Irving v. Lipstadt

Defense Documents

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

Table of Contents

(ii) General Knowledge of the 'Final Solution'

1. None of the witnesses Irving cited (save Karl Wolff) was prominent enough in the 'Third Reich' to have been subject to individual historical scrutiny, in other words to have had the veracity of their post-war recollections weighed against the documents and the testimony of others. It is therefore apposite to consider briefly how much of the 'Final Solution' was public knowledge in Germany and thereby to set a rough standard by which to judge how much credence can be given to individual staff member's claims to have known nothing.
2. Most accounts assessing how much of the 'Final Solution' was common knowledge are based on the 'Reports from the Reich' [Meldungen aus dem Reich] composed by the German security services, particularly the SS Security Service [Sicherheitssdienst - SD], to gauge the mood of the German public. Members of the Security Service in civilian clothing listened to conversations in public places and gathered information from various other sources with the   aim of informing the regime about the public mood, sometimes generally, sometimes in relation to specific events such as a speech by Hitler or Goebbels or an important event of some kind. The source is not without bias. Information supplied by the local stations was purposefully deleted and suppressed by the authors of the national digest, whilst other aspects were put into relief. For example the reports do not reflect popular knowledge of the euthanasia program and popular opposition to it, although we know both to have been large. Interestingly, during a speech given in 1996, Irving claimed that there was not a single reference to the 'Final Solution' in the SD Reports: '...and there's the entire series of SD Berichte [reports] from the beginning of the war right through until nearly the end, and never once is there any reference to the Holocaust in them. The people just didn't know what was going on, whatever it was.'13 This claim was advanced despite numerous publications that used the selfsame source to show exactly the opposite: i.e. that reference was made to aspects of the Holocaust and people did know about aspects of it.14
3. There is a general consensus amongst historians on the following points:
First, the daily discrimination and violence, especially of the so-called 'evacuations' [Aussiedlungen] of the Jews to the east, was impossible to overlook, although the fate of the deportees may not have been clear to everyone. The beatings, the forced marches, and the savagery of some of the deportations, even when carried out late at night, were impossible to   hide from the populace. Likewise the number of Jews committing suicide before each impending round-up must have penetrated even the most stubborn of minds. These deportations took on ever-larger proportions throughout the Reich from October 1941 onwards.
4. Secondly, the appreciation was widespread that the war in the east was a war of extermination, and was being fought with a hitherto unknown barbarism. Those soldiers and administrators who saw duty in the east, be it in Poland or Russia, often came into direct contact with aspects of the 'Final Solution', either as witnesses or perpetrators, foremost to the Einsatzgruppen shootings. Prince Ferdinand von der Leyen wrote in his memoirs that:
It may well be true that apart from the perpetrators who remained silent, the whole extent of the horror was hardly known to anyone. But those who were in the east, especially in the General Government, must have at least have heard of the destruction of the Jews, even if the immense numbers and the bestial implementation which were spoken of remained unverifiable [...]. This much is certain: there was no person in Germany who did not know that something evil happened to the Jews [...].15

5. A SD report of May 1942 from Erfurt indicated that a remarkably accurate idea of the modus operandi of the Einsatzgruppen in Poland and Russia was current in the town:
Thus the rumour has been circulating among the population that the Security Police have been given the task of wiping out Judaism in the occupied territories. Jews by the thousands have been collected together   and shot, after they have dug their own graves beforehand. At times the shooting of the Jews assumed such proportions that even members of the execution squads suffered nervous breakdowns.16

