The Alleged First Gas Chamber Building at Sobibór

Published: 2008-10-15


It is alleged in regard to all three Aktion Reinhardt camps "Belzec, Sobibór, Treblinka" that they each contained two buildings with homicidal gas chambers during their respective period of operation. At Belzec, we are told, the first gas chamber building "a wooden barrack containing three chambers" was torn down and replaced with a larger concrete structure during early summer 1942. At Treblinka the first gassing installation, made of brick, was supposedly not demolished, but turned into a workshop after it had been replaced by a larger concrete structure housing either 6, 8 or 10 gas chambers. This building was, according to the Jewish eyewitness Jankiel Wiernik, constructed in September-October 1942. In the case of Sobibór an original smaller building was wholly or partially torn down in summer 1942 and a larger gas chamber building built on the same spot. Since allegedly none of the working prisoners (Arbeitshäftlinge) of Lager 3, (the camp section claimed to have housed the gas chambers and mass graves) survived the liquidation of the camp, Sobibór historiography on this point has to rely solely on the witness statements of a few former SS men posted to Sobibór, as well as the testimony of a local Polish railway worker (Jan Piwonski) who witnessed the construction of the camp. In the following article, I will compare the witness statements relating to the first of the two Sobibór gas chamber buildings, most of them made two decades after the alleged events, with each other, as well as with the orthodox historiography.

The construction material and layout of the alleged building

Let us first take a look at what Yitzhak Arad, the perhaps foremost orthodox expert on the Reinhardt camps, has to say on the construction of the first gassing installation:

The first gas chambers erected in Sobibor were in a solid brick building with a concrete foundation. They were located in the northwest part of the camp, more isolated and distant from the other parts of the camp than in Belzec. There were three gas chambers in the building, each 4 x 4 meters. The capacity of each chamber was about two hundred people. Each gas chamber was entered through its own separate door leading from a veranda that ran along the building. On the opposite side of the building, there was a second set of doors for removing the corpses. Outside was a shed in which the engine that supplied the carbon monoxide gas was installed. Pipes conducted the gas from the engine exhaust to the gas chambers.[1]

Thus according to Arad, the gas chambers "three of them" were housed in a brick building with concrete foundation, in contrast to the first Belzec gas chambers, housed in a wooden barrack. As a source for his description Arad uses Adalbert Rückerl's book NS-Vernichtungslager im Spiegel deutscher Strafprozesse, which in turn is based on verdicts and testimonies from the West German trials against former Aktion Reinhardt personnel held in the 1960s.[2] The apparent source to Arad's description Arad dates the completion of the construction to early April 1942.[3] He then goes on to quote SS-Unterscharführer Erich Fuchs's testimony on his first visit to Sobibór, which details how he installed the engine used for the alleged gassings. Fuchs describes the building thus:

Upon my arrival at Sobibor I found near the station an area with a concrete structure and several permanent houses.[4]

The "concrete structure" is apparently the gas chamber building. According to all descriptions this was built not "near the station" but rather inside a wooded area 300 - 400 meters distant from the camp's railway siding, and on the opposite side of the main track. We also note that Fuchs speaks of a concrete structure, not a brick house with concrete foundation. This contradiction may not be a glaring one. We will, on the other hand, encounter just such a contradiction when we proceed in our inquiry and take a look at what Jules Schelvis, the most prominent orthodox chronicler of Sobibór in recent days, has to say on Fuchs's testimony. Be prepared for a surprise as we read:

Because he had put into place so many installations over the course of time, he did not remember that the first gas chambers at Sobibor had been constructed of wood.[5]

Constructed of wood? On what evidence does Schelvis base this claim? It turns out that he is relying primarily on the 1965 testimony of former SS-Oberscharführer Erich Bauer:

The gas chamber was already there, a wooden building on a concrete base, about the same size as this courtroom though much lower, as low as a normal house. There were two or three chambers, in front of which there was a corridor that, from the outside, you accessed via a bridge.[6]

Since Bauer was the "Gasmeister" who allegedly used to operate or supervise the operation of the gassing engine (something which rendered him a life sentence in prison), it stands to reason that he would have remembered if the first gas chamber building was made of wood or of bricks and/or concrete. Schelvis appears certain about the reliability of Bauer's statement:

From his account it can be deduced that the gas chambers were indeed identical to those at Belzec.[7]

In other words, both buildings were made of wood and contained three gas chambers.

