The Holocaust Historiography Project

Gas chambers that really were used by the Nazis

When discussing the technical aspects of the alleged Nazi homicidal gas chambers (such as those aspects discussed in the Leuchter Report), it is important for revisionists in North America to remember that, persuasive though their arguments may be, in countries such as Germany where there is no protection of free speech, such discussions are grounds for arrest and incarceration.

A far better line of reasoning for those who cannot attack gas chamber claims head-on is the following: Because the Germans actually had equipment and technology easily adaptable for mass murder in their concentration camps and in major railroad centers such as Budapest, why wasn’t this technology used in Auschwitz or Dachau or — for that matter — Budapest? Why would the Nazis have employed rather ordinary, dreary cellars with little holes in the ceilings instead of well-designed delousing chambers, or perhaps large-scale variations of those chambers? To be consistent with the extermination theory, the answers to the above questions must of necessity be so bizarre that they are easily demolished by simple technical arguments.

A Real 'Gas Chamber'

The standard Degesch delousing chambers could have been adapted for mass murder by the addition of some internal screening or metal grating so that the condemned could not wreck essential equipment (which consisted of an automatic can opener, a wire-mesh basket to hold Zyklon B granules, a radiator, and a special four-way valve) that was readily accessible from within the chambers. Few other changes would have been needed. Except for their modest size, usually only ten cubic meters, these modified delousing chambers would have been sufficiently effective for mass murder. (See Fritz Berg, “The German Delousing Chambers,” The Journal of Historical Review, 1986, p. 73.)

The absence of screening or gratings is evidence, however, that these real gas chambers — many of which were actually in place in concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Majdanek, sometimes even in crematory buildings as at Dachau — were never used for mass murder. The anti-revisionists are correct when they label Degesch delousing chambers as 'gas chambers;' they are dishonest, however, when they fail to explain that these chambers would have been completely impractical for mass murder without some shielding of essential equipment or some kind of restraint, shackling perhaps, of the intended victims.

Mass Gassing Apparatus

Railroad delousing tunnels (400 to 1600 cubic meters in size) for fumigating entire railroad trains, several cars at a time, would not have required any modifications at all; we can presume that the intended victims would already be trapped inside cattle-type railcars. These delousing tunnels also would have had the great advantage that, after the normal period of forced venting inside the tunnels, railroad cars filled with corpses could be pulled out and replaced almost immediately with another batch of railcars filled with fresh victims. Railcars filled with corpses could be parked at a siding for open air venting, if that was deemed necessary, or ventilation could have taken place over the hours or days during which the railcars made their way to some isolated burial site or garbage incinerator. (See F. Berg, “Typhus and the Jews,” The Journal of Historical Review, 1988, p. 433.)

Were Crematories Necessary?

On the subject of corpse disposal, using a crematory most makes sense if one intends to keep the remains of each corpse separate. Crematory ovens are specially designed to allow recovery of ashes from one corpse at a time, free of any other ash, either from that of the coal used as fuel or from that of other corpses. If one intends merely to destroy evidence of murder, incineration as is commonly practiced for garbage disposal would be many times quicker and more efficient in every respect, especially in terms of the amounts of fuel consumed. One could still gather enough ashes to fill urns and deceive family members but, oddly enough, it has never been claimed in any of the Holocaust literature that garbage incinerators such as those at Birkenau were ever used for anything but garbage. The startling fact is that by practicing cremation the Third Reich went to considerable lengths and expense to treat the dead with a modicum of respect — even when many of the dead were Jews. Claims that ash from the crematories was used as fertilizer is a bad joke indeed: the ash is worthless compared to the value of the coal needed to produce it.

Technique and Operation of the 'Gas Chambers'

As to the gas chambers themselves, except for the shielding of some of the equipment inside the delousing chambers, the standard Degesch delousing chambers and the large railroad delousing tunnels both contained all of the features needed for mass murder. They had a safe and relatively quick means of producing and dispersing a lethal concentration of cyanide throughout each chamber; specially coated and insulated walls to maintain a minimum temperature and reduce cyanide penetration and loss; and circulation blowers and ductwork to thoroughly ventilate the chambers with fresh air in about an hour after a batch of victims had been killed (the venting phase could just as easily last several hours depending upon the discretion of the operator). During this time, the corpses would have also been heated to temperatures at least ten degrees above the boiling point of cyanide (78 degrees Fahrenheit). In this way the amount of cyanide condensing on walls, clothing, skin, etc., would have been practically nil even before the venting phase began. Some cyanide may, nonetheless have been retained by moisture near body openings but the danger to workers removing corpses could have easily been minimized with rubber gloves and by keeping the blowers operating while the corpses were removed.

Although cyanide gas leaving an American execution chamber is neutralized chemically before it is discharged to atmosphere, the Degesch chambers evidently never used neutralizing equipment. The delousing chambers discharged 0.1% HCN directly to atmosphere and apparently relied on dilution with outside air as well as the fact that cyanide rises in air.

The German delousing chambers with only minor modifications — and the large railroad tunnels without any modification at all — would have served the purpose of mass murder perfectly well, but they were used only to keep people alive. The great killer was disease. The Degesch delousing chambers, the railroad delousing tunnels, and Zyklon B were essential to keeping disease, especially typhus, under control.