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

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The Defendants' case as to the scale on which Jews were gassed to death at camps excluding Auschwitz and the extent, if any, of Hitler's knowledge of and complicity in the killing.

6.73 The Defendants accept that initially Hitler's attitude towards the problem of finding a solution to the problem of the Jewish "bacillus" was that the Jews should be deported from the Reich. They contend, however, that there is circumstantial and documentary evidence that, from about the autumn of 1941, this policy was reversed and that, with the knowledge of Hitler and at his instigation, the policy was adopted of deporting Jews en masse from Europe and killing them in death camps on the eastern borders of the Reich. It was the contention of Longerich that, as the killings of Soviet Jews by shooting spread in the period from autumn 1941 to spring 1942 from the Soviet union to other regions, in particular to the Warthegau, Lublin, Riga, Minsk and Serbia, so in these same areas plans were made for the construction of gas killing facilities. In so far as it related to the area of the General Government this operation was code-named Operation Reinhard.
6.74 There is little mention of Operation Reinhard or Aktion Reinhard in the surviving contemporaneous documents. Browning referred in his report to a document dated 18 July 1942 mentioning "Einsatz Reinhard". There are several other documents marked "AR". According to the Defendants little documentary evidence survives because the records relating to it were ordered to be destroyed in January 1944. Nonetheless, say the Defendants, the evidence does establish that deportation of European Jews to ghettoes and thence to camps at Chelmno, Semlin, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka took place on a massive scale. The Defendants contend that the assignment to construct the death camp at Belzec was entrusted by Himmler to Globocnik at a meeting between them on 13 October 1941. Although the document recording the proposal for their meeting referred to taking "security-political steps" against the Jews and to "limiting their influence", Longerich contended that it is legitimate to infer that the plan to build the Belzec death camp originated at this meeting. Globocnik was looking for   more radical solutions for the Jewish question and the building work started at Belzec started soon afterwards.
6.75 A start was made on the construction of Belzec in October 1941. Another huge complex of gas chambers was planned (but not proceeded with) at Mogilev. Similar facilities were commissioned at Chelmno, Sobibor and Treblinka. Browning testified that the use of the gas vans at camps, starting at Chelmno and Semlin, was an intermediate phase, coming between the shootings by the Einsatzgruppen and the use of primitive gas chambers at those camps and elsewhere. The custom-built gas chambers at Auschwitz came later. On arrival at the camps the great majority of these Jews were killed in gas chambers or by other means. Of these camps Chelmno was situated to the north-west of Lublin; Semlin was outside Belgrade; Belzec and Sobibor were in what was then south-eastern Poland not far from Lublin and Treblinka is north-east of Warsaw close to the frontier at that time with Russia. Longerich testified that it might in broad terms be said that the policy of exterminating the Jews evolved out of the policy of deporting them. Indeed it is, he claimed, impossible to draw a demarcation line between the two policies. The Nazis were well aware that the policy of deportation to the East resulted in the death from starvation or disease of many of those who were deported. Longerich termed this Vernichtung durch Arbeit (annihilation through work). There was some debate whether that term had been used at the time. But in the end it was common ground that it mattered little whether such a label was used. Longerich was clear in his opinion that such a policy as effectively equivalent to a policy of outright killing.
6.76 Other aspects of Operation Reinhard were the collection and use of materials belonging to the Jews (watches and the like) and the selective use of Jewish labour. It was an SS operation under the direction of Globocnik, who was answerable to Kruger, chief of police in the General Government, who in turn was answerable to Himmler. According to Browning, there is evidence that Globocnik on occasion dealt directly with Himmler.
6.77 Longerich contended that it appeared from the evidence that the Jews who were sent to the death camps were in the first instance local Jews from local villages and ghettos in the region. This phase commenced at Chelmno on 8 December 1941, from which date about 140,000 Jews from the Warthegau were gassed there. The same occurred at Belzec (where the gassing, mainly of Jews from the area of Lublin, started in March 1942),   Sobibor (where gassing started in May 1942) and Treblinka (where the gassing started in July 1942). The extermination of these local Jews made way in the ghettos for the European Jews to replace them.
6.78 Gassing commenced at Auschwitz between September and December 1941, when 600 Soviet prisoners of war were killed by the administration probably by means of bottles of Zyklon-B gas in the basement of Block II. Irving, by reference to a passage from a book by van Pelt referring to the death of Soviet Jews because the lack of hygiene at the camp, suggested that the deaths were not due to poisoning by gas.
