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    Gerstein Report: Corroboration of Gerstein’s Report

    Does the Gerstein Report provide credible evidence regarding the mass murder of Jews in the death camps of Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor?

    Holocaust deniers claim:

    According to Holocaust deniers, the “untrustworthy” Gerstein Report first appeared at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. After the tribunal, this report became the “keystone” of the “gas chambers mythology” regarding the Operation Reinhard death camps.[1]

    In sum, Holocaust deniers claim that the “world press” grasped the Gerstein Report’s sensational content simply to “sell newspapers.” They publicized it so widely that, despite its flaws and impossibilities, it became widely accepted as the truth, without any documentary or eyewitness corroboration.[2]

    The facts are:

    The Gerstein Report is not “untrustworthy.” While the Gerstein Report has its problems, of which Holocaust historians are well aware, the testimonies of Nazi perpetrators and Jewish survivors corroborate important aspects of Gerstein’s account. Particularly, the testimonies corroborate Gerstein’s account of the process and method of mass murder at Treblinka and Belzec.  

    Corroborating evidence that supports the Gerstein Report:  

    Gerstein’s report is not the only evidence that there were gas chambers at Treblinka and Belzec. Their existence is corroborated by the testimony of Jewish survivors and Nazi perpetrators.

    Rudolf Reder was deported from Lvov to Belzec in late August 1942, where he was put to work unloading the bodies from the gas chambers. He was the only surviving Jewish witness to the activities in the death camp area. He escaped when guards escorted him out of the camp to collect building materials and he survived the rest of the war in hiding. He gave testimony to various investigating groups in 1945, published a book about his experiences in 1946, and provided another deposition for the trial of Joseph Oberhauser, the commandant of Belzec. He immigrated to Canada in the early 1950’s under the name Roman Robak, where died in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. It is important to note the timeline of Reder’s testimony. Reder first gave his testimonial evidence in 1945. So, he could not have been influenced by Gerstein’s report, as Holocaust deniers claim. Gerstein’s report first became known in 1946.[3]

    Other former Nazis also corroborate important aspects of Gerstein’s report. Wilhelm Pfannensteil was an SS hygienist and chemist who accompanied Kurt Gerstein on his visit to Belzec and Treblinka. He made various depositions after the war to various authorities and also testified at the trial of Josef Oberhauser, the commandant of Belzec, in 1965.[4] Pfannensteil never denied that he witnessed a mass gassing at Belzec and corroborated all the critical details of Gerstein’s report, especially related to the actual gassing operation. Likewise, Robert Jührs and Karl Schluch were SS guards at Belzec. They were detained in 1963 for their activities in Belzec, but in the end no charges were brought against them and they were released. They testified as witnesses at the 1965 trial of Josef Oberhauser.

    One can easily compare what these four people said about Belzec with documentary evidence and what Gerstein witnessed.[5]

    Jews walk in a long column through the streets of Rzeszow during a deportation action from the ghetto. July 1942
    Photo Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Instytut Pamieci Narodowej

    The arrival of the transports:

    On the arrival of transports, Gerstein wrote: “. . . a train arrived of 45 cars coming from Lemberg [Poland: Lvov]. . . . some 6,700 persons, of whom 1,450 are already dead on arrival.”

    Indeed, transport records of the German railway authorities show that about 50,000 Jews from Lemberg (Polish: Lvov) arrived in Belzec between August 10 and 23, 1942. This documented arrival of Jews from Lemberg fits Gerstein’s report. (Rudolf Reder also testified to being on one of these transports.)[6]

    Descriptions of the gas chamber building:

    Gerstein described the gas chamber as such: “Before us, a kind of bath establishment with, to right and left in the front, large concrete pots with geraniums, then a small stairway, and afterwards to right and to left respectively 3 halls of 5 x 5 meters [16.5 x 16.5 feet], 1.90 m [6 feet] high, with doors of wood like garages. In the wall at the bottom, not very visible in the darkness, large sliding doors of wood. On the roof, by way of a “subtle joke,” the star of David! . . . In front of the building, an inscription ‘Foundation Heckenholt . . . Heckenholt is the operator the diesel engine . . .”

