

Criminal Trace #17 12 Stück gasdichten Tür ca. 30/40 cm (12 pcs. Gas tight doors)

These are a reference to the gas tight windows in Crematoria IV and V. Gas tight windows were a common feature to German anti-gas shelters [Source: GL39, 111; GL40, 22ff; GL40, 26]. The reader will note the unconventional usage of the word Tür : This supports the interpretation that the engineers and construction workers involved in this project used unorthodox words to describe familiar, but differently named, objects. In addition, as already noted, these objects are identical to the Blenden discussed above. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #17a, 17b 12 Stück gasdichte Tür (12 pcs. Gas tight doors, fittings)

It is agreed that these are simply further references to the gas tight windows described above. In addition, as already noted, these objects are identical to Blenden. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore these are not criminal traces.

Criminal Trace #18 Gassdichtenfenster versetzen (fit gas tight windows)

Pressac assumes this is a misspelling. On the other hand, I am inclined to think that it was an abbreviation for Gass[chutzraum]dichtenfenster i.e., "tight windows for the anti-gas shelter." In any case, gas tight windows were a common feature to German anti-gas shelters [Source: GL39, 111; GL40, 22ff; GL40, 26]. In addition, as already noted, these objects are identical to the Blenden. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

More should be said on this subject. Criminal Traces #18 and #19 derive from time sheets written out by the foreman of a civilian construction firm which worked on the crematoria. These contain two similar spellings, which Pressac considers misspellings: gassdichtenfenster, and Gasskammer. Criminal Traces #20 and #21 repeat the misspellings in a log book. I consider these misspellings odd, because there is more than one mistake being made here.

In the first place, that a simple word like Gas would be repeatedly misspelled and then copied seems very unlikely. Moreover, the spelling used is ss, whereas if the writer truly thought that the word was spelled ss a scharfes S or ß would have been used. This is relevant, because the positioning of the double s in both cases meets all the rules for ß usage: (a) it comes at the end of a syllable in a compound word, (b) it comes before a consonant, and (c) it comes after a long vowel. Therefore, to maintain Pressac's thesis of misspellings we have to assume that both of the individuals involved not only could not spell German, but could not write it either.

But in fact they could: for on the same line or just below the offending spellings, we find the foreman and his copyist writing Fußboden in accordance with the rules. Therefore the spellings of gassdichten- and Gasskammer could not have been mistakes, but must have been deliberate, and if deliberate, they could only have been abbreviations. I have noted my preference for Gasschutz-, because of the prolific number of words in the bomb shelter literature using that word as a prefix, but it could just as easily have been gassicher.

It does not help to suggest that the individuals involved were Polish citizens. The Slavic word for gas in all the languages is gaz and the voiced quality of the z is maintained in all positions with a linking vowel or soft sign. Therefore, a Slav would never spell Gas as Gass. Another counter argument in this vein holds that Gass- could not be an abbreviation, because there is no way of knowing what it is an abbreviation for. This is vacuous for two reasons: first, there are many abbreviations in German with multiple meanings, e.g., Geschw. which can mean sibling, speed, or squadron, or LSD, which can refer to a drug or a liberal students' union. And that leads to the second reason: an abbreviation is always explained by its context, which, in this case, and to this point, is clearly a context of bomb shelter construction.

Criminal Trace #19 betonieren im Gasskammer (concrete in gas chamber)

Pressac assumes this is a misspelling. On the other hand, I am inclined to think that it was an abbreviation for Gass[chutz]kammer , i.e., "anti-gas room," and see note under Criminal Trace #18. Concrete was also a typical feature of anti-gas shelters [Source: S, 31] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #20 Gassdichtenfenster versetzen (fit the gas tight windows)

A second mention in text, identical to #18, above. Pressac assumes this is a misspelling. On the other hand, I am inclined to think that it was an abbreviation for Gass[chutzraum]dichtenfenster, i.e., "tight windows for the anti-gas shelter," and see note under Criminal Trace #18. In any case, gas tight windows were a common feature to German anti-gas shelters [Source: GL39, 111; GL40, 22ff; GL40, 26]. In addition, as already noted, these objects are identical to the Blenden. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #21 betonieren im Gasskammer (concrete in gas chamber)