6.79 At the same time as the local Jews were being put to death in these camps, the programme of deporting German Jews (that is, Jews from those parts of Europe in Nazi control) to the East was being implemented. These Jews (or those of them who were judged unfit for labour) were initially sent to ghettos but they were ultimately transported onwards to the camps where they were killed in the gas chambers, principally at Belzec. The liquidation of the German Jews ran from the spring of 1942 onwards. This was the second phase of the extermination programme. It was, said Longerich, a systematic programme of extermination, albeit one that gradually emerged.
6.80 What is the evidence for mass extermination of Jews at those camps? The consequence of the absence of any overt documentary evidence of gas chambers at these camps, coupled with the lack of archeological evidence, means that reliance has to be placed on eye witness and circumstantial evidence, which I shall shortly summarise. In giving an account of the Defendants' case as to the scale of the exterminations, I shall also summarise their argument that Hitler was complicit in the mass murder. The starting point is the evidence, such as it is, which is contained in contemporaneous documents.
6.81 I have referred at paragraph 6.70 above to the meeting which took place between Hitler and Himmler and Heydrich on 25 October 1941. Although the plan to construct gas chambers at Riga was not implemented, it is further evidence, say the Defendants, of the genesis of a policy, agreed at a high level, to use gas as a method of extermination.
6.82 From about that date, according to the Defendants, Hitler made repeated references to the extermination of the Jews and to doing away with them. On 16 November 1941 Rosenberg met Hitler and Himmler, who the   next day (according to his Dienstkalendar) told Heydrich by telephone that he had discussed the Beseitigung (doing away with) of the Jews. Two days later Rosenberg gave a confidential briefing to the press in which he spoke of the biological eradication of the whole of Jewry in Europe. From this date onwards, according to the Defendants, Hitler's pronouncements on the Jewish question, become more frequent and increasingly blunt.
6.83 The Defendants attach significance to Hitler's speech to the Gauleiter on 12 December 1941 (already referred to in section V) when, according to Goebbels's diary, he said:
"... Concerning the Jewish question the Fuhrer is determined to make a clean sweep. He prophesied that, if they were once again to cause a world war, the result would be their own destruction. That was no figure of speech. The world war is here, the destruction (Vernichtung) of the Jews must be the inevitable consequence. The question must be seen without sentimentality. We are not here in order to have sympathy with the Jews, rather we sympathise with our own German people. If the German people have now once again sacrificed as many as 160,000 dead in the Eastern campaign, then the authors of this bloody conflict must pay with their lives".
According to Browning, this speech stemmed from the recognition that an early end to war was no longer on the cards. It made clear that the Nazis would nonetheless proceed with the extermination of Jews generally and not just the Jews in the occupied eastern regions.
6.84 As already stated in section V above, Hans Frank, General Governor of the General Government, attended the meeting on 12 December 1941 (and, according to Browning, may well have had a meeting with Hitler). Four days later he passed on what he had learned in Berlin to his subordinates, telling them what Hitler had said and adding:
"But what is to happen to the Jews? Do you believe that they will be lodged in the settlements in the Ostland? In Berlin we were told: why all this trouble, we cannot use them in the Ostland or the Reichskommissariat either; liquidate them yourselves! Gentlemen, I must ask you: arm yourselves against any thoughts of compassion. We must destroy the Jews, wherever we encounter them and wherever it is possible, in order to preserve the entire structure of the Reich ...   [for the omitted words see below] ...nonetheless we will take some kind of action that will lead to a successful destruction, and indeed in conjunction with the important measures to be discussed in the Reich".
The Defendants rely on what Frank said as further evidence of the emerging policy of destroying the Jews by killing them.
6.85 As noted above, on 18 December 1941 Himmler met Hitler, who, according to Himmler's note, agreed that the Jews were to be annihilated as if partisans. The Defendants accept that Hitler expressed that sentiment in the context of the programme of shooting Jews in the East, but it is, according to them, indicative of his murderous intentions towards the Jews at this time. In January 1942 Hitler again confirmed in his New Year's address that it would be the Jews rather than the Aryan peoples of Europe would be ausgerottet (exterminated). He spoke in similar terms at the Reichstag on 30 January 1942 and thereafter on 14, 22 and 24 February 1942..
