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Gerstein's Report is a Forgery and all Other Eyewitness Evidence is Flimsy or Tainted

 

The Holocaust deniers say:

. . . the existence of the death camps in Operation Reinhard hinges on "flimsy" eyewitness evidence that is "mere hearsay." 1
The Holocaust deniers’ claim that Gerstein's report about the mass gassings in Belzec and Treblinka is such an obvious "forgery" that the whole story cannot be believed. The testimony of Jewish survivors and SS perpetrators follows Gerstein’s account and so cannot be believed either.

What about eyewitness testimony and the existence of the gas chambers in these three death camps?

Contrary to the statements of the Holocaust deniers, the existence of the gas chambers is not based "almost entirely" on Gerstein’s report or on the "crazy" testimony of survivors. 2 Witnesses to mass murder in Belzec include both survivors and perpetrators:
  • Rudolf Reder. He was deported from Lvov to Belzec in late August 1942, where he was put to work unloading the bodies from the gas chambers. He was the only surviving Jewish witness to the activities in the death camp area. He escaped when he was taken out of the camp under guard to collect building materials, during which time he escaped and survived the rest of the war in hiding. He gave testimony to various investigating groups about Belzec in 1945, published a small book about his experiences in 1946, and gave another deposition in 1960 for the trial of Joseph Oberhauser, the commandant of Belzec. He immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s under the assumed name of Roman Robak, where died in the late 1960s or early 1970s.3
  • Wilhelm Pfannensteil. He was an SS hygienist and chemist who accompanied Kurt Gerstein on his visit to Belzec and Treblinka. He made various depositions after the war to various authorities and testified at the Oberhauser trial in 1965.4
  • Robert Jührs and Karl Schluch were SS guards at Belzec. They were detained in 1963 for their activities in Belzec, but in the end no charges were brought against them and they were released. They testified as witnesses only at the 1965 trial of Josef Oberhauser, the commandant of Belzec, and the only German perpetrator ever tried for the mass murder of Jews in Belzec.5
Let us look at what these four people had to say about the murder operation in Belzec and compare it to what Gerstein writes:6
  • Gerstein writes: ". . . a train arrived of 45 cars coming from Lemberg [Poland: Lvov]. . . . some 6,700 persons of whom 1,450 are already dead on arrival."
    Supporting evidence: Transport records of the German railway authorities show that about 50,000 Jews from Lemberg (Polish: Lvov) arrived in Belzec between August 10 and 23, 1942. (Rudolf Reder was on one of these transports.)7
  • Gerstein writes of his first visit to the gas chamber building: "Before us, a kind of bath establishment with, to right and left in the front, large concrete pots with geraniums, then a small stairway, and afterwards to right and to left respectively 3 halls of 5 x 5 meters, 1.90 m high, with doors of wood like garages. In the wall at the bottom, not very visible in the darkness, large sliding doors of wood. On the roof, by way of a "subtle joke," the star of David!"
  • Gerstein adds: "In front of the building, an inscription 'Foundation Heckenholt’" and "Heckenholt is the operator the diesel engine . . ."
    Supporting evidence: Rudolf Reder: "The door to the building was approached by three steps a metre wide without railings. In front stood a large flower-pot filled with plants. There was an inscription in large letters on the front: 'Bade und Inhalationsräume’. The steps led to a completely empty and unlit corridor, just four cement walls. It was very long, though only about a metre and a half wide. On both sides of were doors to the gas chambers. These were sliding doors made of wood, with wooden handles. The gas chambers had no windows. . . . Both the corridor and the gas chambers were not more than 2 metres high. On a wall opposite the entrance to each gas chamber were more sliding doors 2 metres wide. Through these the corpses of the gassed were thrown outside." 8
    Supporting evidence: Wilhelm Pfannenstiel: "The whole extermination centre looked just like a normal delousing institution. In front of the building there were pots of geraniums and a sign saying 'Hackenholt Foundation’, above which there was a Star of David. The building was brightly pleasantly painted so as not to suggest that people would be killed there. From what I saw, I do not believe that the people who had just arrived had any idea of what would happen to them." 9
