The One True Crematorium of KL Buchenwald
Previous I have described how two of the supposed crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau were in fact bakeries, and I located the site of the genuine crematorium as most likely being located just outside the camp, behind the Central Sauna. This left a problem of the function of the Buchenwald crematorium, a building that shared very many structural features with Krema II and III of Birkenau. Simply put, its central location in the camp and structural similarity to the bakery/crematorium at Birkenau meant it in all probability was also a bakery (the crematorium ovens being installed after liberation from the 2 ovens found in Birkenau). So where, therefore, was the real crematorium located? Through a rather surprising series of steps this mystery is now also close to being solved.
The solution came through the recent recycling of the story of Phil Lamason and the Buchenwald airmen, along with the related story of the execution of the SOE agents at Buchenwald in September/October 1944. Public interest in the story was given a boost recently by the release of a film on the subject. There is nothing particularly extraordinary about the 168 airmen who ended up in Buchenwald. They had been captured out of uniform, usually in the hands of French resistance networks. Since the British gave their underground agents the cover of downed pilots, when caught these airmen had to go through a screening process to ascertain whether or not they were saboteurs or other illegal combatants. Having determined that they were genuine pilots but still unwilling to give them full POW status, they were transferred to Buchenwald just prior to the liberation of Paris, late August 1944. Then, through mechanisms unknown, possibly involving broadcasts over the BBC, they were granted POW status and transferred to a Luftwaffe POW Camp in October 1944. The SOE agents are a different story, as illegal combatants they could be made subject to capital punishment. German agents captured in Britain were offered a choice of cooperation or legal execution. In the case of the Allied agents captured by the Germans, a substantial minority survived in concentration camps. However the majority of them were supposedly killed, not in officially sanctioned executions, but rather (allegedly) in bizarrely, sadistic extra-judicial killings. In stark contrast with the German agents, only one British agent is supposed to have cooperated in a minor fashion, whereas the remainder of those who did survive in the concentration camps, usually they did so by outwitting the brutal SS in typically brilliant British fashion. With the SOE agents at Buchenwald, the most of them were supposedly hung with piano wire on meat-hooks in cellar of the crematorium. Certainly, if you go there today you do see an impressive array of meat-hooks:
In fact, meat-hooks in abundance along each wall of the rather small cellar.
However, these particular meat hooks were installed in the cellar at some point after liberation. The public exhibition of the crematorium took place quite soon after liberation as a propaganda exercise, both to public opinion back home (“I now know the reason I am fighting” etc), but just as importantly as anti-Nazi education for Germans. A fascinating account by a Weimar civilian of this event, 8 days after the arrival of the American army, can be found in the Louis Lochner collection and reproduced here.
Etwa 8 Tage nach der amerikanischen Besatzung wurden 1000 Einwohner der Stadt Weimar aufgefordert, das Lager Buchenwald zu besichtigen um sich mit eigenen Augen von den dortigen Zuständen zu überzeugen. Morgens um 1/2 7 Uhr war ein Treffpunkt ausgemacht und man marschierte gemeinsam hinauf.
The witness describes the tour of the camp and ends up with the climax, the crematorium:
Vor dem Krematorium stockte die Führung und es hieß, eine Weile warten. Auf Befragen hieß es, daß noch nicht alles vorbereitet sei. Nach einiger Zeit wurden dann die Menschen in einen Hof geführt, wo Hinrichtungen stattgefunden haben. Am gegenüberliegenden Ende des Hofes war ein Galgen errichtet, der für 3 – 4 Delinquenten eingerichtet war. Ein Toter im Sträflingsanzug hing daran, sein Gesicht ging nach der anderen Seite und es schien, als sei er nicht hier erhängt worden. Wahrscheinlich hatte es zu den „Herrichtungen” gehört, ihn dorthin zu plazieren. – Das Krematorium selbst hatte in 2 Abteilungen je 3 Feuerstellen, also insgesamt 6 Stück. Zum Teil waren noch einige halbverkohlte Leichen zu sehen. An der Wand hing ein sehr sinnreicher Spruch, daß das Feuer alles reinige. Auf der anderen Seite des Krematorium war ein zweiter Hof, in dem die Leichen zur Verbrennung aufgehoben wurden. Es lagen noch einige Leichen auf Karren. Die meisten davon schienen schon mehreren Tage tot zu sein.
So while we may wonder what wasn’t ready yet in the former bakery that caused the delay, we don’t need to wonder what the cellar would have looked on that day, because we have a number of photos:
There were only four hooks found on the wall and of a squarish shape, as opposed to the classic rounded meat hook found today. Photos taken from other angles show no others visible at this time
Incongruously, there are some other hooks – but these were just a place to hang coats. Still, I suppose strangling people with piano-wire can be quite hot work:
And a more comprehensively field of view:
Aside from the four square hooks presented in the first photo, the walls seem devoid of hooks. Of course, if there were just four hooks technically it would be possible to use these to strangle four people at a time with piano wire. However, the subsequent addition of many additional hooks and the replacement of the original four points to intentional deceit. It is typical of the US Army, they put all their energy into locating shrunken heads and human skin lampshades that they neglect the little details, such as ensuring their psychological warfare units have a sufficient supply of meat-hooks.
