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Franciszek Piper - Fritjof Meyer,
“Die Zahl der Opfer von Auschwitz. Neue Erkentnisse durch neue Archivfunde Review article Franciszek Piper - Fritjof Meyer, “Die Zahl der Opfer von Auschwitz. Neue Erkentnisse durch neue Archivfunde,” Osteuropa, 52, Jg., 5/2002, pp. 631-641, (review article)*
While the war was still on, it was already known that Auschwitz, a German concentration camp and a state institution, was one of the largest extermination sites in occupied Europe.
The Polish government, with its wartime seat in London, took the lead in spreading this information, on the basis of reports from the resistance movement in occupied Poland. First published in Polish government bulletins, the information was later carried by the press around the world.
The belief that the number of victims reached into the millions prevailed among Auschwitz prisoners, and even among some of the SS men who witnessed the things happened in the camp.1 This is confirmed both by testimony from prisoners and SS men, and by notes drawn up during the war by the prisoners assigned to burning corpses (Sonderkommando). 2
When the Soviet army entered the camp on January 27, 1945, they did not find any German documents there giving the number of victims, or any that could be used as a basis for calculating this number. Such documents (transport lists, notifications of the arrival of transports, reports about the outcome of selection) had been destroyed before liberation. For this reason, the Soviet commission investigating the crimes committed in Auschwitz Concentration Camp had to make estimates.
They used statements by former prisoners as a basis for establishing the length of time that the particular crematoria had functioned, and their daily capacity. Multiplying these two factors yielded a figure of 5,000,000. Estimating that at least 20% of the time had been taken up by interruptions for maintenance or repairs, the commission concluded that 4,000,000 had been burned, and therefore had perished, in the camp.3 That figure appeared in a communiqué that the Soviet commission published in Krasnaya Zvezda on May 8, 1945, and was reported by the press around the world. Former camp commandant Rudolf Höss corroborated this number in his testimony before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg the following year. He stated that 3,000,000 had died in the camp, and this statistic was generally assumed to apply only to the period when he had been commandant, from 1940 to 1943.
Polish crime investigators and the Supreme National Tribunal in Poland, which tried the Auschwitz prisoners, also accepted the figure of 4,000,000. Established by the prosecutorial authorities rather than by researchers, this number gained acceptance by the public and became canonical knowledge on the subject of Auschwitz for many years, in Poland and elsewhere.
The absence of the most important of the statistical sources that the Germans kept in Auschwitz made it practically impossible for historians to research the issue of the number of victims. The reluctance to research this issue also resulted from a conviction of the impossibility of drawing up a full list of transports reflecting the total number of deportees, and above all of the people who were consumed by the gas chambers and crematoria with no registration or records. This view finds expression in some veterans’ groups to this day.
This does not mean that all researchers agreed on the figure of 4,000,000 in their publications. Jewish researchers in particular, who were fully aware that Jews made up the decided majority of the victims of Auschwitz, had significant reservations about this figure—above all because, when added to the number of Jews killed at other extermination sites, it more than doubled the overall loss of Jewish lives, set at 5,000,000 to 6,000,000. Since these researchers did not know, in turn, the number of persons from other ethnic groups deported to the camp they frequently refrained from attempting to establish the total number of victims, and limited themselves to Jewish losses.
Thus various figures for the number of Auschwitz victims appeared in the literature: at least 900,000 (Reitlinger), 1,000,000 Jews (Hilberg), 2,000,000 Jews (Gilbert), 2,500,000 Jews (Weiss) , 3,500,000 – 4,500,000 (Kogon).
In the early 1950s, Reitlinger, unlike other researchers, attempted to estimate the number of victims of Auschwitz on the basis of the incomplete information then available about the number of deportees to Auschwitz and other death camps from specific countries. None of the other researchers named above attempted a more detailed analysis or provided any justification for their estimates. It would seem that researchers generally repeated the numbers (from 1,000,000 to 3,000,000) to which Höss testified at various times in Germany and Poland in 1946 and 1947.
There are various opinions about the origins and purpose of the widely-circulated figure of 4,000,000 Auschwitz victims. Some regard this number as a product of wartime horror propaganda. They assume that the people who set and announced this figure were aware that it was inflated. The same would apply to those who later accepted and publicized it.
If we take into account the extent, or rather the lack, of original camp records on the number of both deportees and people who were murdered, along with the highly suggestive nature of eyewitness accounts speaking of “uncounted victims” or “millions of people who were murdered,” then we should accept 4,000,000 as a figure that, according to the best knowledge of the members of both the Soviet and Polish commissions, and subsequently of the prosecution investigators and the authors of various publications, reflected the actual human losses in Auschwitz.
The Germans signed the capitulation on the day the Soviet commission issued its communiqué. There were therefore no reasons to treat the Nazi crimes as an instrument of wartime propaganda or an inducement to fight against the enemy. About one thing there can be no doubts: no one knew or could have known the true number of Auschwitz victims at the time, while the method that the Soviet commission used in arriving at its estimate still finds approval today, both among those who would maintain or even raise that estimate, and among those who would lower it.
Georges Wellers was the first researcher to make a detailed analysis of this issue. He compared findings on the human losses in specific countries whence people, mostly Jews, were deported to Auschwitz, with the findings in Danuta Czech’s Kalendarzu wydarzeń w obozie koncentracyjnym Oświęcim-Brzezinka (Auschwitz Kalendarz) , based on the partially extant camp records, eyewitness accounts, and resistance movement material. As a result of his research, Wellers concluded that at least 1,600,000 people were deported to Auschwitz, of whom at least 1,500,000 died. Wellers published his findings in Le Monde Juif in late 1983. 4
The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim investigated the issue in the 1970s as part of its established research schedule, without arriving at any results.
I reopened the research on this problem in the 1980s, as part of the work on the five-volume Auschwitz monograph. I knew full well that the findings of the prosecutors and judicial authorities on this question in the 1940s rested on inadequate documentation. Nor did they reflect the breakdown of the victims by ethnic origin. My findings turned out to be similar to those of Georges Wellers, as I announced in a paper read at a scholarly conference in Cracow-Mogilany on February 16-18, 1987. I then stated that “Wellers’s calculation methods and findings can generally be accepted without reservations, with the exception of the problematical assumptions in his estimates in regard to Polish Jews. The figure of 600,000 Polish Jews must be regarded as inflated.” 5
After an overall analysis of the original sources and findings on deportation to Auschwitz, I concluded that a total of at least 1,300,000 people were deported there, and that 1,100,000 of them perished. Approximately 200,000 people were deported from Auschwitz to other camps as part of the redistribution of labor resources and the final liquidation of the camp.
