The Journal of Historical Review

The Basement Showers of Crematorium III

Samuel Crowell

Well before the Second World War ended, the claim that the Nazis lured their victims into gas chambers under the pretense that they were entering showers was widely reported in the press. This linkage of showers and gassing is probably one reason why Allied soldiers, finding naked bodies in the camps, simply assumed that these were gassing victims, although we now know that typhus victims were stripped after death in order to burn the clothing and destroy the typhus-bearing lice.

Nonetheless the linkage of showers and gas chambers enabled Jean-Claude Pressac to argue, in his 1989 book, Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, that an inventory sheet in the transfer documents from the building office to the camp administration which listed “14 shower heads” [Brausen] for one of the basement rooms of crematorium III at Birkenau proved that that crematorium had housed a gas chamber. Pressac assumed the shower heads were fake, but, as Robert Faurisson was perhaps the first to note, that was simply presumptuous: the inventory specified “shower heads,” not “fake showers.”

Pressac offered another document regarding showers in crematorium III in Auschwitz. This was a telegram dated May 14, 1943, from Karl Bischoff, the head of the Auschwitz Central Construction Office, to Kurt Prüfer, the head engineer for Topf & Sons, which built the crematorium ovens and sought to provide other products to the camp as well. It reads:

Bring Monday [May 17] rough plan for production of hot water for about 100 showers. Fitting of heating coils or boiler in the waste incinerator at present under construction crem. III or system using the high temperatures of the flue gases. It would be possible to raise the brickwork of the furnace to take a large tank. Herr Prüfer is requested to bring the relevant drawings on Monday 15/5. Sig. Bischoff

The standard explanation of this document has been that the SS planned to install showers after they ha completed their program of gassing and burning their enemies. As Carlo Mattogno has argued, however, this does not very well explain why the telegram is marked “Urgent” (dringend).

Pressac’s commentary on this document is worth quoting:

“In this telegram, Jährling requested the urgent study of an installation to obtain hot water from the waste incinerator of Krematorium III, then under construction, to supply about one hundred showers (probably to be located in an annex building built on the southern wall of the Krematorium). Prüfer was supposed to bring the relevant drawings with him on the 17th of May. [This plan was never implemented, although such installations were built in other camps, for example in the crematorium of K L Natzweiler (Struthof) where the incinerator was the main source of heat for the showers.] Although this request for a hot water system for a hundred NORMAL showers was in no way criminal, it was recorded in the Krematorium III worksite 30a, file under the heading “SONDERMASSN [AHMEN] / SPECIAL MEASURES” because the building was connected with these measures, the killing and cremation of Jews unfit for work.” [emphases in original]

This interpretation is incorrect in all respects. The telegram to Topf & Sons is part of a longer report, in four parts, that is contained in the Auschwitz Central Construction Office files, now archived in Moscow.

The report commences with a cover letter from Bischoff to Kammler which begins:

Auschwitz, am 16.5.1943

Bftgb.[correspondence number] 28 941/43/Eg/Lm Betr.[re]: Sondermassnahme für die Verbesserung der hygienischen Einrichtungen im KGL-Auschwitz

In English: “Special Measure for the Improvement of Hygiene at the POW Camp Auschwitz,” that is, Birkenau.

The text of the letter begins: “Attached hereto is a report on the measures carried out to date for the improvement of the hygienic facilities in the POW camp.”

There follows a two-page report that is headed: “Report on measures completed for the implementation of the special program ordered by the SS-Brigadeführer and Major General of the Waffen-SS, Dr. Ing. Kammler”

The report dates the particular special program to May 12, 1943, and lists seven categories of activity, including work on the sewage treatment plant, cutting the King’s Ditch (Königsgraben, the main drainage ditch at Birkenau) through to the Vistula, work on the lavatories (Abortbaracken), washing barracks, and so on.

The sixth listing is particularly relevant:

Disinfection Station

For the disinfection of the prisoners’ clothing in the several parts of BA [Bauabschnitt: i.e., Birkenau sector – ed.] II an Organization Todt disinfection station is envisioned. In order to achieve a complete bodily delousing for the prisoners, both of the existing baths for prisoners in BA I will be equipped with hot water heaters and boilers, so that there will be hot water for the existing showers. It is further planned to run heating pipes from the incinerator at crematorium III, to be used for the water in the showers to be set up in one of the basements of crematorium III.

The report is dated May 16, 1943, as is the covering letter. Next, we have a copy of the telegram sent to Prüfer, dated May 14, 1943, supplementing the previous report.

Finally, we have a further three-page report, dated May 13, 1943, which details the job assignments for the “special measures,” now referred to as an “emergency program” (Sofortprogramm). Paragraph 9 reads as follows:

Civilian worker Jährling is to carry out the construction of the hot water heaters and boilers in the washing barracks, as well as the showers in the undressing room of crematorium III. SS-Sturmbannführer Bischoff still needs to talk to the camp commandant, SS-Obersturmbannführer Höss, about the showers. For the delousing ovens the SS-WVHA has still to send an Organization Todt drawing.

