Aerial Photo Surveillance of AuschwitzBy Andrew Allen
Various allegations have been leveled against the United States Army Air Corp and the Royal British Air Force concerning the failure to bomb the Birkenau Camp at the Auschwitz Complex in Poland (1). Numerous aerial photographs were taken of the Birkenau Camp between April and November of 1944. The author will show that these photographs do not reveal any evidence which would have alerted Allied photo interpreters that mass killings were taking place and contain much evidence which would have misled any analyst.
NO OBVIOUS SIGNS OF MASS KILLINGS
Lack of Smoke from Crematorium
Although much survivor testimony relates that flames and clouds of smoke came from the crematorium chimneys, no such sign is visible in any of the photographs of Birkenau. Poirier and Brugioni comment on this in their monograph, The Holocaust Revisited (2). Modern crematorium chimneys such as the ones at Birkenau do not emit smoke when being used, so lack of smoke is not proof of lack of use.
Lack of Evidence of Mass Outdoor Cremations.
Mass cremations of many bodies might have drawn the attention of photo interpreters (a small fire is visible in one picture), however, no other fire or smoke is visible in the photos. The imagery examined by Poirier and Brugioni included 4 April , 26 June, 26 July, 25 August, and 12 September as well as imagery from after the period of alleged mass killings reveal no cremation fires visible in any photographs available to Western interpreters.
Lack of Evidence of Mass Graves or Burial Areas.
There is no sign of any mass graves at Birkenau Camp or of any unusual disturbed area of earth which would signal mass burials.
LACK OF EVIDENCE WHICH HAVE WOULD ALLOWED PHOTO INTERPRETERS TO LOCATE SITES OF MASS KILLINGS
Any aerial strike against the gaschamber buildings would have required that the targeted buildings be clearly identified. The Birkenau Camp held tens of thousands of individuals in scores of buildings. It was too large and too populated to have allowed random bombing in the hopes of hitting the gas chambers. But even if Aushwitz-Birkenau were suspected as a site of mass killings, verification of the specific target would have been impossible from the available aerial photographs.
Lack of Particular Security at Crematorium
The gas chambers were in no way screened or protected from being visible either from the rest of the camp or from the fields and woods of the surrounding countryside. The fields right up to the fence, thirty meters from the gas chamber at Krema II, appear to have been plowed and harvested during the summer of 1944. The crematorium were not "flagged" as particularly secure sites other than by their one barbed wire fence. Crematorium 4 and 5 did not have guard towers around them. The main east-west road in Birkenau camp ran between Kremas 2 and 3 and was ungated on its west end. Drainage ditches and a large tree at the west end of the road would have been considered as compromising the security of the area. No security structures are visible in the area outside the camp.
Although the crematorium would have been distinguishable from the air, it was impossible to see if there were gas chambers located in the building.
As noted, no cremation pyres were visible. Cremation pyres would have indicated the possible proximity of the actual killing site and indicated the disposal of more bodies than could have been handled by the crematorium. Even in photographs taken while trains were at the Birkenau loading ramp, there are no lines of people entering any crematory buildings and, in the photographs of 9/13/44, a large group of people can be seen apparently moving away from both the train and from Kremas 2 and 3. Thus, there were no visible signs of heightened security concerns or types of activity which would signal that mass killings were being performed on a regular basis at Kremas 2 and 3 and which would have allowed the crematorium to be designated as specific targets.
EVIDENCE WHICH WOULD MISLEAD
One of the most obvious facts about the Birkenau Camp is the large number of buildings in the camp which clearly appeared to be barracks. Birkenau was meant to be a place to house tens of thousands of people.
Moreover, preparations to the north of the camp for further construction indicated plans to house thousands more. Thus, Birkenau appeared from the air to be a camp with a large and expanding population similar to any large labor camp. This impression was re-enforced by large scale water purification plants visible at the west end of the camp, by the numerous administration buildings in the camp (which were, in fact, delousing facilities and the camp hospital), and by gardens and parade fields inside the camp fence.
The only evidence in the pictures which is unusual is the frequent presence of railroad boxcars in the central area of the camp. If this rail traffic had consisted of tank cars it might have been noticed by the photo interpreters as being connected with the Monowitz coal gasification plant. It has been commented that "historians have been extraordinarily unlucky that the reconnaissance aircraft flew over Auschwitz-Birkenau precisely on those days when nothing was happening"(3). But this was the evidence that the Allied Command had. The men who took and developed these photographs were working under wartime pressures and with equipment and methods far less efficient than what is available today. This paper does not comment on claims that Allied officials had other information concerning mass killings at Auschwitz/Birkenau. However, any assertion that Allied photo interpreters deliberately overlooked or ignored evidence of mass killings has not been demonstrated.
An excellent article on the subject is Dr. Richard Foregger's "The Bombing of Auschwitz," Aerospace Historian, June 1987
Dates of Photographs of Birkenau Record group #373
(Note: We will make these photos available as soon as possible.)
Installed: 5/16/98, 6: 00 PM, PST