The SS might be expected to use the cheapest and most efficient methods available.
Yet according to the respected authorities the monumental industrialised crime known as the Holocaust relied upon a series ad hoc on-site improvisations made by middle-ranking officers having no scientific training and working outside the chain of command. After their original flash of untutored genius these inventive colonels and sergeants and visiting civilians tended to learn nothing from their own experience and did nothing to spread or absorb best practice. The mighty German chemical and engineering industries were not consulted.
The passages quoted at the end of this post, culled from some web forum, are apparently taken from Chapter 9 of ed. Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein and Adalbert Rueckerl's book Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas, Yale University Press, New Haven/London: 1993, pp. 205-209:
Nobody observing the chronology of those passages will fail to note that the Nazis must either have started using carbon monoxide at the Reinhardt camps long after Hoess had discovered both from his “inquiries... in other places” and from his underling’s experiments on the Russians that this was a slow and unreliable method – yet more German inefficiency - or else, if Treblinka was one of those “other places,” then the Reinhardt camps must have been functioning at the time of the experiment on the Russians in late 1941. But let us leave time travel to one side. Our subject is Cyanogas. Playwright’s article, though anonymous, seems to me highly persuasive. Cyanogas was an American patent, but apparently a home-made equivalent could be easily knocked up by a skull-collecting professor of anatomy and a failed accountant like Camp Commandant Kramer. When Kramer went on from Natzweiler to Birkenau, however, it seems he did not take Professor Hirt’s knowledge with him. He persisted with a method deliberately designed to release the cyanide gas quite slowly
Kramer’s testimony to the French Military court in Strasbourg in July 1945 is apparently reproduced in chapter 8 of the Kogan-Langbein book. Can anyone get hold of this chapter 8? Since Hirt had killed himself in June 1945 and since Kramer was a British captive it is not clear to me what this French military court was doing. I include below, again snatched from the web, what may have been part of Kramer’s testimony.
Apparently from Kramers testimony at Strasbourg:
“One evening, about nine o-clock, the eighty prisoners arrived. I led about fifteen women to the gas chamber. I told them they were going to be 'disinfected.' With the help of some of the S.S. guards, I got them completely undressed and pushed them into the gas chamber. When I closed the door they began to scream. I put some of the crystals that Hirt had given me into the funnel above the observation window. I would watch everything that was going on inside through it. The women continued to breathe for half a minute and then fell to the floor. I turned on the ventilation, and when I opened the door they were lying dead on the ground, full of shit. I told some of the male S.S. nurses to put the bodies in a truck and take them to the Institute of Anatomy at 5:30 the next morning”.
Apparently from chapter 9 the Kogon-Langbein book:
“In the summer of 1941 Heinrich Himmler gave SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Hoess the task of organizing the extermination of the Jews sent to Auschwitz. Hoess made inquiries about the methods employed in other places, particularly those for killing Jews and Gypsies by using exhausts from poorly tuned engines. He found this procedure too slow and not sufficiently reliable. During his absence from Auschwitz his deputy, Karl Fritzsch, tried to kill a group of Russian and Polish prisoners by different means. They were shut in an improvised gas chamber into which a certain amount of Zyklon B was introduced. Hoess repeated the experiment and judged the result quite satisfactory. After this, the use of Zyklon B was adopted as the method of mass murder at Auschwitz, and later at Maidanek......
...... One can see why poisoning by hydrocyanic acid—as contained, for example, in Zyklon B—brings on death much more swiftly than does poisoning by carbon monoxide.......
..... A special case is presented by the method used at the Struthof-Natzweiler camp in August 1943, described by the former commandant of the camp, SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer, to a French military court in Strasbourg in July 1945. Kramer's deposition, quoted at length in chapter 8, explains how he gassed several groups of prisoners—eighty-six in all—with the aid of a bottle of "salts" obtained from Professor Hirt of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Strasbourg. On Professor Hirt's instructions, he added water to the salts at the very last minute and dropped the mixture through an opening in the ceiling of the gas chamber. The method turned out to be quick and effective.
...Kramer's mixture, however, did not produce a new type of poison gas hitherto untested. In his statement Kramer said he believed the salts were "hydrogen cyanide salts. " He was not far wrong in this assumption: the salts were obviously some sort of cyanide. They may well have been calcium cyanide, found in the form of a stable white powder and sometimes used by farmers at the time as a fungicide under the trade name of CYANOGAS. As any chemistry manual will explain, calcium cyanide, Ca(CN)2, reacts with water to form hydrocyanic acid plus calcium hydroxide, Ca(OH)2: Ca(CN)2 + 2H20 = 2 HCN + Ca(OH)2.
“If the salts provided by Professor Hirt were really calcium cyanide, then the gas Kramer was using was nothing other than hydrocyanic acid, the active ingredient of Zyklon B. But whereas Zyklon B was a commercial product, ready to use, Kramer's was a homemade mixture.
“Thus, from a technical standpoint, there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of Kramer's report. He himself had some notions of chemistry, as is indicated by his reference to "hydrogen cyanide salts," but he did not know, before he used it, what was in Professor Hirt's bottle. That fact makes his testimony all the more impressive.”
Can anyone tell us the author of this Chapter 9?