Homicidal gas chamber at KL Sachsenhausen

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Homicidal gas chamber at KL Sachsenhausen

Post by David Thompson » 18 Sep 2004 07:34

Here is what Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein and Adalbert Rueckerl (editors) had to say about the gas chamber at KL Sachsenhausen, in their book Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas, Yale University Press, New Haven (CT): 1993, pp. 183-86:
Sachsenhausen

In the autumn of 1941, some Soviet prisoners of war were sent to concentration camps. In accordance with what was known as "the commissar order," issued by Hitler himself, a large proportion of them were shot immediately or during the ensuing weeks.[43] For this purpose the SS built a firing-squad room in the Sachsenhausen camp near Berlin. Disguised as a "center for medical research," it was

184 Gassings in Other Concentration Camps

located in a masonry building and was provided with a crematorium.[44] Thus the camp had an extermination facility of its own, where the killing and the disposal of corpses were in close proximity to each other, as they were in the extermination centers in the east. This part of the camp was separate from the detention camp proper, and was isolated by a wall; it was impossible to see what was going on inside. The great majority of the killing operations in the camp took place here.

In the autumn of 1941 Sachsenhausen was also the scene of the trial gassings in vans already described in chapter 4 in the section on the testing of new killing procedures on page 54.

The former commandant of the camp, one Anton Kaindl, who had run it from August 1942 until it was dissolved in 1945, declared in his depositions that Richard Glücks, the inspector of concentration camps, had ordered the commandants of the various camps to have gas chambers built on the model of those at Auschwitz. During his trial before a military court in the Soviet occupation zone, Kaindl (K.) was questioned by the state prosecutor (P.):
P.: What extermination processes were used in your camp?

K.: Up to the autumn of 1943, exterminations were carried out at Sachsenhausen by shooting or hanging.

P.: Did you make any change in this extermination technique or not?

K.: About the middle of March 1943, I introduced the gas chamber as a means of mass extermination.

P.: On your own initiative?

K.: In part, yes. The existing facilities were no longer sufficient for the exterminations planned. I held a conference, in which the head doctor, Baumkötter, took part. He told me that the use of a poison such as prussic acid in chambers prepared for the purpose led to instantaneous death. That is why I considered the installation of gas chambers suitable, and also more humane, for mass executions.

P.: Who was responsible for the exterminations?

K.: The commandant of the camp, personally.

P.: So it was you?

K.: Yes.[45]
During the trial both Kaindl and a former prisoner, Paul Sakowski, who had worked in the crematorium complex as an executioner and had witnessed gas-sings, gave descriptions of the gas chamber. It had a device for opening containers* automatically, and a ventilator equipped with a pressure fan was in-

* These containers were either capsules of Zyklon A, a liquid preparation containing hydrocyanic acid (see note 45, Trial vol. 11, pp. 19—20) or metal cans of Zyklon B (see note 47, p. 147). (Editor's note.)

Gassings in Other Concentration Camps 185

stalled on the outside wall. The container was set in place, it was opened mechanically, and the fan blew the gas into the room through a system of heated pipes. That is why the SS men did not need gas masks as Sachsenhausen, as they did in most of the other camps.