    The surviving Jewish witness, Rudolf Reder, offered a similar description: “The door to the building was approached by three steps a metre wide without railings. In front stood a large flower-pot filled with plants. There was an inscription in large letters on the front: ‘Bade und Inhalationsräume’. The steps led to a completely empty and unlit corridor, just four cement walls. It was very long, though only about a metre and a half [5 feet] wide. On both sides of the corridor were doors to the gas chambers. These were sliding doors made of wood, with wooden handles. The gas chambers had no windows . . . Both the corridor and the gas chambers were not more than 2 metres [6.5 feet] high. On a wall opposite the entrance to each gas chamber were more sliding doors 2 metres [6.5 feet] wide. Through these the corpses of the gassed were thrown outside.”[7]

    Likewise, Wilhelm Pfannenstiel: “The whole extermination centre looked just like a normal delousing institution. In front of the building there were pots of geraniums and a sign saying ‘Hackenholt Foundation’, above which there was a Star of David. The building was brightly pleasantly painted so as not to suggest that people would be killed there. From what I saw, I do not believe that the people who had just arrived had any idea of what would happen to them.”[8]

    The filling of the gas chambers:

    Gerstein stated: “The chambers are filled. ‘Pack tightly!,’ Captain Wirth has ordered. The people are stepping on each other’s feet, 700-800 in 25 square meters [270 square feet], in 45 cubic meters [1560 cubic feet]. The SS men press them physically one against the other as much as they can. The doors close.”

    Karl Schluch, an SS guard, claimed the same packed conditions: “The Jews had been very tightly squeezed into the gas chambers.”[9]

    The deceptions employed to keep the Jews calm:

    Gerstein gave the following description: “In the corner is standing a man of the SS unit, corpulent, who says in an unctuous voice to these unfortunates: ‘Not the least thing will happen to you! It will be necessary only to breathe deeply in the chambers, this develops the lungs, this inhalation is necessary because of the sicknesses and the epidemics.’ To those who ask what might become of them he replies: ‘Yes, naturally, the men will have to work, to build houses or make roads, but the women will not have need to work. Only if they wish, they can help with the housework or in the kitchen.’ For some of these unfortunates a little glimmer of hope which suffices to make them walk without resistance the few steps which lead themselves to the chambers.”

    Rudolf Reder testified to the same deceptions: “As soon as the train was empty, all the victims were assembled in the courtyard . . . It was then that Irrmann [an SS man] would give a speech. There was deathly silence. Irrmann stood close to the crowd. Everybody wanted to hear him. . . . Irrmann spoke loudly and clearly: ‘Ihr jeht jetzt baden, nachher warden Ihr zur Arbeit geschickt.’ [‘You are going to take a bath now, afterwards you will be sent to work.’] . . . The crowd rejoiced; the people were relieved that they would be doing to work. . . . It was a moment of hope, of illusion. The crowd was peaceful and in silence they all went forward . . .”[10]

    The murder of Jews who could not walk to the gas chambers:

    Gerstein offered a report of what happened to those unable to walk to the gas chambers: “Only a few very old and very weak persons were set apart, and then shot.”

    Robert Jührs confirmed these murders, in which he also participated: “. . . there were Jews who could not possibly have walked as far as the undressing barracks . . . The Jews in question were taken to the gate by the Jewish work detail and from there to the ditch by other working Jews . . . I would say that they were more dead than alive. It is hard to describe the condition of these people after the long journey in the indescribably overcrowded freight cars. I looked on killing them in that way as a kindness and a release. I shot the Jews with a machine gun from the edge of the ditch.”[11]

    The conditions in the gas chambers when they were opened:

    Gerstein said: “The dead are standing straight like pillars of basalt, ranged tightly one against the other in the chambers. There would not be place to fall or lean forward.”

    Again, Rudolf Reder: “When, after twenty minutes of gassing, the askers [Ukrainian guards] pushed open the tightly shut doors, the dead were in an upright position.”[12]

    Removing the gold from the teeth of the bodies:

    Gerstein wrote: “Two dozen dentists open the mouths with hooks and look and see if there are gold crowns. Gold to the left, without gold to the right. Other dentists break the gold teeth and crowns with the aid of pliers and hammers to pull them out of the jaws.”

    Rudolf Reder witnessed the same: “In those few hundred metres separating the gas chambers from the pits stood some dentists with pliers. They stopped everyone as they dragged the corpses away. They opened the mouths of the dead and yanked out the gold teeth, which they then threw into baskets ready for the purpose. There were eight dentists, usually young men specially selected to do the work . . . At dusk they went back to the barracks with baskets full of teeth, gold crowns, and bridges. Then they separated the gold, which they melted into ingots . . . 1 centimetre [.40 inches] thick, 50 millimetres [2 inches] wide, and 20 centimeters [8 inches] long.”[13]

    Buchenwald, [Thuringia] Germany, May 5, 1945. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park.
    Buchenwald, [Thuringia] Germany, May 5, 1945. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park. [PUblic Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

