The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Operation Reinhard:
The Gas Chambers

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All three of the Reinhard camps used carbon monoxide, pumped into sealed rooms, to do their killing.

Carbon monoxide worked slower than Zyklon B, but it worked well enough for Himmler to proceed. While he was ... in Lublin, he sent a written order to Krüger: the "resettlement" of the entire Jewish population of the Government General was to be completed by December 31, 1942. With the exception of a few collection camps for Jews in some major cities, no Jews were to remain in Poland. All Jewish laborers had to complete their jobs or be transferred to one of the collection camps. These measures were prerequisites for the Nazi "new order" in Europe, since any remaining Jews would stimulate resistance and provide a source of moral and physical pestilence. (Himmler to Krüger, 19 July 1942, NA RG 238, NO-5574, quoted by Arad, Belzec, 47)(Breitman, 238)

Those who deny the Holocaust have claimed that 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 Section 4.1.3 for the rulings from the German Treblinka trials. 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).

In a closed chamber, of course diesel fumes will kill. There was actually a study on this in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine (Prattle, 47-55.) The 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 is 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. (Rauff was in charge of the Technical Department of the Reich Security Main Office, and was responsible for developing the mobile gas vans used by the Einsatzgruppen) The letter is quite long, but here is the relevant part:

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 a 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. (Just. Get pub/people/r/

On July 22 ...deportations began from the Warsaw ghetto to ... [ Treblinka]. The same day, Globocnik wrote to Karl Wolff: "The Reich Führer SS ... has given us so much new work that with it now all our most secret wishes are to be fulfilled. I am so very thankful to him for this, and he can be sure of one thing, that these things he wishes will be fulfilled in the shortest time." (On the start of deportations to Treblinka, Arad, Belzec, 60-61, 392. Quote from Globocnik to Wolff, 22 July 1942, Globocnik SS file, Berlin Document Center.) (Breitman, 238)

The Treblinka site is now a Polish National Monument.

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