The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: camps/auschwitz//crematoria/crematoria.faq

Archive/File: camps/auschwitz crematoria

 3.0 Crematoria 

   Connilyn Feig provides an overview of the operation of the crematoria
   (Request auschwitz.01), and describes the process by which the
   stoking gangs sorted bodies into combustability catagories as the
   result of earlier experiments by the SS staff to reduce fuel
   consumption.  In this effort, they had the assistance of the firm of
   Topf and Sons, who had built the crematoria.

   In essence, well-nourished corpses were burned with emaciated ones in
   order to determine the most efficient combination.  Three to four
   bodies were burned at a time, and different kinds of coke were used,
   then the results were recorded:

      Afterwards, all corpses were divided into the above-mentioned
      catagories, the criterion being the amount of coke required to
      reduce them to ashes.  Thus it was decreed that the most
      economical and fuel-saving procedure would be to burn the bodies
      of a well-nourished man and an emaciated woman, or vice versa,
      together with that of a child, because, as the experiments had
      established, in this combination, once they had caught fire, the
      dead would continue to burn without any further coke being
      required.  (Mu"ller, 60-61; Klarsfield, 99-100)

   The need for large-scale efficiency, to cope with the astounding
   number of corpses produced by the gas chambers, eventually led to the
   design and construction of new crematoria, and daily capacity rose
   from as low as six hundred forty eight per day (Mu"ller's 1942
   figure) to a high of over ten thousand (Ho"ss, Gricksch.  Request
   deathcamp.02, Gricksch.rpt, and jahrling.may43), but, as Feig tells
   us, the SS eventually had to employ large pyres and pits to dispose
   of the mounting pile of corpses:

      As early as June 13, 1943, all was not well with the new
      installation. ...  Eventually the ovens seemed to
      fall apart.  Crematorium Four failed completely after a short
      time and Crematoria Five had to be shut down repeatedly.  (TWC,
      V:624) (Between 1945 and 1962 Polish officials found five
      manuscripts written by Sonderkommando members before their
      deaths.  The published manuscripts and documents relate to the
      specific process of extermination at Birkenau, and provide
      detailed descriptions of the crematoria and gas chambers.) 

      The scientifically planned crematoria should have been able to
      handle the total project, but they could not.  The whole complex
      had forty-six retorts, each with the capacity for three to five
      persons.  The burning in a retort lasted about half an hour.  It
      took an hour a day to clean them out.  Thus it was theoretically
      possible to cremate about 12,000 corpses in twenty four hours or
      4,380,000 a year.  But the well-constructed crematoria fell far
      behind at a number of camps, and especially at Auschwitz in
      1944.  In August the total cremation reached a peak one day of
      24,000, but still a bottleneck occurred.  Camp authorities
      needed an economic and fast method of corpse disposal, so they
      again dug six huge pits beside Crematorium Five and reopened old
      pits in the wood.  Thus, late in 1944, pit burning became the
      cheif method of corpse disposal.  The pits had indentations at
      one end from which human fat drained off.  To keep the pits
      burning, the stokers poured oil, alcohol, and large quantities
      of boiling human fat over the bodies.

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