A gas chamber is an enclosed space or room to expose items to a chemically active gas in order to achieve certain effects. There are three main types of gas chambers:
- Training/testing gas chambers: used by military and civilian-defense agencies to test gas-protection equipment and to train personnel in their use.
- Disinfestation or fumigation gas chambers, used to kill vermin that have infested portable items, such as lice, fleas and bedbugs in clothes, mattresses and bed linens.
- Execution gas chambers, subdivided into those for animals, used by veterinaries and animal-control units, and homicidal gas chambers, used for the legal implementation of capital punishment or for illegal murder.
Before and during World War II, the term “gas chamber” in German literature and bureaucratic documents (Gaskammer) referred exclusively to fumigation chambers, as the concept of killing humans by gas was unknown in Europe. The only country in which human beings were ever killed with poison gas in specifically built homicidal gas chambers was the U.S., where several states built such devices to implement capital punishment, starting in the 1920s. See the entries on homicidal gas chamber and fumigation gas chamber for more.
Although there are several documents, including some created by the Auschwitz Camp authorities, that use the term “gas chamber” or similar terms, they always expressly refer to fumigation devices, if these documents are put in their proper historical and bureaucratic context. See the entry on criminal traces for more details.