Kurt Gerstein is an Unreliable Witness


Holocaust deniers say:

The "story" of mass murder of Jews in the Operation Reinhard camps in gas chambers using engine exhaust is based solely on the unbelievable post-war testimony of Kurt Gerstein, an SS officer who observed a mass gassing in Belzec.

Let us take a look at what we know about Kurt Gerstein and his report before we discuss the Holocaust deniers’ attacks on it.

Who was Kurt Gerstein?

Kurt Gerstein was the chief disinfection officer for the Waffen-SS (the military arm of the SS). In August 1942, Gerstein was sent to Poland to see if using liquid prussic acid (a version of Zyklon-B) would be better than using diesel engine exhaust for mass murder in the Operation Reinhard camps. In Lublin Gerstein met Odilo Globocnik, the head of Operation Reinhard, who took him on a tour of Belzec and Treblinka, where he observed the murder of Jews in the gas chambers in Belzec and Treblinka.
Gerstein was very shaken by what he had seen and on his way back to Germany he began trying to expose what the Germans were doing by confiding in a Swiss diplomat on the train and begging him to tell the Swiss government. Back in Germany he told many important Protestant church leaders and members of the Dutch resistance about what he had seen. He also tried to tell the Catholic Church in Berlin, but he was denied an interview.
Despite what he had seen at Belzec and Treblinka, Gerstein remained in the SS until the end of the war. His job was to provide Zyklon-B to the camps, including Auchwitz-Birkenau, where it was used for the mass murder of about 1 million Jews.
A few weeks before the war ended Gerstein slipped through the front lines and voluntarily surrendered to the French in Reutlingen, Germany. While he awaited interrogation, he wrote up an account of what he had seen in Belzec and Treblinka. He told his captors that in addition to trying to inform the West about the mass murder of the Jews, he had actively worked to sabotage the use of Zyklon-B on human beings in Auschwitz-Birkenau. His French interrogators did not believe Gerstein’s claim that he had tried to misdirect or destroy the Zyklon-B before it could be used on human beings and, rather than treating him as a star witness, they indicted him for war crimes.
On July 25, 1945 after receiving the articles of indictment Gerstein hung himself in his jail cell in Paris, France.1

What did Gerstein see at Belzec?

The key parts of his report are as follows:

Why are there so many versions of the Gerstein Report?

There are four "versions" that were clearly written by Gerstein. We know he wrote them because they are in his handwriting, are signed by him or their origin can clearly be traced back to Gerstein himself. These four "versions" are:
The first three are a series of drafts, first in French and then in German, each consecutive one containing a little more information and editing changes until Gerstein apparently felt he had achieved his final complete report. In every draft Gerstein’s account of mass murder in Belzec remained fundamentally the same, with no significant changes.
The report typed in French on April 26, 1945 was entered into evidence at the International Military Trial at Nuremberg in 1946 together with several invoices for Zyklon-B that Gerstein had saved as evidence as documents PS-1553.
Gerstein also gave some of his original reports to various interrogators, who then prepared their own reports which made their way through a series of hands into various archives around the world in several languages. However, the "contradictions" and "discrepancies" pounced on by Holocaust deniers in these texts are irrelevant because Gerstein cannot be responsible for texts that were translated, composed or handled by others even when they are clearly based on his original reports.
The reports that are known to have been composed and/or authorized by Gerstein are those listed below and they will be referred to as follows:
The unfinished handwritten report in French dated May 6 will not be considered, although it is clearly by Gerstein, because it is not complete. None of the reports prepared or handled by interrogators and passed on to various offices in various languages will be considered for the reasons written above.

Why do the Holocaust deniers focus so heavily on destroying Gerstein’s credibility?

Gerstein’s report on the mass murder of Jews in the Operation Reinhard camps is part of the handful of testimony from Jewish survivors and perpetrators who made affidavits or testified in trials after the war. Since the buildings in the camps were razed and most of the documentation on these camps was destroyed, these accounts are very important.
In order to erase the deaths of some 1.5 million Jewish men, women and children in Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, the Holocaust deniers must discredit Gerstein and his report at any cost.
How do they go about this task? Their tactics are diverse and sometimes contradictory, but in general they claim that:
Finally, in an attempt to cover all the bases the Holocaust deniers attack Gerstein’s character. They call him a coward, a liar and a traitor. The American Holocaust denier videomaker goes to the opposite extreme claiming that Gerstein was a German hero because he sabotaged his Allied captors’ attempt to foist a forgery on the world under his name by cleverly including impossible details so the whole world would later know it was false. When all else fails, the Holocaust deniers claim that Gerstein was mentally unbalanced, physically ill and taking drugs that affected his senses, or he was outright insane.
Let us look at these claims one at a time.


1. For additional reading on Gerstein’s life see Saul Friedländer, Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good (Random House, 1969) and Valerie Hebert, "Disguised Resistance? The Story of Kurt Gerstein," Holocaust and Genocide Studies, V20, N1, Spring 2006, pp. 1-33.
2. These excerpts were taken from the typed report written in German dated May 4, 1945 (Report 3). The translation can be found in Henri Roques, The 'Confessions’ of Kurt Gerstein (Institute for Historical Review, 1989), pp. 40-43. The original German text can be found in the same book, pgs. 229-241.
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accessed 11 March 2013