The misconception that concentration camps didn't have gas chambers, Stormfront holocaust denial aside, first arose because people expect all concentration camps to be the same. Since many concentration camps have no sign of gas chambers, people started to believe that none of them did. The gas chambers were part of the dedicated extermination camps where work was only secondary and extermination the primary role of the camp. Many concentration camps reversed that priority...death of the inmates was considered a good thing, but using them as slave labor was primary. Gas chambers were used at the extermination camps. These were mostly in the East in places like Poland, so the main US, UK and French military advances liberated mainly concentration camps where slave labor and oppression were the dominant themes while the Soviets liberated most of the extermination camps. Neo-Nazis often claim that Eisenhower, Churchill and de Gaulle never mentioned liberating gas chambers and claim that shows they didn't exist. This claim completely ignores that it was primarily the Soviet army that liberated the extermination camps that had gas chambers. So that Neo-Nazi claim is easily contradicted.
A breakdown of the main concentration camps and their primary purposes can be found here:
The definitive book on Nazi Germany is the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. I recommend this book to ANYONE who wants to know just how and why Hitler's regime could come into existence. Shirer was a direct witness to some of the rise of Hitler and he describes the era in extreme detail, including the evolution of the concentration camps from mainly housing political prisoners to ultimately being part of the Final Solution, complete with dedicated extermination camps with gas chambers. Shirer's analysis used every scrap of evidence available at the time, meaning the one flaw in the book is that Soviet records were not available at the time, giving the Eastern Front a more sketchy coverage than what happened in the West and in Germany itself. But it still gives most of what you need to know about the policies towards the Jews. Even though I am up on my history of Nazi Germany I learned a lot from this book.
There are two main sources of evidence in any crime scene, and the gas chambers were, quite simply, massive crime scenes. Those types of evidence are eyewitness testimony and forensics. Good criminal cases are built up using both.
Eyewitness testimony is in itself almost overwhelming. In some cases, though, it is inconsistent. For example, for some camps like Dachau and Buchenwald, which were not dedicated extermination camps, the evidence is inconsistent. Claims of gas chambers were made by liberating troops after the destruction of parts of the camp by the Nazis trying to cover their tracks. This left considerable uncertainty, and I will not deal with these camps because the evidence is not solid. Eyewitness testimony doesn't come from the perpetrators or inmates so much as liberators who may have misinterpreted what was a crime scene where the perpetrators tried hard to cover their tracks. But there are camps like Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka where the evidence is very strong, where both the number and consistency of eyewitness testimony is overwhelming. Let me give a few examples (quotes taken from this site).
There is the testimony of SS-Unterscharfuhrer Schluch, who was actually employed to work at the gas chamber at Belzec:
“I had to show the Jews the way to the gas chambers. I believe that when I showed the Jews the way they were convinced that they were really going to the baths.
After the Jews entered the gas chambers, the doors were closed by Hackenholt himself or by the Ukrainians subordinate to him. Then Hackenholt switched on the engine which supplied the gas.
After five or seven minutes – and this is only an estimate – someone looked through the small window into the gas chamber to verify whether all those inside were dead.
Only then were the outside doors opened and the gas chambers ventilated. After the ventilation of the gas chambers a Jewish working group under the command of their Kapo’s entered and removed the bodies from the chambers.
The Jews inside the gas chambers were densely packed. This is the reason that the corpses were not lying on the floor but were mixed up in disorder in all directions, some of them kneeling, according to the amount of space they had.
The corpses were besmirched with mud and urine or with spit. I could see that the lips and tips of the noses were a bluish colour. Some of them had their eyes closed, others’ eyes rolled. The bodies were dragged out of the gas chambers and inspected by a dentist, who removed finger-rings and gold teeth. After this procedure, the corpses were thrown into a big pit.
The old wooden gassing building had insufficient capacity to deal with forthcoming transports, and these were dismantled and in a more central location a more robust structure was constructed. The new gas chambers in Belzec were operational by the middle of July 1942.
This is a confession by a perpetrator to the gas chamber at Belzec. Now let me give testimony from an inmate:
From Rudolf Reder, who was deported to Belzec from Lwow in August 1942 recalled the new structures:
“The building containing the chambers was low, long and wide, gray concrete, with a flat roof covered in tar paper, and above that another roof of netting covered with foliage.
From the yard, three steps a meter wide, and without railings led up to this building. A big vase full of different coloured flowers stood in front of the building. On the wall it was clearly and legibly written “Bade und Inhalationsraume”
The stairs led to a dark corridor, a metre and a half wide but very long. It was completely empty, four concrete walls. The doors to the chambers opened to the left and the right.
The doors made of wood, a metre wide were slid open with wooden handles. The chambers were completely dark with no windows, and completely empty. A round opening the size of an electrical socket could be seen in each chamber. The walls and floor of the chambers were concrete. The corridor and chambers were lower than a normal room, not more than two metres high.