One of the most distinguished Holocaust researchers, Raul Hilberg, published a separate work (Auschwitz and the Final Solution) 6 on the number of Auschwitz victims. His findings reaffirmed both the figure of 1,000,000 Jewish Auschwitz victims that he had arrived at as long ago as 1961, as well as my own conclusions.
The foregoing considerations can be summed up in the following conclusions:
It is a fact that an inflated figure for the number of Auschwitz victims, up to 4,000,000, was often cited in the literature over several postwar decades on the basis of the prosecutorial and judicial authorities and the testimony of former Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss. However, scholars who researched the problem more closely while following the principles of the historian’s craft—the comparison of various sources and the evaluation of their credibility—defined and continue to define the number of Auschwitz victims as somewhere between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000.
In view of the lack of camp records on the overall number of people deported to the camp and murdered there, the only basis for establishing the number of victims of the camp must be sources on deportation to Auschwitz from specific localities, regions, and countries and changes—increases and decreases—in the number of prisoners.
Attempts are still made at times, in line with the methods used by the Soviet commission investigating the crimes committed in Auschwitz, to define the number of victims on the basis of the capacity of the crematoria and the length of time they were in operation. Such calculations are erroneous, since there are no credible sources making it possible to establish either the amount of time that the crematoria were actually in operation, nor the extent to which their capacity was used. 7
Estimates of the number of Auschwitz victims arrived at so far, 8 primarily on the basis of information about deportation to the camp, should be acknowledged as thoroughly verified answers to this important issue in the history of Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Further research may only refine, to a minor degree, particular components of this figure. It will not, however, lead to any fundamental changes.
The sporadic efforts still undertaken to lower9 or raise10 the number of victims of Auschwitz on the basis of an analysis of the capacity of the apparatus of mass extermination, the time that it was in operation, or the degree to which it was utilized, must be regarded as erroneous in view of the lack of complete documentation. Similarly, attempts to minimize the number of victims by denying the existence of the gas chambers must also be rejected.
In technical terms, the gas chambers were utterly simple equipment: they functioned on the principle of a closed space into which poison gas could be introduced. Any sort of stationary or mobile structure could be used for this purpose. Showers or steam-baths were used in the euthanasia centers, specially constructed trucks in Chełmno (Kulmhof), barracks in Treblinka, and, for a time, two farmhouses in Brzezinka (Birkenau).
Minor modifications, consisting mostly of eliminating all openings, make it possible to turn any room into a gas chamber. Sophistic considerations presenting the process of killing people with poison gas, and more specifically Zyklon-B, as a complex technical undertaking requiring means beyond those at the disposal of the camp (as encountered mainly in the literature of the neo-Nazi deniers), are an attempt at manipulating simple facts, and basically amount to deliberate deception.
Another method for denying the mass murder committed in Auschwitz is employed by those who, while not denying the existence of the gas chambers, attempt to reduce the capacity for killing people in them to a minimum, as a result of various technical limitations (ventilation or security problems) or limiting their capacity (too little space). In their attempts to lower the capacity of the gas chambers, deniers gloss over the fact that each chamber could be used several times a day. Capacity was limited above all by the time required to lead people inside, poison them, and remove the corpses, rather than by the available space. Deniers introduce various analogies here with contemporary execution chambers, where completely different technical and security requirements, not to mention procedures, obtain.
The same applies to techniques for the cremation of the victims’ corpses. The known German records indicate that it would have been possible to cremate over 2,400,000 corpses11 in the crematoria alone, without taking account of the pyres or the pits where corpses were burned, or, according to Sonderkommando members, over 4,000,000 corpses. The open-air pyres and pits where corpses were burned could be used whenever there were technical problems or excessive numbers of deportees arriving for extermination, and the capacity of the pyres and pits was practically unlimited.12 It has even been observed more than once that these are the most effective and simplest methods. They were used successfully in the centers for the extermination of the Jews in Treblinka, Bełżec, Sobibór, and Chełmno, where the corpses of some 2,000,000 people were burned without the use of crematoria. The functioning of the open-air pyres and pits where corpses were burned in addition to the crematoria in Auschwitz Concentration Camp makes all discussion about the limited capacity for the cremation of corpses, and therefore any calculation of the number of victims on the basis of crematorium capacity, entirely irrelevant. What is more, as a result of the numbers of people deported for extermination, both the killing capacity of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp gas chambers and the cremation capacity in the camp were significantly greater than the need in this period. Only occasionally, during transport backlogs, was the apparatus of mass extermination incapable of consuming all victims on a running basis.
The underutilization of the Auschwitz extermination capacity resulted from Germany’s failure to meet its own expansionist goals, as a consequence of which it proved impossible to carry out the plans, as presented at the conference in Berlin-Wannsee, for the destruction of 11,000,000 European Jews in occupied, satellite, neutral, and dependent countries, as well as in those countries, such as England or the remaining European regions of the Soviet Union, that had not yet been conquered.
In his article “Die Zahl der Opfer von Auschwitz. Neue Erkentnisse durch neue Archivfunde” [The number of victims of Auschwitz Concentration Camp: New findings thanks to new archival discoveries], Fritjof Meyer attempts to prove that half a million people, as he writes in the introduction, or, as he writes in the concluding portion, probably 510,000 (probably including 365,000 in the gas chambers) perished in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. 13 This is one more example of the use of these unreliable methods of arriving at estimates on the basis of the capacity of the crematoria and the length of time they were in operation.
Meyer writes at the beginning of his article that a “breakthrough in this area” has taken place thanks to Robert Jan van Pelt, a professor of architecture, who unearthed the most important sources on the number of victims of Auschwitz (an opinion van Pelt hardly shares). Meyer writes that "A crucial document, containing information on the subject of the capacity of the crematoria of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, has been discovered. An account by camp commandant Höss on the length of time they were in operation has also come to light.” 14
These documents, in combination with documents on deportations to the camp, have made it possible for him to establish beyond any doubt, as he puts it, the number of people killed in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, which could previously “only be estimated.” In the conclusion to his article, however, Meyer utterly contradicts this when he writes that the discussion of this issue has “not led to any results so far.” 15 Meyer thus continues to regard the issue of the number of victims of Auschwitz as open.
What document is he talking about, and what testimony by Höss?
The crucial document that, according to Meyer, constitutes the basis for lowering the number of victims of Auschwitz to half a million is a note of September 8, 1942, from Engineer Inspector Kurt Prüfer of Topf und Söhne (the company that built the crematorium furnaces in Auschwitz Concentration Camp) to the SS, 16 in which he reports that the capacity of the crematoria in Auschwitz Concentration Camp will be 2,650 corpses per day (250 in crematorium I in the Auschwitz I-Main Camp, 800 apiece in crematoria II and III, and 400 apiece in crematoria IV and V).
