Auschwitz "Gas Chambers" were really air raid shelters
Holocaust Deniers Say:
The gas chambers at Auschwitz were just air raid shelters equipped with gas-tight doors to protect the people sheltering inside from poison gas.
Holocaust deniers argue:
- Arthur Butz, a professor of electrical engineering at Northwestern University in Illinois, claimed, in 1997, that Cremas 2 and 3 in Birkenau were "ideal for adaptation as air raid shelters . . . there was no better choice at Auschwitz." 1
- After 1998, Samuel Crowell asserted that the Germans were very anxious about gas warfare after their experiences in World War I and this fear was reflected in their designs for air raid shelters which "were to be made secure from both bombs and poison gas." 2 He dismisses the menacing gas tight shutters, gas-tight doors with peep holes, and gas detectors as "benign" with "no criminal significance at all." 3
- In order to explain why the Auschwitz authorities were ordering "benign" gas tight shutters, gas-tight doors and gas detectors in late 1942/early 1943, David Irving claimed at trial that "There are quite a lot of files relating to plans for air-raid shelters, estimates and accounts for construction of bomb shelters and so on. It was very much in the air, if I could put it like that, from August 1942, onwards." 4
A History of Allied Air Raids in the Auschwitz Area
In 1942, Allied bombers couldn't reach Auschwitz in Poland. They could barely reach Berlin in eastern Germany and return safely to England. Only in late 1943 were Allied aircraft, based in newly-liberated areas, able to reach Poland. In August 1944, for the first time, Allied planes began to appear in the skies over Auschwitz. On August 20, September 13, December 18, and December 26, 1944 the Allies mounted air raids on the Buna synthetic rubber factory at Auschwitz III (Monowitz) and the I.G. Farben industrial factory. These huge factories were sub-camps of Auschwitz, from which they got their slave labor. They were about 5 miles away from Auschwitz I and Birkenau proper.
The Allies weren't interested in either Auschwitz I or Birkenau because they weren't industrial or military targets. They did take reconnaissance photographs as they flew over the two camps on the way to Buna and I.G. Farben.5 In the September 13, 1944 raid, a targeting error (a common occurrence with the technology of the day) caused bombs to fall on Auschwitz I and Birkenau killing 15 SS men and 40 inmates in the main camp and 30 civilian workers at Birkenau.6
The history of air raid shelters in Auschwitz-Birkenau
Only in late 1943 did the Central Construction Office at Auschwitz, on orders from Berlin, build air raid shelters in both Auschwitz I and Birkenau. The camp authorities opted to build one- and two-man shelters that were placed at regular intervals around the perimeter of the Birkenau. In the event of an air raid, these individual shelters were close and open in the direction of the prisoner compound so that in the event of an air raid, the SS guards could continue to cover their part of the perimeter while using them.
In the Main Camp (Auschwitz I), Crema 1 was an obvious choice for an air raid shelter. Its walls were already banked up with earth and near enough that the SS guards could get to it quickly in the event of a raid. The holes in the roof (through which the Zyklon-B had been dropped when it was a gas chamber) were filled in. The plan, dated September 1944, shows that additional walls were built in the gas chamber room to provide better support to the thin concrete roof and contain any damage if a bomb penetrated it. It already had a gas-tight door and an extra door was added as an emergency exit. No further construction was necessary.7
What primary documents reveal about the existence of air-raid shelters in Auschwitz.
Irving claims that the files of the Central Construction Office in Auschwitz showed they were concerned about taking precautions against Allied air raids "from mid-1942 onwards" when they "began to consider the construction at the camp of shelters, splinter trenches, and other Air Raid Precaution (ARP) measures." 8 Perhaps the Auschwitz authorities were "concerned" about the possibility of future air raids in 1942. However, their own records show that they did not even begin to seriously consider building air-raid shelters until October 1943 and only started actually building them in October/November 1944.
According to Robert Jan van Pelt, who reviewed the documents for the 2000 Irving-Lipstadt-Penguin libel trial in London in 2000, "None of the documents . . . mention any crematorium or morgue, or a plan to convert a morgue of any crematorium into an air-raid shelter. . . . Furthermore, none of the documents . . . mention any intended or executed construction of an air-raid shelter in any of the Auschwitz camps before November 1943." 9
The first mention of any activity relating to building air raid shelters is a memorandum of a meeting held on November 9, 1943. Two representatives of the regional air-raid protection authority visited the camp to see what kinds of preparations had been made to protect SS men and civilian workers and prevent the escape of inmates during the air raids. The meeting was attended by senior members of the Auschwitz SS. This memo indicated that construction of a splinter trench for a hospital operation room had just begun.10
Van Pelt concludes: ". . . the only issue of concern in Auschwitz before November 1943 was the problem of enabling the camp to adhere to blackout rules and the creation of precautionary measures, including the installation and maintenance of fire extinguishers in various buildings, and the creation of fire ponds to serve as water reserves in case of an attack with incendiary bombs." 11
Why is it important to Holocaust deniers that the Auschwitz authorities be planning and building air raid shelters as early as 1942?
