Holocaust Denial on Trial, Trial Judgment: Electronic Edition, by Charles Gray

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Irving's response: Hitler's knowledge of the gassing at the Reinhard Camps

6.114 In regard to Hitler's speech to the Gauleiter on 12 December 1941, Irving denied that it constitutes evidence of Hitler's knowledge of a policy of exterminating the Jews. He dismissed it as "the old familiar Adolf Hitler gramophone record" harking back to his 1939 prophecy as to the fate awaiting the Jews. Browning considered that its terms indicate that a decision had been taken what to do about the Jews ("the Fuhrer has decided ..."). Irving was reluctant to accept that Goebbels was accurately recording what Hitler had said and argued that he may have been interpolating his own aspirations in regard to the Jews.
6.115 Irving is critical of Browning for the tendentious omission from his account of Frank's speech of 16 December 1941 of Frank's statement:
"We cannot shoot [the Germans in the General Government]. We cannot poison them".
According to Irving, those words make clear that Frank was ruling out extermination as a solution, which makes nonsense of the Defendants' argument that the speech is evidence of a policy of extermination. Browning drew attention to the immediately following words, "We will find a way to bring about a successful destruction", which he argued demonstrate that what Frank was saying was that alternative means must be found of getting rid of the Jews. Irving's riposte is that gassing is no less objectionable than poisoning.
 
6.116 Irving argued that a similar inference that the policy continued to be one of deportation further east could be drawn from Hitler's statement on 27 January 1942, as recorded in his Table Talk. Irving relied also on Hitler's reported reference on 30 January 1942 to the Jews "disappearing from Europe" to be resettled in central Africa. But Longerich countered that these remarks, made at the time of the Wannsee conference, must be regarded as camouflage for public consumption. To take these statements by Hitler at their face value would, according to Longerich, be wholly irreconcilable with the mass exterminations which were already under way at Chelmno and Belzec. Longerich asserted that Hitler and Goebbels were constantly talking about the Jews; that Hitler was well aware of the mass gassings but they were guarded in what they said or wrote about them.
6.117 Irving refused to accept the claim of Longerich that there is evidence that there was a systematic expulsion of the eastern Jews from the ghettos in order to send them to the death camps so as to make way for the German and European Jews who, having arrived in large numbers in the east in trainloads from the rest of Europe, were kept for a while in the ghettos before themselves being sent to the gas chambers. If this occurred , argued Irving, orders and plans would surely have been found. Irving maintained that the evidence for saying that there was a systematic policy of extermination is inferential or secondary. Longerich's explanation for the lack of documentation is that, for reasons of secrecy, much of the planning was discussed verbally between Hitler and Himmler; that the Nazis tried systematically to destroy documents and files on this subject with the result that such documents as have survived are spread round European archives and that the death camps were systematically destroyed by the Nazis at the end of the war.
6.118 Irving pointed out, correctly, that the protocol issued following the Wannsee conference on 20 January 1942 did not discuss methods of killing but rather talked in terms of finding solutions. Irving argued that the minute of the conference makes reference to "the evacuation of the Jews" having stepped into the place of emigration as a solution to the Jewish question. Why, asked Irving, should "evacuation" not be given its natural meaning. Longerich answered this question by pointing to the immediately following paragraph of the minute, which he regards as the central passage, where Heydrich explains what is to be the Final Solution. Heydrich talks of those Jews who survive the work gangs being "dealt with accordingly" for, if released, they would form the seed of a new Jewish regeneration. But Irving   put a different construction on the paragraph: he contended that Heydrich was speaking of what should happen after the release (bei Freilassung) of the Jews. Heydrich was proposing the Jews should upon their release be free to regenerate themselves somewhere outside the Reich. Longerich countered by saying that regeneration of the Jews was precisely what Heydrich was concernd to ensure did not happen. If Heydrich had been contemplating what would happen after the Jews were released, he would have used the term nach Freilassung.