It should be pointed out that this gives a total of 967,250 corpses cremated per year (and 876,000 in Birkenau alone), or, over the year and a half that these facilities were in existence, 1,450,875 corpses (and 1,314,000 in the crematoria of Birkenau).
Meyer also assumes, on the basis of his own interpretation of some of Höss’s testimony, that the crematoria functioned nine hours a day, and not, as originally planned, 24 hours a day.
Meyer calculates, on the basis of alleged interruptions in their operations, that the crematoria functioned for the following lengths of time: crematorium I (II) for 509 days, crematorium II (III) for 462 days, crematorium III (IV) for 50 days, and crematorium IV (V) for 309 days.
He also assumes that the time required to cremate three corpses simultaneously in a single retort was not 30 minutes, but rather an hour and a half.
Multiplying the daily capacities of the crematoria, as he defined them, by the number of days they were in operation, Meyer concluded that 313,866 corpses were cremated in the crematoria in Birkenau, 147,564 on the pyres (107,000 from September 1942 to March 1943 and 40,564 Hungarian Jews in October 1944), and 12,000 in the crematorium in the Main Camp, for a total of 473,000 corpses cremated in Auschwitz. According to Meyer, this figure, rounded up to half a million, is supposed to reflect the number of victims of the camp.
None of these statistics that Meyer uses for calculating the number of victims of Auschwitz, based on his own speculation, is justified by the source material.
Let us attempt to analyze these data one by one.
Re point 1: In spite of what Meyer says about the recent discovery of a crucial document on the capacity of the Auschwitz crematoria, this document has been known for a long time. It is a letter from the head of the Central Construction Board in Auschwitz (Der Leiter der Zentralbauleitung der Waffen SS und Polizei Auschwitz), H. Bischoff (signed in his absence by SS-Sturmbannführer Jährling), to H. Kammler, head of office group C in the SS-WVHA, dated June 28, 1943. The letter states that the following numbers of corpses can be cremated over a 24-hour period in specific crematoria in Auschwitz Concentration Camp: 340 corpses in crematorium I, 1,440 in crematorium II, 1,440 in crematorium III, 768 in Crematorium IV, and 768 in crematorium V, for a total of 4,756 corpses cremated per day. Held in the German archive in Domburg, where it is catalogued as item ND 4568, this letter was published decades ago and has been known ever since (SS-im Einsatz. Eine Dokumentation über die Verbrechen der SS, Berlin, 1957, p. 269).
Meyer claims that Kurt Prüfer’s September 8, 1942 memo, found in the archives of the Topf und Söhne factories, is the crucial document for establishing the true number of Auschwitz victims. Prüfer’s figure for the capacity is only half as large. Although Meyer does not question the authenticity of the letter from the head of construction at Auschwitz Concentration Camp, he regards Prüfer’s memo as more credible.
We shall therefore attempt to compare the two documents from the point of view of their credibility. Prüfer drew up his memo in the early stages of the construction of the crematoria. Their technical parameters, and above all their capacity, had already been fixed in the contract. The capacity had been set as early as 1941, when it was decided to build the first of the four great crematoria later installed in Birkenau, in addition to the small crematorium that already existed in the Main Camp.
This information is contained in the commentary to the preliminary plans for the construction of the Waffen SS camp for prisoners of war in Oświęcim (Erläuterungsbericht zum Vorentwurf für den Neubau des Kriegsgefangenenlagers der Waffen SS, Auschwitz O/S) of October 30, 1941, which states that the crematorium then planned for the prisoner-of-war camp would have five furnaces, with three retorts in each furnace, and each retort holding two corpses. Sixty corpses could be cremated per hour, or 30 per half hour, for an overall 24-hour capacity of 1,440 corpses at this crematorium (15 retorts x 2 corpses per retort x 48 half-hour cremations). 17 Two such crematoria were built in Birkenau. The furnaces in the other two crematoria were of a different construction but, in practice, the capacity of the retorts was the same as in the five-furnace crematoria.
Prüfer’s memo would therefore mark an attempt to modify a contract that had already been signed and was in the process of having its provisions realized . Robert Van Pelt feels that Prüfer’s data should be treated as nothing more than a “symptom of caution on the part of the contractor.” 18 We do not know of any reply to the Prüfer memorandum, but the subsequent course of the construction and testing of the crematoria and the results of their use indicate that Prüfer’s proposal as to the capacity of the crematoria was rejected.
The SS rejected Prüfer’s proposed capacity as constituting non-fulfillment of the provisions of a contract that had already been signed. Prüfer’s figures, therefore, can hardly be treated as a reliable indication of the actual capacity of the crematoria. This is shown by the original sources that report on the actual results obtained during the initial testing and operation of the crematoria.
The most important of these sources is the letter, mentioned above, from the head of construction at Auschwitz Concentration Camp to the head of office C in the SS-WVHA, dated June 28, 1944, and written after the testing of the furnaces and the operation of three of them for several weeks.
It should be noted here that the author of the June 28, 1943 letter is the investor who was receiving the facility (furnaces) from the contractor and could derive no benefit from giving an inflated capacity that the crematoria would be incapable of meeting once they were in operation. In such a case he could be accused by the operator—camp management—of having accepted delivery of a facility that fell short of planned and contracted specifications.
Testimony by members of the Sonderkommando and by former commandant Rudolf Höss confirm the reliability of the data in the June 28, 1943 letter and indicate an even higher capacity.
Former prisoner Stanisław Jankowski (Alter Feinsilber) was assigned to the Sonderkommando in 1942. He stated that 5,000 corpses could be burned per day in crematoria II and III, and 3,000 in crematoria IV and V, meaning that the daily capacities of the individual crematoria were 2,500 and 1,500 corpses, respectively. 19
Another prisoner, Henryk Tauber, took part after March 4, 1943 in the test cremation of corpses in crematorium II in Birkenau. His testimony contains a precise description of these trials. He was later assigned to the Sonderkommando. Tauber, too testifies that 2,500 corpses could be burned per day in crematorium II. 20
In a study of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” Höss writes that in the five-furnace crematoria I (II) and II (III), “2,000 corpses could be burned in each of them per 24 hours . . . Both of the smaller crematoria III (IV) and IV (V) could burn 1,500 corpses in 24 hours, according to the calculations of the Topf firm from Erfurt, which built them.” 21
The planned and tested crematoria capacities as defined in the June 28, 1943 letter could be exceeded because the Sonderkommando prisoners increased the number of corpses burned at a time to five and shortened the burning time to 20 minutes.