Schelvis also quote the testimonies of two SS men who took part in the construction work on the second phase gas chamber building, which he vaguely dates to the period June-September 1942 (Arad on the other hand dates the building's completion to October 1942).[8] The first of them, SS-Unterscharführer Erwin Lambert (nicknamed "the flying architect of T4"), stated in 1962:

As I already mentioned earlier, I spent between 14 days and three weeks at the Jewish extermination camp Sobibor. It may have been in the autumn of 1942. I cannot remember the exact dates though. Wirth had assigned me the task of enlarging the gas installations at Sobibor; I was supposed to build them using the example of Treblinka. I travelled to Sobibor with Lorenz Hackenholt. Hackenholt was at Treblinka at the time. We first travelled to a saw mill near Warsaw. Hackenholt ordered a large quantity of wood for the rebuilding works at Sobibor. Then we travelled on to Sobibor. We reported to camp commandant Reichleitner, who gave us the appropriate instructions for building the gas installation. The camp was already operational when I arrived and already had a gas chamber as well. The rebuilding was probably necessary because the old construction was either not big enough, or not solid enough.[9]

Lambert's statement is full of contradictions, most of them chronological. He mentions Franz Reichleitner as the commandant at Sobibór. Reichleitner replaced Franz Paul Stangl as Sobibór commandant sometime in September 1942, according to unanimous sources. Also, Reichleitner was not present at Sobibór prior to his promotion to camp commandant. Accordingly the construction Lambert describes could not have been initiated previous to September. On the other hand, Schelvis writes that the decision to replace the first building was taken just "a few months" after the first gassings, i.e. in May or June; and that "the rebuilding took place between June and September 1942, taking advantage of a quiet period in the arrival of transports" which was in turned caused subsiding of rail tracks between Chelm and Wlodawa due to swampy soil conditions.[10] Further on it is stated that the new gas chambers were fully functional by October 1942.[11] Thus the new gas chamber building would have been more or less completed at the time the architect Lambert arrived at the camp, if we are to believe the chronology of Schelvis. Now one might argue that Lambert perhaps misremembered and that the commandant he met at Sobibór had in fact been Stangl, but then we encounter another contradiction: Lambert's statement that the new or rebuilt "gas installation" was to have Treblinka as model. As has been mentioned earlier, the alleged first three gas chambers at Treblinka were housed in a brick building, which was later replaced by a larger concrete building wherein the individual chambers (which numbered 6, 8 or even 10) were arranged evenly along a corridor. According to standard Treblinka historiography, the construction of the new building began in early September 1942 and finished in the middle of October the same year.[12] One could however suppose that Lambert was to model the new building at Sobibór after the new installation planned for Treblinka, but there seems to be no witness evidence for such plans existing already by June 1942. It would have seemed more credible if Lambert had been told to use Belzec as a model, since at this camp the replacement had supposedly been carried out during late spring or early summer 1942. Because the second phase gas chamber building at Sobibór according to unanimous sources followed the layout of the second phase installations at Belzec and Treblinka, the first Treblinka building, despite being a brick construction, could not have served as model (if we are to follow the orthodox narrative) since it employed a radically different layout and contained only three gas chambers. Further bewildering is the passage where Lambert describes himself and Hackenholt as ordering a "large quantity of wood" for use in the construction of the new "gas installation." It is true that wooden boards are (often) used in the construction of concrete structures[13], but even a large building would hardly require "a large quantity of wood" to be brought in from Warsaw (and one should remember in this context that a saw mill was in fact located in the immediate proximity of Camp Sobibór).[14] This implies that the second Sobibór gas chamber building was made of wood despite the notion that the Treblinka "gas chambers" were made of bricks or concrete. That Lambert lists "not being solid enough" as a possible reason for the necessity of the "rebuilding" in turn implies that the first "gas installation" was constructed of wood, also. The word "rebuilding" in itself seems to imply that the first building was not razed completely, but that the new installation was erected on the same foundations. Considering that the second building allegedly was much larger than the old one, this seems rather curious, regardless of the issue of the building material.         

The second SS man who Schelvis quotes in regard to the "rebuilding" of the gas chambers is SS-Scharführer Franz Hödl. According to a statement made by Hödl (during the trial against Hubert Gomerski in Frankfurt am Main in 1950) the new gas chambers were housed in

"a concrete building, 18 to 20 metres long with about 6 to 8 gas chambers had been erected. The gas chamber had either 4 or 6 chambers on either side of the central corridor, three on the left, three on the right."[15]

Hödl's memory must have worked at full speed, since he changed his estimate of the number of chambers no less than three times during the course of what must have been less than half a minute! Anyway, his statement does not throw any light on the nature of the first building.

