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The Essence of Technology and the Holocaust

35

As Hitlers expansionist programme for the East materialized as war on a second


front (Operation Barbarossa), new strains began to burden the concentration camps
in the East. Initially, Himmlers Einsatzgruppen combed through the villages and
towns left in the wake of the Blitzkrieg advancing toward Moscow in an almost ad hoc
implementation of the Nazi policy of extermination. Soon however, large numbers of
Russian POWs were in need of accommodation. Suddenly, Auschwitz was revealed/
envisioned as a site which would have to accommodate up to 100,000 Russian POWs.
While the mortality rate was already quite high due to the appalling conditions and the
ravages of disease in such a festering cesspit, a more reliably systematic mortal intervention was required. At the same time, plans were already taking shape to begin the
extermination of Jews from all German territories, which in effect meant all of Europe
since Germanys expansionist plans seemed to account for the entire continent, with
estimations of the number of Jews in all European countries to be covered by the terms
of the Final Solution already made available for the Wannsee Conference in 1942.
Camp Commander Fritzsch, acting on a hunch, decided one day to experiment
with the pesticide Zyklon B (which the camps had in copious supply for the purposes
of delousing and fumigating premises) in an attempt to efficiently dispose of a number
of Russian POWs:24
While I [Hss] was on an official trip, my second in command, Camp Commander
Fritzsch, experimented with gas for these killings. He used a gas called Cyclon B,
prussic acid, which was often used as an insecticide in the camp to exterminate
lice and vermin. There was always a supply on hand. When I returned Fritzsch
reported to me about how he had used the gas. We used it again to kill the next
transport. The gassing was carried out in the basement of Block 11. I viewed the
killings wearing a gas mask for protection. Death occurred in the crammed-full
cells immediately after the gas was thrown in. Only a brief choking outcry and it
was all over. The first gassing of people did not really sink into my mind. Perhaps
I was much too impressed by the whole procedure At the time I really didnt
waste any thoughts about the killing of the Russian POWs. It was ordered; I had
to carry it out. But I must admit openly that the gassings had a calming effect on
me, since in the near future the mass annihilation of the Jews was to begin. Up to
that point it was not clear to me, nor to Eichmann, how the killing of the expected
masses was to be done. Perhaps by gas? But how, and what kind of gas? Now we
had discovered the gas and the procedure.25

After a period of time, in a sealed chamber, and with sufficient tinkering with the
amount of Zyklon B needed, Fritzsch determined that they could successfully kill a
whole roomful of people more or less effortlessly. These prisoners were revealed, even
to this relative nobody within the regime, in such a way that they were vermin to be
disposed of no differently to pests or vermin at a factory complex; they were revealed
to him as a problem which he and others needed to solve. Why else would it even
occur to this military man to experiment with the canisters of powder (which had
an entirely different function) in such a way? Of course, one might rejoin, and they
would be justified to an extent, that this accounts only for the how of the killing; what
is not as clear is why these people would have appeared to Fritzsch as non-people.