  • Gerstein writes: "The train entered the station: 200 Ukrainians brutally open the doors and make the people get out of the cars by lashing them with their whips of leather thongs. A big loudspeaker gives further instructions: to undress completely: also remove artificial limbs, spectacles, etc. . . . Deliver objects of value to the service window, without vouchers or receipts. Carefully tie up the shoes in pairs . . . . otherwise . . . no one would have been able to retrieve the shoes which went together."
  • Gerstein writes: "The chambers are filled. Pack tightly! Captain Wirth has ordered. The people are stepping on each other’s feet, 700-800 in 25 square meters, in 45 cubic meters. The SS men press them physically one against the other as much as they can. The doors close."
    Supporting evidence: Karl Schluch, SS guard: "The Jews had been very tightly squeezed into the gas chambers." 10
    Supporting evidence: Charles Provan proved that forcing this many people into one gas chamber room was possible. His report can be found at http://holocaust.skeptik.net/documents/provan_gerstein.html.
  • Gerstein writes: "In the corner is standing a man of the SS unit, corpulent, who says in an unctuous voice to these unfortunates: Not the least thing will happen to you! It will be necessary only to breathe deeply in the chambers, this develops the lungs, this inhalation is necessary because of the sicknesses and the epidemics. To those who ask what might become of them he replies: Yes, naturally, the men will have to work, to build houses or make roads, but the women will not have need to work. Only if they wish, they can help with the housework or in the kitchen. For some of these unfortunates a little glimmer of hope which suffices to make them walk without resistance the few steps which lead themselves to the chambers."
    Supporting evidence: Rudolf Reder wrote: "As soon as the train was empty, all the victims were assembled in the courtyard . . . It was then that Irrmann [an SS man] would give a speech. There was deathly silence. Irrman stood close to the crowd. Everybody wanted to hear him. . . . Irrmann spoke loudly and clearly: 'Ihr jeht jetzt baden, nachher warden Ihr zur Arbeit geschickt.’ ['You are going to take a bath now, afterwards you will be sent to work.’] . . . . The crowd rejoiced; the people were relieved that they would be doing to work. . . . It was a moment of hope, of illusion. The crowd was peaceful. And in silence they all went forward . . ." 11
  • Gerstein writes: "Only a few very old and very weak persons were set apart, and then shot."
    Supporting evidence: Robert Jührs: ". . . there were Jews who could not possibly have walked as far as the undressing barracks . . . The Jews in question were taken to the gate by the Jewish work detail and from there to the ditch by other working Jews. . . . I would say that they were more dead than alive. It is hard to describe the condition of these people after the long journey in the indescribably overcrowded freight cars. I looked on killing them in that way as a kindness and a release. I shot the Jews with a machine gun from the edge of the ditch." 12
  • Gerstein writes: "The dead are standing straight like pillars of basalt, ranged tightly one against the other in the chambers. There would not be place to fall or lean forward."
    Supporting evidence: Rudolf Reder: "When, after twenty minutes of gassing, the [Ukrainian guards] pushed open the tightly shut doors, the dead were in an upright position." 13
    Supporting evidence: Karl Schluch: ". . . the dead were not lying down on the floor, but remained standing, leaning criss-cross into one another; some leaning forwards, some backwards, some sideways, others kneeling, as space allowed." 14
  • Gerstein writes: "Two dozen dentists open the mouths with hooks and look and see if there are gold crowns. Gold to the left, without gold to the right. Other dentists break the gold teeth and crowns with the aid of pliers and hammers to pull them out of the jaws."
    Supporting evidence: Rudolf Reder: "In those few hundred metres separating the gas chambers from the pits stood some dentists with pliers. They stopped everyone as they dragged the corpses away. They opened the mouths of the dead and yanked out the gold teeth, which they then threw into baskets ready for the purpose. There were eight dentists, usually young men specially selected to do the work. . . . At dusk they went back to the barracks with baskets full of teeth, gold crowns, and bridges. Then they separated the gold, which they melted into ingots. . . . 1 centimetre thick, 50 millimetres wide, and 20 centimeters long." 15
    Supporting evidence: Karl Schluch: "The corpses were pulled out of the chambers and immediate examined by a dentist. The dentists removed rings and extracted gold teeth when there were any." 16
This testimony relates to Belzec only. There is similar testimony for Treblinka and Sobibor.

