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08 Crematoria (Holocaust: Auschwitz)


This article is from the Holocaust FAQ, by Ken McVay kmcvay@nizkor.org with numerous contributions by others.

08 Crematoria (Holocaust: Auschwitz)

Konnilyn Feig provides an overview of the operation of the
crematoria, 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 (Hoess, Gricksch), 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
chief 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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