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

Table of Contents
<< The Defendants' case as t...Irving's response: Hitler... >>

Irving's response: the scale of the killings by gassing

6.106 As I have already pointed out, Irving accepted that the object of Operation Reinhard was broadly that contended for by the Defendants. What he disputed are the Defendants' contentions as to scale of the operation and Hitler's knowledge and approval of it. As to the scale of the extermination programme, Irving's stance in regard to the question whether gas chambers were employed at the Reinhard camps for the killing of Jews and, if so, on what scale appeared to evolve during the course of the hearing. He produced documents which show that various poisonous gasses were employed by the Nazis for non-lethal purposes, in particular for the fumigation of clothing. Indeed the Nazis trained people in the use of gas for fumigation purposes. He spent some time in his own evidence and during the course of his cross-examination of Browning stressing the marked absence of documentary evidence of the gassing in contrast with the ample documentation which has survived of the execution of Jews by shooting. He pointed out that, of the many thousands of messages intercepted by the British at Bletchley elsewhere, none mentions gassing. Browning accepted that, with the exception of a few documents referring to the use of gas vans by the Einsatzgruppen and their use at Chelmno, documents do not now exist. His explanation was that Operation Reinhard was centralised and so required little communication, whereas the shooting was carried out by means of numerous local operations. He added that most of the Reinhard documents had in any event been systematically destroyed.
6.107 Irving was critical of the reliance placed by the Defendants on such documents as are said by them to cast light on the allegedly genocidal use to which the camps were put. Much time was spent in evidence and argument on discussing the meaning and true significance of a number of German words to be found in the speeches of Hitler and others and in contemporaneous documents generally. There was prolonged cross-examination of Longerich by Irving as to the meaning of certain German words which he listed in a glossary prepared for the purpose of these proceedings. Those words include ausrotten, vernichten, liquidieren, evakuieren, umsiedeln and abschieben. A considerable number of   documents were scrutinised in an attempt to ascertain whether the words in question were being used or understood in a genocidal sense. Irving contended that most of these words are properly to be understood in a non-genocidal sense. Longerich's agreed that most, if not all, of these words are capable of being used in a non-genocidal sense. For example ausrotten can bear such anodyne meanings as "get rid of" or "wipe out" without connoting physical extermination. But he asserted that its usual and primary meaning is "exterminate" or "kill off", especially when applied to people or to a group of people as opposed to, for example a religion. He contended that all depends on the context in which the words are used. Another example is Umsiedlung, which can mean no more than resettlement in a ghetto but more often embraces a homicidal meaning as well. Whilst Longerich was prepared to concede that some of the words in question may be used in a non-genocidal sense in the years leading up to 1941, he argued that from about that date onwards the words are invariably used in a sinister sense to connote killing on a major scale. For instance he contends that when, in a document dated 20 February 1942 the Reichsicherheitshauptamt (RHSA) use the term Evakuierung in connection with the issuing of guidelines for the implementation of the evacuation of Jews to Auschwitz, the word is being used in a genocidal sense.
6.108 Irving was also critical of the Defendants' experts for their readiness, as he saw it, to dismiss as "euphemistic" German words which on their face are anodyne or imprecise in their connotation. Examples of such words include Sonderbehandlung (special treatment), Evakuierung (evacuation) and Umsiedlung (resettlement). According to the Defendants, such words were often employed where the writer or speaker wished either to be evasive or to speak in a coded language calculated to mislead outsiders. Browning used Event report 21 of 13 July 1941 together with a number of other similar reports to demonstrate that Sonderbehandlung was used to mean liquidation or shooting or execution. He also cited a document which refers to the Umsiedlung (resettlement) in the Kreisgebiet Brest-Litovsk of 20,000 Jews who can be shown to have been killed. Browning and Irving were in agreement that in the case of camouflage documents such as these it is necessary to take careful account of the context when deciding what these terms really signified. According to both of them, it is legitimate and indeed necessary for an historian to have regard not only to the circumstances as they existed at the time when the document came into existence but also to what happened later.
6.109 As regards the mass extermination of Jews, Irving accepted that gas vans were employed to kill Jews at camps in the east. When asked whether he accepted that at Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec Jews were killed with gas, Irving answered that, on the basis of evidence contained in Eichmann's private papers, he accepts that there was gassing in vans at Chelmno. He said, however, that he has not seen evidence of the use of gas vans at the other camps. He maintained the position that this was a very inefficient method of killing. He also pointed out that there was some disagreement as to the way in which the poison was administered and whether it was carbon monoxide or some other form of poison. Irving also queried whether it would have been feasible to have buried so many corpses.
6.110 But in the end Irving's doubts were no more than academic. For, despite his original claim that gassing occurred on a limited basis involving the use of no more that six to eight vans, Irving, in the light of documents he had seen in the past six months, made a number of concessions. He did not quarrel with the assertion of Browning that in a period of about five weeks in 1942 97,000 were killed at Chelmno by the use of gas vans. Irving suggested that figure may be an exaggeration but he agreed that was not limited or experimental but systematic. He further agreed that the evidence established that Jewish women and children were gassed to death in vans in Semlin, near Belgrade, in 1942.
6.111 However, despite his acceptance at an earlier stage of the trial that the gassing at the Reinhard camps had been systematic and on a considerable scale, Irving cross-examined Evans on the basis that the gas vans had been used to kill Jews on a basis which was no more than experimental. Evans's evidence was that, whilst the vans were used in a transitional stage only, they were nevertheless used on a large scale.
6.112 As to the specific documents relied on by the Defendants, Irving agreed that Wetzel's letter of 25 October 1941 was concerned with liquidating Jews but stressed that, as the Defendants accept, no gas chambers were in the event constructed in Riga. Irving also noted that Wetzel was never prosecuted. Browning's explanation is that there is no evidence he did anything more than propose the construction of gas chambers.
6.113 In reliance on the remarks made by Rosenberg at a press conference on 18 November 1941 about six million Jews being "brought across the Urals", Irving argued that the primary Nazi intention was to transport them   yet further to the East rather than to exterminate them. Rosenberg specifically referred to the option of expelling them to the eastern side of the Urals, so he should not be taken to have had in mind that the Jews would be killed. Longerich in reply pointed out that Rosenberg had spoken of "the biological eradication of the entirety of Jewry" at a time when 500,000 odd Soviet Jews had already been exterminated. Rosenberg was intent on exterminating the Jews by one means or another, according to Longerich, for he said:
"For this it is necessary to push them over the Urals or otherwise (my italics) eradicate them".
<< The Defendants' case as t...Irving's response: Hitler... >>

accessed 11 March 2013