Gas Chamber I and Incinerator Room at Auschwitz

N ot counting its annexes and 45 satellite camps, the original site of Auschwitz near the town of Oświęcim in Poland is one of the few places on Earth where the horror of what happened during World War II was felt from perimeter to perimeter. Of the 1.3 million people sent to this concentration camp, at least 1,100,000 — the number is displayed in full purposely — people died; and approximately 90 percent of those people were murdered simply because they had the unmitigated audacity to be Jewish.

Gas Chamber I and Incinerator Room at Auschwitz

WARNING: Before continuing to read this article, please be forewarned that the article contains subject matter which may not be suitable to all audiences. Reader discretion is advised.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

I had already wandered around both main parts of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp — a shuttle bus continuously takes passengers back and forth between what were once known as Stammlager and Vernichtungslager Birkenau at no extra charge — and the final part of my visit was the building which housed the gas chamber on the northern tip of the original Auschwitz.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

The small windows on the nondescript building were covered with an iron grating which has rusted over the years.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

A closer view of one of those windows gives little clue to the horrors which once occurred inside this building — save for that aforementioned rusted grating.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

After I walked through the open door, which had a peephole built into it…

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

…I looked out that same window from the inside and noticed two people hugging each other in an act of comfort to compose themselves after viewing what they saw inside of this building.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Cracked concrete ceilings aided in hiding the secret of the atrocities which were committed for years within the building.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

This small room near the entrance was a storage room for spare gratings.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Just beyond this door was once both a washroom and a room which was used to store the ashes of incinerated corpses. A wall once blocked the view to the rear of this chamber, which was the actual gas chamber and morgue.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

If only these walls — tired and broken — could talk…

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Lethal gas was created by exposing Zyklon B pellets — which were dropped into what unsuspecting victims may have believed were shower facilities — to air. Some remnants of objects such as pipes and electrical conduits still remain in this closer view of the actual gas chamber.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Up to as many as 6,000 Jewish people were killed per day at Auschwitz by being gassed.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

This doorway leads from the gas chamber to the incineration area.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Four brick ovens were used to incinerate the dead bodies.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Wheeled carts on tracks attached to large metal rails were used to efficiently insert the dead bodies into the ovens.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

This metal device on rails was used to transport the carts to their respective ovens.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

A closer look reveals that one rail is missing from the top of this device, on which a wheel was used to rotate the carts at 90 degree angles to turn them from one track to another.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

To think of how much meticulous thought and detail was invested in the design of this operation specifically to kill and incinerate thousands of bodies of innocent human beings is incredulous, mind-boggling, flabbergasting and beyond the scope of comprehension and reasoning.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

The doors to the ovens in which each dead body was inserted were open, revealing a screen door; and underneath those doors are doors in which the fuel — coke, which was stored in a room behind the ovens adjacent to an office — was supplied.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

A closer view of one of the oven doors shows the details of the construction of the oven — including the two latches used to seal the doors shut.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

The ceilings over the oven areas probably darkened from years of soot collecting on them.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

A grassy knoll helped to conceal the building which contained the gas chamber — but the chimney used to emit the smoke from the incinerated bodies is not exactly inconspicuous. This chimney was most likely the one through which the mother of a little girl — as told in a sad story by an elderly woman who survived the Holocaust — passed through in the form of smoke.

gas chamber Auschwitz-Birkenau

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Visitors file into the building. When I was finished photographing the interior of the building, I stepped back into a corner where the ovens are located and simply watched visitor after visitor file past the ovens. Some had their hands over their mouths. Some gasped at the realization of just what happened in this building. Some had dismayed faces which revealed bitter pain. Some were furious and doing everything they could to control and contain their anger. Some openly wept. Others just quietly walked past, emotionless.

Not one person said a word.

Summary

I visited Auschwitz on the eve of Yom HaShoah — which is also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day— on Sunday, April 23, 2017; and plan to impart my experience through several articles in a loose series. This article pertains to the gas chamber and incinerator room, to which a politician visited and recorded on video — which led to controversy, for which he later apologized.

I also wrote a trip report pertaining to my visit to Dachau eleven years ago in two articles with photographs, split into part one and part two.

As difficult as is reading this subject matter — and even more so actually visiting the site — it is important to never forget; and wish for the day to come when people no longer commit such heinous and violent acts on fellow human beings.

All photographs ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

4 thoughts on “Gas Chamber I and Incinerator Room at Auschwitz”

  1. Cathy Krasnianski says:

    Thank you for posting this.

  2. ES says:

    I too thank you for posting this and for the photos. I was at Auschwitz-Birkenow in October 2016, on a gloomy day when the skies above were clouded over. Little light made its way into any of the buildings and certainly no sunshine. Because I had fallen behind the group I was with, I heard little of the commentary on the crematorium. I was also very focused on my wish to chant to traditional “kaddish,” a prayer said by mourners, so while I walked through and took in the experience, I was simultaneously searching for a quiet corner where I could recite the prayer. Your photos and explanations filled in some gaps for me.

    But what surprised me the most were how filled with light your photos are! I remember dark rooms and difficulty seeing. Either the curators of the site added more light between October and April; you used a good flash; or my emotional reaction led me to perceive a murky, dusty darkness through which I had to squint to see. I was also diagnosed with cataracts on my return, and was told that they can be most obscuring in low light. Whatever it was, the crematorium I saw was not flooded in light and as such perhaps was a more accurate depiction of the conditions during WW2.

    Your readers might also want to know that this was a very earlier crematorium, dating to 1941. As the “final solution” was defined and implemented, the Nazis needed bigger, more efficient means. So they designed much larger crematoria for Birkenow and the other camps; incinerating bodies one by one wasn’t going to get them to 6,000,000 fast enough. Like you, I typed out the number in full on purpose, although to be fair, hundreds of thousands of those murdered were shot, died of starvation, or succumbed to illness. Bodies were also burned on big pyres in pits at Crematorium V at Aucshwitz II – Birkenow.

    For more info, look here: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/crematoria-and-gas-chambers-at-auschwitz-birkenau

    Thank you again for sharing your visit and your photos.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you for providing that excellent information, ES. I appreciate it.

      As for the lighting, I am sure that has not changed. I simply rested the camera on a stanchion — using it as a temporary tripod — to keep the camera still while opening the lens longer to allow more light to enter; or I would use a wall as support.

      I used the camera similarly when photographing Dachau; and you left a comment in this article:

      http://thegate.boardingarea.com/dachau-a-photographic-essay/

      If you look at the eighth photograph from the top — of the room with the “shower” heads — that room was practically pitch black had it not been for two small windows which were behind me…

  3. Yanky Gancz says:

    I was there in mid March. I found the experience extremely unsettling as all my grandparents were war survivors. All of them had lost family in the camps. When you described the emotions of people filing through the gas chambers, I must say that I experienced a cacophony of all those feelings while I was there. The feelings of the utter hopelessness that people must have felt while they ended their life’s journey in this ghastly place is almost to much for me to bear.

    A small ironic note; I found it a bit tacky and tasteless that there’s an entry fee to a place that 1,100,000 people were gassed and cremated free of charge while many hundreds of thousands of others were treated with less dignity than a dead insect.

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