Bunker 1 and Bunker 2 gas chambers

Ruins of "the little white house" at the Birkenau camp, October 2005

While four new gas chamber buildings were still under construction in the Auschwitz II camp, also known as Birkenau, the first gas chamber in Birkenau was put into operation on March 20, 1942 in a thatched-roof cottage, formerly owned by a Polish peasant, according to the book "Auschwitz 1270 to the Present" by Robert Jan van Pelt. This cottage, located just outside the northern boundary at the western end of the Birkenau camp and hidden behind a grove of birch trees, was called "the little red house," but it was officially known as Bunker 1. The "little red house" was torn down in 1943 after four homicidal gas chambers, located in the new crematoria buildings, were put into use at Birkenau.

Another cottage known as the "little white house," but officially called Bunker 2, was first used for gassing the Jews in June 1942. The ruins of Bunker 2, located just outside the western border of the Birkenau camp, are shown in the photo above. A sign that was erected at the site by the Auschwitz Museum states that the "little white house" was divided into four rooms of different sizes. From 1942 until the Spring of 1943, according to the sign, this small house was used for gassing the Jews, before the four new gas chambers in the crematoria buildings at Birkenau were completed.

The bodies of the Jews who were gassed in the "little red house" and the "little white house" were buried in mass graves, near the location of the mass graves of the Russian POWs, who were the first prisoners at Birkenau.

In May 1941, Otto Moll was transferred from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp to Birkenau where he was put in charge of digging the mass graves. Robert E. Conot, the author of "Justice at Nuremberg" described Otto Moll as "a drunken, one-eyed, twenty-seven-year-old trumpeter, gardener, and pig farmer."

Otto Moll

All the bodies had to be dug up later and burned on pyres because the corpses were contaminating the ground water at Birkenau. The mass graves of the prisoners who died in the typhus epidemic in the summer of 1942 were in the same location. Robert Conot wrote that "Moll was placed in charge of 150 inmates set to exhuming and incinerating the bodies on open pyres." This work took several months to complete, according to Conot, who also wrote that "In June and August of 1942, typhus epidemics devastated Auschwitz." Moll himself contracted typhus before the excavation was completed.

Gas chamber at Auschwitz main camp was in crematorium building

Prior to the use of Bunker 1 and Bunker 2 for gassing, the Jews had been killed with poison gas in the morgue of the crematorium in the main Auschwitz camp, shown in the photo above.

According to a book entitled "Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp" edited by Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum:

... the gassing operation was extended to nearby Birkenau owing to the small capacity of the gas chamber and ovens in Auschwitz and the difficulties in camouflaging the proceedings. The move signaled the implementation of the Nazi plan to exterminate European Jews and coincided with the arrival of the first Jewish transports.

The Nazis used a poison gas called Zyklon-B for killing the Jews in Bunker 1 and Bunker 2, the same gas that was also used for killing lice in the disinfection chambers where the prisoners clothing was deloused in an attempt to prevent typhus which is spread by lice. In the summer of 1942, a typhus epidemic got started at the Birkenau camp after lice was brought into the camp by civilian workers. In an effort to keep the epidemic from spreading to the barracks of the SS soldiers who guarded the camp, the Nazis began delousing the prisoner clothing.

According to the book "Auschwitz 1270 to the Present," a total of 200,000 Jews were gassed in 1942 in the "little white house" and the "little red house," also known as Bunkers 1 and 2. Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss wrote in his memoirs that 800 Jews could be killed during each gassing in Bunker 1 and 1200 in Bunker 2. The gas chamber in the main Auschwitz camp had a maximum capacity of 900 persons, according to Höss.

Starting in February 1942, Jews began arriving at Auschwitz on trains from all over Europe. On July 4, 1942 a selection process began on a wooden ramp, called the Judenrampe, near the Auschwitz train station. Those who were not selected to work were then taken by trucks to Bunker 1 or Bunker 2 which were located around 2.5 kilometers from the ramp where selections were made. Coincidentally, the first typhus epidemic at Auschwitz started around this same date, and on July 23, 1942, the Birkenau camp was quarantined.