A second mention in text, identical to #19, above. Pressac assumes this is a misspelling, although the misspelling is repeated. On the other hand, I am inclined to think that it was an abbreviation for Gass[chutz]kammer, i.e., "anti-gas room," and see note under Criminal Trace #18. Concrete was also a typical feature of anti-gas shelters [Source: S 31] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #22 4 Gasdichte Tür (4 gas tight doors)

Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, BL42, v1, BL40, 236] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #23 Gastüren verankerungen 210 stk (210 anchors for gas tight doors)

Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, BL42, v1, BL40, 236] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #24 4 dichte Türen, mit Türfutter (4 tight doors, with lining)

It is agreed that these are references to gas tight doors. Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, BL42, v1, BL40, 236] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #25 drei gasdichte Türme (three gas tight towers)

Pressac assumes that Türme is nonsensical and that it should read Türen in all cases. There is no material support for this position, but if we grant the correctness of Pressac's hypothesis then we are merely referring to gas tight doors. Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, BL42, v1, BL40, 236] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

But there is more to this. I will hypothesize that gasdichte Türme is a reference to shutters for chimneys or smoke stacks, which according to German anti-gas literature, are also supposed to be gas tight [Source: GL39, 111] Turm in German means "tower" but it can also mean, in a military context, the turret of a tank, that is, it has semantic associations of being raised up, and being used for observation, not necessarily of great independent height. And indeed, we find references to Luftschutztürme in the literature [GL39, 276] which we assume to be some kind of ventilation chimneys. We observe the drawings of Crematoria IV and V with their shuttered cupolas surmounting the roof, and might easily conclude that they are the same thing: however, it appears that the extermination gas chambers were at the opposite end of the building. But this end of the buildings also had chimneys, although much smaller ones. Our conclusion is that Türme are references to gas tight chimneys of some kind: the idea, offered by Pressac, that Türme was a stenographic error, even though it was repeated four times seems very strained.

The reader should note that the change from Türme to Türen was made arbitrarily by Jan Sehn to the existing documents. In effect, he certified as a "true copy" a document to which alterations had been made. Certification of altered documents could certainly be characterized as forgery. In any case, a benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #26 Flacheisen für (4)/5Gastürbeschläge (Flat iron bar for 5 Gas tight doors)

Flat iron bars and other instruments were frequently used to improve the seal on gas tight doors or gas tight shutters. For gas tight doors, such bars would be placed along the side or the base of the door. [Source: S, 22] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #27 für 4 gasdichte Türen, etc. (for 4 gas tight doors, etc.)

Miscellaneous references to gas tight doors. Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, BL42, v1, BL40, 236] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #28 24 Ankerschrauben für gasdu[i]chte Türen. (24 anchor bolts for gas tight doors)

Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, BL42, v1, BL40, 236] It should be noted that gasdichte is misspelled as gasduchte: but this comes from the Polish transcript, not from the German original. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Criminal Trace #29 Gastüren einsetzen (fit gas tight doors)

Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, BL42, v1, BL40, 236] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Supplementary Criminal Trace #30 Reference to pre-heating the morgue

This is a relative criminal trace, that is, is it criminal only to the extent that other traces are shown to be criminal. On the other hand, heating an anti-gas shelter is referred to in the literature, where specific temperatures are cited as preferable to keep humidity low [Source: BL42, 105-116]. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Supplementary Criminal Trace #31 Reference to hot air supply to Leichenkeller I

This is a relative criminal trace, that is, is it criminal only to the extent that other traces are shown to be criminal. On the other hand, heating an anti-gas shelter is referred to in the literature, where specific temperatures are cited as preferable to keep humidity low [Source: BL42, 105-116]. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Supplementary Criminal Trace #32 Beschläge für gasdichte Tür (fittings for gas tight door)

Gas tight doors were a common feature to anti-gas shelters. [Source: S 21, S24f, LB42, v1, BL40, 236] A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace. In addition, since the date of this order is June 17, 1943, Pressac is forced to argue that this new door was used to replace a faulty or damaged one. A benign interpretation is possible, therefore it is not a criminal trace.

Supplementary Criminal Trace #33 1 Schlüssel. für Gaskammer (1 key for Gas Chamber, Gas Room)

Pressac does not consider this a criminal trace, but includes it in his list apparently because it contains the word "Gas."

