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    Gerstein Report: The Gerstein Report Is Sound

    Does the Gerstein Report contain so many impossibilities that it cannot be accepted as evidence of the mass murder of the Jews in the Operation Reinhard death camps of Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor?

    Holocaust deniers claim:

    The Gerstein Report is filled with so many “absurdities and “contradictions” that it must be dismissed as evidence of the existence of gas chambers in the Operation Reinhard death camps of Treblinka and Belzec. 

    The facts are:

    The Gerstein Report is not perfect. Gerstein erred when describing the gas chamber rooms, the number of Jews murdered in the Operation Reinhard camps, and when estimating heights of the stolen possessions of murdered Jews. Some of his errors came from depending on the word of others. However, Gerstein’s testimony is consistent about the process and method of mass murder of Jews in gas chambers in the death camps of Treblinka and Belzec.

    Carlo Mattogno, an Italian Holocaust denier, claims that he has found 103 internal and external contradictions, falsifications, errors of fact, exaggerations and unrealistic statements in Gerstein’s report making the whole account untrustworthy.[1]

    The Holocaust deniers’ objections to the Gerstein Report.

    The Holocaust deniers charge that:

    • Gerstein changed the dimensions of the gas chamber rooms in Belzec between drafts.
    • Gerstein said there were more gas chamber rooms (8) in Treblinka than existed (3) at the time he said he observed the mass gassing.
    • The gas chamber rooms as described by Gerstein were too small to hold the 700 to 800 people he claimed were pushed into each room.
    • Gerstein’s assertion that he saw piles of clothes and shoes 45 meters (about 147 feet) high at Treblinka is clearly impossible and throws the credibility of the whole Report into question.
    • Gerstein estimated the number of Jews murdered in the gas chambers of the Operation Reinhard camps as 20,000,000 to 25,000,000—an obviously absurd figure.

    For the Holocaust deniers, these inconsistencies mean that Gerstein’s report was made either made up by Gerstein to curry favor with his captors by telling them what they wanted to hear, or it was made up by his Allied interrogators who tortured Gerstein to make him sign their mountain of lies.

    Let us look at each assertion one at a time.

    Gerstein changed the dimensions of the gas chamber rooms in Belzec between drafts.

    Gerstein did give two different sets of dimensions for the size of the gas chamber rooms in Belzec. In Reports 1 and 2 he wrote that the gas chamber rooms were 4 meters by 5 meters by 1.9 meters [13 feet by 15.5 feet by 6 feet]. In Report 3, he changed it to 5 meters by 5 meters by 1.9 meters [16.5 feet by 16.5 feet by 6 feet].[2]

    Gerstein didn’t say if he entered the actual gas chamber rooms, or whether he accepted someone else’s estimate of their size. However, even if Gerstein had entered the empty rooms or looked into them from the hallway, accurately guessing the size of a room to within a few feet by looking at it or roughly stepping it out can produce inaccurate results.

    Reports 1 and 2 reflected Gerstein’s first thoughts about the size of the rooms. Perhaps the change is a typographical error. It is most likely that Gerstein reconsidered his estimate when typing up Report 3 in German. We do not know, but whatever the reason is it is not a significant issue. A difference of about 3 feet in a guess about of the size of a room does not substantially discredit the Gerstein Report in full.

    Gerstein said there were more gas chamber rooms (8) in Treblinka than actually existed (3) at the time he said he observed the mass gassing.

    Gerstein wrote: “The installation [at Treblinka] was almost the same, but noticeably bigger than at Belcec [sic]. Eight gas chambers and veritable mountains of suitcases, of textiles, and underwear.”[3]

    This line in Gerstein’s report is puzzling. Gerstein visited Treblinka on August 19, 1942. On August 19 Treblinka was still using the smaller three-room gas chamber. So why did Gerstein describe the larger gas chamber building which started construction about 10 days after his visit and did not become operational until about 5 weeks later?

    Gerstein would undoubtedly have been told about the plans for building the newer larger gas chambers that were modeled on the “successes” of the smaller gas chambers. Did he mix up the smaller building he must have seen in operation with the planned expansion when he was writing the report three years later? Whatever the reason for Gerstein’s confusion it does not negate his consistent description of the overall gas chamber buildings and the mass murder at Belzec and Treblinka.

    The gas chamber rooms as described by Gerstein were too small to hold the 700 to 800 people he claimed were pushed into each room.

    Gerstein wrote: “The people are stepping on each other’s feet, 700 to 800 persons to 25 square meters [82 square feet], 45 cubic meters [1,590 cubic feet]. I make an estimate . . . half are children . . . Wirth is right, if the SS men push a little, one can cram 750 persons into 45 cubic meters! And the SS men push them, with their horsewhips and compel them to enter, as many as physically possible. The doors close.”[4]

    The self-named “Denierbud,” the American Holocaust denier video maker, tries to makes the point that this is impossible by using small cardboard boxes to show how impossibly small a cubic foot appears to be.[5] But, however difficult the Holocaust deniers make it look, it is possible.

    The experiment of Charles Provan.

    Charles Provan wondered if that was really possible to push 700 to 800 people into the size of room Gerstein claimed. He decided to test it for himself. He built a plywood box with a base area of 21 inches by 21 inches. The box had one glass side, two plywood sides, one open side and an open top.   He was surprised by the results of his experiment.