Although Meyer does not question the authenticity of the June 28, 1943 letter from the head of construction at Auschwitz, 22 he rejects the figures that it contains. He claims that he regards the figures in Prüfer’s memo as more credible because they are based on the experience gained in nine weeks of operating the crematoria, 23 while the data provided by the head of construction at Auschwitz are drawn from theoretical assumptions made at the planning stage.
In fact, as shown above, it was precisely the other way around. Meyer errs in stating that Prüfer’s memo was written nine weeks after Bischoff’s and after the construction of the crematoria, and therefore reflects the first operational results (der Brief ...der mit dem 8 September 1942 datiert ist, also neun Wochen nach Bischoffs Schreiben und nach Fertigstellung der Krematorien, mithin aufgrund der ersten Betriebsergebnisse).
Meyer simply fails to notice that Prüfer’s memorandum is dated 1942, not 1943, and that it was Bischoff and not Prüfer who based his estimates on the cremation trials that were carried out after March 4, 1943, 24 and also on several weeks of operation. The first three crematoria in Birkenau went into operation between March 22 and April 4, 1943, about three months before the date of Bischoff’s letter. The crematorium in the Main Camp had been in use since August, 1940. Bischoff had therefore had adequate time to define the capacity of these crematoria on the basis of experience.
This mistake by Meyer makes unnecessary any further commentary on or evaluation of his findings, which should be regarded prima facie as false in the light of his error. However, this is not the only error in Meyer’s article.
Re point 2: Meyer’s interpretation of the daily capacity, as mentioned by Prüfer, raises further reservations. Meyer thinks that Prüfer is talking about capacity per 24 hours. As a result, Meyer reduces the capacity of the furnaces by half. 25 In fact, if Prüfer feared that the furnaces might not bear the originally planned rate of use, then the only way out was to shorten the forecast operating time. This is borne out by an report of March 17, 1943 by Central Construction Board functionary Jährling on the forecast consumption of coke in the crematoria. On the basis of Topf und Söhne data from March 11, 26 Jährling estimates the daily coke consumption by the Birkenau crematoria as 7,840 kg. He also explains in his note that Topf und Söhne understands “daily” as referring to twelve hours of operation. It can therefore be assumed with a high degree of probability that Prüfer’s new figure of 800 corpses burned in crematoria II and III and 400 in IV and V refer to a twelve-hour day. If we accept Prüfer’s figures and the twelve-hour day that he regards as safe, then it would have been possible to burn a total of 1,387,200 corpses in the four Birkenau crematoria during the period when they were in use (crematorium I: 603 days x 800 corpses=482,400 corpses; crematorium III: 517 days x 800 corpses=413,600 corpses; crematorium IV: 562 days x 400 corpses=224,800 corpses; and crematorium V: 666 days x 400 corpses=266,400 corpses). Meyer, however, assumes that the figures of 800 and 400 refer to a 24-hour operational day. He divides these figures by 24 to obtain the number of corpses that could be burned per day. He thus comes up with an hourly figure half of that provided by both Bischoff and Prüfer. Therefore, according to Meyer, it would be possible to burn only 400 corpses per day in each of crematoria II and III, and 200 in crematoria IV and V.
Things looked far different in practice. The central Construction Board (Zentralbauleitung) stuck to the earlier findings and tested the crematoria over a 24-hour working day. The results are found, as noted above, in the June 28, 1943 letter. This is also why, when required, the crematoria could work around the clock.
Nevertheless, Meyer goes farther. On the basis of a statement by former commandant Höss that operation for more than eight to ten hours caused damage to crematorium furnaces and chimneys, Meyer assumes that the average operational day at the crematoria was nine hours long. The fact is that Höss did not say how long a period, that is, how many days in a row the crematoria had to be operated before they suffered damage as a result of being used for eight to ten (nine) hours per day. Nor does he state that this safety limit was observed in practice. To the contrary, he maintains that breakdowns occurred frequently. One might therefore conclude that the eight-to-ten-hour limit was regularly exceeded. In spite of this, Meyer assumes a nine-hour daily average for the operation of the crematoria. According to Meyer, 300 corpses (800/24 x 9) could be burned in each of crematoria II and III and 150 in crematoria IV and V (400/24 x 9).
The contention that the operation of the crematoria was limited to nine hours per day is contradicted by camp documents and accounts by witnesses including Rudolf Höss, which indicate that in fact, when the need arose, the crematoria functioned 24 hours per day. This occurred specifically when the Jews of Hungary and Łódź were being exterminated in 1944.
For example, a July 28, 1944 report by the labor department indicates that, on this day, Sonderkommando prisoners worked around the clock on two twelve-hour shifts. In crematorium I (II), 110 prisoners worked the day shift and 104 the night shift. The figures for crematorium II (III) were 110 and 104 respectively, for crematorium III (IV) 110 and 109, and for crematorium IV (V), 110 prisoners on both shifts. Additionally, 30 prisoners labored unloading wood at crematorium IV (V), where corpses were burned in open-air pits. 27
An extant labor department report for September 7, 1944 indicates that a total of 874 prisoners labored at the Birkenau crematoria under the supervision of 12 SS men. Even if we assume that a significant proportion of the bodies of the people murdered in the gas chambers attached to crematorium V were burned in the pits, the bodies of the people killed in the other crematoria, where there were no such burning pits, must have been cremated in the furnaces.
Similarly, Höss testified before the Supreme National Tribunal in Warsaw on March 11, 1947 that, when necessary, the crematoria operated around the clock: -
Chairman of the Tribunal: “Do you recall periods when the crematoria were in operation all day and night without interruption?” -
Defendant: “They were always in operation day and night when such actions were being carried out. During these actions, which always lasted 4, 6, and 8 weeks, these crematoria were in operation without a break. Individual crematoria that had to be repaired were, however, taken off line on several occasions.” 28
This testimony by Höss should, by the way, be supplemented with his statement that crematorium breakdowns had no influence on the rate of extermination, since “Facility no. 2, subsequently known as the open-air crematorium or bunker no. 5, was in operation until the end, and was used in case of any defects in crematoria I to IV [emphasis added – F.P.]. During more intensive actions, gassing was done during the day in Bunker V and, when the transports arrived at night, in crematoria I to IV. Bunker V’s capacity for burning corpses were almost unlimited [emphasis added – F.P.] as long as it was possible to burn day and night. After 1944, enemy air operations did not permit burning at night.” 29
Re point 3: Another significant component of Meyer’s calculations is the total period of time that the various crematoria were in use. On the basis of interruptions in the operations of the crematoria, Meyer provides the following periods of operation: crematorium I (II) 509 days (it was in existence for 603 days, from March 31, 1943 to November 24, 1944 – F.P.): crematorium II (III) 462 days (in existence 517 days, June 25, 1943-November 24 [?], 1944 – F.P.); crematorium III (IV) 50 days (in existence 562 days, March 22, 1943 –October 7, 1944 – F.P.); and crematorium IV (V) 309 days (in existence 666 days, April 4, 1943-January 26, 1945 – F.P.).
