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Update on the Theresienstadt Gas Chamber(s)

By Thomas Kues

In a recent posting [1] I published a news item from Aufbau dated 6 July 1945. In this we read that the Germans had been constructing homicidal gas chambers at the Theresienstadt (Terezin) Ghetto, but that the plan to gas the remaining Jews in the ghetto had been thwarted in the last minute by the victorious Red Army. I concluded my presentation of this remarkably silly propaganda story by writing that “no one has ever since spoken of gas chambers in Theresienstadt”. In this, however, I was wrong. A correspondent has pointed out for me the following passage from British “Holocaust” historian Martin Gilbert’s book Holocaust Journey [2]:

We return to See Strasse and continue along it to the end, to another bastion, Block H II in the ghetto years (…). Here, various craft workshops were housed. We look through a fence at the group of outbuildings, which nestle just inside the outer wall of the fortress. It was here, at the beginning of 1945, that a gas chamber was built in an underground passageway. According to rumours circulating at the time, orders came from Berlin that no prisoners should be left alive when the Russians arrived, but Commandant Rahm disobeyed these orders. It is more likely that Rahm made up the story of these orders in order to try to gain credit for having disobeyed them. He was already in touch with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told them of these orders, and then handed the camp over to them. In return, he was allowed to leave unmolested, on the very eve of the arrival of the Russians.

Rahm’s participation in this charade did not save his life. For his cruelty here at Theresienstadt he was sentenced to death by a Special People’s Court in nearby Litomerice after the war, and executed in 1947.

We all look at Ben, who was brought here at the very end of the war, one of 13,000 survivors of the death marches of those final months who were dumped here, starving, sick and bewildered – in wooden barracks on the outskirts of the ghetto, which were pulled down soon after the war. We shudder to think that he could so easily have been one of those killed in the final hours of the war had the gas chamber been activated. With that thought in our minds we are silent as we walk away from the fence. Once more there is a sort of collective sense of the awfulness embodied In the places around us.

We note here the confusing story about the ghetto commandant Rahm – if he had not received an order to kill the remaining inmates, why would he build a gas chamber and at the same time negotiate with the Red Cross? – and that “gas chamber” is mentioned only in singular.

I also found a mention of Theresienstadt gas chambers – this time in plural – in an anonymous online witness account:

During my year in Theresienstadt gas chambers were being built right outside the camp but nobody was actually aware of it – though there may have been rumors. We were aware of the many transports to Auschwitz – quotas had to be filled and many artists, musicians, writers, actors, painters as well as Jewish philosophers and intellectuals were all sent to their death – including one set of my grandparents and many other relatives.

The ARC website states [4]:

A gas chamber was installed in 1945, in a corridor of the fortifications wall near the former Litomerice gate, but not put in action.”

At a German-language “Holocaust” website we find the following information [5]:

Plans for a gas chamber in Theresienstadt

At the beginning of of February 1945 the [ghetto] head engineer alerted the Judenälteste Murmelstein [father to the article’s author] about two spurious construction projects for which there existed no written plans – instead the workers had to follow oral instructions given by SS men. The construction sites were visited by SS officers, but Murmelstein was not called to accompany these visits. In order to question Commandant Rahm on the subject, Murmelstein had to find the proper opportunity, leave instructions to a confidant in case he should be arrested, and describe in the right tone [for Rahm] the posibility and consequences of mass panic. Rahm spoke of instructions to build bomb-proof storage houses and poultry ponds – something which he still maintained before the People’s Court in 1947 – and then broke off the conversation.

Rahm drove straight to Prague and returned three days later with the command to immediately halt the construction works. The power to issue this command – and thus go against Eichmann – was only in the hands Karl Hermann Frank, State Minister for Bohemia and Moravia and Higher SS and Police Leader, who already in February 1945 followed his own policy, in which Theresienstadt played an important role as a bargaining chip.

Thus Rahm apparently denied at his trial the construction of one or more homicidal gas chambers at Theresienstadt.
The claim that the “gas chambers” were constructed following only oral instructions is, needless to say, very convenient to Shoah propagandists, as it more or less gives them a carte blanche to disregard the issue of documentary evidence.

The Scrapbook Pages blog also has an informative post on the subject [6]. Here we learn that the alleged “homicidal gas chamber” was located directly across a barrack housing “a disinfection station where the prisoners and their clothing were deloused”, and that the building supposedly containing it remarkably enough is not marked out anyway by the Terezin museum authorities. In the end the author of the blog post comes off as rather unconvinced of the reality of this “homicidal gas chamber”:

Apparently, the Germans did not use Zyklon-B to disinfect the clothing at Theresienstadt.  Or did they finally decide to use Zyklon-B in the last days of the war when a typhus epidemic broke out in the camp?  Did they set up disinfection chambers in the old fortifications?  The German word for a disinfection chamber, where clothing is deloused with Zyklon-B, is Gaskammer, which means gas chamber.  Is this the gas chamber that the prisoners heard about?  I don’t know, but it’s possible.

I hope to return in the future to the subject of the Theresienstadt “gas chamber(s)”. For now it should suffice to note that the allegation in question apparently rests on a very shaky foundation.


[1] Two Forgotten Propaganda Lies Anno 1945, http://www.revblog.codoh.com/2010/10/two-forgotten-propaganda-lies-anno-1945/ [1]
[2] Martin Gilbert, Holocaust Journey, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London 1997, p. 99f.
[3] My Aunt Remembers: A Story Seen Through The Eyes of an Eight Year Old, http://www.isdisnormal.com/family%20travel%20aspen%20colorado%20vail%20nantucket%20florida%20mexico/remembering-as-a-child/ [2]
[4] Terezin (Theresienstadt), http://www.deathcamps.org/reinhard/terezin.html [3]
[5] Wolf Murmelstein, Theresienstadt – einige wichtige Tatsachen, http://www.shoa.de/holocaust/konzentrations-und-vernichtungslager/452.html [4]
[6] Gas chamber at Theresienstadt…, http://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2010/05/13/gas-chamber-at-theresienstadt/ [5]