The Polish transcript of German work orders reads: 1 Schlüssel. für Gaskammer /Melden bei H.stuf der Apotheke im 44-Revier/. Bestellschein der Verwaltung BBD Nr. 87 Block vom 9.7.43. Pressac translates this as 1 key. for gas chamber. Report to SS captain of the SS hospital pharmacy. BBD administration Order No. 87 Block of 9th July, 1943, but ultimately admits that it is "incomprehensible with our present state of knowledge." [ATO 456]

In previous revisions of this article I have attempted to solve the problem of this trace, suggesting, on the one hand, that "Schlüssel." was a misspelling or contraction of the Polish transcriber for Schlüsse, that is, a seal for a delousing chamber or bomb shelter, or, on the other hand, that Pressac misconstrued Apotheke for pharmacy, when the reference was to a medicine cabinet. Such interpretations are conceivable, however, upon reflection, and noting that there are several possible mistakes in the extract, I have decided that this is a trace best left alone, unless the original German work order is recovered.

In any case, the most interest thing about this document (which is the source of Criminal Traces #32 and #33) is an entry that Pressac does not mention. For August 11, 1943, Number 708, we have an order for 30 fittings for red light lamps for Crematoria IV and V [30 Stück Befestigungskonstruktionen für Rotlichtlampen]. As we have seen, darkening was very important for bomb shelters, and red lamps would have a natural function in such facilities [GL39, 5, 264, 323ff]. The purpose of red lamps in an extermination facility is less clear.

Supplementary Criminal Trace #34 Die Beschläge zu 1 Tür mit Rahmen, luftdicht mit Spion für Gaskammer (Fittings for 1 door with frame, air tight with peephole for gas chamber)

Again, Pressac does not consider this a criminal trace, not least because the gas chamber is identified as an Entwesungskamer [sic!] in the Polish transcript, that is, a delousing chamber. Nevertheless, the order fits the description of a normal anti-gas shelter door with a peephole. [Source: S, 21] Note the alternate use of the word Spion in place of the more normal Guckloch to describe the peephole, further evidence of the creative vocabulary of Birkenau construction workers. A benign interpretation is tacit, no further commentary is necessary.

Criminal Trace #1: The "Vergasungskeller" note (Reprise)

Having determined that the other criminal traces have a simple non-criminal interpretation, we are ready to return to the "Vergasungskeller" trace.

Dr. Arthur R. Butz was the first to argue in print that this trace, which is generally agreed refers to Morgue #1 of Crematorium II, is a reference to what he calls a "gas shelter."[11]

Dr. Butz' arguments can be recapitulated as follows:

B1: large concrete shelters would be ideal for the purpose

This is one of a number of arguments that corroborate the use of the underground morgues as bomb shelters. The subterranean location, the reinforced concrete roof, and the intended berming all suggest a bomb shelter. The problem with this argument is that, while it appeals to reason, it does not dismiss the counter proposition.

As a matter of fact, the morgue had features not only of an anti-gas bomb shelter but also of a personnel shelter. Such shelters were common in German emplacements, and were regarded as offensive instruments, insofar as they would provide a haven to keep reserves fresh for a counter-attack in a military situation. Such personnel shelters would be preferably underground, "or as low as the water level table permits" [US 263], would be constructed of concrete reinforced with steel rods, would have gas locks, be carefully camouflaged, and have four ventilation ducts, two of which would be dummies to thwart enemy attempts to introduce gas or explosives. [US 262ff].

B2: "Vergasungskeller" can be associated with "Gaskeller", which his research shows means "gas shelter."

A good etymological argument, very important in this subject, because, as we have seen, the construction workers and engineers were very creative in their use of the German language.

As already noted, the bomb shelter literature boasted an impressive vocabulary of synonyms and neologisms. Several nouns, that no one has heard before or since were coined, using "Gasschutz-" or "Luftschutz-" as a prefix. In the subject index for one periodical year, we find at least 20 words that use Gas- or Gasschutz- as a prefix or suffix, including Gasschutzbettchen and Kleinkindergasschutz. Luftschutz- is even more productive, no less than 50 terms are listed, including such interesting terms as Luftschutzhausapotheke, and Luftschutztürme. [GL39, index] A similar prolificity affects bomb shelters (Gasschutzraum, -keller, Gaskeller [as Dr. Butz has noted], Luftschutzraum, -haus, -keller, Schutzraum, even Selbstschutz; LS-Bunker only rarely), poison gas victims (Gaserkrankung, Vergiftungen, Kampfstoffvergiftung, Kampstoffverletzte, Gaskranken, Gelbkreuzverletzte, and others) as well as decontamination centers (Entgiftungsanstalt, Bade- und Duschraum für Kampstoffverletzte, Gasentgiftung, Rettungsstelle). Such terms as Vergasungskeller for Crematorium II, and Gasskammer for Crematoria IV and V would follow naturally in this series of neologisms.