6.86 As Frank had told his audience it would be, a meeting was convened in Berlin and took place in Berlin on 20 January 1942 under the chairmanship of Heydrich. It is known as the Wannsee conference. The invitations to the conference were accompanied by an authorisation, signed by Goering, to prepare a European-wide Final Solution to the Jewish problem. State Secretaries, ranking just below Cabinet ministers, attended, as did amongst others Muller, Hofmann and Eichmann. According to the Defendants, it marks an important milestone in the evolution of the policy of extermination. Irving totally rejected the significance which the Defendants attach to this conference.
6.87 Heydrich told those present:
"A further possible solution [of the Jewish question] instead of emigration has come up. After appropriate approval by the Fuhrer, the evacuation of the Jews to the East has stepped into its place. These actions, however, must be regarded as only as an alternative solution. But already the practical experience (praktischen Ehrfahrungen) is being gathered which is of great importance to the coming Final Solution of the Jewish question. Under the appropriate direction the Jews shall now be put to work in the course of the Final Solution. Organised into large work gangs and segregated according to   sex, those Jews fit for work will be led into these areas as road builders, whereby no doubt a large part will fall out by natural elimination. The remainder who will survive - and they will certainly be those who have the greatest power of endurance - will have to be dealt with accordingly. For, if released, they would, according to the natural selection of the fittest, form the seed of a new Jewish regeneration".
Longerich noted the reference made by Heydrich to the approval of the Fuhrer. He asserted that "to be dealt with accordingly" is a typical SS expression for liquidation. So the Jews who survived the labour regime (if any did) were to be liquidated. Moreover the Defendants draw attention to what they regard as a notable and sinister omission from those words: what was to happen to those Jews who were already unable to work (as most were)? The answer, according to the Defendants, is that, having been judged unfit for work, they were condemned to be killed. The Defendants give, as a further reason for saying that Wannsee had the significance for which they contend, the fact that shortly after Wannsee the construction of the death camps at Sobibor and Treblinka started and gas chambers were built at Auschwitz. The enormous task of killing the Jews then began in earnest, say the Defendants.
The Defendants' case is that Wannsee was what Browning described as an "implementation conference" at which the participants were concerned to set up a ministerial bureaucracy, under the leadership of Heydrich, for the extermination of the Jews. It was not a theoretical discussion.
6.88 It is the Defendants' case that the scale of the gassing programme escalated in March 1942. On 3 March 1942 the Prime Minister of Slovakia announced that agreement had been reached with the Nazis for the deportation to Auschwitz of the 70,000 remaining Slovakian Jews.
6.89 Himmler's Dienstkalendar reveals that, following dinner with Hitler on 10 March 1942, Himmler spoke by telephone to Heydrich on 11 March when they discussed the Judenfrage (Jewish question). On 13 March Himmler travelled to Cracow (where he met Frank and Kruger) and thence on 14 March to Lublin (where he met Kruger and Globocnik). On his return to Berlin, Himmler on 17 March had lunch and dinner with Hitler at the Wolfschanze (Wolf's Lair). Goebbels's diary entry for 20 March records that on the previous day Hitler had displayed a merciless attitude towards the   Jews and had stated that the Jews must be got out of Europe, if necessary by the most brutal means.
6.90 Browning referred to evidence that in mid-March 1942 it was agreed that deported Jews arriving at Lublin should be divided into those capable of work and those not so capable. The latter were to be sent to Belzec, where gassing commenced on 17 March. Large-scale gassing continued at Belzec in the following months. In the same month construction of Sobibor began and bunker 1 at Auschwitz started operation as a gas chamber. Gassing had started at Sobibor by May 1942. Construction of the death camp at Treblikna commenced at about this time. In the first six months of 1942 some 10,000 Jews had been gassed at Chelmno. Vast numbers of Jews in the General Government and in the Warthegau were, according to the Defendants, killed by the use of gas.
6.91 The Defendants also rely on a letter dated 11 April 1942 which Dr Turner, whose rank was equivalent to that of a Privy Councillor, wrote from Serbia to Karl Wolff, Himmler's adjutant and sometime liaison officer to Hitler. The letter was marked "AR" for Action Reinhard. It referred in rather unsubtle code to the use of gassing trucks at Semlin on a scale which Irving agreed could not be described as limited or experimental. Irving conceded that the document is a sinister one.