Meyer bases his interruptions in crematorium operation on such enigmatic data as to make establishing even an approximation of these interruptions impossible, let alone any precise dates for periods during which a specific crematorium was out of service..
According to Meyer, crematorium III (IV) was in operation for only 50 days, from March 22, 1943 to mid-May, 1943. This statement evokes strong reservations. On the basis of documents from the camp construction administration, Meyer writes that, as early as April 3, 1943, the chimney of crematorium III (IV) was damaged (cracked), and that the crematorium was already inoperative from mid-May 1943 for this reason. In support of his contention, Meyer cites testimony by Höss that crematorium III (IV) “dropped out” after a short period of time and was not used. 30 What Höss writes in his essay on “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question” (which Meyer does not mention), however, is that this crematorium “was frequently inoperative.” 31
As in the case of the assertion that the crematoria only operated nine hours per day, so also the statement that crematorium III (IV) only operated for 50 days is contradicted by 1944 labor department records. For instance, the labor assignment report for April 25, 1944, during the period in which Meyer contends that crematorium III (IV) was out of action, indicates that 87 prisoners, Heizer Krematorium (crematorium stokers—3 expert laborers and 84 helpers) labored in crematoria III (IV) and IV (V). On May 15, 1944, 158 prisoners (3 expert laborers and 155 helpers) labored in these same crematoria. On these same dates, 32 121 prisoners (1 expert and 120 helpers) labored in crematoria I (II) and II (III) on April 25 and 151 (1 expert and 150 helpers) on May 15. 33
Meyer bases his calculations for crematorium IV (V) on Höss’s testimony that it was frequently inoperative since the furnaces or chimneys burned out after four to six weeks. However, this is insufficient grounds for averring that this crematorium, which was in existence from April 4, 1943 to January 26, 1945—666 days, the longest of all the crematoria—functioned for only 309 days. All the more so because it was necessary to burn corpses in the furnaces at night out of a fear that flames from burning pits would attract the attention of Allied air forces, even if, as Höss states, the pits near this crematorium were used in 1944.
All of these facts add up to one inescapable conclusion: the data used by Meyer constitute an inadequate basis for even an approximation of the actual interruptions in the operation of the crematoria, and thus for a precise specification of the total time they were in service.
Re point 4: an extended time for the burning of a single load of corpses is a highly essential item in Meyer’s calculations. According to him, this time amounted to one and a half hours, which is three times as long as was assumed in the preliminary projects for the construction of the crematoria in 1941, and as subsequently confirmed during testing and the first months of operation. Using Meyer’s methods, this yields a further reduction to one-third of the number of victims of Auschwitz Concentration Camp who were burned in the crematoria. The assertion that it took an hour and a half to burn a load of corpses in the Birkenau crematoria is contradicted by the German documents mentioned above, by the prisoners assigned to burn the corpses, and by camp commandant Höss.
Meyer cites the testimony of Henryk Tauber when setting the time required to burn a load of corpses as 1.5 hours. Unfortunately, Meyer must have read the testimony very carelessly. Tauber in fact testifies that the burning of 3 corpses in Birkenau, when the crematoria were operating at capacity, took half an hour. 34 Similarly, Szlama Dragon, whose testimony Meyer knows, stated that three corpses were burned in Birkenau in 15 to 20 minutes. 35
This is also confirmed by former camp commandant Rudolf Höss. Meyer regards Höss’s testimony on the number of hours the crematoria operated each day as “crucial to the number of victims of Auschwitz Concentration Camp.” Höss testified that “Up to three corpses were placed in the furnace, depending on their build. The average time of burning depended on the nature of the corpses, but the average was 20 minutes.” 36 Meyer knew this testimony by Höss, but did not consider it or take it into account. The omission of these sources seems all the more incomprehensible since they are given in publications that Meyer used and regarded as trustworthy repositories of information.
Meyer also cites the Auschwitz escapee A. Wetzler. Wetzler does indeed write that the corpses burned “entirely [that is, bones and all – F.P.] in the course of an hour and a half.” 37 This, however, is pure theory. In practice, the corpses were not burned entirely. The process of cremation was interrupted; that is, the thicker bones were removed from the retorts, and the prisoners in the Sonderkommando later had to use pestles to reduce them to powder. 38
On the basis of Kurt Prüfer’s non-binding memo, Meyer halved the capacity of the crematoria as established in practice by the Auschwitz Zentralbauleitung, from 1,440 to 800 corpses in the case of crematoria II and III and from 768 to 400 in the case of crematoria IV and V. As a result of a misinterpretation of Prüfer’s memo, that is, by treating Prüfer’s figures on the number of corpses burned per day as if they referred to the around-the-clock operation of the crematoria, Meyer halves the capacity of the crematoria furnaces a second time. On the basis of an erroneous interpretation of some of Höss’s testimony, which is contradicted elsewhere by Höss himself, and above all by the extant camp documents and many eyewitness accounts, Meyer reduces the operating time of the crematoria to 37.5%.
It is obvious that, by accepting false data in his calculations, Meyer is bound to come up with a false result—that is, 313,866 corpses burned in the four Birkenau crematoria.
To this number, he adds three more falsely reduced statistics: 12,000 as the number of corpses burned in crematorium I in the Auschwitz I-Main Camp, 107,000 as the number allegedly burned on pyres between the spring of 1942 and the spring of 1943, and 40,564 as the number of corpses of Hungarian Jews supposedly burned on the pyres in October, 1944. In this way, he arrives at a total of 473,470 corpses burned.
Meyer allegedly takes from J. Pressac the figure of 12,000 corpses burned in crematorium I in the Auschwitz I-Main Camp throughout the time it was in use, from August 1940 to July 1943. yet Pressac never gives such a figure. This number is several times lower than the actual figure. It is worth remembering that some 90,000 registered prisoners and prisoners of war died in the camp in the years 1940-1942 alone.
Through March 22, 1943, crematorium I was the only crematorium in the camp (aside from the pits used for burning corpses). Corpses of prisoners from the Main Camp and the sub-camps, as well as of some registered prisoners from Birkenau, were burned there. 39
Furthermore, the corpses of some of the Jews from mass deportations were burned in Crematorium I in the Main Camp. These were victims who were not sent to the two provisional gas chambers in Brzezinka (Birkenau) (Pressac estimates the number of unregistered Jews cremated in crematorium I as 10,000, and Sonderkommando member Filip Müller estimates it as several tens of thousands.) 40
It is worth remembering that 22,902 corpses were placed in the morgue in Block no. 28, the so-called hospital in the Main Camp. These corpses were burned in crematorium I in the Main Camp.
