Gerstein Report is Filled With Impossibilities: Therefore it is a Lie
Holocaust deniers say:
Gerstein’s report is so filled with absurdities and impossibilities that the entire report must be dismissed as a fabrication.
Carlo Mattogno, an Italian Holocaust denier, claims that he has found 103 internal and external contradictions, falsifications, errors of fact, exaggerations and unrealistic statements in Gerstein’s report. He admits that some are minor but others, he claims, are substantial and make the whole account untrustworthy.1
The major points in Gerstein’s account to which the Holocaust deniers take exception are:
- He changed the dimensions of the gas chamber rooms in Belzec between drafts.
- He said there were more gas chamber rooms (8) in Treblinka than existed (3) at the time he said he observed the mass gassing.
- The gas chamber rooms as described by Gerstein were too small to hold the 700 to 800 people he claimed were pushed into each room.
- His assertion that he saw piles of clothes and shoes 45 meters (about 147 feet) high at Treblinka is clearly impossible and throws the credibility of the whole report into question.
- He estimated the number of Jews murdered in the gas chambers of the Operation Reinhard camps as 20,000,000 to 25,000,000-an obviously absurd figure.
- He stated that the method of murder was diesel engine exhaust fumes. Fritz Berg, an American Holocaust denier, has already proved this was impossible.
Let us look at each assertion one at a time.
1. Gerstein changed the dimensions of the gas chamber rooms in Belzec between drafts.
Fact: Gerstein did give two different sets of dimensions for the size of the gas chamber rooms in Belzec. In Reports 1 and 2 he wrote that the gas chamber rooms were 4 meters by 5 meters by 1.9 meters in volume. In Report 3, he changed it to 5 meters by 5 meters by 1.9 meters.2
We do not know if Gerstein ever entered the actual rooms, or whether he accepted someone else’s estimate of their size. Even if he had entered the empty rooms before the victims arrived or looked into them from the hallway accurately guessing the size of a room by looking at it or stepping it out can be difficult.
Reports 1 and 2 reflected Gerstein’s first thoughts about the size of the rooms. Perhaps the change is a typographical error. Perhaps he reconsidered his estimate when typing up Report 3 in German. We do not know, but whatever the reason is it is not a significant issue. A difference of about 3 feet in a guess about of the size of a room does not discredit Gerstein’s entire detailed account of the use of those gas chambers in mass murder.
2. Gerstein said there were more gas chamber rooms (8) in Treblinka than actually existed (3) at the time he said he observed the mass gassing.
Fact: Gerstein wrote: "The installation [at Treblinka] was almost the same, but noticeably bigger than at Belcec [sic] . Eight gas chambers and veritable mountains of suitcases, of textiles, and underwear." 3
This line in Gerstein’s report is puzzling. Gerstein visited Treblinka on August 19, 1942. However, on August 19 Treblinka was still using the smaller 3-room gas chamber. So why did Gerstein describe the larger gas chamber building which started construction about 10 days after his visit and did not become operational until about 5 weeks later?
Gerstein would undoubtedly have been told about the plans for building the newer larger gas chambers that were modeled on the "successes" of Belzec’s gas chambers. Did he mix up the future plans with the smaller building he must have seen in operation? Perhaps he visited Treblinka again when the larger gas chamber was in operation and declined to mention a second visit in his report. We do not know and it remains a mystery. However, whatever the reason for Gerstein’s confusion it does not negate the consistent description of the mass murder at Belzec and the shorter description of a similar gassing in Treblinka.
Gerstein did state that the operation at Treblinka "was noticeably larger" than at Belzec. This is correct. Even though Treblinka was still using the smaller gas chamber buildings in mid-August, their operation was much more ambitious. The first transport arrived at Treblinka on July 24, 1942. In the following five weeks about 312,500 Jews were shipped there and murdered (about half of the total number that was sent to Belzec in the entire year of its existence.)4
3. The gas chamber rooms as described by Gerstein were too small to hold the 700 to 800 people he claimed were pushed into each room.
Fact: Gerstein wrote: "The people are stepping on each other’s feet, 700 to 800 persons to 25 square meters, 45 cubic meters. I make an estimate . . . half are children . . . Wirth is right, if the SS men push a little, one can cram 750 persons into 45 cubic meters! And the SS men push them, with their horsewhips and compel them to enter, as many as physically possible. The doors close." 5
On the face of it, this claim does seem impossible. The American Holocaust denier videomaker makes his point by using small cardboard boxes to show how impossibly small a cubic foot appears to be.6 But, however difficult the Holocaust deniers make it look, it is possible.
Charles Provan wondered if that was really possible to push 700 to 800 people into the size of room Gerstein claimed. He decided to test it for himself. He built a plywood box with a base area of 21 inches by 21 inches. The box had one glass side, two plywood sides, one open side and an open top. He was surprised by the results of his experiment.
- He found that two young adults (27 and 34 years old), one woman in her seventies, and four children could fit into the box without difficulty. All of the people wore their regular clothing and all were able to breathe normally.
