Congressional visit to gas chamber, 3 May 1945
"A distinguishing feature of the Dachau Camp was the gas chamber for the execution of prisoners and the somewhat elaborate facilities for execution by shooting. The gas chamber was located in the center of a large room in the crematory building. It was built of concrete. Its dimensions were about 20 by 20 feet, and the ceiling was some 10 feet in height. In two opposite walls of the chamber were airtight doors through which condemned prisoners could be taken into the chamber for execution and removed after execution. The supply of gas into the chamber was controlled by means of two valves on one of the outer walls, and beneath the valves was a small glass-covered peephole through which the operator could watch the victims die. The gas was let into the chamber through pipes terminating in perforated brass fixtures set into the ceiling. The chamber was of a size sufficient to execute probably a hundred men at one time."
The quote at the top of the page is from Document No. 47 of the 79th Congress, 1st Session, Senate Report (May 15, 1945) of the Committee Requested by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to the Congress of the U.S. relative to Atrocities and other Conditions in Concentration Camps in Germany. This document was entered into the Nuremberg trial proceedings as IMT Document L-159.
The delegation of US Congressmen had flown to Paris on April 22, 1945, at Eisenhower's request, and had first visited Buchenwald on April 24, 1945, two weeks after the camp was liberated on April 11th. The Congressmen arrived in Dachau on May 1, 1945, the same day that newsreels were first released in American theaters, showing the Nazi atrocities at Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen. Dachau had been liberated on April 29, 1945, just two days before the Congressmen arrived.
The color photograph above, which shows the west wall that is behind the Congressmen in the old photo at the top of the page, was taken in May 2001 with a 24mm lens; when I visited Dachau again in May 2003, the portable sign in the gas chamber, which said that it had never been used, had been removed. Note the spotlight on the wall near the door which was added after the Dachau camp was liberated; it is the only light source in the room.
The Congressmen described the ceiling of the Dachau gas chamber as being 10 feet high and pointed out that "The gas was let into the chamber through pipes terminating in perforated brass fixtures set into the ceiling." The shower heads, which are really made of sheet metal, are set into the ceiling, as the top photo shows, but the ceiling of the gas chamber is actually 7.6 feet high. All but one of the shower heads had been stolen by May 2001 when the photo above was taken. The empty holes show that the shower heads had not been connected to any pipes.
The photograph below shows the pipes going into the gas chamber from the narrow corridor behind the wall in the background of the photo above. These are the "pipes terminating in perforated brass fixtures set into the ceiling" which the Congressmen mentioned in their report. On the right-hand side of the photograph below are the "two valves on one of the outer walls" which were referred to in the Congressional report.
The photo above was taken after the liberation of Dachau. It shows the pipes and control wheels that can still be seen today through a window in the rear of the gas chamber building.
A film entitled Atrocities at Dachau, Story RG-60.0843, Tape 828 was made on May 3, 1945, the day that the Congressmen visited the gas chamber. It shows the two black objects between the control wheels in the center of the black and white photo above but the movie camera did not pan down to include the peep hole which can be seen in the photo. The rectangular box, located above the peephole in the black and white photo above, is clearly shown in the film and it appears to be a panel with push buttons. This film can be seen on the web site of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
On the PBS web site there is a film of Dachau, taken by the Allies after the liberation of the camp, in which the controls in the photo above are shown. The narrator says that the wheels were used to control the flow of gas into the chamber. A closeup of the panel in the center of the photo above shows that it has four push buttons, but the narrator does not explain what the buttons were for.
The photo above shows two openings in the center of the west wall on the inside of the Dachau gas chamber. The top hole is the peephole. Notice that the tiles on both sides of the peephole do not match the tiles below it. The peephole is at chest height for a six-foot-tall man; the peephole had to be set low on the wall because there is a black box with push buttons above it on the other side of the wall.
The bottom hole has a pipe which looks like a water pipe that has been closed off. Notice that the metal frames around the boxes are different. In the old black and white photo above, a little bit of the top of a black box can be seen below the round peep hole.
The old photograph below, taken in 1945, shows the "small glass-covered peephole through which the operator could watch the victims die." A US soldier is standing in front of the wall that is behind the Congressmen in the photo at the top of the page. On the right in the top photo above, between two of the Congressmen, one can see what appears to be the wooden coffins which are shown piled up against the wall in the photo below.
In the old black and white photo at the top of this page, the second Congressman from the right is pointing towards the northeast corner of the gas chamber, shown in the photo above, where there is a square vent in the ceiling and one of the "gas vents" shown in the movie of the gas chamber, taken on May 3, 1945.
The Congressman seems to be pointing to the "gas vent" in a light fixture box in the northeast corner, while ignoring the large opening on the wall near the floor.
The photo below shows the two openings on the east wall of the gas chamber, which is the outside wall in the front of the building. There are two bins or "shutes" on the outside wall from which Zyklon-B pellets could be poured into the room through these openings. The Report written by the Congressmen after their visit did not mention the bins on the outside wall, which were hidden by a wooden screen.
This page was last updated on March 13, 2008