The corpses of prisoner shot to death were not placed in the morgue. They were taken straight from the Death Wall to the crematorium, and not to the morgue. These facts and figures show that the figure of 12,000 corpses burned in this crematorium should be at least three times higher.
Meyer’s figure of 107,000 corpses burned in the open air from the winter of 1941/1942 to the spring of 1943, that is, from the beginning of mass extermination in the provisional gas chambers to the start of the operation of the four crematoria in Birkenau, should be regarded as pure manipulation.
Meyer’s figure of 107,000 corpses that were first buried, then dug up and burned, comes from Höss. However, it applies only to the period from the winter of 1941/1942 to September 1942. On this issue, Höss writes in “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question” that “Corpses were still being buried in mass graves in the summer of 1942. Only towards the end of the summer did we begin burning the corpses, first on wooden pyres on which about 2,000 corpses could be placed, and then in pits together with the corpses of those who had been buried previously. . . . All the mass graves were emptied at the end of November 1942. The overall number of those buried in the mass graves was 107,000. This included not only gassed Jews from the transports from the beginning of the operation to the time when corpses started to be burned [that is, until September 1942 – F.P.], but also the corpses of prisoners who had died in the Auschwitz Main Camp in the winter of 1941-1942, when the crematorium at the infirmary was not operating for a long time. This number also includes all the prisoners who died in the camp in Birkenau” (Wspomnienia Hössa, p. 197). Meyer’s statement that the figure of 107,000 extends to March 1943 is a hypothesis not based on any facts. So is Meyer’s completely unsupported reference to a statement by Pressac that Höss was in error in his figure of 107,000 corpses burned from September to November 1942, when in fact 50,000 were burned.
Considering the fact that 128,000 Jews41 were transported to the camp through the end of September 1942, and that the majority of them perished immediately upon arrival or after a brief stay in the camp, and that those first buried and later burned also included Poles and Soviet POWs, Höss’s figure of 107,000 corpses buried in Birkenau at the end of September 1942 cannot be undercut by any alleged lack of victims.
All of Meyer’s figures on the time that the various crematoria were in operation and their capacity are based on Meyer’s speculation. He interprets his sources of information in such a way as to show the shortest possible operating time and the lowest possible capacity for the Auschwitz crematoria. At various points he asserts things completely different from what the sources say (as in the case of the Tauber testimony or Czech’s Kalendarz), he omits circumstances that are important to a given fact (as in Wetzler’s report), and he draws conclusions at variance with the logic of the facts (dressing up the reliability of Prüfer’s September 8, 1942 memo as based on practical experience in the use of the crematoria, which were not in existence at the time).
On more than one occasion, as shown above, Meyer refers in his notes to authors universally regarded as experts in Nazi genocide, such as Langbein or J. Van Pelt, who do not in fact advance any facts in support of Meyer’s theses, and whose views are utterly at odds with his.
Meyer’s second thesis is that not only is the number of people killed in Auschwitz half or less than the numbers found in the historical literature, but that the number of people deported to the camp is also lower.
According to Meyer, 915,000 people were deported to Auschwitz (Meyer does not mention this figure even once; it is the sum of the figure of 735,000 prisoners and POWs and 180,000 Hungarian Jews). This number is nearly 400,000 lower than the one set by F. Piper.
This difference results above all from Meyer’s lowering of the number of Hungarian Jews (by around 260,000) and Polish Jews (by around 125,000) deported to the camp.
According to Meyer, the number of Hungarian Jews “requires separate investigation” (“Das Schicksal der aus Ungarn Deportierten 1944 bedarf einer eigenen Untersuchungen”). He therefore carries out such an investigation and concludes that not 438,000, but rather 180,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
In making this claim, Meyer refers to Danuta Czech’s Kalendarz! Among a great deal of information on various events in camp, the Kalendarz contains resistance movement records of the numbers of people registered in the camp under various camp numbers on a given day.
In those periods when individual transports were registered as they arrived in the camp, the entries are evidence of the arrival of a given transport on a given day. This procedure for registering transports made it possible for Czech to match the dates of the registration of given groups of people with the arrival of given transports.
During the time when the Jews of Hungary and Łódź were being exterminated, this practice changed completely because of the backup of transports42 and the arrival of several trains per day. Since it proved impossible to keep up with the registration of prisoners selected for labor, and since some of the prisoners were not registered at all, specific records of the registration of groups of prisoners cannot be matched either with the date of the arrival of the transport, nor with a specific transport. Similarly, the lack of annotations about the registration of some group of prisoners is not necessarily proof that no transports arrived in Auschwitz on a given day (for instance, May 16, 1944). Theoretically, a whole transport could be sent straight to the gas chambers, or persons could be selected and sent to the transit camp without being registered. Even women with children were sent to transit camp BIII (“Mexico”) without selection.
The fact of the registration of a certain number of people on a given day does not necessarily mean that those people arrived on that day. It could also have resulted from the fact that some of the people selected were located temporarily, without registration, in the so-called transit camps, whence they were either transferred to other camps, registered and held in Auschwitz or its sub-camps, or sent to the gas chambers. Sometimes, the registration of people held in the transit camps (BIIc, BIIe, BIII) was delayed by several days or even several weeks. On June 28, 1944, for instance, 1,000 Hungarian Jewish women were selected from the transit camp. Only then did they receive camp numbers. They could even have come from several or more than a dozen transports. Even a cursory reading of the entries in the Kalendarz makes it clear that the number of entries is not the same as the number of transports.
Under the date May 22, 1944, for instance, the Kalendarium contains the following entry: “2000 Jews selected from transports that arrived from Hungary were given numbers A-3103 to A-5102.” 43 Each of the entries referring to the Hungarian transports in the Kalendarz on a given day should be multiplied by four by anyone wishing to use these entries as a basis for calculating the number of incoming transports (a conference in Vienna decided that four transports per day should be dispatched), and not treated as evidence for the arrival of a single transport. Similarly, the entries in the Kalendarz that speak of the selection from a single transport (aus einem Transport) cannot be treated as evidence that only one transport arrived that day, and no more. This is plain to everyone who becomes familiar with the history of the camp at the period of the destruction of the Hungarian Jews, or who even takes the trouble to read the entries in the Kalendarz attentively. Yet Meyer, like Pressac, regards each of the 60 entries on the Hungarian Jews as referring to a single transport. After multiplying these entries by 3,000, he came up with a figure of 180,000 people. Arbitrarily and without any basis, Meyer rejects the figure of 141 transports, which is known to him from the literature, as based on “dubious documentation.”