The underground rooms in Cremas 2 and 3 in Birkenau were adapted into undressing rooms and gas chambers in late 1942 and early 1943. Gas-tight doors, gas-tight shutters, gas detectors, and wire-mesh constructions (for introducing the Zyklon-B into the gas chambers) were all part of the re-design into a murderous use.
However, if air raid shelters were being built in Birkenau in late 1942 and early 1943 then all the damning evidence for mass murder like gas-tight doors and shutters, and gas detectors can be ascribed the innocent use of air raid shelters instead of being used for gas chambers. A partial list of these items includes the following:
- On January 1, 1943, three gas-tight doors were ordered for Crema 2.12
- On February 13, 1943 an order was issued for twelve "gas-tight doors of 30/40 cm." These "doors" are more like shutters in size (about 12 x 16 inches). These shutters can be seen at Auschwitz today. They are 30 x 40 centimeters in size and equipped with a butterfly nut that can be screwed tight from the outside. The plan for Crema/Gas Chamber 4 specifies shutters 30 by 40 centimeters in size.13 Crema 4 was a brick building built entirely above ground. Of what use would it be as an air-raid shelter?
- On February 26, 1943, ten gas detectors were ordered by telegram from Topf & Sons.14 (Gas detectors would be needed to determine when it was safe to enter the gas chamber rooms and remove the bodies.)
- On March 31, 1943, one gas-tight door was ordered for Crema 3 was ordered.15
Deniers also cite the way the doors opened in the gas chambers as proof that they were air raid shelters.
When Cremas 2 and 3 were originally designed as crematoria/morgues the doors were designed to swing open INTO the morgue rooms. Existing blueprints show that when the morgue rooms were modified from morgues into gas chambers the doors were re-designed to swing open OUTWARD from the room. The plans for Cremas 4 (Crema 5 was identical) also clearly show that the doors to the gas chambers opening to the outside.16
If the doors had swung INTO the room, the Sonderkommando would not have been able to get the doors open to remove the bodies of those who had rushed away from the poisonous gas and piled up near the door in a frantic attempt to get out of the room. On the other hand, air raid shelters doors were designed to swung INWARD so that if rubble piled up OUTSIDE the door, the people inside would not be trapped.
Finally, although Crema 1 was perfectly sited to be used as an air raid shelter for Auschwitz I, in Birkenau the cremas/gas chambers were simply too far away to be useful in an air raid. In the event of an air raid the SS men would potentially have had to run a mile or more to get to cover, completely abandoning their posts in the process.17 That is why the Nazis converted 176 concrete units, originally designed to build two large and one small shelter in Birkenau, into individual units scattered all around the perimeter.18
The deniers' timeline is false. The gas-tight doors and shutters, gas detectors, and wire mesh columns were ordered 22 months before the Auschwitz authorities began to build air raid shelters.
Crema 1 in the Main Camp was used as a gas chamber for a short while in 1942 but in November 1944 it was modified to become an air raid shelter in November 1944.
Cremas 2, 3, 4 and 5 in Birkenau contained gas chambers. They were not air raid shelters. Robert Jan van Pelt sums it up: "There is not a shred of evidence to support Crowell's claim that those spaces were designed, let alone used, as air-raid shelters."
1. Arthur R. Butz, "Vergasungskeller" at www.codoh.com/gcgv/gcvergas.html.
2. Samuel Crowell, "Wartime Germany's Anti-Gas Air Raid Shelters: A Refutation of Pressac's 'Criminal Traces'" at www.ihr.org/jhr/v18/v18n4p-7_Crowell.html.
3. Samuel Crowell, "Technique and Operation of German Anti-Gas Shelters in World War II: A Refutation of J.C. Pressac's 'Criminal Traces'" at www.codoh.com/incon/inconpressac.html.
4. van Pelt, Case for Auschwitz p. 326; Transcript, Day 8, January 11, pp. 99-100 at www.hdot.org ("Transcripts.")
5. For a complete discussion about why Auschwitz wasn't bombed see Michael J. Neufeld and Michael Berenbaum, The Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies have Attempted It? (St. Martin's Press, 2000).
6. Danuta Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle 1939-1945 (Henry Holt, 1990): p. 708.
7. Ibid., p. 316, see floor plan dated September 1944.
8. David Irving, "New Documents on Air Raid Shelters at Auschwitz Camp" at www.fpp.co.uk/Auschwitz/docs/LSKeller/MoscowDocs.html (documents in German). For English translations of the documents see "Documents from Moscow Archives describe building of air-raid shelters in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943-44" at www.codoh.com/incon/inconausdocs.html.
9. van Pelt, Case for Auschwitz pp. 326, 327.
10. Ibid., p. 328.
12. Ibid., pp. 314, 401.
13. Ibid., p. 400.
14. Ibid., pp. 311, 312, 401.
16. Ibid., p. 377.
17. Ibid., p. 314.
18. Ibid., p. 317.