Little Grey Rabbit's Historical Skepticism Blog

The One True Crematorium at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Posted in Auschwitz, Essential Postings by littlegreyrabbit on February 11, 2011

Krema Denial claims that the buildings today known as Krema II to V were in fact not crematoria but had other functions, so the question must be asked where was the camp crematorium located and what evidence can be shown for it?  While hard evidence is of necessity not abundant, there are some intriguing indications that the site of the new and only Birkenau crematorium may well have been what is today labelled as Bunker II.  The aerial photograph of May 31 1944 as enlarged and annotated by the CIA in 1978 shows this building (see below arrow labeled “BUILDING”:)

May 1844 aerial photo of Birkenau - enlarged by CIA/Yad Vashem

There exists the hint of a chimney or perhaps two on the right hand side of the building, but the lack of resolution makes such interpretations risky.  In normal circumstances one would imagine a crematorium to be placed in some this kind of location; accessed by a road, but out of sight of the main camp and screened by trees.   When I inspected the camp some years ago, the soil in this area contained a lot of very fine white particles, which I took for being ground-up bone fragments (at least by a quick visual examination they appear to be so, but I make no claims to expertise).  This is not inconsistent with the official history of this area region (a de facto gas chamber and place cremation on pyres), but it certainly also fits with being the site of a crematorium and the use of a cremulator to grind down cremated remains to powder.  The quantity and fineness of the fragments found here is in marked contrast to the scatterings of rather large and uncharred bone chunks in some pits to the side of Krema IV, pits which we know from aerial photos were dug after the war.

To start with some of the suggestive materials we have the testimony of Szlam Dragon in 1972.  JC Pressac tells us that Dragon gave a less than impressive performance at the trial of the architects of the crematorium in Vienna:

Dragon went to live in Israel. He was a witness at the 25th session of the Dejaco Ertl trial in Vienna on 1st March 1972. When the hearing was resumed at 1 p.m., he stated that he had worked in a Krematorium which was a small building with a gas chamber and stated that “Dieses Gebaüde war aussen weiss / this building was white on the outside.” He was, in fact, speaking of Bunker 2. S. Dragon’s total confusion between Krematorium [II] and Bunker 2 caused the hearing to be suspended so that a Hebrew interpreter could be called. At the 26th session on 2nd March, he very honestly said “Ich kann mich heute nach 30 Jaren nicht mehr erinnern … / I can’t remember today after 30 years…” He had also forgotten the drawings (1 and 2) and 2] made in 1945 according to his indications.

In fact, I would suggest that an inability to confidently differentiate between Krematorium 2 and Bunker 2 was not a memory that was functioning poorly, but a memory that was functioning all too well, albeit possibly one that was getting a little sick of the whole business.

Testimony given under SMERSH interrogation techniques by the Topf engineer Kurt Pruefer, March 1946, also may back up what Dragon seems to have been trying to say:

Q. Were you the sole Topf engineer in Auschwitz in spring 1943?    A. No, [senior engineer Karl] Schultze was with me in Auschwitz at the time. I saw personally about 60 corpses of women and men of different ages, which were being prepared for incineration. That was at 10 in the morning. I witnessed the incineration of six corpses and and came to the conclusion that the furnaces were working well.

Q. Did you see a gas chamber next to the crematoriums?  A. Yes, I did see one next to the crematorium. Between the gas chamber and the crematorium there was a connecting structure.

This description is not absolutely consistent with the layout we today know as Krematorium II, or at least is a rather odd way of describing it.  He only mentions 6 bodies being cremated rather than 15 in order to test the furnaces – even though he states 60 corpses were available, this may point to the actual number of ovens (2 triple muffle ovens – just the right for a building of the dimensions in the aerial photo above).  Other than that we should not expect too much heroism from Pruefer in the circumstances he found himself in East Germany circa 1946, he was to die in Soviet custody.  It may also be indicative that 2 tripple muffle ovens is exactly what the original plans for the new crematorium in Birkenau.

The final piece of indicative evidence is the first affidavit of Josef Kramer, who was in charge of Auschwitz II/Birkenau in 1944, before his trial and then execution.