B3: Morgue #1 had a gas tight door.

As we have seen, this is a very significant argument. However, this argument can go several ways: it has already been used for the interpretation that the "Vergasungskeller" was a delousing chamber, as well as a gas chamber.

Pressac provides several photographs of delousing chamber gas tight doors with peepholes in his book [ATO 46, 48, 49, 50], but even he admits that, as part of a Soviet attempt to claim gassings, the photos of these doors were "a completely put up job," [ATO 46] although he also claims that the doors to the gas chambers were identical. [ATO 50] The simple fact is that no one has ever been able to authoritatively present a gas tight door for one of the crematoria.

Even so, it should be noted that Pressac makes other claims concerning these doors. He infers, for example, that all such doors had peepholes, and then presents a photograph of a delousing chamber from Dachau which has no peephole [ATO 547], he claims that they were shielded with wire mesh covers [ATO 486], and then presents doors without them [ATO 48, photo 23, ATO 49 photo 28], he claims that all gas tight doors with peepholes had latches on the outside, and then presents a door without them [ATO 50], he claims that they lock from the outside, but then shows a photograph of one that appears to have a mechanism for opening from the inside [ATO 48, photo 25]. These materials are interesting, but they do not show any relevance to the subject at hand, which is the construction and equipment of the Birkenau crematoria.

B4: There was no heating system.

This is less an argument that the space was a bomb shelter than an argument that it was not an extermination gas chamber. Heating could be employed in a bomb shelter, and, as we have seen, was even recommended [BL42, 107], but clearly a bomb shelter could function without a heating system. On the other hand, the lack of heating in an extermination gas chamber would present problems for the use of hydrogen cyanide. The evaporation point for HCN is about 78 F, at lower temperatures its development from Zyklon B is slowed, and it will also tend to condense. Either circumstance will inhibit its effectiveness.

B5: Morgue #1 had a motor driven air intake as well as exhaust system.
B6: The air intake/exhaust systems were unlike those for delousing chambers, and in fact inverted from those one would expect for the application of cyanide gas, therefore, as he notes, "One must stand on one's head to interpret [Morgue #1] as a gas chamber."[12]

In the context of his arguments, these are the most powerful of all. Fritz Berg has minutely described the operations of a delousing chamber,[13] so it is extremely unlikely that the space was designed for that role since it lacked any of the specifications. In addition, the ventilation system corresponds to a gas shelter but not to the requirements of a putative cyanide gas chamber.

As noted above [BL42, 105], the recommended venting capacity for gas tight bomb shelter was between 15 and 18 air exchanges per hour. The volume of Morgue #1 was 525 cubic meters (30 x 7 x 2.5). If 2 cubic meters were given per person, and 30 cubic meters per hour were provided, the hourly demand on the ventilation system would be 7,890 cubic meters (525/2 = 263, 263 x 30 = 7,890). On the other hand, if the maximum capacity was assumed, there would be 525 persons (1 per cubic meter) requiring a minimum 18 cubic meters per person per hour, which works out to 9,450 cubic meters per hour capacity (525 x 18 = 9,450). As Pressac notes, the ventilator's capacity was between 9,000 and 10,000 cubic meters per hour. [DKA 94, ATO 289]

It is also worth noting, by the way, that Morgue #2 was also designed with a ventilation system, commensurate to its size (deduced from its original order for a 7.5 hp engine versus the 3.5 hp engine for Morgue #1). No one claims that this morgue was ever used for gassings.

Overall, Dr. Butz' argument is sound, but I believe it lacks the decisiveness which access to the contemporary technical literature would have provided.

Now we will go to Pressac and enumerate the features which he feels made Morgue #1 of Crematorium II different from an ordinary morgue [ATO, 286].

P1: An access stairway was built to Morgue #2.

This is consistent with the access for a bomb shelter.

The addition of a staircase at the nexus of the main building with the right angle underground morgues makes complete sense in terms of access to a bomb shelter. Otherwise, those seeking shelter would have to traverse another 50 yards out.