6.92 On 1 May 1942 Greiser wrote to Himmler, following a meeting with Globocnik in May 1942, that "the special treatment" (Sonderbehandlung) of around 100,000 Jews in his district, which had been authorised by Himmler in agreement with Heydrich, could be completed in the next 2-3 months. Irving accepted that, in the light of what subsequently emerged (although not, he said, on the face of this document) "special treatment" meant killing. He was critical of Longerich for, as he put it, "extrapolating backwards" from what subsequently happened at the camps, that it had throughout been the plan that the killings should occur. Longerich answered this criticism by saying that, in the nature of things, historians must frequently have resort to this method, which is in any event wholly unobjectionable. The document did not spell out where the special treatment was being meted out but in the opinion of Browning it is a reasonable inference that it was at Chelmno, which was operating at the time. Irving makes the point that this letter does not say that it was written on the instructions of the Fuhrer.
6.93 Browning gave evidence that contemporaneous documents show that from the summer of 1942 trainloads of Jews were being transported westwards from the occupied eastern territories to Belzec and to Treblinka. The significance of this westward movement of Jews, according to both Browning and Longerich, is that it demonstrates that the policy was no longer to keep deporting the Jews further and further to the East but rather to exterminate them.
6.94 On 17 and 18 July 1942 Himmler visited Auschwitz. He had met Hitler over a meal on two occasions in the preceding ten days. At Auschwitz he met the Commandant, Hoss. He then travelled to Lublin, where he met Kruger, Globocnik and Pohl. On 19 July Himmler, according to the evidence of Browning who was basing himself on contemporaneous documents, laid down a schedule for the extermination of the entire Jewish population of the General Government by the end of the year (save only for certain Jews employed in ghettos on war work). The Defendants assert that with effect from 22 July 1942 there were massive deportations from Warsaw and northern Lublin district to Treblinka and from Przemsyl to Belzec. On 23 July 1942 gassing started at Treblinka. On 24 and 27 July 1942 Himmler lunched with Hitler. Three days later Himmler wrote to Berger, a senior officer at the SS Headquarters, a letter which on the Defendants' case is highly revealing. He wrote that the occupied Eastern territories were to be free of Jews by the end of the year. Himmler added that the "carrying out of this very hard order had been placed on his shoulders by the Fuhrer". The extermination of Jews on a massive scale in the death camps commenced at this time.
6.95 Browning relied also on the protocol of a meeting in Berlin on September 26-8 1942 as showing that train transports to the death camps had been proposed by Brunner, whose immediate superior was Himmler. Browning pointed out that on 28 July 1942 Ganzenmuller, a senior official in the Ministry of Transport, reported to Wolff, an SS officer who Irving accepted was close to Hitler, that trains were regularly transporting Jews in large numbers to both Treblinka and Belzec. On 13 August Wolff, writing from Hitler's headquarters, wrote to Ganzenmuller expressing his joy at the assurance that for the next two weeks there would be a daily train carrying 5,000 of the "chosen people" to Treblinka.
6.96 The Defendants rely in addition on what they claim to be an explicit mention of the policy of extermination which is contained in the so-called   Kinna report, written by an SS corporal dated 16 December 1942 from Zamosk in Poland about the transport of 644 Poles to Auschwitz. This report records SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Aumeier as having explained that only Poles fit for labour should be delivered to Auschwitz and that, in order to relieve the camp, "limited people, idiots, cripples and sick people must be removed from the same by liquidation". The report continues that "in contrast to the measures applied to the Jews, the Poles must die a natural death". This, say the Defendants, points unequivocally to a policy of exterminating the Jews being in place at Auschwitz and inferentially elsewhere.
6.97 Apart from these sparse documentary references, the Defendants rely upon what might be described as circumstantial evidence that extermination on a massive scale took place. In relation to the fact and scale of the extermination, they commend as accurate the figures given in the report of Dr Korherr, who was the statistician working for Himmler. He gave as the number of those deported from the Warthegau for Sonderbehandlung (special treatment) a total of 1,419,467.
6.98 Browning advanced what is in effect a demographic argument in support of the Defendants' contention that Jews were exterminated in the gas chambers at the death camps in vast numbers. He calculated the approximate number who were deported from western European countries and removed from the ghettos of Poland; he asserted that contemporanous evidence proves that many of them were transported to Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka; since they were never heard of again, Browning considers it reasonable to infer that they were put to death in the camps. It is the Defendants' case that between 750,000 and 950,000 Jews were killed by gas at Treblinka; 550,000 at Belzec; 200,000 at Sobibor and 150-200,000 at Chelmno. Those were the estimates based on expert German witnesses and accepted in the German criminal prosecutions in the 1960s.
6.99 Longerich supported Browning's estimate for the number killed at Belzec. Basing himself on the evidence given at the trial of those involved in the camp, he put the figure at between 500,000 and 600,000. He agreed that estimates given by the historian, Michael Tregenza, were unreliable but said that he had not relied on him in that connection. Longerich testified that Belzec was initially employed in gassing Jews from the areas of Lublin and Galicia.
