Ruins of Bunker 2

The remains of "the little white house"

Before the construction of the four large gas chambers at Birkenau was finished in 1943, the gassing of the Jews took place in two old farmhouses, described as "the little white house" and "the little red house." The little red house was located north of where the fourth gas chamber, called Krema V, was built. It was completely destroyed by the Nazis and nothing remains of it. The little red house was the site of the first gassing of the Jews at Birkenau, beginning in March 1942. The little white house was put into operation as a gas chamber in June 1942.

The little white house was located just west of the Central Sauna, which was built in 1943 to house a shower room and numerous disinfection chambers used to kill lice in the clothing of the prisoners.

The ruins of the little white house have been preserved, as you can see in the photos on this page. In the photo above, you can see four black markers which tell visitors in four languages that this is the ruins of the little white house, called Bunker 2. The photo below shows a plaque which also identifies the ruins.

Plaque identifies the ruins of Bunker 2

After the war, the former Polish residents of Birkenau came back to rebuild their homes that had been confiscated by the Nazis and torn down to build the barracks at Birkenau. They took the bricks from the destroyed gas chambers and used them to rebuild their houses. The bricks that can be seen today at the site of Bunker 2 might be a reconstruction, as the valuable original bricks were probably removed by the Polish residents sixty years ago.

The photos on this page were taken in October 2005; when I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1998, my tour guide told me that the locations of the little white house and the little red house were unknown.

The ruins show bricks set directly on the ground, with no foundation, as can be seen in the photo below.

Ruins of the little white house

The little white house was divided into four small rooms

As the four photos above show, Bunker 2 was divided into four small rooms which had the capacity to kill 1,200 Jews at a time, according to Laurence Rees, the author of "Auschwitz, a New History." Gassing was done with Zyklon-B, a powerful poison gas also used at Birkenau to kill lice in the clothing of the prisoners in an attempt to stop the spread of typhus. Zyklon-B was in the form of pellets, the size of small peas. The pellets were dropped into the rooms through an opening in the wall.

According to a book entitled "The Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies Have Attempted It?" by Michael J. Neufeld and Michael Berenbaum, Bunker 2 was 56 feet long and 27 feet wide. Each of the four gas chamber rooms was 14 feet by 7 feet. Bunker 1 was 49 feet long by 21 feet wide.

Survivors say that the four small gas chambers in the little white house were disguised as shower rooms. This house was in a remote location and probably did not have running water, so the victims were not fooled by this ruse. The ruins of Bunker 2 do not show any signs of plumbing pipes or a floor drain connected to sewer pipes.

Otto Pressburger, a survivor of Birkenau, said that the gassings always took place at night, never during the day time, because the victims would scream or try to escape from the gas chamber. As quoted by Laurence Rees, Pressburger said, "We only saw the bodies the next morning piled beside the pits." Pressburger worked in a special unit of prisoners whose job it was to bury the bodies of the victims who had been gassed in the little white house and the little red house. He said that the SS men brought the bodies to the burial pits during the night and the next morning, his special unit had to bury them.

Oscar Groening, an SS man who worked at Birkenau, also said that the gassing of the Jews in the two farmhouses was done at night. As told by Laurence Rees, Groening said that he had witnessed a gassing one night after he had been awakened by an alarm because a number of Jews had escaped as they were being marched to the gas chamber. He saw the lights on in one of the farm houses, and seven or eight bodies out in front of the building. He assumed that these were the escapees who had been caught and shot.

Groening was "overcome by curiosity," according to Rees, and he and his comrades stayed around to watch what was going on at the farm house. They saw an SS man, wearing a gas mask, pour Zyklon-B pellets through a hatch in the side of the cottage wall. They heard screaming for a minute, followed by silence. Then an SS man went up to the door, and looked through a peephole to see if all the prisoners were dead.

This remote area was a good location for the use of Zyklon-B which was dangerous and had the potential to kill the SS men who had to throw it inside the building. Until March 1942, the gassing of the Jews was done in Krema I at the Auschwitz main camp. Krema I was situated between the SS hospital and the Gestapo building, not a good location for the use of dangerous poison gas.

In his autobiography, Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant at Auschwitz-Birkenau, wrote regarding the gassing in the little white house:

"Hundreds of men and women in the full bloom of life walked all unsuspecting to their death in the gas chambers under the blossom-laden fruit trees of the orchard. This picture of death in the midst of life remains with me to this day. I looked upon them as enemies of our people. The reasons behind the Extermination Program seemed to me right."

Back to History Articles index

Back to Photo Gallery 13

Back to gas chamber ruins index


This page was last updated on February 10, 2008