Old disinfection hut at Dachau


Disinfection hut in northeast corner of Dachau concentration camp

The photograph above shows the old disinfection hut at Dachau which is no longer in existence. Before it was torn down, this building was used as a restaurant when the Dachau camp was a refugee camp for Germans who had been expelled from the Sudetenland in what is now the Czech Republic after the war. It was torn down in 1965 to make room for a Memorial Site. The location of the building is where the Jewish Memorial building now stands.

On April 30, 1945, one day after the Dachau camp was liberated, a Displaced Persons team of US Army soldiers arrived to take care of the survivors. Marcus J. Smith, who was a medical doctor on this team, described the disinfection building, which he saw when the prisoners escorted him around the camp. In his book, "The Harrowing of Hell," Smith wrote the following:

Our escorts take us to the disinfection building. Here, while prisoners were bathed in antiseptic solution every two to four weeks, their clothes were put into an apparatus in which they were exposed to two to four meter radiowaves and a temperature of 182 degrees Centigrade. So I am told. This is an experimental method, and I cannot ascertain its effectiveness. My recommendation will be to use soap, water, antiseptic solutions and DDT. Nearby is a concrete building in which 300 prisoners could shower at a time. I am told that each prisoner was permitted one shower every two weeks. (The building has been closed for the last three weeks.)

The shower building which Smith described had been closed for three weeks because a bomb that hit the Dachau complex on April 9, 1945 had destroyed the water main, and there was no running water in the camp when the Americans arrived.

Smith goes on to describe the "crematorium and the gas chamber" which were in the "large concrete and brick building with the high smokestack," so it is clear that neither the "disinfection building" nor the shower room, which he described above, was the building where the homicidal gas chamber was located.

The prisoners who took Smith on a tour of the camp, one day after it was liberated, did not point out that the four disinfection chambers in the crematorium building used Zyklon-B for delousing the clothes. Regarding the clothes piled up outside the Baracke X building where four delousing chambers and the homicidal gas chamber were located, Smith wrote the following:

There are conflicting stories as to the use of the gas chamber. [...] Many of the stories described the shedding of clothes before execution. This was purposeful. The clothing was collected and later issued to newly arriving prisoners.

Smith assumed that the clothes, that were shed by the prisoners prior to being gassed in Baracke X, were taken all the way across the camp to the old disinfection building to be deloused.

DDT was in common use in America in 1945, but was apparently not being used by the Germans. Smith wrote the following in his book "The Harrowing of Hell":

As the years passed, reports began to appear about the resistance of certain insects to DDT, and its harmful effects on certain species of birds, fish, amphibians, and mammals. But in 1945, we had no inkling of adverse effects. We used DDT by the ton; it coated our clothes, food, and air, and the results achieved by it in the control of the typhus fever epidemic were spectacular.

The use of DDT as an insecticide was first discovered in 1939 by Paul Müller, a chemist working for the J.R. Geigy Company in Basle, Switzerland. At the Orlando, FL laboratory of the Department of Agriculture, the active component in DDT was isolated and synthesized by the end of 1942 and in 1943, it was being manufactured commercially in the United States. The Germans apparently didn't use it to control typhus or malaria.


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