Note that Bischoff refers to himself in the third person here: because this letter comes three days before the report of May 16, we feel it is safe to conclude that Bischoff had authorization from Höss by that time. Mattogno has added a few more points to the question whether or not the showers under discussion were fake or genuine, by referring to two more documents strongly suggesting that they were genuine indeed:

On June 5, 1942, Topf sent Drawing D60446 to the Zentralbauleitung “regarding the installation of the boilers in the rubbish incinerator.” This project also involved the installations for crematorium II. In an undated “questionnaire” apparently written in June 1943 regarding the Birkenau crematoriums, in answer to the question “Are the exhaust gases utilized?,” the head of the Zentralbauleitung, Bischoff, responded: “Planned but not carried out,” and in response to the following question: “If yes, to what purpose?,” Bischoff answered, “for bath facilities in crematorium II and III.”1

On the basis of the above report, which is put into context thanks to the work of Mattogno, the following conclusions may be drawn:

  1. The fourteen shower heads mentioned in the June 24, 1943 transfer documents for crematorium III were genuine. To support the argument that the fourteen shower heads in the transfer documents were fake, it would be necessary to conclude that real showers were planned, but then a month later were replaced with fake ones. Indeed, the traditional narrative holds that morgue 1 of crematorium II had been used for two months before this report to gas people in a room equipped with fake shower heads. Because crematorium III was supposed to have a comparable function, it would mean that morgue 1 of crematorium III was originally meant to have fake showers, then real ones, and then fake ones again. This is not believable.
  2. “Undressing rooms” are meant in the ordinary mortuary sense, not in any special sense. Bischoff originally suggested the location of the showers in an undressing room, which means that the room was understood to be an undressing room before the showers were contemplated. This can only mean that the word “undressing room” is being used in an ordinary mortuary sense, that is, as a space where bodies are cleaned and prepared before burial, or in this case, cremation.
  3. The implementation of hygienic measures took precedence over any other alleged purposes for the crematorium cellars. The traditional narrative holds that the crematoriums were built to destroy the traces of persons who would be murdered in the cellars with poison gas. But the report leaves no doubt that, for the sake of camp hygiene, this undocumented, allegedly intended purpose of the crematoriums was going to be suspended so that the camp population could take hot showers.
  4. The crematoriums were going to be used to provide ad hoc hygienic measures, before the completion of the Central Sauna (BW 32, which was opened at the beginning of 1944), and possibly at times of high traffic thereafter. In this case, at minimum, it was intended to use the basement spaces of crematorium III to provide ad hoc showers for the camp population, and it is known that fourteen showers were installed. We note again that Mattogno has cited documents from June 1943 which indicate that the water for the showers was not heated in the manner Bischoff envisioned in this report, and that the plans for installing showers covered both crematoriums II and III. This suggests that the fourteen showers in morgue 1 were not heated, or were heated by other means. Mattogno’s data also suggest that crematorium II may also have been equipped with showers at this time, or even before. The fact that showers were not mentioned on the transfer documents for crematorium II could be explained by the fact that the showers were not originally planned for these structures, but were improvised. In addition, while crematorium III was handed over to the camp authorities in late June, that is, after Bischoff’s report, crematorium II was officially transferred to the camp authorities at the end of March 1943, so any inventory document of that time could simply not include items added afterwards.
  5. Bischoff’s telegram to Prüfer was overly ambitious and probably deliberately so. The overall thrust of the report is that Bischoff wished to reassure Kammler that, despite the delays in construction, work was proceeding energetically to solve all the issues related to camp hygiene. Our surmise is that showers never could have been installed, but it made an impressive figure to report to Kammler, by way of a copy of the telegram to Prüfer. It also appears that Bischoff seemed to waver on the location: one hundred showers would make most sense in the largest morgue (morgue 2, the “undressing room”). But in the end a smaller number of showers was installed in the smaller morgue. The modest number of showers actually installed could also be explained by the failure to exploit the high volume source of thermal energy that the incinerator would have provided.
  6. The dual use of the crematoriums for hygienic purposes may have included the installation of ad hoc disinfestation stations. The apparent plan to temporarily install Topf hot air delousing facilities in crematorium II fits with the fact that showers were actually installed at the same period of time. Facing tremendous hygienic problems, the camp authorities obviously attempted to convert the basements of the crematoriums into a hygiene center with inmate showers and delousing facilities for their clothes.

In sum, the Bischoff report of May 16, 1943, settles once and for all the question of whether or not the showers in crematorium III were real. It also strongly supports the idea that the crematoriums were equipped with temporary delousing and disinfection facilities in the spring of 1943, which revisionists have argued for years. The revelations in the Bischoff report also clearly contradict the idea that these same basements were used to gas thousands of prisoners or that the crematoriums were built for the purpose of exterminating the camp population.

Note

1
Mattogno’s documents concerning the possible use of hot air delousing facilities and showers in the crematoriums are described in “Leichenkeller von Birkenau: Luftschutzräume oder Entwesungskammern,” in Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsschreibung 4, no. 2 (2000), pp. 152–158.

About the author

Samuel Crowell is the pen name of an American writer who describes himself as a “moderate revisionist.” At the University of California (Berkeley) he studied philosophy, foreign languages (including German, Polish, Russian, and Hungarian), and history, including Russian, German,and German-Jewish history. He continued his study of history at Columbia University. For six years he worked as a college teacher.


Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 20, no. 2, p. 17.


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