This still leaves us a long way from identifying the actual site of the crematorium. The unfortunate Phil Lamason, having spent some time at Buchenwald, was a natural target for the Holocaust Industry. Since the plain truth is never enough for these people, he came under pressure to tart up his account to some degree, and as is usually the case, he succumbed. Having spent most of the post war years completely reticent, from the mid 80’s accounts began to emerge that the 168 airmen had been scheduled for execution (with piano-wire presumably) and had only be saved in the nick of time when somehow the camp resistance got word to the Luftwaffe. Why had Lamason kept silent this entire time? Because he didn’t want to upset his fellow airmen.
But, Lamason said, he did tell some people. As Colin Burgess’s “Destination Buchenwald” describes:
It was about this time that specific orders from Berlin reached the desk of Kommandant Pister, who reluctantly set the process in motion. The orders stated that all of the airmen, including the bed-ridden and desperately ill, were to be exterminated within the week.
This terrible news was conveyed to Phil Lamason by a German Communist who had been given the information by friend who worked in the adminstrative area. Lamason sought out [Wing Commander] Yeo-Thomas, [Christopher] Burney and Jan Robert, a Dutch Patriot who had been an Olympic training masseur. The four men discussed the information at length but concluded that there was precious little any of them could do to avert the mass execution.
Other accounts credited Eugen Kogon with the knowledge, erroneously assuming he was a Communist. Unfortunately most of these gentlemen had already placed extensive writings on the record without ever mentioning any impending execution. Eugen Kogon in “The Theory and Practice of Hell” describes the presence of airmen but states their eventual removal to a POW camp was a mystery, the earlier “The Buchenwald Report” simply mentions the existence of 168 Canadian [sic] airmen. Wing-Commander Yeo-Thomas in “The White Rabbit” also describes Lamason, but hints at nothing regarding imminent execution or that the transfer to a POW camp had anything to do with the prisoners themselves. In fact, Yeo-Thomas implicitly disputes Lamason’s account, because in his somewhat improbable tale he is incommunicado in the typhus quarantine ward in a complicated switch of identity plot. Yeo-Thomas’s testimony to the Buchenwald Trial also gave no indication he had heard of such an order, neither did the War Office war crimes investigation of the treatment of the 168 Buchenwald airmen.
But it is the final member of the quartet Phil Lamason claims he informed which is the most interesting. Christopher Burney wrote two versions of his book “Dungeon Democracy” regarding his experiences in Buchenwald; the first in 1945 and then in 1946. As such it is by far the earliest account and the closest to the events. Christopher Burney, an SOE agent (presumably broken by the Gestapo although he does not admit to this), assumes that the story of Eugen Kogon (or Emil Kalman, the pseudonym used in this book) and Yeo-Thomas is already public knowledge.
On page 118 he has: “As is now widely known, Emil [Kogon] had, in August 1944, saved two British and one French officer from certain execution. It was at this time I came to know him.” However, despite being named by Phil Lamason as being privy to the order to execute the 168 airmen, he gives no indication in his book of having heard of it.
But what he does say on the subject of the crematorium is rather interesting:
If you are going to locate a crematorium in a camp, the logical place is by the hospital or infirmary, but the Hygiene Institute might be a good 2nd choice. Like many camps, Buchenwald originally had a smaller crematorium – the old crematorium for which blueprints still exist. It appeared to be a small building equipped with a single oven with two openings (muffles). The other information we have is that in a list of the damage from August 1944 air raid, the crematorium is listed along with the statement that the roof have been destroyed.
I have an aerial photo which I can not date precisely, but due to the presence of many craters, must be shortly after that air raid:
I have annotated the photo with the locations of the Bakery/Crematorium and the Hygiene Institute. Two buildings next to the Hygiene institute appear to have lost their roofs, while the Bakery/Crematorium appears undamaged. One of these damaged buildings is next to the disinfection block, where the Zyklon-B clothes defumigation chambers were. This doesn’t precisely locate the true position of the Buchenwald Crematorium, but it does narrow it down considerably. And this aerial photo combined with the damage report of the August 1944 air raid does allow us to conclusively rule out the Bakery/Crematorium as being anything other than a post liberation alteration.
None of this would have happened if I had not engaged, against my better judgement, with the director of Lost Airmen, Mike Dorsey. He is, to say the least, a frustrating person to deal with, with a tendency to make outlandish claims and then refuse to back them up (“but I could if I wanted to”). Even questions as simple as whether or not the 168 airmen at Buchenwald was mentioned on the BBC in October 1944 are met with a barrage of obfuscations. Nonetheless, without his stonewalling I would not have been prompted to do my own work in attempting, unsuccessfully, to confirm the more extraordinary details of Phil Lamason’s account.
So if you found this information interesting or useful I hope you will go to http://www.lostairmen.com and buy his DVD. A just reward for the tireless efforts he puts in to promoting it across the internet.