Schelvis seems determined that the first gas chamber building was constructed of wood. Regarding the reasons for the replacement of the chambers, he states:

After a few months it became apparent that the gas chambers at both Belzec and Sobibor needed to be replaced. The timber walls had become tainted with the sweat, urine, blood and excrement of the victims. The new gas chambers were to be brick-built, more durable, and support a larger capacity.[16]

But while Schelvis relies on "Gasmeister" Erich Bauer, he also quotes the following piece of testimony left by Franz Stangl, commandant of the camp from its start of operation until September 1942:

I noticed a stone construction on a partially wooded site which had not yet been fenced off. This building had not been included in the plans. After some days I began to suspect that gas chambers were being built. Some of the men who had come over from the Heilanstalten had been Brenner there. That is what we called them at Hartheim "Wirth always used the same term" the people who were involved in burning the patients who had been gassed.[17]

In Into that Darkness, British-Jewish journalist Gitta Sereny's book containing alleged transcripts of conversations between Sereny and Stangl in his Düsseldorf prison cell in 1971, the same event is depicted somewhat differently:

Two things happened: when we'd been there about three days, I think, Michel came running one day and said he had found a funny building back in the woods. "I think there is something fishy going on here," he said. "Come and see what it reminds you of." […] It was about ten or even fifteen minutes? walk away from the railway station where we were building the main camp. It was a new brick building with three rooms, three meters by four. The moment I saw it I knew what Michel meant: it looked exactly like the gas chamber at Schloss Hartheim. […] The Poles had built it – they didn't know what it was to be. Neither Michel nor I had any time yet to go for walks in the woods. We were very busy. Yes – it was on the plans, but so were lots of other buildings?[18]

The version found in Sereny differs in that the "discovered" gas chambers were on the building plan, and that Stangl understood the purpose of the building as soon as he saw it, not some days after he had become aware of its existence. In the Sereny "interview" the structure is described as a brick building. In the 1969 court testimony it is stated to be "a stone construction" but probably we should read "bricks" for "stone". In German, the word for brick is called Ziegel, Ziegelstein, Mauerstein or Backstein. The element -stein found in the last three means "stone". It would on the other hand be rather odd if the gas chambers had been built in old time fashion using cut stones!   

Now Bauer and Stangl could not both be right, but they were allegedly both in a very good position to observe the gas chamber building. Bauer was, as mentioned earlier, the SS man who supervised the gassings in it; Stangl oversaw the final stage of the initial camp construction and was commandant of the camp for about half a year, and since (according to Schelvis) he left Sobibór before the second phase gas chambers became operative, he could not have confused the two buildings in his recollections.[19] It is worth noting that Schelvis neglects to remark on Stangl's statement on the first building.

What then about other witnesses? Can they perhaps make the picture somewhat clearer? Let us first look at Mikhail Razgonayev, a Ukrainian former guard at the camp who arrived there sometime in May 1942. According to his alleged interrogation statements made in Soviet detention, the gas chambers were housed in a "large stone building". The witness later describes this construction in fuller detail:

In the building with gas chambers there was a wide corridor, on one side of which were 4 chambers. In the four chambers, the floor, ceiling and walls were of concrete: they had 4 special shower-heads that were intended not to supply water but for the entry of exhaust gases through which the people in the chambers were killed.

Each chamber had two doors: internal – on the corridor side through which the people would enter the chamber and external that opened outwards and through which the bodies would be removed.

The doors – the internal and the external – were closed hermetically and fitted with rubber strips that did not allow the gas to escape from the chamber.[20]

The layout described by Razgonayev here is more consistent with that of the alleged second phase gas chamber building, where the chambers were arranged opposite each other alongside a corridor. The witness was present at Sobibór until July 1943, so if the orthodox narrative is true, he would have been able to observe also the second phase building. There is of course also the possibility, within the same narrative frame, that he did not see the first gas chamber building on arrival, and only later witnessed the second building, without ever realizing that there had been a previous gassing facility. It is perhaps noteworthy that the witness states that "construction work at the camp continued" from May 1942 to July 1943 and also mentions the construction of "dressing rooms" (sic) and clothes stores. He does not bother to mention what must surely have been the largest single construction work at Sobibór, namely the construction of the new gas chambers – despite that this work was supposedly carried out soon after his arrival at the camp.