6.100 In addition to the circumstantial evidence, the Defendants rely on the evidence of eye-witnesses in support of their case that gas chambers were used at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews. Browning divided these witnesses into five categories: (i) German visitors to these camps; (ii) German personnel stationed there; (iii) Ukrainian guards assigned to the camps; (iv) Poles living in the vicinity of the camps and (v) Jews who escaped. In view of the position adopted by Irving on the question of gassing at these camps (to which I shall refer in due course), it is unnecessary for me to set out at length who all of these witnesses were or what they were able to describe. According to Browning, there are over one hundred of them.
6.101 Within category (i) comes Eichmann, who is regarded by Browning as being in general a credible witness. His testimony takes various forms: an interview with a journalist in South America before his apprehension; memoirs and evidence at his trial. (During the course of the present trial evidence was released by the Israeli government of what Eichmann said under interrrogation by Israeli prosecutors. Since, however, this evidence was not available to Irving at any material time, no reliance was placed on it by the Defendants in support of their plea of justification). Eichmann stated that he was sent by Heydrich to discuss with Globocnik the implementation of what he was told was Hitler's order to kill the Jews. In the autumn of 1941 he was shown a building under construction at Belzec, which he was told would be used as a gas chamber to kill Jews with carbon monoxide gas. The following summer he saw Jews about to enter the gas chamber at Treblinka. He also witnessed the gassing of Jews at Chelmno.
6.102 Another German visitor was Kurt Gerstein. He described how he was deputed to take 100 kilos of prussic acid to Lublin in August 1942. Accompanied by a chemistry professor named Pfannenstiel, he travelled to Belzec where he claimed that he witnessed about 750 Jews being driven naked into four gas chambers. After a delay because the motor would not start, the Jews were gassed. The process took 32 minutes. The bodies were then thrown into trenches. The next day Gerstein went to Treblinka, where he saw mounds of clothing. On his return to Berlin, he told a Swedish diplomat what he had seen. His account was written in about April 1945. He died shortly afterwards. Browning accepted that many aspects of Gerstein's testimony are problematic and that he was prone to exaggeration but concluded that on vital matters of which he was able to speak from his own   knowledge he is reliable. His evidence is largely corroborated by that of Pfannenstiel.
6.103 Category (ii) consists of twenty-nine German camp officials all of whom confirm that the camps were equipped with gas chambers in which thousands of Jews were put to death. This category includes witnesses who provided signed and sworn statements, which gave detailed and gruesome evidence of the procedures followed at each of the camps in administering the gas and disposing of the corpses afterwards. Category (iii) included the Poles who lived in the neighbourhood of the camps and so witnessed the endless flow of transports to the camps, smelled the deathly smells from the camps and heard rumours what was going on there. Category (iv) consisted of those Jews who were able to make their escape. There were breakouts from Sobibor and Treblika. Some of the fifty survivors of these camps gave evidence of their experiences. In relation to Belzec, a Jew named Reder provided a detailed of the gas chambers, even though it did not in all respects accord with other testimony.
6.104 Finally the Defendants rely in support of their case that Hitler knew of the Holocaust upon a letter written in 1977 to a journalist named Gita Sereny by Christa Schroeder, formerly personal secretary to Hitler and, say the Defendants, well placed to know the state of his knowledge. Frau Schroeder wrote:
"As far as the Judenfrage, I consider it improbably that Hitler knew nothing. He had frequent conversations with Himmler which took place tete-a-tete".
What Irving disputed, however, is the Defendants' contention that the extermination of the Jews in the death camps was carried out pursuant to some official Nazi policy sanctioned by Hitler.
6.105 The Defendants, on the basis of the evidence which I have summarised above, contend that from October 1941 Himmler was embarked upon a gigantic homicidal gassing programme, first of the Jews of the Warthegau and Poland and, from late spring 1942, of the Jews from the rest of Europe, at camps specially designed for the purpose. The Defendants accept that there is no explicit evidence that Himmler discussed with Hitler the extermination of the Jews by gassing. But in the light of the evidence recited above, including the scale of the programme; the fact that it was overseen by Himmler; the frequency with which Himmler and Hitler met   and spoke together at this time and the evidence of Hitler's thoughts and public statements about the Jews, the Defendants argue it is inconceivable that Hitler did not know and authorise the mass extermination of Jews by gassing.
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