6. Thirdly, as Germany began to suffer reverses, especially on the eastern front, and with the increasing severity of the aerial bombardment of German cities, general fears increased of retaliation for the fate inflicted on the Jews. These mounting guilt complexes were particularly evident at the time the German authorities sought to make capital from the mass killing of Polish officers by the Soviets in the Katyn forest in April 1943. The SD reported that many people found it 'remarkable' and 'hypocritical' that 'German propaganda has now revealed its concern for the Poles.' As some observed, 'We have no right to work ourselves up about these measures of the Soviets, because on the German side Poles and Jews have been done away with in much larger numbers.' Others remarked that 'we ourselves have not exactly been fastidious in handling Poles, Jews and Bolsheviks.'17
7. Fourthly, the full monstrous scope and all the details of the crimes being committed were known to fewer. Rumours, talk, and hints of gassings did circulate, but it is harder to substantiate how much was known about the mass exterminations in the concentration camps using gas. For many such ideas were quite simply beyond rational comprehension, as they indeed remain for many today. But, although details were distorted and blurred, something was known of the gassings.
8. An ordinary citizen like Karl Dürkefälden learnt of the murder of the Jews of Kiev in October 1942, and the gassing of French Jews, from a soldier on leave from Vilna.18 Lilli Hahn living in   Hessen was told that the last two transports of Frankfurt Jews had been killed near Minsk.19 Artilleryman Peter Perchel heard a similar story in May 1943 travelling to Bucharest as a courier for the Supreme Command. An Engineer Corps colonel told him that he had witnessed the gassing of a trainload of Jews in Poland. The cars had been shunted into a tunnel and decoupled. The tunnel was sealed and trucks were left running to kill the Jews with diesel fumes.20 Ruth Andreas-Friedrich in Berlin recorded in her diary on 2 December 1942 'The Jews are disappearing in droves. Terrible rumours are circulating about the fate of the evacuated. Of mass shootings and death from starvation, of tortures and gassing.'21
9. Fifthly, Himmler and the killing apparatus, the Nazi party leadership, and the various participating organs of state made considerable efforts, to keep the operation secret. No one had to know, and no doubt the stench of murder was hidden for some by the nature of war. But there was scarcely anyone who was unable to know or understand if he or she chose to do so. Hence the large number of persons in Resistance circles who were well informed about what was going on.
10. The diplomat Ulrich von Hassell, who had numerous contacts within the Foreign Office and was always promptly and reliably informed about the inner workings of the Foreign Office, noted in his diary on the 15 May 1943:
Shocking reports come in from the good [Max] Fraunendorfer [administrator in the General Government] in Poland. While [Hans] Frank publicly declares he wanted to give Poland a dignified and free existence,   and while the gang tries in vain to befuddle world opinion about [better 'with'] the Katyn murders, the SS in Poland carries on most shamefully. Countless Jews have been gassed in specially built chambers, at least 100,000. [...] Meanwhile the unhappy remnants of the Jews [in Warsaw] prepared to defend themselves, and there is heavy fighting which will certainly lead to their complete extermination by the SS.22

11. Von Hassell was not the only Foreign Office official to know what was going on. Others were quite well informed as well.
12. Curt Prüfer, the former head of personnel in the Foreign Office and later ambassador to Brazil returned to Berlin in 1942. After conversing with friends and acquaintances he confided to his diary on 12 November:
I was told terrible stories this morning about the treatment of the Persians. They have been massacred in large numbers - men, women, and children - by asphyxial gas or by machine gun. The hatred, which will obviously be engendered, will never be extinguished. Every child today knows this in all its details.23
13. Furthermore, on 17 November 1942, Alexander Stahlberg visited the headquarters of Army Group Centre at Smolensk, where he spent the evening with Major General Henning von Tresckow and his aide Lieutenant Fabian von Schlabrendorff. These were figures who, like von Hassell, were involved in the plot to overthrow Hitler which culminated in the unsuccessful attempt on his life on 20 July 1944.
14. According to Stahlberg, the conversation turned to the General Staff, Hitler, and the course of the war:
After a pause I asked him [Tresckow] if there was anything in the rumours of SS incursions against the civilian population in the rear areas. The rumours were true, he said, but with the rider that this was not a matter of occasional raids but of the planned extermination of human beings. Reliable information had reached Army Group that special SD and SS units had been formed for the carefully organised execution of the plan, on a scale that transcended imagination. 24