On the far wall of each chamber there were also sliding doors, two metres wide. After asphyxiation the corpses of the people were thrown out through them. Outside the building was a small shed, perhaps two metres square, where the machine was, a gasoline –driven motor. The chambers were a metre and a half above the ground, and at the same level as the chambers was a ramp at the doors, from which the bodies were thrown to the ground.
The men were driven in first with bayonets, stabbed as they ran to the gas chambers. The Askars counted 750 into each chamber. By the time they filled the six chambers, the people in the first chamber had been suffering two hours already. Only when all six chambers were so tightly packed with people that it was difficult to close the doors, was the motor started.
The machine was a metre and a half by a metre: it was a motor and a wheel. The motor roared at longer intervals. It ran pretty fast, too fast to distinguish the spokes in the wheel.
The machine ran for twenty minutes by the clock. They shut it down after twenty minutes. Right away the doors of the chambers leading to the ramp were opened from the outside and the corpses were thrown on the ground, making a huge mound of corpses several metres high.
Two Askars ran the machine. But when the machine broke down once they called me over, since they called me “der Ofenkunstler.“ I took a look at it and saw glass pipes, connected to other pipes leading to each chamber.
When the Askars opened the sealed doors after twenty minutes of suffocation, the corpses were in a standing position, the faces as if asleep, not changed, not bluish, blood here and there from the stabs made by the Askars, bayonets, mouths slightly open, the hands clenched and often pressed against the lung area. The ones standing nearer tumbled out just like mannequins, through the wide-open doors.”
So testimony from perpetrator and victim (in terms of being an inmate)/witness.
Here is the testimony of Erwin Lambert who took part in the building of the gas chambers at Sobibor (the confession of an accomplice to the crime):
“At that time I was assigned by Wirth to enlarge the gassing structure according to the model of Treblinka. I went to Sobibor together with Lorenz Hackenholt, who was at that time in Treblinka.
First of all I went with Hackenholt to a sawmill near Warsaw. There Hackenholt ordered a big consignment of wood for reconstruction in Sobibor. Finally both of us went to Sobibor, we reported there to the camp commander, Reichleitner. He gave us the exact directives for the construction of the gassing installations.”
The new six-room gas chamber building had a corridor that ran through its centre, and three rooms on either side. The three gas chambers were the same size as the existing one, 4 x 4 metres.
The killing capacity of the gas chambers was increased to nearly 1,300 people simultaneously. The enlarged facility became operational in October 1942.
The construction of both doors was the same as that of the doors in the old chambers. The building when viewed from Camp No 1 showed five wide concrete steps with bowls of flowers on either side. Next came a long corridor. There was a Star of David on top of the roof facing the camp, so that the building looked like an old-fashioned synagogue.
Testimony of Pavel Leleko, a Ukrainian SS Wachmann of the Treblinka death camp guard (another confession of a perpetrator):
“When the procession of the condemned approached the gas chambers the “motorists” of the gas chambers would shout, “Go quickly or the water will get cold.”
Each group of women or men were hurried along from the rear by some German and very often the Kommandant himself – Franz accompanied by a dog. As they approached the gas chamber the people began to back away in terror.
Oftentimes they tried to turn back. At that point lashes and clubs were used. Franz immediately set upon the condemned his dog which was specially trained to snap at their sex organs. At each gas chamber there were 5-6 Germans besides the “motorists” with their dogs. With clubs and lashes they drove the people into the corridor of the gas chamber and then into the chambers.
In this the Germans would compete with the “motorists” in brutality towards the people selected to die. Marchenko for instance had a sword with which he mutilated the people. He cut the breasts of women. After the chambers were filled they slammed shut with hermetically sealed doors. The “motorists” Marchenko and Nikolay would turn on the motors.
Through pipes, exhaust gas was fed into the chambers. The process of asphyxiation began. Some time after starting the motor, the “motorists” would look into the chambers through special observation slits along side each door, to see how the killing process was going.
When questioned what they see there, the “motorists” answered that the people are writhing, twisting one another. I also tried to look in through the little window into the chamber, but somehow I did not succeed in seeing anything.
Gradually the noise in the chambers subsided. After about fifteen minutes the motors were turned off, an unusual calm set in.
Further testimony can be found here:
More confessions by perpetrators can be found here:
And of course an excellent eyewitness testimony by an inmate can be found in Elie Wiesel's Night, where he describe the journey he and his family through the concentration camps. Elie Wiesel survived but the rest of his family died either in the gas chambers or from neglect. Let me add that a girlfriend of mine had a grandfather who had been an inmate and witness to the gas chambers and who only survived the final days of Auschwitz by hiding under a pile of already dead bodies until liberated. So my girlfriend herself had heard eyewitness testimony as well.
As the allies closed in on Germany in 1945, there was a concerted effort to destroy evidence. Even before that, in cases where things went wrong the Germans systematically destroyed evidence of their crimes. The prime example of this is the extermination camp at Sobibor which was the scene of one of the very few successful prisoner revolts which led to a mass breakout. To cover up, the Germans dismantled the camp with the stated intent of hiding what had gone on there. This makes it harder to prove by forensics what happened. Archaeological analysis can identify areas that look like they were gas chambers and crematoria and basically give evidence completely consistent with the eyewitness testimony. That alone helps, given the overwhelming and consistent eyewitness testimony from inmates, perpetrators and liberators.
