The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

What was the exact procedure the Nazis allegedly used to exterminate Jews?

33. What was the exact procedure the Nazis allegedly used to exterminate Jews?

The IHR says:

The stories range from dropping the gas canisters into a crowded room from a hole in the ceiling, to piping it through shower heads, to "steam chambers," to "electrocution machinery." "Millions" of Jews are alleged to have been killed in this manner.

Nizkor replies:

The exact method depended on the camp. Different means of killing -- sometimes only slightly different -- were used in different camps, and even in different places in the same camp.

At Auschwitz, specifically at Krema I through III, the Zyklon-B was dropped through holes in the ceiling. The holes are visible in aerial photographs that happened to be taken by Allied reconnaissance planes. At the Action Reinhard camps, exhaust from powerful engines, often engines stripped from captured Russian tanks, was pumped into buildings.

There were indeed showerheads in several gas chambers; witnesses have testified to this and wartime Nazi documents like inventories confirm it. (See a photograph of the document, or Pressac, Auschwitz: Technique and Operation, 1989, pp. 231, 438.) It is believed, however, that in every case, the showerheads were only cosmetic, were not connected to anything, and that no poison gas was pumped through them. They were intended to reassure the victims that everything was normal, to help prevent panic as they crowded into the chamber, and Nazis testified to this after the war.

Approximately three million Jews were gassed to death, over about three years, at the six major death camps. The rest were killed by numerous mass executions, mainly in the occupied eastern territories, and in the numerous smaller camps and ghettoes by inhuman treatment like starvation and slave-labor.

Regarding "steam chambers" and "electrocution machinery" -- these were testimonies given by confused eyewitnesses, in some cases Poles who were spying on the camps from the outside. For example, someone seeing the killing process at the Action Reinhard camps might see the suffocating engine exhaust smoke billowing out of the gas chambers, and mistake it for steam. Of the Nazis themselves, or anyone else who saw the entire killing process from a close vantage point, we know of no one who repeats these false stories.

Such stories had no evidence or corroborating testimony to back them up, and so were not even entered as charges at the war-crimes trials. In other words, those false stories are not evidence that the Nazis were falsely charged -- rather, they are evidence that the trials were fair, and that the system worked.

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