Only Gasoline Engines Would Run Dirty Enough to Kill
Holocaust deniers say:
As the result of the work of Friedrich Berg, an American Holocaust denier, the "holocaust pundits" are "desperate" because they have "precious little" evidence regarding the murder of 1.5 million Jews in the Operation Reinhard camps using diesel engine exhaust.
Berg claims that because of his work the "exterminationists" are now engaged in an "attempt at evasion and distortion" and a "clumsy juggling of evidence" in a last ditch attempt to change their story to say that gasoline engines-not diesel engines-were used.1
Do we know what type of engine was used in the Operation Reinhard death camps or in the gas vans?
We do not have any direct physical evidence concerning the type of engine used because all three camps were completely torn down, the engines disposed of and no verified gas van has ever been found. Therefore, our knowledge is based on eyewitness evidence-both survivor and perpetrator.
It is true that sometimes the eyewitness testimony about the type of engines used in the gas chambers in the death camps is inconsistent. There are good reasons for these inconsistencies:
- Some witnesses saw the engines from a distance and others only heard them so they were not able to identify the type of engine definitively.
- Some witnesses had little mechanical knowledge and could have misidentified the type of engine, even after seeing it, with the best of intentions.
- Some witnesses simply repeated information they heard from others about the type of engines used.
Who then are the people who could identify the engines used without error? The best source is the SS men who installed, used and maintain the engines. Others who saw or worked closely with the engine under certain circumstances could also be a reliable source.
SS men Fritz Hödl and Erich Fuchs were the "Gasmeisters" ("gas masters") at Sobibor. These men were in charge of installing, maintaining and using the engines for the gas chambers.
- In court proceedings in 1963, the two men disagreed on the particular model of engine and the amount of horsepower it had, but both agreed that it was a gasoline engine.
- Fuchs specifically stated that the engine used in Sobibor had a carburetor, which diesel engines do not have: "We unloaded the motor. It was a heavy Russian petrol [gasoline] engine (presumably from a tank or tractor engine) of at least 200 HP ( carburetor engine, eight cylinder, water cooled). We put the engine on a concrete plinth and attached a pipe to the exhaust outlet. Then we tried out the engine. At first it did not work. I repaired the ignition and the valve and suddenly the engine started. The chemist whom I already knew from Belzec went into the gas-chamber with a measuring device in order to measure the gas concentration." 2
- We have no testimony from the SS users of the engines in Belzec.
- Kurt Gerstein, the SS officer who visited the camp in August 1942, described the engine as a diesel. However, he only heard the engine and did not see it so his testimony for our purposes is less than conclusive.
However, two other eyewitnesses did see and interact with the engine in Belzec.
- Rudolf Reder, one of the two survivors out of the 600,000 or more Jews who were murdered in Belzec, made a statement in 1944 to the Special Commission for Investigation of German Crimes. In it he said that he carried 4 to 5 cans of petrol (gas) (kanistry benzyny) every day to the motor room of the gas chambers. He identified the engine as a "maszyna/motor pedzony benzyna" (motor run by petrol) (gas).
- A Polish electrician named Kasimierz Czerniak, who helped to build the gas chambers and engine shed in 1942, also identified it as a petrol motor.3
- Both eyewitnesses used the Polish words for gasoline (benzyny/benzyna) not diesel, which is olej napedowy.
Therefore, at the Belzec death camp Gerstein, who heard but did not see the engine, claimed that it was a diesel engine. Two others who did see the engine said it was a gasoline engine. The stronger evidence (which is offered by two separate people independently) strongly indicates that the engine in Belzec was a gasoline engine.
It appears possible that two diesel engines may have been used in Treblinka. Gustav Münzberger, an SS man who worked in the extermination area of the camp, testified after the war:
- "When all the chambers were filled with about 3,000 Jews, the heavy wooden doors were fastened with iron bolts. Now I went through the corridor, opened the door to the engine room, and gave a sign to Schmitz or Zänker to start both diesel engines. The Russian T-34 tank engines were started by three Ukrainians and a Jew. They needed a lot of diesel. Schmidt brought the diesel from the garage in the lower camp in cans of 20 liters. The operation lasted twenty minutes . . . Then the Ukrainians opened the doors in the corridors and I went to the west side of the building. There I watched the emptying and cleaning of the chambers. At the same time the chambers were ventilated. All of that lasted about forty minutes." 4
The gas vans
- Otto Piller, the deputy commandant of the murder operation at Chelmno, indicated that at least some of the gas vans were equipped with gasoline engines in a 35-page typed report he gave to his captors in the Soviet Union. In it he wrote that the method of murder was exhaust fumes "produced by the gasoline engine . . ." 5
From the testimony of the SS men who installed and used them and a Holocaust survivor and bystander who had access to the engines we may reasonably state the following:
- At Sobibor a gasoline engine was used.
- At Belzec a gasoline engine was used.
- At Treblinka two diesel engines were used.
- At least some of the gas vans had gasoline engines.
When responsible evidence concerning the types of engines that were used in the camps and gas vans is examined, it is clear that the responsible Holocaust scholars are not "evading," "distorting" or "juggling" the evidence in response to the "truth telling" of the Holocaust deniers. What the Holocaust deniers decry as the "holocaust specialists" changing their story in the middle of the stream in response to the challenges of the Holocaust deniers is simply the normal and necessary correction of the historical record as more accurate information becomes available.
1. Friedrich Berg, "Diesel Gas Chambers: Ideal for Torture-Absurd for Murder," Part 3, p. 1/14 and 2/14 at http://www.nazigassings.com/dieselgaschamberc.html and Friedrich Berg, "The Diesel Gas Chambers: Myth Within a Myth," p. 16/19 and 17/19 at http://www.vho.org/GB/Journals/JHR/5/1/Berg15-46.html.
2. Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen and Volker Riess, editors. "The Good Old Days": The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders (Free Press, 1991), p. 231.
3. "Gas Chambers Introduction," p. 2/3 at http://www.deathcamps.org/gas_chambers/gas_chambers_intro.html.
4. "The defendant Münzberger-his Personal Statement about the upper Camp" at http://www.deathcamps.org/gas_chambers/trebmuenzberger.html.
5. Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein, and Adalbert Rückerl, editors. Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas (Yale University Press, 1994), p. 98.