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    Auschwitz-Birkenau: The Death Books of Auschwitz-Birkenau

    How do we know that the majority of the Jews who were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau were murdered in the gas chambers and not registered in the camp?

    Holocaust deniers claim:

    Auschwitz-Birkenau was not a center of extermination for the Jews of Poland and Europe. Collections of camp death certifications (Death Books) list only 69,000 deaths in the entire inmate population—all from natural causes.

    The facts are:

    The Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Books do not reflect the nearly 900,000 Jews who were murdered in the gas chambers upon arrival at the camp. Only those prisoners who were inducted into the slave labor pool (including some 230,000 Jews) were given numbers and only those prisoners were listed in the death certificates in the Death Books.

    Holocaust deniers claim that Auschwitz-Birkenau was “a camp for Jews who were not able to work, including the sick and elderly.”[1] They cite the death certificates compiled in the Death Books kept by the Gestapo that list about 69,000 deaths of prisoners (both Jewish and non-Jewish).[2] The death certificates certified that these prisoners died of typhus, the “weakness of old age,” “influenza,” “heart failure,” “pneumonia,” and other natural physical ailments.

    According to Holocaust deniers, these books of death certificates “discredit a central pillar of the Holocaust extermination story”—that is, that Jews were murdered en masse by poison gas.[3] The Holocaust deniers claim that these books show: “Not murdered, not gassed—far more than half of the inmates of the concentration camp of Auschwitz died of natural causes. That means of diseases, of epidemics, of typhus fever, of typhoid, of hunger, of cold or of being overworked or of various other natural causes . . . perhaps 40,000 people at most were murdered at Auschwitz.”[4]

    What are the Auschwitz Death Books?

    The Death Books were compilations of the death certificates of those prisoners who were registered and given numbers and who died in Auschwitz-Birkenau between July 29, 1941, and December 31, 1943. Although several volumes did not survive the war, 346 of them did survive in the Gestapo office in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

    The death certificates record the date of issue, first and last names, date, time and place of death, date and place of birth, and cause of death. The cause of death was usually fictitious. In January 1945, when the Russians liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau they took the Death Books back with them to Moscow where their existence was unknown until they were released in 1989 for use by researchers. In 1991 they were repatriated to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

    How we know that some 900,000 Jews were murdered in the gas chambers without their number being listed in German records?

    Rudolf Höss was the commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau from mid-1941 to December 1943, after which he was promoted to the administrative office that supervised all of the camps. In early May 1944, Höss briefly returned to Auschwitz-Birkenau to take up his command again during the Hungarian Action. After the war, Höss was arrested, tried, convicted and put to death for his role in the Final Solution. Before he was executed he wrote his memoirs in which he noted: “Originally, all the Jews transported to [Auschwitz-Birkenau] . . . were to be destroyed without exception, according to Himmler’s orders.”

    However, because of labor needs in the armaments industry by 1942 some able-bodied Jews were saved as workers. According to Höss: “The railways cars were unloaded one after another. After depositing their baggage, the Jews had to individually pass in front of an SS doctor, who decided on their physical fitness as they marched past him. Those who were considered able-bodied were immediately escorted into the camp in small groups. Jews selected for gassing were taken as quietly as possible to the crematories.”[5] Only those selected for labor were given numbers, the Jews sent to the gas chambers were not.

    Pery Broad, a member of the Gestapo in Auschwitz-Birkenau, described the process the Jews who had been selected to be slave laborers underwent: “Once fashionable and lively women and girls, they now had their heads shorn and a prisoner’s number tattooed on their left forearms; and they were clothed in sack-like, blue and white striped smocks.”[6]

    These prisoners were the ones accounted for in the Death Books. Like the inventory for a business, these prisoners were now the property of the Third Reich. As a result they needed to be tracked into and out of inventory and their number and location had to be able to be accounted for at any given time. The books do not record the 900,000 Jewish men, women, and children who were sent straight to the gas chambers.

    Since Broad worked in the Gestapo office in Auschwitz-Birkenau he had valuable information on the record-keeping process, including the preparation of the Death Books. “When information was requested by the Reich Main Security Office concerned a past transport, as a rule nothing could be ascertained. Former transport lists were destroyed. Nobody could learn anything in Auschwitz about the fate of a given person. . . . At present, after the evacuation of Auschwitz and burning of all papers and records, the fate of millions of people is completely obscure. No transport arrival lists are in existence any more.”[7]

    Pery Broad, Procès de Francfort (1964-1965). By Ryza Jane, BSPSYCH grad published on en:WP under Creative Commons license (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Perybroad.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
    Pery Broad, Procès de Francfort (1964-1965). By Ryza Jane, BSPSYCH grad published on en:WP under Creative Commons license (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Perybroad.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

    Survivor eyewitnesses testified how the people who were saved for slave labor were given numbers while the large majority of the new arrivals were sent undocumented to the gas chambers.