The question of access also raises the question of for whom these shelters were designed. Here we have to keep in mind that the primary role of these shelters was as morgues, and their design characteristics, including their size, would primarily reflect that role. But in terms of the ventilation features alone, it is clear that from 500 to 1,500 people could find effective shelter in these underground morgues in the event of a bombing raid or a gas attack.

The crematoria at Birkenau were among the most prominent and permanent structures in the entire camp. They were among only a handful of structures which the Germans built from the ground up. It seems to me only natural that they would incorporate design characteristics, embellishments, and capacities in excess of their normal use and to fulfill a variety of purposes. Bearing in mind their sturdy construction, and prominence, we can easily envision circumstances in which they would be used as bomb shelters, anti-gas shelters, decontamination centers, and even personnel shelters for many more people than would normally use them. Indeed, from a strictly military point of view, the crematoria at Birkenau could be regarded as strongpoints: their position athwart or near the railways would insure their strategic importance. Certainly there can be no doubt that, in the event of enemy attack, by air, or land, using bombs or poison gas or artillery fire, there would be no safer place than the morgues of Crematoria II and III.

P2: The double door for Morgue #1 was redesigned to open outward.

A well known drawing shows the double door opening outward: but the direction of an inner door is not significant. And, indeed, an outward opening double door creates more problems for Pressac, insofar as it blocks the corpse lift. Pressac further argues that this door was never installed.

P3: The double door was replaced with a single gas tight door.

This is supported by a document, but it is not completely clear whether this door was meant for Morgue #1 or Morgue #2. In either case, as we have seen, gas tight doors of both types were used for bomb shelters. Another oddity about Pressac's claim here (ATO 434) is that the double door with dimensions 190 x 190 cm, would be replaced by a single door with dimensions of 100 x 192 cm. A more reasonable explanation is that this single door was meant for Morgue #2.

P4: The drainage system was separated from the other drains in the building.

This is a design feature consistent with bomb shelter design, or more accurately, anti-gas shelter design. If, as we envision, the drainage of Morgue #1 was designed to evacuate poison gas contaminants, one would certainly want to keep its drainage separate.

P5: The efficiency of the air system was tested with Zyklon B.

This is a non-material claim.

P6: A wooden wall was built in front of the corpse disposal chute.

Again, consistent with bomb shelter and anti-gas shelter design.

P7: 4 wire mesh induction columns with lidded chimneys were installed.

Again, a non-material claim, discussed at length above.

P8: 24 wooden dummy shower heads were installed.

Another non-material claim: the inventory says 14 shower heads, and these are for Crematorium III; in any case, these would be expected in the decontamination section of a bomb shelter.

It has been mentioned in this regard that the architectural drawings for Morgue #1 of Crematorium II do not indicate the piping for the shower heads. As a matter of fact, they indicate no showerheads at all, but rather three water taps (actually, symbols indicating three points where water would be piped in) against the Eastern wall [ATO, 312, the document is Bauleitung Drawing 1897 [b](r)]. It is strange that Pressac suggests [ATO, 310] that this same drawing would indicate that the water taps were removed, but on closer inspection it turns out that the water taps were removed according to witness testimony only. Furthermore, it seems odd that Pressac would consider the lack of piping in any way significant. In another portion of his book [ATO 55-58], Pressac provides four drawings of a known delousing station for prisoners: all four indicate the 55 showerheads, but only one shows the piping for the showerheads, which are in turn led back to only four water outlets. The manner in which such outlets could sustain shower heads in a ratio of 14 to 1, by the use of exposed piping suspended from iron rods attached to the ceiling, is shown in a photograph in Pressac's book. [ATO 80]

Therefore, it should be clear that the entire issue of piping, showerheads, water taps, and such is just not relevant from a documentary point of view.

P9: The 3 water taps were removed.

Still another non-material claim: the presence of water taps was typical in bomb shelters for cleaning and decontamination, and could certainly sustain showerheads, as we have seen.

P10: Benches with clothes hooks were installed in Morgue #2.

The benches are typical in the front room (waiting room) of large bomb shelters. The clothes hooks would be expected in the undressing rooms of large bomb shelters equipped with decontamination centers.

P11: The area of Morgue #3 was reduced.