Meyer completely ignores and remains silent on the existence of records from the German embassy in Budapest that submitted progress reports on the deportation of the Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. The embassy sent these reports to the foreign ministry in Berlin on a regular basis, every few days. In one of the last telegrams on this subject, on July 11, 1944, ambassador Veesenmayer reported that 437,402 Jews had been deported from five concentration zones through July 9. 44 Without mentioning these documents by name, Meyer attempts to undercut their veracity by saying that they are based on “Hungarian police reports, surely exaggerated, that I do not wish to discuss further at this point.” 45 These and other documents and statistics are mentioned in Czech’s Kalendarz (the entry for July 11, 1944), as well as in my publication Die Zahl der Opfer von Auschwitz, which Meyer used, and which even contains a facsimile of that telegram.
In spite of what Meyer writes, the German and Hungarian documentation on the Hungarian Jews is among the most credible of sources. One of the newest works on this issue, by Szita Szabolcs (Utak a pokolbol. Magyar deportaltak az annektalt Ausztriaban 1944-1945), contains a list of 137 trains dispatched from Hungary via Kosice, and then through Slovakia to Auschwitz from May 14 to June 20, 1944. These trains carried 401,439 Jews to Auschwitz. The date, place of departure, and exact number of deportees are listed for every one of these transports. 46
One of the authors to whom Meyer refers frequently is J.C. Pressac, who was educated as a pharmacist and has written two books on the construction and functioning of the gas chambers and crematoria in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Pressac’s accomplishment is to have proven beyond any doubt, through the analysis of German documentation, and especially blueprints, the existence of the gas chambers in Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Unfortunately, a distrust of written documents, including many German ones, often lures Pressac into completely false surmises. Like Meyer, Pressac rejects the figure of 400,000 Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz on the basis of a conclusion that each of the 53 transports must have carried approximately 8,000 people. He correctly regards such a number as untenable. However, like Meyer, Pressac arrived at this figure by treating the number of entries in Czech’s Kalendarz about the registration of a group of prisoners who had arrived in the camp or been held in the transit camp as identical with the number of transports.
Pressac is convinced of the accuracy of the figure of 53 transports of Hungarian Jews (said to have been set by the Auschwitz Museum) by his own analysis of several aerial reconnaissance photographs taken over Birkenau by the Allies in 1944 (the observation of smoke from the crematoria and the pits where corpses were burned, and the number of trains and train cars). I shall pass over this without comment.
Among the 180,000 Hungarian Jews47 transported to Auschwitz, according to Meyer,
-40,564 were killed, probably with gas, in October 1944;
-29,210 were registered;
-110,000 other non-registered Hungarian Jews were transferred to other camps.
Meyer claims to have calculated the figure of 40,564 Hungarian Jews on the basis of Czech’s Kalendarz. This is complete obfuscation and twisting of the facts. The fact that the Kalendarz contains no such information on Hungarian Jews under the month of October 1944 is easy to check. Meyer has invented this number in order to startle the reader; it coincides with information, said by Meyer to have originated with Colonel von Stauffenberg, about a supposed order by Kaltenbrunner for the extermination (Sonderbehandlung) of 40,000 to 42,000 Hungarian Jews. If Nazi dignitaries did indeed speak among themselves of this number, then they must have been lying about the true figure of 400,000.
Meyer alleges that his figure of 110,000 Hungarian Jews who were not registered but were transferred to other camps originates with Andrzej Strzelecki. This is another instance of manipulation. In the first place, Strzelecki’s figure of 110,000 people embraces all Jewish prisoners, and not only those from Hungary, as Meyer asserts. In the second place, Strzelecki’s phrase “passed through the camp” does not mean that they left the camp, but only that they were selected and thus found themselves in the camp, rather than being sent directly to the gas chambers. Some of them indeed left Auschwitz and were transferred to other camps, but the majority of them died or were murdered. The detailed findings, which Strzelecki presents in a table, leave no doubt as to this.
Meyer’s balance sheet indicates that, through September 1944, Hungarian Jews in general were not killed immediately upon arrival in the camp. In the light of the fact, this is patently absurd. Numerous entries in Czech’s Kalendarz (to which Meyer so willingly refers) refer to the registration of Hungarian Jews as prisoners in May, June, and July, and end with the statement that the remainder of the transport were killed in the gas chambers (for instance, under June 1, 1944: “Die übrigen Menschen werden in den Gaskammern getötet”). Meyer passes this entry over in silence because it is not confirmed in the German camp records (which, in any case, are not extant). There are countless eyewitness accounts on this subject (thousands of prisoners in the Birkenau camp watched as thousands of people arrived, went through selection, and were led to the gas chambers). For Meyer, this has no significance. Yet it was precisely the destruction of the Hungarian Jews that, as shown by the records of the Auschwitz labor department, necessitated the expansion of the Sonderkommando from around 200 to almost 900 prisoners, who were assigned to burning corpses.
As to the Polish Jews, Meyer states that the figure of 300,000, as established by Piper, “is probably highly inflated.” Meyer cites Czech’s Kalendarz. He does not take into account the transports mentioned specifically by Martin Gilbert in his Atlas of the Holocaust. I take them into account, while Czech did not. It is worth adding, by the way, that the German historian Frank Golczewski arrived independently at the same figure for the number of Polish Jews deported to Auschwitz as I did. 48
Here is Meyer’s balance sheet: out of 915,000 prisoners and Soviet POWs in the Auschwitz camp, 401,500 survived. 335,000 deportees (225,000 registered prisoners and 110,000 unregistered Hungarian Jews) were transferred to other camps. 58,000 were evacuated, and 8,500 remained in the camp. The remainder, 513,500, perished.
This balance sheet is at odds with the facts, and not only because it lowers the overall number of deportees. The figure of 225,000 includes all of those who left Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945, either as a result of transfers of labor resources, as part of the final evacuation of prisoners (58,000), or as part of the transfer of unregistered Hungarian Jews (this is Meyer’s figure of 110,000, which is several times larger than it should be). By adding 58,000 and 110,000 to the figure of 225,000 transferees and evacuees, Meyer is simply counting the first two categories twice. For, in fact, some 220,000 to 230,000 persons survived Auschwitz, and not 401,500. It should be added that many of these people died later in other camps, especially during the period of the evacuation known as the Death March. They are, however, counted for statistical purposes among the victims of those other camps.
Meyer’s article contains numerous other data that require correction or comment:
→ p. 631.
Meyer defines Auschwitz Concentration Camp as a labor and death camp (Arbeits-und Vernichtungslager) .
