FRANKFURT (May. 19)
Both SS technicians and concentration camp survivors confirmed before a local court that vast numbers of Jews were put to death with potassium cyanide at the Nazi annihilation camp at Auschwitz and that they saw Dr. Gerhard Peters’ special brand of potassium cyanide in the camp. The defense and the judge made much of the fact however, that the witnesses had not seen the special Peters’ brand being used in the gas chambers.
Dr. Peters an authority on the production of insecticides, managed the “German Corporation for Vermin Extermination” (DEGESCH) during the war and furnished the Auschwitz SS sufficient “Zyklon B” gas crystals to asphyxiate millions of human beings He is on trial for the seventh time in seven years, charged with aiding and abetting murder in 300 000 cases, but continues at liberty as a management executive in a Cologne subsidiary of the IG-Farben chemical empire.
A Jewish pharmacist from Munich Dr. Fritz Strauch, told the court how he had arrived at Auschwitz one September night in 1943. On the railroad platform, a “selection” took place – healthy men in the middle the sick and elderly to the right, women and children to the left – among them his own wife. The prisoners on the left and on the right were put to death in the gas chambers within ten minutes, he later learnt. He was assigned to the camp pharmacy where he remained until Auschwitz was evacuated in January of 1945.
Dr. Strauch thought he recognized Peters as a repeated Auschwitz visitor, but refused to take an oath on this point after eleven years. Among the court exhibits, he identified a “Zyklon B” can as the same type that was stored in the Auschwitz pharmacy, frequently withdrawn by SS men and then replaced by new shipments received from the DEGESCH plant. Yet when pressed by defense counsel to state whether he could positively state that the “Zyklon B” cans were used for the gassings, he was forced to acknowledge that he had not of course, seen the gas chambers in actual operation.
Another witness had watched them in operation. A German political prisoner held at Auschwitz one Roehner was an electrician by trade and one day, while working on cables nearby observed Jewish inmates being herded into the “small crematorium” (which was later enclosed by a brick wail to prevent such peeping). He saw an SS man pouring the contents of potassium cyanide cans into a receptacle above the ceiling. Out of the corner of his eye he watched, horrified, as the pulverized crystals were sprayed into the room through shower-type nozzles and how, a few moments later, everyone in the room choked and writhed in the agony of death. But he, too, could not swear that the cans he had seen being emptied were Dr. Peters’ “Zyklon B” cans.
A third witness, one Dr. Muench an SS physician who behaved decently and was for that reason acquitted by a Polish crimes court at Cracow. He served at Auschwitz as a sanitation expert, charged with halting the spread of typhus. In obvious distress he recalled the summer of 1943 “Gassings upon gassings. Once we had 10,000 people gassed in one night. The hot night the quantity of hard liquor I drank so as to be able to stand it the terrible smell believe it only lasted five minutes, from the moment when the door changed shut until the suction pumps and ventilators began whirring.” He thought that Dr. Peters “Zyklon B” had been used.