6.119 What is more, argued Irving, there are clear indications in the minute of the conference that the Final Solution was not to be embarked upon until after the war, when mass extermination of the Jews would have been out of the question. Longerich doubted the impracticability of carrying out the Nazi Final Solution if the Nazis had won the war. But he added that Heydrich clearly intended the Jewish work gangs to be put to work forthwith (nun). Longerich did, however, agree that the implementation of the programme of killing all the Jews would not be capable of being completed until after the war was over.
6.120 Next Irving relied, in support of his argument that the topic of killing Jews was not discussed at Wannsee, on the statements to that effect made after the war by most of the participants. Longerich and Browning both answered that there is nothing surprising or convincing about those denials: they were made during the Nuremberg trials and were plainly self-exculpatory. Irving also relied on an extract from a speech made by Heydrich a week or so later in Prague, which is quoted in part in a book by the historian Gotz Aly. Himmler referred in that speech to the option of deporting the Jews to the White Sea (in northern Russia), which he describes as an ideal homeland for them. Irving suggested that Himmler's words should be taken at face value. But Longerich disagreed: he pointed out that Gotz Aly, the author of the book which quoted the speech, is himself of the opinion that the policy of extermination was decided upon in October 1941. Moreover, added Longerich, there is no evidence that any Jew was in fact sent to the White Sea nor is there any evidence that any camp was constructed for them there.
6.121 Irving further relied on a letter written in June 1942 by Walter Furl, the officer stationed in Krokow who was responsible for resettlement in the General Government, to his SS officers in which he described how trainloads of Jews arrived at Krakow and were given first aid and   provisional accommodation, before being deported towards the White Sea where many of them would assuredly not survive. This, said Irving, is further evidence that the policy continued to be deportation not extermination. What, according to Irving, is significant is that the Jews in question were not sent to Auschwitz. Longerich dismissed this as camouflage, as did Aly Gotz who first quoted the document and who undertook considerable research in the area. There is no evidence that any camps were constructed in the area or that trains ran from the Polish towns to the White Sea or that roads leading in that direction were ever built. The Defendants say that Furl was concerned to conceal the fact that the Jews in question were going to be shot, probably in Minsk. Irving replied that there was no reason why Furl would want to pull the wool over the eyes of his comrades. If that had been Furl's intention, why should have referred openly to many of the Jews assuredly not surviving. Irving complained that, on every occasion when a document appears which does not fit in with the Defendants' thesis, they dismiss it as camouflage or euphemism.
6.122 Irving claimed to find support for his contention that the policy towards European Jews was not genocidal in a letter from Himmler to the Minister of Finance dated 17 August 1942. He argued that it proposed, on grounds of cost, that the French Jews should be housed in a camp to be built on the western boundary of France rather than have them transported across the Reich to Auschwitz. Longerich replied that this letter is pure deception.
6.123 Irving next relied on a report by Horst Ahnert of a meeting on 1 September 1942 at which Eichmann, who chaired the meeting, informed participants that the current programme for the evacuation of Jews from France was to be completed by the end of the year. The report referred to the commandant of Auschwitz having requested that deportees should take with them blankets, shoes and feeding utensils. Irving argued that such a request would not have been made if the Jews were going to be executed on arrival. Longerich responded that the request was no doubt made because not all Jews were executed on arrival: those who were fit enough were sent to the labour camp, where they would need food and clothing. Irving relied on another section of the report of this meeting which stated that the purchase of barracks, requested by the chief of security policy in The Hague, for the construction of camp in Russia should be put in hand. Irving deployed this part of the report as further evidence that the Dutch Jews were not going to be deported to a death camp. Longerich had no knowledge of any such camp having been constructed in Russia. He did, however, concede that there are   odd references in documents which date from this period to the construction of camps to house Jews. Longerich was not prepared to accept the suggestion put to him by Irving that such documents evidenced a non-genocidal intention towards the Jews. The evidence that Jews were at this time being massacred in large numbers is, he contends, overwhelming. His argument was that Eichmann and others were camouflaging what was going on.
