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Gas chamber

A Gas chamber is a means of executing human beings whereby a poisonous gas is introduced into a hermetically-sealed chamber. When the condemned breathes this gas, death follows.

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Capital punishment

Gas chambers have been used for capital punishment in the United States in the past to execute criminals, especially convicted murderers. Five states retain this method, but all allow lethal injection as an alternative. A federal court in California has declared this method of execution as "cruel and unusual punishment".

The punishment was (and still is) instituted individually and publicly, behind the protective glass of a gas chamber, in full view of accredited journalists, legal and medical experts, and the prosecuting side. The gassed individual can see the poison, and is advised to take a deep breath after the gas is released, to speed unconsciousness rather than prolonging death. The gas used is hydrogen cyanide, and death from it is painful and unpleasant.

Euthanasia

More notoriously, gas chambers were used in the Nazi Third Reich during the 1930s a part of a public euthanasia program aimed at eliminating physically and intellectually disabled people, and later the mentally ill. At that time, the preferred gas was carbon monoxide, often provided by the exhaust fumes of cars and trucks.

Genocide

Later, during the Holocaust, gas chambers were modified and enhanced to accept even larger groups as part of the Nazi policy of genocide against Jews, Gypsies, and others. Through experimentation in September 1941 Zyklon B gas was found to be more efficient. The Nazi gas chambers in mobile vans and, at least, eight concentration camps (see also: extermination camp) were used to kill several million people between 1941 and 1945.

The American method may be contrasted with the method used in the Nazi Germany, which was instituted en masse and secretly. The victims were apparently unaware of their fates; they died in the belief that they were entering the chambers to be cleaned and deloused.

Controversy

However, there is an ongoing controversy about whether or not the condemned knew what would happen to them. Some argue that they did know, but elected to live a few minutes longer rather than to die confronting the armed guards. Most people regard these sorts of comments as an insidious attempt to shift blame from the Nazis to their victims, with their suggestion that the death camp victims were somehow cowards (with the unsaid implication that they therefore deserved their deaths). While it is true that they vastly outnumbered the guards in proportions of 1:100 or more, the condemned were unarmed, often malnourished, emaciated, and ill, and were concentrated in areas where the general populace was either hostile or indifferent to their fates, or were too fearful of their own lives to aid any escaped prisoners.

Some prisoners called Sonderkommandos were forced to help the Nazis murder their fellow prisoners by leading prisoners to the gas chambers and disposing of the bodies.

Some Jews did resist, most notably in the 1944 Sonderkommando uprising at Auschwitz, during which one of the gas chambers was destroyed.

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