The SS members who after 1945 were accused of having taken part in gassings rarely admitted that they had collaborated in these operations. But they did not deny that a gas chamber was used at Sachsenhausen. [46] The gas chamber was apparently used only in special situations. A former high official of the camp, SS-Lagerführer August Höhn, explained a case of this kind to the court of assizes in Düsseldorf, and the court's verdict incorporates his statements:
One day in October or November 1944, the camp commandant's deputy, Wessel, called him and told him that Berlin—in other words, the Reich Security Main Office—was going to send eight or nine prisoners to the camp to be executed: they were foreign civilian workers who had formed a gang and had been caught pillaging after an air raid; he had been advised to send them to the gas chamber without hesitation. The defendant objected that he did not understand anything about how a gas chamber worked. Wessel answered that he would come in person, and ordered him to wait for him near the crematorium. The defendant went there, and on his arrival found, already assembled, Wessel, the defendant Böhm, a doctor, a Blockführer [an SS man responsible for a block], and two prisoners assigned to the crematorium. The delinquents to be executed, brought by he does not know whom, undressed in the cloakroom in his presence and went through the door leading from there into the gas chamber, which had been disguised as a shower room. The door was closed from the cloakroom side, where the defendant stood with the other participants. Wessel turned on the pressure fan, which was placed near the floor on the wall between the cloakroom and the gas chamber. Then he had someone—the defendant does not know whom—hand him a capsule, which the defendant knew contained liquefied gas, and he inserted it into the center of the fan. A moment later he stopped this fan and turned on an exhaust fan set into an outside wall of the gas chamber. After the chamber had been sufficiently ventilated, the door was opened, and the defendant saw the prisoners asphyxiated by the gas. The doctor present made sure they were dead. [47]
The co-defendant, former Rapportführer Böhm, denied all participation in the operation that Höhn described. But during the same trial he admitted that he had taken part in the gassing of twenty-seven women workers from the east late in 1944 or early in 1945.[48]

Shortly before the camp was evacuated, in February 1945, some physically exhausted prisoners were taken to the crematorium during an operation that

186 Gassings in Other Concentration Camps

lasted between two and three weeks. Some were shot, the others gassed. These prisoners were not removed from the camp statistics immediately after they died. It was only a few days later that they were entered as having "died during transportation," in order to hide the real cause of their death. So it has not been possible to determine what killing process was used for each. Former prisoners estimate their total number at close to four thousand. [49]

At present, our lack of specific, incontrovertible evidence makes it impossible to give a figure, even an approximate one, for the number of those executed at Sachsenhausen by means of poison gas.

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Post by David Thompson » 24 Sep 2004 19:45

A rambling and off-topic post by Erik, speculating about the thoughts and motives of other posters, KL Mauthausen commandant Franz Ziereis, and various other matters apparently unrelated to this thread, and hinting at opinions which he may or may not hold, was deleted by the moderator, along with a responding post by xcalibur.

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Post by David Thompson » 25 Sep 2004 02:38

Two opinion posts by paul 278, which contained no supporting proof for their claims, were deleted by the moderator.

michael mills
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Post by michael mills » 26 Sep 2004 06:41

The evidence for a stationary homicidal gas-chamber at Sachsenhausen is flimsy in the extreme.

The statement by Lagerführer August Höhn lacks credibility. He states that a small group of eight or nine persons, foreign workers who had been caught pillaging, was sent to Sachsenhausen for execution.

While that part of his statement is entirely credible, his claim that the execution was carried out by gassing in some sort of chamber mocked up for the occasion is not. An execution of persons guilty of real crimes would not need to be hidden, and given the small numbers of persons involved, would almost certainly have been carried out by public hanging, to serve as a deterrent.

Furthermore, Höhn's description of the gassing procedure is quite unlike what we know of the real operation of german homicidal gassings, and sounds like something made up by someone who had never actually witnessed a homicidal gassing.

The "confession" by former Commandant Kaindl, given that it was made in the Soviet-Occupied Zone, must be discarded as untrustworthy, for a number of reasons.

The first reason is his statement that in March 1943, he held a conference on methods of gassing to be insituted at Sachsenhausen. By then, the two methodologies of gassing by CO and HCN were well-established and used for a number of years; there was simply no need for Kaindl to hold such a conference.

It is patently obvious that Kaindl's statement that he took the initiative in establishing a gas-chamber at Sachsenhausen and took advice on the methodology to be used, is something foisted on him by his Soviet interrogators in order to deepen his guilt.