Some of the forensic evidence (documents, film footage, etc) supporting the eyewitness testimony can be found in this article on forensic science used in Holocaust investigation:
In spite of testimonial evidence and intelligence on Nazi crimes against humanity gathered by the Allies and the Red Cross during the war, nothing prepared the world for the horrors that were disclosed when troops finally reached the concentration camps. In addition to the on-site photographs, movies, physical evidence, and reports by officers of the liberation forces, as well as the individual testimonies of those who survived the Holocaust or the Nazi medical experiments, a great amount of Nazi documentation and material evidence was found in prisons, in the secret police archives, and local police administrative files, which the Nazis did not succeeded in destroying before the Allied invasion….
Nazi documents on the number and location of concentration camps all over Europe, such as one signed by the SS General Pohl, compared quantities of prisoners between 1939 and 1942, as follows: "At the beginning of war (Dachau, 1939 = 4,000 prisoners, today, 8,000; Sachsenhausen, 1939 = 6,500, today, 10,000; Buchenwald, 1939 = 5,300, today, 9,000; Mauthausen, 1939 = 1,500, today, 5,500; Flossenburg, 1939 = 1,600, today, 4,700; Ravensbureck, 1939 = 2,500, today 7,500." The report continues, showing a list of new camps built between 1940 and 1942: Auschwitz (Poland), Neuengamme (Germany), Gusen (Austria), Natzweiler (France), Gross-Rosen (Germany), Lublin (Poland), Niederhagen (Germany), Stutthof (near Danzig), Arbeitsdorf (Germany). The War Crimes Branch of the Third U.S. Army (Judge Advocate Section), reported that "Concentration Camp Flossenburg was founded in 1938 as a camp for political prisoners . . . and it was not until April 1940 that the first transport of prisoners was received. . . . Flossenburg was the mother camp and under its direct control and jurisdiction were 47 satellite camps or outer-commandos for male prisoners and 27 camps for female workers . . ." The SS police (Gestapo) established a program of "extermination through work" in these camps, alternating with torture, starvation, and mass execution in gas chambers and incineration in furnaces. A secret motion picture made by the Gestapo of these mass executions was presented as evidence in the IMT court. According to surviving witnesses, when bored, the camp guards also amused themselves by randomly shooting or hanging prisoners.
Forensics also shows traces of cyanide gas in the very remains that eyewitnesses claim were gas chambers and that archaeology suggests were gas chambers. These chemical data basically prove they were gas chambers. The key study was done by Polish scientists at the Institute of Forensic Research in Krakow. The authors are chemists. The first author became Director of the Institute of Forensic Research in Krakow.
The abstract of that study:
ABSTRACT: In a widespread campaign to deny the existence of extermination camps with gas chambers the "revisionists" have recently started using the results of the examinations of fragments of ruins of former crematoria. These results (Leuchter, Rudolf) allegedly prove that the materials under examination had not been in contact with cyanide, unlike the wall fragments of delousing buildings in which the revisionists discovered considerable amount of cyanide compounds. Systematic research, involving most sensitive analytical methods, undertaken by the Institute confirmed the presence of cyanide compounds in all kinds of gas chamber ruins, even in the basement of Block 11 in Auschwitz, where first, experimental gassing of victims by means of Zyklon B had been carried out. The analysis of control samples, taken from other places (especially from living quarters) yielded unequivocally negative results. For the sake of interpretation several laboratory experiments have been carried out.
The concluding remarks from that study:
The present study shows that in spite of the passage of a considerable period of time (over 45 years) in the walls of the facilities which once were in contact with hydrogen cyanide the vestigial amounts of the combinations of this constituent of Zyklon B have been preserved. This is also true of the ruins of the former gas chambers. The cyanide compounds occur in the building materials only locally, in the places where the conditions arose for their formation and persistence for such a long time.
In his reasoning Leuchter (2) claims that the vestigial amounts of cyanide combinations detected by him in the materials from the chamber ruins are residues left after fumigations carried out in the Camp "once, long ago"(Item 14.004 of the Report). This is refuted by the negative results of the examination of the control samples from living quarters, which are said to have been subjected to a single gassing, and the fact that in the period of fumigation of the Camp in connection with a typhoid epidemic in mid-1942 there were still no crematoria in the Birkenau Camp. The first crematorium (Crematorium II) was put to use as late as 15 March 1943 and the others several months later.
More evidence can be found discussed in this BBC article, this article from the University of San Francisco, and this article from Skeptic Magazine.
So confessions by perpetrators and accomplices, testimony by inmates/witnesses, archaeological analysis, supporting documents, and forensic chemistry all agree that in particular concentration camps there were indeed gas chambers dedicated to mass murder. Anyone who denies it is either ignorant of this overwhelming evidence or is being deliberately misleading.
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