Jan Piwonski, a local Pole and railway worker, testified in Lublin in 1975:

In the autumn of 1941 German officers arrived at the station of Sobibór on three occasions. […] During their visit to the station they took measurements of the platform, and the sidings leading away from the platform, and then went into the woods nearby. I have no idea what they were doing there. […] Some time later some very thick doors, which had rubber strips around them, arrived by train. We speculated on what purpose the doors might be serving, and it dawned on us that the Germans were building something here, especially when trainloads of bricks were also being delivered, and they started to bring Jews over as well.[21]

The trainloads of bricks delivered imply that the gas chamber building was a brick construction, since all other buildings in the camp, at least during its initial phase, were constructed of wood.[22]

Piwonski's statement that "some very thick doors" with "rubber strips around them" were brought to in the autumn or winter of 1941 is on the other hand contradicted by the testimony of Franz Hödl:

The airtight doors did not arrive until later; I collected them myself from Warsaw, but that was not until the rebuilding took place. Before then, there were wood doors at the back, where the bodies came out.[23]

Further contradictions surrounding the alleged first gassing

A comparison of the testimony of Franz Stangl and Erich Fuchs reveals several minor but revealing contradictions in regard to the alleged first trial gassing. The first of them concerns the issue of who was present at said event. In the Fuchs statement we read:

The Sonderkommando at Sobibor was led by Thomalla. Amongst the SS personnel there were Floss, Bauer, Stangl, Friedl Schwarz, Barbl and others. We unloaded the motor […][24]

"Friedl" was the nickname of SS-Hauptscharführer Gottfried Schwarz, who was killed by partisans in Istria on June 19, 1944. Interestingly, it appears that the Fuchs statement quoted above is the only evidence indicating that Schwarz served at Sobibór.

SS-Hauptsturmführer Richard Thomalla of the SS-Zentralbauleitung Zamosc reportedly led the initial construction of the camp. He had previously supervised the construction of the camp at Belzec. Just after the end of the war, on May 12, 1945, Thomalla was executed by NKWD agents in Jicin, Czechoslovakia. It seems strange that Fuchs would describe Thomalla as leader of the SS Sonderkommando Sobibór, since Stangl according to all sources was made commandant of Sobibór already prior to his arrival there.

According to Stangl's own court testimony, the first gassing did not proceed without problems:

Wirth was screaming and shouting again. He was around the back of the building, where the exit doors were. He was ranting and raving about the doors being too small. The people who were to be gassed had been pushed into the gas chambers through the exit doors. If they had gone in on the entrance side, they might have been spotted by someone outside the camp. […] I heard at the time that the people had resisted being locked inside the gas chamber. That was another reason why Wirth was so furious.[25]

According to statements attributed to Stangl by Gitta Sereny, the trial gassing happened as follows:

Wirth came to Sobibor the next day. He ignored me; he stayed several days and organized everything. Half the workers were detailed to finish the gas chambers. […] I just went on with other construction work, […] and then one day Wirth's aide, Oberhauser, came to get me. I was to come to the gas chamber. When I got there, Wirth stood in front of the building wiping the sweat of his cap and fuming. Michel told me later that he'd suddenly appeared, looked around the gas chambers on which they were still working and said, "Right, we'll try it out right now with those twenty-five work-Jews: get them up here." They marched our twenty-five Jews up there and just pushed them in, and gassed them. [Hermann] Michel said Wirth behaved like a lunatic, hit out at his own staff with his whip to drive them on. And then he was livid because the doors hadn't worked properly. [… H]e just screamed and raved and said that the doors had to be changed. After that he left.[26]

The attentive reader will immediately notice that neither Christian Wirth nor Josef Oberhauser is mentioned in the Fuchs statement, while a number of minor SS officers are. This is highly remarkable, since SS-Sturmbannführer Christian Wirth was the inspector of the Reinhardt camps and second in rank only to SS- und Polizeiführer Odilo Globocnik. Wirth was in effect the actual commandant of all three Reinhardt camps. Until August 1942 Wirth was the commandant of Belzec. SS-Untersturmführer Josef Oberhauser reportedly served as Wirth's aide and liaison officer to Globocnik.  Fuchs himself was stationed to Belzec, and would thus likely have travelled to Sobibór in the company of these two men, given that Stangl's story is true. If the description of Wirth ranting and raving during the gassing is true, Fuchs' omission of the two men's presence seems even more inexplicable.

