Disinfection Building at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Building where clothing was deloused in Birkenau

There are two buildings located on the south side of the Birkenau camp, which were used to delouse the prisoners' clothing with Zyklon-B, the same gas that was used to kill the Jews in the gas chambers. The two buildings are shaped like the letter T and are mirror images of each other. The photo above shows building BW5b which is located in the B1b section of Birkenau on the left side of the camp as you are standing at the entrance gate into the camp. The east wing of the building above was used for delousing.

The second delousing building is BW5a in the B1a section, which is on the other side of the fence on the right in the photo above. The west wing of the BW5a building was used for delousing. Both of these brick buildings also had shower rooms for the prisoners.

On the blueprints of these buildings, the delousing room was called a Gaskammer which means gas chamber in English.

In November 2008, some blueprints of the Birkenau disinfection buildings were found in an apartment in Berlin, as reported in this news story. The blueprints are shown in the photos below.

Blueprint of a Disinfection Building at Birkenau

Detail of blueprint shows "Gaskammer" marked # 1

Blue stains on the right were made by Zyklon-B

The photo above shows the blue stains on the east wing of the BW5a building. These stains, called "Prussian Blue," were the result of heavy use of Zyklon-B. The stains on the outside were made by placing disinfected mattresses against the wall. Both of the disinfection buildings at Birkenau had a chamber that used Zyklon-B and also a hot air apparatus which was used to kill lice. On the blueprint of the building, the disinfection chamber was labeled "Gaskammer," which is the German word for gas chamber.

The photo below shows a close-up of the door in the building shown in the photo above.

Blue stains near door of disinfection building

One of two buildings at Birkenau used to delouse clothing

Disinfection building in B1a section of Birkenau camp

The photo above shows a gate into sections B1a and B1b which are on either side of a road that bisects the entire camp, going from here all the way to the Mexico section on the north side of the camp. The photo below shows a slogan on an interior wall of the building shown above.

Sign painted on interior wall of disinfection building

The sign on the wall inside one of the disinfection buildings reads "Eine Laus dein Tod," which means "One louse your death." The photo of the slogan on the wall was taken by holding a camera with a telephoto lens against the glass of a window near the door of the building, shown at the top of this page. Through another window, I could see standing water inside the building.

The two disinfection buildings at Birkenau were not open to visitors when I visited Birkenau in October 2005; a sign on the door of one of the buildings said "Conservation Works."

In July 1942, a typhus epidemic got started at Birkenau when lice were brought into the camp by civilian workers. Three hundred inmates were dying each day before it could be brought under control. In November 1942, disinfection began in these two brick buildings in the women's camp in an attempt to stop the epidemic.

According to Gerald Reitlinger who wrote a book entitled "The Final Solution," the head of the concentration camps, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, issued an order on December 28, 1942 which stated:

"The death rate in the camps must be reduced at all costs."

The delousing of the clothing was a continuous operation, according to Franciszek Piper, the director of the Auschwitz Museum. After the clothing was hung up in the delousing chamber, Zyklon-B pellets were put on the floor and left for a period of 24 hours before the doors were opened. In contrast, the gassing of the Jews took only 20 minutes, according to Piper.

There were no cremation ovens at Birkenau until 1943 when Krema II, Krema III, Krema IV and Krema V were completed and put into operation. The bodies of the prisoners who died in the epidemic in 1942 were buried in mass graves; they had to be dug up later and burned because the ground water was becoming contaminated.

In December 1942, there were 19 Degesch fumigation chambers, which were designed to use Zyklon-B, installed in the Administration building in the main Auschwitz camp, which is now the Visitor's Center. According to Rudolf Hoess, the first Commandant of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, the disinfection chambers at the Auschwitz main camp were also used for gassing the Jews on one occassion in 1944. In his autobiography entitled "Death Dealer," Hoes wrote the following on page 364:

After the destruction of the Hungarian Jews and the Jews from the Lodz ghetto, it was decided that the sonderkommando who had worked burning the bodies in the ovens of the crematory and during the open-pit cremations should themselves be killed in order to destroy the only witnesses who were in a position to tell what happened. About two hundred of the Sonderkommando were transferred to the main camp at Auschwitz, where they were gassed in the chamber used to disinfect clothing.

Krema I in the main camp was used to burn corpses in the main camp until 1943 when the cremation ovens at Birkenau were put into operation. The bodies of the Sonderkommando prisoners who were gassed in the main camp in 1944 were burned in Krema I, according to Holocaust historian Danuta Czech.

In the Summer of 1943, the Zyklon-B equipment in building BW5a was removed and two small hot air chambers were put in. The photo below, taken in the Central Sauna, shows what the hot air chambers looked like.

Hot air chamber for delousing clothes

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This page was last updated on June 2, 2009