David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial: Electronic Edition, by Richard J. Evans

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<< (vi) Further bending of ...

(vii) Further misuse of figures: refugees, burials, and excavations.

1. Although the existence of the 'Final Report', he wrote in 1995, 'must inevitably cast doubt' on higher estimates, the report was by nature 'interim', concluded a mere three weeks after the attack.185 This again begs the question asked above. If Irving once again doubted the police's ability to count the dead by 10 March, why had he never previously doubted their ability to count 202,040 dead by 20 March? Yet, Irving went on, there are too many 'unknowns' to allow anyone the luxury of wholeheartedly relying on it:
... I am still reluctant to adopt it without question. March 10, 1945 - the status of the death-roll estimates - was still too early for final figures ... Nobody could, or can, be precise about the final figure. Countless people in Dresden that night vanished from the human race as surely as the man of whom only a shadow remained etched into the wall against which he had been standing.
2. The city had been overcrowded, it had had no shelters and no defences worth talking of, and no expectations were current of raids on such a scale (contradicting the earlier statements by Irving that the Dresden populace had already experienced 172 air raid alerts).186 These factors, coupled with the most violent fire storm in history, 'must inevitably have caused casualties substantially greater than in Hamburg'. Later Irving stated that: 'The key element is probably, over and above the identified death-roll, the vast number of missing people which even the Dresden Police Chief put at thirty-five thousand.'187
3. Irving thus implies that the difference between the 'Final Report's' 25,000 and his minimum of 60,000 is accounted for in the number of unidentified nameless refugees and those still buried or never found and therefore never counted.
4. The night Dresden was hit it was, according to Irving, 'swollen to twice its peace-time population by the [massive] influx of refugees from the East, Allied and Russian prisoners of war, and thousands of forced labourers.'188 Dresden had had a 'permanent' population of 650,000 and 'hundreds of thousands of refugees'. In the 1995 edition they had become 'the million or more refugees who flooded into the city after January 1945'.189 In 1966 the Dresden pre-war population is figured at 630,000, in 1995 at 642,143.190 Elsewhere, while in the 1966 edition the city is 'palpably overcrowded', in the 1995 edition it is 'swollen with one   or two million refugees';191 a population 'between 1,200,000 and 1,400,000 citizens' of whom 'hundreds of thousands had no roof over their heads';192 a city which 'twelve hours earlier had sheltered a million people and their property.'193 As the increases which they have undergone between the 1966 and 1995 editions of his book would suggest, these figures are entirely arbitrary. At no point does Irving give a source for any of them. They are figments of his own imagination.
5. Dresden was undoubtedly hit in the early part of 1945 by a wave of refugees fleeing westwards from the advancing Red Army. Schools and pubs, cinemas on the Prager Straße, and even the palace in the Große Garten were given over to accommodating refugees. None of them though were meant to stay longer than three days, and all available manpower was committed to keeping the trains and carts flowing through Dresden. Undoubtedly some became stationary in Dresden, but 500,000 or 700,000? How were so many refugees accommodated? According to Irving, they were not. 'These endless, well organised refugee "treks", each with its own designated "Führer" , had been directed one after another to the designated reception areas - like the Grosse Garten'. In other words they slept under the open skies.194
6. In the Corgi edition of 1966 Irving claimed that the Dresden City authorities had issued a total of 1,250,000 ration cards to the city's population by the time of the raids.195 Here would be official documentary proof of the number of people in Dresden at the time of the attack. The   source reads simply 'Ration statistics were provided by Mr. Howard Gee who was given them during a visit to Dresden in June 1963.'196 This is once again typical of the infuriating, perhaps deliberate, poverty of so many of Irving's source-references. Who is Mr Gee? A British statistician, perhaps, or a tourist friend of Irving's? Who had given him the information and in what form? Maybe a typed statement from the Dresden archives? For all the reader might know it could be a conversation overheard on a park bench between two Dresden drunks. Without this information this apparent 'fact' remains nothing more than hearsay. Irving saw fit to allow the 'fact' to disappear from the 1995 edition.197 Why? Because in the meantime the truth about the 1,250,000 ration cards he claimed had been issued to the Dresden population had now become clear to him. Far from being genuine, many if not most of them had been produced by the Allies in order to confuse the population and hamper the local Nazi administration. In 1995, and in the 1985 German edition of his Dresden book, Irving admitted he had made a 'mistake' on this point in 1966, and conceded that to add to the long-term dislocation the RAF dropped 'millions of fake ration cards'. He quoted the 'Final Report' of March 1945, which recorded that such cards had been dropped 'in large masses' [größere Massen].198 Yet this openly admitted mistake did not prevent Irving continuing to claim that Dresden was packed with immense numbers of refugees in early February 1945.