An article in a book edited by Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, entitled "Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp," describes how the gassing took place in Bunker 1 and Bunker 2 after the Jews arrived at the Judenrampe in 1942:

When transports arrived at night, the victims were hauled in trucks to the killing site. During the day, trucks were only used to transport victims who were unable to walk the distance on their own. The able-bodied were marched past the barracks of the Birkenau camp then under construction and across the meadows, where building sector 3 was later erected. The SS men who escorted the victims sometimes engaged them in innocent conversation aimed at putting the victims off guard. The marching column was accompanied by a car with the emblem of the Red Cross. The car carried the poison gas under SS guard. It also carried an SS doctor with medicines and an oxygen bottle for use in an emergency, such as the accidental poisoning of SS men taking part in the gassing.

Upon arrival, the victims were told that before taking up residence in the camp they had to go to the bath and undergo delousing. They were also told to remember the spot where they left their effects. They were told to undress, either in the barracks or outside behind the hedges. From there, under a rain of blows and attack dogs, they were chased into the gas chamber. Those who could not be accommodated were shot, or in instances where there were a large number of people, they were held naked in the barracks until the gas chamber was emptied.

According to the sign at the site of the ruins of the "little white house," this small gas chamber building was reopened in May 1944 when the Hungarian Jews began arriving in large numbers. By that time, the four new homicidal gas chambers were fully operational, but additional gas chambers were needed to handle the arrival of 437,402 Hungarian Jews, many of whom were sent directly to the gas chambers without going through a "selection" process in which those able to work were allowed to live for awhile.

Dr. Miklos Nyiszli was among the Hungarian Jews who arrived at Birkenau in May 1944. After the war, he wrote a book entitled "Auschwitz, A Doctor's Eyewitness Account." He described "a peasant house, once painted yellow and covered with thatch, whose windows had been replaced by planks" near "number four crematorium," which could only be the house known as Bunker 2 since Bunker 1 had been torn down in 1943. However, in his book, Dr. Nyiszli referred to the four crematoria buildings at Birkenau as number 1, 2, 3 and 4. So this location would have been near Crematorium V or Krema V, according to the numbering system used by the Nazis, since Krema I was in the main camp. This is confusing because it was "the little red house" that was near Krema V; in 1944, "the little red house" had already been torn down.

The description of the house, from the book by Dr. Nyiszli, is as follows:

Passing through the gate, we reached an open place which resembled a courtyard, in the middle of which stood a thatched-roof house whose plaster was peeling off. Its style was that of a typical German country house, and its small windows were covered with planks. As a matter of fact, it no doubt had been a country house for at least 150 years, to judge by its thatched roof, which had long since turned black, and its often replastered flaking walls.

[...]

In any case it was now used as an undressing room for those on their way to the pyre. It was here that they deposited their shabby clothes, their glasses, and their shoes.

It was here that the "surplus" from the "Jewish ramp" was sent, that is, those for whom there was no room in the four crematoriums.

According to Dr. Nyiszli, the Jews were not gassed in the house. The following is his account of what happened to the victims:

In the courtyard a terrified crowd of about 5,000 souls; on all sides thick cordons of SS, holding leashed police dogs. The prisoners were led, three or four hundred at a time, into the undressing room. There, hustled by a rain of truncheon blows, they spread out their clothes and left by the door at the opposite side of the house, yielding their places to those who were to follow. Once out the door, they had no time even to glance around them or to realize the horror of their situation.

[...]

At the end of the pathway two Sonderkommando men seized the victims by the arms and dragged them for 15 or 20 yards into position before the SS. Their cries of terror covered the sound of the shots. A shot, then, immediately afterwards, even before he was dead, the victim was hurled into the flames.

According to Dr. Nyiszli, "the majority of the men were thrown alive into the flames." Elie Wiesel, in his book entitled "Night," corroborates this story with an account of how he and his father narrowly escaped being burned alive.

Elizabeth Mann, a Hungarian survivor who speaks at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, CA is among those who have confirmed that children were burned alive at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Alter Feinsilber, a member of the Sonderkommando at Birkenau who worked under Otto Moll's supervision, mentioned Moll in his testimony for the prosecution in a Krakow court:

It happened that some prisoners offered resistance when about to be shot at the pit or that children would cry and then SS Quartermaster Sergeant Moll would throw them alive into the flames of the pit.

Moll was not on trial in Krakow, but any and all testimony was allowed in the Allied war crimes trials, whether or not it pertained to the case.