An ostensible reason for the alleged introduction of gas-chambers is given with Kaindl's statement about the existing facilities being no longer sufficient for the "exterminations planned". But there is no evidence of any plan to turn Sachsenhausen into a place of mass-extermination requiring gas-chambers. Most of the Jews held at Sachsenhausen had already been sent to Auschwitz, in late 1942.

It is patently obvious that Kaindl's statement about gas-chambers is something made up by his Soviet interrogators, and placed in his mouth, for the purpose of supporting a false Soviet claim that Sachsenhausen was, or was to become, a place of mass-extermination.

The source of the unbelievable statements by Kaindl and Sakowski can be found in their description of the alleged homicidal gas-chamber. Here it is:
It had a device for opening containers* automatically, and a ventilator equipped with a pressure fan was installed on the outside wall. The container was set in place, it was opened mechanically, and the fan blew the gas into the room through a system of heated pipes. That is why the SS men did not need gas masks as Sachsenhausen, as they did in most of the other camps.

* These containers were either capsules of Zyklon A, a liquid preparation containing hydrocyanic acid (see note 45, Trial vol. 11, pp. 19—20) or metal cans of Zyklon B (see note 47, p. 147). (Editor's note.)
It is blindingly obvious to anyone with any knowledge of the use of Zyklon-B for its legal and normal disinfestation purpose that what is being described is a hot-air circulation chamber designed to accelerate the process of delousing clothes.

A diagram of such a delousing chamber is to be found on page 222 of the book "Auschwitz 1270 to the Present", by Dwork and Van Pelt. Here is the legend to the diagram:
Design of a Degesch Zyklon B gas chamber. Osobyi Archive, Moscow, coll. 502/1, file 322. The tin with Zyklon B is opened by a lever connected to a tin opener; the Zyklon B crystals fall on a tray and are heated by a hot-air blower to facilitate operation.
Here is what Van Pelt says about plans to install such high-tech delousing chambers at Auschwitz (pp. 220-221):
Effective as the [delousing] procedure was, the camp authorities found it irritatingly inefficient. Too much Zyklon B was needed and it took too long to exterminate the lice. The Degesch engineers addressed this problem in an article they sent to the building office in July 1941. They recommended the installation of many small heatable gas chambers designed to be used with the standard 200-gram tin of Zyklon B. Heating the space to over thirty degrees centigrade helped the gas to evaporate from the grains quickly and completely, and shortened the exposure time needed to kil the lice to one hour. A sophisticated ventilation system not only ensured the rapid penetration of all the garments with prussic acid but also permitted the clothes to be worn safely fifteen minutes after fumigation.
The description of the "homicidal" gassing chamber by Kaindl and Sakowski matches the above operation precisely. Furthermore, the description by Höhn of an alleged homicidal gassing participated in by him seems to be a garbled version of the same delousing procedure.

It is patently obvious that Kaindl, Sakowski and Höhn are describing the operation of the Degesch accelerated delousing chamber, not a homicidal gassing. No authority claims that those delousing chambers were ever used for homicidal purposes.

The most likely course of events is that Kaindl and Sakowski were pressurised by their Soviet interrogators into "admitting" the existence of homicidal gas chambers at Sachsenhausen. Since they were required by their interrogators to provide a description of the alleged homicidal gas chamber, they fell back on their knowledge of the delousing process described above, which they must have witnessed in the camp,

The claim by Kaindl and Sakowski made to Soviet interrogators then became part of the record, and appears to have been raised again at the trial of Höhn before a West German court in Düsseldorf. Höhn seems to have been implicated in the extra-judicial execution of eight or nine foreign workers, so it would have been no skin off his nose to "admit" that the execution had been carried out by gassing rather than hanging, the latter being more likely.

The garbled nature of Höhn's description of the "homicidal" gassing, apparently based on the operation of the accelerated delousing procedure, suggests that it was not something actually witnessed by him, but rather something suggested to him by his interrogators who got the details wrong, being ignorant of how the accelerated delousing worked.

