An important thing to remember about Dachau, as far as motive is concerned, is that when the US Army took the camp they immediately lined up several hundred German soldiers found there and machine gunned them to death. This is all laid out in grisly detail in Col. Howard A. Buechner's Dachau: The Hour of the Avenger, which also makes it clear that this war crime was committed by American GI's after discovering what they thought was a "gas chambers" in the crematorium at the camp.
The second important thing you have to keep in mind is that the Germans were very efficient in materials and the use of buildings. Crematoria were isolated from the general camp, for obvious reasons of morale. They generated heat. The Germans used that thermal energy to make hot water for showers in several camps.
Every German camp also had to have delousing and disinfestation facilities to clean the clothing and persons of incoming arrivals. These were also usually isolated from the rest of the camp, to defeat the spread of disease.
The point is that the Germans appear to have used their crematoria for more than one purpose: cremation, but also delousing and disinfestation. This is clearly shown by the fact that the Dachau crematorium has four standard delousing and disinfestation "gas chambers" of about 10 cubic meters each. These rooms would be used to disinfest the clothing of new arrivals, often using the insecticide Zyklon B. Next to such facilities one would expect to find showers: these would be used for the new arrivals to wash.
Of course, since the crematorium also handled dead bodies one should also expect that the showers were used by corpse handlers and the "gas chambers" were used to disinfest the garments of the dead.
Now there was a third purpose to which such delousing and disinfestation facilities could be used, which was first pointed out by Samuel Crowell: air raid shelters and decontamination centers in the event of an (aerial) poison gas attack. The Germans were very concerned about mustard gas attacks, and the standard treatment for such attacks was to clean the clothes and shower the bodies of the victims. Crowell has found that laundries and municipal baths were appropriated throughout Germany for this purpose, and it stands to reason that the showers at the Dachau crematorium would have been similarly adapted.
Indeed, the proof of this contention is shown by the alterations to the crematorium that at first glance appear out of place: the gas-tight steel door to the shower room, the peephole in the wall adjacent to it, the window apertures with gas-tight shutters, and so on.
In other words, the crematorium at Dachau, like the crematoria at Birkenau, had a potentially threefold function: cremation, delousing and disinfestation, and gas protection and decontamination in the event of a poison gas attack. Recognition of these three facts explains nearly all of the design features of the Dachau crematorium, as well as the Birkenau crematoria.
However, something was done to the crematorium after the American massacre of April 29, 1945. It seems that the overhead pipes — described in earlier reports — were removed, and phony tin cones for "showerheads" were inserted into some of the remaining holes. The reason why this was done appears to have been a strictly local canard: the Americans had to try to explain why they had murdered so many Germans on the camp's liberation.
But the fakery did not take root, and already by the end of 1945 the myth of Dachau gassings had been pretty much abandoned. Although the myth continues to linger, for the simple reason that the shower room in the crematorium continues to be described as a "gas chamber." But no one seriously claims that anyone was gassed there.
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|Title:||Gas Chambers at Dachau?|
|First posted on CODOH:||June 29, 1998, 7 p.m.|