6.124 Irving relied on another letter written on 28 December 1942 by Furl to Pohl about the measures to be undertaken by the doctors at certain camps to ensure that the mortality rate was reduced. This letter, suggested Irving, is inconsistent with the existence of a policy of to exterminate all Jews. Longerich disagreed: Pohl was in charge of the labour concentration camps and had no responsibility for the Operation Reinhard death camps. It follows, say the Defendants, that the letter does not touch upon the question what was happening in the death camps.
6.125 In relation to the Kinna report of 16 December 1942, Irving accepted that it is an important document in that it does indeed indicate that Jews at Auschwitz could be killed at will. But he pointed out that the author of the report was a junior SS officer, who may have been imprecise in his use of language.
6.126 Irving also placed reliance on the fact that no archaeological evidence has been uncovered which confirms the existence of gas chambers at any of these camps; indeed the only camp where excavation has been carried out is Belzec and that has only just started.
6.127 Irving made clear that he regards eye witness evidence as deeply suspect. As in the case of Auschwitz, to which I will turn shortly, Irving is inclined to dismiss all such evidence on the ground that it is either the product of duress or bribery or some other inducement or is otherwise unreliable. When I come to deal with Auschwitz I shall recite the various reasons advanced by Irving for dismissing or at least treating with extreme scepticism the evidence of eye-witnesses. Irving was critical of the reliance placed by the Defendants' experts on this body of evidence in its entirety. But he selected, by way of example of his general attack on their credibility, individual witnesses for specific criticism.
 
6.128 He suggested that Eichmann said what he did out of a desire to please or perhaps was subject to some psychological impulse to incriminate himself. He suggested further that Eichmann may have been suffering from sleep deprivation when he gave evidence at this trial. He pointed out that Eichmann claimed wrongly that he was acting pursuant to a Hitler order (having been told so by Heydrich). He suggested that journalist may have invented Eichmann's confession to spice up the report of the interview he had with him whilst he was still at liberty.
6.129 As to Gerstein, Irving doubted his claim to have been a covert anti-Nazi. He suggested that it was most unlikely that he and Pfannenstiel would have been permitted to observe events which were treated as top secret. Irving suggested that it would have been "no skin off [Pfannenstiel's] nose" to admit having watched the gassing when asked about it. He drew attention to the many fantastic claims made by Gerstein in his various accounts, for example his claim that Globocnik told him that between 10,000 and 25,000 Jews were being killed per day at each of the camps and his claim to have seen piles of shoes 25 metres high. Browning conceded that Gerstein was prone to extraordinary exaggerations but he would not accept that he has been wholly discredited. Besides, said Browning, Gerstein is corroborated by others.
6.130 Despite the arguments which he advanced and which I have summarised, Irving, after being repeatedly pressed, did finally concede that one of the proposed methods of liquidation was by the use of carbon monoxide in gas chambers. He further accepted that on the balance of probabilities from the spring of 1942 (and earlier in the case of Chelmno) hundreds of thousands of Jews were deliberately killed at those camps. What he does not accept, however, is that any of these camps were purpose-built death camps. To take Treblinka as an example, Irving asserted that forensic tests and aerial photographs indicate that there was no purpose-built extermination facility there.
6.131 As regards the scale of the exterminations at these camps, Irving did accept that hundreds of thousands of Jews were intentionally killed, by some means or another, at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. He agreed that the contemporaneous evidence discloses daily trains transporting Jews in large numbers (perhaps as many as 5000 per train) eastwards from various departure points to Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec. Although he queried at one point how the corpses had been disposed of, he did not resile from his   acceptance that Jews were killed in huge numbers in the camps at these three villages.
6.132 In connection with the scale of the extermination whch took place in the death camps, Irving relied two documents, one bearing the initials of Himmler, which reported the amount of property taken from Jews in the period to 30 April 1943, evidently in the execution of Operation Reinhard, for distribution amongst Nazi units. The figure for wrist and pocket watches, totalling about 120,000, indicates, according to Irving, that a relatively small number of Jews were dispossessed and a correspondingly lower figure deported and killed. Browning did not accept that the list of property was a complete list of all property removed. He did not consider that the documents assist in determining the likely number of deportees.
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