The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Brandenburg & the first operational gas chamber

"The old prison in Brandenburg on the Havel [transcription note: near Berlin] was history's first operational killing center. [19] The Brandenburg facility was probably chosen by T4 for its convenient location. Its first director was Adolf Gustav Kaufmann, chief of the T4's Inspector's Office, who supervised the work needed to transform the prison into a killing center. As soon as remodeling was finished, Kaufmann turned over the installation to Irmfried Eberl, the physician-in-charge. [21]

The actual killing facility was located on the ground floor; a number of rooms were used for receiving and collecting the arriving patients, undressing them, and presenting them to the physicians. The gas chamber and the crematorium were on the same floor. The Brandenburg gas chamber was disguised as a shower room, but at first no showerheads were installed and patients were therefore told that they were entering an "inhalation room" for therapeutic reasons. Only later were showerheads added. A small adjacent room served as storage for the carbon monoxide tanks, and, from there, physicians could operate the valve that allowed the gas to enter the gas chamber.[22] The crematorium was located next to the gas chamber and consisted of two mobile ovens attached to the chimney of the building and heated with oil. But the chimney was too low for this task, and flames often escaped from the top. In addition, an unpleasant smell of burning flesh engulfed the city. In about July 1940, the crematorium was moved due to these problems. The mobile ovens were set up in an isolated house surrounded by a high wooden fence and located about three miles from town, and the corpses were driven there in a post office van at night.[23]" (Friedlander, 88-90)

Grafeneck was next: "Apparently ninety-five patients were gassed at Grafeneck during January 1940 (NARA, RG338, Microfilm Publication T-1021, roll 18, "Hartheim Statistics," p. 2), and the first victims on 20 January were about forty persons from Eglfing-Haar (Morlok, Grafeneck, p.41)." (Friedlander)

Hartheim (located in Alkoven, not far from Linz, and near the Mauthausen concentration camp) followed in May, 1940: "Offices and staff quarters were located on the upper floors of Hartheim Castle, while the killing installation occupied the ground floor, which surrounded an inner courtyard. A high fence at the west gate, through which the busses entered, blocked the view for outsiders, and a fence inside the courtyard hid the crematorium from arriving patients. Various rooms for receiving, examining, and undressing patients lined the courtyard. The gas chamber, located on the east side of the courtyard, was disguised as a shower room and had a capacity of up to 150 persons; as usual, the gassing process was activated from an adjacent room. At least two crematoria, one located in a room on the east side of the courtyard and one in the courtyard itself, were available for burning the corpses. The heavy smoke from the crematoria could be observed at some distance, and the smell of burning flesh pervaded the region; during the night, the staff carted the ashes to the Danube River and dumped them there.[32]" (Friedlander)


19. Although we have seen that the killing center at Brandenburg was operational for the experimental gassing in January 1940 at the latest, the first "regular" gassing of patients does not seem to have taken place prior to February 1940. See NARA, RG338, Microfilm Publication T-1021, Roll 18, "Hartheim Statistics," p. 2.

21. GStA Frankfurt, Anklage Adolf Gustav Kaufmann, Js 16/63(GStA), 27 June 1966, p.29, GStA Frankfurt, Anklage Ullrich, Bunke, Borm und Endruweit, Js (GStA), 15 January 1965, p.179.

22. Ibid. pp. 176-77

23. Ibid. pp. 177-78, 183-84 (Testimony of Erich Sporleder).

32. AMM, 13/15/3: Auszug aus der Pfarrerchronik Alkoven; Florian Zehethofer, "Das Euthanasieprogram im Dritten Reich am Beispiel Schloss Hartheim (1938-1945)" Oberroesterreich Heimatblaetter 32 (1978): 42-62, esp. 53-55; DOEW, file E18370/3: Kriminalpolizei Linz, interrogation Vincenz Nohel, 4 Sept. 1945; DOEW, file 11440: StA Linz, Anklage Franz Stangl, Karl Harrer, Leopold Land und Franz Mayrhuber, 3 St 446/46, 24 Apr. 1948, p.5.

Work Cited

Friedlander, Henry. The Origins of Nazi Genocide. Chapel Hill & London: University of North Carolina Press, 1995

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