Irving v. Lipstadt
Holocaust Denial on Trial, Trial Transcripts, Day 9: Electronic Edition
Pages 91 - 95 of 194
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1 Q. [Mr Irving] I did not appreciate that. So, in other words, all these
2eyewitnesses who were sonderkommandos were Jewish, the
3ones who are telling these appalling accounts of what they
5 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] Yes. If they are Jews and they have survived to bear
6witness, then these are Jews who bear witness, yes.
7 Q. [Mr Irving] They have done these horrible things. They have taken
8part in this appalling crime committed by the Nazis. They
9have been a participant in it, and this must have been a
10traumatic experience for them?
11 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] Primo Laffi(?) has written a masterful essay on the
12traumas of the sonderkommandos in the book which he just
13published before he died. Yes, this was a very traumatic
15 Q. [Mr Irving] And how can they live with their sense of guilt or shame,
16do you think? How would they try to resolve that in the
17years of their retirement, if they survived, as a large
18number, apparently, did?
19 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] I would refer you to Primo Laffi's ----
20 Q. [Mr Irving] Yes. You appreciate the point I am trying to make, that
21there may be a tendency to romanticize, a tendency to pass
22the burden of guilt, a tendency to -- would you agree that
23that is so?
24 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] I am not a psychologist and I am not a chemist, so I can
25only at a certain moment state that, as an historian, as
26an historian, I am amazed by the way surviving
1sonderkommando in different ways have been able to live up
2to their historical responsibility to bear detailed
3witness to what happened.
4 Q. [Mr Irving] Can we just be quite plain what we agree their tasks were,
5and then we can find out where we diverge? Their task
6was, basically, to handle the cadavers, the corpses,
7inside the crematorium, to rob them of the gold teeth and
8other precious artifacts, to cut off the hair and to feed
9the bodies into the furnaces?
10 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] No. I would like to be more precise than that. The
11sonderkommandos had very, very particular, very
12circumscribed tasks. There were, for example,
13sonderkommandos who only were running, basically, the
14household of the place where they were living. They did
15the "Stubendienst", it was called. There were in every
16barrack or, in this case, in the attic of the crematoria
17(ii), (iii) and (iv) they were four stuben [German
18spoken] and so on. These people were the
20 Q. [Mr Irving] Actually in the building?
21 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] In the building. They lived in the building.
22 Q. [Mr Irving] With their own shower rooms and bathrooms and sleeping
24 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] Yes, they had beds. They were quite comfortable because
25they could make use of stuff which was left behind in the
26undressing room. So there were people in the
1sonderkommandos who, in that sense, I mean -- I do not
2want to imagine what it is to live above the crematorium
3-- who actually were not involved in the operation of
4either of the gas chambers or the crematorium.
5 Q. [Mr Irving] They must have witnessed appalling scenes day after day?
6 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] They witnessed it and they heard about it from the other
7sonderkommandos when they came home, so to speak,
9 Q. [Mr Irving] And their less fortunate friends could say, "You are
10helping the Nazis with their Devil's deed"?
11 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] I have no idea what they could or could not say. I am not
12going to speculate on what they said. Let me -- may
13I finish the tasks of sonderkommandos?
14 MR JUSTICE GRAY: Yes. That is one category, the ones who were
15doing the housework?
16 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] Yes, so, basically, the sonderkommandos who are in the
17Stubendienst. Then there are sonderkommandos who had to
18supervise the undressing of the victims. This was again a
19very particular task.
20 MR IRVING: Of the living victims?
21 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] Of the people who came to the undressing room. These were
22the people who had to maintain some kind of order in the
23undressing room, who had to help people with the
24undressing and they also had to gather the clothing, take
25care, of course, that pairs of shoes remain together and
26things like that, because if you have a mountain of shoes
1and they are all, you know, they are not tied together, it
2is going to be not very useful for the people back home in
4 Q. [Mr Irving] This is from their eyewitness evidence, right?
5 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] This is from eyewitness evidence, yes. We do not have any
6German document outlining the specific responsibilities of
8 Q. [Mr Irving] I have to keep on making that point quite plain. We are
9relying entirely on their word of what happened?
10 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] The word of sonderkommandos and also of German officials.
11So we have sonderkommandos who work in the undressing room
12and that is their task. Then there are sonderkommandos
13who work in the gas chamber which means actually bringing
14people, helping people, to go into the gas chamber and
16 Q. [Mr Irving] Well, actually ramming them in, basically?
17 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] Whatever, in the beginning, that does not, when the doors
18initially open, one does not have to do that -- and who
19removed the corpses from the gas chamber and who clean the
20gas chamber afterwards. That is a particular group of
22Then there are sonderkommandos who operated the
23elevator which was the next -- in the case of crematorium
24(ii), we are now only talking about crematorium (ii)
25because in crematorium (iv) and (v) the sequence is
1 Q. [Mr Irving] While we are dealing with the elevator, did one man have
2to go into the elevator itself or was it operated from
4 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] It was operated from the outside. We have the bills for
5the elevators. We know what the elevators were able to
7 Q. [Mr Irving] We will come back to the elevators?
8 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] Yes. So they operated the elevators which bring the
9corpses up to the incineration room. Then there was group
10of sonderkommandos which are called the "dentists".
11 Q. [Mr Irving] Was the only access, while we are on the elevators,
12between the so-called gas chamber, which is this big
13building we see here, and the furnace room, this
14elevator? Would they otherwise have to go outside around
15the outside of the building carrying corpses?
16 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] There were stairs going up, but there was no internal
17connection between the basement level and the incineration
18room or the main floor of the crematorium.
19 Q. [Mr Irving] Rather an inconvenient layout?
20 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] Yes, it was inconvenient.
21 Q. [Mr Irving] Totally lacked ----
22 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] But it seemed to have worked very well for the Germans.
23 Q. [Mr Irving] A totally lacking system?
24 A. [Professor Robert Jan van Pelt] The system worked well, and I think I have pointed out in
25my book (and Mr Pressec has done it in his book) that
26crematorium (ii) was originally not designed as an
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