7. As early as 1953, the Dresden civil defence engineer Georg Feydt had struggled to defeat the myth of the city saturated with refugees. He wrote: 'I cannot imagine a more peaceful and calm   picture than Dresden on the afternoon of 13 February 1945.'199 Bergander likewise confirmed from his own memory that at no point did Dresden become crammed with refugees. He himself had been called on to help place refugees in accommodation, and apart from those stragglers around the station and the influxes which came with each train, he remembered most being somehow quartered.200 Bergander then proceeded to calculate that the number of refugees in Dresden could sensibly be put at 200,000; 9,000 in the stations (through which the majority came), 6,000 who had trekked with carts spread out over the whole of Dresden, and 85,000 in emergency accommodation. He doubled the number to include all those who might have somehow found their own lodgings that night. Bergander admitted that this was also a guess, but at least a sensible one arrived at through due process. To have accommodated some half a million refugees would have required one of two measures, neither of which took place: either forced billeting in private homes on a massive scale, or huge temporary camps.201
8. The Dresden historian Reichert went one step further. He likewise quoted witnesses who attested that no refugees were billeted in Dresden houses and that no billeting took place in the parks or squares. He then pointed out that the Dresden population could of course not be expected to have been at its pre-war level because of the numbers of men away on active service. Not 630,000, but 567,000 were resident in the city at the time. To that he added 100,000 refugees.202 This was already a very considerable number in view of the city's overall population; but nowhere near the 'one or two million' suggested by Irving in 1995.
9. How many of these are likely to have been killed? The total figure of just over '18,000' given by the 'Final Report' of course included refugees as well as local citizens. Irving, as we have seen, implied that many thousands of those killed were officially only listed as 'missing' and so were excluded from the official death roll. Section E of the 'Final Report' headed 'loss of life' listed under the difficulties in identifying the number of dead: 'migration of large parts of the population, transport of a large part of the wounded out of the city.'203 The 'Final Report' put the 'missing' figure known to the register of missing persons and the city administration at 35,000, but with the proviso that 'Exact ascertainment of the number of killed only possible when it becomes established through the register of missing persons and the police offices of registration how many people have left Dresden.'204 10,000 of those missing were later found to be alive.205
10. Given the chaotic situation of the last weeks of Hitler's Germany, with millions of refugees streaming through Europe many more might have escaped official attention. Irving himself obliquely concedes that a mass exodus took place from Dresden after the bombing raid. He quoted a Swedish newspaper of 18 February that 'Dresden had been so destroyed that the order for its final evacuation had been given.' In the same paragraph he quoted a refugee: 'None of the neighbouring towns could send help [after the attack] because all the approaches to Dresden were crowded with refugee columns, peasant carts, pushcarts and army vehicles.'206 Thus even on Irving's own evidence, the 'missing' must have included many thousands who   had left the city immediately after the raids were over. This was a complicating factor that Dr. Hans Sperling of the Federal Office for Statistics had already brought to Irving's attention in 1962.207 Even if a considerable number of those registered as missing had in fact been killed in the raids, it still remains the case that they would have added no more than a few thousand to the overall death-roll, not the numbers needed by Irving to make up the shortfall between the 'Final Report' figure of 18,000 and his own estimate of 100,000 or even 250,000. As it is, it is now clear that the Dresden authorities took great pains to count all the dead, identified and unidentified.
11. Conclusive evidence is supplied by burial figures. According to Irving 'history relates that the last mortal remains of 28,746 air the raids' victims found their last resting place on the Heidefriedhof cemetery.'208 The figure of 28,746 in the Heidefriedhof comes from the cemetery's head gardener Zeppenfeld, who is quoted by Seydewitz as haven giving this total from the head-count of those buried and the ashes of 9,000 bodies burnt on the Altmarkt.209 In fact, as we know, 6,865 people were burnt on the Altmarkt. Bodies were also buried at the Johannisfriedhof cemetary. Weidauer quotes the director of administration that 3,660 victims of the attack were buried there.210 In 1993, new official material was found from the Dresden burial offices [Marschall- und Bestattungsamt] confirming the exact number of those buried.211 Quite contrary to Irving's image of chaotic and botched mass-burials,212 the   counting of the dead was conscientiously carried out, with the figures being reported regularly to the city administration. Exactly 17,295 bodies had been buried in the Heidefriedhof cemetary, including the ashes of the 6,865 people burnt on the Altmarkt. In addition to the 3,462 burials in the Johannisfriedhof cemetary, 514 were buried in the Neue Annenfriedhof cemetary. This gives a total of 21,271 registered burials.213 Head gardener Zeppenfeld's figure of 28,746 thus overestimated the true number by more than 7,000, unsurprising perhaps, given the fact that it lacked any written authentication and was arrived at only in a rough and ready way. The official figures are far more likely to be closer to the truth.