Another point where Fuchs' and Stangl's testimonies conflicts is in the description of the victims of the first gassing. Fuchs claims to recall that "thirty to forty women were gassed in a gas chamber" and that these women "had to undress in a clearing in the wood which had been roofed over, near the gas chambers." This scenario is completely different from Stangl's description in Sereny. In this the victims number twenty-five and are almost certainly all male, since they are described as Jewish prisoners working with construction. Furthermore they are not given time to undress, but are roughly pushed inside the gas chamber with their clothes still on, so that Stangl testified that he was "certain that the bodies were not naked, but were buried with their clothes still on."[27]

The former SS-Rottenführer Heinrich Barbl further added to the absurdity with his statement on the trial gassing:

Red Cross nurses accompanied the selected women, who were transported by bus. They assisted with the undressing.[28]

Thus also Barbl contradict Stangl's statements. It also strikes one as rather remarkable that the SS, while being highly concerned over the risk of outsiders catching sight of the killing procedure, would have let Red Cross nurses into the camp, and also had them assist with the undressing of the victims in the immediate vicinity of the gas chambers!

The gassing engine

In connection with the process against Hubert Gomerski in 1950, Erich Bauer stated the following regarding an alleged further trial gassing at the end of April 1942:

In my opinion it was a petrol engine, a big engine, I think a Renault. At a later stage the engine was started earlier on, but to begin with not until the people were already in the chamber, because Freisauspuff option was not available at first. It always took two men to start the engine; the battery alone was not sufficient. Fuchs had built a special contraption. There was an old magnet. One man turned the crank which started up the engine. The flywheel had some sort of crowbar, which was used to start it, while at the same time someone else had to operate the magnetic ignition; that is why two men were required to start it. I cannot exactly remember where the petrol supply tank was situated; I think it was on the wall. I am not sure how the gas was regulated; I think it was somehow fixed in position with a screw. I think it was similar to the way the gas handle was positioned in motor vehicles. It was not necessary for one person constantly to press down the lever to keep the engine running. The chambers were permanently connected to the engine; the way it worked was that if a wooden plug was pulled out, the fumes went outside, if the plug was pushed into the pipe, the fumes went into the chamber.[29]

But in Fuchs' well-known statement on the first trial gassing, we read:

At first the engine was in neutral. We both [Fuchs and Bauer] stood by the engine and switched the dual to Freiauspuff auf Zelle, so releasing the gas into the chamber.[30]

Thus if we are to believe Fuchs, there was a Freiauspuff option already from the beginning, while according to the earlier testimony of Bauer this option was only added later. As noted by Schelvis, the two former SS men also contradicted each other on the issue whether the engine was equipped with a starter motor or not: according to Fuchs, it did not have one, but Schlagmagneten (delayed action solenoid magnets connected to a spring).[31]

The capacity of the alleged first gas chambers

Yitzhak Arad has the following to say about the capacity of the first gas chambers at Sobibór:

There were three gas chambers in the building, each 4 x 4 meters. The capacity of each chamber was about two hundred people.[32]

A look at Arad's sources will show that he in this passage rely on the writings of Adalbert Rückerl, who in turn bases his information on the verdict of the 1965-6 Hagen trial. Thus Arad-Rückerl claims that about 600 people could be gassed simultaneously in the building. This in turn contradicted by statements from former SS, as summarized by Schelvis:

[Erich] Bauer on 6 October 1965 in Hagen: around 50 to 60 per chamber; [Karl] Frenzel on 10 October 1966 in Hagen: in groups of [i.e. in total] 250, possibly 150; [Kurt] Bolender on 5 June 1961 in Munich: 40 to 50 in one chamber; [Hubert] Gomerski on 19 September 1961 in Butzbach: 60 to 80 in one room […]

If we are to believe the various figures stated by former members of the Sobibór staff, each Jewish transport to the camp – most of them containing between 1,000 and 3,000 people – would require between five and fifteen separate gassings. The higher capacity alleged in the Hagen verdict should thus not surprise anyone.[33]

Israeli historian Miriam Novitch does not bother to inform her readers about the building material of neither the first nor the second gassing installation.[34] As for their respective capacity she asserts that the first building had three chambers "each of which could hold fifty people", while the later building contained five rooms measuring 4 x 12 meters, each prepared to hold "70 to 80 people" so that "400 victims could be put to death at the same time, if children were included."[35] Arad on the other hand writes that the new building contained six gas chambers, each of them 4 x 4 meter ("the same size as the existing ones") with a total simultaneous killing capacity of 1,300 people.[36] How could Arad and Novitch reach such highly divergent figures? 

