The History Place - Holocaust Timeline

A stockpile of Zyklon-B poison gas pellets found at Majdanek death camp in 1944. Below: Close-up of the containers and a gas mask found at Majdanek.

The containers above hold Zyklon-B pellets (hydrocyanic acid) that vaporize when exposed to air. Originally intended for commercial use as a disinfectant and an insecticide, the Nazis discovered through experimentation the gas could be used to kill humans.

The brand of Zyklon-B used by the Nazis contained substances which gave the pellets a blue appearance and left blue stains inside gas chambers which can still be seen today in chambers that were left intact.

During the killing process, prisoners at Auschwitz and other killing centers were forced into the air-tight chambers that had been disguised by the Nazis to look like shower rooms. The Zyklon pellets were then dumped into the chambers via special air shafts or openings in the ceiling.

The pellets would then vaporize, giving off a noticeable bitter almond odor. Upon being breathed in, the vapors combined with red blood cells, depriving the human body of vital oxygen, causing unconsciousness, and then death through oxygen starvation.

(Photo credits: Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes, Below: Archiwum Akt Nowych, both courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives)

Return to The History Place - Holocaust Timeline: 1942
The History Place Main Page

Terms of use: Private home/school non-commercial, non-Internet re-usage only is allowed of any text, graphics, photos, audio clips, other electronic files or materials from The History Place.