Capacity and Role of the Auschwitz Crematoria
Before 1943, the only crematorium at Auschwitz was the six muffle installation at "Auschwitz I", i.e. the Stammlager (main or original camp). This was "Crematorium I". A "muffle" is the familiar chamber designed to admit one body and has a door of appropriate size.
Early in 1942, plans were drawn up for a new crematorium at Auschwitz with an additional 15 muffles but, in summer 1942 and coincidentally with the catastrophic typhus epidemic, these plans were enlarged and it was decided to install an additional 46, rather than 15, muffles and to situate them in the new and huge "Birkenau" or "Auschwitz II" section of the camp. Specifically, Crematorium II and Crematorium III were to be mirror images of one another, having 15 muffles each. Crematorium IV and Crematorium V were to have eight muffles each. The new crematoria were more or less ready in spring 1943, and Crematorium I, with its six muffles, was taken out of service in July 1943. The legend claims that these tremendous cremation facilities were for the purpose of disposing of the bodies of "exterminated" Jews, i.e. the million of the legend, rather than the approximate 125,000 that died "ordinary" deaths. Revisionists claim they were for the purpose of disposing of those who died ordinary deaths.
The simplest way to evaluate this claim is to compare the number of muffles at Auschwitz with the numbers at Buchenwald and Dachau, which two camps are agreed to have not been extermination camps, and where the ordinary deaths were the only ones. The cremation facilities at those two camps are fairly well known. Buchenwald had a six muffle crematorium, installed in 1942, and perhaps two additional muffles installed earlier; Buchenwald also had access to the civilian crematorium that existed in Weimar. Dauchau had a two muffle crematorium before 1942, when a four muffle crematorium was constructed. We may take both Buchenwald and Dachau as having at least six muffles each. Those at Buchenwald were of a design very similar to those at Auschwitz, and were supplied by the same company (Topf).
We may now consider these numbers in relation to the numbers of ordinary deaths, which I have treated elsewhere. Here we attempt to gauge intentions formulated in 1942-1943, rather than capabilities actually attained. We want to know whether the crematoria at Auschwitz were intended to play a role different from the crematoria at Buchenwald and Dachau. A lengthier version of these arguments appeared in .
At first it may appear that Auschwitz had an excessive number of muffles by comparison, for the number of ordinary deaths at Auschwitz was about three to four times those at Buchenwald and Dachau, but there were about eight times as many muffles. However when the accounting is done correctly it is seen that Auschwitz in fact had less relative cremation capacity.
The figures for total deaths at the two camps in Germany have entirely different interpretations from those for Auschwitz. The latter was evacuated in January 1945, under conditions much less chaotic than those that held later; the Auschwitz total, whatever it is, does not include ordinary deaths in the complete chaos of spring 1945. The worst period for Auschwitz was not 1945, but 1942, when its crematorium construction project was defined. By contrast most of the deaths in the camps in Germany were in late 1944 and the chaotic first four months of 1945, during the disintegration and final collapse of German industry. Concentration camp personnel knew that any plans for fundamental expansion of cremation capabilities that might have been drawn up in 1944 stood little chance of being implemented and indeed there was scant such construction in 1944 and 1945. All significant and effective decisions on crematoria construction were in fact made before 1944, and could have been determined only by conditions existing prior to 1944. Thus it is the 1942/1943 period that we must look to in order to judge German intentions in the construction of crematoria. The incomplete figures that I gave for Auschwitz are, therefore, all that is required for the present purpose.
The crucial years are 1942 and 1943, for those are the latest years that could be considered to have determined German decisions on the construction of crematoria in the camps. The results of a relevant computation are:
I have assumed 6 muffles each for Buchenwald and Dachau and 52 muffles for Auschwitz (46 for Birkenau and 6 for the Stammlager) not because Auschwitz ever in fact had 52 operational muffles (the 6 muffle crematorium at Auschwitz I having been taken out of service right after the 46 at Birkenau were installed) but because the purpose of the computation is to help interpret intentions in building the crematoria rather than capabilities actually attained. We see, in fact, that the ratio of cremation muffles to deaths somewhat disfavors Auschwitz; the German construction decisions had it less well supplied than the two camps in Germany that were not, all agree, extermination camps.
Pressac offers about the same figures for numbers of muffles. He includes the two older muffles at Buchenwald to get a total of 8 rather than 6, and counts 6 for Dachau as done here. For Auschwitz, he gets 54 rather than 52 by counting two portable muffles.
Perhaps budgetary constraints excluded more crematoria for Auschwitz, or perhaps the Auschwitz authorities were looking forward to a significant reduction of the death rate. In any case, this simple computation makes it difficult to believe that the Germans viewed the crematoria at Auschwitz as playing a role unlike those at Buchenwald and Dachau.
Revisionists agree with the analysis of Heinrich Himmler, who stated on 21 April 1945, as the war was ending:
In order to put a stop to the epidemics, we were forced to burn the bodies of incalculable numbers of people who had been destroyed by disease. We were therefore forced to build crematoria, and on this account they are knotting a noose for us.
Unfortunately Himmler did not live to say this at the Nuremberg trials; it is scandalous that it still has to be said today.
Last modified: 7 January 2007.
- Jean-Claude Pressac and Robert-Jan Van Pelt, "The Machinery of Mass Murder at Auschwitz," in Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, eds., Indiana Univ. Press, 1994.
- ibid. Also Jean-Claude Pressac, Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, NY, 1989, pp. 94f,106. The reader should understand that the title of this book is misleading, as the only real "gas chambers" whose "technique and operation" are discussed are fumigation gas chambers. The homicidal gas chambers are only imagined, based on alleged "criminal traces". It is common to refer to this book in discussion of Auschwitz because it is the greatest single published source of reproductions of original documents and photographs for the camp.
- Pressac (1989), pp. 106,259.
- A.R. Butz, "Some Thoughts on Pressac's Opus," Journal of Historical Review, vol. 13, no. 3, May/June 1993. Also a supplement in current printings of The Hoax of the Twentieth Century.
- Jean-Claude Pressac, Les Crématoires d'Auschwitz. La Machinerie du Meurtre de Masse., CNRS éditions, Paris, 1993, Document 1 opp. p. 96.
- Gerald Reitlinger, The Final Solution, 2nd ed., Vallentine, Mitchell, London, 1968, p. 521. Also Moment (Jewish monthly published in Boston), vol. 11, no. 1, Dec. 1985, p. 51.
Additional information about this document
|Author(s):||Arthur R. Butz|
|Title:||Capacity and Role of the Auschwitz Crematoria|
|First posted on CODOH:||Jan. 5, 2007, 6 p.m.|