|A gas chamber is an apparatus for killing humans or animals with gas, consisting of a sealed chamber into which a poisonous or asphyxiant gas is introduced. The most commonly used poisonous agent is hydrogen cyanide; carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide have also been used.|
Gas chambers were used as a method of execution for condemned prisoners in the United States beginning in the 1920s. During the Holocaust, large-scale gas chambers designed for mass killing were used by Nazi Germany as part of their genocide program, and also by the Independent State of Croatia at the Jasenovac concentration camp. The use of gas chambers has also been reported in North Korea.
Gas chambers were used in the Third Reich as part of the "public euthanasia program" aimed at eliminating physically and mentally retarded people and political undesirables in the 1930s and 1940s. In June 1942 many hundreds of prisoners of Neuengamme concentration camp, amongst which 45 Dutch communists, were gassed in Bernburg. At that time, the preferred gas was carbon monoxide, often provided by the exhaust gas of gasoline-powered cars, trucks or army tanks.
During the Holocaust, gas chambers were designed to accept large groups as part of the Nazi policy of genocide against the Jews. Nazis also targeted the Romani people, homosexuals, physically and mentally disabled, intellectuals and the clergy. According to Nizkor Project (Hebrew: נִזְכּוֹר), on September 3, 1941, 600 Soviet POWs were gassed with Zyklon B at Auschwitz camp I; this was the first experiment with the gas at Auschwitz.
According to a website run by Jürgen Langowski, an anti-Nazi German activist, Carbon monoxide was also used in large purpose-built gas chambers, like chambers in Treblinka extermination camp. The gas was in exhaust gas from internal combustion engines.
Gas chambers in vans, concentration camps, and extermination camps were used to kill several million people between 1941 and 1945. Some stationary gas chambers could kill 2,000 people at once. The use of gas chambers during the Holocaust was attested to by several sources including the Vrba-Wetzler report and testimony from Rudolf Höss, Commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and other German soldiers.
The gas chambers were dismantled or destroyed when Soviet troops got close, except at Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Majdanek. The gas chamber at Auschwitz I was reconstructed after the war as a memorial, but without a door in its doorway and without the wall that originally separated the gas chamber from a washroom. The door that had been added when the gas chamber was converted into an air raid shelter was left intact.