The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Given a 100% duty cycle of all the crematoria in all the camps in German-controlled territory, what is the maximum number of corpses it would have been possible to incinerate during the entire period such crematoria were in operation?


44. Given a 100% duty cycle of all the crematoria in all the camps in German-controlled territory, what is the maximum number of corpses it would have been possible to incinerate during the entire period such crematoria were in operation?

The IHR says:

About 430,600.

Nizkor replies:

This faulty figure is the result of several cumulative errors. Errors in burning time per corpse and maintenance requirements are addressed in the reply to question 42. The error of the number of corpses per muffle is addressed in the reply to question 45.

Looking at theoretical numbers can be instructive, if one remembers that the theoretical capacity was never reached for a number of reasons. But, if one wants to consider what the theoretical numbers could have been, using a hypothetical 100% duty cycle and no downtime due to maintenance, the numbers are staggering.

We needn't look at all Nazi camps; let's consider Auschwitz-Birkenau alone. In fact, let's consider only the two largest crematory facilities (out of five). Those two ovens alone, working at their full estimated capacity 24 hours a day from their installation in April 1943 to their decommissioning in November 1944, could have incinerated over 1.7 million corpses.

This is simple arithmetic, based on the furnace capacity that the Nazis themselves estimated. See Pressac, Auschwitz: Technique and Operation, 1989, p. 247.

Note that the Nazis later began to realize that the theoretical capacity of the ovens was too impractical, and in late 1942 reduced their estimates from 1440 per Krema per day to 800 (see Gutman et al., Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, 1994, p. 212). Using that more-accurate figure, not quite a million corpses could be incinerated, in those 20 months, by those two Auschwitz crematoria.

This corresponds with reality, since there were other Kremas available to incinerate corpses, and since we know that the ovens were often overburdened by the sheer number of corpses, requiring bodies to be burned in open pits. See question 41. In total, 1.1 million to 1.5 million people were killed at Auschwitz and their bodies incinerated.


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