15. Several months later Stahlberg was charged with delivering a letter from Manstein to Colonel-General Beck through General Oster or Admiral Wilhelm Canaris in Berlin.
16. On his mission Oster showed him a copy of a summarised report from SD Einsatzgruppen on the liquidation of Jews in the Reichskommissariat Ostland which listed the executions carried out by region, 'tens of thousands of them, adding up to six figures.'25 In October 1943 the Senior Quartermaster of Army Group Centre, Colonel Eberhard Finckh reported from Vinnitsa to Stahlberg that two General Staff Officers had witnessed a mass execution of Jews. An SS officer   had told the General Staff Officers that they had already executed more than 100,000 Jews. Stahlberg passed the information on to Manstein that evening, who refused to believe the enormity of the figure.26
17. In considering how far this kind of knowledge could and did percolate downwards to secretaries and office workers, it is instructive to quote Erika Scholz, a secretary in Adolf Eichmann's Section IV-B4 of the RSHA. She told a court in 1969 at the trial of Eichmann's specialist for transport, Franz Novak:
I did not know the details about what went on in the concentration camps, but I knew that the final solution of the Jewish question consisted of the extermination of the Jews. [...] I knew the word 'special treatment' [Sonderbehandlung] from my Berlin days. It was never talked about in the department, also with friends. [...] But everyone who was involved in it knew what the whole thing meant.27

18. Irving is himself content to quote Karl Wolff's claim that only 70 people had an intimate knowledge of the full scale and mechanisms of the 'Final Solution'.28 Yet over 100,000 people were directly involved in the murder of European Jewry, not to speak of those who directly witnessed or heard at first hand or through rumour of what was happening.29
19. The self-serving nature of Wolff's absurdly low figure is obvious; if very few people knew, then his argument that he himself knew nothing of the extermination becomes to seem a little more plausible than it might at first glance be the case.


