Gas Chambers at Auschwitz

Krema IV and Krema V

Crematorium IV at Birkenau, as it looked in 1943

The photograph above shows the gas chamber building known as Crematorium IV, or Krema IV, taken in the Summer of 1943 after it became operational. This building was blown up by Jewish inmates in a camp rebellion on October 7, 1944. The Krema IV gas chamber, disguised as a shower room, was located above ground in the wing of the building which is to the left in the picture. Note that the roof line of the gas chamber is lower than the roof of the main part of the building. Zyklon-B poison gas pellets were thrown into the fake shower room through windows on the outside wall of the gas chamber.

Krema IV was located just north of the clothing warehouses which were set on fire by the Germans when they abandoned the camp on January 18, 1945.

The photo below is a still photo from a movie made by Henryk Makarewicz, a soldier in the Polish Berlin Army, shortly after the camp was liberated. The clothing warehouses are still burning, and in the background can be seen two chimneys.

Clothing warehouses were still burning when Russians arrived

Photo Credit: USHMM

Samuel Pisar, a survivor of Majdanek, Auschwitz and Dachau, was a prisoner in the Birkenau camp when Crematorium IV was destroyed. In an article in the Washington Post, published on January 23, 2005, Pisar wrote that the prisoners had set fire to buildings at Birkenau.

The following quote is from his article:

I also witnessed an extraordinary act of heroism. The Sonderkommando -- inmates coerced to dispose of bodies -- attacked their SS guards, threw them into the furnaces, set fire to buildings and escaped. They were rapidly captured and executed, but their courage boosted our morale.

Crematorium IV was across the road from the beautiful red brick building, called "die zentrale Sauna" which was used for disinfecting the clothing and for processing the incoming prisoners. Crematorium IV was also near "the little white house," where gassing operations took place, starting in June 1942, before Crematorium IV and the Sauna were completed.

In the movie "Schindler's List," women prisoners are shown exiting from the shower room in the Sauna building; they see the high brick chimney of Crematorium IV, which is across the road from the Sauna. The gas chambers in Crematorium IV and Crematorium V were above ground, although in the movie, the prisoners are shown going down steps into an underground undressing room.

The photo below is from the Auschwitz Album, a book of photos taken by an SS man at Birkenau on May 26, 1944. It shows a group of Hungarian Jews waiting at the western end of the camp; the Central Sauna, where the main shower room was located, is across the road from where the Jews are waiting.

Hungarian women and childen wait near Krema IV

The Sauna was not destroyed by the Nazis and it is the most beautiful building still standing at Birkenau. Located at the western-most boundary of the camp, it was opened to visitors in 2005, after being closed for over 50 years.

The Nazis practiced deception even on the blueprints of their concentration camp buildings. The above ground gas chambers were called "bath houses" or "shower rooms." The building plans for Crematorium IV and Crematorium V show shower rooms, but these rooms were actually gas chambers. Even the Red Cross inspectors were fooled by these fake showers.

Between 29 April 1944 and 8 July 1944, there was a total of 437,402 Hungarian Jews transported by train to Auschwitz-Birkenau; some were immediately gassed without going through a selection process. The next day the survivors were told by the other prisoners that their relatives had gone "durch den Kamin," which means "through the chimney." This was an expresson that meant that the victims had been immediately gassed upon arrival and then burned in the crematoria at Birkenau.

Hungarian women who have been selected to work at Auschwitz-Birkenau

The photo above shows women from a transport of 3,500 Hungarian Jews which arrived at Birkenau on May 26, 1944. Note the freight cars of the transport train in the background.

In the upper right-hand corner of the photo below is what appears to be the gate into the area where the Central Sauna is located. Crematoria IV and V were in the same area as the Sauna. The Jews in this photo appear to be a mixed group with young children and some men and women who were capable of work.

Hungarian Jews wait at the north western end of the Birkenau camp

As at the Majdanek camp, two of the gas chambers at Birkenau were located very near the clothing warehouses: Crematorium IV and Crematorium V were immediately to the north of the area called "Canada" where the clothing warehouses were located. The "Canada" area at Birkenau was outside the barbed wire enclosure for the prisoners and very near the gas chambers, just as at Majdanek.

Directly across the road from the site of the clothing warehouses at Birkenau is the Central Sauna building which had a large shower room for the prisoners, along with delousing equipment. At Majdanek, there is a real shower room in the same building where three homicidal gas chambers are located. The delousing chambers at Majdanek are in another identical building, right next to the gas chamber building that has a shower room.

According to a book from the Auschwitz museum, when the camp was in operation, the clothing warehouses consisted of 30 wooden horse barn buildings in 3 rows of 10; the prisoners nicknamed the area "Canada" because of the abundance of goods stored there. The name "Canada" was first given to a storehouse in the main Auschwitz camp, which was a former theater building outside the camp. This storehouse was located behind the huge administration building which had 19 delousing chambers.

Before they abandoned the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, the Nazis set fire to "Canada" in the Birkenau camp, presumably to prevent the Soviet soldiers from getting all the stored clothing, and all that remains now is the concrete foundations of these 30 buildings. According to a guide book purchased at the Museum, the wooden warehouse buildings burned for 5 days after the Nazis left on January 18, 1945.

A book entitled "The World Must Know" from the U.S. Holocaust Museum states that "Twenty-nine storerooms were burned. In the six that remained, the Soviets discovered 348,820 men's suits, 836,255 women's coats, more than seven tons of human hair, and even 13,964 carpets." The clothing and hair is now displayed in the Auschwitz Museum in the main camp.

The photo below shows a brick building with clothing spilling out the door. This appears to be the Central Sauna building at Birkenau, where the prisoners received clean, disinfected clothing after their shower.

Clothing found at Auschwitz, January 1945

Sauna building at Birkenau where clothing was disinfected

In a book entitled "An Uncertain Hour," the author, Ted Morgan, wrote about a survivor named Otto Abramovic who stayed behind when the Birkenau prisoners were evacuated on January 18, 1945. "He hid out in the area around Canada, which he knew well, and when the Russians arrived on January 27, he was there to greet them, for he spoke some Russian. He became their guide to scenic Canada, with its mountains and rivers - mountains of clothing, mountains of shoes, rivers of hair, rivers of gold teeth." Other sources claim that the Nazis set fire to the buildings in "Canada" before they left.

At the end of October 1944, Heinrich Himmler had ordered gassing with Zyklon-B to be stopped, according to a guide book sold at Auschwitz; the last "selection" of prisoners was on October 30, 1944. This decision, according to the guidebook, was prompted by the liberation of Majdanek and the discovery, by soldiers of the Soviet Union, of the incriminating evidence of 500 cans of Zyklon-B and three remaining gas chambers with blue stains on the walls, left by the gas. His decision was also influenced by the camp uprising when Crematorium IV was blown up by prisoners who used dynamite that had been smuggled in by women inmates who worked in factories outside the camp.

Crematorium V was blown up by the Nazis on Jan. 26, 1945, only the day before the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front arrived to liberate the remaining prisoners. Crematorium V was built outside the barbed wire enclosure of the barracks and across an interior camp road from Crematorium IV.

The little red house, also called Bunker 1, which was used as the first gas chamber at Birkenau, was located north of Crematorium V, close to the mass graves of the prisoners who had died in the typhus epidemic in the camp in 1942 and the graves of the first Jews who were gassed.

The little white house, also known as Bunker 2, which was used as the second temporary gas chamber was located just behind the Sauna building in the vicinity of Crematorium IV.

Gas Chambers in Bunkers 1 and 2

Gas Chambers in Krema II and Krema III

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This page was last updated on January 21, 2008