Holocaust Denial on Trial, Trial Judgment: Electronic Edition, by Charles Gray

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Eye-witness evidence from inmates at Auschwitz

7.34 Over the years a large number of Jews who were, or at least claimed that they were, imprisoned at Auschwitz have given accounts of their experiences. The quality of their evidence is variable. Van Pelt explained that he placed greater reliance on those eye-witnesses who provided their accounts of what transpired at Auschwitz shortly after the war ended. Later accounts were vulnerable to the charge that the witness had become confused by the passage of time or had been influenced by what others had claimed. The witnesses upon whose accounts van Pelt was inclined to place reliance included the following.
7.35 Vrba, as already stated above escaped from Auschwitz and was one of the first to provide an account of the mass killing at the camp. On that account he is regarded by van Pelt as a significant witness. Vrba did not himself enter any of the gas chambers; he passed on what others had told him. But, as administrator of the sick barrack, he knew about the selection process. He described how those selected were loaded onto trucks and claimed that they were taken away to be gassed. He gave an account of the inauguration at Birkenau at the end of February 1943 of a new crematorium and gassing plant. He stated that there were four crematoria in operation. He described in some detail (albeit, as van Pelt accepted, at second hand) the layout of the interior.
7.36 Sonderkommando Salmen Gradowski kept a diary of his experiences at the camp which he buried in an aluminium can. Schlomo Dragon remembered where it was buried. Remarkably the can and its contents were found intact and dug up after the liberation of the camp. The can contained a notebook and a letter dated 6th September 1944. In the letter Gradowski explained that it was his aim to preserve a written account of what had happened at Auschwitz. He wrote that this task became even more important once the Nazis started to burn the bodies of those they had killed and to dispose of the ashes in the River Vistula. He said that he and fellow Sonderkommandos had scattered the teeth of the dead over a wide area so that they might be found by subsequent generations. Gradowski claimed that the Jewish nation had been destroyed in the camps. He recorded that he and fellow camp workers had planned a mutiny. (The uprising took place in October 1944. It failed and Gradowski was tortured and killed). In his notebook Gradowski described his journey by train to the camp and the selection process on arrival. He gave an account of the living conditions for   those deemed fit for work. That notebook did not contain descriptions of the work of the Sonderkommandos.
7.37 On 10 April 1945 Radio Luxembourg broadcast the account of an unnamed survivor of Auschwitz, who had subsequently been evacuated to Buchenwald. In the interview this witness stated that Auschwitz was an extermination camp which killed between 12,000 and 20,000 people a day. He described how the transports arrived, how the selection took place, and how those who were chosen to die were killed instantly and cremated.
7.38 Stanislaw Jankowksi gave evidence to the Polish Central Commission in 1946. He was the first Sonderkommando to testify before the Commission. He said that he worked in Crematorium 1 from November 1942 at which time it was only used sporadically for killing people. He described an occasion in November or December 1942 when a large number of inmates from Birkenau arrived under escort. He and the other Sonderkommandos were ordered to leave. When they returned they found only clothing. He was put to work carrying the corpses to the crematorium for burning. In July 1943 Jankowski was transferred to Birkenau and worked at Crematorium 5. He described how large number of Jews of various nationalities arrived at the camp. About half of them were selected for gassing, including the old and infirm and the pregnant and children. He stated that those who were to be gassed were not given camp numbers or registered at the camp. His evidence was that the killing reached its zenith with the Hungarian Jews in about July 1944 when, he claimed, 18,000 were being killed per day. Jankowski reckoned that Crematoria 2 and 3 had a daily incineration capacity of 2,500 corpses while Crematoria 4 and 5 could incinerate 1,500.
7.39 Schlomo Dragon, another Sonderkommando, gave evidence on 10 May 1945 to the Polish Central Commission. Dragon had worked at bunker 2 and crematoria 4 and 5. Van Pelt commented that, while Dragon was precise when he talked about what he has witnessed in person, he was less accurate when it came to estimating the number of people killed in Auschwitz, which he put at four million.