In summary, it can be said with confidence that the evidence for the existence of a homicidal gassing installation at Sachsenhausen is totally insufficient. All the claims of homicidal gassing (apart from the experiments with gas-vans) can be more satisfactorily explained in terms of delousing procedures.

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Post by David Thompson » 26 Sep 2004 19:38

You said:
In summary, it can be said with confidence that the evidence for the existence of a homicidal gassing installation at Sachsenhausen is totally insufficient. All the claims of homicidal gassing (apart from the experiments with gas-vans) can be more satisfactorily explained in terms of delousing procedures.
We all have daydreams, Michael, but not everyone posts them. Yours is a classic opinion post, based on speculative inferences. The authors of Nazi Mass Murder have at least presented evidence for the existence of a homicidal gassing facility at KL Sachsenhausen, while you have presented no evidence for your claim that the witnesses were lying or mistakenly describing disinfestation procedures.

michael mills
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Post by michael mills » 27 Sep 2004 04:32

Some of us accept evidence uncritically.

Others subject evidence to critical examination, to determine whether it should be accepted or discarded. In doing so, they look for alternative, more normal explanations for a claim.

I have subjected the claims made by Kaindl, Sakowski, and Höhn relating to homicidal gassings at Sachsenhausen, and given a number of reasons why it is unsafe to accept them.

To recapitulate them:

1. The claim made by Kaindl, under interrogation in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany, that he initiated homicidal gassing at Sachsenhausen, and held a conference early in 1943 to determine the best gassing methodology, is not consistent with the historical fact that the two german homicidal gassing methodologies using CO and HCN were already fully tested and operational by that date.

There was therefore no need for Kaindl to have held, on his own initiative, a conference to look at different homicidal gassing methodologies, and his claim that he did so is suspect. We must admit the possibility that Kaindl's claim was in fact suggested to him by his Soviet interrogators.

2. The claim made by Kaindl that the reason for his initiative to introduce homicidal gassing at Sachsenhausen was to facilitate plans for exterminations, for which the existing facilities were insufficient, is not supported by any evidence that Sachsenhausen was to be turned into a mass-extermination centre.

The fact that at an earlier period executions of Soviet POWs had taken place at Sachsenhausen, with the use of a special disguised firing-squad room, does not support Kaindl's claim about the need for improved extermination facilities, since by March 1943 the execution of Soviet POWs under the so-called Commissar Order has ceased. There is no evidence for the planned extermination of any other category of victims at Sachsenhausen; most of the jews in the camp had been forwarded to Auschwitz toward the end of 1942.

This claim is therefore highly suspect, and we must admit the possibility that it is an invention by Kaindl's Soviet interrogators designed to provide falsified support for his claim of having introduced homicidal gassing to Sachsenhausen in March 1943.

3. The description by Kaindl and Sakowski of the alleged homicidal gas-chamber at Sachsenhausen (which Kaindl claims to have installed_ exactly matches the procedure, patented by Degesch, for automation and acceleration of the delousing of clothing with Zyklon-B by blowing hot air through Zyklon-B pellets and circulating the HCN-laden air through the disinfestation chamber. The procedure for automatically opening the Zyklon-B containers also increased the safety for the disinfectors, such that they no longer needed to wear gas masks; that detail also tallies with the descriptions given by Kaindl and Sakowski.

To demonstrate that resemblance, I included a description of the above process by means of a quotation from a source that should be acceptable to the moderator. Accordingly, the statement by the moderator that I presented no evidence for my claims is incorrect.

The claims by Kaindl and Sakowski that the above automated procedure was also used for homicidal gassings with HCN is not supported by other evidence related to homicidal gassings that are substantiated. Accordingly, the description of the homicidal gas-chamber by Kaindl and Sakowski must be regarded as suspect, and we must admit the possibility that it is a falsified description, based on a true description of a disinfestation using the automated Degesch Zyklon-B chamber, which may well have been witnessed by Kaindl and Sakowski. We must admit the possibility that Kaindl and Sakowski falsified their description of a homicidal gas chamber in order to fulfil a requirement to supply such a description imposed on them by their Soviet interrogators.

