Door into Bomb Shelter at Auschwitz

Door into bomb shelter, Sept. 1998

The photograph above shows one of the entrances into the reconstructed Krema I gas chamber at the Auschwitz main camp. This door was added by the Nazis in the fall of 1944 when the gas chamber was converted into an air raid shelter. When I visited Auschwitz in 2005, this door was locked and the tourist entrance was through the original door on the other side of the building, which is shown in the photo below.

Original entrance into the crematorium in the main Auschwitz camp, Sept. 1998

The photo below shows the air raid shelter door, taken from the interior of the gas chamber in 2005. This is a metal door, which has a peephole, but the glass in the peephole is gone now. The peephole was for people on the inside to look out; anyone looking through this peephole from the outside would only be able to see the back wall of the tiny vestibule.

Air raid shelter door that was added in 1944, Oct. 2005

Inside the vestibule, a door on the left opens into the gas chamber, as you can see in the 2005 photo below. The black line on the wall is exposed electrical wiring.

Door into bomb shelter, Oct. 2005

Robert Jan van Pelt & Deborah Dwork wrote in their book "Auschwitz 1270 to the Present," that the routine gassing of humans was inaugurated at Auschwitz I on September 16, 1941 when 900 Soviet Prisoners of War were killed in the mortuary room of the crematorium which had just been converted into a gas chamber. Shortly before that, the mortuary room had been put into service as an execution chamber where Polish political prisoners were shot because the Black Wall, formerly used for executions, proved to be too far away from the crematorium for an efficient system.

Commandant Rudolf Höss described the 1941 gassing of the Soviet Prisoners of War in the following quote from his memoirs:

I have a clearer recollection of the gassing of 900 Russians that took place shortly afterwards in the old crematorium, since the use of block 11 for this purpose caused too much trouble. While the transport was detraining, holes were pierced in the earth and concrete ceiling of the mortuary. The Russians were ordered to undress in an anteroom; they then quietly entered the mortuary, for they had been told they were to be deloused. The whole transport exactly filled the mortuary to capacity. The doors were then sealed and the gas shaken down through the holes in the roof. I do not know how long this killing took. For a little while a humming sound could be heard. When the powder was thrown in, there were cries of "Gas!" then a great bellowing, and the trapped prisoners hurled themselves against both doors. But the doors held. They were opened several hours later so that the place might be aired.

The door into the washroom that is now included in the gas chamber, Oct. 2005

When Höss wrote "both doors," he was referring to the door from the wash room into the gas chamber and the door from the gas chamber into the oven room. The photo above shows the door from the "laying out" (autopsy) room into the washroom, which is shown in the foreground. The reconstructed gas chamber includes the former washroom and the door from the washroom into the gas chamber is no longer in existence. Some visitors today mistakenly think that the door shown in the photo above was the door into the gas chamber, but it is actually the door into the former wash room.

The vestibule shown in the photos at the top of this page, through which tourists entered in 1998, was not there until September 1944 when the gas chamber was converted into an air raid shelter. The victims entered the gas chamber by going through the "laying out" room and then through the washroom, according to the Auschwitz Museum. The reconstructed gas chamber that tourists see today includes the former wash room.

Note that Höss describes the roof of the gas chamber as being covered with "earth and concrete." Today, the gas chamber building has a flat roof with no earth covering it.

The two anterooms that the victims had to enter before going into the gas chamber were the "laying out room" and the washroom, which were not large enough for 900 men to undress.

The description of the "old crematorium" given by Commandant Rudolf Höss, as quoted above, seems to fit the gas chamber in the "mortuary" of Krema II at Birkenau, which had an anteroom where the prisoners undressed. Other witnesses described the roof of the gas chamber in the mortuary of Krema II as being covered by earth and concrete.

Höss described the gas as a "powder," but today visitors are told that the gas was in the form of pellets that were the size of peas.


Start of Gas Chamber Tour

Reconstructed Gas Chamber

Interior of Reconstructed Gas Chamber

Holes in ceiling of gas chamber

Holes on roof of gas chamber

Exterior of Gas Chamber

Introduction to Auschwitz I

Back to Photo Gallery 2


This page was last updated on June 3, 2009