Indeed, it appears that Morgue #3 was subdivided to provide other spaces, consistent with the layout of a large bomb shelter. One of these conversions, of course, was for the collecting of gold and other metals from the dead, a perfectly logical procedure, when we recall that these morgues were after all morgues, and that metals are not consumed in cremation; indeed, cremated tooth fillings emit mercury as a toxic air pollutant.[14]

To sum up, there is no material indication from Pressac of unique or telltale modifications that would change the Vergasungskeller from a morgue to an extermination gas chamber. On the other hand, Dr. Butz suggests several reasons why the Vergasungskeller was an anti-gas shelter, and his interpretation is supported even by some of the modifications Pressac mentions. Moreover, in traversing the criminal traces, we have found that all of them are consistent with German bomb shelter design.

We have a large contemporary technical literature that explains the design, layout and equipment of these morgues as morgues with modifications for secondary bomb shelter use. On the other hand, there is no comparable contemporary literature that explains these spaces as extermination gas chambers. Therefore we are forced to conclude that the morgues were, in fact, designed and constructed as morgues with the additional role of bomb shelter use in mind. And within that context, the morgue with the gas tight door and the shower heads (or water taps) could only be one thing: an establishment (Entgiftungsanstalt, Duschraum) for treating and decontaminating the victims of poison gas (Gasvergiftete, Kampfstoffvergiftete, Gelbkreuzverletzte): an underground decontamination center, or Vergasungskeller.


The following conclusions may be drawn:

  1. Each one of the criminal traces can be explained as an anti-gas warfare feature of an ordinary German bomb shelter. Since the idea of criminal traces hangs on the idea that these references must have a criminal interpretation, the counter proposal renders them invalid. The criminal traces no longer exist.
  2. Since the criminal traces no longer exist, it follows that one cannot prove that extermination gas chambers existed in the four Birkenau crematoria on any material or documentary basis whatsoever.
  3. It follows that the only proof that extermination gas chambers existed in the four Birkenau crematoria rests entirely on witness testimony and postwar affidavits.
  4. The design characteristics, layout, and equipment of the extermination gas chambers Pressac describes match those of morgues altered to double as bomb shelters with anti-gas warfare features. According to the material evidence reviewed, extermination gas chambers have no unique features.
  5. The design characteristics, layout, and equipment of German bomb shelters, or anti-gas shelters, are described in a large contemporary technical literature, a small part of which we have reviewed. On the other hand, there is no comparable literature pertaining to the design characteristics, layout, and equipment of extermination gas chambers.
  6. Therefore, in a material and documentary context, we must conclude that the extermination gas chambers in the four Birkenau crematoria were designed and constructed as morgues with modifications for them to serve as anti-gas shelters, that is, they were not designed to keep gas in, but to keep gas out.
  7. How these German bomb shelters or anti-gas shelters were actually used, in addition to their primary use as morgues, and what further modifications they would require for any other use, and when such additional modifications were in fact made, and by whom, are questions which do not fall within the scope of this article.
  8. But historians of Modern European history are invited to address these issues and to revise their understanding of the occurrences at Auschwitz Birkenau.
  9. To that end, they are strongly advised to consult this literature.

It should be noted in passing that modifications to these morgues/bomb shelters would be required in order for them to be used effectively as extermination gas chambers. In particular, the screens and shutters would have to be reversed. Normally, the screens would be on the outside, to protect against bomb splinters and debris, while the shutters would be on the inside, to afford gas protection. If not reversed, the intended victims of a gassing would simply open the emergency exits and climb out. But if reversed, the debris, splinter, and gas protection features would be compromised. In short, conversion of these spaces to extermination gas chambers would prevent their effective use as bomb shelters. And, it should be noted, there is no material evidence that such modifications were ever made.

The reader may feel that I have been unduly harsh on Jean Claude Pressac in my analysis and my conclusions. On the contrary, he is a man of integrity and honor. On page 436 of his book he writes, anent the introduction vents of his imagination:

"According to the American aerial photograph of 24th August 1944, the four introduction points were located along a line running the length of the room in the EASTERN half. In the present ruins, two of these openings are still visible at the southern end but in the WESTERN half. Nobody up to now seems to have been concerned by this contradiction, nor to have explained it."

The reader will note that it takes courage to observe that there are only two, but not four, holes in the roof to Morgue #1 of Crematorium II, and they are not in the locations where they are supposed to be. Combined with what we now know about the need for emergency exits from anti-gas shelters, the reader is invited to draw his or her own conclusions.