I went through the camp frequently on inspections. The doctor alone was  responsible for certifying the cause of death if a prisoner died. The doctors changed continuously. One of these doctors was Hauptsturmführer Mengele. I carried out inspections of the bodies of people who had died through natural causes in my capacity as Kommandant when I was wandering round the camp.  Whoever died during the day was put into a special building called the mortuary, and they were carried to the crematorium every evening by lorry. They were loaded on the lorry and off the lorry by prisoners. They were stripped by the prisoners of their clothes in the crematorium before being cremated. The clothes were cleaned and were re-issued where the people had not died of infectious diseases. During my inspections I never saw prisoners who had died through physical violence. When a prisoner died, a doctor had to certify thetime of death, the cause and the details of the disease. A doctor signed a certificate and sent it to the Central Camp Office. These certificates did not go through my hands. The two doctors worked daily from 8 o’clock in the morninguntil 8 or 9 at night. All efforts were made by these doctors to keep the prisoners alive.

This, while not particularly explicit, does give the impression of a crematorium located some distance from the camp and bodies needing to be transported by truck.  There is also the suggestion that clothes were reused, a process that might involve a fumigation chamber.  Kramer, however, was a quick study, in his second affidavit he agreed that after all there had been 1 crematorium with one homicidal gas chamber attached.  By the time of his trial his memory had refreshed itself yet again and he agreed there had been four, each with its own gas chamber.

Next we look at how this site was described by the Soviets back in 1945, starting with the testimony given by Szlam Dragon on 10 May 1945, which can be found here and the previous page .

Szlamy Dragon’s Drawing and Testimony of 1945

The plan is not massively different from what the aerial photo shows, except the road comes in from a different side and does not appear to travel past the small building.  Also on the aerial photo of May 1944, there are only white patches and not actual barracks visible.  Whether these white patches represent disturbed earth where barracks used to be, or simply clumsy additions by the CIA to suggest the existence of barracks, I can’t say.  There are genuine looking barracks in that location in the August aerial photos, but the relevant frames of these photos only entered the public sphere in the mid 2000’s.  The trenches are far too big and wide and numerous to what can be seen on the aerial photo, which shows only minor disturbance – if at all.  A minor point is the building appears wrongly situation relative to the road and the building is too wide compared with the aerial photo – although no one can expect perfect eye-witness diagrams.

Now we see how Dragon actually drew the building, this is where the fact he made the building appear much wider than it in reality was becomes important.

Szlamy Dragon’s testimony of 1945

Dragon has claimed here (whereas in 1972 in Vienna he claimed it was a crematorium with a gas chamber attached), that this building is divided into four unevenly sized corridors, with a door on each side.  Given the building is a lot narrower that he depicts, this would make K3 and K4 of this very peculiar arrangement very small and narrow chambers indeed.  It is an extremely strange claim and not echoed by any other witness testimonies which generally go no futher than a claim of converted farmhouses.

David Olere in his drawing doesn’t seem to recall this multiple door feature:

David Olere's drawing - made some time between 1946 and 1978

Without proper photos or plans to work from Olere’s drawings tended towards fantasy (notice the gently rolling hills to one side – whereas in actual fact Birkenau is pancake flat).  However, he quite clearly shows just one entrance (and one of the long sides of the building is visible that according to Dragon in 1945 should have had a row of  three or four doors).   Olere suggestively also shows a large chimney in the middle of the building – not needed for a gas chamber but handy for a crematorium and also not on Dragon’s diagram of 1945.  This chimney may just be visible on the aerial photo.

Finally we come to a plan drawn in March 1945 depicting how the Soviet Commission claimed the site was left in.  This is before the testimony of Dragon, which was given in May and of which he had so little memory of 1972.

Drawing of site March 1945 by the Soviet Commission

The first feature to note is that the very peculiar arrangement of four divisions with doors on both sides has already been decided upon, so Dragon’s testimony that he was so reluctant to repeat in later years looks as though it had been feed to him by the Committee.  As a minor discrepancy the Committee and Dragon are at odds with the alignment and dimensions of the four rooms;  the Dragon diagram shows the doors  opening onto the road and four highly unequal sized rooms, the Committee 2 months prior had said the doors were  perpendicular to the road and the rooms of equal size.   Dragon did give, in a later century, an interview printed in the book We Wept Without Tears, this talks about separate entrances to four rooms, but doesn’t mention the exit doors – on the whole what he says in this book is a bit confused.  The other surprising factor is the numerous “abri contre les bombs” – bomb shelters that seem to be scattered through the area according to the March 1945 drawing – although they certainly seem hard to spot on the aerial photo.