The official name was Konzentrationslager Auschwitz. It functioned as a place of extermination, mainly through indirect methods (starvation) in relation to non-Jews, and mainly through direct methods (gas chambers) in relation to Jews. As long as Auschwitz was in existence, labor played a secondary role. Auschwitz was never called a labor camp; nor was its nature ever that of a labor camp. Labor camps were in a completely different category. Referring to concentration camps as labor camps is a historical falsehood.
→ p. 631.
In no way does Van Pelt’s book, as Meyer claims, represent a breakthrough in reducing the number of victims of Auschwitz Concentration Camp to 500,000.
On the contrary, Van Pelt maintains (The Case, p. 350) that the new documents that he presents indicate that the burning capacity of the cremation apparatus can be put at 1,000,000 to 1,400,000 victims of the camp, thus falling within the limits of the estimated number of victims.
→ p. 632
Meyer’s allegation that the morgues were adapted as gas chambers only in the spring of 1943 is unsupported by the source material.
The underground rooms in the crematoria were used as gas chambers from the moment the facilities went into operation. This function had been present in the earliest plans for these buildings, no later than January, 1942. Blueprints from that date for crematoria II and III feature not one, but two underground rooms, one of them twice the size of the other, with differing ventilation equipment. One room (the undressing room) had only exhaust ventilation. The other room had forced-air ventilation of double the power, even though this room (the gas chamber) was only half the size of the undressing room.
→ p. 632
Meyer’s statement that the gas chambers in the crematorium buildings were not functioning in the second half of 1943, and that only two provisional chambers (bunkers) were then in use, is not supported by any primary sources. In fact, the sources say the opposite: that the provisional gas bunkers were taken out of operation, and the first of them demolished, after crematoria II-V went into service.
→ p. 632
It must be pointed out that Meyer constantly confuses the concepts of the “white house” and the “red house,” and of “bunker no. 1” and “bunker no. 2.” As a reminder: bunker no. 1 was called the “red house” (since it was built of unplastered brick); bunker no. 2 was called the “white house” (since it was plastered in white). The foundations of bunker no. 2 (the white house) were identified in 1945. Bunker no. 1, the red house, was demolished in 1943, and no foundations remain. Reports in an Italian newspaper about the sensational discovery of the foundations of bunker no. 1 are completely erroneous.
→ p. 632.
Meyer writes that more than 400 people could be crowded into the first provisional gas chamber (bunker no. 1), and that the killing in the gas chamber was done predominantly in the evenings.
Meyer is repeating the figure of 300-400 given by Pressac, who does not back up this assertion with any sources. In his first book, Technique and the Operation of the Gas Chambers (New York 1989), Pressac said that the bunker had a capacity of 450 to 600 persons. He assumed eight to ten people per square meter and said that there were 50 sq. m. of floorspace. In fact, there were 90 sq. m.
One of the sources that Meyer cites is my third volume of Auschwitz 1940-1945: Central Issues in the History of the Camp. On the subject of the capacity of bunker no. 1, I write that “Bunker 1 held about 800 people and Bunker 2 about 1,200.” I also write that “In periods of less frequent transports, the bodies of people gassed at night or late in the evening remained in the bunkers under SS guards until morning” [emphasis added]. My mention of the number of people forced into the gas chamber is based on an eyewitness, the commandant of the camp, while Meyer gives no source. His assertion is an unrealistic supposition that diverges from the realities of the camp, the procedures used for killing people, and objective physical capacities.
As to physical capacities, it is worth remembering that the current construction regulations in the German Federal Republic for public transport (streetcars) envisions a density of eight adults, each weighing 65 kg., per one square meter. 49 If this density norm were applied to a 90 sq. m. gas chamber, it could hold 720 people. Bearing in mind that children were also involved, and that all were naked, Höss’s figure of 800 may be regarded as entirely realistic and in line with the facts.
Assuming the same proportion, we can calculate that the second provisional gas chamber, of 105 sq. m., could hold approximately 950. Höss mentions 1,200. In view of the fact that each group of victims included many children, this figure can be regarded as entirely realistic. Meyer speaks of “over 400” and “over 500” people, which is completely at odds with the figures given above. However, this is not Meyer’s most important error.
His fundamental error is that he treats the figure of 400 to 500, which refers to his estimate of the one-time capacity of the gas chambers, as reflecting their daily capacity. Each of these gas chambers could in fact be used many times in the course of the day, with its capacity limited only by the time required to force people inside, kill them, and remove their corpses. In this situation, divagations on the number of people who could in fact fit into the gas chamber at a time are irrelevant, and cannot have any significant impact on establishing the overall number of victims of Auschwitz.
→ p. 632
The statement that Bunker no. 2 functioned from December 1942 to November 2, 1944 is untrue. This bunker functioned from mid-1942 until the spring of 1943 and between May, 1944, and the autumn of that same year.
→ p. 633.
Meyer cites testimony given in Norway on October 29, 1945 by former camp director Hans Aumeier, who states that the first gassing was carried out in the camp only in November, 1942, and that the RSHA (Reich Main Security Bureau) then ordered the killing of Jewish prisoners who were not fit for work in order to avoid the spread of an epidemic. Aumeier also maintains that experience in the use of the one provisional gas chamber showed that the gas chambers should be built as permanent parts of the new Birkenau crematoria.
Meyer presents this information without commentary even though it contradicts all the established facts, which are based not on a single deposition but on many sources.
The procedure of using gas to kill Auschwitz prisoners, and not only Jews, began on July 28, 1941, with the first transport of 575 prisoners, mostly Poles (Poles then made up the overwhelming majority of the prisoners) to the euthanasia center in Sonnenstein and its gas chambers. 50
The first experiments in the Auschwitz camp with killing by gas were carried out in August 1941, and mass killing by gas was applied beginning the following month, first against Soviet POWs and then in 1942 (no later than February) against whole transports of Jews.
The regular selection of sick prisoners in Birkenau was carried out, beginning in May 1942, on orders from the head physician in SS-WVHA Office DIII (Leitenderarzt), Dr. Lolling. The selected prisoners were taken to the gas chambers and killed. Similar selections had been carried out earlier in the Main Camp. On August 29, 1942, 746 sick and convalescing prisoners were selected there and killed in the Birkenau gas bunker. Meyer’s information about the gassing of sick prisoners for the first time in November 1942 is therefore inaccurate.
The November 1942 “experiments” could not, in any case, have had any influence on the decision that had been made much earlier to build fixed gas chambers in Birkenau.
→ p. 633
Meyer states that no more than 350,000 people could have been killed in Bunker no. 2 over the course of two years. Thi
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