© 1997, Samuel Crowell


Revised 4/30/97, additional graphics 6/4/97

Throughout I have used the terms bomb shelter and anti-gas shelter interchangeably, because the original German terms, "Luftschutzraum", "Gasschutzraum", and "Schutzraum" are used as synonyms in the literature. The coinage of the translation of "anti-gas shelter" comes from a contemporary English language source, the "US War Department Handbook on German Military Forces" (March 1, 1945), discussed in more detail below in the body of the text, so I have adopted that usage.
Actually, the number of criminal traces is something less than 39, the "39" refers to 39 documents which are photographically reproduced in that chapter of Pressac's book.
Miklos Nyiszli's "Auschwitz" (NY:1993) p. 128, an important source for Pressac, claims that during air raids the prisoners would take shelter in the gas chamber. Martin Gilbert's "Auschwitz and the Allies" (NY:1981), p. 309, contains the testimony of a woman survivor who describes being led into a dark space with many other new female arrivals and being kept there during an air raid. The most interesting thing about this testimony is that it describes how several of the women became hysterical during the raid, believing themselves to be inhaling poison gas. The other inference one can derive from this testimony is that the SS took care to protect their prisoners during air raids, and, since bomb shelters would normally have gas tight fixtures, we should expect to find several such sites at Birkenau which have gone unnoticed and unappreciated up until now. The reader is invited to consult the companion article "Defending Against the Allied Bombing Campaign", in particular, Part 2.
R. Faurisson, Journal of Historical Review, vol. 11, no. 1, Spring 1991, pp. 55ff.
"Vergasungskeller" was first published on August 6, 1996, revised on November 7, 1996, in which form it was published by the Adelaide Institute in January, 1997, and then again revised on January 7, 1997. The article may be found on the CODOH Website at:
This section draws on the following sources: Sterling Seagrave, Yellow Rain: A Journey Through the Terror of Chemical Warfare, (NY:1981), hereinafter [Se], the article "Poison Gas Warfare" by Major General Sir Louis Jackson, in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, 12th edition, 1923 (Supplementary volumes to the 11th edition, 1910), volume XXXII, pp. 110-117, hereinafter [EB], and the article "A Whiff of Death: Chemical Warfare in the World Wars" by David Tschanz, hereinafter [W], in Command: Military History, Strategy & Analysis, issue 33, Mar-Apr 1995, pp. 46-57. The author expresses his gratitude to Richard A. Widmann for providing this last reference.
Stephen Trombley, The Execution Protocol: Inside America's Capital Punishment Industry, (NY:1992), p. 12
Further research on this matter indicates that the glass disc, which would after all comprise only a small fraction of the door's thickness, could in fact be recessed toward either the front or rear of the door, [cf. BL 40, line drawing, p. 6] and protected on either the inside or the outside [outside, BL 40, p.6, p. 42, inside, S 32, 37; and cf. doors in ATO, pp. 30, 46-50, 61). Moreover, the literature indicates that many peepholes would not only be square in shape [BL 40, p. 42, cf. ATO, pp. 30, 61) but would substitute a simple pane of glass or glass covered with wire instead of multi-layered glass covered with a perforated steel plate ["... andere hatten viereckige Gucklöcher. Bei vielen war statt Mehrschichtenglases nur einfaches oder Drahtglas vorhanden." BL40, p. 42]
see note 5, above.
"Gas Detectors in the Auschwitz Crematorium II" was published on Dr. Butz' web site on March 7, 1997, and revised on April, 24, 1997 and can be found at his home page, at:
see note 5, above.
In an article, Friedrich Berg, "Zyklon B and the German Delousing Chambers", originally published by the Journal for Historical Review, vol. 7, no. 1, Spring 1986, now accessible at the CODOH Web site at:
Kenneth V. Iserson, Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies? (Tucson,AZ:1994), p. 251.

Additional information about this document

Author(s) Samuel Crowell
Title Technique and Operation of German Anti-Gas Shelters in WWII, A Refutation of J. C. Pressac's "Criminal Traces"
Sources n/a
Contributions n/a
Dates published: 1997-04-30, first posted on CODOH: April 28, 1997, 7 p.m., last revision: n/a
Comments An edited version of this paper appeared in The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 18, no. 4 (July/August 1999), pp. 7-30.
Appears In
Mirrors n/a
Download n/a