The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Can a crematory oven be operated 100% of the time?

45. Can a crematory oven be operated 100% of the time?

The IHR says:

No. 50% of the time is a generous estimate (12 hours per day). Cremator ovens have to be cleaned thoroughly and regularly when in heavy operation.

Nizkor replies:

This reply is a comprehensive one, covering Q&A numbers 42, 43, and 44 as well.

Start by looking at a photograph of the furnaces in Krema II, to get some idea of scale. They were very large. Keep in mind that the Zündelsite characterizes these massive crematoria buildings as "chicken sheds."

There were five Krema in Auschwitz. Krema II and III had five huge furnaces, each of which had a "triple-muffle" that could burn three bodies simultaneously. They were designed to burn efficiently and quickly, especially when burning many bodies in a row (see Gutman et al., Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, 1994, pp. 185-186).

Although the furnaces were designed with three muffles, two to three bodies could almost always be placed in each muffle. Remember that many children were present, and that the victims were often inmates who had been at Auschwitz for months and who were malnourished in the extreme. The Nazis took 70 to 100 kg of animal remains as a "unit" that could be incinerated in one muffle; whether that was one large person or three small ones was irrelevant, technically speaking. Höss testified that the Sonderkommando would alternate between putting three and two bodies in each muffle. (See Gutman et al., op. cit., pp. 236, 166, 180n55.)

Contrary to what the IHR claims in question 42, the furnaces would consume the bodies in anywhere from half an hour to 45 minutes maximum. This is not only verified by eyewitnesses, but by numerous Nazi memos concerning a variety of incineration jobs.

Here is the arithmetic for a single Krematorium, number II:

Five furnaces, each with three muffles, each muffle capable of holding two to three corpses simultaneously (call it two) and burning them in half an hour, could reduce 1440 bodies to ash in twenty-four working hours. 5 times 3 times 2, divided by one-half, times 24, equals 1440.

A captured memo dated June 28, 1943, sent to SS General Kammler in Berlin, cites the number of bodies that can be disposed of in one day, at Auschwitz-Birkenau, as 4,756. This is apparently based on a 24-hour working day using the above figures, as it cites the capacity of Krema II as 1440. See a photograph of the document, or Pressac, Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, 1989, p. 247. There is argument among historians and technical experts as to whether this represents a theoretical maximum that was never reached in reality except with the aid of additional cremation done in burning pits, or a figure that was reached and possibly exceeded during the worst of the extermination action. Nevertheless, it is clear that Lagace's claim of 184 bodies daily (Lenski, Robert, The Holocaust on Trial, 1990, p. 252) is not even within an order of magnitude of being correct.

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