3. The group of eight or nine victims that August Höhn claims to have witnessed being gassed in late 1944 do not have the usual characteristics of victims of proved German homicidal gassing.

Gassing with CO or HCN was regarded by the German Government as a form of "mercy death", and was employed for the destruction of categories of persons who were "useless eaters", not dangerous but unusable for labour. Such categories included mental patients who were incurable or otherwise burdensome, sick concentration-camp inmates who could not recover within two weeks, Jews unfit for labour, etc.

The victims described by Höhn do not fit into those categories, but were persons who had committed the real crime of plundering after an air-raid. Such persons were usually punished by public hanging, as a deterrant. There was no need to conceal their execution by clandestine methods such as gassing in disguised facilities.

Furthermore, Höhn's description of the homicidal gassing procedure appears to be a garbled account of the operation of the Degesch automated disinfestation chamber.

The above two objections require us to regard Höhn's testimony as suspect, and to admit the possibility that, while Höhn may have witnessed the execution of eight or nine foreign workers guilty of pillaging, it is very unlikely that the execution was carried out by homicidal gassing.

Having listed the above objections to the claims of homicidal gassing at Sachsenhausen, it is necessary to consider those claims that are more likely to be true, or are possibly true.

The first of these is the claim about the testing of gas-vans at Sachsenhausen in September 1941, using Soviet POWs as experimental subjects. That claim is very likely to be true since:

a. The development and use of gas-vans can be regarded as substantiated.

b. The time of the claimed testing of gas-vans at Sachsenhausen fits the time-frame for the development of that methodology of execution, substantiated from other sources.

c. The use of Soviet POWs as experimental subjects is credible, since in September 1941 Soviet POWs selected as dangerous Commmunists were being sent to Sachsenhausen for execution.

d. The claim relates only to the use of Sachsenhausen as the locality for an experiment, not as an extermination centre using homicidal gassing.

The other claim relates to the killing in February 1945 of close to 4000 inmates of Sachsenhausen who were too physically exhausted to be evacuated. The claim is that over a period of two to three weeks those victims were taken to the crematorium and killed there, some by shooting and some by gassing.

The above group of victims definitely falls into the category of persons who commonly were subjected to "euthanasia" by gassing with CO or HCN. However, in the absence of any credible evidence as to the existence of a homicidal gassing installation at Sachsenhausen, it is unsafe to accept the claim that some of the victims were gassed.

While the claim that 4000 inmates who could not be evacuated were killed can be accepted as credible, the most likely killing methodology was shooting, which is attested for part of the victims. The claim that some were gassed may well rest only on the unsubstantiated supposition that there was a homicidal gas-chamber in the crematorium.

My conclusion made in my initial post was:
In summary, it can be said with confidence that the evidence for the existence of a homicidal gassing installation at Sachsenhausen is totally insufficient. All the claims of homicidal gassing (apart from the experiments with gas-vans) can be more satisfactorily explained in terms of delousing procedures.
I stand by that conclusion, which does not entirely rule out the possibility of the existence of a homicidal gas-chamber at Sachsenhausen, but regards that possibility as very unlikely on the evidence presented.

On the subject of German homicidal gassing, it seems to me that there are two extremes of opinion.

At one extreme is the attitude that if one claim of homicidal gassing is substantiated, then all such claims must be regarded as substantiated. That seems to be the preferred position of the moderator.

At the other extreme is the attitude that if one claim of homicidal gassing can be shown to be unsubstantiated then all such claims must be regared as unsubstantiated. That is the position taken by the so-called "deniers".

A more reasonable position is that some claims can safely be regarded as substantiated, while others cannot be regarded as substantiated due to the unreliability of the evidence. That is my position.

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