As far as the site today is concerned, there is the outline of a building today, but it is completely without any foundations and is nothing more that an outline of bricks on the surface.  I suspect it is not original and has been totally rebuilt, as  not even a farmhouse is built totally without foundations.  There is no document in the building archive that refers to any building or alterations to anything that can be identified with what we today call Bunker II.

Finally, this brings us to something I have discussed before, a mystery image from the Liberation of Auschwitz newsreel.

Mystery liberation image

I posted this film still before concerning the fact in the Liberation of Auschwitz newsreel there appears to be no images of Krema II or III. despite the central importance to the mass murder machinery.  I cynically suggested perhaps these two sites were not yet ready for filming.  It had been proposed to me that this image, coming just after some footage of clearing rubble away from the site of Krema V, might in fact be Krema II or III.  Unfortunately, there is nothing to identify it with either of these two buildings and would suggest that enormous alterations at those sites took place immediately after liberation.  Equally there are no other known ruined buildings in Birkenau or Auschwitz and certainly none that would fit the narrative sequence of the film.  For further discussion on this photo see the original post here:

What I would like to do is raise as a possibility that perhaps what they are looking at is the ruins of Bunker II, aka the one and only true crematorium of Birkenau.  And the door leading underground leads either to an underground morgue or clothes fumigation cellar or both.   These ruins were soon completely removed, which is why the location of this footage can not be found anywhere on the camp grounds today.  This entire post is just speculation, but the fact the four sites in Birkenau known today as crematoria can easily be seen to be unable to perform this function demands such speculation.

4 Responses

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  1. Mikhaela Smith said, on April 7, 2011 at 12:46 am

    I am doing a to scale model of auschwitz-birkenau for my 8th grade project that is do by april 15th 2010 and I can’t find the demensions of the buildings. Google really isn’t much help becausse it’s not strait forward so I have to look for ages. I have the length and width but not the hieghth of the building. I was wondering if you could help with that and with any other tips you might have. If you can thanks if you can’t thanks anyway.

  2. Mikhaela Smith said, on April 7, 2011 at 12:49 am

    Oh and did you write anything else on auschwitz that might help that I could read. I

  3. littlegreyrabbit said, on April 7, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Dear Mikhaela, thanks for reading. I am sorry to hear you have chosen such a dreary project when Nazi technology offers such a cornocopia of fascinating ways of killing people. Did you ever think of trying to reconstruct the pedal driven bashing machine (google it)?

    I might be able to find out the height, but it really is not very important. Just choose any height that seems about right and go with that – if you get it slightly wrong I don’t think the ghost of Ann Frank is going to come and haunt your dreams. And considering the dimensions of the gas chambers seems to vary considerably depending on the season, a little latitude would somehow seem appropriate.

    Mikhaela, Gold and Silver and the Height of the Crematorium/Bakery have I none, but what I do have I give to you:

    “In the neighborhood lived a famous dervish who passed for the best philosopher in Turkey; they went to consult him: Pangloss, who was their spokesman, addressed him thus:

    “Master, we come to entreat you to tell us why so strange an animal as man has been formed?”

    “Why do you trouble your head about it?” said the dervish; “is it any business of yours?”

    “But, Reverend Father,” said Candide, “there is a horrible deal of evil on the earth.”

    “What signifies it,” said the dervish, “whether there is evil or good? When His Highness sends a ship to Egypt does he trouble his head whether the rats in the vessel are at their ease or not?”

    “What must then be done?” said Pangloss.

    “Be silent,” answered the dervish.

    “I flattered myself,” replied Pangloss, “to have reasoned a little with you on the causes and effects, on the best of possible worlds, the origin of evil, the nature of the soul, and a pre-established harmony.”

    At these words the dervish shut the door in their faces. ”

    If this doesn’t make sense to you now, it will when you are older. Or you can always see if your teacher will explain it to you.

  4. ganardinero2010 said, on January 29, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    I enjoy reading a post that will make men and women think. Also, thank you for allowing me to comment!

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