    Stanislaw Jankowski was a member of the Sonderkommando at Crema/Gas Chamber 5 in Auschwitz-Birkenau in July 1943. Jankowski gave a deposition to the Russian authorities after the war: “I have to stress here that only persons destined to do various kinds of work were included in the registers of prisoners’ strength and were given camp numbers. No camp numbers were given and no registration was effected . . . in the cases of all those who went straight on to the gas from the transports . . .” Jankowski further noted: “Circa 30% of the then arriving transports [of Hungarian Jews] . . . were selected to be put in the camp . . . The rest were gassed and cremated in the crematoria ovens.”[8]

    Historical records confirm that most of the Jewish arrivals were condemned to death without registration.

    Franciszek Piper, a Polish scholar and historian, conducted extensive research on the total number of people that were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau from all over Europe from 1940 to 1945. Piper concluded that the total number of people who were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau was at least 1,305,000. This figure included Jews, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners-of-war and non-Jewish prisoners of other nationalities. Inside this figure the total number of Jews sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau was about 1,095,000, of which at least 865,000 were murdered immediately. The remaining Jews—some 230,000—were admitted to the camp as slave laborers.[9] Of those people admitted as slave laborers, some 188,000 were transferred to other camps and so were not directly murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Among these were Anne Frank and her sister, Margot, who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and Elie Wiesel who was liberated in Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

    Piper was able to trace the fate of the Jewish transports that arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. For instance, on August 10, 1943, a transport of about 3,000 Polish Jews from Sosnowitz, Poland: “Following the selection, 100 men, given Nos. 136303-136412 and 195 women, given Nos. 54332-54526, are admitted to the camp. The other almost 2,700 people are killed in the gas chambers.”[10]

    Conclusion

    The Holocaust deniers’ assertion that the Death Books reflect the total number of deaths in Auschwitz-Birkenau is false. The Death Books do not reflect the nearly 900,000 Jews who were murdered upon arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Sometimes these people were not even properly counted, much less registered or phony death certificates created. Only those people who were inducted into the slave labor pool (including some 230,000 Jews) were given numbers and only these prisoners were listed in the death certificates in the Death Books.

    NOTES

    [1] Mark Weber, “Pages from the Auschwitz Death Registry Volumes: Long-Hidden Death Certificates Discredit Extermination Claims,” Journal of Historical Review, Fall 1992, (Vol. 12, No. 3) at www.ihr.org/jhr/v12/v12p265_Weber.html.

    [2] The majority of the registered prisoners in the Death Books were Roman Catholic (31,814 persons—46.8%) and Jewish (“Mosaic”) (29,125 persons—42.8%). Others belonged to the following denominations: Greek Orthodox (3.6%), Evangelical-Lutheran (3.4%), and Greek Catholic (1.6%). This “denomination” item is left blank on 1,275 (1.9%) death certificates.

    [3] Mark Weber, “Pages from the Auschwitz Death Registry Volumes: Long-Hidden Death Certificates Discredit Extermination Claims,” Journal of Historical Review, Fall 1992, (Vol. 12, No. 3).

    [4] Judge Charles Gray, Holocaust Denial on Trial, Trial Judgment (8.20, ii) citing David Irving, Speech given at Moers, Germany, March 9, 1990.

    [5] Rudolph Höss, Death Dealer: The Memories of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz, edited by Steven Paskuly (Prometheus books, 1992), pp. 34-35, 43-44.

    [6] KL Auschwitz Seen by the SS (Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 1995), pp. 132, 133.

    [7] KL Auschwitz Seen by the SS (Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 1995), p. 142.

    [8] Robert Jan van Pelt, The Van Pelt Report (“IV Attestations, 1945-46”, note 275).

    [9] Franciszek Piper, Auschwitz: How Many Perished Jews, Poles, Gypsies . . . (Krakow, 1994), pp. 51-57.

    [10] Danuta Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle 1939-1945 (Henry Holt, 1997), p. 459.