The Leuchter FAQ: Toxicity of fumes from a diesel engine

  • Fumes from a diesel engine are not toxic enough to kill people.

(This claim is made with regard to the death camp of Treblinka – see file with ruling of German courts on this. In other death camps, gasoline engines were used. The method of killing was simple – people were crammed into the gas chambers, and the exhaust of powerful engines was pumped into them).

Nonsense. In a closed chamber, of course diesel fumes will kill. There was actually a study on this, and its results are reported in “The Toxicity of Fumes from a diesel Engine Under Four Different Running Conditions”, by Prattle et al., British Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1957, Vol 14, p. 47-55. These researchers ran a few experiments in which various animals were exposed to diesel fumes, and studied the results.

In the experiments, the exhaust of a small diesel engine (568 cc, 6 BHP) was connected to a chamber 10 cubic meters (340 cubic feet) in volume, and the animals were put inside it. In all cases, the animals died. Death was swifter when the intake of air to the engine was restricted, as this causes a large increase in the amount of carbon monoxide (CO) that is emitted. (See, for instance, Diesel Engine Reference Book, by Lilly, 1985, p. 18/8, where it is stated that at a high air/fuel ratio the concentration of CO is only a few parts per million but for lower ratios (25:1) the concentration of CO can rise up to 3,000 ppm. It is very easy to restrict the air intake – the British researchers did so by partially covering the air intake opening with a piece of metal.)

Even in cases where the CO output was low, the animals still died from other toxic components – mainly irritants and nitrogen dioxide.

Now, the diesel engines used in Treblinka were much larger – they belonged to captured Soviet T-34 tanks. These tanks weighed 26-31 tons (depending on the model) and had a 500 BHP engine (compared to a mere 6 BHP in the British experiments). The volume of the extermination chambers in Treblinka is, of course, a factor. But the chambers’ volume was about 60 cubic meters (2040 cubic feet); this is 6 times more than those in the British experiments, but the difference in the size of the engines is much larger than a factor of 6.

It should be remembered that what matters in CO poisoning is not the concentration of CO, but the ratio of CO to oxygen. In a small, gas-tight room, crammed full of people, oxygen levels drop quickly, thus making death by CO poisoning faster. As noted, other toxic components in the fumes further accelerate mortality.

The SS was aware of the fact that cramming as many people as possible into the gas chamber, thus leaving no empty spaces, would accelerate mortality. This is evident, for instance, from a letter regarding “gassing vans” (used in the Chelmno extermination camp and other locations) sent to SS-Obersturmbannführer Walter Rauff, 5 June 1942. The letter is quite long (more of it is reproduced in the file of original Nazi documents), but here is the relevant part (Nazism, document 913).

“2) The vans are normally loaded with 9-10 people per square meter. With the large Saurer special vans this is not possible because although they do not become overloaded their maneuverability is much impaired. A reduction in the load area appears desirable. It can be achieved by reducing the size of the van by c. 1 meter. The difficulty referred to cannot be overcome by reducing the size of the load. For a reduction in the numbers will necessitate longer period of operation because the free spaces will have to be filled with CO. By contrast, a smaller load area which is completely full requires a much shorter period of operation since there are no free spaces.”

Another gruesome testimony to the “science of gassing” developed by the SS is the letter from Dr August Becker to SS-Obersturmbannführer Rauff, 16 May 1942 (Nazi Conspiracy, 418)

The application of the gas is not undertaken correctly. In order to come to an end as fast as possible, the driver presses the accelerator to the fullest extent. By doing that the persons to be executed suffer death from suffocation and not death by dozing off as was planned. My directions have now proved that by correct adjustment of the levers death comes faster and the prisoners fall asleep peacefully. Distorted faces and excretions, such as could be seen before, are no longer noticed.

Additional information was published to several UseNet newsgroups in November of 1993, in which [email protected] quotes Holtz (see Recommended Reading section) and Elliot. A quick scan of the data clearly shows the difference in oxygen and carbon monoxide levels found in diesel exhaust under different fuel-air mixture conditions:

Exhaust gas composition of a diesel engine, running at the correct fuel-air ratios (% by volume):

O2: 1.5%
CO2: 13.5%
CO: 0.5%

Exhaust gas composition of a diesel engine running at a fuel-air
ratio of 0.094 (% by volume):

O2: 0.3%
CO2: 10.2%
CO: 6.0%

The data clearly demonstrates that simply restricting the air intake of the engine, any diesel engine will produce sufficient CO to be clearly and rapidly fatal (6% CO represents roughly 60,000 ppm). This data (Holtz & Elliot) appeared in Transactions of the ASME in early 1941, and was probably known to the Nazis.

Mr. Mullins has also published an article to UseNet which deals with Berg‘s The Diesel Gas Chambers: Myth Within a Myth, (Get pub/orgs/american/ihr/jhr/ jhr.v5n1), and which demonstrates not only how diesel engines can quickly produce highly toxic levels of gasses, but which uses Berg’s own references to do so. (Get pub/orgs/american/ihr/ diesel.001 for the full article.)