Otto Moll was transferred to a sub-camp of Dachau after Auschwitz-Birkenau was abandoned by the SS on January 18, 1945. On April 28, 1945, one day before the Dachau camp was liberated by American soldiers, Moll arrived at the main camp, along with a group of prisoners that he had led on an evacuation "death march." Moll was put on trial by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau in November 1945; he was charged with not allowing the prisoners to escape from the death march, which was a war crime, according to the Allies. He was executed on May 28, 1946 at the Landsberg am Lech prison.

While he was a prisoner at Landsberg am Lech, awaiting his execution after being convicted at Dachau, Moll requested that he be allowed to confront his former boss, Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz, who was undergoing interrogation for the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, where he was a defense witness for Ernst Kaltenbrunner, one of the men on trial. The prosecution had finished its case at Nuremberg by this time, so it was too late for Moll to be a prosecution witness who could potentially testify that Hoess was lying.

The following is a quote from the transcript of the joint interrogation of Hoess and Moll on April 16, 1946 at Nuremberg, in which Moll denies being responsible for gassing Jews in the two farmhouses known as Bunker 1 and Bunker 2 at Birkenau:

Questions directed to Rudolf Hoess

Q. What did this Otto Moll do at Sachsenhausen and later at Auschwitz?
A. In Sachsenhausen he was a gardener and later at Auschwitz he was used as a leader of a work detail and later on he was used as a supervisor during the various actions.
Q. You mean the actions whereby people were executed and later cremated?
A. Yes.
Q. You told us this morning about his first assignment in 1941 when farm buildings were converted into an extermination plant. Will you restate what you said about that?
A. At first he worked on the farm and then I later moved him into the farm house, which was used as a professional extermination plant.

Questions directed to Otto Moll

Q. Otto Moll, is what the witness has just said true?
A. First, I was used in work in connection with the excavation of the mass graves. Hoess must know that. He is in error if he said that I worked in the buildings where the gassing was carried out. At first I was used for the excavation of the mass graves and he must remember that. Hoess, do you remember Swosten, Blank, Omen, Hatford and Garduck? Those are the people who worked in the building at the time when you alleged I worked there and I was working on excavations. Surely Hoess remembers that.

In October 2005, a sign near the ruins of Krema V informed visitors that corpses were burned in pits in the vicinity of Krema V. The ovens in Krema IV and Krema V broke down frequently, according to information provided by the Auschwitz Museum, and the bodies had to be burned outside.

The photo below was taken by a member of the Sonderkommando in May 1944 when the ovens in Krema V broke down and the bodies had to be burned outside. In the background on the left is the barbed wire fence around the northern boundary of the Birkenau camp. This was one of three photographs taken by the prisoners and sneaked out of the camp.

Burning bodies near Krema V, May 1944

The Sonderkommando men were the Jews who worked in the crematoria, removing the bodies of those who had been gassed. According to Dr. Nyiszli, the Sonderkommando men were killed every four months and replaced by a new group of Jews, in order to prevent eye-witness testimony to the gassing of the Jews.

In the book entitled "Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp," it is mentioned that Bunker 1 was earmarked for the purpose of gassing the Jews when Adolf Eichmann first visited Auschwitz in 1941. This was the occasion when the first gassing with Zyklon-B took place in the Auschwitz main camp in one of the prison cells in Block 11 on September 3, 1941. However, other sources say that Eichmann was not in Auschwitz that day.

Beginning September 16, 1941, there were regular gassings of Jews in the morgue room of the crematorium at the main Auschwitz camp, later designated as Krema I, according to the book entitled "Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp." However, it was not until February 1942 that mass transports of Jews began arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In the book "Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp," edited by Gutman and Berenbaum, Bunker 1 is described as follows:

"It was an unplastered brick building with a tile roof (which explains its nickname, the "little red house"). It measured 15 m long and 6.3 m wide. As part of the remodeling, its windows were bricked up. Only small openings remained, which could be closed with flaps sealed at the edges with felt. The number of inner rooms was reduced from four to two. Each had only one door with a sign "Zur Disinfektion" (To Disinfection). The doors were made of wooden beams and sealed at the edges with felt. There were no peepholes. The doors could be shut by tightening two bolts that doubled as door handles. The interior walls of the two rooms were painted white, and the floors were strewn with sawdust. The building was surrounded by fruit trees. Nearby stood a barn and two barracks that were constructed during conversion work.

Bunker 1 and Bunker 2 were in a remote wooded area at the western end of the Birkenau camp. The fact that "the floors were strewn with sawdust" might be an indication that the little red house had no running water, making it hard to clean the floors after each gassing.

Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum's book describes Bunker 2 as follows:

It was housed in a brick building that was thatched and plastered (and therefore nicknamed by the prisoners the "little white house"). It was bigger than the first building, measuring 17.07 m by 8.34 m. Like the first building, its windows were bricked up, with only small openings covered with wooden flaps. It had four rooms of different sizes, each with its own entrance and exit. The doors were the same as the doors in bunker 1. As part of the conversion work the wooden ceiling was replaced with concrete.

According to Shlomo Dragon, a Sonderkommando survivor who worked at Bunker 2 from December 1942 to the spring of 1943, there was a sign on the inside of the door into the gas chamber which said "Zum Baden" (To the Baths). This was the side of the open door that the victims saw when they entered. On the exit door was a sign which said "Zur Disinfektion." There were undressing rooms in three wooden barrack buildings near the Bunkers, according to Gutman and Berenbaum's book, "Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp" which includes a quote from Shlomo Dragon.

The German name for a disinfection chamber is "Gaskammer." There were 19 delousing chambers in the administration building at the main camp, which were denoted by the term "Gaskammer" on the blueprint of the building. Two brick buildings in the women's camp at Birkenau were also used for delousing with Zyklon-B.

In the spring of 1943, a large brick building, known as "die Zentrale Sauna" (Central Sauna), was opened as a disinfection facility; it was located a few yards from Bunker 2, which was closed around the same time that the Central Sauna was opened. A number of small iron chambers in this building were used to kill lice with hot steam, which explains the name "Sauna." In the same building were also disinfection chambers which used hot air to kill the lice in the prisoner's clothing.

The Central Sauna had a large communal shower room with 50 showerheads for the use of the inmates. The location of the Central Sauna was directly across the road from the clothing warehouses, in close proximity to the Krema IV homicidal gas chamber, and only a few yards east of the ruins of the "little white house."

Elizabeth Mann, a Hungarian survivor who spoke at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in 1998, said that every time the women were taken to the Central Sauna for a shower, they never knew whether water or gas would come out of the shower nozzles. The movie Schindler's List shows women prisoners at Birkenau coming out of the Central Sauna after a shower, and looking over at the chimney of the nearby Krema IV where the bodies of those who were gassed were being burned.

Gas chamber door at Birkenau, February 1945

The photograph above is a still shot from a movie taken in early February 1945 by the Soviet Union after Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated on January 27, 1945. This is probably a door into a disinfection chamber at Birkenau, since all of the homicidal gas chambers at Birkenau had already been blown up by the Nazis, before the Soviet soldiers arrived, in an effort to destroy the evidence of their systematic plan to exterminate the Jews. In the movie taken by the Soviet Union, which is shown to visitors at the Auschwitz Museum in the main camp, this door is identified as a gas chamber (Gaskammer) door.

According to a book entitled "The Holocaust Chronicle," the words on the door read "Harmful gas! Entering endangers your life!" However, according to the book, this was the back door to a homicidal gas chamber, and the front door used by the victims had a sign identifying this building as a shower room.

The U.S. Holocaust Museum says that a total of 405,222 prisoners were registered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but those who were sent directly to the gas chambers at Birkenau upon arrival were never registered.

In a book by Birkenau camp secretary Lore Shelley, entitled "Secretaries of Death," the author states that some prisoners who were registered were later "selected" for the gas chamber; the words "Sonder-Behandlung" (abbreviated to SB) were put on their prison file card. In English, this means "special-handling" which was the Nazi code word for gassing.

According to a book entitled "Auschwitz" which I purchased in the Auschwitz museum:

"The majority of the people sent in these transports (to Birkenau), especially the Jews, were murdered in gas chambers directly on arrival; their names never appeared in the camp records, so it is very difficult to determine precisely how many there were."

The book "Auschwitz" also states the following:

"Some groups of prisoners had their numbers tattooed on them; from 1943, most prisoners (though never Germans, unless they were Jewish) were tattooed with their numbers, generally on the left forearm. In all, more than 400,000 people, members of all the national and ethnic groups mentioned above, were allocated numbers, of whom about one-half died. Few lived longer than six months: they died from starvation, disease, the rigours of hard labour, beatings, torture, and summary execution - by shooting, hanging, or gassing."

 

Gas Chambers in Krema II and Krema III

Gas Chambers in Krema IV and Krema V

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This page was last updated on March 17, 2007