12. Another possible point of statistical confusion, according to Irving, lay in the fact that many people searched for missing relatives to 'spare them the indignity of mass burial in a common grave' or even resorted to digging up their next of kin already buried in mass graves.214 Even if one were to concede the point, and there are witnesses quoted elsewhere as rescuing bodies from the rubble themselves, it seems highly unlikely that people broke open sealed mass graves in the hope of finding their relatives amongst the number buried there. Moreover, this in no way precluded the victims from appearing on one of the official lists. On the contrary, people who had by then of course identified their relatives would have been bound to have reported their death to the authorities, or would Irving have us believe that thousands were secretly buried on unconsecrated grounds and their deaths for some strange reason kept secret from the authorities? Reichert adds that the burials in the smaller graveyards were scrupulously recorded   and did not exceed 2,000.215 The total number of burials, therefore, approximates well to the total figure of deaths in the raid already known from other sources such as the 'Final Report', namely 21,000 compared to 18,000.
13. Irving's last refuge was to claim that too much of Dresden remained unexcavated to say how many bodies might still be buried.216 More, of course, did lie hidden beneath the rubble and were not discovered until later. Weidauer points out that from 8 May 1945 until 1966, exactly 1,858 bodies had been dug from the ruins of Dresden. Only in four instances had it been impossible to establish the number of victims in one place. The total for the four could not have been higher than a hundred.217 He likewise makes clear that by all accounts the majority of victims had died through suffocation and that only in a small number of cases were bodies so mutilated or burnt that the exact number could not be ascertained. Reichert quotes a slightly smaller figure for between October 1945 and late 1957 of 1,557 bodies.218 Irving, although he must have been aware of Weidauer's figures, still wrote in 1995 of an immediate post-war Dresden 'where thousands of victims were still being recovered each week from the ruins'. He argued that too little of Dresden had been excavated to determine how many bodies lay undiscovered.219 Yet he himself had written in 1963 that 'most of the bomb sites in Dresden's   Inner City have been cleared anyway.'220 Reichert adds (1994) that not a single body had been found since 1990, despite heavy building and despite archaeological excavations on the Altmarkt and around the Taschenberg Palace.221
14. When Reichert added the three sums together cited above he came to the inescapable conclusion that the final number of deaths for the raids of February 13/14 and April 17 was 25,000, corresponding to the real TB 47's prediction of the same number, and all of it based on documentary evidence.
15. How reliable, finally, are these official figures? Widely accepted for many years, the fact that the Communist authorities in post-war Dresden were among those who treated the figure of 35,000 as accurate is an irrelevancy. What interest did the Communists have in playing down the numbers killed? Even if they had, the figure of 25,000 - 35,000 comes not from the Communists but, as we have seen, from the Nazi authorities themselves.


185. Focal Point, edn., p. 244.
186. Corgi, edn., 1966, p. 187; Focal Point, p. 189.
187. Focal Point, edn., pp. 243 and 244.
188. Corgi edn., 1966, vii; Corgi edn., 1971, p. 7; 'massive' dropped from Focal Point, ix.
189. Corgi edn., 1966, p. 78; Focal Point edn., p. 78; Corgi edn., 1966, p. 81; Focal Point edn., p. 81.
190. Corgi edn., 1966, p. 83; Focal Point, edn., p. 82.
191. Corgi edn., 1966, p. 83; Focal Point, edn., p. 82.
192. Corgi edn., 1966, p. 106; Focal Point, edn., p. 104.
193. Focal Point, edn., p. 171; Corgi edn., 1966, p. 173.
194. Focal Point, edn., p. 188; Corgi edn., 1966, p. 185.
195. Corgi edn., 1966, p. 106.
196. Corgi edn., 1966, p. 272.
197. Focal Point, p. 104.
198. Focal Point, p. 176 and fn. 12, p. 290; Heyne 1985, appendix 3, p. 277.
199. Feydt, quoted in Bergander, p. 249.
200. Bergander, p. 250.
201. Bergander, pp. 250-3.
202. Reichert, p. 55. Förster also gives the same figure, but allows for a number of evacuees from the Rhineland, p. 309.
203. Heyne 1985, p. 289.
204. Heyne edn., 1985, p. 290.
205. Reichert, p. 58.
206. Focal Point, edn., p. 260.
207. DJ 10, Hans Sperling to Irving, 25 April 1962.
208. Corgi edn., 1966, p. 213, Focal Point, p. 224
209. Bergander, pp. 267-8.
210. Weidauer, p. 119.
211. Stadtarchiv Dresden, Marshall und Bestattungsamt, Nachtrag 1 and 5.
212. Corgi 1966, pp. 214-5; Focal Point, pp. 225-6.
213. Reichert, p. 58.
214. Corgi 1966, pp. 216; Focal Point, pp. 227-8.
215. Reichert, p. 58.
216. Focal Point edn., p. xiii.
217. Weidauer, p. 120.
218. Reichert, p. 58.
219. Focal Point, edn., pp. 272 and xiii.
220. Irving to Crossman, 26 May 1963, PRO, FO 371/169329. Theo Miller had contacted Irving in 1965 as he had been involved in the clearance work following the attack, including recovering corpses. He wrote to Irving that by mid-March 1945 'our task was almost completed' and that the clearing work had uncovered 30,000 corpses. See DJ 10, Theo Miller to Irving, 25 February 1965.
221. Reichert, p. 61.
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