    Provan found that two young adults (27 and 34 years old), one woman in her seventies, and four children could fit into the box without difficulty. All of the people wore their regular clothing and all were able to breathe normally. Three children (aged 6, 4 and 2) sat down at the adults’ feet while the older child (8 years old) and the three adults stood. One of the adults held a doll in place of an infant.[6]

    Provan’s findings when extended to a room of 5 meters square (about 16 feet square) shows that 700 to 800 people could be pushed into the gas chamber room, especially since half of them were children according to Gerstein’s account. In addition, the participants in Provan’s experiment were well-fed Americans, not half-starved, naked Polish Jews who were of generally smaller stature than the average modern American. Provan calculated that this variation alone permitted 5 percent more Polish Jews to fit into the same area than their modern well-fed American counterparts.

    Gerstein’s assertion that he saw piles of clothes and shoes 35 to 45 meters (115 to 147 feet) high at Treblinka is clearly impossible.

    In Reports 1 and 2 Gerstein spoke of “real mountains of clothes and underwear of 35-40 meters high” at Treblinka. In Report 3 it became just “real mountains of suitcases, clothing, and underwear.”

    In this case Gerstein was wrong. Gerstein visited Treblinka two weeks before it collapsed in chaos under the weight of continuous transports from Warsaw, Poland and had to be closed temporarily to be cleaned up. In the interim, the process of mass murder was also reorganized and streamlined. At the time of Gerstein’s visit the sorting had fallen behind drastically and disorderly piles of possessions from the murdered Jews lay all over the reception and sorting area. Samuel Willenberg, a survivor of Treblinka, arrived in this period of time and found that the “sorting-yard overflowed with giant piles of clothing.”

    He was put to work cleaning up the area which was “cluttered from one end to the other with mountains of shoes and scattered heaps of clothing and luggage. These rose to a height of some 10 metres [33 feet].”[7]

    Clearly, Gerstein was not very good at judging heights. It is, however, clear that the piles of clothing and possessions were staggeringly high. The fact that he questioned his own first estimate is shown by his taking the height figure out in Report 3.

    Photo Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park
     Photo Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park

    Gerstein estimated the number of Jews murdered in the gas chambers of the Operation Reinhard camps as 20,000,000 to 25,000,000—an obviously absurd figure.

    Gerstein is the most credible and consistent when he is describing what he actually saw with his own eyes. However, when Gerstein speculates and passes on rumors he had heard, his accuracy drops dramatically.

    In the case of the number of Jews murdered in the Operation Reinhard camps, Gerstein accepted the figures of Odilo Globocnik, the head of the extermination program, who told him that 11,000 Jews in Belzec, 25,000 Jews in Treblinka, and 20,000 Jews in Sobibor were being murdered every day. We know that this is not true, so it is clear that Globocnik was boasting to the representative from the government in Berlin about his great achievements probably hoping that Gerstein would return to Berlin filled with praise for his operation.

    Gerstein also believed that the camps operated for a longer period than they really did. In fact, the mass murder activities in all three camps were largely concluded by the end of 1942 and by mid-1943 the camps most of the bodies had been incinerated, the ashes reburied and the camps razed.

    The most recent responsible scholarship indicates that some 1,400,000 Jews were murdered in all three camps.[8] Gerstein’s guesses are just that—guesses. They do not rise to the level of evidence nor do they substantially invalidate the details and extent of the murder operations in the three camps.

    Conclusion

    The Gerstein Report is not perfect. He made a lot of small errors and engaged in guesswork especially when he was relying on the word of others. These errors and misinformed speculations do not rise to discrediting the entire Report. Gerstein’s testimony is consistent across all the versions that are known to be in his own hand when it dealt with things he saw with his own eyes: the description of the camps and the mass gassing he observed at Belzec and Treblinka.

    NOTES

    [1] Robert A. Hall, Jr., Il Rapporto Gerstein: Anatomia di un Falso [The Gerstein Report: The Anatomy of a Fraud] by Carlo Mattogno at http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v07/v07p115_Hall.html. See also Mattogno’s book in Italian, pp. 79-84. Mattogno writes: “La ‘testimonianza”’di Kurt Gerstein è dunque un coacervo di assurdità contraddizioni interne ed esterne, falsificazioni storiche, contraddizioni rispetto alla storiografia sterminazionista, errori di ogni sorta, esagerazioni enormi, inverosimiglianze . . . ” after which there follows the list of 103 lies, contradictions, exaggerations and errors. Mattogno concluded: “La ‘testimonianza oculare’ di Kurt Gerstein è dunque assolutamente inattendibile.”

    [2] All three reports can be found in translation and in their original form in Henri Roques, The ‘Confessions’ of Kurt Gerstein (Institute for Historical Review, 1989). Report 1 (French, handwritten, dated April 26, 1945): translation, pp. 19-27, original in French, pp. 210-221; Report 2 (French, typed, dated April 26, 1945): translation, pp. 27-36, original in French, pp. 222-228; Report 3 (German, typed, dated May 4, 1945): translation, pp. 73-89, original in German, pp. 229-246.

    [3] Report 3 (German, typed, May 4, 1945).

    [4] Report 3 (German, typed, May 4, 1945).

    [5] “One Third of the Holocaust” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taIaG8b2u8I at approximately 3:37 minutes.

    [6] Provan was concerned that no one would believe him so he took pictures. You may read the study, “Kurt Gerstein and the Capacity of the Gas Chamber at Belzec,” and see the photographs at http://holocaust.skeptik.net/documents/provan_gerstein.html.

    [7] Samuel Willenberg, Surviving Treblinka, edited by Wladyslaw T. Bartoszewski (Basic Blackwell Ltd, 1989), pp. 49, 79.

    [8] Jonathan Harrison, Robert Muehlenkamp, Jason Myers, Sergey Romanov and Nicholas Terry, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard. A Critique of the Falsehoods of Mattogno, Graf and Kues, p. 382 (fn 1) at http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2011/12/belzec-sobibor-treblinka-holocaust.html.