7.40 Sonderkommando Henry Tauber worked initially in crematorium 1 and later at crematoria 2 and 4. He also gave evidence to the Polish Central Commission. He gave a detailed account of the undressing rooms at the gas chamber, the signs which hung on the walls, the glass peep-hole in the door   and how the doors were hermetically sealed. Further, he described the ventilation systems; how the floor of a gas chamber was to be washed and how the chamber in crematorium 2 was split into two in late 1943 by a dividing wall. He gave an exceedingly detailed account of the operation of crematoria, making it clear what he accepted on the basis of his own observations and what he accepted as hearsay. He described dragging gassed corpses from the gas chamber and loading them five at a time onto trucks which ran on rails to the furnaces where they were off-loaded. He described the three, two-muffle furnaces and said that each muffle would take five corpses. The incineration took up to one and a half hours. He explained that thin people burned more slowly than fat people. In summary his description of crematoria 2, both below and above ground corresponded very closely with the outline given in the blueprints. Van Pelt considered that Tauber's testimony is almost wholly corroborated by the German blueprints of the buildings and that it corroborates the accounts given by Jankowski and Dragon. Tauber estimated that the number of people who were gassed during his time at Auschwitz, between February 1943 and October 1944, was two million people from which figure he extrapolated that the total number gassed at Auschwitz amounted to four million.
7.41 Michael Kula was another former inmate of the camp who gave evidence to the Polish Commission. He had lived near Auschwitz before his incarceration. Kula gave evidence that, a year after his arrival at the camp in 1940, he observed the Nazis beginning to experiment with Zyklon B. He observed that the corpses turned greenish after exposure to the gas. Kula worked in the metal workshop at the camp and forged many of the metal pieces required for the crematoria. He also took part in the construction of trucks for conveying corpses into the ovens. Kula testified that four wire mesh columns were made for the gas chambers in crematoria 2 and 3: these columns were described by Kula as "structures of ever finer mesh", which contained a removable can within the innermost column which was used to extract, after the gassing, the Zyklon "crystals" or pellets that had absorbed the hydrocyanide.
7.42 Marie Claude Vaillant-Couturier (to whom I have referred at section V(xviii) above in connection with the Defendants' criticisms of Irving's historiography) gave evidence to the International Military Tribunal of the conditions in the women's camp at Birkenau, including the sterilisation of women and the killing of babies of women who had arrived pregnant. She claimed that most of the Jewish women who had come from the same part of   France as herself had been gassed immediately upon arrival at Auschwitz. Valliant-Couturier testified that the trains stopped close to the gas chamber; that the vast majority of the arriving Jews, including the old, mothers and children) would be selected for gassing; that they were made to undress and then taken to a room like a shower room into which gas capsules were thrown through an opening in the ceiling.
7.43 Severina Shmaglevskaya, a Polish inmate at Auschwitz, gave evidence she had seen many children brought to the camp. She had seen selections undertaken on some occasions by doctors and on others by SS men. She recalled that children were separated from their parents and taken off separately to the gas chambers. She stated that, at the time when the greatest number of Jews were being exterminated in the gas chambers, children were thrown alive into crematory ovens or ditches. She said that few of the children were registered, tattooed or counted. They were exterminated on arrival. As a consequence it was very difficult to know how many of the children were put to death.
7.44 Filip Muller, a Sonderkommando, gave an account in the 1970s of the process used to insert corpses into the ovens at crematorium 1. He described how trucks were used to transport the bodies to the ovens, how corpses were put into the ovens and the technical details involved in problems that arose during the process. Van Pelt pointed out that Muller's account accords with those of Jankowski, Tauber and Dragon. He considered that it is highly unlikely that Muller's memoirs were inspired by Tauber's testimony.
7.45 Janda Weiss, aged only fifteen years, was interviewed in 1945 by representatives of the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces. She told them that she had been deported to Birkenau along with 1,500 Jews from Theresienstadt. She described how she was among the stronger ones who were selected to work in the camp. The rest of her family were taken off to be gassed. Weiss recalled her conversations with those who worked in the camps. She knew of the arrival of the Hungarian transports in 1944. She claimed that when transports arrived most of the Jews were selected to be gassed immediately. Having been told they were to have a shower, the victims undressed and went into the gas chamber. She recalled that when the room was full, small children were thrown into the chamber through the window. After the gassing Sonderkommandos pulled the corpses out took their rings off, cut off their hair, and took them to the ovens to cremate them.
7.46 Walter Bliss, a German Jew, was also interviewed. He too described the selection process which took place not only on arrival at the camp but also at regular intervals thereafter. He gave an account of a typical selection process: those selected for death were transferred to gassing barracks where might be kept for up to two or three days often without food as they were going to die anyway. He claimed that 40% of the men in the camp and 60-70% of the women were murdered in January 1944.
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