Excursus: The mass graves of Sobibór

Miriam Novitch writes that the dead of Sobibór were initially buried in an unspecified number of "graves" measuring "thirty meters by fifteen, and four or five meters deep." According to Novitch, the burials were halted and the cremations begun in "the winter of 1942."[37]

Yitzhak Arad claims that the corpses were interred in an unspecified number of burial pits that were "50 to 60 meters long, 10 to 15 meters wide, and 5 to 7 meters deep."[38] Arad dates the halt of the burials to "summer of 1942" and the start of cremations to late summer-early autumn the same year.[39]

What then has Jules Schelvis to say about the mass graves? Let us take a look:

About 170,000 people were gassed at Sobibor. Until the end of 1942, the bodies were taken to a Lager 3 pit, measuring about 60 by 20 metres and about 6 to 7 metres deep, the walls sloping down to prevent it from collapsing. Along one side a wooden structure jutted over the edge, so that the loaded carts could be tipped over and the bodies dumped into the pit. The bodies had to be laid out by the Arbeitshäftlinge [working prisoners] in a prescribed fashion to use all the available space, and where then covered with chloride of lime.[40]

Thus Schelvis agrees with Novitch rather than Arad on the issue of the beginning of the cremations. The measures of the mass grave are more in accord with those given by Arad, however. As source Schelvis use a statement made by Kurt Bolender on June 5, 1961.[41] When it comes to the number of grave pits, Schelvis claims that there were only ever two of them:

By June 1942 it had become clear to the camp leadership that the grave was filling up fast, so a second grave was dug about 80 metres away from the first.[42]

The source is again Bolender. No dimensions are given for the second grave pit. Schelvis writes that soon after the digging of the second grave, summer heat caused the upper layers of decomposed bodies to swell and protrude through the surface, giving rise to a highly unsanitary condition. The old corpses as well as the new were from that time onwards burnt on a single grid of railway gauge which had been laid out over a smaller, shallow pit.[43] Schelvis also provides us with the tidbit that Gomerski and Bolender, supervising the cremations, built a cabin on the edge of the pit, from which they could oversee the cremations while "generally amusing themselves and roasting potatoes over the fire"![44]

Andrzej Kola's 2001 Sobibór excavation

On November 26, 2001, there appeared in The Scotsman an article entitled "Mass Graves Confirm Sobibór Holocaust", penned by a Berlin correspondent.[45] According to this article, Polish archaeologist Andrzej Kola had discovered at the site of the former Sobibór camp "damning evidence that gives the lie to Holocaust deniers." More specifically, it was reported that Kola and his team had "uncovered seven mass graves with an average depth of 15ft [=4.6 meters]" containing "harred human remains and under them remains in a state of decay", indicating that "in the final stage the victims were burned". Kola stated to the press that the largest discovered grave pit was 210 feet (64 m) long and 75 feet (23 m) wide, while the others measured 60 by 75 feet (18 x 23 meters). In a news item distributed by the Associated Press bureau three days earlier, on November 23, it was revealed that Kola had not excavated the grave pits, but rather estimated their volumes using drill probes, the same method employed by him at Belzec a few years earlier.[46] 

In addition to the discovery of the burial pits, Kola also claimed to have excavated building remains within the former camp site:

"We also found a hospital barracks. The people there were probably shot, as we found over 1,800 machine gun cartridges," Mr Kola said. "In the woods we found remnants of barbed wire, which enabled us to reconstruct the boundary of the camp."

So far the article in The Scotsman. In the Associated Press account, Kola states that the same barrack "might have served as a gas chamber", adding that further study was necessary.[47]

Two things strike one as odd in regards to the above claims. First, the notion of prisoners being shot in a hospital barrack recalls the allegation that the old and infirm were shot at a fake "Lazarett". Yet according to standard historiography, this "Lazarett" consisted of a large pit behind an old wooden chapel, which was in turn located a few hundred meters north of the railway side spur, in a small clearing not very far from the railway main track. It is further claimed that this "Lazarett" was soon abandoned and that victims not able to walk on their own to the gas chambers were transported on tippers on a narrow gauge track which led to straight to "Lager III", bypassed the gas chamber and ended in front of a burial pit. The victims were then lined up and shot in the neck so that they fell into said pit. Kola's suggestion that people were shot en masse inside a hospital barrack appears to clash with such a scenario.[48]

