Arizona’s plan to use Zyklon B to execute condemned prisoners came under fire from the American Jewish Committee on Monday, when the national Jewish organization declared that “a gas devised as a pesticide, and used to eliminate Jews, has no place in the administration of criminal justice.”
“Arizona’s decision to employ Zyklon B gas as a means of execution defies belief. While there can be no doubt about its effectiveness – the Nazis used it to kill millions of innocent Jews – it is that very effectiveness as an instrument of genocide that makes it utterly inappropriate for use by a civilized state in a proceeding sanctioned by the state and its judiciary,” the AJC said in a statement.
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“So long as the death penalty is legally acceptable, one must be prepared to accept some level of cruelty in the process. But there is something profoundly wrong when a state is so anxious to execute people, who in any event can be incapacitated by incarcerating them forever, that it is prepared to resort to a method of execution that inevitably, inextricably, and forever is linked to the worst outrages of human history.”
Late last month, British newspaper The Guardian reported that state officials in Arizona had decided to start executing condemned prisoners after a seven year hiatus, refurbishing a gas chamber. The last person to be executed by gas in Arizona was German-born Walter LaGrand, who was executed in 1991 and, according to the Tucson Citizen, did not die for a full 18 minutes after the poison was administered.
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Zyklon B, was originally a pesticide but was used for mass murder in the gas chambers, was the Nazis’ gas of choice during the Holocaust and was used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz and other death camps “to systematically murder far more than one million victims, most of them Jews,” according to German firm BASF, one of the constituent companies which merged to create IG Farben, which manufactured the poison for the Third Reich.
During the war, camp guards would throw Zyklon B “pellets down an air shaft” and “usually within minutes after entering the gas chambers, everyone inside was dead from lack of oxygen,” the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says on its website.
“Under guard, prisoners were forced to haul the corpses to a nearby room, where they removed hair, gold teeth, and fillings. The bodies were burned in ovens in the crematoria or buried in mass graves.”