Most of the major Nazi concentration camps standing today still have their crematoria on public display. A visitor is struck by the similarity of the ovens, made by a German firm Topf and Söhne in Erfurt. The firm’s name is on furnaces found at Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen, Gross-Rosen, and Auschwitz (all ovens seen in the photos below). Complicitous German technicians like Kurt Prüfer, the company’s senior engineer, made on-site visits to camps to improve the ovens’ efficiency. When Soviet authorities questioned Prüfer in 1946 while in custody and asked him why he did his work, the engineer responded: “I had my contract with the Topf firm and I was aware of the fact that my work was of great importance for the national socialist state. I knew that if I refused to continue with this work, I would be liquidated by the Gestapo.”
When asked why he worked to improve the furnaces during the war years, another Topf engineer in Soviet custody, Kurt Sander, said, “I was a German engineer and key member of the Topf works and I saw it as my duty to apply my specialist knowledge in this way in order to help Germany win the war, just as an aircraft construction engineer builds airplanes in wartime, which are also connected with the destruction of human beings.” Clearly, men like Sander and Prüfer knowingly helped the Nazi state develop the most efficient system possible of cremating human cadavers, fully aware that imprisoned persons were being burned daily at the camps.
The ovens usually are found in big barren rooms in large brick buildings, always located some distance from the barracks. Gas chambers, if there were gas chambers at the camp, are either in the same building or nearby. The ovens nearly all follow the same design, with heavy steel doors and solid brick foundations. The Nazis dynamited two large crematoria and gas chambers at Birkenau, in an attempt to hide their crimes from the Soviet army. At every crematoria I visited in four countries, flowers or burning candles sit in the sliding trays of the opened oven doors. Terezin’s crematorium had a wall full of memorial plaques. Those burned in the ovens included Jews, Soviet POWS, communists, intellectuals and political prisoners, dangerous priests and ministers who spoke up against the Nazis — Dachau had thousands — other prisoners of war, and citizens from every country in Europe. Please click on each image for a larger view with the lightbox tool. Note, photographs were taken in 2000 and 2001.