The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

A Study of the Cyanide Compounds Content
in the Walls of the Gas Chambers
in the Former Auschwitz & Birkenau Concentration Camps

Methodology: Part II

To complete this research on the cyanide compound content in various camp facilities, we decided to carry out several pilotage experiments. The renovation of the Institute building, just in progress, provided us with materials for this investigation. We divided particular constituents of these materials (bricks, cement, mortar and plaster) into several 3-4 gram pieces and placed them to glass chambers, in which we generated hydrogen cyanide by reacting potassium cyanide and sulphuric acid. We used high concentrations of this gas (about 2%) and wetted some of the samples with water. Fumigation took 48 hours at a temperature of about 20°C (Table V). Another series of samples were treated with hydrogen cyanide as well, but now in the presence of carbon dioxide. According to calculations, in the chambers in which people had been gassed the carbon dioxide content produced in the breathing process of the victims was rather high and in relation to hydrogen cyanide may have been even as high as 10:1. In our experiment we applied these two gases (CO² and HCN) in the 5:1 ratio. Having been subjected to gassing, the samples were aired in the open air at a temperature of about 10-15°C. The first analysis was conducted 48 hours after the beginning of airing.

This series of tests allows the statement that mortar absorbs and/or binds hydrogen cyanide best and also that wet materials show a noticeable tendency to accumulate hydrogen cyanide whereas brick, especially old brick, poorly absorbs and/or binds this compound.

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