The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Why did they use this instead of a gas more suitable for mass extermination?

29. Why did they use this instead of a gas more suitable for mass extermination?

The IHR says:

If the Nazis had intended to use gas to exterminate people, far more efficient gases were available. Zyklon-B is very inefficient except when used as a fumigation agent.

Nizkor replies:

Lies. Zyklon-B was used partly because it is extremely efficient at killing people. True, there are other gases that are comparably efficient. However, Zyklon-B was unique in that it also had these two advantages:

  • It was easy to pack, store and transport -- it could be ordered from an ordinary chemical company, and came in sealed tins.

  • It was widely available, as it was used for delousing. In fact, probably over 90% of the Zyklon used at Auschwitz was used for delousing purposes. See e.g. Gutman, Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, 1994, p. 215.

As noted in the answer to question 28, it is extremely efficient for mass murder. In fact, HCN, the gas released by Zyklon-B, is used today to execute condemned people in the United States.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that today's execution gas chambers generate HCN by chemical reaction, not by simply allowing it to evaporate, as was done with Zyklon-B. But there were no problems with the method the Nazis used; it worked quite well.

As the Nazis found out soon enough, the bottleneck in the extermination process was the incineration of the bodies, not the gassing itself. A thousand people could be killed in a matter of minutes, or an hour or two at most, counting the entire operation from arrival at the camp to the final ventilation of the gas chamber.

Yet to burn the bodies of those thousand people took quite a long while. Large, expensive furnaces were purchased, and many Reichsmarks were spent on maintaining them, but burning bodies still took at least ten times longer than actually killing people. The Nazis even reduced the size of the gas chambers after they realized that the bottleneck would always be the furnace capacity -- see Gutman et al., Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, 1994, p. 224.)

So the arguments about difficulties with the gassing process, or efficiency of the gas, are just red herrings. See also the appropriate section of the Auschwitz FAQ.

Anyway, if there are supposedly so many gases that are "far more efficient," why doesn't the IHR just name some? Greg Raven was asked to do exactly this in on Usenet in 1994-95, but, after being asked many times, he was only able to state:

Carbon monoxide would be faster than Zyklon B, for example, as would any of numerous nerve gasses.

As has already been explained, the speed of the killing agent is not the bottleneck in the killing process, so saying which gas is "faster" misses the point. That aside, carbon monoxide is not in fact "faster" than HCN, which is one of the fastest-acting poisons there is. See the paper written on the subject for details.

In fact, the Nazis did try using carbon monoxide, in the Action Reinhard camp Treblinka, and also at Maidanek, where bottled CO and piping apparatus was found. But, as Höss explained in his memoirs, he found the existing methods inefficient and decided to switch to Zyklon-B instead.

"Nerve gasses" is not a specific enough claim to address.

The only other instance of a specific gas being named, that we have yet found, is a laughable demonstration of ignorance. In the so-called "Lüftl Report," Walter Lüftl writes:

Anyone familiar with the danger involved in handling hydrocyanic acid gas (which is explosive and extremely toxic) must wonder why the SS executioners didn't use carbon dioxide gas -- which is easier to handle and completely harmless to the executioner -- to kill the prisoners who were allegedly poisoned with Zyklon.

Any textbook on physiology confirms that in the event of anoxia (oxygen deprivation), disturbances of brain functioning appear after five seconds, followed by unconsciousness after 15 seconds, and brain death after five minutes. This is how animals are put to sleep, painlessly and surely. It also works with people.

This is sheer stupidity. Carbon dioxide simply asphyxiates its victims, drowning them in oxygenless air. Unconsciousness would take much longer than fifteen seconds. Death would not be painless, it would be about as painful as strangling or drowning. And carbon dioxide must be transported compressed in bottles, since "dry ice" cannot be sublimated quickly enough to kill anyone.

How many bottles of carbon dioxide would it take to completely replace the normal, oxygenated air in a gas chamber? How much would it cost to transport and refill these bottles? Wouldn't it be easier to use a small amount of a poison that must only achieve a few hundred parts per million to be deadly, instead of having to reach a concentration sufficient to displace the oxygen from the air?

In fact, Friedrich Berg, dismisses carbon dioxide in another article published by the IHR, and available on CODOH's's web site:

Carbon dioxide is not really any more poisonous than ordinary water. Most toxicology handbooks do not even mention it. When mentioned at all, it is generally classified as a "non-toxic, simple asphyxiant."

So this is another internal contradiction.

The "Lüftl Report," is available on-line in a textfile on Nizkor, or as a web page at the IHR's web site. Search on the text "physiology".

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