CHAPTER 3 THE PRUSSIC ACID DELOUSING INSTALLATION IN THE STAMMLAGER RECEPTION BUILDING
Worksite 160 represents the second phase of the sanitary arrangements planned to meet the extension of the main camp whose capacity was to be increased to 30,000 prisoners [Drawing 1]. The “sanitary” installations being a matter of urgency, the first things to be planned at the end of 1941 were a new Krematorium, then a complex comprising a laundry building with another containing a reception area, a delousing block and a shower area [Drawing 2]. The reception building with its delousing installation and showers for the prisoners operated as follows:
The north wing (on the right) houses a “rapid” circuit for prisoners already registered, enabling them to take a shower under the surveillance of the SS who watched them undressing, showering and leaving (this was the arrangement on drawing 916 [Drawing 2], but on drawing 1361 [Drawing 3], the surveillance room has become that where the towels are issued). The prisoners followed the path indicated by the arrows on drawing 916.
The central aisle contains a more extensive circuit with a separate entrance. This is for newcomers selected for KL Auschwitz. Here they were registered, tattooed, stripped of their clothes and personal effects, underwent a medical examination, showered, dried themselves and either received civilian clothes (their own) which had meanwhile been deloused or the striped prison uniform when this was available.
It was essential that the delousing of clothing connected with the “extensive” circuit should be completed within a reasonable time, that is within a few hours and not 24 or 48 hours as was the case with the two gas chambers in Block 3. The destruction of fleas, lice, bugs and cockroaches requires a minimum contact time of only two hours with a hydrocyanic acid concentration of 5g/m³. To achieve this concentration in the 10m³ gas chambers of the reception building. 50g of HCN was enough. A 200g can of Zyklon-B was used for four gas chambers. 1kg of Zyklon-B for the entire installation permitted effective delousing in two hours, a period compatible with the length of the “extended” circuit. Furthermore, if the wait became too long or if there were too many new arrivals, there was in the basement of the right wing (under the “rapid” circuit) a waiting room called “Warteraum für Zugänge! / Waiting room for arrivals”, strictly separated from the other installations (and visible on drawing 1391 (Drawing 4]).
A delousing period of two hours (or even less if the HCN concentration was increased) required thorough ventilation of the installation after use. The fact that it was housed in a well-ventilated part of the building in direct contact with the outside air, indicates that a certain natural ventilation was necessary for safety of operation, in addition to the obligatory forced ventilation.
Unfortunately, no technical document on the operation of these gas chambers survives. The BOOS firm was the consultant and supplied the basic drawings, which have never been found.
On the basement drawing 1391 [Drawing 4], a 50cm × 70cm channel runs under each row of gas chambers, just below the breaks in the walls shown in some of the chambers, certainly linking them together. The two channels could be part of a forced draught ventilation system.
The block of 19 gas chambers, a little too close to the reception building, was separated from it in June 1942 on drawing 1361 [Drawing 3].
On ground floor plan of drawing 1361. there is perpendicular to the tenth gas chamber [Photo 8], a staircase leading to a loft in the roof space and logically formed of a floor resting on the mesh of steel rods (from 2 to 4cm diameter) above the gas chambers [Photo 7]. If there was any other equipment connected with the gas chambers (such as ventilation fan motors, and perhaps tubes for injecting Zyklon-B, etc.) it was probably located on this floor.
The existence of a loft would explain the reason for the ten skylights which were there to illuminate this space and which would have been superfluous and simply of esthetic value if the loft were not used [Photos 9, 10 and 11].
The present state of the premises makes it impossible to reconstruct the techniques employed. All the openings between the supporting pillars and the arches have been bricked in, with windows being installed in the center. Big double or sliding doors in the middle of the four sides give access. The two wings communicating with the reception building have been demolished and the roof accordingly rebuilt. In the interior, the two rows of gas chambers, 19 in all, the stairway and the floor of the loft no longer exist. The floor has been covered with concrete, destroying any traces of the original arrangement. The present building is used to house various stores used for the general maintenance of the Auschwitz Museum. While the aerial photographs prove that the installation was still operating at the end of 1944, we do not know by whom or why these changes were made, making it possible to recover 38 gas-tight doors.
It should he noted that the delousing gas chambers planned for the Majdanek camp (KL Lublin). the “Gaskammern für Ventox u. Zyklon- Blausäure / Gas chambers for Ventox and Zyklon-prussic acid”, but never built, were to be on the same principle of constructing a line of small cell-like rooms side by side (those for Ventox being bigger). This rule also applied at Birkenau in the arrangement of Bunker 2 as gas chambers, the already modest floor area (7m × 15m = 105m²) being divided into four cells alongside one another but all of different sizes.
The complete building with its three wings. i.e. baths, reception and laundry, was started in the autumn of 1942 and not finished until April/May 1944.