13. Audiocassette 127, Irving on 'the Freedom of Speech' and 'Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution"' in Oakland, California, 10 September 1996.
14. Amongst the relevant studies are M. Steinert, Hitlers Krieg und die Deutschen (Düsseldorf, 1970); Lawrence D. Stokes, 'The German People and the Destruction of the European Jews', Central European History, vol. 6 (1973), pp. 167 - 191; Ian Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the 'Third Reich': Bavaria 1933-1945 (Oxford, 1983); Hans Mommsen, 'Was haben die Deutschen vom Völkermord an den Juden gewußt?', in Werner H. Pehle (ed.), Der Judenpogrom 1938. Von der 'Reichskristallnacht' zum Völkermord (Frankfurt a. M., 1988), pp. 176-200; David Bankier, 'The Germans and the Holocaust: What did they know?', Yad Vashem Studies, vol. 20 (1990), pp. 69-93.
15. 'Wohl ist es wahr, daß - außer den Beteiligten, die schwiegen - das ganze Ausmaß des Grauens kaum jemandem bekannt wurde, aber wer im Osten und insbesondere im Generalgouvernement war, mußte von der Ausrottung der Juden wenigstens gehört haben, wenn auch die ungeheuren Zahlen und die Bestialität der Ausführung, von denen gesprochen wurde, für ihn unkontrollierbar blieben [...] Soviel ist aber sicher: es gab keinen Menschen in Deutschland, der nicht wußte, daß den Juden Böses geschah,...' (Ferdinand von der Leyen, Rückblick zum Mauerwald. Vier Kriegsjahre im Oberkommando des Heeres (Munich, 1965), pp. 62-3 quoted in Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm, 'Wie geheim war die "Endlösung"?', in Wolfgang Benz (ed.), Miscellanea. Festschrift für Helmut Krausnick zum 75. Geburtstag (Stuttgart, 1980), pp. 131-148, p. 133).
16. Stokes, pp. 188-9.
17. Stokes, p. 187.
18. Herbert and Sibylle Obenaus (eds.), "Schreiben wie es wirklich war!": Aufzeichnungen aus den Jahren 1933-1945 (Hannover, 1985), pp. 112, and 113-115.
19. Lilli Hahn, ... bis alles in Scherben fällt. Tagbuchblätter 1933-1945 (Cologne, 1979), entry of 30 November 1941.
20. Johannes Steinhoff / Peter Pechel / Dennis Showalter (eds.) Voices from the Reich. An Oral History (London, 1991), pp. 254-57.
21. Ruth Andreas-Friedrich, Der Schattenmann. Tagebuchaufzeichnungen 1938-1945 (Frankfurt a. M., 1983), p. 96.
22. The von Hassell Diaries (London, 1948), p. 272. The German reads, 'Erschütternde Berichte des braven Frauendorfer aus Polen, während Frank öffentlich erklärt, man wolle Polen ein menschenwürdiges freies Dasein geben und während man - vergeblich - die Welt durch Katyan abzulenken sucht, haust die SS in Polen weiter in unvorstellbar beschämendster Weise. Unzählige Juden werden in besonders gebauten Hallen vergast, jedenfalls 100 000.[...] Iinzwischen setzte sich der unglücklich Judenrest in Warschau zur Wehr, und es kam zu schweren Kämpfen, die Wohl zur völligen Ausrottung durch die SS führen werden.' (Ulrich von Hassell, Vom anderen Deutschland. Aus den nachgelassenen Tagebüchern 1938-1944 (Zürich, 1947), p. 314). Ulrich von Hassell [1881-1944] was a career diplomat and active member of the Resistance movement. He was executed on 8 September 1944 in the wake of the July Plot. Hans Frank [1900-1946] General Governor of Poland 1939-1945.
23. 'On m'a raconté ce matin des histoires affreuses sur le traitment des Persans. Ils ont été massacrés hommes, femmes et enfants en grand nombre par des gaz asphyxiants ou par la mitrailleuse. La haine, qui, forcément, doit en surgir ne sera jamais éteinte. Dies weiß heute jedes kind in allen Details.' (hand-written entry of 22 November 1942 in the unpublished diaries of Curt Prüfers, quoted in Hans-Jürgen Döscher, Das Auswärtige Amt im Dritten Reich. Diplomatie im Schatten der 'Endlösung' (Berlin, 1987), p. 253). The French and reference to the 'Persians' instead of the Jews was intended to disquise his knowledge. After the war, Prüfer rewrote this diary entry to make the reference to the Jews explicit, and added new material to make him seem more sympathetic to their plight. In the original version, quoted here, he was worried only about the effect of the killings on subsequent, probably international, opinion. See Donald M. McKale (ed.), Rewriting History. The Original and Revised World War II Diaries of Curt Prüfer, Nazi Diplomat (London, 1988), pp. 11 and 151, quoting, respectively, the original and revised versions. See also Donald M. McKale, Curt Prüfer: German Diplomat from the Kaiser to Hitler (London, 1987).
24. Alexander Stahlberg, Die verdammte Pflicht: Erinnerungen 1932 bis 1945 (Berlin, 1987), translated by Patricia Crampton as Bounden Duty. The Memoirs of a German Officer 1932-45 (London, 1990), p. 202.German original reads: 'Nach einer Pause fragte ich ihn, was an den Gerüchten von Übergriffen der SS gegen die Zivilbevölkerung in den rückwärtigen Gebieten sei. Diese Gerüchte träfen zu, antwortete er, allerdings mit der Ergänzung, daß es sich nicht um einzelne Übergriffe handele, sondern um planmäßige Ausrottungen von menschen. Man habe bei der Heeresgruppe zuverlässige Informationen, das der SD und die SS spezialeinheiten gebildet hätten, die das sorfältig organisiert betrieben, und zwar in einem Umfang, der jede Phantasie übersteige.' (p. 224 in the original).
25. Ibid., p. 286.
26. Ibid., p. 312-14.
27. 'Von den Vorgängen in den KL wußte ich keine Einzelheiten, aber ich wußte, daß die Endlösung der Judenfrage in der Ausrottung der Juden bestand. [...] Das Wort 'Sonderbehandlung' kannte ich schon in meiner Berliner Zeit. Auf der Dienstelle wurde nie etwas darüber gesprochen, auch nicht mit Freunden. [...] Aber jeder, der damit befaßt war, wußte, was das Ganze bedeutet.' (statement by Erika Scholz, 11 December 1969 in the trial of Franz Novak, quoted in Götz Aly, "Endlösung". Völkerverschiebung und der Mord an den europäischen Juden (Frankfurt a. M., 1995), p. 372).
28. Hitler's War, p. 393.
29. Peter Steinbach, Nationalsozialistische Gewaltverbrechen. Die Diskussion in der Öffentlichkeit nach 1945 (Berlin, 1981), p. 74.
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