Building X at Dachau: A Special Case
It has not yet been conclusively proved that killings by poison gas took place at the Dachau concentration camp. But the following facts have been established:
Dr. Sigmund Rascher, an air-force doctor who later joined the SS, carried out medical experiments on human beings at Dachau. On 9 August 1942 he wrote to Heinrich Himmler on the subject:
"As you know, the same facilities have been built at the Dachau concentration camp as at Linz.* Because the convoys of invalids end up, one way or another, in the chambers that are intended for them, I am asking the following question: In these chambers, on people who are destined for them in any case, would it not be possible to test the efficiency of our combat gases? So far, all we have are [the results of] tests made on animals, or reports on accidents that occurred during manufacture. Because of this paragraph, I am sending my letter marked 'Secret.' "83
For a long time the camp administration had planned to replace the crematorium, which was in a little wooden building and had only one oven, with a new crematorium referred to as "building X." In the explanatory memorandum attached to the preliminary plan and dated 17 March 1942, one reads:
"As can be seen on the location plan enclosed, the spot chosen for the construction of building X is inside the grounds of the SS camp at Dachau, in the wooded region between the present crematorium and the building-materials depot. . . . The building is almost completely surrounded by trees; thus it is relatively isolated in the countryside. It will be surrounded by a wall two meters high that will hide it from sight." 84
Very few prisoners had occasion to see the new crematorium, which was built next to the existing one. At first the construction work was done by prisoners—mostly Polish priests. According to the testimony of the foreman, a German prisoner, the prisoner workmen did all they could to slow down completion of the building. In the spring of 1943 the four big ovens it contained were put into operation. From then on, the only prisoners allowed in the part of the camp near the crematorium were those carrying the bodies of fellow-prisoners who had died in the camp, or prisoners who worked with the railroad convoys.
* The writer is referring to the Hartheim "euthanasia" facility near Linz (see chapter 3). (Editor's note.)
Gassings in Other Concentration Camps 203
or members of the work details that cremated the corpses. Occasionally, however, workmen were sent in—electricians or heating specialists who had to make necessary repairs. 85 From the summer of 1944 onward, a disinfestation detail worked in the crematorium's four disinfesting rooms.
As in the other camps, the need to keep secret the construction of the crematoria and gas chambers also posed problems at Dachau. Before the end of the war Dr. Rascher was himself condemned to death, for child substitution.* While awaiting execution, he was imprisoned in the bunker at Dachau, the very camp in which he had formerly worked as a physician.
During his stay in the bunker he told a fellow-prisoner, a British officer named S. Payne-Best, about the difficulties encountered by the SS in camouflaging the gas chamber and concealing the gassings. 86
There is much additional proof of the Dachau gas chamber's existence.
On 3 May 1945, after the liberation of the camp, an American war correspondent took moving pictures in Dachau that show in detail the inside rooms of the crematorium, the room called the morgue, the room with the four crematory ovens, and finally the gas chamber. This last was a windowless room; metal strips pierced with holes had been set into the concrete ceiling; on one of the iron doors was the inscription: "Showers." On the left side of the building were four little disinfestation rooms, also closed with iron doors, which bore the inscription, under a death's-head: "Attention! Gas! Danger of Death. Do Not Open." 87
The American military authorities speedily began a series of proceedings against National Socialist criminals. As early as 15 November 1945, forty SS men accused of having committed crimes at the Dachau camp were brought before a U.S. military court. 88 The investigators had a report from a French military mission, entitled "Chemical Warfare," which had been drawn up in May and included a description of the premises. 89
On its side, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services had prepared, with the collaboration of the surviving prisoners, an overall report on living conditions in the Dachau camp. The gas chamber was described under the heading "Executions."
But during the trial there was only one witness, a Czech physician assigned to care for the prisoners, Dr. Frantisek Blaha, who declared that experimental gassings had taken place in the Dachau gas chamber. He said that Dr. Rascher, for whom he had had to do autopsies, had once taken him to the crematorium sometime in 1944. Inside the gas chamber, which Rascher himself did not want to enter, Dr. Blaha had to examine people who had been the subjects of an experiment. The first time Dr. Blaha testified, on 3 May 1945 at Dachau during
* Dr. Rascher and his wife (also condemned to death) had tried to pass off as biologically their own two children they had merely taken into their home. That this could be made an offense punishable by death is yet another incredible aspect of the Nazi regime. (Editor's note.)
204 Gassings in Other Concentration Camps
the pretrial hearings, he said that he had seen seven people in the gas chamber: two who were dead, two who had lost consciousness, and three who were sitting normally. 90 Then in November, during the trial, he talked about eight or ten people, three of whom were still alive.91 In January 1946, called as a witness before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, he broadened his testimony still further by saying: "Later, many prisoners were killed this way."92
Beyond these indications, there is no documentation about what happened in the gas chamber at Dachau. Visitors to the commemorative monument erected in 1964 and 1965 on the site of the former camp are warned that it has not been proved that the gas chamber was ever used.
* * * * *
83 Letter from Dr. Sigmund Rascher dated 9 Aug. 1942 to Heinrich Himmler, Federal Archives, ref. NS 21/319.
84 Nuremb. Doc. 3862-NO.]
85 Commentary by Gustav Gattinger, Munich, on the book by Paul Berben, Dachau, 1933–1945 (Brussels, 1968), Dachau Archives, no. 4070.
86 S. Payne Best, The Venlo Incident (London, 1950).
87 U.S. Army documentary film, ADC 4468/SPX-G LIB 6572 of 3 May 1945, Army Pictorial Center, Long Island City, N.Y.
88 Proceedings before the U.S. Military Tribunal at Dachau, case no. 000-50-2-US against Martin Gottfied Weiss and others.
89 Mission militaire francaise aupres 6e groupe d'Armees "Guerre chimiques" (chemical warfare), no. 23/Z of 25 May 1945, Service historique de l'Armée, Vincennes, ref. 1K310.
90 Interrogation of the witness Dr. Blaha, Dachau, '3 May 1945, by the investigating officer, Col. David Chavez, Jr., State Archives Nuremberg Rep. 502-IV-PS.