    Likewise, Karl Schluch: “The corpses were pulled out of the chambers and immediate examined by a dentist. The dentists removed rings and extracted gold teeth when there were any.”[14]

    Conclusion:

    Although the Holocaust deniers do their best to pick apart and discredit Kurt Gerstein’s report, the core of the report—the account of mass murder in Belzec—is actually corroborated by the testimony of other eyewitnesses, including survivors and perpetrators. Responsible history is written by comparing eyewitness and documentary evidence to each other. The most reasonable interpretations are found, and all sources are critically examined in order to work out errors, exaggerations, and speculation. In his description of the process of mass murder at Treblinka and Belzec, the evidence of German perpetrators and Jewish survivors corroborates Gerstein’s account.

    NOTES

    [1] Paul Rassinier, Debunking the Genocide Myth (Chapter Thirteen: Witness, Testimonies, and Documents, IV. The Witness Kurt Gerstein”) at http://www.ihr.org/books/rassinier/debunking2-13.html. This is the Internet version of his original title, The Drama of the European Jews (Steppingstones Publications, 1975). See also “The ‘Confessions’ of Kurt Gerstein” at http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v10/v10p223_Dibert.html and “Il Rapporto Gerstein: Anatomia Di Un Falso” at http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v07/v07p115_Hall.html.

    [2] Paul Rassinier, Debunking the Genocide Myth (Chapter Fourteen: Statistics: Six Million or . . . ) at http://ihr.org/books/rassinier/debunking2-14.shtml . This is the Internet version of his original title, The Drama of the European Jews (Steppingstones Publications, 1975).

    [3] The only other Jewish survivor who spoke about the activities in Belzec was a man named Chaim Hirszman. Hirszman escaped from the transport taking the last 300 Jews from Belzec to Sobibor (where the others were shot). He survived the war but he was shot by Polish antisemites on March 19, 1946 on the very day he began giving evidence to the Jewish Historical Commission in Lublin. See also Rudolf Reder, “Belzec,” Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, V13 (Focusing on the Holocaust and its Aftermath), edited by Antony Polonsky (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2000), pp. 268-289.

    [4] See http://www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/people/p/ftp.py?people/p/pfannenstiel.wilhelm/pfannen.001 and http://www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/people/p/ftp.py?people/p/pfannenstiel.wilhelm/pfannen.002 for pertinent excerpts from text of Pfannenstiel’s April 25, 1960 deposition. The entire text can be found in Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen, Volker Riess, editors, “The Good Old Days”: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders (Free Press, 1988), pp. 238-244.

    [5] All the Gerstein quotations are taken from Report 3 (German, typed, May 4, 1945). However, Reports 1 and 2 are all but identical. 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.

    [6] See Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indiana University Press, 1987) in Appendix A for the known list of deportations to the Operation Reinhard camps. See also Robin O’Neil, Belzec: Prototype for the Final Solution: Hitler’s Answer to the Jewish Question at http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/belzec1/belzec1.html, Appendix 1 at http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/belzec1/bel901.html.

    [7] Rudolf Reder, “Belzec,” Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, V13 (Focusing on the Holocaust and its Aftermath), edited by Antony Polonsky (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2000), pp. 268-289 (see page 275).

    [8] See http://www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/people/p/ftp.py?people/p/pfannenstiel.wilhelm/pfannen.001 and http://www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/people/p/ftp.py?people/p/pfannenstiel.wilhelm/pfannen.002 for pertinent excerpts from text of Pfannenstiel’s April 25, 1960 deposition. The entire text can be found in Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen, Volker Riess, editors, “The Good Old Days”: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders (Free Press, 1988), pp. 238-244.

    [9] Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein, and Adalbert Rückerl, editors, Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas (Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 118-119.

    [10] Rudolf Reder, “Belzec,” Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, V13 (Focusing on the Holocaust and its Aftermath), edited by Antony Polonsky (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2000), pp. 268-289 (see pages 273, 274).

    [11] Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein, and Adalbert Rückerl, editors, Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas (Yale University Press, 1994), p. 120.

    [12] Rudolf Reder, “Belzec,” Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, V13 (Focusing on the Holocaust and its Aftermath), edited by Antony Polonsky (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2000), pp. 268-289 (see page 278).

    [13] Rudolf Reder, “Belzec,” Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, V13 (Focusing on the Holocaust and its Aftermath), edited by Antony Polonsky (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2000), pp. 268-289 (see page 278, 279).

    [14] Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein, and Adalbert Rückerl, editors, Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas (Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 118-119.