Gerstein’s report and other eyewitness testimony

The Holocaust deniers claim that both survivor and perpetrator eyewitness evidence is tainted by Gerstein’s original account. However, Rudolf Reder initially gave his testimony to a Polish investigatory group in 1945, long before Gerstein’s account was even made public at the Nuremberg trials in November 1946. How, then, did he tailor his account to an unknown report?
What about the testimony of the SS guards in the Belzec trial of Josef Oberhauser, the camp’s commandant, in the early 1960s? The Holocaust deniers claim Gerstein’s "story" quickly became the accepted truth about the Operation Reinhard camps, and the SS guards tailored their testimony to this "truth," hoping to receive lighter sentences by cooperating with their prosecutors. What the deniers do not tell their readers is that although these former SS guards were originally arrested and questioned, they were released without trial. Thus they were only witnesses at the trial of Josef Oberhauser, the commandant of Belzec, and were in no danger of losing either their freedom or their lives. Why should they need to lie?
As for Pfannenstiel, he gave multiple depositions to various authorities over the years but he was never arrested and was only a witness in the Oberhauser trial. In his testimony he maneuvered to paint himself as having been appalled by what he saw and not an enthusiastic supporter of the mass murder of Jews as Gerstein wrote, but he never denied that he witnessed a mass gassing at Belzec and corroborated all the important details of Gerstein’s report related to the actual gassing.

Conclusion

Responsible history is written by comparing eyewitness and documentary evidence to each other to determine the most reasonable interpretation between all the sources and work out errors and speculation. In this case, the evidence of perpetrators survivors corroborates Gerstein’s account and each other on all the major points of the process of mass murder.
Although the Holocaust deniers’ do their best to pick apart and discredit Kurt Gerstein’s report, in the end the core of the report-the account of mass murder in Belzec-can be corroborated by the testimony of a variety of others. Notwithstanding his guesses and exaggerations, the Gerstein report is sound.

Notes

1. Ditlieb Felderer, "Certain Impossibilities of the 'Gerstein Statement," at http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v01/v01p-69_Felderer.html" and "More Impossibilities of the 'Gerstein Statement,’" at http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v01/v01p169_Felderer.html.
2. Clip 7: "Abraham Bomba" at www.onethirdoftheholocaust.com.
3. The only other Jewish survivor who spoke about the activities in Belzec was a man named Chaim Hirszman. Hirszman escaped from the transport taking the last 300 Jews of Belzec to Sobibor (where the others were shot). He survived the war but he was shot by Polish antisemites on March 19, 1946 on the very day he began giving evidence to the Jewish Historical Commission in Lublin. See Robin O’Neil, Belzec: Prototype for the Final Solution: Hitler’s Answer to the Jewish Question at www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/belzec/bel001.html, (Introduction).
4. See www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/people/p/ftp.py?people/p/pfannenstiel.wilhelm/pfannen.001 and www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/people/p/ftp.py?people/p/pfannenstiel.wilhelm/pfannen.002 for the text of one of his depositions as quoted from Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen, Volker Riess, editors, "The Good Old Days": The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders (Free Press, 1988), p. 238-244. (Statement of Wilhelm Pfannenstiel made April 25, 1960).
5. "Josef Oberhauser (war criminal)" at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_Oberhauser_(war_criminal). See also Robin O’Neil, Belzec: Prototype for the Final Solution: Hitler’s Answer to the Jewish Question at www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/belzec/bel001.html, (Introduction).
6. All exact quotations are taken from Gerstein's Report 3 (German, typed, May 4, 1945). However, Reports 1 and 2 are all but identical.
7. See Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987) in Appendix A for a fairly complete list of deportations to the Operation Reinhard camps. See also Robin O’Neil, Belzec: Prototype for the Final Solution: Hitler’s Answer to the Jewish Question at www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/belzec1/belzec1.html, Appendix 1 at www.jewishgen.org./yizkor/belzec1/bel901.html.
8. Rudolf Reder, "Belzec," Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, V13 (Focusing on the Holocaust and its Aftermath), edited by Antony Polonsky (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2000): pp. 268-289 (see page 275).
9. See www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/people/p/ftp.py?people/p/pfannenstiel.wilhelm/pfannen.001 and www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/people/p/ftp.py?people/p/pfannenstiel.wilhelm/pfannen.002.
10. See www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/people/p/ftp.py?people/p/pfannenstiel.wilhelm/pfannen.001 and www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/people/p/ftp.py?people/p/pfannenstiel.wilhelm/pfannen.002.
11. Reder, "Belzec," Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, pp. 268-289 (see pages 273, 274).
12. Kogon, Langbein, and Rückerl, editors, Nazi Mass Murder, p. 120.
13. Reder, "Belzec," Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, pp. 268-289 (see page 278).
14. Kogon, Langbein, and Rückerl, editors, Nazi Mass Murder, pp. 118, 119.
15. Reder, "Belzec," Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, pp. 268-289 (see page 279).
16. Kogon, Langbein, and Rückerl, editors, Nazi Mass Murder, pp. 118, 119.
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