Things become even more confusing when we consider Kola's idea, as per Associated Press, that the same barrack had functioned as a gas chamber. Why would executions by bullet have been carried out inside a homicidal gas chamber? If the walls of the chambers were of concrete or brick, there would have been a risk of ricochets. If the same walls were wooden, bullets passing through or beside victims might in time have torn up holes, making repair work necessary. That the word "barrack" is used of course indicates a wooden structure. Thus Kola's identification of the barrack as "possible gas chamber" is in harmony with the writings of Schelvis, while it clashes with the historiography of Arad and the statements made by Stangl and Fuchs. It also implies that Kola did not find any other remains identifiable as those of a gas chamber building. At an exterminationist Web site devoted to the Reinhardt camps we are shown a photo bearing the caption: "An approximately 3 m deep pit, a few metres west of the memorial statue. Here, where the gas chambers were located, some old bricks and other remnants were found in September 2001."[49] No such find is mentioned in the press reports from November, and needless to say, the presence of a few old bricks in a pit located close to where the "gas chambers" allegedly stood does not prove the existence of said building. It seems strange indeed that a renowned archaeologist would not be able to detect at least partially the outline of the second "gas chamber building", even if this structure had been dismantled.

One could of course argue that the journalists who listened to Kola might have misheard or misunderstood what was being said, or that they condensed their reports, cutting out information which did not seem important to them. After all, such things happen all the time in the wonderful world of mass media. However, the fact is that the press reports make up our only available source of information regarding the 2001 Sobibór excavation. Despite the fact that eight years have passed since the event, no documentation, whether a paper, a monograph or any other sort of scientific report – in any language – has appeared concerning this important piece of archaeological work. Until any kind of documentation is made publicly available, the evidentiary value of Kola's excavation must be considered nil.


Until the publication of Jules Schelvis book on Sobibór [50], it was likely unknown to most students of this camp that there exists significant disagreement among key witnesses with regard to the nature of its alleged first gas chamber building. While, on the one hand, Sobibór's first commandant, Franz Stangl, testified that the first gas chambers were housed in a brick building, "Gasmeister" Erich Bauer on the other hand penned a "confession" which described the same building as made of wood. To confuse things further, former SS-Unterscharführer Erich Fuchs stated in his 1963 testimony that the first Sobibór gas chambers were contained in a "concrete structure".

Such a disagreement is hard to explain given that both Stangl and Bauer would have been familiar with the gassing installation (provided it really existed), and that Stangl, who was transferred to Treblinka in September 1942, hardly could have confused it with the alleged later gas chamber building at Sobibór, which was supposedly constructed of bricks and/or concrete. If we also consider that the testimony witness statements on the capacity of the first gas chambers also diverge wildly, and that there is also testimonial disagreement regarding the set-up of the alleged gassing engine, the contradiction revealed by Schelvis' book becomes indicative of the unreliable nature of the orthodox Sobibór narrative and the witness testimony it is more or less exclusively based on. One way to correct this unreliable historiography would be to conduct a detailed archaeological examination of the camp site. In 2001, Polish archaeologist Andrzej Kola carried out excavations and drillings at Sobibór, reportedly discovering seven mass graves as well as a barrack suspected to have been either a hospital or a gas chamber building. Since no documentation on the excavations and drills has been made available, media claims that Kola has "given the lie to the Holocaust deniers" cannot be taken seriously. It can not be ruled out that Kola or people associated with him purposely have delayed the publication of documentation in order to avoid critical scrutiny.  


Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1987, p. 31. This is apparently based on Adalbert Rückerl, who is in turn reiterating and quoting the 1966 verdict of the Hagen Sobibór trial; cf. Adalbert Rückerl, NS-Vernichtungslager in Spiegel deutscher Strafprozesse, Deutsche Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1977, p. 163
Adalbert Rückerl's book NS-Vernichtungslager im Spiegel deutscher Strafprozesse, DTV-Verlag, Munich 1979, p. 163: "Etwa 500 m westlich dieser Kapelle baute des Vorkommando des Gaskammergebäude, einen kleinen Massivbau mit Betonfundament. Innerhalb dieses Gebäudes wurden drei nebeneinanderliegende Zellen von 4x4 m Größe gasdicht abgeteilt. Jede Zelle erhielt in den gegenüberliegenden freien Wänden je eine Luftschutztür, die eine innen zum Betreten der Zelle, die andere außen zum Herausholen der Leichen."
Because, as seen below, Arad claims that the first trial gassing was carried out in mid-April.
Erich Fuchs on April 2, 1963, during an examination in Düsseldorf; ZStL-251/59-9-1785 as quoted in Schelvis, Sobibor. A History of a Nazi Death Camp, Berg/USHMM, Oxford/New York 2007, p. 100.
Schelvis, p. 114, note 17.
Erich Bauer in Hagen on October 6, 1965; StA.Do-X'65-176, quoted in Schelvis, p. 101.
Schelvis, p. 101.
Cf. Schelvis p. 103; Arad, p. 123.
Erwin Lambert in Stuttgart on October 2, 1962; ZStL-251/59-8-1542/43, quoted in Schelvis, p. 104.
Schelvis, p. 103.
Ibid, p. 104.
Arad, pp. 119-120.
In that concrete is poured between frames made of wooden boards.
Cf. the statement by Hubert Gomerski and Erich Bauer quoted by Schelvis, pp. 64-5.
Statement by Franz Hödl, StA.Do-Gom-PB-III-1270; quoted in Schelvis, p. 104.
Schelvis, p. 103.
Jules Schelvis, p. 33. The court document quoted by Schelvis (a statement by Stangl made in Duisburg on April 29, 1969) bears the reference ZStL-230/59-12-4464.
Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness. An Examination of Conscience, Vintage Books 1983, pp. 109-110.
Stangl also on other occasions referred to the gas chambers as a brick building, cf. the quote found in Schelvis p. 101: "I think the bodies were buried near the brick building."
Interrogation of Mikhail Affanaseivitch Razgonayev in Dniepropetrowsk, USSR, on September 20, 1948. Quote from online translation available at
Statement by Jan Piwonski in Lublin on April 29, 1975; ZStL-643/71-4-441, quoted in Schelvis, p. 27.
That is, all other buildings which did not predate the camp.
Cf. note 14.
Ibid note 4.
Franz Stangl in prison on April 29, 1969 in Duisburg, ZStL-230/59-12-4464/65; quoted in Schelvis, p. 101.
Sereny, p. 113-114.
Schelvis, p. 101.
Court testimony of Heinrich Barbl in Linz on October 16, 1965 at the Austrian Ministry of Internal Affairs; quoted in Schelvis, p. 101.
Statement by Erich Bauer, StA.Do-Gom-PB-III-1129; quoted in Schelvis, p. 102.
Statement by Erich Fuchs in Düsseldorf on April 2, 1963, ZStL-251/59-9-1785, quoted in Schelvis, p. 100.
Schelvis p. 114, note 26.
Arad, p. 31.
As a side note, Erich Bauer testified that he estimated the total number of Sobibór victims to have been 350,000 – more than twice the estimate given by Schelvis; cf. Ernst Klee, Willi Dreßen, Volker Reiß, The Good Old Days: the Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders, Free Press, New York 1991, p. 232.
Miriam Novitch, Sobibor. Martyrdom and Revolt, Holocaust Library, New York 1980, p. 24, 26.
Ibid. p. 26.
Arad, p. 123.
Novitch, p. 24.
Arad, p. 33.
Ibid, p. 171.
Schelvis, p. 110.
Kurt Bolender in Munich on June 5, 1961; ZStL-252/59-11-1322
Schelvis, p. 110.
Ibid, p. 111.
Schelvis quoting a statement by Alfred Ittner, p. 112.
Alan Hall, "Mass Graves Confirm Sobibor Holocaust", The Scotsman, November 26, 2001.
For a critique of this excavation, see Carlo Mattogno, Belzec in Propaganda, Testimony, Archeological Research, and History, Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2004, pp. 71-96.
It is clear that Kola is referring to the same barrack, since in both articles it is identified as the building remains wherein the archaeologists discovered a large number of machine gun cartridges (1.800 according to The Scotsman, 1.700 according to the Associated Press item).
It is not reported whether any bullet founds had been spent. It is worth noting in this context that in the summer of 1943 a facility for the recovering of captured Soviet ammunition was established at Sobibór.
In Dutch under the title Vernietigingskamp Sobibor, De Bataafsche Leeuw, Amsterdam 1993.

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Thomas Kues
Title: The Alleged First Gas Chamber Building at Sobibór
Published: 2008-10-15
First posted on CODOH: Oct. 13, 2008, 7 p.m.
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