- Three children (aged 6, 4 and 2) sat down at the adults’ feet while the older child (8 years old) and the three adults stood. One of the adults held a doll in place of an infant.
- Provan’s findings-when extended to a room of 5 meters by 5 meters-clearly shows that 700 to 800 people could be pushed into the gas chamber room, especially since half of them were children according to Gerstein’s account.
Provan’s participants were well-fed Americans, not half-starved, naked Polish Jews who were of generally smaller stature than the average American. Provan calculated that this variation alone permitted 5% more Polish Jews in the same area than his well-fed American relatives and friends.
Provan was concerned that no one would believe him so he took pictures. You may read the study and see the photographs at http://holocaust.skeptik.net/documents/provan_gerstein.html.
4. Gerstein’s assertion that he saw piles of clothes and shoes 45 meters (148 feet) high at Treblinka is clearly impossible and throws the credibility of the whole report into question.
Fact: In Reports 1 and 2 Gerstein spoke of "real mountains of clothes and underwear of 35-40 meters high" at Treblinka. In Report 3 it became just "real mountains of suitcases, clothing, and underwear."
In this case Gerstein was wrong. Piles of clothing 13 stories high are not possible. Gerstein visited Treblinka two weeks before it finally collapsed in chaos and had to be closed temporarily to be cleaned up and the process of mass murder reorganized. At the time of Gerstein’s visit the sorting was beginning to fall behind and disorderly piles of possessions from the murdered Jews lay all over the reception and sorting area. Samuel Willenberg, a survivor of Treblinka, arrived in this period of time and found that the "sorting-yard overflowed with giant piles of clothing." He was put to work cleaning up the area which was "cluttered from one end to the other with mountains of shoes and scattered heaps of clothing and luggage. These rose to a height of some 10 metres ." 7
Clearly, Gerstein was not very good at judging heights but it does not mean the piles were not staggeringly high. The fact that even he questioned his own first estimate is shown by his taking out the actual height estimates in Report 3.
5. Gerstein estimated the number of Jews murdered in the gas chambers of the Operation Reinhard camps as 20,000,000 to 25,000,000-an obviously absurd figure.
Gerstein is the most credible and consistent when he is describing what he actually saw with his own eyes. However, when Gerstein speculates and passes on rumors he had heard, his accuracy drops dramatically.
In the case of the number of Jews murdered in the Operation Reinhard camps, Gerstein accepted the figures of Odilo Globocnik, the head of the program, who told him that 11,000 Jews in Belzec, 25,000 Jews in Treblinka, and 20,000 Jews in Sobibor were being murdered every day. These figures are nonsense. Globocnik was boasting to the representative from the government in Berlin about his great achievements apparently hoping Gerstein would return to Berlin filled with praise for his operation.
Gerstein also believed that the camps operated for a longer period than they really did. In fact, the mass murder activities in all three camps were largely concluded by the end of 1942 and by mid-1943 the camps most of the bodies had been incinerated, the ashes reburied and the camps razed.
6. Gerstein stated that the method of murder was diesel engine exhaust fumes. Fritz Berg, an American Holocaust denier, has already proved this was impossible.
This issue has already been dealt with in other FAQs in this series. Please see http://www.hdot.org/en/learning/myth-fact#diesel for a detailed discussion.
The Holocaust deniers are desperate to discredit Gerstein’s account, so they hammer away at any minor points they can find so they can claim it must be discarded as incredible. Gerstein’s report is not perfect. He made a lot of errors and engaged in guesswork especially when he was relying on the word of others. But Gerstein’s story is remarkably consistent across all the versions that are known to be in his own hand when it dealt with things he saw with his own eyes: the mass gassing he observed at Belzec.
Good history is not written by blindly accepting every word of anyone’s testimony. Gerstein’s testimony is not the only eyewitness evidence we have. There were a handful of Jewish survivors and perpetrators whose testimony confirms the core of Gerstein’s account. We will look at some of those points of intersection next.
1. Robert A. Hall, Jr., Il Rapporto Gerstein: Anatomia di un Falso [The Gerstein Report: The Anatomy of a Fraud] by Carlo Mattogno at http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v07/v07p115)_Hall.html, p. 2/4.
2. All three reports can be found in translation and in their original form in Henri Roques, The 'Confessions’ of Kurt Gerstein (Institute for Historical Review, 1989). Report 1 (French, handwritten, dated April 26, 1945): translation, pp. 21-27, original, pp. 210-221; Report 2 (French, typed, dated April 26, 1945): translation, pp. 27-36, original, pp. 222-228; Report 3 (German, typed, dated May 4, 1945): translation, pp. 73-89, original, pp. 229-246.
3. Report 3 (German, typed, May 4, 1945).
4. Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 87.
5. Report 3 (German, typed, May 4, 1945).
6. Clip 27: "Confessing Germans: Part 1: Kurt Gerstein" at http://www.onethirdoftheholocaust.com.
7. Samuel Willenberg, Surviving Treblinka, edited by Wladyslaw T. Bartoszewski (Basic Blackwell Ltd, 1989), pp. 49, 79.